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A Brush with Brussels
October 1, 2014, 3:33 pm
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Starting 5 September, Emirates has been flying daily between Dubai and Brussels — a European city known for its rich architecture and wide variety of chocolate.

The streets of Brussels exhibit various architectural styles such as Gothic, Baroque, Classical and Modern, among others, and gardens, statues and monuments are a common sight in the city.

While these are among the many facets of history found here, the Belgian capital also prides itself on its more recent accomplishments — high-quality diamonds and chocolates, and advanced medical facilities — and being home to some of the world’s top designers.

The Italian community, I was told, constituted the largest Western community in Belgium while the Moroccan community is the largest Arab community with a population of 200,000.

If you are planning your next vacation in Brussels, here is a list of some of the must-visit places in the city.

Atomium

It seemed to me like Brussels’s trademark. The Atomium was originally built for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. The 102-meter tall building was designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak. Its nine stainless-steel spheres, each with an 18-meter diameter, are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

Enjoy the spectacular view of Brussels from the restaurant on the highest sphere of the Atomium. The amazing thing about the escalator is that it has a transparent roof which gives you a view. This year, I was among the 600,000 visitors the Atomium receives annually.

Brussels Historic Center

It is more like the city’s downtown. The famous Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, one of the longest covered galleries or malls in Europe, is located here. Scores of cafés, restaurants and high-class shops, including Delvaux, the oldest fine leather luxury good company in the world, and big chocolate makers such as Neuhaus and Godiva, can be found here.

Parc du Cinquantenaire

In French, it means ‘park of the fiftieth anniversary’. Also called the Jubelpark, the large public and urban park in Brussels was built to commemorate fifty years of Belgium independence. The building includes the Museum of History, the Museum of the Army, the Museum of Aviation and Autoworld (with an impressive collection of cars). The triumphal arch standing today was built in 1905 replacing an older one. In 1930, it was decided that Cinquantenaire would become a leisure park.

Manneken Pis

A short walk from the Grand Place or Grote Markt stands the bronze statue of a young boy. The costume of the boy, who is seen urinating into a fountain, is changed several times a week. There are many stories about the statue but, interestingly, none of them are true.

Some say the statue is inspired by a child who urinated to extinguish a massive fire in Brussels and hence saved the city. Another version is that it is inspired by a child who found a special way to drive away invading troops. Another legend states that a wealthy merchant who lost his son in Brussels announced that if he found his son, he would get a statue built for him. A fourth says a witch turned the child into a stone for urinating on her property.

European Union

Brussels is home to the offices of the European Commission, Council of the European Union and European Council. At the European Union headquarters, visitors can find a piece from Berlin Wall which was placed in the garden of one of the EU buildings.

Chocolate, Chocolate and Chocolate

Wherever you go in Brussels, you can smell chocolate. Godiva, Mary and Wittamer are among the best. I learnt about the origins of cocoa from one of the most famous chocolate ‘chefs’ in Brussels — Mr. Gerbaud, who runs his own atelier. Belgium is also known for its macaroons.

Restaurants

Brussels has some fine restaurants, such as La Quincaillerie in Le Chatelain, La Cambre Wood at the Chalet Robinson, La Brasserie de Bruxelles and the restaurant of the Atomium.

By Jumana Al Tamimi
Special to The Times

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