I always envision, when I say Belgium, people’s thoughts wander off to the capital, Brussels. The place to try the Mussels or the place for famous chocolates or the place the Brussel sprouts were invented. And although, Brussels is most likely the only place ever visited when one visits Belgium because I imagine it would be silly to go to the country and not visit the capital, it most entirely can be skipped if on a euro rail. You wouldn’t miss much.
Yes, you would miss the Atomium (Heysel Area) which is this giant model of the iron crystal cell unit of nine spheres connected by tubes. I don’t know if it is worth going inside the Atomium but from what I have heard it wasn’t, just take pics from outside at all different angles and admire the Brussels Landmark designed by André Waterkeyn for the World Expo of 1958 which he didn’t take down after, yes you would also miss mini Europe which is this miniature model park covering around 75 cities in Europe with all their famous landmarks (Even Lux has the Adolph bridge yayy) and all monuments scaled to their exact mini size. It was a cute miniature park to spend maybe an hour or two in and then you realize crap there is so much out there to explore so why the hell am I wasting my time in a miniature park when I could be out there checking out the monuments for real? So after spending some time in the park and admiring the Atomium from the Outside, I accidently happened to have come across the exhibition of Tutankhamun’s Tomb and because I am absolutely fascinated by Egyptian artifacts, I decided I could squeeze in time to enter the place and boy was it worth it. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter had apparently made significant worldwide media coverage and if you enter the exhibition, you will know exactly why, not only was the tomb discovered completely intact but along with it came all kinds of artifacts made of solid gold that was supposed to be used by the Beloved Egyptian Pharaoh in his afterlife. Entering the exhibition made me feel like Howard carter himself who was entering the shrine discovering it all, the stair case, the anti-chamber and then finally the burial chamber. It was all so exciting that I could barely contain myself to see what was in the other room. This exhibition was the highlight of my trip to Brussels, but do note it is a travelling exhibition so essentially it could have been my highlight to any city of the world it had travelled to.
Heard of the peeing boy? Sure u have! Manneken piss. He is this little bronze and not so impressive statue that ‘pees’ all day. Many legends have that a boy once put out a fire in Brussels with his pee (say what) hence the statue is dedicated to him, or the more believable one, a tourist once lost his son and the villagers helped him look and eventually found the boy peeing at a bridge hence the tourist gifted the statue of the boy to the villagers in the position he was found in as a token of his appreciation (hmm ok this one isn’t so believable too, why would the villagers want a statue of a peeing tourist boy? wouldn’t money have been a better alternative to those poor villagers?) but either way the peeing boy is a symbol to the country and if u have come all the way you have to take one pic of it come on. Only I wasn’t so lucky in finding it. See when I got to Grand place during the beer fest weekend I didn’t expect so many people in the city that there wasn’t even space to move and I certainly was not expecting a street parade. But since I was traveling alone, I decided to join the street parade and try well ok just try and sing their national anthem (I am going to assume that is what they were singing), so I spent the afternoon following the parade around while I was trying to look for the damn Mannekan piss only to realize the statue had been all along right in front of the parade leading the way and peeing on everyone who came across and blocked the way of the parade, pretty smart if you ask me and if you are terrified of naked boys well then you get lucky 30 times during the year because they do put clothes on him! And I was lucky enough to see him in a costume during the Beer Festival Weekend! Did you know Mannekan piss has a female counterpart known as Jeanneke Piss? Not as popular and built-in the 1980s she is a little bronze girl statue peeing…well wait for it…sitting down. I will tell you it took me 2 hours to find her because no one had heard of her and I will also tell you if peeing boy wasn’t so impressive then a peeing girl isn’t going to make your eyes boggle out either. There is just something not so elegant with watching a girl peeing in public. Oh well, it’s a gender bias thing what can you do about it?
My next day visit took me to two absolutely enchanting towns – Ghent and Brugge. Brugge is touristy but I loved Ghent so much more. It was like Flemish’s best kept secret. It felt I don’t know kind of funky. It made sense because it is a university town so there are many youngsters in the area. The city was a wonderful mixture of historical and modern architecture. The houses seemed centuries old and the people seemed more hip than ever. Castle of the count, an opera house, museums, churches and well of course the Ghent Altarpiece (the famous mystic lamb) is a combination of 12 paintings in total done by Hubert and Jan Van Eyvk and is proclaimed to be the single most influential painting ever. Notice the leftmost painting in the bottom row. Apparently it’s not the original. The reason? It is the most frequently stolen artwork in history! Forget influential, that fact alone was enough to impress me.
Brugge is the chocolate capital of Belgium. Did you know that? I did! I found out when I was in Brussels chit chatting with the local tour guide taking a bunch of people on the chocolate walking tour. He said forget Brussels and try the finest chocolates in the world in Brugge. Yum. That was enough for me to visit the place, Brugge and Ghent almost seemed too similar in beauty, the only difference is in Brugge you see a lot more people around hustling bustling and in Ghent it’s quieter and a lot more peaceful. So I spoke to tons of people along the way, made two good friends by the end of the tour, tried all the home-made chocolates at all the shops possible, almost got trotted on by a horse, tried the mussels and beers and took loads of pictures to share my secret with everyone back home.
My last adventure coming back to Brussels was COMICS! An avid fan of Superman, I had to chuck my DC’ness aside and focus on the characters that originated from Belgium, Tintin! Astix! Smurfs! I took a stroll down the comic strip center and visited the tin tin museum, unfortunately not that much fun for all the comics were written in Dutch. So if you don’t speak it, don’t bother.
All in all, keeping aside the fact that I was reading tin tin comics after ages or that I was talking to a bunch of strangers out of my comfort zone or that I was exploring the big city subway all on my own. The icing of Belgium was and will always remain food food and more food. There is just something thrilling about trying waffles in Belgian, having the mussels in Brussels, tasting the types of beers and sauces to go with frites, buying all kinds of Belgian chocolates and finding out the origin of Brussel sprouts! It was a food galore weekend indeed and nothing could beat that. Well, nothing but a Midnight in Paris.