A City of Cyclists

For me, an inner-city girl who knows the intricate details of the public transport system, from getting to uni to travelling around a busy city, it didn’t occur to me that in other places such as Belgium, cycling is the preferred form of transport. A particular cycling hub is the city of Ghent, something that I did not realise is, that it is the home of the largest low-traffic zone in all of Europe.

Another rather confusing and unfamiliar thing to me after researching, is that cyclists have right of way on the Belgian roads with bike paths and tunnels decorating the city map. This progressive and environmentally friendly transportation system makes me feel hopeful that other busy cities around the world can reduce carbon emissions by pushing cycling as a main form of transport.

Ghent is a significant cyclist hub which established the first ever bike-only street in Belgium. In my home town, where cycling is somewhat common, there are not as many bike paths and cars are the main form of transport with the city built on main roads filled with cars. Australia could perhaps look at European cities such as Ghent which promote cyclists, to remodel its major cities to make them cyclist and pedestrian friendly.

This element of culture shock initially confused me as it is a much different to the dynamic of my home in Australia, but after research and looking deeper into the cyclist-friendly city I really became to love the idea of a cyclist zone. Not only are there environmental benefits, but there are also fitness benefits and a healthier lifestyle.

With my interests including street art and photography, there are many bike routes which feature artworks and are key spots for photography. Not only is Ghent environmentally friendly but cycling is a way to explore the city and travel smarter, looking at the landscape without a plan and exploring the hidden layers of the city in order to minimise the culture shock.

School’s Out – How Students Revolutionised Climate Change

In recent months, Belgium has been in the global spotlight due to the student protests about climate change and environmental conservation. Over 35,000 school students took to the streets in Brussels, Liège and Leuven to rally for change in government policies towards global warming. The mass truancy of many students across the country shows how the Belgian youth are open minded and are pushing for a better and cleaner future. This environmental and social issue is prevalent across Belgium, the movement began in Sweden and has spread to 270 countries around the globe.

Students, like myself, from all around the world and all different types of institutions, must come together to advocate for change in government climate policies in order to reduce the effects of global warming. As the younger generation, we must push for change for a better future not only for ourselves, but our children and our children’s children.

This international issue of climate change has been one that I have followed and learned about in my university studies, so it is something that is important to me because I am interested in environmental conservation. There were similar protests in my home town of Melbourne in which school students came together and voiced what was important to them.

This student movement in Belgium represents the impact that the younger generation can have on local government policies and for international climate efforts. Climate change is a global issue affecting everyone on the planet, therefore the protests in Belgium are a starting point for a global conversation of change.

Cuisine – A Taste of Belgium

To the modern traveller, Belgian cuisine appears to be the main focus of culture according to travel literature. This historical misconception is documented extensively through Belgian waffles, chocolates, beer, fries and mussels as the main foods that are widely and commonly consumed among the local population. With the changing population due to immigration and the fluidity of population, the cuisine is ever changing and becoming broader with influences from all over the globe. These common foods are enjoyed throughout the country, but do not dominate every meal.

With the headquarters for the EU and NATO in Belgium, there is a high influx of immigrants from other European countries. The immigrants that come to settle in Belgium bring with them their unique cuisine, adding to the many cultures that exist within the country. As with many countries in Western Europe, there is a high rate of immigration and the impact of this is the integration of different cultural practices, inducing of course food.

Approximately half of the new Belgians are from Europe and the other half are from non-Western countries, showing the vast diversity of immigration into the country. There are many people of Turkish, Moroccan and Italian descent, this has resulted in the establishment of many international restaurants and stores around Belgium.

Urban Art – Streets Come to Life

Living in Melbourne and being very familiar with street art which decorates the many hidden laneways of the city, I was very impressed with the street art that can be found in Belgium. One particular city which caught my attention was Hasselt located in the Limburg province in Eastern Belgium.

Hasselt is a small town which as attracted visitors who come to see the artworks, the street art in Hasselt was the first to be legalised in Belgium, attracting local and visiting artists. The city has established tours which take tourists down lanes that are lit up with the colours of artworks.

In my home town of Melbourne, much of the street art consists of smaller artworks and tags which cover walls in laneways, Hasselt is mainly decorated with larger murals instead which open up the streets.

Some artists use the surroundings and existing architecture to make a mural which incorporates paint and the building itself. I found this interesting as it shows the possibilities of the art that can be produced.

The murals in the city, allow for an outlet for local tourists to demonstrate their work and to bring colour to the small city to liven it up. For me, the artwork represents an uplifting dynamic in Hasselt and gives it the modern and colourful vibe. The aesthetic of the city has been brightened with the art and the somewhat dull and grey buildings have been splashed with colour.

What surprised me was not only the intricate murals themselves, but there is an annual Street Art Festival held which showcases the hard work of artists in Belgium. There is also a book which documents the murals of the festival, keeping the memories from the festival of that year.

A Lion’s Roar

How can we create a community? National symbols are important in uniting people and providing a sense of national pride and community. One major symbol of Belgium that stood out to me was the lion, which appears on the official coat of arms and carries the motto “Unity Makes Strength”. Through my discoveries of Belgium and its culture, I discovered that not only does the lion represent strength, it also has a rich history behind the creation dating back to 1583.

Leo Belgius was first drawn in 1583 by a cartographer, the map drew Belgium in the shape of a lion with the head located in the North East and the tail in the South East of the map. The original map covers modern day Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and parts of Northern France. The motto first originated after the Revolution in 1837, in which the Dutch were named equal in status to the French and the 9 Belgian provinces were united. This symbol is now used as the Belgian coat of arms and printed on official government documents and a lion was also used on the kits of the Belgian national soccer team from 1905 to 1980.

Leo Belgius and its history inspired me to look into how older history ties into and affects modern culture and Belgian people today. The meaning of unity and strength that the lion symbolises was shown when Belgium and its people came together in solidarity after the terror attacks in Brussels in early 2016. To me, this shows the importance of national pride and how an old motif of unity can connect to modern events in which a nation must come together.

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