Eager to explore a new country we settled into our hotel for the weekend and went in search of the sights. Brussels, Belgium is compriable to driving in Washington D.C. but without any marked routes. A bit of chaos but thankfully my husband seemed to have a bead on the lay of the traffic patterns. It was quite shocking to see the metro trains riding right beside you on the roads as people stepped out into on coming cars. Just a word of warning if you want to drive--or walk in Brussels--be aware of your surroundings, trains, autos and other people. (Try and find crosswalks if at all possible.)
Our hotel was in the "Louise" area of Brussels. The shopping was a bit of a surprise to this mild mannered shopper of bargin hunting and sales. Think Rodeo Drive--Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Hugo, Ralph Lauren to my Wal-Mart pocket book. My husband blew out his sneakers while we were there but I don't think the 450 Euro pair of Italian loafers would be prudent--not with My Hubby! (He's a bit rough on his clothes... but I love him!) Still, I love to window shop and walked the streets to see what the city had to offer.
Brussels Belgium is the commerical center of the country and is also the seat of the European Union and international instituations such as NATO. With its one million people, it is the world's third leading conference city.
There is so much to see and do but most of what I was able to enjoy was within my walking capabilities due to my husband's work schedule. But we did manage a trip out to a unique town of Ypres (Ipers), Belgium. Those of you who are familiar with World War I history might remember hearing about the Trench Wars fought in Belgium. There is a beautiful but sad poem written by John McCrae, called "In Flanders Fields". My husband and I, having served our country, but even more so--honoring the men and women who fought in battles throughout our history, knew we had to visit this great place. The In Flanders Fields Museum is a modern day tribute to the Great War and the men who sacrificed so much. Housed on the second floor of the Cloth Hall with its bell tower (that we climbed).
While hubby had to work, I was thankful to have one of the wives of my husband's co-workers to share in the adventures that we could. Taking in no less than 10,000 steps a day (pediometers don't lie--neither do sore feet) we walked to sights that we could within our time frame. We took in the Palace of Justice (the Law Courts) just down the street from our hotel. Though it was under reconstruction we were able to get some great pictures. The buidling is an archetectual wonder with a number of styles--Greek, Roman and even Egyptian techniques. It was officially opened by King Leopold II.
Heading down the Rue de la Regency, we wandered towards Le Palais Royal where we were stopped by the breath taking sights of Le petit Sablon, gardens dedicated to the great historical figures in Belgium, Counts of Egmont and Hornes. The square/park is also surrounded by a wrought iron balustrade with 48 bronze statues representing the trades and their symbols. Behind the gardens sits the Palais d'Egmont (Egmont Palace) which now serves as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Across the street from the front of Le petit Sablon was the magestic Notre Dame du Sablon. It was enlarged in 1421 because it had become an important pilgrimage site. It later became a symbol of ogival architecture with it's Gothic style.
Traveling a bit further we stopped at the Museum of Ancient Art. Built by Leopold II's archetecture it represents the triumph of teaching art. Also, well known for its collection of early Flemish masters. What I enjoyed was the opportunity to get to view (and bring back some postcards) for my "Art Major" daughter by one of her favorite, surrealist artists, Rene Magritte.
We stopped for a bite to eat at a cafe before venturing forth. Le Palais Royal was the next great adventure. Since the royal family was on holiday during the month, visitors are allowed to tour for free (I like free). It's not the official residence but more of the social palace. Still, so beautiful!
I didn't get to see everything or do everything on my list of sights to see but there are only so many days I was going to be there. It was a great experience and one more 'places I've been' I can add to my list.