Summer in the city
The weather has not yet delivered on the promise of summer warmth, but the city beaches have reappeared with optimism. We take a look at what's on offer.
Brussels has a city beach again this summer, the third year in succession, in what is quickly becoming a rage across the country.
Lapping up the beach life in the European capital
After 650,000 people flocked to the Brussels beach in 2004, the city is hoping to attract 1 million visitors this year.
"It is a success," Mayor Freddy Thielemans has loudly declared.
The beach is located along the Brussels Canal, where 4,500 tons of North Sea sand has been deposited. "The area is known to the public and it's easily accessible by public transport," Thielemans said.
And dismissing talk that the beach lacks a real beach feeling, the mayor said with a laugh: "You get here the same feeling as on the coast, even better".
Stretching for 1km, the city beach is flanked by restaurants, shops, bars and 60 straw huts which serve cocktails, ice creams and other snacks.
Offerings also range from Italian pastas to Vietnamese spring rolls and from Cuban liquor to Congolese cooking.
Two stages for musical performances feature salsa, tango, electro, reggae, hip hop, house, brass bands, jazz, merengue, ska and marching bands.
And a host of beach sports are also on offer, including aérofoot, handball, football (including soccer and American football), volley ball and petanque.
There are also children's activities such as sand castles, water games, clowns and storytellers, sweets and balloons.
The city of Brussels has invested EUR 340,000 into the beach, while private sponsors have added another EUR 220,000.
The result is something that Mayor Thielemans is proud of: "I did not only want a beach in Brussels, but a real seaside resort with attention for culture and sport, a place where cultures can meet each other".
"In the first place, Brussels Beach is for the people who otherwise don't have the possibility to go on vacation, but it is especially my dream to bring people together this way," he said.
"All cultures can meet each other here. This is the melting pot of the city, a multicultural meeting place."
Police patrol the region on a daily basis and have a 'headquarters' at the beach for questions from the public. The fire brigade is also present to ensure safety.
Located at the Place Sainctelette and Rue de la Dyle, entry to the beach is free. It will be open until 21 August from 11am to 10pm.
Antwerp and Hasselt
Besides Brussels, the popular Flemish cities of Antwerp and Hasselt are also hosting various city beaches this year.
In line with the rising popularity, Antwerp has two artificial city beaches. These are in addition to the city's stretch of natural sand located at Sint-Anneke.
One of the city beaches is the 'Strantwerpen' along the Gerlachekaai. But this is different to the Brussels city beach because instead of a festival-like atmosphere, an expanded terrace and trendy cocktail bar is 'all' that is on offer.
Antwerp's Strantwerpen beach on the Schelde is a trendy nightspot
However, there are dozens of seats to eat and drink at, plus the beach is decked out with banana lounges and showers.
It will be open from 10am to midnight during the week and until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights. It will remain open until mid-September.
Further north, you will find the Zomerbar close to the Eilandje on the Scheldekaai.
An initiative by the festival Zomer van Antwerpen, the beach has a view along the Schelde River and is in its second year of operation.
Besides the terrace atmosphere, you can also enjoy performances from circus acts to small acoustic concerts.
Meanwhile, in Hasselt, located in the province of Limburg and known as the friendliest city of Flanders, some 750 ton of sand was deposited along the wharf.
However, that beach was short lived and was only in place from 24-29 July.
But when that beach closed, a second Hasselt beach opened near the Sluis in Godsheide and will remain open throughout August until 4 September.
It is called Lounge sur Mer and as the name suggests, it offers a lounge atmosphere where good food, DJs and atmospheric lighting add to the mood. It is open from 11am-11pm.
But where's the good weather?
The summer months were forecast to be warmer than normal, but July proved disappointing with rainfall 20 percent above the average, Belgian meteorology bureau KMI said.
The Hasselt beach is offering 'lounge' like atmosphere and music
However, the Ukrainian meteorology bureau in Kiev had forecast in June a hot summer for much of Europe, predicting temperatures 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above the July average.
And it was right, so far: KMI said July's average temperature was 18.5 degrees Celsius, 1 degree higher than normal. KMI also said July 2005 was the fourth hottest month since 1833.
However, this was largely due to the fact that night temperatures were so mild — the minimum average temperature of 14.3 degrees was exceptionally high.
The Kiev forecasters also said August will be 2 to 2.5 degrees hotter than usual, but the first few days of August have also proved disappointing.
A weather forecaster with Leuven Meteo Services, Werner van den Broek, has also said the first 10 days of August don't look promising.
"If August wants to break records, it will have to occur in the second half of the month," he says.
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