Brussels is the cosmopolitan political capital of petite Belgium. Straddling the border of the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south, it's predominantly a French city — although on the street, you'll hear every language under the sun being spoken. As well as being the capital of Belgium, Brussels is also the administrative home of the European Union (the EU Parliament can be found here), of NATO, and of numerous multinational corporations. I passed through Brussels and spent several hours exploring it today, on my way up to Amsterdam.
Today I finished my quick tour of tiny Belgium, by popping into the nation's capital, Brussels. I was originally planning to spend last night in Brussels, but I instead ended up staying in Liège with Christian. This morning, I got the train from Liège to Brussels, bright 'n' early with Christian, who's going there today anyway (for a training seminar). We caught the 6:45am train, and it was only an hour to the big city: when I got there, it was still dark (and stayed so until about 9am — dreary European winter). Too dark to begin exploring: so I checked my e-mail, and found a café for hanging out and having some coffee and waffle, before commencing my tour of the city. By 2pm, I was done with Brussels, and on my way to Amsterdam.
Europe is famous for being a small place with an awful lot of languages. Going through three or more language regions in one day is perfectly possible: and in the past few weeks, by hopping around on the trains, I've done just that. It was pretty intense in Switzerland, what with its German dominance, its smaller pockets of French and Italian, and its general nation-wide efforts at English. It was a little less full-on in Germany, where German is spoken by everyone around the country, and where almost everyone can also speak reasonable English. But upon arriving here in Belgium, it dawned on me just what a ridiculously over-linguified continent this is. And I'd say that as Europe goes, Belgium is about the most extreme example of language craziness to be found: the nation split virtually in half with the Flemish (i.e. Dutch) and French divide; smaller pockets of German in the east; and the whole place also being highly fluent in English. What with the plethora of languages to be learned, it's amazing they have time to do anything else at all around here.
Today I concluded my brief one-night stand in Cologne (and my mere two days in western Germany), and headed straight to Belgium, and to the small Flemish city of Turnhout (via Brussels), to meet my friends Annick and Stef. Before I left Cologne, I managed to buy myself a new money belt in the train station (since I lost my old one in Italy), and I now feel a lot more secure with my valuables in it: I'll be wearing it on every single train ride from now on. Turnhout is a small place; but amazingly, the DB attendant was able to sell me a ticket straight there, as he had it available as a direct destination in his computer (Annick and Stef were amazed and flattered when I told them). So, for now, I say auf wiedersehen to Germany.