There is so much to love about the capital of the European Union. It is a bustling city with something to do seven days a week. It has a thriving international community; you can hear fifteen or twenty different languages spoken there on any given day. Shopping, food and drink are excellent; there’s even a Desigual store! It has a good train system, but the city is also very walk-able, at least the centre-ville is. The Grand Place, Chateau Beersel, museums, a great airport… Did I mention I love Brussels?
The first and most obvious reason to love Brussels is the Grand Place, meaning sort of, the big plaza or square. Pronounce it in French, with “ah” sounds — “Grahnt Plahss.” More or less, anyway. These big squares are typical for European cities and towns. They are where you’ll find most of the important people, parties and protests. Brussels’ Grand Place dates from the 11th Century. You can feel the history as you wander into it. Its architecture flows harmoniously, despite being a mix of styles, from Gothic to Baroque to Louis XIV. It was even voted Europe’s most beautiful Grand Place a few years ago. Yes, it’s pretty impressive.
The Hotel de Ville is the Brussels city hall. Its Gothic spires dominate the Place but are not overly photogenic from within it. From a distance, however, they are stunning. The next time I go to the city, I’ll take a few photos of the façade to add to this post. I don’t know why I haven’t done it up to now!
One of the most impressive events that takes place on the Grand Place is the Flower Carpet. Every two years, for just a few days in August, an enormous eighteen hundred square meter carpet of begonias is laid on the Place. This year’s theme was The Flags of Africa.
A photo just doesn’t do it justice, though. You really have to see it to appreciate its beauty and its size. And the work that went into making it!
A few steps from the Grand Place is the famous statue of “Mannekin Pis,” literally meaning “little man pee” in a dialect of Dutch, one of Brussels two main languages. (The other is French, of course.) Legends abound about the origins of the statue, but the most colorful says that a little boy saved Brussels from being destroyed by explosives when he urinated on the fuse placed by the enemy in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. In any case, it’s really tiny! Er…um… the statue, I mean, is tiny! Not, um…well…ahem! Anyway! And he isn’t even the “real” statue! The original statue is on display somewhere more secure because thieves or vandals repeatedly steal the one in the photo!
I mean, doesn’t everyone want a statue of a peeing boy?
One of my favorite memories of Mannekin Pis is from last winter, when I was with friends exploring the city. We saw a fellow with an I-Pad and a particularly memorable message for his girlfriend on it and he let us photograph him.
We learned that he was from China, and he was traveling all around Europe and photographing himself with the message on the I-Pad in the language of the city he was in; for the non-French speakers out there: “Will you marry me?” He was delightful. I often think of him and hope he had a beautiful Spring wedding.
I think that’s enough for this installment of “What I Love about Brussels.” Stay tuned for Part Two!
A few pics of the Hotel de Ville that I took while in Brussels yesterday. As I said, not too photogenic from inside the Grande Place, but you can see the dignity and majesty of the building, at least a little.