192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD PART 17: BELGIUM

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The Independent Travel
OFFICIAL NAME

Kingdom of Belgium

POPULATION

10,130,574

SIZE

About 11,787 square miles. Belgium would fit into it approximately once.

BEST MONUMENT

Manneken Pis, a tiny bronze statuette of a naked boy pissing from his perch in an alcove in Brussels. There are many versions of his origins, the most popular being that he peed to extinguish a fire. He was abducted by the British in 1745, by the French in 1777, and then he was smashed in 1817. Back home, he was lovingly reassembled and now has around 518 costumes to cover the cracks.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

Famously, not one (apart from: Herge, Georges Simenon, Rene Magritte, Jacques Brel, Johnny Hallyday, Plastic Bertrand, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Eddy Merckx, Adolphe Sax, James Ensor, Paul Delvaux, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Paul Rubens, Victor Horta, Jose Van Dam, Martin Margiela, Noel Godin (l'Entarteur), Toots Thielemans ...)

NATIONAL DISH

Frites with a dollop of mayonnaise. Best eaten outdoors out of a paper cornet, or indoors accompanied by moules and washed down with the world's finest beers. Fresh-cream chocolates come a close second.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

Probably 1830 when Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands, but Caesar saying that the Belgae were the toughest people in Gaul was good too.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The First World War, when Germany and the allies turned the country into a battleground for four years and hundreds of thousands died in the trenches.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

A large appetite, an even greater thirst, and sense of the surreal.

HOW NOT TO BEHAVE

Approaching a Fleming and saying "Parlez-vous francais?"

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