After a hearty breakfast we set off into the rain and cold to visit the Atomium. Despite the weather I felt upbeat and ready to give Brussels a second chance .The Atomium, one of the symbols of Brussels, was built in 1958 for the World Fair exhibition. It struck me as very contemporary, furthermore even slightly futuristic. It consists of nine spheres that contain different exhibitions such as the story of the construction of the Atomium or the display of the furniture of the 70’s. There are also some fun and spaceship-looking escalators that take you from one sphere to another. The best part was the view of the city from the top sphere. The Atomium experience was really enjoyable.
The rain stopped so we took a stroll around the Laeken park (near the Atomium) which reminded me of an English park. We stumbled upon the Leopold I monument, which in my opinion resembles Sir Walter Scott’s monument in Edinburgh, Scotland. Then we found ourselves in front of the Royal Palace of Laeken where the Belgian royal family resides although they have another Royal Palace in the center of Brussels. We continued walking in the direction of the nearest underground station and discovered also the Chinese pavilion and the Japanese pagoda in the gardens of the Far East Museums. A bit of Orient at the outskirts of Brussels.
No visit to Brussels can finish without seeing the EQ (site of the European institutions such as the EU commission and the EU parliament), at least for me. Due to my husband we also visited a nearby Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History situated in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. When I planned this trip I had in mind visiting the chocolate museum and the beer museum but I ended up in this huge military museum which houses everything from a sword to a tank, from guns to military aircrafts. Usually we spend hours in a museum because my husband tends to read every single explanation of every single artifact in a museum which drives me mad but since I had other plans for today we finished our visit rather quickly (the entrance is free). Somehow my husband found his way through the museum to the top of the Triumphal Arch and the 360° view of the city took our breath away.
Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily again and we found refuge in the Parlamentarium (the European Parliament’s visitor center). It’s free and they have audio guides in all EU members’ languages. It’s got interactive exhibits that tell the history of the European Union and explain the European administration.
I remember seeing on the news a square with the EU flags and I thought I’d find that square in front of the European parliament but it was actually in front of the European commission’s. After a short photo shoot we returned to the city center and found ourselves an unpretentious& cosy restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. I must confess I’m not a gourmand or an adventurous eater and I prefer simple but tasty food unless we’re talking about desserts, then all bets are off. So, for the first time in my life I’ve decided to be a bit more daring when it comes to food and I’ve tried snails. To be fair, it was my husband who ordered the plate of snails and I’ve only tried one but I was so proud of myself. I didn’t really like it and it was a bit gummy like gummy bears but not in the good way. My husband had mussels with fries for the main (the national Belgian dish moules et frites) and I opted for a safe choice of chicken with fries. We finished off our meal with a chocolate&sugar waffle as a dessert, of course.
I like art-nouveau style and I appreciate beautiful architecture so I wanted to check out the former Old England department store which nowadays houses the Musical Instrument Museum. That would have been an interesting museum to visit but unfortunately due to the museum’s opening hours and our short stay but busy sightseeing schedule we just didn’t have the opportunity to go in. The Magritte museum and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts are practically next door of the MIM museum. I’ve become a bit tired of museums so when I do choose to go to a museum it’s usually one of those small, quirky or unusual ones. That’s why I’m a bit sad that we didn’t have the time in the end to visit the chocolate museum (I’ve visited it in Prague) and the beer museum (we’ve been to one in Lisbon) or even the Belgian Comic Strip Center which is a must for all comics lovers (just think of the lovely Tintin character).We only spent Friday afternoon and Saturday in Brussels because we decided to go to Brugge on Sunday. If we hadn’t done that, we would have definitely gone to one of the aforementioned museums.
We also saw a lovely garden just down the steps from the Old England and a big square (Place Royale) just above with a rather unusual looking church that looks more like a museum or a library (Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg). We strolled to the Royal Palace which is just around the corner of the aforementioned square (if you remember there are two royal palaces in Brussels) and with that we finished our sightseeing of Brussels. There was a time when I went to bars and clubs on my trips but lately I just feel too knackered after a long day of sightseeing so we usually return to the hotel by 10 pm. Or maybe I’m just getting old. On our way back to the hotel we went past the Palace of Justice and were surprised by a stunning sunset over the rooftops of Brussels. We had a really lovely day and I saw Brussels in a different light and finally began to appreciate it.