Interesting things to see in Brussels
Centre of Europe!
The name Brussels, may properly be used to refer to administrative Europe, as in saying, "Brussels has reviewed regulations on licencing of truck drivers" , or when you read a British newspaper, "We cannot continue to lose our control to Brussels..". Both these statements figuratively refers to the EU.
Not only is Brussels the political and administrative centre of the EU, but actually the geometrical centre, my proud host said so.
So I was not wrong when, during my visit to Brussels, I answered my phone thus: "Europe!, good afternoon..." , I meant geographical Europe not administrative or otherwise.
The Kingdom of Belgium
The Kingdom of Belgium is one place I really enjoyed visiting, I have nothing against other kingdoms most of which I visited more often than I did Brussels ! I had been to London more than twice and hope to write about my experience there. Amsterdam is great place too, but my knowledge of it is the transit lounge at Schiphol Airport. I enjoyed the salted fish for breakfast in Gothenburg, Sweden. So, I had been to other kingdoms too and I will write about those. And of course I will also write about the Republic of France which I visited twice.
Brussels is a charm.
When you visit a country , especially a monarch, you are advised to make prior checks on sensitivities. I did not do anything like that when I went to Brussels in March 2003, I just flew in. I did not have to, so I thought. Brussels is the centre of Europe so they have no issues, right?
The Belgians I met are cultured, very knowledgeable of other cultures. They are calm, hard working, and proud of their neutrality and their cultural heritage.
The follwing paragraphs will discuss those cultural heritage and symbols you will hear and see when you visit this great kingdom. This narative is based on my visit to the Kingdom of Belgium in 2003.
Brussels Manneken Pis
When you are visiting Brussels and you do not see the unusual statue or post card of a little boy,you are probably not in Belgium. You see this idol everywhere in Brussels.
The little boy is everywhere you go, you will eventually ask someone, or someone will eventually tell you the legend of the Brussels Manneken Pis. I was polite enough not to embarrass my hosts by asking them directly. There are people who work at hotels and are ready to give you the history of the city. On reflection I think every municipality in the world must acknowledge concierges as chroniclers of the history of cities. And janitors too.
The legend goes like this: The centre of Europe was under siege and if it was not for that little boy, the continent would have a gap in the middle. Brussels was served by that little boy from a fire ball. He put out the fire. I, for one just listened and formed no opinion about it all.
Brussels Manneken Pis - The Most Common Symbol in Brussels
Any self repecting Belgian will take his visitors to see the Atomium. This is the Belgian equivalency of the Eiffel Tower. Except that the latter is taller, and was bulit much earlier and ehem, you can take and share pictures of the Eiffel Tower. With the greatest respect of all, you will not see the image of the Atomium on any of my articles before 4th October 2075 when the copyrights expire. However I will have an image of iron crystal from which the creative artist got his inspiration.
As you all know, iron is formed as a crystal lattice structure, each cell with 9 atoms, if you get this clearly, you can imagine the Atomium. The nine sphres are huge and imposing,with the usual dizzy feeling you get when you look up a tall structure. You all have been to the Effiel Tower and you know what I am talking about, except that this time, you will be struggling to count the spheres or atoms if you will.
The Atomium is a magnified sinlge cell of iron lattice structure and was built for the Expo'58 when Belgium hoted World Fair in Brussels in 1958.
The Waterloo - Butte de Lion
At one time, the present day Republic of France was once an Empire and its Emperor was Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all times. He was defeated in Belgium at The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Europe brought its finest military men to defeat Napoleon in the epic battle. If this article was about this battle, it would have been longer, if it was about Napoleon, much longer. But then it is about my two weeks visit to Belgium in March 2003. so we have to keep things in perspective.
If you find yourself in Brussels, do yourself a favour to visit this place, for you will be considered particularly a person with no cultural taste. Go up the stairs, take a view of the land and imagine 18th century European battle field. After that go into a museum that visually depicts the battle in a virtual reality and read about some the greatest men of the battle.
While we are at it, your host will let you know that the last battle of WWII was fought in Belgium. As I said before, a good visitor just listens. Since I was told this more than ten years ago, I had not tried to verify the facts.
The Waterloo is a beautiful scenery, looking from the top today you see what I concluded to be a farm, trading spears for plough shares takes its intended meaning.
The Grand Place, Flowers & Bourse
A day after your visit to the Waterloo, you will be taken to the Grand Place and your host will talk a lot about flowers and the flower carpet. He will discuss this at great length before you actually get to understand. Every two years in August, the square will be a flower carpet. Listern.
Normally expect to spend two hours at this very old square eating ice cream which he will speak highly of. I am not clear on whether ice crean was invented in Belgium or simply they like to eat or talk about ice cream. I did not find the ice cream any different, the ambience was good, especially if you also know you are spending two hours in one of the most famous building in the world.
By the time you have to go, you will know that the first stock exchange was in Belgium a long time ago, before stocks were not even there. The bourse was invented in Belgium, you will learn about that.
If ever there was a case where the statement 'what's in a name?' fits perfectly well, it is the story of French Fries. The Belgians claim a lot about the deep fried potatoes. I am not sure here, like in the case of ice cream whether the claim is on inventing the fries or having the perfect fried potatoes in the world.
This discussion takes place when you are with a young Belgian who graduated the previous year and he is in marketing department. He takes you to a fast food restaurant where the subjects range from perfect deep fried potatoes , European integration and other cultural topics. He is not keen on the ever expanding Europe, he graphically puts it this way: "Look, theoretically Europe has no physical frontier, there is nothing that will stop North African countries to apply to be EU members as long as they meet the standards, and once that happens ..." For me I was not worried about how wide Europe will be in 2020, I was picking up perfect fried potatoes all through the discussion
The good thing about a visit to Belgium is that you will know a lot, or be reminded about a lot. You will know for instance that the internal combustion engine was first designed or was it perfected, by a Belgian.
If you think you have heard all about this kingdom, you are yet to know that every village of the kingdom has its own brand and a new brand comes out every week. In fact, forget about what happens in Munich every October, it happens somewhere in Belgium every week.
But then you have a flight to catch, oh, and get this: the Belgians pioneered night time flights and perfected the lights you see on runways and taxiways ... a Belgian company pioneered airfield ground lighting systems. We would not be taking off or landing at night was it not for the Belgians.
Imagine a world where aircraft will have to wait for sunrise to land or take off, and no automobiles, no French Fries, no brew, wars going on forever, that is your world if there was no Brussels Manneken Pis.
Brussels, I enjoyed my stay in March 2003.
Note from the author about his visit
The story is based on my two week visit to Brussels in 2003. I visited all the places mentioned in this article. All discussions were done in jest and very friendly set ups. I did not fact check whether Brussels was actually saved in a most bizarre manner, nor did I check if they pioneered the internal combustion engine, nor did I fact check if Brussels is at the centre of Europe, especially now that the continent is expanding. About the Waterloo, since there is a museum there, I hold it to be a place of historical significance.