ABOUT Belgium is a small, highly developed and densely populated country (10 million of inhabitants) at the cross-roads of Western Europe. Belgium is one of the founding members of the European Community, and its capital, Brussels, is also the capital of the European Union. It is a federal state, with 3 relatively autonomous regions: Flanders in the north, where the language is Dutch ("Flemish"), Wallonia in the south, where the language is French, and the centrally located Brussels, which is officially bilingual. Belgium's rich history has left impressive churches, town halls, castles and works of art, dating back to the early Middle Ages, spread around the cities and country-side. Belgium has possibly the highest "quality of life" in the world, as testified by its excellent food, housing, health care, education and infrastructure, its world records for high productivity and low poverty, and the appreciation of foreigners residing in Belgium. For a personal view on what distinguishes Belgium and the Belgian character (good living, pragmatism, food and drink, open-mindedness, compromise,privacy ...), check my "Essay on Belgian Culture".

CLIMATE The Belgian climate, like most of northwest Europe is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons the average temperature is 3 °C (37.4 °F) in January, and 18 °C (64.4 °F) in July; the average precipitation is 2.6 in in January, and 3.1 in in July). Belgium has mild winters and cool summers and is rainy, humid and cloudy.

BEWARE Petty crime rates are similar to the UK, but on the increase. You should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Take only the minimum amount of cash, credit cards and personal ID necessary when you go out. As far as possible leave jewellery, other valuables and documents in a secure place like a hotel safe. Avoid carrying money, bank/credit cards and your passport in the same bag or pocket. Be vigilant and take extra care in major railway stations, and on public transport, particularly late at night. Thieves and muggers operate around the Brussels Gare du Midi/Zuidstation (Eurostar terminal), Gare du Nord and Schuman (the EU quarter). Pickpockets also operate on international trains, mainly Paris-Brussels and Amsterdam-Brussels. Never leave luggage unattended.