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Belgium: More than just chocolates

CHOCOLATE, waffles, beer, and diamonds have made Belgium famous.

Interestingly, none of the raw products are of Belgian origin, but people are so talented that the finished product bears a memorable Belgian label.

Few people take enough time to look beyond the surface, but those who are willing to slow down and spend four or five days in the relatively small country are well rewarded.

Belgium offers the perfect combination of old and new, casual and serious. The beauty and charms are low key.

Manneken Pis

A Brussels landmark, Manneken Pis (Dutch for little man urinating) holds a cultural significance similar to that of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid.

The 60-centimeter high bronze statue of the naked boy peeing into a fountain basin stands in a modest corner where it was placed in 1618. It's unguarded and thronged with hundreds of people from around the world.

Several times a week, he wears different costumes signifying different events, such as a cycling costume for the Tour de France.

His wardrobe contains more than 800 gift costumes, some dating to the 17th century.

China delivered a "panda costume" in June to Manneken Pis to mark Chengdu Day at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Visitors are lucky if they can actually see the naked statue. The changing of costumes is a colorful ceremony, with a loud brass band.

Many legends surround the character of Manneken Pis. A favorite story goes that a little war hero saved the city by peeing on a burning fuse of explosives.

Diamond city

Belgium's second largest city Antwerp is a bit more serious than casual Brussels, and is known as the diamond city because around eight of 10 rough diamonds mined worldwide are sent here for cutting.

More than 80 percent of the world's diamonds are traded in Antwerp, representing an annual turnover of US$39 billion.

Much of the business is conducted surrounding DiamondLand, a large showroom in central Antwerp.

The Diamond Museum provides a look at the world's hardest stone and how it is cut and fashioned into jewelry.

Medieval heritage

In the small city Brugge, about 105 kilometers from Brussels, visitors find many well-preserved world heritage sites, most dating to medieval times.

The churches, squares, bridges, houses and even carriages are reminders of a very old Europe.

Strict preservation of exteriors is enforced. No one is allowed to change the original facade of a building.


This city feels less like a museum. You can find a very special Marriott hotel in a former brewery. The entrance is small and unobtrusive.

Inside, it's all 21st century, with a high, white ceiling and ultra modern decor.

A restaurant in the city center is nestled in a former meat market. At the entrance, legs of salted ham remind visitors of its origin.

Tips For The Trip

People in Shanghai and Jiangsu, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces can apply for a Schengen Visa (covering 25 European countries) at Belgium's Visa Application Center in Shanghai.

Spend euros in Belgium.

People speak Dutch, French and German. English is also widely used.

Time difference between Beijing and Brussels is six hours in summer and seven hours in winter.

Transport is very convenient. You can reach any major city from Brussels in less than a two-hour drive. It's easy to reach Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam by train.

Belgium's summer temperature: 12-22 degrees Celsius. Winter: 0-6 degrees Celsius. Don't forget to take an umbrella.

Electric current: 220V. You sill need an adapter to use Chinese electric appliances, like hair dryers, because outlets have two holes.

Most department stores close at 6pm.

Hainan Airlines offers direct flights daily

If you want to travel to Belgium or start a trip to Europe, Hainan Airlines offers frequent direct flights.

On May 28, the airline launched its maiden flight between Shanghai and Brussels, the Belgian capital, making the journey from eastern China easier than ever.

The carrier operates three flights a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) from Shanghai and operates flights on the other days from Beijing to Belgium.

Hainan Airlines is the only four-star airline in China, according to Skytrax rankings in December last year.

From Brussels, the airline provides free transfers to 12 other European destinations.

Service includes two meals and whenever you ask for a drink, the flight attendant provides one with a smile.

Passengers can watch in-flight movies, listen to music or play video games on the screen in front of you, on the seat back.

For more information, call 950718 or visit


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