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Cheers Brussels!
by Clint Wayne
2007-01-13 10:31:42
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Having firmly nailed our Euro-sceptic colours to the political mast many years ago, it was with some trepidation that my wife and I now found ourselves seated on the majestic Eurostar. We were travelling at high speed through the Channel Tunnel towards Brussels, the capital of Euro-land and the very centre of everything that we had come to detest, with its bureaucratic, money-squandering and never-ending interference with our beloved country. It was nothing personal against the city itself or even the friendly French-speaking Belgians, it was just well…Brussels.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Atomium-sm.jpgHaving travelled in comfort for just 2 hours 20 minutes from London’s Waterloo Station, we found ourselves standing in the heart of the city at the stunningly beautiful Grand Place, the hub and first port of call for the majority of tourists.

This bustling cobblestone square remains the current civic centre and offers some of the finest ornate 17th Century architecture, which is very much comparable with Venice - coming from me that is the ultimate compliment. On every even-numbered year the square hosts the spectacularly colourful ‘Tapis des Fleurs’ celebration when the whole square is carpeted with millions of fresh flowers in exquisite patterns and pays tribute to Brussels' long-established flower industry.

Just off the square is a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with cafes selling the famous warm calorie-laden waffles covered with whatever takes your fancy and little retail outlets selling everything from the tourist trash to beautiful Belgian Lace.

It was not long before the air was filled with the smell of Belgium’s most special delight, namely chocolate which has been a speciality since the nation’s acquisition of the Belgian Congo back in the 1880s, which meant easy access to Africa’s cocoa plantations. Traditionally, Belgian chocolates, known as Pralines, are filled with cream, nuts or a high quality rich dark chocolate and displayed in finely decorated boxes.

Not far from the Grand Place is the not-to-be-missed ‘Galeries St.Hubert’ with its 19th Century domed glass roof and reputedly the first shopping arcade in Europe. A short uphill walk will take you past the ‘Notre-Dame de la Chapelle’, the capital’s principle place of worship and the venue for all the Royal Family’s occasions. A walk through the quiet tree-lined paths and fountains of the ‘Parc de Bruxelles’ takes you to the ‘Palais Royal’, the official home of the Belgian monarch and family, where the flag flies when the monarch is in the country.

An interesting open-top bus ride will take you past the surprisingly, but pleasingly, hidden away European Parliament Building and through the modern city filled with faceless monoblocs of ‘architecturally designed’ glass and chrome office blocks, so bereft of passion and inspiration that one wonders whether future generations will stand in admiration of these buildings as we both did in the Grand Place. On the outskirts of the city is the impressive ‘Atomium’ built for the 1958 World Trade Fair and a symbol of how the world was moving into a new age of science and space travel.

As every weary tourist knows, there is always a need for refreshment and it doesn’t come better than tasting the hundreds of Belgian beers on offer, all with their own specially-designed glasses…Well, here’s to you Brussels…Cheers!

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