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Belgium is a small country between, clockwise from the North, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France. It is a member state of the European Union as well as the Schengen Agreement. The country is divided into a Dutch speaking part in the North (Flanders), and a French speaking part in the South (Wallonie) and a tiny German speaking part in the East. Brussels, the country and European capital, has a bilingual status. In Flanders most people will be able to help you out easily in English. In French speaking Belgium English is quite a bit less commonly spoken, but on the whole people will be able to help you out (especially younger people).
Hitch-hiking in the country is in general fairly easy, and, due to the high number of foreigners working in the country, getting a ride out of the country is usually just as easy. The country has one of the most dense road and motorway networks in Europe which can make it slightly complex when trying to find a direct route to a destination. Still, hitching out of a city or moving from on-ramp to on-ramp is usually fairly simple.
Belgium has a very high density of petrol stations and service areas on the motorways. This makes it easier to find one, but also leads to less traffic on a single service area. Because of its bilingual status, it could be helpful to approach drivers in their native language. Although there is no specific way to be sure of telling what language a driver speaks, some solutions are:
- quickly say 'Hi' in both Dutch (dag) or French (bonjour)
- check up the sticker of the car retailer to notice in what part of the country it has been bought
- introduce yourself as a foreigner
Useful tip: Free use of Internet PC's in many city libraries. Useful tip: Most petrol stations in Belgium are open 24/7, the staff is friendly and you can have a nap during the night, if you end up on the road. However, be careful since the traffic is high all night long, many people stop and some can be drunk.
It is common practice to use the E-numbers for motorways, instead of A-numbers like in most countries. Even on road signs you will only find E-numbers.
- Brussels (French: Bruxelles, Dutch: Brussel, German: Brüssel)
- Antwerpen (French: Anvers, Dutch: Antwerpen, German: Anwerpen)
- Brugge (French: Bruges, Dutch: Brugge, German: Brügge)
- Gent (French: Gand, Dutch: Gent, German: Gent)
- Hasselt (idem)
- Leuven (French: Louvain, Dutch: Leuven, German: Löwen)
- Oostende (French: Ostende, Dutch: Oostende, German: Ostende)
- Liège (French: Liège, Dutch: Luik, German: Lüttich)
- Charleroi (idem)
- Namur (French: Namur, Dutch: Namen, German: Namur)
- Mons (French: Mons, Dutch: Bergen, German: Mons)
- Arlon (French: Arlon, Dutch: Aarlen, German: Arlon)
- Louvain-la-Neuve (idem)
Belgian license plates do not contain information about where the car comes from. A Belgian license plate is assigned for life to the owner of a car. Usually the plates are white with red text. Cars owned by employees of institutes of the European Union in Brussels and Diplomatic Technical and Administrative Staff have a white plate with blue letters. Diplomatic license plates start with "CD". When Belgians replace their cars, they will keep the same license plate number. Often the name and the city of the garage where the car was bought is indicated just under or at the left side of the license plate on the backside of the car. A license plate of an old timer starts with "O".
European Carpooling (Taxi Stop - Eurostop)
Taxi Stop is an agency that offers carpooling possibilities to drivers in destination or from European countries as well as passengers looking for a destination. The website is available in English (as opposed to its German equivalent) but requires to create a free subscription account in matter to contact a driver or a passenger. Although the availability and destination listing does not require to log in. This service is called eurostop and has a set rule regarding the fees which is pretty simple: registration to the service is free of charge, a passenger is simply asked to pay 3€/100km to the driver once at destination. The concept of carpooling is so popular that people might come to you when you hitchhike and offer you a lift. Always clearly say in the beginning that you don't want to pay (assuming you don't) so that there are no misunderstandings.
Public transport is extensive and affordable to a certain point.
The Belgian train (SNCB/NMBS Company reaches all major cities with a regular service. On weekends (from Friday after 19h until Sunday evening), the return ticket is reduced by 50% which is good option for a weekend evasion within the country. The Go-Pass/Rail-Pass is a 10 journeys ticket that allows you to go everywhere in the country (borders excluded). The Go-Pass cost €50 (so 5€/journey) and is for the -26, although if you don't look too old you probably won't be asked to prove your age. A Go-Pass 1 costs €6.50 for a single journey between 2 Belgian station (only online purchase). The Rail-Pass, for those over 26, costs €76. The Go-Pass is a good option to go from one side of the country to another. The pass is valid for a year from the date of purchase.
- In Flanders (north), the public transport company is DeLijn which completes the train services into the rural towns and inside the urbanised areas. It is possible to buy a 'LijnKaart' which saves you on the cost of local transport. Ticket from ticketmachine or in shops give you 25% discount.
- In Brussels, public transport are provided by the STIB/MIVB. There again you can buy a 5 or 10 journeys ticket. Note that buying your ticket inside the bus/tram costs you more. More details will be added regarding Public Transport in Brussels on the city page itself.
- In Wallonia (south), the regional bus company is TEC
Food & Toilets
The price of food on motorway services is relatively high, so try to stock up before leaving and note that very few motorway services have free toilets. The price (usually between €0.30 and 0.70) sometimes includes a voucher that can be used in the restaurant. However, it is easy to jump over the barrier and use the toilet for free. The cheapest supermarkets in the country are Lidl, Aldi and Colruyt, and food bought in them will be significantly cheaper than on motorway services. Carrefour and Delhaize are more expensive options, but are extensively located downtown with longer opening hours (Often 20:00, but not all of them!) which will offer better prices than the night stores. Note that in Belgium most shops close at 18:00 and very few shops are open on Sundays.
There are few free public toilets around, and you might even be charged in places like McDonald's. It is best to avoid the touristic areas when looking for a free toilet and aim at the less obvious places such as big chain hotels (Radisson...), public buildings (libraries and schools) and some cafes where you can use the toilet without being spot by the staff who might request you to pay a fee up to 50 cents, although many will allow you to use the toilet if you ask them in English!
Belgium is famous for its frietkoten. These are small restaurants or shacks, that sell French fries (a Belgian dish mind you! Protip: Make sure you don't call them French fries, but just fries. Because some will lecture lecture you about fries not being french.) and all sorts of snacks for relatively low prices. It's not very healthy, but for €5 you can have quite a big meal which is bigger & cheaper then McDonald's. Every village has a frietkot, and every city has at least one in every neighborhood.
Also make sure you try out the beer. Belgians have the most and best types of beer in the world, and often it'll be cheaper then water or soda.
- Liftpunt, discussion forum about hitchhiking in Dutch, also for Flandres!
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