Monday, 21 May 2012

B to the Russ to the Els

…it’s a long, long way to where the streets smell of chocolate

Embarking on a 5am coach leaving our fair sandy town, to maketh our way to London and switch coaches on to the now INTERNATIONAL Megabus (got to love that little jolly fella), we took a trip to Belgium, capital of Europe and as far as we’re concerned capital of our world.

Landing in the dark chocolately heart of Brussels in the early evening and making our way across the cobbled streets to our 5* hotel, we dropped everything to start explorations and food hunting. Brussels is broken down into easy and manageable geographic sections, e.g. you walk down one street and it’s all Italian eateries, another street is full of Greek muncheries, but we fancied something a little Asian and a Vietnamese/Thai appealed. With some decidedly mischievous d├ęcor with full size tables and chairs plastered into the walls, alongside a 3 wheeled trike affixed upside down on the ceiling, it satisfied our quirk ’o’ meter and delivered some fine cuisine, including an 8 taste chicken experience. With parties spilling out on to the street, we were laying down memory markers where to come back to the following day to see much resplendent architecture in the bright Belgian sun.

Oh my, the quality of the bed and pillows at our hotel was heavenly (easily the comfiest bed we’ve both ever slept in) but made the mornings a whole lot harder. Finding Use It (an international/local young travellers city guides which tell you genuine information, not just the tourist trappings) and following one of their 90 minute walks around the city, we saw places outside the centre and let us visit parks, museums, unusual areas and unintentionally, the European Parliament; which just so happened to be having an open day – of course we went in! Satisfying our needs for miniature quests, the EU designed several stations located all over this labyrinthine building where you had to retrieve a stamp after answering 5 very boring questions (e.g. how many disabled ramps give access into the main building? Read this leaflet for the answers *yawn*). After spending at least 2 hours and 40 minutes sat in the main EU chamber listening to a live debate on censorship and social media, we decided to carry on with the guided walk where I got caught peeking through a UK MEP’s box, which was very full – obviously they hadn’t attended very recently.

Food was an utter delight throughout our entire trip, we didn’t have one average meal, mixing street food vendors selling raspberry waffles to the Drug Opera restaurant serving steak and cherry beer plus VW camper vans selling ice creams and sorbets. The culinary highlight was reserved for the final night where we found a modern hamburger joint. Sat at the counter watching the world go by, drinking milks shakes and eating burgers made for glorious times indeed. We ventured out into the night seeing the Grand Place with so much gold leaf on show from the 16th Century that I was suitably impressed. Add some wonderful full building size street art on the empty side of buildings that really added character to the neighbourhoods that we found them in to the dozens of gourmet chocolate shops that adorned every corner; Brussels is a little piece of foodie paradise.

Built for the world expo of 1958 (the world needs more massive expos) we visited the mighty Atomium – a mighty futuristic 9 ball structure with interconnecting tubes which you can explore. A lift takes you to the very top giving you huge panoramic views over Brussels and even as far as Antwerp whilst in the lower balls, there’s temporary exhibitions, a history of its construction. One sphere even has mini spheres inside in which children can sleep over. The Atomium is mighty and is the perfect tourists bedfellow to Mini-Europe, which is right next door and is essentially a model village but covers the whole of Europe with at least one architectural highlight from every major European country, a glorious yet complete folly at the same time. The replica of the Grand Place in Brussels took 19,000 man hours and cost over 350,000 euros to build. There are over 50 models and it’s only then when you begin to compute the scales, human and financial that has gone into this tiny world, which sits next to the huge steel balls that I begin to take my hat off those workers who’ve carved, painted and shaped Mini Europe.

We finished off our adventures with a trip to the Musical Instruments Museum, which although presented no interactive things to play with, actually housed some amazing constructions from across the centuries from around the world, that looked like art. From a modern Theremin to a Serpent Bassoon to a 2 inch wide 6 string violin. It was like looking into a strange and magical world where if these tools were actually played one last time, it would create an almighty sound, something magical and completely unheard of.

It is official, Brussels is the capital of Europe and it’s also full of human wonder.