0458 The Capital of Europe (Belguim 001—revisit)

Brussels Travel Blog

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Brussels is another city that I really needed to get back to.  See, back in 2005, coming from Amsterdam,  I stopped in Brussels, walked about three blocks, then went back to the train station and booked my next ticket to Luxembourg.

 

Since then I’ve felt a bit like a cheater--  I’ve included Belguim among my “countries visited” list even though I saw next to nothing and discovered next to nothing about the city… This has been weighing on my conscience for over 4 years now…

So now I’m going to right that wrong and explore Brussels properly. 

 

I reach the shiny skyscraper area around the Brussels World Trade Center early in the morning.

  Once it starts getting light, I head towards the Old Town to discover the city…

 

It’s a pleasant little downtown, with your typical narrow streets and beautiful cathedrals.  But it isn’t until I reach the top of the hill that I’m really impressed by the architectural beauty of the city.  Also you get a great view of the north and west side, with the Atomium off in the distance.

What I’m not able to quite pick out is what makes this city distinctively Belge.  Most of the buildings look very French… And I wonder, what is it that makes Belguim a unique and distinct nation and culture?

 

I loop around the old city, through its beautiful gardens and past the government palaces. Then an arch catches my eye way down a narrow street so I head in that direction…

 

After a bit of a hike, I reach the European Union headquarters area, which I don’t find particularly attractive or impressive, but there are a series of plaques describing the history of the city and gradually worked its way to becoming the “Capital of Europe”

 

This gets me thinking… Maybe the reason Brussels is the best choice as the “Capital of Europe” is because it doesn’t have that distinctive, domineering culture and history like France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, etc… It’s sort of a “generic” country where any European can feel comfortable and is not reminded of some ugly war or conquest of the past… Belguim never tried to conquer anybody and never imposed its culture on any of its neighbors…

 

Maybe… but I’m still going to try my best to discover the distinctiveness of Belge culture…

 

I continue on to the beautiful triple are to the east of the city… continue on a bit further, then make my way back down a wide and splendid tree lined boulevard.

 


One thing nice about Brussels is its gardens created along gently sloping hills giving you a great view of the city below…

 

I reach a beautiful little lake with lined with trees and elegant houses right in the heart of the city…

 

Finally I figure it’s time to head back to the bus station and book my next ticket…

 

I book my ticket for tomorrow… so I’m going to have to stay the night here in Brussels.  I found a map of the city that points out a couple of hostels nearby but I still waste a good couple of hours before I finally find one… And finally can lose my bag for a while…

 

Next mission:  go check out the Atomium.

  I hadn’t given that structure much thought before, but now seeing it off on the horizon, I know I have to go see it up close. 

 

So I set out across the modern business area once again, and across a couple of lively middle and lower class neighborhoods.   I’m still on the lookout for that distinctive Belge vibe, but quite frankly everywhere I go it seems that native Belge are a minority and most folks are either Eastern European, African or Arab…  Some streets are lined with Arab teahouses and I could swear that I’m back in Morocco

 

I enjoy seeing ethnic and cultural diversity in a city… but here in Brussels it just seems a bit too much.  Other the an occasional Belguim Waffle stand, there just doesn’t seem to be much “Belguim” left here…

 

I continue on to an area of forests and chateaus… Across a vast, grassy park… and finally the Atomium.



I’ll have to say, many famous landmarks that I’ve seen somehow look smaller and less impressive in real life than they do in pictures… Big Ben? The Mermaid? The Jesus Statue in Rio?  All a bit overblown… But the Atomium is the opposite… it really outshines its postcard…

 

To think that this very innovative and futuristic structure was built way back in the 1950s makes it all the more impressive… I don’t know of many other furturistic structures that have been built since then, that have been able to match it.

… So maybe Brussels lacks a bit in cultural uniqueness… but it does have one of the most unique structures in the world…

 

I’m right near the edge of the city, so I decide to continue on a little bit further so I can explore a Brussels suburb…

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photo by: Vlindeke