Squeezing the many must-sees of a city in one day? Short on time we did it in Brussels through De Boeck sight-seeing tours after an almost 3-hour Eurail trip from Amsterdam. Brussels (also Bruxelles) is the largest and capital city of the Kingdom of Belgium, a small European country with about 11 million people officially speaking two languages, French and Dutch (Flemish).
In the international scene Brussels is the “de facto” capital of the European Union which is home to the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is also the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The first and definitely the best place we started is the Grand Place (Grote Markt), said to be the most beautiful square in the world. We viewed and admired in awe the cobbled town square, listed as one of the sites of world heritage by UNESCO since 1998, surrounded by old but opulent guildhalls, the Gothic Town Hall which is a remarkable work of art, and Maison du Roi (King’s House) also known as the “Breadhouse” containing the city’s museum. As a literary enthusiast I was quite amused to learn from our tour guide that famous French author-novelist
Victor Hugo of “Les Miserables” spent six months in 1851 staying in a house known as “Pigeon” at Grand Place. Starbucks is also here where you can get free wi-fi to send some photos home. Had we been here in the middle of August we wouldn’t have missed the “flower carpet” display on the square. Every two years since 1971 the Grand Place is covered with a 19,000 sq. ft. carpet of nearly one million fresh begonias kept in bloom by water fountains to last for about 4 to 5 days. The next flower carpet show that is dedicated to 150 years of Belgian-Japanese diplomacy will be on 12 August 2016.
Located close to the square on rue de L’Etuve 31 is the famous “Peeing Boy”, the Manneken-Pis. The Manneken-Pis is an icon culturally significant to Brussels what the Statue of Liberty is to New York or Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Big Ben to London or the Little Mermaid to Copenhagen. However, don’t be disappointed like ourselves to find out that this fascinating bronze statue of a naked little boy urinating in a fountain is only 61 cms. tall! One legend of this tiny pee man is about a boy spy who urinated on the burning fuse of a bomb during a siege by a foreign power that stopped the city from being blown up.
Brussels’ skyline is dominated by a gigantic structure shimmering in the autumn sunlight – the Atomium. Built for the World Exposition of 1958 the Atomium is made up of nine stainless steel-clad soheres all together connected up by tubes. Each sphere which is about the size of a large apartment represents a single unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. The five spheres are accessible by stairs, escalators and a lift in the central vertical tube. The top sphere reachable by an elevator has a restaurant with a view of the city. The other four spheres are accessible by escalators.
At the foot of the Atomium is the Mini-Europe theme park, the only park where you can have a tour of Europe in a few hours. The park contains replicas of famous buildings, villages and scenery and monuments from all over Europe.
Although we didn’t see the interior the “Palais de Justice”, Belgium’s Supreme Court of Law on a hill looking down the city, is quite impressive. You don’t have to be an architecture fan to see this gorgeous building with a distinctive golden dome and many columns decorating its facade.
And finally to make it in Brussels you need an appetite for chocolate and beer! Be it known that the best chocolate in the world comes from Belgium. And its “trappist” beer is the world’s best beer!
Trivia: The French fries or frites is a Belgian creation. It was not created in France.
The Brussels sprout, the green leafy vegetable like miniature cabbage, originated and was first cultivated in large quantities in Brussels as early as 1587.