The three of us then took a train ride from Bruges to Brussels – the French-speaking capital of Belgium. My impression of Brussels is that it seems rather poor with poorly maintained (and occasionally smelly) metro stations and public facilities and it has quite a number of immigrants. I also think that Brussels is one of the few European cities that doesn’t really care about appearance. For instance, Brussels has quite a number of neo-classical buildings, such as the Royal Palace and Justice Palace, which are grand and spectacular but very dirty and old-looking. It’s quite a shame, I wish some effort can be directed at restoring the buildings to their former glamour.
1) The Atomium
We first visited the Atomium which was originally constructed for Expo ’58 – the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The theme park “Mini-Europe” with miniatures of the various icons in major European cities is found next to the Atomium but we thought it was quite lame to visit the miniatures. It was here that I first noticed that Brussels doesn’t care so much about appearance. We had to walk past some sort of industrial buildings to get from the metro station to the Atomium but there is actually a rather pretty garden at the back. It would have been so much nicer if tourists see the garden first the minute they step out of the station. Anyhow, the Atomium stands 102m tall and it is the Eiffel Tower of Belgium. Apparently, the Atomium is a ball and stick model of the body-centred iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. The “balls” are viewing platforms while “sticks” serve as escalators for people to get from one “ball” to the next. Being science geeks, Jennifer and I discussed about the plane at which the crystal was viewed.
We got up to the highest ball in the Atomium and had a nice panorama view of the area around Atomium. We also saw cool ball-shaped beds, I love to own one of them. 🙂
2) The Manneken Pis
We visited the Manneken Pis afterwards and it was surprisingly small! There were so many Asians crowding around and taking photos of the statue excitedly. I think Asians take too many photos when they travel. I realized the more I travel, the fewer photos I took and the more I looked. People take photos to remember things while travelling but people should not travel for the sake of taking photos.
The Manneken Pis was located very near to the Grote Markt which is arguably the prettiest and most well-maintained part of the city. I like the intricate architectural designs of the buildings.This is also where the Grand Place flower carpet happens biannually. I would love to see it one day.
3) Comic book route
Lex said that most Europeans think that Brussels has an identity issue because there is nothing much that defines the city apart from the Manneken Pis and biannual flower carpet event. The neoclassical and modern high-rise buildings in Brussels are found in other parts of Europe and possibly prettier there.
On our short visit to Brussels, we reckon that Brussels has defined itself with the comic strip walls which are not found in any other city in the world. Furthermore, Belgian artists have produced quite a number of famous cartoons over the years such as The Adventures of Tin Tin and The Smurfs so it is only right for the capital of Belgium to have locally drawn comic strips on its walls. Brussels could possibly do a better job at selling this unique aspect of the city because many people still associate Brussels with just Manneken Pis, waffles and chocolates. The comic strip wall movement was an attempt at beautifying the city and comic strips are painted to demarcate the end of a row of buildings in some parts of the city. There is a comic book route on the map and we attempted to follow it and it was quite some fun trying to spot the comic strips. We saw every single comic strip wall in Brussels and I remember we ended up in some seedy neighbourhood when we followed this route one night but, oh well, we still got out of the city safe and sound. 🙂
4) EU headquarters
Brussels is also considered the capital of the European Union as the EU Commissions headquarters are located there. I like this building quite a bit, it’s quite an impressive modern building. After seeing so many Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Modernist buildings in Europe, it is quite nice to see a beautiful modern building for a change.