Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our first days in Belgium - Brussels

     Welcome to Belgium and The Netherlands. I hope you will enjoy joining us on our cruise through the rivers and canals of these countries.
     We left home on Saturday, April 8 and when we got to the airport learned that our flight was cancelled. We had to wait around for a different flight which took us through London and then on to Brussels. Needless to say the first couple of days were rather lost in the fog of jet lag.
     When we came to it was Monday, April 10 – and by golly it WAS Belgium! We basically had a day and a half to explore the huge (over 1 million people), modern city of Brussels filled with the new and the old. Our hotel was situated in the middle of the city near the small ring road. We saw many of the sites on our city bus tour and on our several walks around the neighborhood.
     I was amazed to learn that Brussels is the de facto capital of Europe. It was one of the founding members of the European Union and houses the headquarters and many branches of the governing bodies.  It also has the headquarters of NATO and many headquarters of International companies. Consequently there are many large, new buildings to accommodate these organizations.
     Brussels is right in the middle of Belgium and is its capital. The northern section of Belgium is called Flanders and speaks mainly Flemish. South of Brussels is called Walloonia and speaks mainly French. There is also a small section where German is the main language. There is over 1700 years of history here, but Belgium has only been its own country since 1830 when it won its independence from The Netherlands. The southern section is mainly Catholic because it came under the influence of Spain for awhile in the 1500’s. Due to religious wars the Protestants fled to the north which means Flanders is mainly Protestant.
     In the midst of all this Brussels thrived and grew because it was the crossroads of trade. Its Gran Place or main town square has been called one of the most beautiful in Europe. There is a magnificent town hall with a 314 ft. belfry. It is surrounded by guild houses from medieval times. Many were rebuilt in the late 1600s after being destroyed in a bombardment. Each house has a symbol, sign, or shape to tell what occupation the guild members had. Now they have become museums, restaurants, and shops, but the buildings are still beautiful displaying a variety of architectural styles.
     Of course, we had to make a walk to the tiny statue of Manneken-Pis (the peeing boy). We probably wouldn’t even have noticed it if not for the crowd of people taking pictures. On our drive and walks we also saw both of the royal palaces and the cemetery; the Chinese Pavilion & Japanese Tower; Parliament Building; lots of statues and fountains; the Galeries Saint-Hubert which is a glass vaulted shopping center – the first indoor shopping mall; the Congress Column; the Atomium – a remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair; Liberty Park; the Square du Petit Sablon surrounded by bronze statues representing the medieval trade guilds; Notre-Dame du Sablon Church with its baroque pulpit and magnificent stained glass windows; and we saw our first tulips in the Parc du Bruxelles.
     On our last day in Brussels we did manage to spend a couple of hours in the Fine Arts Museum where we chose to pay for viewing the section containing the Old Masters.

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