The Atomium - an unconventional-looking but iconic Brussels landmark
Brussels - so what kinds of stereotypes come into play this time? Well, the list is fairly lengthy, as this is Europe's seat of political power after all - let's throw in Eurocrats, fruity beer, chocolates galore, frites on every menu, stylish architecture and a little boy weeing(!), and we get the general impression. Truth to tell, the Belgian capital city is an interesting conundrum, and in addition to all the elements which make the place as European as it gets, there are influences from other continents, namely African, Asian and the odd tinge of the Americas, on the strength of which you could quite confidently call this city cosmopolitan. A 1-day trek around Brussels took in the sights of the Laeken and Heysel area as the first port of call, easily reachable by the underground network which is sufficiently extensive to allow for the 'Brussels in a day' experience.
Exterior grounds of the Royal Palace
The centrepiece of the Heysel area is the molecular-structure of the Atomium, built for the 1958 Expo, and looking like the oddest metallic city icon you could ever come across. At the far end of the park where it is situated is where East Asia is represented, in the shape of a Chinese pavillion, and neighbouring Japanese tower, both adding elements of exoticism to the urbanscape of Brussels. The city centre is, however, where the city's largest cluster of attractions is to be found, and as a rough indication, the city's largest shopping complex, City 2, represents the northern tip of this whole urban area. Anyone with any prior knowledge of Brussels' city style will be no doubt familiar with the Grand Place, which contains pretty much the final word in stylish Belgian architecture, and is a joy to behold, when surrounded by such finely detailed buildings in a sizeable expanse where tourists flock to gain a feel for this piece of Belgian splendour.
Facade of the entrance to the European Parliament complex
Leading off from the Grand Place are streets a-plenty, and one of them leads to another of Belgian's icons, the miniature statuette known as 'Mannequin Pis', or to put it plainly 'the boy weeing'. Due to the statue's status as a curiosity, he has been joined by a similar-sized statue of a girl weeing, and these elements perhaps shave a little of the plainness off Brussels as being a city of straight-laced and sober European Politics. The European Commission is a tourist attraction in its own right, and gleams with the sheen of European modernity and forward-thinking, but let it be known that Belgium also produces an extraordinary variety of beers, and is clearly also a nation with a sociable underside which strengthens their 'work hard, play hard' approach to living. All in all, Brussels is a good enough base for a short stay in Belgium, as the nation's rail network means that other cities are within easy reach, many of which can be achieved on one-day trips in this compact and manageable nation.