Wondering what Brussels has to offer to make tourists drop their jaws and raise their eyebrows, I got onto the bus from Paris to Brussels and transcended into a reverie by allowing the picturesque expanse of land to create a magical effect on my mind.
The fall season acts as a catalyst in enhancing the beauty of the perfect scenery with the fallen leaves creating a multi-coloured carpet on the ground. The October sun graces the occasion and peeks out at intervals through the clouds. The spectacular view offers a mirror into a period, where I recite the famous poem by William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a cloud...”
The momentary magic clears and doubts on whether Brussels stands a chance to prove its worth in comparison to the architectural beauties like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Koln Cathedral and Eiffel Tower surfaces yet again. The hours go by travelling through the countryside, till I finally set foot on Belgian soil.
A walk to remember
I walk towards the famous Grand Place or Grote Markt, which is the central square of Brussels. A prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the square houses the city’s Town Hall, which stands tall at 310 ft on the south side, and is capped by a gilt metal statue of St Michael slaying a demon. The noticeably asymmetrical tower in terms of its front archway and the main building facade is truly eye-catching and is sure to make one question the mind of the architect.
A real tourist attraction is the ‘flower carpet’ set up in the Grand Place every two years in August, where a million begonias are set up in patterns. The sheer aura this square possesses, of connecting people from different continents against a beautiful backdrop, is inviting.
A stone’s throw from the square are narrow lanes that are teeming with an array of shops selling everything Belgian; leather items to chocolates to watches. The street food is notably superb in its appearance, with numerous restaurants enticing tourists and locals with their infamous Belgian waffles and fries. The toppings on the waffles are sinfully loaded with calories, as it boasts of whipped cream, chocolate sauce, fruits with powdered sugar or honey.
Devouring the waffles leaves an adequate sugar rush in me, and I aimlessly let the streets guide me to reveal one of Belgium’s famous structures standing ‘tall’ at a mere 61 cm, Manneken Pis or the Little Man Pee. History has it that when Brussels was under siege, a little boy relieved himself on the burning fuse and saved the city, and this statue commemorates that event; one of the stories surrounding this bronze statue, which did not baffle the kids posing next to it, or me, and finding it rather amusing!
A few miles from the Grand Place is the Atomium in Bruparck, another landmark. This monument, which was built for Expo’58 held in Brussel, is 335 ft high. It is complemented by nine steel spheres that are connected to form the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Oblivious to the marvels of science, the unfathomable structure of an atom intrigues me.
At the foot of the Atomium, as I discover, is the only park in the world which offers a one-stop tour of the old European continent. Aptly called ‘Mini Europe’, it is unbelievable when I see miniature models from almost 80 nations across Europe. The chimes of a four feet Big Ben in the heart of London or the palm-sized gondolas swaying in the canals depicting the charms of Venice, make me rationalise the term ‘little miracles.’
Spotting many children eagerly waiting to be photographed standing beside Big Ben, which is just as tall as them, kindles my childhood spirit. The unparalleled craftsmanship, which has created almost 300 models, receives a loud applause from these tourists, when they succeed in making some miniature models work themselves like the eruption of Vesuvius, the fall of Berlin Wall, the bull fight in Seville.
Recalling a few happy moments from childhood, I proceed to try my hand at multimedia games in a separate location within the theme park. Failing to impress myself at anything remotely electronic, I realise that I’m better at gaping at the miniatures. Fear of being scoffed at by children who know their gadgets well makes me leave the gizmo site and enter the restaurant, instantly slipping into an ease munching on fries and sipping cola.
With the day’s sightseeing medley, my doubts on this relatively small and inadequately documented country are positively dispelled.
A Gothic-style building, a little amusing statue and a wonderland piecing Europe together, with its little architectural marvels at the foot of the Giant Atom, make this hidden land prominent on the tourist map. A piece of Belgian chocolate, and a piece of Europe satiates me. After all, “All good things come in small packages.”