Sunday, May 13, 2012

What May 14th Means To Me: Follow Up Thoughts On Brussels

After spending just a few days in Brussels, you have to wonder if it's a city full of Magellans.

Now, I'm admittedly a disgrace to my gender when it comes to sense of direction, but my God is it easy to get lost in this city.  With or without a sense of direction. Or even a map.  With its constant criss-crossing streets that have names so long they don't fit on said maps, they often cut off without warning, or worse yet, turn into other streets six blocks before you realize you're headed in the wrong direction.  My favorite?  When streets split into two within even the smallest roundabout, even though only one continues through the other side.  Does that make sense?  Not really?  Good.  Now you know what it's like to walk through Brussels. And though I'm sure the locals can navigate the area with their eyes closed, they sure are shitty at giving directions.  I had to ask for help numerous times from numerous strangers, and each time their descriptions were explained with a high degree of uncertainty and an apology.  

Anyway, enough of that, how about some Brussels highlights?  Though there are many fun things about Belgium (like a healthy nightlife...during my stay, it was "gay week," which culminated in an enormous street party for all kinds that was energetic, chaotic, and really fun), here are three notables that have nothing to do with fat, gay men running around in thongs:

Grand Place:

Many European cities have some sort of "great square," preserved town centerpieces that probably served greater purpose than beauty back in the old days, and even though I've only seen a small fraction of them, I can't imagine any are as nice as Brussels' Grand Place.  I don't know jack about architecture, but even a moron could tell these were some beautiful buildings with a ton of detail.  I revisited this square often, as this cobblestone area surrounded by old buildings was something that just doesn't exist in America.   Nothing even close. (More photos below in the dump).  The entire area is surrounded by fun shops/bars/cafes, winding corridors, and a weird statue of a boy pissing. For some reason, that urinating boy has become a symbol of Brussels. Its image exists on much of the tourist crap.  Your guess is as good as mine, and even locals aren't quite certain why it has become so famous. 

Brussels is a city that has lots of random beautiful buildings, on unassuming streets, that make you think "hmmm, I bet that's something!" while you reach for the camera . And, sometimes, you're actually correct, and there's even a sign noting the building's history.  There's probably a guide to all these, but it was fun happening upon them, which occurs more often than you might think.

The Atomium: 

The Atomium was one of the premiere exhibits when Belgium hosted the world's fair in the 1950's, and they kept this gigantic model of the atom due to popularity.  They've since turned it into one of those museums where you pretend to care about the uninteresting exhibit inside simply because you paid money to enter it.  But really, the exhibit about the world's water shortage is just a time waster until you're ready to take the elevator to the top electron, which provides a panoramic view of Brussels and, apparently, you can see as far as Antwerp on a clear day (which would have been cool to see if I knew what the hell I was looking for.)  There's also an overpriced restaurant on the very top floor that serves mediocre food that you forgive because of the great scenery.

Below the Atomium is a tourist trap otherwise known as "Mini Europe."  It's essentially a bullshit biscuit filled with miniature landmarks from around the EU; the obvious brainchild of someone who was given about twenty minutes to think of a way to capitalize on local foot traffic.  "Mom, look, a mini Eiffel Tower and Roman Coliseum!...and it's Little Ben! Get it?" "Yes, son. We can go home now. We've seen it all!" Mini Europe feels like it should be off I-80 somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, you know with signs advertising it from a thousand miles away, not in a major city. Actually, come to think of it, if it was in my suggested place, I'd totally pull off and visit. 

The Fucking Waffles:

The rumors are true.  Whether sold on the street, or in restaurants like the one above, the Belgians sure nail the waffle, and serve it under pretty much anything.  I'm not a huge sugar eater, but I couldn't keep my hands off these inexpensive treats.  In addition to the waffle, the street french fries (frites) are also top notch, as is the world famous chocolate (and the chocolate shops are plentiful).  I know Belgium is known for the three (and other haute cuisine actually), and a quick visit to Brussels will prove why.  

Normally my vacations end with me satisfied and ready to come home.  But as I packed my bag tonight, and reviewed my flight information tomorrow, I felt a bit of melancholy as I'm really not ready to come back.  But, alas, money is the drug we all need.  No matter how much or little of it we might earn.  

Belgique Photo Dump:

Grand Place Photo Bomb

Grand Place

Grand Place

Something Cool.  Like any Euro capital, Brussels is filled with stuff like this.

Yeah, deal with the finger

You wouldn't know it by this pic, but I swear that dog was a bear. Huge.  And a show stopper.  So much so that numerous Japanese tourists stopped to take its pic.  True story.

One of the aforementioned random buildings with history.  Apparently this one won a facade contest in the late 1800's.  Close up, it's pretty.  And down the street from a few sex shops. 

Inside the Atomium.  An escalator that takes you from ball to ball.  huhuhuh I said ball.  Twice. 

 See you back in the States. 


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