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Published: December 24th 2017
Poor Brussels. I'd never had much interest in it as a destination in its own right, just in using it to get to Bruges. But I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this city.
Brussels was much bigger and more metropolitan than I had realised. Arriving at Charleroi Airport I travelled through the south of the city to get to the centre. The bus drove through many deprived areas and areas heavily influenced by immigration. The South train station was insanely huge and illogically laid out and I got hopelessly lost. It wasn't quite the shiny veneer I'd envisaged for the home of the EU, or the easy-peasy destination for my first solo trip that I'd thought it would be.
Once I eventually found my hotel near Grand Place, I set out to see this most iconic sight of Brussels. It was quite breathtaking, the sheer scale and majesty of its buildings. As you'd expect, this area is highly touristy, with many, MANY chocolate shops. I wandered around a bit and came across another icon of Brussels - Mannekin Pis, a statue of a young boy urinating. I'd have missed it if there hadn't been a huge crowd gathered
round it, it took me a few minutes to figure out what everyone was looking at as I didn't expect it to be quite so tiny.
It is intriguing that one of the most famous landmarks of such a serious city is something quite so, erm, quirky. The story behind it claims that in the 12th century the son of a duke was caught urinating against a tree in the midst of a battle and was thus commemorated in bronze as a symbol of military courage. Apparently there are also statues of a peeing girl and a peeing dog too. I don't know how they fit in with the story, as I decided not to waste my time looking for them.
Whether Brussels is happy that this weird little statue is one of its most famous sights or not, they sure have cashed in on it. All the surrounding waffle and chocolate shops feature much bigger versions of the statue. I took this opportunity to sit on a nearby step and enjoy the first waffle of my trip while watching other tourists come along, do a double take when they saw how little the statue was, but then
all start mugging for selfies anyway.
My trip was very short at just two nights, and I spent my one full day in Bruges. So what did I do on the last day to make the most of my last few hours appreciating Brussels? High culture at a museum or art gallery? Nope. I went to....a kiddies' theme park. Obviously.
In my defence, I had to get out there to see another iconic sight of Brussels anyway, the Atomium. The Atomium is a structure of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. That makes each of the atom's nine spheres 18m in diameter, and they are linked by escalators and stairs. It is pretty impressive, especially considering it was built in 1958 for the World Fair. I didn't go in it, but it did make a pretty awesome backdrop for my next destination - Mini Europe. Yup, like an elaborate crazy golf range, more than 300 models of important European constructions built at a scale of 1:25, this place was a lot of fun. It was slightly run down (complete with a dead mouse floating around Denmark!) so there may be similar parks in the world that are
better quality, but it was my first time coming across something like this and I was entertained.
Bruparck also features other entertainment facilities such as an IMAX and an indoor water park. I'm certainly no expert on children, but I wonder if this might make Brussels a good city break choice for families. Plenty of child-friendly activities, then once the kids are happy and munching on waffles maybe mum and dad could get a quick glance at some pretty buildings or something?!?
So while it may not be the most glowing endorsement I'll ever give, my final verdict on Brussels is this - Better than I thought it was going to be. Not a patch on gorgeous Bruges though!
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