Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bewitching Benelux

To be perfectly honest, when I first saw the word Benelux on a European rail website, I wondered why I had never heard of this country before.

Was my atlas that out of date?

Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg make up the union of Benelux (get it?).

While the three neighbouring countries sometimes share things in common, including history, food, language, currency and landscape, I was surprised to find they also have their own distinct characters.

Despite being able to train across the three countries in just a few hours, more than 28 million live here somewhere.

I didn't know much about the Benelux before heading there recently, except for the usual associations: Amsterdam equals drugs, Belgium equals chocolate, and Luxembourg equals... well, I had no idea.

Here's a few unusual things I discovered as I bopped around Benelux.

1.  You can get sex and pot in Amsterdam, but don't even think about asking for cold and flu tablets
If you want to feel like a real criminal, ask a pharmacist here for some day and night tablets with pseudoephedrine.   Having a cold with no decent medication... why it's enough to make you turn to pot.

2.  Should those visiting Amsterdam's red light district ever feel the need to confess, the Old Church is conveniently located next door
An urban planning mistake or a sign of Amsterdam's liberal ways?   At least the prostitutes have something nice to look at from their red-lit windows while they wait for customers.

3.  The Netherlands and Belgium have windmills for a reason; it gets windy!
The flat countryside is ideal for cycling... and cyclonic winds.

4.  No spirit levels were harmed in the building of Amsterdam
Being beside all those pretty canals means the city's buildings sometimes have that sinking feeling.

5.  Cheese is to The Netherlands as chocolate is to Belgium
Sometimes the clich├ęs are true... and tasty!  It seems the locals across Benelux also can't get enough of chips and aoli - quite the national dish!

6.  Luxembourg has hills!  
This fact is infinitely more interesting if you've just spent time roaming the flat landscapes of The Netherlands and Belgium.  

7.  In Luxembourg, a cheap day pass lets you travel on any public transport in the country
This sounds impressive until you realise how small the country is.   Still, I've been on train journeys in Brisbane that have cost more than a Luxembourg day pass.

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