Monday, November 09, 2009

Brussels, Belgium

Destination#13: Brussels, Belgium

Year of Visit: 2008

Belgium, a nation synonymous with chocolates and its waffles! It is a relatively small nation in Western Europe sandwiched between France and The Netherlands. Both French and Dutch are widely spoken in Belgium and both languages are the official languages of Belgium.

The capital city of Belgium is none other than Brussels. There is a good mix of classical architecture such as those in the old town square and modern office towers and structures such as the Espace LĂ©opold European parliament complex in Brussels.

I was there in Brussels for a night after our 10 days Western Europe tour.

The weather was overcast and gloomy throughout my stay in Brussels. The sidewalks were relatively deserted in most parts of Brussels save for the city centre. Office workers were seen rushing back to their offices after lunch time at Rue de la Loi. Further down the road, in the inner cities of Brussels, immigrants from Africa and the Middle East seem to outnumber the local community.

The Royal Palace of Brussels

Most are traders in make shift stalls selling jeans for €5 a piece and many other items to make a living. That part of Brussels looked dodgy with a lot of trash strewn all over the streets and graffiti decorating the walls. Cars and trucks owned by these traders were parked indiscriminately along the narrow streets causing unnecessary traffic congestion.

All that gave an unpleasant first impression of Brussels to most of us first time visitors but I'm sure every city has her fair share of bad areas. We headed down to the city centre and walked around a little. The old town square of Brussels is quite imposing and tourist oriented. There were busloads of Asian tourists in this area.

There were at least six chocolate boutiques at the Grand' Place-Grote Markt historic centre (central square of Brussels) and its vicinity for chocolate lovers, the most obvious ones being Godiva Chocolatier and Leonidas Fresh Belgian Chocolates. Make sure you buy some Belgian chocolates before you leave Brussels!

Guildhalls at the Grand' Place-Grote Markt. The central square is surrounded by imposing pre 19th century buildings, the very few that are still standing in Brussels. Most of the old town were destroyed to make way for development.

Brussels Town Hall

Architectural style: Gothic

Year completed: 1420 A.D
Grand' Place-Grote Mark a.k.a The Grand Place in English, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Seven guildhouses at the Grand Place which have been subsumed within one grand facade whose symmetries are set off by a curved pediment and narrow pilasters, sporting nineteen busts of the dukes of Brabant.

One of the many chocolate boutiques near the Grand Place.

The chocolate products here are very nicely packed but the price is comparable to that of Godiva Chocolatier, expensive stuff but we don't want to leave Brussels empty handed. Hence, we got a box of Godiva chocolates for ourselves and a few boxes of Belgian chocolates for our loved ones at home.

A stone's throw away from the chocolate boutique is the Manneken Pis, a small bronze statue of a boy peeing. The Mannekan Pis has been around since 1619 and the significance of it is associated with many different local legends.

The Manneken Pis

The Manneken Pis is dressed in costume several times a week. It has been dressed in hundreds of costumes representing the national dress of nations whose citizens come to Brussels as tourists, uniforms of assorted trades, professions, associations and branches of the civil and military services.

The author at Grand' Place-Grote Markt, Brussels.

One of the buildings at the Grand Place.

Besides Belgian's famous chocolates the mouth-watering Belgian waffles deserves a mention!

These are arguably the best waffle I have ever eaten.

It's not difficult to find them. The waffles are often displayed in front of the waffle joints near the Grand Place, often alongside other souvenir shops or chocolate boutiques. You will see a sea of tourists crowding the waffle joints just like tourists crowding the Gelato joints in Italy.

After a couple of hours wandering around the Grand Place and its vicinity we were ushered back to the tour bus as the rain got heavier. The tour bus took us to the Automium which is supposedly one of the attractions of Brussels for a photo stop. It serves as an exposition centre and observation centre but I have no interest in this modern structure.

The Automium

After the photo stop we were taken around the various European Union (EU) administrative buildings around Brussels that earned Brussels the title, 'the administrative capital of Europe'.

The Brussels Expo

I don't remember what it was.

These photos were taken from the bus as the rain poured outside.

Royal Palace of Brussels

After the day tour, our bus dropped us back at our hotel and we were free to venture out on our own but the rain did not stop. We stayed in until the next morning whereby we took the Eurostar and voila London, here we come!

I caught this interesting message on climate change by the World Wildlife Fund (I'm guessing from the logo of the panda) on camera in Brussels. Yes, let us stop climate change before it changes you!

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