Day Four was one of my favorites! The jet lag was wearing off and we managed to leave the hotel before they began lunch preparations (HUGE!!!) to spend the day in Brussels. Our main goal was to visit The Atomium and Mini Europe. Anything after that would be icing on the cake. Fair warning, this post is going to be picture heavy!
On arrival, we snagged tickets for a Hop On Hop Off Tour that would take us exactly where we wanted to go. First stop… The Atomium. Every time I see this amazing structure in person, it takes my breath away. Originally built for the 1958 World Fair, it is now a magnet for visitors from around the world. “The nine spheres represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.” It is tangible proof of the faith Belgians placed in science, specifically nuclear power.
We took the elevator straight to the top to take in magnificent views of the Brussels skyline. Afterward, we explored the individual spheres. Getting to them required extremely steep escalator rides! (If memory serves, all but two of the spheres were available to the public with one of those reserved for groups for sleepover events. How awesome is that!) Much to the delight of Stinky and the DH, there was a collection of Sabena (the now-defunct Belgian airline) artifacts on display in one of the spheres.
After our tour of The Atomium, we ventured outside to snap a few really cool shots and have a quick lunch. Then we headed off to Mini Europe which is within walking distance of The Atomium.
Mini Europe is a scaled replica of all of the major landmarks of countries that are members of the European Union. Winding pathways take you country-by-country and are adorned with wildflowers and perfectly manicured gardens. (It will be interesting to see if the London section stays or goes after May’s crushing defeat in British election yesterday, but that’s another post.)
Many of the exhibits were interactive. Stinky and Blinky especially enjoyed one exhibit where you had the choice of being a thief trying to get away with the stolen Mona Lisa, or a French police officer in hot pursuit.
Sidebar: It was interesting to see the number of school groups that were at Mini Europe. It was even more interesting to see how the children (maybe 4-6th graders) were given free reign while at the attraction. Teachers weren’t hovering and I didn’t spot a single parent with the groups. Attitudes are very different across the pond.
After we wrapped up Mini Europe, we still had daylight to burn. Score! We headed back The Atomium to hop on our tour bus to take in a few more sights on the way to the Grand Place. What makes Brussels’ Grand Place stand out from the other cities we visited was the size of the square, the number of Guild Houses, and how well they were maintained. The audio tour on the bus referred to Brussels’ Grand Place as the most beautiful square in Europe.
Flower carpets are often created on the cobblestone streets of the Grand Place in Brussels. They are extraordinary images created using over 600,000 flowers! I would love to see an installation one time!
I hinted about our next stop in yesterday’s post. This one was MAJOR for the kids, who had been dying to see the Manneke Pis since we arrived. It is literally a statue of a small boy peeing into a fountain. It is neatly tucked away in a corner of a nondescript street, conveniently surrounded by souvenir shops and waffle bars. Literally hundreds of people blanket the area to take a selfie. When we arrived, Manneke Pis was dressed for Cardiac Awareness Week. His caregiver was just about to change him so much to their delight, Stinky and Blinky got to see him in all his glory.
So what makes this little attraction so special? I suppose it is the legends behind it. There are three versions of the story.
- The first is that a wealthy family lost their son at a street festival. The parents prayed that if he was ever found, they would erect a statue of him doing whatever it was he was doing at the time he was discovered.
- The second involved a witch placing a spell on a little boy who would not stop peeing in her yard.
- And finally, the third talks about a little boy who saved Brussels from a fire in the 13th century by peeing on it.
Whatever the reason, locals and tourists alike are in love with the legend and the fountain. Just check out this life size chocolate creation.
We ventured back to the Grand Place for dinner and enjoyed an evening of people watching. And cat watching apparently. A very well fed cat wandered into the restaurant. Now Belgians love their dogs and take them absolutely everywhere but I don’t think any of us were prepared for this. Ha!
By the time we wrapped up dinner, it was evening and time to head back. But what a full and enjoyable day! Tomorrow I’ll recap our day trip to Brugge. This is also the point in our trip where we start focusing on art. Stay tuned!
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