Yes, yes, I know you are hungry for more Country Fun Facts, so I won’t distract you with unnecessary introductions. Here you go!
Candice from Belgium tells us:
- Bright Belgium
Belgium is one of the most enlightened countries in the world. Indeed, if you look at a satellite map showing Europe at night from the sky, you will see a huge bright point: these are the Belgian roads! By the way, the Belgian motorway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon (at night, due to the lights all along the motorway network).
- Tallest, biggest, oldest…
Belgium holds some records as far as sizes, weights and ages are concerned. For example, Europe’s tallest man is Belgian (Alain Delaunois, 2m30), and the biggest newborn baby ever recorded was Samuel Timmerman, born in the Ter Linden Hospital in Knokke, weighing 5.4 kg and measuring 57 cm in length (December 2006). Similarly, life expectancy at birth in Belgium is 81 – which is higher than the OECD average of 80, with women living until 83 and men until 78.
- … but not highest
The highest point in Belgium is lower than the world’s tallest building – the Signal de Botrange on the High Fens plateau in the far east of the country is the highest point in Belgium at just 694 metres high, shorter than the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, with 828m. No wonder Belgium (along with the Netherlands and Luxembourg) was historically known as the one of the Low Countries.
Kasia from Poland shocks us: moving dunes, leaning towers and sailing on land?!
- The leaning tower of Toruń
It’s not only Pisa. Poland has its own leaning tower as well! It is located in the city of Toruń – birthplace and hometown of the famous Nicolaus Copernicus – or rather Mikołaj Kopernik. While in town, you can also visit his house on, who would have guessed, Copernicus Street (ulica Kopernika).
Apart from the beautiful coastal scenery, the most interesting feature of Słowiński Park Narodowy (Słowiński National Park) in northern Poland is its shifting sand dunes. Wind and waves make the dunes move at a rate of 3–10 metres a year. The park has over 140 km of hiking trails and the pure white sand is perfect for picnicking!
- In Poland, you can even sail on dry land!
Kanał Elbląski (Elbląg Canal) is the longest canal in Poland. It features a 99.5-metre difference in water levels. To deal with the difference, five slipways carry boats over dry land on rail-mounted trolleys. The total length of the canal is 80 km and it takes about 11 hours to get from one end to the other. The canal has been listed as one of national Historic Monuments.
Claudia reminds us that Portugal is a tiny country but it spread its influence to the entire world! Just look at this:
- How British is the 5 o’clock tea time?
Ever wondered why British people have their “tea-time” and like black tea so much? It was Portuguese princess Catarina de Bragança, who introduced the custom of having tea in the late afternoon. In 1661, Catarina married King Charles II of England. Her title was Queen Consort of England, Scotland and Ireland. Many people believe Catarina is the one who introduced tea to the people of Britain. But, many others say she is the one who started the custom of having “high tea” in the late afternoon, around 5 o’clock.
- Japanese words
As the Portuguese Empire spread worldwide between the 14th and 16th centuries, so did the Portuguese language that rapidly took hold throughout the Far East where the first contacts between discoverers and locals was facilitated by polyglot interpreters, so-called lingoas. Not only was Portuguese widely spoken by the colonial governors and by merchants, it was the lingua franca between local authorities and Europeans of all nationalities. Mixed marriages between Portuguese and locals also helped the spread of the language and many Portuguese words were adopted by local languages when Jesuit missionaries from Portugal introduced Christian ideas and objects.
- The melancholic Fado
Fatalism is an essential trait of Portuguese culture. Fado, as the Portuguese call it, is expressed by the common interjection oxalá, derived from the Arabic Inshallah, and which means “if only” or “hopefully”. Fado has given rise to the eponymous music genre, characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. Fado has been recognised by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
Elisa touches on some important German topics – beer, science and chancellor Merkel:
- Why “Oktoberfest” when it actually is in September?
The historical background: the first Oktoberfest was held in the year 1810 in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17th with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September.
By moving the festivities up, it allowed for better weather conditions. Because the September nights were warmer, the visitors were able to enjoy the gardens outside the tents and the stroll over “die Wiesen” or the fields much longer without feeling chilly. Historically, the last Oktoberfest weekend was in October and this tradition continues into present times.
- Albert Einstein – the President of Israel?
In an exchange of letters David Ben-Gurion, the primary founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel, offered Albert Einstein the presidency of Israel.
Einstein responded, declining the office, citing his age, and saying that he felt he lacked “natural aptitude and the experience” to deal with people.
His closing remark is both extremely humble and extremely moving:
I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.
She is tall, blonde and curvy, has cornflower blue eyes and implausible anatomical proportions. Meet Angela Merkel, the Barbie doll.
As part of a series to celebrate the toy’s 50th birthday, manufacturer Mattel has brought out a version modelled on the German chancellor. The doll wears the politician’s tailored trouser suit and her trademark blonde bob, but the resemblance ends there: its tiny waistline is more Heidi Klum than Angela Merkel and its smiling face is free of the worry lines produced when you are trying to fight economic crisis in Europe’s largest economy.
Marina, being an Italian, definitely had to talk about pizza… but also other surprising facts!
- A peasant pizza for a queen
Italy is known for several typical things, and one of them must be pizza. This simple and easy recipe has many variants, and almost anything, as long as it’s edible, can be put on a pizza. Not everyone knows, though, that the original pizza is a peasant recipe, made up with very cheap ingredients: water, flour, salt and oil. In 1889, chef Raffaele Esposito presented a pizza to the Queen of Savoia, Margherita, adding tomato, mozzarella and basil. The Queen was impressed by the flavour of that meal, which boasted the same colours as the Italian flag, and asked the chef about the name of the dish. Raffaele, who wanted to please his queen and make a good impression on her, answered her that that was, of course, pizza Margherita, in the name of her majesty.
- Land of the 200 dialects
Did you know that there are about 200 different dialects in Italy? The local languages have been grouped by linguists in five geographical categories: Veneti dialects, Tuscan dialects, Median dialects, Southern dialects, and Extreme Southern dialects. Inside the same group you can find similar words and grammatical constructions, but the accent varies almost in every city. Today, the majority of the population speaks Italian, the official language. Nevertheless, until the 20th century, it was very difficult to communicate from one region to another.
- Living on the slope
Mount Vesuvius is one of the four active volcanoes in the south of Italy. It is an explosive sleepy volcano best known for its eruption in AD 79, which led to the burying and destruction of the Roman city of Pompeii. Even though Mount Vesuvius has erupted several times since then, and it is one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the European mainland, there are more than 700,000 people living on its slope, and they do not want to move away despite the danger.
Remember: if you can’t wait to tell us a story of some superweird stuff going on in your home country, let us know! Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy fun facts hunting!