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Belgium

Erasmus, who moved around Europe enough in his time, concluded "ubi bene es, ibi patria est" – home is where the heart is, if you like. Happily enough, we're agreed this means we both of us belong in Belgium.

He quite liked Belgium too, with stays in Leuven and Anderlecht.
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I can't claim we're following his advice where you're happiest is where you should make your homeland, because we only came across the phrase after we'd upped sticks and traded Yorkshire for Brabant, but this small and unconsidered country is unquestionably where we feel most at home.

Many people, Belgians included, have asked us what makes us feel this way, and the nearest to an answer we can come up with is "pace". From all we've seen, people here generally live one or two notches more slowly than in comparable settings in the UK; they take the time to enjoy themselves, and in fact rarely miss an opportunity of doing so. An example … We heard on the radio that the tunelling works at Antwerp's main railway station would be open to walk through one weekend, something that sounded like a fairly minority interest: but seizing this chance to go out and see something, there were queues at least twenty minutes long even early in the day. Families, young couples, teenagers, pensioners. Less surprising to encounter similar crowds the day we went to Hasselt for the jeneverfeest, but noticeable that with stalls selling tots of 47°-proof spirits from eight in the morning we didn't see a single drunk all day.

Belgians seem to have a happy knack for having fun. The skating-rink in the Grand'Place at Christmas, the all-day free jazz concert near the Atomium in the summer, chestnut-sellers in the autumn and everyone with a patch of garden selling lily-of-the-valley for May Day … Carnivals, and the Fête Nationale/Nationale Feestdag, and Openmonumentendag, and TTB Day, and even All Saints when the cemeteries glow with the rich bright colours of chrysanthemums…

The convent clock we can hear from our bedroom chimes every half hour, we shop at the market on Saturday mornings as a matter of course, and sometimes we come home to find parcels the postman has just hung on the door-knob. Very like where I grew up more than forty years ago. But we can book through tickets to St Austell at our own local station if we're going to visit my mother, recharge our debit-cards at any telephone box, send in meter readings by punching buttons on the 'phone – and appreciate there is a considerable level of modern infrastructure making our old-fashioned lives comfortable.


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