This was not our first visit to Brussels. Because it is located at the end of the eurostar line we’d been to the station many times before on trips to Amsterdam and further afield. If you want to go east by train, it’s an essential train hub when coming from the UK. However only once before had we left the station, at the end of a hectic 8 day inter-rail tour, and I had left feeling we really didn’t do it justice.
The main thing we had missed on our previous visit that I was keen to see was the Atomium. Built for the worlds fair in 1958, this is one of the most iconic images of Brussels. A 100m scaled up representation of an iron atom, it stands at the end of the Boulevard du Centenaire. We approached it from the south east, walking through the Parc du Laeken, via the monument to Leopold the 1st. It’s a huge park, an extension of the gardens of the royal palace, and it has a bit of a rabbit infestation which is actually quite endearing. Unfortunately because this was the end of our trip and we were at our most budget conscious, we declined to enter the Atomium, instead enjoying the shape from the outside. Personally it’s one of my favorite buildings, there’s something so extravagant about its design that I really like. The 1958 World’s Fair happened in the middle of the era of “technological utopianism” (Wikipedia’s phrase, not mine) and you can see it in the Atomium and the smaller buildings that are clustered near by. Humanity was showing off what it was capable of.
Previously we had of course been to see the Manneke Pis. On this visit we discovered that it is actually one of three pee-themed statues in the city, the other two being the Jeanneke-Pis (a peeing girl) and Het Zinneke (a peeking dog). Not wanting to fully exhaust the sights we decided to just go and see Jeanneke-Pis and leave Het Zinneke for another visit. It’s down a side street just beyond the famous Delrium Tremens bar. The statue is fairly small and a bit underwhelming, similar to its male counterpart in that regard, but still a quirky sight worth a visit. Unfortunately the surrounding streets which used to be packed with chairs and tables from the restaurants that lined them have recently been cleared. Apparently there was a medical emergency and the paramedics access was blocked. It’s a shame though because the atmosphere of those packed windy streets was joyful.
We also visited the botanical gardens in Brussels, the last of our trip. They weren’t great, sorry Brussels, focussing more on landscaping than on the variety of plants on display. They were very central though and the building in the gardens was very grand. Apparently they have live music there fairly often which must be exciting. While we were there a large number of art students arrived to paint the plants, I hope they weren’t disappointed with the subject matter…
In the end, Brussels was the last stop on an incredible journey. We booked an amazing room and were actually very lazy, especially because we’d seen most of it before. One thing I am very glad I saw on this visit though was a seagull swimming in a pond, eating bread, just like a duck. Pretty cool moment. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a photo of it happening but I imagine you can create a reasonable approximation of it in your minds eye.
Full pictures from our time in Brussels: