“NOT I – NOT ANYONE else, can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself.” – Walt Whitman
By default Belgium is a purveyor of waffles, chocolates and beer but having experienced Brussels there is actually more to this country than Godiva and Stella Artois.
Brussels is the largest city of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union (‘de facto’ means it is a reality, a fact of life, even if not approved in law). As per my research I was amazed to find out that the Belgians are innovators of lottery (to raise money for the poor), electronic ID cards, electronic passports complying with the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, La Redoute i.e. first casino. Also, they invented oil painting, the saxophone; they had the first printed newspaper, the first plastic and the peace sign. Apart from Brussels sprout their world contributions are comic strip Tintin, The Smurf, Jean-Claude Van Damme and 2 Unlimited whom scored 16 charts.
A country without Government or had no official government and being run by a caretaker government. The name of the euro currency and the design of the € symbol were proposed by Belgians, the first modern health resort was opened in Belgium in the 18th century, the oldest shopping arcades, the Galeries St Hubert was opened in 1847. They have the lowest proportion of McDonald’s in the developed world. Voting and Education is compulsory and the latter is one of the highest in the world. Also, there are more castles per square kilometre in Belgium than in any other country.
We visited this landmark building in Brussels originally constructed for Expo ’58 for the 1958 Brussels World’s fair called The Atomium. It is a stainless steel clad spheres that are connected so that the whole forms shaped of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. In the 1950s, the atom was at the centre of attention as the almost inexhaustible symbol of energy and modernity. The building embodied the boldness of a time wanting to confront the fate of humanity with the scientific discoveries; the trust in the scientific progress gave the brand image to the World Fair. The idea was centred on an optimistic modernity intended to make people forget World War II.
After the Atomium we headed directly to the town to have a peek of the famed child statue known as Manneken Pis (Dutch for ‘little pee man’ or ‘Petit Julien’ in French) It’s a 61 centimetre (24-inch) bronze fountain sculpture of a naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. The statue was located in a little street with lots of souvenirs shops. Our tour manager told us the many legends of this little tyke that survived nearly 400 years of ordeals as it has been stolen, looted by invaders, hidden during war bombing raids but remains Belgium’s best-dressed lad with a wardrobe of more than 800 costumes including outfits giving nods to: Santa Claus, African farmer and ‘urinates’ milk, Hungarian hussar, or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 2006
According to legends…
…He was a little boy who tried to douse a fire in the city with the only weapon he had at hand, A young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king’s castle from burning down…
… A wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
… In the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.
…Another famous legend is that the statue commemorates Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, a two-year-old lord who in 1142 had troops battling armies of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. It is said that the little two-year-old lord was placed in a basket hung in a tree to encourage the troops to fight for him. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle
After shopping for chocolates we hanged out for some time in this the central square of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Grote Markt. Considered as “One of the most beautiful town squares in Europe” This cobbled rectangular market square displayed row of shops and emblematic structure that is woollen together to form an overall look of a striking middle-age town square. I was struck by the charisma of the market square with its beautiful setting not just by the shops but also the guild houses dominated by the gothic tower of the town hall pointing skywards. The square dates back 12th century and it exemplifies the vitality of this important political and commercial centre. Town hall always reminded of those periodic movies where people would gather in a mob with pitch forks and torches to lynch someone without due process of law, to witness public execution or basically to have a chance to stone someone to death… yep, too much brave Heart…
Our tour manager mentioned that in this very spot, the famous Biennial Flower Carpet unfurled every two years for the past 40 years when Belgians cover this square with almost a million of begonias. This large-scale short-term floral art is a gathering of artisans, architects, designers, urban planners and home-furnishing enthusiasts to hand craft the graphic and scented celebration to the glories of Belgian horticulture. Belgians are expert begonia growers. 90% of the world’s begonia production is grown in Belgium. Only 3% of this total production stays in Belgium, with a massive 97% exported. Wow! I want to witness this event maybe in my next travel.