Portugal is a European country located in the Iberian peninsula and it is incredibly rich in terms of culture and history. It also has gorgeous landscapes and counts innumerable hidden gems. Formally called the Portuguese Republic, this country counts around 10.5 million people, predominantly Catholics. Its capital city is Lisbon and its only neighbouring country is Spain. Portugal is part of the European continent, but its territory also comprises two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean: the Azores and Madeira. In this article you will find 10 interesting facts about this surprising country, that you probably didn’t know!
#1 Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe
Portugal has had the same defined borders for over 800 years, making it one of the most ancient nation-states in Europe. Lisbon is even older than Rome by several centuries. Lisbon is said to have been established around 1200 BC and is the oldest city of Western Europe, and second oldest in Europe, after Athens.
#2 Portuguese is the 6th most-spoken language in the world
Portuguese is spoken by around 230 million people worldwide and it is the official language of 9 countries. It is ranked as the 6th most-spoken language in the world, after Mandarin, English, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic.. Interestingly, Portuguese is most widely spoken than French, Russian or German! It is also believed that there are more native Portuguese outside of Portugal than in it, with Paris being the city with the highest percentage of Portuguese residents (around 700,000 people). Moreover, 12% of the population of Luxemburg is also Portuguese.
#3 Portugal is one of the world’s top surf spots
The Portuguese coastline is well-known among surfers, as it is one of the most popular spots for surfing high waves. With almost 800 km of coastline, Portugal offers a surfing paradise all year long. In fact, in 2011, the Hawaiian surfer, Garrett McNamara broke the world record of the highest wave ever surfed in the small city of Nazaré. He caught a wave of nearly 30 metres high (90 feet) in Praia do Norte.
#4 Portugal is the biggest cork producer in the world
Portugal is already famous for its wine, its Port wine and also for its corks. It produces more than half of the entire world’s corks, which are exported mainly to Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Cork production represents an important part of Portugal’s economy.
#5 Lisbon is home to Europe’s longest bridge
The Vasco De Gama bridge was built in 1998 for the World’s Fair Expo 98. The Fair celebrated the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the sea route connecting Europe to India by Portuguese navigator Vasco De Gama. The bridge was built in his honor in Lisbon above the Tagus River and is 17,185 metres long (56,381 ft), thus becoming Europe’s longest bridge. Its construction started in 1995 and took three years to finish. Its goal was also to alleviate congestion inside the city and to ease the traffic between northern and southern parts of the country.
#6 Portugal is ranked as the third most peaceful country in the world
Portugal is ranked as the most peaceful country in Europe and the third most peaceful country in the world, after Iceland and New Zealand, by the Global Peace Index 2017. Portugal has a low crime rate, good living standards, good rankings in terms of freedom and politics are stable.
#7 José Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission, was Portugal’s Prime Minister
Jose Manuel Barroso has been Prime Minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004 and minister of Foreign Affairs in the 1990s. He worked as president of the European Commission from 2004 to 2014, and was replaced by Jean-Claude Juncker.
#8 Porto’s historical center is a UNESCO-protected site
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city. It is famous for its Port wine, which is produced in the Douro region, in the surroundings of the city. The entire historic center of Porto, also called “Oporto”, has been declared a World Site Heritage by UNESCO in 2006. Built alongside the Douro River, Porto keeps a traditional charm and its old architecture.
Porto is also said to have inspired famous author J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter saga. The bookshop Livraria Lello has particularly inspired her for the description of the Flourish and Blotts bookshop in her first book. The Livraria Lello has often been declared one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
#9 England and Portugal have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world
England and Portugal signed the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty in 1373 and it is still in force today. It established “perpetual friendship, unions and alliance” and is the oldest lasting diplomatic alliance in the world. The treaty has been reinforced throughout history and, twice in the past, both countries entered war to defend the other. The UK entered the Iberian Peninsular War in the beginning of the 19th century and Portugal entered World War I.
#10 Portugal is simply gorgeous
Like in many other places, you can find heavenly beautiful landscapes in Portugal, but it also contains many hidden gems! Like the city of Sintra for example, and its castle, the Algarve region, or the Douro region. But in this case, “a picture says more than a thousand words”, so it is better to just show you.
These 10 facts aimed at presenting Portugal under a new light. Maybe you knew all of it already or maybe you discovered new things. And apart from its incredible beaches and landscapes, Portugal has also many more advantages for its society. Portugal legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, and acts as a world leader in terms of renewable energies (the largest solar power plant in the world was built in Amareleja in 2008). It has an advanced economy and high-living standards. It ranks well in terms of moral freedom and press freedom. It is prosperous, stable and has a low crime rate. So if you never thought of visiting Portugal before, maybe you can add it to your bucket list now! If you want to discover traditional Portuguese recipes, follow this link.
If you liked this article, don’t hesitate to leave comments and share your impressions!
Morocco, this small country in the North of the African continent has often remained discreet and quiet, but it could really surprise you! Morocco is located on the Northwest part of Africa, only 13 km away from Spain. Its capital city is Rabat with a population of around 33.9 million people. Moroccans speak Modern Standard Arabic and Berber languages, but French is still widely spoken. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim.
#1 The Oldest university in the world is located in Fez, Morocco.
The University of al-Quaraouiyine is considered to be the oldest university in the world that is still operating today. It was founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri. It is also comprised of an equally old and famous library. It is located in the medina of Fez, which is the oldest imperial city in Morocco.
#2 Fez is a UNESCO-protected site.
Fez is one of the most ancient cities in Morocco and its medina has been declared a world site heritage by the UNESCO. Fez’s medina is often considered the largest car-free area in the world. The medina covers the entire center of the city and is a labyrinth of small streets going up and down. Some streets are large enough to fit only one average-sized person at the time!
#3 Morocco is a popular setting for film shootings.
“Ouallywood”, as it is called, is a popular filming area located in the Saharan desert, in the region of Ouarzazate. The region is home to the Atlas Film Studios. Big blockbusters likes Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Babel, Gladiator, Asterix & Obelix, Kingdom of Heaven, OSS 177, Sex and the City 2 (etc) have been shot there. Interestingly, the movie “Casablanca”, which was an international success and became one of the greatest movies of all times, was not shot in Morocco at all, but in the Warner studios in Los Angeles!
#4 There is a city in Morocco that is completely blue!
Many cities in Morocco are known to have a color whether it is symbolic or not. Marrakesh, for example, is known as the Red City. Chefchaouen’s is blue. This small mountain city is located on the Northern part of Morocco and it is literally blue. In the medina, the walls, streets and houses have all been painted in blue. Some parts are still in the making, but since it has become a popular tourist attraction, you can be sure that these parts will quickly turn blue. The reason of this cobalt color is quite unknown but it is definitely a must-see!
#5 Morocco will become a solar superpower in 2020.
Not too far from Ouallywood, in the region of Ouarzazate, a solar power plant will be established in the Saharan desert by 2020. This installation will be the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world. Thanks to the Saharan sun, but also wind and hydro power, Morocco hopes to produce half of its electricity with renewables and even export some to Europe. When finished, the four plants in Ouarzazate will occupy an area as large as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and should be able to power 1 million homes.
#6 Morocco was the last country to join the African Union.
Initially, this fact was supposed to read: “Morocco is the only country of Africa that is not part of the African Union”, but we recently discovered that it was not the case anymore. Morocco, indeed, rejoined the Union this year, after 30 years of absence! It had left the African Union in 1984 over disputed territory of Western Sahara.
#7 Morocco is one of the largest producers of illicit hashish in the world.
Even if it is illegal, it is quite common to smoke cannabis in Morocco. The country has been producing massive loads of hashish that is mostly targeted at Europe and European tourists. The Rif region is particularly known for its hashish production, and the blue city of Chefchaouen, especially. Morocco, in general, has been known to be one of the world’s top suppliers.
#8 White is the color of mourning.
In many countries and cultures, black is the color of mourning, and white is a color of freshness or happiness. In Catholicism at least, white is often the color of clothes for most religious ceremonies (marriage, communion, baptism). In Morocco, the color white is used differently - it is used when in mourning.
The symbol of love is also quite unusual in Morocco. The heart often represents love in many countries, but in Morocco, the liver is the symbol of love!
#9 Tea is the most popular drink in Morocco .
Green tea and especially mint tea with fresh leaves of mint is a very popular drink in Morocco. Brewing and serving tea is often seen as a form of art and is culturally significant. Guests are often offered mint tea, and it is considered rude to refuse it. Locally, it is sometimes called “Moroccan Whiskey”, but do not get mistaken , you will not find any alcohol in Morocco.
#10 Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country.
In 1777, Morocco became the first country in the world to recognize the United States as a new nation. In 1786, Morocco and the USA signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship that, still today, remains the longest standing treaty of the United States (239 years).
Morocco can sometimes be unexpected and surprising! I bet you would not have guessed half of these facts. I you found this article interesting, don’t hesitate to share and comment!
- CIA Website. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mo.html
- Morocco World News. Retrieved from: https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2016/02/180472/city-officials-dub-ouarzazate-ouallywood-in-new-festival-title/
- Huffpost Maghreb. Retrieved from: http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/02/04/cinema-maroc-tournage_n_14597944.html
- Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Al_Quaraouiyine
- UNESCO Website. Retrieved from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/170
- Fact Retriever. Retrieved from: https://www.factretriever.com/morocco-facts
- The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/26/morocco-poised-to-become-a-solar-superpower-with-launch-of-desert-mega-project
- The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/31/morocco-rejoins-african-union-after-more-than-30-years
- The Economist. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21720598-others-use-them-lock-up-restless-young-men-some-arab-governments-are-rethinking
- Facts.net. Retrieved from: http://facts.net/morocco/
How well do you know Estonia? Do you even know where it is located? The Republic of Estonia is one of the three Baltic States, the Northernmost one. It is a small country of Northern Europe, a former Soviet Republic and now a member of the European Union and NATO, since 2004. Estonia adopted the Euro as its official currency in 2011. Its largest and capital city is Tallinn. There are around 1.3 million people living in Estonia, making it one of the least populous countries of the EU. Estonian is the official language but Russian is still widely spoken. After these few straightforward facts, here are twelve more that will probably surprise you! Estonia is more interesting than you would think!
#1 Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world.
According to a 2010 poll, around 18% of the population expressed their belief in a god. The rest declared themselves agnostic or atheist. However, the prevailing religion is Christianity, and some religious traditions do remain, like pagan rituals which are considered secular cultural traditions. Religion, or rather beliefs, in Estonia, are mostly based on folklore traditions and nature, rather than on an institutional church.
#2 Almost half of Estonia’s territory is covered by forests.
With its low density of population and simply its very low population, the country is about half urbanized. Forests cover more than 48% of the territory, making Estonia one of the cleanest places on Earth to breathe! How nice, right? Furthermore, with such a vast natural environment, Estonia is still home to wild animals, like the wolf, the lynx and brown bears. Most of these species have become very rare in the rest of Europe, because of fast-growing and developing urbanized areas. Wild animals in Europe had massively disappeared, but more recently, their populations have risen again, thanks to re-introduction programs.
#3 Estonians are incredibly tech-savvy!
Most Estonians are familiar with everything there is to know in terms of current and future technologies. They have introduced technology in many fields of their society. When Estonia got its independence in 1991, the country was very late in its technological developments and in its economy. The “after-Soviet-Union” situation has not been easy for anyone. And, just two decades later, Estonia is a leading “tech-nation”. It is now possible to pay for parking spaces with your phone, your health files are stored in a cloud and paying annual taxes online only takes about 5 minutes. Education has not been spared the advancements, just the contrary. Education in Estonia highly focuses on technology and kids are taught all necessary basics at a very young age. In 1998, the government decided that all classrooms should be equipped with computers (which they did). Today, young kids as young as seven are taught coding and how to program computers!
#4 Estonia was the first country in the world to introduce online political voting.
This does not come as a surprise following the previous idea. Estonia puts technology at the heart of every action. And by using online political voting, Estonia has shown some cutting-edge progress that could possibly be the indispensable alternative in the future. The system has been used in the country since 2005.
#5 You know Skype, right? It originated in Estonia.
Who does not know Skype? You might have never used it but you certainly know it. Founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, Skype came as a technological revolution to communicate between time zones and continents for free. You can use it like a regular phone or face-time your friends using only wifi. Nowadays, this maybe does not seem as revolutionary as it once was, but still. Well, this nice invention comes from Estonia. I bet you had no idea! And Skype is not the only successful start-up from Estonia (you probably know Kazaa or TransferWise), the country holds the record for the most start-ups per capita!
#6 Wi-Fi is everywhere, like, literally everywhere!
In Estonia you will find Wi-Fi everywhere! In parks, in streets, in public transports, etc. And, for the sake of a good education focused on technology, in all schools too. In 2000, the government declared internet access as a human right, Wi-Fi has thus become available anywhere in the country.
#7 Tallinn is the most well-preserved medieval city in Europe.
If you thought you would find perfectly preserved medieval cities in Europe in France or, maybe Germany, Austria or Czech Republic, well, you’re right but don’t forget Estonia! And Tallinn has even been voted the most well-protected medieval city in all of Europe. The Old Town sector is under the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage Center. The fortress in the center of the capital is unique and looks very authentic! And everywhere in the city you will find remains of its medieval past. The Old Town is so nicely preserved that you can completely immerse yourself in another timeline!
#8 In Tallinn, public transportation is completely free!
If you are a registered citizen of Tallinn, public transportation is free for you! This is a smart solution to traffic jams and pollution inside cities. Plus, it benefits the government, as more people living in Tallinn will voluntarily register. This convenient system allows poorer people to also use public transportation and helps removing cars from the center of the city, making it more pleasant to walk in and to breathe in!
#9 Estonia ranks second in literacy.
With a literacy rate of 99.8%, Estonia ranks second for the highest literacy rate in the world, right after Latvia. The literacy score is also equal for both men and women. Its position might however sometimes vary because some more countries also stand at the same percentage, but it is commonly accepted that Estonia holds the second place.
#10 Estonia ranked third in press freedom.
Estonia is one of the few countries of the world that respect press freedom the most. In 2007 it ranked third in terms of press freedom, but today, in 2017, it dropped to the 12th position, which is still in some of the best scores of the world. The three first spots are occupied by the Nordic European States: Norway, Sweden and Finland, in order.
#11 Estonia does have some serious (maybe unusual) laws that you have to respect.
Do not drink and drive. Estonia follows a zero tolerance policy in terms of drunk driving. The maximum amount of alcohol in blood permissible is at 0,019%. In shops, alcoholic beverages can only be sold until 10pm.
Wear safety reflectors at night. As Estonia spends many months of the year in the darkness, the government worried about pedestrians getting hit by cars. Therefore, in order to keep the streets safe, during the night, whether you are walking or biking, you should always wear safety reflectors pinned on your coat, where it is easily visible. The fine for the violation of this law can amount to 400 EUR.
Being a mom will not affect your finances. Estonia has got some great legislations in case of pregnancy. In some countries, taking a maternity leave creates a deep hole in your savings. But in Estonia, new mothers are offered 100% of their former salary for 18 months. Other services and child support are also covered.
#12 Estonia celebrates its independence twice a year.
The first one is celebrated on the 24th of February, which links back to 1918, when they obtained their independence from the Russian Empire. However a few years later, Estonia was annexed into the Soviet Union. Then, the second day of independence is celebrated on the 20th of August, in reference to August 20, 1991, when they got their full independence from the Soviet Union.
This small democracy starts to sound like a new paradise, right? Worried about the environment and the education, the Estonian government presents good values and a real interest for the welfare of its people. And on top of everything else, Estonians are told to be generally attractive! Estonia has got the highest rate of supermodels per capita in the world! This small sauna-loving country seems like it has a lot to offer. But not everything is perfect either. Their childbirth is fastly decreasing, the unemployment rate reaches 19% and other factors certainly add to the list. Not all negative aspects of a country can be found online either! Stay curious and go visit it by yourself!
Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you think we missed something important about Estonia or if something got you thinking!
By: Florane Lavend'homme
In this article, we will present 12 interesting facts about Armenia. In case you do not know where Armenia is, it is a small country located in the South Caucasus between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. It does not have any access to maritime shores but it is geographically situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Its capital is Yerevan. There are around 3 million people living in Armenia. The official language is Armenian but many people can still speak Russian, because of the Soviet history of the country. You have probably heard of Armenia through the Kardashian family who is of Armenian descent or, if you are familiar with French musical variety, French singer Charles Aznavour, also has Armenian origins. But thanks to this article, we hope that you will learn so much more about Armenia - this small but very interesting country that we never hear of!
1. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
Armenia was the first nation of the world to have adopted Christianity as a state religion in AD 301. Despite its location in the Middle East, Armenia is predominantly Christian and not Muslim, as some could probably assume. Nowadays, most Armenians follow the Armenian branch of Christianity, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is a form of Oriental Orthodoxy.
2. The very first church in the world was built in Armenia.
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is often considered as the oldest cathedral in the world, according to several scholars. It is located in the city of Vagharshapat in Armenia and is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is believed that the church was originally built between AD 301 and 303. Churches in Armenia all have a very similar and unique architecture, certainly because of its specific religion that is only practiced in Armenia. You will probably never see these kinds of churches anywhere else in the world.
3. Mount Ararat is a national symbol of Armenia, but it is located in Turkey!
Mount Ararat is a 5,137 metres (16,864 ft) high snow-capped summit. It is the highest peak of Turkey and is one of the national symbols of Armenia. It has long been considered a sacred mountain and is believed to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark. It is only 32 km (20mi) away from the Armenian border and is widely visible from the capital, Yerevan. It was originally part of Persia, but the current border was determined in the 1920s, following the Turkish-Armenian war, when the mountain territory became a part of Turkey.
4. The longest double-track cable-car in the world is located in Armenia.
The Wings of Tatev is the name given to this aerial tramway, opened in 2010, which holds the world record for the longest non-stop double-track cable-car. The cable is 5,752 metres long (or 18,871 ft) and connects the village of Halidzor to the small isolated village of Tatev, where stands the incredible 9th-century Tatev monastery.
5. Lake Sevan is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world.
Lake Sevan, situated in the highlands of Armenia, is the largest lake in Armenia and in the Caucasus region. It is also one of the largest freshwater high-altitudes lakes in the world. It is located at an altitude of 1,900 metres above sea level (or 6,234 ft). The lake covers an area of 1,242 km2 (or 480 sq mi).
6. Armenia is a major wine producer and one of the oldest of the world.
Armenia is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Armenian winemakers have been famous since very ancient days. Traces of wine production dates back to 401-400 BC. Nowadays, wineries are found across all provinces of the country. Armenian wines are often quite sweet and even fruity, when combined with fresh fruit juice, such as pomegranate - a common ingredient and the national fruit!
7. They have a very interesting way of baking their bread!
Their special bread, which can actually be found in many regions of the Caucasus is called Lavash. It is a flat slightly chewy bread made from regular bread ingredients: flour, salt and water. The Armenian lavash is baked underground in a big earth oven called the tonir. Very often, bakers have to dive in the oven to stick the bread dough on the inside walls of the oven.
8 Apricot and pomegranate are national symbols.
Armenia is quite famous for its apricots. It is believed that they are some of the best of the world. The apricot is a national fruit and is often used as an ingredient in diverse recipes, dried or fresh. Pomegranate is also a very common fruit. It grows everywhere and it is used in many dishes. It is a symbol of the country and you will probably find many touristic souvenirs featuring a pomegranate! On key rings, fridge magnets, simple jewelry, etc. - the pomegranate is everywhere!
9. Chess is a mandatory subject at school.
Armenia has a long tradition of playing chess. It was already played in the Middle Ages. Chess became highly popular in Armenia in the 1960s, under the Soviet era. Today, Armenia is ranked as one of the strongest chess nations in the world, thanks to several Armenian world chess champions. With a population of only 3 million people, Armenia is one of the countries with the most chess grandmasters per capita. Since the year 2011-2012, the Armenian government made chess lessons compulsory in every public schools, thus making Armenia the first country in the world to establish such a law.
10. Armenia was one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union.
You probably already knew this one before reading this article: Armenia was one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union. In 1922, Armenia was incorporated in the Soviet Union, along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, the three of them forming the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The three countries were known as the Transcaucasian republics of the Soviet Union, mostly because of the geographical border between them and the rest of the continent, namely the Caucasus mountains. In 1991, Armenia declared its independence and after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was officially recognized - that same year. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Armenia joined the Commonwealth of Independent States which brings together 9 of the 15 former Soviet republics.
11. Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide refers to the massive and brutal killings of Armenian citizens during and after the First World War, under the Ottoman Empire ruling. It is estimated that around 1.5 million Armenians were killed and many more were deported. Today, the events are widely considered as genocide and many nations have officially recognized it as such. However, the Turkish government has still not recognized it - justifying it as a necessary war measure used against their enemy at the time.
12. Armenia is involved in an ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a portion of territory that is geographically located within Azerbaijan, but mostly populated with Armenian people. The conflict started almost a century ago and has had various phases of peace and war. Peace talks have been held a few years ago, but new aggressions have reappeared. The status of the region has yet to be determined. Because of Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan, Armenia has closed its borders along with its diplomatic relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Armenia is a country that we never hear of in the news - except for those horrible events that have taken place there. However, Armenia offers so much more than that. It truly has a very rich and unique culture. Its religious traditions are very specific and its culinary specialities are incredible and diverse! Its people are kind and generous and the capital city of Yerevan seemed to me, a very modern and growing city - where it feels good to live. It is a nice spot for students as the town is dynamic and young. Yerevan is also a platform open to modern art and music - where a convivial atmosphere prevails. I believe this country has a lot to offer and is worth discovering!
Florane, the author of the article, visited Armenia last year. If you want to see some typical Armenian landscapes, check out her travel video.
You already know a lot about Russia, even if you never looked for it. The biggest country in the world has regularly made news headlines and keeps doing so. But what do you actually know besides these headlines regarding Putin’s government and its involvement in international conflicts? These facts might actually surprise you!
1. Russia is only 4km (2.8 ml) away from the United States!
If you look at a world map under another angle, you will see that Alaska and Russia are actually very close. But how is is possible that only 4 km separates them? You have to take a closer look at the Diomede Islands. Big Diomede belongs to Russia and the other island, called Little Diomede is American. The two islands are located in the Bering Strait, that separates the mainlands of Alaska and Siberia. Only 3.8 km (to be accurate), or 2.4 miles separate the islands. The islands are also separated by an international date line, meaning that Big Diomede, also called Tomorrow Island is almost one day ahead (21 hours) of Little Diomede, called Yesterday Isle.
2. Russia’s territory is bigger than the entire surface of Pluto.
Do you remember Pluto? This small planet that was declared not-a-planet anymore in 2006. Pluto was once the ninth planet of the solar system, but today it is called a “dwarf-planet”. Anyways, the entire surface of Pluto is of 16,650,000 km2, while the entire area of Russia is 17,125,191 km2! So Russia is not only the bigger country of our planet, it is also bigger than another planet! And in case you did not know, Siberia covers up to 77% of the entire Russian territory.
3. Russia’s population is smaller than Bangladesh’s.
Russia might be the biggest country of the world by area but it is only ranked as 9th in terms of population. China has been holding the record for quite some time now, with its 1.3 billion people, closely followed by India, which also hit the 1 billion mark not so long ago. Bangladesh holds the 8th position as the most populous country in the world and Russia comes right after with its population of 143,375,006 people (Worldometers, 2017). Other countries that count more people than Russia are (in order): China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh. It is also interesting to note that Bangladesh is 116 times smaller than Russia by area.
4. In Russia there are more women than men.
It was estimated in 2015 that for 100 women, there are only 86 men in Russia. According to the United Nations data, the global ratio is 101,8 men per 100 women. Or overall, there are around 10 millions more women than men in Russia, and in some regions the proportion is even more uneven, with 5 women for 1 man in the Caucasus, for example. This difference was allegedly attributed to the big human losses Russia had to endure during World War II. These losses represented a large majority of young men, creating a gap in the general balance between men and women. Life expectancy in Russia for men and women is also highly uneven. Women are expected to live to age 75, while men are expected to live to age 64 on average. Another hypothetical reason could also be alcoholism, that is still a major problem in Russia and that generally affects men more than women.
5. Russia lost around 27 million people during World War II.
It is obviously difficult to estimate precisely the amount of Soviet casualties of World War II, but it is generally accepted that around 27 million Soviet people died - almost half of the entire death toll caused by WWII. In almost every city of Russia, you can find memorials to soldiers who died on the front, listing thousands of names. This fact is often neglected when talking about the role of the Soviet Union in WWII.
6. Lake Baikal, Russia’s biggest lake is the deepest lake of the world.
Located in southern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and often considered the oldest (25 million years). It is also the largest freshwater lake of the world by volume and represents around 22% of the world’s fresh water. Speaking of nature and geography, it is interesting to note that Europe’s highest mountain is also located in Russia. Mount Elbrus is Russia’s and Europe’s highest mountain, culminating at 5,642 (18,410 ft).
7. The deepest subway station of the world is in Saint-Petersburg.
The Saint-Petersburg metro system is the deepest of the world, by average depth of the stations, even though some metro lines in other countries might go even deeper. The deepest metro station in Saint-Petersburg goes 102 meters (335 ft) below the ground. It takes around 7 minutes to go to the station by escalator! The actual deepest subway station in the world is located at the Arsenalna station in Kiev, Ukraine (105.5 mt, or 346 ft). Saint-Petersburg’s metro system is the 19th busiest in the world and Moscow’s is the Sixth! Moscow metro system is also pretty deep, but above all it is considered one of the most beautiful subway system in the world. Guided tours are actually organized in Moscow to visit the prettiest stations of the Russian capital. Adding to this metro fact, Russia also has got the longest railway line of the world. You might have heard of Trans-Siberian railway, which is 9288 meters long (5700 ml) and spans from Moscow to Vladivostok, from the West of the country to the easternmost city of Russia. The journey takes approximately one week.
8. Russia has a wide diversity of cultures.
You probably picture Russians as Slavic guys, wearing adidas training outfits, squatting in circle, in a gloomy street in front of their old cars. Well, Russia is more than that. Russia spans from Northern Europe, to the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Asia. Ethnic groups are evidently very diverse from a region to another. Russian has been declared the official language of the Russian Federation by the constitution but each republic can declare another official language for its own region. It is estimated that there are over 185 ethnic groups considered as having their own nationality living in Russia. Even if all inhabitants of Russia are Russian, Chechens or Tatars for example have a different local identity and nationality. A few indigenous tribes still live in the North and Far East of Russia.
9. Russia has been home to many world-renown artists.
Russia always had and still does have a very rich culture. Russian artists performed in all artistic fields and acquired worldwide renown. In literature, we can mention Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Gorky, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, Bulgakov and many more. In painting, you find Kandinsky, Chagall, Makovsky, Malevich, Popov, Repin, etc. In music and operas, Russians also marked history. You know The Nutcracker ballet, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. You have undoubtedly heard of other Russian composers, such as Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov or Stravinsky. Russia has really been through different golden eras, artistically speaking.
10. Two ideological tendencies in Russia.
After analyzing different Russian rulers through history, you can distinguish two main ideologies. Occidentalism gathered people also called “Westernizers” who believed that “Russia's development depended upon the adoption of Western European technology and liberal government” (Linguee), while Slavophilia was “... an intellectual movement originating from 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history” (Linguee). So, simply speaking, you could say that Westernizers were more likely to strengthen their links with the Western world, because they believed that the best way to develop their society was to consider the West as an example. On the other hand, Slavophilia supporters believed that Russia was meant to go its own way and to develop itself in a unique manner that was typical of them. Throughout history, you can see that some rulers adhere to one or the other tendency. Hence Mihail Gorbachov for example can be considered a “Westernizer” while, Stalin, Lenin or even Putin, today, can be considered Slavophiliacs. Under the Tsarist regime, Russia was more oriented towards Occidental values, while the ideas of the Soviet Union were more Russia-centric, in a way. However, these two movements firstly appeared within intellectual and artists circles.
11. Russia is the country that possesses the most nuclear weapons.
Even though the exact number of nuclear weapons that a country actually possesses is a national secret, it is estimated that Russia possesses 7,000 total nuclear warheads, among which 1,950 are fully operational. This is more than the United States, which has around 6,800 warheads. In 1988, Russia had a peak stockpile of 45,000 warheads. With regard to their chemical weapon arsenal, Russia destroyed 57% of it.
12. Russia is the biggest producer of oil in the world.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States have long been the three bigger producers of oil in the world, but each has had ups and downs. As of 2016, the order remains. Saudi Arabia closely follows Russia with 10,460,710 barrels a day, against 10,551,497 for Russia.
13. A few more anecdotes, just for the fun.
Russia is so large and fascinating that I don’t know where to stop! So, I’m adding here a few more interesting facts, without further explanations.
So Russia is not just its eccentric president, crazy guys posting utterly strange pictures on social media, bears, kalashnikovs and people skinny-dipping in frozen lakes (which is true and a popular tradition, but still). It offers so much more.
Still curious about Russia? Florane, the author of the article, did her Erasmus in the Russian Caucasus. Check out her travel videos!
If you live in Europe, you should know where Belgium is. If you don’t and don’t know where it is, we’ll forgive you. Belgium is such a small country after all and it is sometimes hard to find on a map. However, you probably have heard of Brussels- Belgium’s capital city as well as that of the European Union.
Belgium is divided into different regions, communities as well as provinces and its political system is incredibly complicated for such a small country! Belgium has three official languages, and “Belgian” isn’t one of them. Belgians speak French, Dutch (also called Flemish) and German. Belgium shares borders with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany and has an access to the North Sea. As a matter of comparison, Belgium’s territory is almost as large as the state of Maryland (in the US) and hosts 11 million people. You probably have heard of Belgium’s waffles, chocolate, maybe some beers, and I bet you’ve heard one of Stromae’s songs before. In this article, I hope you will learn some more cool facts regarding Belgium. If you have any more, let us know!
1. “French” fries are actually Belgian.
This is very important. They are called “French” fries in English but they are just called “frites” in French. Of course, nowadays every country has its own way of making fries, but originally, it comes from Belgium. However, in the sake of honesty, I must admit that there is no official evidence of that, and my opinion is obviously biased. Several stories have emerged to explain the origin of the french fries; some claim it was invented in Belgium, others say it was invented in France. As no serious research has been carried out to investigate the case, it is still hard to know what actually happened. Either way, french fries are and will always remain a part of Belgium’s gastronomy, thanks to their unique way of double-cooking the fries. It is very common, in Belgium, to eat french fries on their own with mayonnaise or ketchup or basically any other kind of Devos Lemmens sauce. They can be eaten as a snack and very often they will be served in a big paper cone. “Moules-Frites”, in English “Mussels and French Fries”, is a typical dish found in Belgian gastronomy.
2. Belgium has over 1,000 different beers.
Beer is sacred in Belgium. In 2016, Belgian beer culture entered the UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Belgium counts approximately 200 breweries, but there are in total more than 1,000 different beers. Actually different sources claim different numbers, some say 800, others 1,000, 1,500 or even 2,500. It is hard to tell, as trends move about. As of 2013, the Délirium Café in Brussels holds the world record for the most varieties of beers commercially available with 3,162 beers on their menu. The beers they offer come majoritarily from Belgium, but they also have a huge assortment of international beers.
3. Do you know Tintin and The Smurfs? They’re Belgian.
The Adventures of Tintin is a comic series from Belgian author and cartoonist Hergé. It was first released in 1929 and gained international recognition. Overall, Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 80 languages and more than 230 million albums have been sold across the world. Peyo, the author of The Smurfs (in French: Les Schtroumpfs - try to pronounce that in French) is from Schaerbeek, in Belgium. The Smurfs became world widely famous and even got several American movie adaptations. Comics strips are considered as an art in Belgium and we have so many more than these two. Actually if you ever go to Belgium you might see statues of comic characters in some cities and if you ever go to Brussels, pay attention to the walls. Gigantic murals representing comic strips heroes are all over the town.
4. Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on April 1st 2001. Belgium legalized it in 2003. It never struck me as unconventional but I think it is interesting to mention that Elio Di Rupo, our former Prime Minister was one of the rare heads of state in the world to be openly gay. He was in office as Prime Minister from 2011 to 2014 and has been the Mayor of Mons since 2000.
5. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium.
Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002 and became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill children without limit of age, in 2014. Euthanasia, or “Assisted Suicide” is often subject to great debate but it is important to remember that it is only applicable to dying people who are in great pain. As of 2016, only four countries allowed human euthanasia: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Colombia. Other countries in the world and some states of the US also legalized assisted suicide, which is slightly different.
6. Think your taxes are high? Belgium has some of the highest in the world.
It is hard to estimate which country has the highest taxes in the world because it is all relative and depends of the situation. There are a lot of rules that apply in different circumstances and therefore it is hard to compare. However, on average, taxes are usually as high as 50% and Belgium is often considered to be the country that has the highest tax burden in the world.
7. Voting is compulsory in Belgium.
Voting is a civic duty in Belgium and it is compulsory. Non-voters face a moderate fine. Usually 90% of the population goes to the polls. There are several options when voting and voting blank is one of them; in that case no one and no party receives the vote, proving that the most important aspect is that everybody participates in the election.
8. Did you know that Belgium didn't have a formal government for nearly two years?
In 2010-2011, Belgium spent 541 days without an official government, surpassing Iraq for the world record! The political failure to form a new coalition government led to endless negotiations; on top of regional issues regarding the outskirts of Brussels, it brought to light deep divisions between Flemish and Walloon political parties. Even if everyone was doing just fine, the country was not. I do not remember any big change or even a tense atmosphere at that time; the country continued to work just as it always did. A serious concern though, was that the country could implode if no solution was found. The northern part of Belgium was led by separatists and it was not too crazy to think that Flanders could just decide to leave and take its independence. Even if there are real problems and divisions between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians, I do not recall this crisis to be representative of what the population wanted. I have never met anyone who wanted the country to split (although I am aware that it certainly is what some people want). I believe it was more of a political disagreement that looked unsolvable.
9. Public TV pranked the people by fakely announcing the implosion of Belgium.
Divisions between the North and the South are not new. In 2006, amidst an economic crisis and political differences, the RTBF, one of the two main broadcasting channels of French-speaking Belgium, decided to unexpectedly prank the people. At around 9 pm, the ongoing programs suddenly stopped and a famous TV news anchor appeared on screen, apologizing for interrupting the TV show we were all watching. He announced that this was a special broadcast because of recent breaking news, namely “Flanders is unilaterally declaring independence”, meaning the end of Belgium as a country. The setting of the show was exactly like any other news broadcast, but of course, it was all fake. The program showed many politicians hurrying to the royal palace, then the King of Belgium stepping into a plane and fleeing the country. That night, every Belgian held to their screen puzzled and terrified at the same time. It was all a video montage and some hints had been dropped to make people understand that it was a prank. The opening of the show started with “This might not be a fiction,” and later changed to “This is a fiction,” then a small icon representing the symbol of a satirical TV program appeared on the screen. Later on, many more hints appeared. My family understood it was a prank right away, I did not. I was genuinely scared, and so were many people. The special TV show aimed at sending a shock wave to make the people and the politicians understand what could really happen if nothing changed and if problems got worse. Of course it triggered many critics and a majority of people called it a sick joke.
Link to the full TV broadcast.
10. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, cats helped during the police operations in Brussels.
How does this sentence make sense? On November 22, 2015 the Belgian national police service had asked the media and people on social media to remain silent during police operations in Brussels and to not spread the word on anything happening. Because terrorists also use social media, it was critical to remain quiet. So, during the raids of the police in Brussels, people started tweeting pictures of their cats to drown any information that terrorist could use, in a flow of cat memes. Soon enough, the whole country followed the trend, and even people from other countries started to do the same, for the sake of the success of the police operations. With the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown, cats helped keep the progress of the operations secret. The police publicly answered the next day on its Twitter account and thanked the cats for their help.
11. What do a saxophone, a pair of rollerblades and the Big Bang Theory have in common? Belgian origin of course!
Adolphe Sax, from Dinant in Belgium, invented the saxophone in 1846. The very idea of rollerblades comes from Jean-Joseph Merlin, from Huy in Belgium. Finally, Georges Lemaître who was a Belgian Catholic priest, an astronomer and professor of physics was the first person to propose the theory of the origin of the universe, called Big Bang or the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”.
12. Speaking of inventions, Belgium once presented a song at the Eurovision Song Contest performed in a completely made-up language.
In 2003, the band “Urban Trad” performed their song called “Sanomi” and eventually came in second! At that time it was mandatory for the participants to sing in the language of their country and in order to avoid having to choose between the three languages of Belgium, they decided to invent a new language that could represent everybody.
Belgium is often known as a country of surrealism; thanks to our famous painter René Magritte, but also because there is a kind of craziness in the air. Some situations mentioned above are the kinds of stories that are common in Belgium but are unlikely to happen anywhere else!
We hope that you have enjoyed learning more about Belgium. If you want to discover or rediscover cool Belgian music artists, follow this link.
And as always, be sure to let us know what you think and if you have any additions.
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How well do you know Uruguay? To be honest, before doing my exchange year there, all I knew was that they had a great national football team. In recent years, it made itself famous thanks to its peculiar president and the legalization of marijuana, among other things. So, let’s recapitulate the basics.
Nestled between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a small country in South America. Montevideo, its capital city, is located on the South coast, only a few hours away from Buenos Aires. The entire population of Uruguay is around 3 million people, half of them living in the capital city, and most of them on coastal towns, leaving the inner land countryside mostly populated by cows and sheep. If you are a football fan, you probably know who Luis Suárez, Diego Forlán or Edinson Cavani are. Just like many other countries in Latin America, football is the national sport. Although nationally speaking, the population is divided between two main soccer clubs, Nacional and Peñarol. Its cuisine is typical of the region and resembles the Argentine gastronomy. Check out our section “Discover”, under “Recipes” to learn about Uruguayan food and try the recipes at home!
Uruguay is a secular state, but most of its religious population is Catholic. Recently, the Uruguayan society has shown very liberal tendencies and is one of few Latin American countries to grant so many freedoms to its populace. Many changes took place under the government of former president Jose Mujica, who set himself apart by his peculiar way of life. If you already knew all the above, I hope that you will learn something new with the following twelve surprising facts about Uruguay.
1. Uruguay hosted and won the first FIFA World Cup
In 1930, Uruguay was selected by the international football organization to host the first FIFA World Cup. All events took place in Montevideo, mostly in the Estadio Centenario, which was built for the occasion. In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina and became the first nation ever to win the World Cup. Uruguayans are generally very proud of this part of their history and like to remind everybody of it!
2. Uruguay is often seen as “The Switzerland of the Americas”
In the 1950s, Uruguay was considered as “The Switzerland of Latin America”, mostly thanks to its prosperity and democratic traditions. Generally speaking, Uruguay has good living conditions that are similar to European standards. It is one of the richest countries in South America and was one of the first countries in the world to legalize divorce and women’s suffrage. Its education is secular, free and compulsory, and its literacy rate is one of the highest of the region.
3. Uruguay is one of the least corrupt countries of the world
It is easy to understand why Uruguay is so often compared to Switzerland. In 2016, Uruguay ranked 21st out of 177 in the Index of the least corrupt countries by International Transparency, becoming one of the least corrupt countries in the world and the least corrupt country of all Latin America.
4. Jose Mujica, “the world’s humblest president”
Its former president, Jose Mujica is a living proof of the lack of corruption amongst politicians in Uruguay. “Pepe” Mujica, as Uruguayans call him was the 40th president of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and was in office from 2010 until 2015. He was called the world’s poorest president, due to the fact that he donated 90% of his salary to the State and to charities. He lives in the countryside in a modest farmhouse with his dog and used to appear in an old blue Beetle. Interestingly, even though he is widely seen as the coolest president of all time, his popularity amongst locals is not always as high as we would think. Besides his political values, some consider his atypical look as unprofessional and ridiculous. Under his presidency, many changes took place in the country, which, in a few years, became one of the most liberal in South America.
5. Abortion is legal in Uruguay
In 2012, the Uruguayan Senate passed a bill to legalize abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Uruguay became the first country in South America to allow women to request an abortion for any reason they consider valid.
6. Same-sex marriage is legal in Uruguay
In 2013, Uruguay became the second country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage, after Argentina, proving once again that it is one of the most progressive countries in the world. In that same year, Uruguay was named “Country of the Year” by The Economist.
7. Uruguay legalized the marijuana trade
That was in 2014. What a quinquennium under Pepe! Not only did the former president legalize marijuana consumption, but the entire production is also now ruled under the auspices of the State. This law, which the first of its kind on the worldwide level was passed in order to counter drug trafficking that has been devastating the whole continent for decades. Uruguayan citizens are now allowed to buy 10 grams of marijuana a week, at less than a euro per gram. Besides, each person is allowed to crop up to six plants for his own consumption.
8. Uruguay was the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide is commonly referred to as the systematic massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between the years 1915 and 1923. Today, the events are recognized as genocide by 29 nations; most of them officially expressed their position in the years 1990 and 2000. Uruguay did it in 1965.
9. Uruguay hosts the largest colony of South American fur seals
As its name states, the South American fur seal is found on the southern coasts of Latin America and its biggest colony is found in Uruguay, on the shore of Punta del Este, on an island called “Isla de Lobos”. The area of Cabo Polonio is also highly populated by the specie. It is estimated that out of the approximately 250.000 seals identified, 200.000 live along the Uruguayan coast.
10. 95% of Uruguay’s electricity comes from renewable energy
Since 2015, renewable energy makes up 95% of the country’s electricity. In 10 years, Uruguay managed to shift its traditional oil-dominated energy plan to an eco-friendly model that all countries could learn from. It lowered its carbon footprint while lowering electricity costs. The green energy comes all-together from wind turbines, hydropower, biomass and solar power. The renewables account for 55% of the overall energy mix of the country, while the global average share only amounts to 12%.
11. Almost all native Uruguayans disappeared during the colonization
In the 1830s, almost all indigenous Uruguayan groups disappeared. Local indigenous populations, especially the Charrúa peoples, started to decline when the colonization started in the 16th century. Europeans brought diseases that native Uruguayans had never been in contact with before and to which they had no immunity. By the time of the independence in 1830, there were only 300 Charrúa people left in the country, and only 18 in 1840. The Guaraní were another tribe at the time who survived a bit longer but very little is known about them. Nowadays, almost 90% of Uruguayan people have European descent and only 2,4% are reported to have indigenous ancestry.
12. Uruguay was under a military dictatorship until 1985
Between the years 1973 and 1985, the country was under an authoritarian military dictatorship. In 1973, a conflict erupted between the president, the General Assembly and the armed forces. During that time, systematic repression was conducted by the Uruguayan military regime, many people were imprisoned, tortured or mysteriously disappeared. Jose Mujica, who was a guerilla fighter at that time, was imprisoned for 13 years in the 1970s and 1980s.
Uruguay doesn’t have a flawless history, but it certainly has shown some incredible improvements and worldwide advancements in recent years. Its liberal policies and progressive mentality raise Uruguay to the level of example from which many nations could learn from. But Uruguay remains a country that not so many people know about. That is why I thought it would be interesting to spend a few minutes discovering it a bit more. At least, I hope that you learnt something by reading this short article and don’t hesitate to leave us your thoughts and comments!
- My Knowledge
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