Saturday, March 5, 2016

Brussels, Belgium

January 22-24, 2016

Two days was just enough to visit the small yet beautiful city of Brussels. The capital of Belgium is known for a few things: waffles, chocolates, and a peeing mannequin. Other notable things include historic architecture, shoes and street art. Here are some of the highlights from my experience there.

It was quite brisk, so we stayed in our jackets and scarves throughout the entire trip. My scarf from Paris came in handy! Our Airbnb host was not the friendliest person, as she let us in the apartment and was distant the entire weekend.
Waffles – we started our first day by eating Brussels’ best waffles at a place called “Maison Dandoy.” This is not to be confused with the candy store, which also has the same name. Funny story; we actually mistakenly walked into the chocolate store initially, and were directed to the waffle place by a grumpy lady, who seemed to be far too well versed with tourists confusing her place for the breakfast restaurant. She did offer us a sample though. The waffles were indeed quite delicious at this place, and rightly overpriced (8 euros compared to the street 1-euro waffles). My favorite part of this place, however, wasn’t the waffle; it was a sign that read “No wifi, talk to each other, call your mom, pretend it’s 1829.” These days, everyone—myself included!—is addicted to always being connected to wifi.
La Grand Place - Also known as Grote Markt. This is Brussels’ main square surrounded by these opulent buildings. I felt like I was in a pop-up storybook standing in the middle of the square, as the buildings towered over me and people passed me in every direction.

Chocolates Tour – In the town world-famous for its chocolates, it would be a pity not to learn how they’re made here. We bought online tickets for the “Planete Chocolat Bruxelles” chocolate tour; while we didn’t learn the secret recipe, we did gather some interesting facts, such as how Latin America is the biggest exporter of cocoa plants/beans. You won’t be surprised to learn that I volunteered for a demonstration on stage, where I was instructed to pour creamy chocolate into pans of various shapes (wearing an apron and net hat, of course). I was rewarded with an owl made out of chocolate, which we ended up saving for our Berlin host (Casey’s friend). It is true though, Brussels' chocolates are indeed unmatched in taste! I bought a few boxes for friends and family back home, and convinced Alex we should get some for our colleagues as gifts. She was initially opposed to the idea of getting chocolates for our administrators, but I reasoned that we should favor professionalism over personal grudges. Not that it’s worth any details, but I remember this being a heated debate in Barcelona. In fact, Alex ended up buying some chocolates off of me later when she realized she hadn’t gotten any for her sisters.
Peeing Mannequin – Brussels is famed for an odd thing known as the “peeing mannequin.” It is exactly that: a little mannequin who is shamelessly peeing (water fountain, really). But apparently this attracts tourists from around the world to come see it. There’s even a woman version of this mannequin—the woman is squatting, of course. I was confused by such a statue, but realized it was probably just good fun. It was very common to see replicas of the statue at restaurants, outside shops, and in chocolate-format (see video in next blog).
Brussels Cathedral – Like most of Europe, Brussels is full of churches and cathedrals. We stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and walked through it. There were many elements similar to the Notre Dame in Paris. It was a quiet place, and many devout people could be seen worshiping.

Musical Instrument Museum – According to Wikipedia, the Musical Instrument Museum is “part of the Royal Museums for Art and History and internationally renowned for its collection of over 8,000 instruments.” George’s friend had recommended it to us in Paris, so we decided to check it out. It was a very cool museum—I’ve never been to a museum devoted to instruments from around the world. The audio tours allowed each person to tap on an exhibit to learn more, creating an informative yet individual and quiet experience. There were instruments of unseal shapes and materials, such as animal fur, coats, bones, and pots. It made me realize that music is truly the creative creation of sounds. You can see some of the interesting instruments below.
Palace of Justice – Upon one of our walks throughout the city, we stumbled upon the “Palais de Justice.” Much to our surprise, this court of law was run down, trashed, leaking, and used by skateboards, local teens, and open to anyone including foreigners like us. Despite a football and many beer cans caught in a net between two columns, we walked through the "Palace" of Justice more like inspectors than tourists. So much respect for the law, huh? How ironic. Maybe this building was under construction, we don’t know, but we found it humorous nonetheless. Plus, its architecture was beautiful and worth capturing.
Atomium – Before leaving the city, we made a quick evening stop at The Atomium monument. The Atomium was originally constructed for Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and is in the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. CNN named Atomium Europe's most bizarre building. And quite bizarre it was. It's unlike any architecture I have ever seen. It reminded me of my AP Chemistry class with Mr. Relton in high school, when I actually used to love molecules and thought I’d grow up to be a scientist. It also reminded me of the infamous “molecule project” where every high schooler in America had to construct an atom or a molecule using Styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners, fuzzy balls, Popsicle sticks, and materials of the like. In fact, my 14-year-old brother Dani, a sophomore in high school, just built a carbohydrate complete with outer membranes. Even though people are allowed to go inside this Atomium, it was closed when we got there. We enjoyed the structure from the outside, grabbed some ‘frites’ recommended by our Airbnb host, and caught an overnight bus to Amsterdam. Goodbye Brussels!

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