Monday, February 5, 2007

Brussels, Belgium

I spent the weekend in Brussels and wasn't sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed and "country" like the city was. Brussels doesn't have any of the grandeur of Paris or Rome, but you can feel the history creeping out of the buildings and cobble stoned streets. As you walk along the main streets you are struck by how crisp and clean the lines are, but more so, the way that each building is very old, yet still individual. Almost as if they are pieces of a different puzzle that fit together anyway. Plus the smell of waffles the eminates from the street vendors doesn't hurt your senses either!

I was really glad to get out of London and was equally excited about the prospect of travelling on the EuroStar. I can't believe how fast and comfortable the journey was. It was Vic the Man's birthday and we spent the weekend with two of her teacher friends, Tracey and Megan. Because of the time difference (1hr ahead) we didn't have dinner until 12am but we didn't have to worry because we found a nice restaurant that was still open. Apparently people eat later in the evening in Belgium and restaurants don't shut until 5am. Ordering was not as easy and I ended up with a tomato, lettuce, olive and mozzarella salad. I thought I had ordered a pizza!

Saturday was a very crisp 4 degrees but that didn't stop us walking to the main square. It was really interesting to look at all the different architechural designs of the buildings. At the town hall a couple had just gotten married and were celebrating by playing music very loudly out of their red Volkswagon. There was also a group of Scouts (much to Vic's delight - she is a Rover) playing games as part of their weekend camp. My favouraite building was the Town Hall because it has small statues lined up high along the main wall overlooking the square almost as if they are protecting it. I loved the statue of the fat King who looked like he had eaten too much and that he might fall over at any moment.

We also visited the Mannekin-Pis which is a statue of a small boy weeing into a fountain. Legend has it that in the 1600s a nobleman lost his 5 year old son for 2 days. The boy was eventually found weeing into the town fountain. In his joy of finding his son, the nobleman had the fountain built in his honour. The statue has over 600 different little outfits which are changed each day. The day I visited him he was wearing a tuxedo and top hat although on Sunday he was having a break and was not clothed at all. Some countries even donate clothes for him to wear on special occasions. To Brussels, he is their Leaning Tower of Pisa, their Eiffel Tower.

I couldn't go to Brussels without eating a Belgian waffle. The waffles were HUGE and it was impossible to eat the entire thing, but it was extremely delicious! Also went and saw the only museum worth visiting - the Museum of Chocolate - and learnt about how the chocolatier mixes the blends of chocolate and creates the designs and constructs the actual moulds etc. Got to sample the merchandise too! Even though eating the chocolate was good, I thought the best part was looking at the dresses made of chocolate for a fashion show. I still don't know how they didn't melt when the models wore them.

For dinner on Saturday we headed out to the Atomium. It is a grand structure that represents the atom. At night it lights up. Inside however, it is full of...barbie dolls! It was built in 1958 for the World Fair. Can't say I was overly impressed by it's importance, but it was very pretty as it flashed it's fairy lights.

Sunday was even colder than Saturday but you didn't mind it after a while (Thanks to Holly G for the scarf to keep my neck warm, it worked really well!). We walked a quite a way out of town to the antique markets. I had a lovely time searching through the stalls asking "How much?" in my broken and very rusty French. Vic was doing really well with her own version of Italian. Why Italian? We weren't sure either! :)

The main thing I noticed about Brussels is that it doesn't seem to care about what anyone else thinks. It might be the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe, but I think it tries to forget that. It doesn't really care. It has a small town feel even though it is a big city. The people are an ecclectic mix of races, nationailties and speak a variety of languages, yet you still feel like it is one giant friendly neighbourhood. I don't know how else to describe it.

Back to this alternate reality in London now. There are only 2 more weeks to half term and I have a week off then which will be nice. Not sure what to do yet. A few ideas are jostling about in my mind including Copenhagen, New York or Barcelona.

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