Friday, July 13, 2012

Brussels Sprout, Belgium

To See Our Photos of Belgium, Click Here

Michelle at the Shiny Atomium
In true Thomas fashion, he rearranged his work slightly so that he would be able to drive us back to Brussels in the morning of our departure, allowing us the full day to tour around the city before our midnight bus back across the Channel.  We will miss spending time with them!!

It was a rainy day, and he felt bad dropping us out in the rain, but we've lived through all kinds of inclement weather, that this storm didn't phase us.  Our chosen drop-off point was at the Atomium, a very cool looking 102m high building that was built for the 1958 World Fair.  It is built in the shape of a iron atom, but enlarged about 165 billion times, and looks very space age in it's surroundings.  We were too early to get inside, so tackled our way into town after looking around the massive atom.  I say tackled, because usually these things are easy in a modern town, but sometimes modern machines and computer ticket counters really fail you.  We put our money in the machine, and it didn't spit out a ticket, even with the help of a tram driver.  It had taken all of our change, and no one around to give us more change.  Even though the driver had seen us failing at this approach, there was nothing he could do to help, so we were left pleading with another driver of the correct tram to help us out.  We did eventually get in to town, and went to track
Guild Halls in the Grand Place
Flower stalls in the Grand Place
down the office to get our money back, not out of need, but out of principle.  What a farce!!

It didn't put a damper on Brussels though, and after dropping our luggage in a locker at the train station, we were ready to tackle 15 hours in Brussels.

As per our usual, we did our own walking tour of the old town.  Some of the early highlights were the covered shopping streets and arcades, the busy restaurant street with plenty of tables out into the pedestrian area, and the Tintin mural (as the Tintin writer/artist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name of HergĂ© was Belgian). 
Drinking from Manneken Pis
Along our walk we rounded the corner in to the Grand Place, our jaws dropped to the floor.  After seeing so many beautiful and stunning buildings all around Belgium, this square seemed to be even more spectacular, and on a grander scale.  There was a flower market in the centre, which brought a lovely splash of colour to it all. There was the 96m tall Hotel de Ville (city hall),  Maison du Roi (King's House) which now houses the museum, on either side, and all the guildhalls filling in the rest.  Very impressive sight to say the least!  We enjoyed just sitting in the square and watching the world go by!

But, our walking tour would continue, fueled by some more delicious Belgian Fries with mayonnaise - double fried of course.  It was the tiny little statue called Manneken Pis at only 61cm tall, that drew the biggest crowd around it.  This statue of a little boy urinating was created in 1618, and is the most famous in the country.  It was funny watching the large crowds jockey for position to take a photo in front of him.  Apparently, his costume is changed a few times a week, and he has a few hundred different
Scaffolded Palace of Justice - see the graffiti?
outfits.  Funny stuff, and of course, I had to get the obligatory picture under the 'pee'!

Up on a plateau above the old town sits the palace, book-ending the Brussels Park with the Parliament.  A stately building for sure, but apparently not used by the Belgian royal family as a residence - just a spare home I guess.   Walking along the Regentschapsstraat through the museum district, you have some great views over the old town.  The Mont des Arts creates a perfect foreground for a photo of the old town.  At the end of the street is the huge Palace of Justice.  This massive place was almost completely covered in scaffolding on the front side right up to the dome.  I don't know if I've ever seen a building completely covered in the ugly scaffold quite like this.  One thing that stumped me though was above the scaffolding and high up on the dome.  Somehow, someone had climbed up there and done some huge street art/graffiti on the beautiful dome.  Shocking for sure, but how on earth did they get up there??  Take a look at the picture!!

The daylight was coming to an end, but our bus was not until midnight.  We decided to plant our
Mont des Arts in front of old town Brussels
selves in the Grand Place and watch dusk approach and the lights come on around the square.  We sat on the steps of the beautiful King's House (Maison du Roi), with some delicious Belgian Trappiste beers from the supermarket.  Many others seemed to have the same idea, as there were groups of people having a few drinks all around the square, and some sitting in the middle.  There was, however, enough space in the middle for some brave soul to get down on his knee and propose to his unsuspecting girlfriend.  Of course, many people quickly noticed and cheered once he announced her positive answer!  As they enjoyed an embrace in the square, a direct beam of sunlight shone right on them.  Somebody was watching!!

Beers on the steps of Maison du Ro
A nice way to finish our day, but what did we need to take back from our fabulous trip to Belgium......  well, chocolate and beer of course!!!  But, thankfully, no sprouts from Brussels!  *Stub
Grand Place at dusk

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