Friday, 4 July 2008

Belgium - Culture Shock

I guess its no secret by now that I've been in Belgium the past week staying with Willie.

Willie is staying in Leuven, which is the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Belgium has two official languages, Dutch and French, therefore all street signs and announcements are in these 2 languages.

Brussels, the capital of Belgium is bilingual but most people speak French there. I've never been more culture shock the day I arrived in Brussels myself. I took Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras to Brussels Midi.

Departures from Brussels Central. I finally realized Vertrek meant depart. Finally an English word.

On arrival I admit I felt scared and panicky. When I arrived at Paris Gare du Nord some 3 years ago, I didn't feel that panicky. You look for the word Sortie (exit) and find your way out to the hotel. And I had Nifer and Shirley with me.

Inside the train to Brussels, the announcements were already in French and Dutch. We stopped over at Lille, France which wasn't written on the ticket. Next stop was Brussels. I followed the crowd to the exit and down to the trains.

Train to Leuven from Brussels.

I was to take a train from Brussels to Leuven. Everywhere everyone was speaking in a foreign language and the signs and announcements were in Dutch and French. I was panicky. I asked at a tour center, how do i get to Leuven. He asked: London? I said no. Leuven. He pointed me down to Gate 16. Now.

So, I went to Gate 16. It says Louvain Airport. I thought must be wrong. So, went to ask another lady. She told me Liege? Apparently Leuven = Louvain = Liege. 3 different languages. Sigh. I only realized how lucky I was to be in London. English speaking country.

I only found the right platform after I asked the third person who wrote down on a paper which gate and which time. Journey to Leuven took 25 minutes by train. On arrival, find hotel. Great! How? Bear in mind, I'm dragging my luggage with me.

Which bus? Which way? Should i walk?

Took out my google map and address and proceeded to stop every passing stranger. Finally a black lady stopped to help me. Pointed me in the right direction and I walked off in search of the hotel. Lucky it wasn't hard to find. Got myself checked in and left my luggage there then went out with another google map in hand.

Park Street in English.

Parkstraat. Much much harder to find. I walked around 1 hour to reach there as I didn't know which bus would take me there. And what if I get lost when I get off the bus? Don't know the way back to hotel? Leuven has no metro. Just lots of bicycles and buses.

Leuven is a small university town. A far cry from London which I'm used to. Its so peaceful in Leuven, with people riding their bicycles everywhere. When you cross the road, better run cos the bikes come fast. Nearly everyone has a bicycle at home. They even park their bikes like this:

Photo taken in Willie's flat. Bikes belong to the students who stay there.

Most people are slim build due to their lifestyles I guess. Walking, and riding bicycles. Unlike Londonders who take the tube and bus everywhere.

You know you're a typical Londoner when you arrive at the tube station and see a 5 min wait for the next tube, you exclaim: what?! 5 minutes?? Its counted long when you're in London. But when in Sunderland, we were shocked to see: next train, 23 mins, 45 mins. My first thought was: there's something wrong with the screen. Unfortunately, the screen was working fine. We were late to arrive of course. Didn't expect it to be such a long wait.

Willie's first bike. I say first cos he got ino an accident and spoiled it not long after this photo. Will blog about it next time.

Off to work. Blur photo intentional.

Belgium is 1 hr 51 mins by train from London. Newcastle is 3 hours by train from London.

Belgium is a different country, different language barrier, different currency, different time zone. Freakin ironic isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Leuven (in dutch) = Louvain (in french)

Liege (in french) = Luik (in dutch) = Lüttich (in german)

Liège is a big french speaking city in the east of Belgium.

Amy said...

Thanks for the tip.