Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Brussels, Belgium

I went to Brussels on the 15th September and spent a few days there. From Brussels, I then took the train to Amsterdam. This was probably one of my best holidays... I had a great time. Brussels is a nice city, and the city centre is not very big so most of the sights are within walking distance. The first place I went to was the Museum of Comic Strip Art, or as I like to call it... the Tintin Museum. There is a nice collection of comic art here, including covers and panels from Tintin and the Smurfs. As I entered the place, the red and white rocket from Tintin's Journey to the Moon and Explorers on the Moon greeted me next to a central staircase. The museum covers three floors although I think the ground floor is mainly the merchandise store (where I bought my Tintin keychain).

My next stop was Place Sainte-Catherine, apparently in Brussels’s seafood district.

I didn’t come here for the seafood, though. I came here because I wanted to see Saint Catherine’s Church.

Why, you ask? Well, let me explain. In some countries such as Italy, if you were to walk up against a church building, unzip your pants and pee against the church, you would probably be arrested. But here in Place Sainte-Catherine, public open-air urinals have been installed so that you may do just that! I, of course, had to see that for myself and so I went looking for the urinal, and found it… right by the church. How do you like that?

From Place Sainte-Catherine, I walked towards the Grand Place, the heart of Brussels. The Grand Place is a cobblestone square with some amazing 17th century architecture. On the way there, I spotted a Chinese supermarket and went in to buy myself a mooncake, a traditional Chinese pastry eaten during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. So yes, I had Chinese pastry in Belgium. (And it was good too!) But back to the Grand Place… the main attraction here is probably the Hotel de Ville, a town hall that began construction in 1401 and was completed in 1459. It was the only building left standing after cannon fire by the French destroyed the other buildings in the square in 1695. It is a truly impressive building, with carved statues and intricate details all round the façade.

The Grand Place is also where you will find Le Pigeon, home to exiled French novelist Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables who lived here in 1852 when he fled France. Le Pigeon is the building on the extreme right in the photo below, with the darkened windows.

Not far away from the Grand Place is Manneken Pis, the famous statue of a boy pissing that has become the symbol of Brussels. The actual statue itself is not very big, less than half a metre tall. The original bronze statue was put in place in 1619. Several attempts to steal it were made in the 18th century by the French and British armies. But they were all surpassed by Antoine Licas, a convict who stole the statue in 1817 and then… smashed it. Yep, he stole it and then destroyed it. Why didn’t he just destroy it there? I don’t know, go figure. Anyway, a replica of that statue was made in 1818 and that’s the statue that is in place today.

As with any landmark of any country, the Manneken Pis can be found on a million items of merchandise. Manneken Pis postcards, Manneken Pis keychains, Manneken Pis bottle openers, Manneken Pis T-shirts, Manneken Pis thermometers, Manneken Pis chocolate… you name it, they have it.

And of course, I had to try some Belgian waffles while I was there and if you look, you will find many places selling waffles in the city. Some of the waffles looked fantastically mouth-watering.

In the end, I opted for a plain waffle with Belgian chocolate topping. Having had my waffle, I then walked around, did a little shopping and went back to the Grand Place to take some night photos.

But if you think Brussels is all old buildings, you’ll have to take a look at Dexia Tower, the third tallest building in the city, located a short walk from where I stayed. This building lights up at night, and I mean really lights up! The building has 38 floors with a total of 6000 windows. Out of these, 4200 windows have been fitted with a special LED lighting installation of red, green and blue lights which can be combined to give off any colour in the colour palette. And the result of this is? An animated light show towering 38 floors high!

The light shows centre around different themes and during the time I was in Brussels, the theme was ‘Weather’ where the lights change to display the temperature, cloudiness, precipitations and wind by using different colours and geometrical patterns to visualize these data. Apparently, the lighting system is also energy-saving and the energy consumption of the tower is one-seventh that of a football stadium and one-third that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. More information on the Dexia Tower can be found here:

One of the last places I visited before I left Brussels was the Kruidtuin Jardin Botanique, the botanical gardens. This was the perfect place to push the limits of my new Lumix TZ4 digital camera and I must say I’m extremely pleased with the results. I bought it for my trip, to replace my old (but faithful) 4 MP Kodak. It isn’t perfect but for a pocket camera, it’s pretty close. I took the usual pictures of the gardens but the pictures that clinched it were the macro ones I took of bees and butterflies. Most of my friends know I love photography but if you’ve ever tried taking pictures of bees, you’d know how frustrating it can be. Those darn bees just won’t stay still to pose for a photo. The pictures below are scaled down from 8 MP images.

To show you what the images are like without scaling them down, I have included a cropped image below at 100% of the original 8 MP image.

You can see why I love this camera! :) Next stop - Amsterdam!

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