Grand Place with City Hall and opulent Guild houses
15th century Gothic City hall

Brussels is a great city.  I can see why it is the main tourist location in Belgium.  Our trip was rather damp, but I got to give a rain coat that I bought in the spring its first good test 😊.   The heart of Brussels has to be the Grand Place.  This square felt almost overdone with its golden buildings and 15th century architecture although it has been described by many as the most beautiful square in the world.  You can see the square live via this webcam:

Apparently the rivalry of the two grand buildings opposite each other on the square was no accident.  On the left is the 15th century gothic Brussels’s Town Hall.  Have a look at the intricate work in the buildings and all the statues in the small picture here.   I loved it.  In the middle are the opulent Guild houses.  On the right is the Brussels City Museum that was rebuilt in the gothic revival style in the 19th century.

Palais de Justice: Makes one feel small

The Palais de Justice in Belgium is phenomenal and overpowering and great! Not everyone agrees with the “great”.  It was built 140 years ago and evokes an Egyptian temple.  Its dome is 100 metres high and it contains more than 250 rooms.  Not everyone thinks this is appropriate.  We loved it. It made you feel so small standing in the main entrance.

One place that we didn’t go inside was the Royal Library.  There were tours of it which I am now wishing we had taken.  I read that there are more than 150 miles of bookshelves in the library, but you can’t believe everything you read.  There are more than four million books in the Royal Library, possibly more than six million.  There are books from the 15th century, rare books and illuminated manuscripts.  What I found really interesting is that the Library also includes a copy of every book ever published in Belgium or abroad by Belgian authors.

Another place that I couldn’t convince Mike to visit was the Fine Arts Museum.  We had enough rainy days that you would have thought we could have gone there.  Among its various artworks is an entire room dedicated to Rubens.  I love many of Rubens’ paintings and would have really liked seeing that room.

Spanish Buildings in Mini Europe

On a lighter note, we did visit Mini Europe.  This is a park with reproductions of European monuments.  Roughly 80 cities and 350 buildings are represented using a scale of 1:25.  Even at that scale the Eiffel Tower still stood 13 metres high.  This picture shows you some of Spain’s buildings in the park.  The large building is the royal site of El Escorial near Madrid.  The circular building is the Plaza de Toros from Seville which has 6,000 hand painted people in it, unbelievable.  The work in these replicas was outstanding.  At the bottom of this article is a picture of the replica of Grand Place in Brussels.  It took 19,000 hours to build.  A different building was composed of 80,000 miniature bricks stuck together.  The numbers are simply astonishing.

There is a lot for children to see here as well.  They have a special brochure for the kids.  At various exhibits they can push buttons and hear the sounds associated with the exhibit.  They can control riders in the display on horses charging each other.  They could race some of the figures.  You could control volcanoes erupting and watch gondolas sailing down the canal, it was good fun.  There was a little bit of tongue in cheek with changes that had been made post Brexit.  They had drawn borders across the path between UK buildings and Irish buildings.  There was signage added about clearing customs before crossing the line to see the UK buildings etc.

With your entrance fee you received a 64 page booklet that was excellent.  It told you about each of the buildings that you would see.  Almost more interestingly, it was filled with history and interesting tidbits about the individual countries and the EU as a whole.  From the booklet we learned that the Netherlands has over 35,000 km of cycle paths scattered throughout the country and virtually everyone in the entire population owns their own bicycle.  We saw that the medieval Château de Vêves is still inhabited by the same family since it was built in 1230 and rebuilt in 1410.

The booklet gives us some history about various places.  It tells you when the Czech Republic was created and that it was made up of former Bohemia and Moravia.  I learned something when I read “In the 15th century, gypsies from Bohemia left their region for Western Europe.  When they arrived in France, they were called Bohemians, a term still used to refer to ‘travellers’.”

Right beside Mini Europe was a major attraction called the Atomium.  It is a huge 100 metres tall model of an atom.  We didn’t go inside the Atomium but I believe that it is an even bigger attraction than Mini Europe.  The building is an accurate depiction of an iron molecule except that it is about 165 billion times larger!  What will they think of next?

Mike with small Manneken Pis

For some unknown reason, Mike has been intrigued by the Manneken Pis sculpture since he was a small boy.  He did think that it came from the Netherlands until this week when he saw the statue in Brussels.  He was most disappointed to find out how small the statue actually is.  It somewhat reminds you of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen which is much smaller than you expect based on the hype around it.

Whatever you may think of the ‘peeing boy’, the statuette remains a classic stop on the Brussels tourist trail. They say that it is not so much the work itself as what it symbolises that is worth noting. Since the 15th century, the Manneken Pis sculpture has adorned one of the public fountains that supply the city with drinking water. Over time, the figure became a kind of mascot, with the people of Brussels seeing him as a symbol of the local temperament, a unique combination of mischievous, irreverent and droll.

Magnificent Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert 1847

The Galeries Royales are one of the oldest covered galleries in Europe. At more than 200 metres or 660 feet long the Galeries where built in the mid 1800s. Today you can find jewellery and fashion stores, beauty products and also pastries and of course Belgian chocolates.  As anyone who knows us would expect, Mike and I didn’t actually go into any of the stores.  We did admire the architecture and enjoyed learning about the fascinating and somewhat morbid history behind the visionary, the architect, the surrounding owners and the eventual completion of the galleries.

We spent about 10 days in a campground an hour north of Brussels and have just spent seven nights in a campground about an hour south of Brussels.  This allowed us to visit Brussels multiple times over the 2 ½ weeks.  In addition to rain, this last week has been extremely windy.  We were parked beside a chestnut tree and every so often the wind would whip one of the large chestnut fruits onto the roof of our camper.  The sound was a little disturbing.  If you weren’t careful, you could prick your fingers quite badly trying to pick up the fruit.  I watched some people trying to get the nuts.  Everyone I saw used the same technique, find a fallen fruit (easy),  step on the fruit and squish it so that you could pick out the nut without actually picking up the fruit.  It seemed to work.  We were on our own in this campground for most of the week.  On our final Saturday we actually had six neighbours for a while and spent a nice evening with a German couple.

Massive stairway in Liège, Belgium

In addition to Brussels we spent some time visiting some of the other towns in the region.  When we visited Liège, Mike said that it felt like the entire city was under construction.  I was impressed with all the women riding their bikes in nylons, nice skirts, business attire etc..  The picture here is of a huge outdoor stairway that I didn’t consider for one moment trying to walk up or down.  Knowing that I wasn’t going near the stairs, imagine how I felt see a woman coming down with only one leg and two canes.  Some people just impress you.

Interesting view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai

Another town we visited was Tournai.  I thought that this picture was an interesting view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai.  I have also come to the conclusion that almost every city as a church or cathedral called Notre-Dame.

Mike and I are now heading towards the South of France to find somewhere to store our camper for the winter.  Our next stop enroute will be in Luxembourg.  We have never been to Luxembourg and look forward to seeing it.  We really don’t have too many preconceived notions about the country.  It should be interesting. 

Mini Europe: Oustanding replica of Grand Place, compare to our photo at the top

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