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Belgium: Brussels, Brugge
Belgium: Chocolate, beer & pee
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Welcome to the land of architecture (old world charm), parks (patches of green, all around), chocolates (in all shapes, sizes, flavours and fillings), waffles (with a range of creative toppings), beer (brews over 400 types), EU headquarters, birthplace of Tin Tin (the famous cartoon character) and the pissing boy (non-stop action for many years now). I wrote them down as they came to my mind. Feel free to change the order to your preference.
On my return leg from USA I had to change planes at Brussels. Since it was a weekend, I thought of staying over for a couple of days and get back home on a Monday. 2 days well spent. It was worth every minute. And every Euro cent. If planning to visit Europe or North America, folks from India may want to try hopping on Jet Airways. A new plane (or was I lucky?), good food, excellent hospitality and above all an opportunity to explore Brussels and the rest of Belgium. Actually, I prefer taking flights from the OneWorld Alliance. American Airlines is one of them. And since AA code shares with Jet (9W), there I was.
I checked into First EuroFlat Hotel, bang opposite the EU headquarters and just across the bus stop that takes you to the airport. It was a quiet Saturday morning. By 10 am I was out with my walking shoes and a compact digital camera tucked in my jacket pocket. I explored the city centre (all major attractions) on foot. I walked for over 10 hours. Taking short breaks on park benches. For energy, sandwiches and waffles came in handy. I am not much of a beer guzzler (which is sad) so had do quench with cans of Diet Coke.
Brussels is located quite in the middle. For my next day, which was a Sunday, I had many options. A visit to Waterloo (the famous war grounds, where Napoleon met his Waterloo) or a visit to Luxemburg (I would have added to my list of been there countries) or day trip to Antwerp (since I had no intentions of buying diamonds, this option was automatically ruled out) or a trip to Amsterdam (I was there a few years ago) or do a combination of a visit to the Atomium in the morning and a train trip to Brugge later in the day. I opted for the combo.
Atomium is a major Brussels landmark and is easily reached by public transport. I used the underground which was clean, fast and efficient. It's a good idea to opt for a daily pass for about Euros 4 that gives you access to unlimited travel. Visitors can walk into the bond of atoms (entrance fee is Euros 9) and take a tour through science & space. There's a good restaurant up there. Frankly, I didn't take the trip up. It would have taken away hours from me. And I had planned for much more.
Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition of Brussels, that took place here in 1958, the Atomium is a structure that is half way between sculpture and architecture, symbolising an iron crystal by the scale of its atoms, magnified 165 billion times. The Atomium is 334.6. ft. high; the spheres have a diameter of 59.0 ft; weight of 2400 tons. The distance between the spheres, measured on the sides of the cube, is 95.1 ft; the diameter of the tubes is 9.8 ft. The diagonal tubes are 75.4 ft long and of 10.8 ft diameter. The diameter of the pavilion on which the base sphere appears to rest is 85.3 ft. Technical stuff and more information can be found at the Atomium web site.
Work was started in March 1956. Made entirely of steel clad with aluminium, the structure dominates the Heysel plateau. The particular position chosen for the cube, i.e., resting on one sphere with a vertical diagonal, was essentially dictated by esthetical reasons. Such a position made it of course necessary to insure the stability of the structure by three bipods. The nine large spheres joined by tubes which comprise the Atomium, are arranged in the configuration of a central cubic system.
Adjacent to the Atomium is a park which houses many restaurants and 'Mini-Europe' - an enclosure of exact miniatures of famous European landmarks. There's a Euros 12 entrance fee, but a visit is a must. Just across the Atomium is Brussels Expo Centre. Built on sprawling acreage, the Expo is home to many trade fairs and conventions. It was almost noon. I had to head back to the central railway station and check for options to get to Brugge.
There are frequent Intercity trains that take you to Brugge. One way fare was Euros 12. Luck was on my side. It was a weekend. The return journey was only Euros 13. It's a good idea to always check at the counter for any special promotions. Had it been a weekday, I would have been poorer by Euros 11. I was at the Brugge station, 100 kms away in just about 90 minutes.
Welcome to Brugge. The chocolate capital of the world. As befits a chocolate city of high standing, Brugge is proud to boast its own official city chocolate, the Brugge Swan (Brugsch Swaentje). The exact recipe remains a secret, but amongst the key ingredients are almond paste, 'gruut' (a local type of spiced flour) and 'kletskoppen' (a local Brugge biscuit).
The Brugge railway station is tucked in a corner of Brugge town. The best and probably the only way to fathom the beauty is by walking around. I did that for about 4 hours before catching my train back into Brussels.
Known as Venice of the North, old town Brugge (the history of dates back 2000 years) is where one should head. Cobbled alleys, manicured gardens, inviting trees, marvelous monuments, pretty canals and stores of famous brand names. Rich in history, I am sure I would have loved to add another day at Brugge, but that was not to be.
Pictures posted here should tell you more. I invite readers to fill me up as I was short of time to gather the information first hand.
Monday was time to check-out. The activity outside was electrifying. I was trapped in rush hour. Schuman Place, where I was staying, is home to EU. Unfortunately, due to major road repairs happening, I had to drag my luggage for about 200 meters before I boarded my bus to the airport.
While I was with my cuppa coffee, at the lounge waiting for the boarding announcement, people were busy shopping. Invariably, every hand carried at least one chocolate box.
There must have been a reason.
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