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Published: August 26th 2018
The final day of our postcard from Brussels. Check out time was 11am but as our flight was not until 17:15 we had a full day to explore another part of the city. When Roisin and I visit a new place we like to check out any nearby UNESCO World Heritage sites if possible. We have already visited one UNESCO site during this trip; La Grande Place (Groote Markt by any other name!) There is one other UNESCO site in Brussels; The architecture of Victor Horta. I spoke to Wanda during our walking tour of the city (what a great and appropriate name for a walking tour guide, by the way!!) She mentioned that there are four or five buildings dotted around the city attributed to Horta that fall under the protection of UNSECO. However, the best place to see examples of his work and learn about the life and times of this Art Deco designer was the Horta museum that is housed at what used to be his residence. The museum is about a fifteen minute walk from the metro through a residential area. I have since been told that I have a habit of ending up trudging through some
dodgy areas when visiting Belgium so under the circumstances, we decided to turn our attention to a different part of town; the complex that makes up the EU Parliament.
The nearest station to the EU Parliament was Maelbeek, which was a direct metro trip from our hotel. On exiting the metro station we walked a few hundred metres down Chausee d’Eterbeek then turned left on to Rue de Pascale. On the corner in the garden of Convent van Maerlant stood our first encounter that gave us a clue we were in the correct vicinity - The Statue of Europe Unity in Peace. This is a three metre high statue of hands holding a globe aloft with a dove perched on top. The colours used represent not only the ethnic diversity of the various communities in Europe, but also all the colours of the national flags of the Member States. The interlaced arms represent the equality, the force and fraternity. Having just spent the previous day learning about the French revolution and the rise of Napoleon, this symbolism was a bit eerie. (It sounds too much like Liberté, égalité, fraternité!!) The blue sphere represents the world of Europe surmounted by
the dove of Peace. (as Napoleon said: conquer Europe, conquer the world!!)
At the top of Rue de Pascale was our second clue that we were nearing our goal, an enormous glass fronted building with a huge EU flag logo emblazoned on the façade that could probably be seen from space!! Underneath the logo, the words: Comité économique et social européen were clearly visable. You didn’t need to be fluent in French to work out its meaning but just in case there is still some doubt there was a translation in to Dutch: Europees Economisch en Sociaal Comité.
The Espace Léopold is a complex of parliamentary buildings in the east of Brussels. Although the official seat of the European Government remains in Strasbourg, most of the other European Institutions have their headquarters in Brussels. We headed for the Willy Brandt building, named after Germany’s second most famous chancellor and not, as Roisin thought, an American baseball player!!
This is where the visitors centre or Parliamentarium, as it is known, is housed. As expected, there was airport style security for all visitors
although the queues weren’t so long. Come to think of it, other than some political students, the obligatory Chinese family and a scattering of middle aged tourists who were probably killing time before heading back to the airport, the place seemed a ‘kid free’ zone today. Ironic, there was a kid’s zone here on the ground floor. But today it was completely deserted. You could even imagine the tumbleweed as it blew over the brightly coloured beanbags and across the ball pit as the distant solitary church bell chimed one!!
‘I still say he sounds like an American baseball star’, murmured Roisin as we collected out stuff from the security conveyor belt.
‘Well he isn’t’, I reaffirmed.
‘Well he should be’, Roisin muttered to herself.
The Parliamentarium is free entry which made this trip even better value for money. We were handed an audio guide and for the next ninety minutes we were immersed in an interactive journey from the 1950s to the present day that explained the path towards European integration, how the European Parliament works and what its Members are doing to meet the challenges of today. Roisin
drew my attention to a map of the European Union. The outline of the countries were etched on to sheets of Perspex and layered one behind the other with one country per sheet. When looking straight on at the map, all the countries aligned to their natural positions. There was a notable omission to the map; The UK.
‘They can’t wait to get rid of us’, Roisin said. ‘We haven’t even officially left yet but there is no UK on this map’.
‘Well it looks like there is a take over bid because most other countries are missing’, I quipped. ‘This is the map of the founder members. Look, there’s Italy, Germany (west, of course), France, Netherlands and ‘ikkle eency-weency Luxembourg there,’ I said pointing to the map.
The next exhibition hall had an interactive floor map that took us on a virtual tour around the European Union, illustrating its diversity and highlighting almost one hundred ways how the EU have contributed to the well-being of its citizens.
‘Before the referendum we should have brought all those who were going to vote ‘Leave’ to this exhibition
hall. They may have had a change of heart after seeing the good that the EU have actually done for the country,’ I said
‘Ooh, that’s a bit political and controversial even for a travel blog. Don’t put that in the blog,’ replied Roisin
‘I won’t,’ I lied!!!
Leaving the interactive floor behind, we entered what can only be described as a cosy living room. The area was surrounded by a 360° circular video wall projecting images of relaxing scenes from around the EU. There were a number of sofas in this tranquil oasis. Each seat came with an interactive monitor on a swivel stand. Taking our place on one of these settees, I was soon watching as an environmental activist from Poland, a Slovenian professor and a Finnish singer described the impact the European Union has had on their lives. There were many other citizens from across the EU and from all walks of life who were also keen to tell their story. Roisin was keen to listen whereas I was sinking deeper into the comfort of the living room. I decided to rest my eyes for five minutes!!
Statue of Europa
The Euro sign represents the unity and the interwoven connection of all the European People and Nations.
40 minutes later, Roisin was nudging me but she didn’t wake me up because I was only resting my eyes!!
One part of the EU Parliament I would have liked to have seen is a building known as the Hemicycle. This is a semi-circular debating chamber that can seat up to 751 EMPs together with their translators. There is a public gallery so it is possible to visit the chamber during live debates (but you have to arrange your own translator!!) Unfortunately, the Hemicycle is only open during week days. I will never know if this is indeed where (the) Belgian Waffle was created!!
On our way out, we took a detour via the statue of Europa, the mother of King Minos who is holding the euro sign aloft. The euro sign is also the Greek letter epsilon and represents the unity and the interwoven connection of all the European People and Nations.
This may be the end of the trip but the adventure has only just begun. Having both recently retired we have already mapped out our travel plans for the next two years. We’ll be travelling far and wide to many interesting places
Chris and Roisin's selfie
At the entrance to the Parlamentarium is a free photo booth
from Auckland to Alaska. From South East Asia to the South Pacific…..
…watch this space.
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