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Friday, July 12, 2013

BRUSSELS

A Favorite Week-End Destination... 

Just steps away from the Brussels Central rail station in the Lower Town, my companion and I strode to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Grand' Place one of the most important tourist attractions in the country.  Victor Hugo, the French poet, claimed it as 'the world's most beautiful market place' distinguished by its magnificent gilded Italian Baroque architecture, its richness and history rivaling the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

L' Hôtel de Ville (city hall) dominates the cobbled stone square with a perimeter of 'guild houses' crowned with statues and richly ornamented gables dating from 1696-1710. There were guilds for bakers, carpenters, boatmen, haberdashers and La Maison des Brasseurs  (Brewers House) now the professional Association of Belgium Brewers with a small Brewers museum in the cellar. 

Off to the south west side of the Grand’Place we approach Europe’s first shopping arcade- the Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert with its glazed barrel - vaulted ceiling and marble pilasters that remind us of the Renaissance architecture of the Umberto 1 gallery in Naples. Fifty boutiques feature high end shopping -from lace to jewellery and Neu Haus chocolates,'the best in town' exclaimed my friend!  

Continuing on to restaurant row on Rue des Bouchers we opted for something different from sightseeing and  located Impasse Schuddeveld 6  where the Royal Theatre of Toone  (Antoine) houses a marionette theatre in the attic of an historic 17th century pub-like tavern.  Blackened beams, tiled floor, benches with coloured pillows and good beer set the mood for a hilarious performance owned and performed by members of the eighth generation family.

For dinner in the Grand’Place we selected the restaurant L'Estaminer du Kelderke in the former Tanners guild house with its simple décor of framed vintage prints, raspberry-red walls and Thonet-like chairs. A menu of Belgian specialties included Mussel soup 8.50, Mutton chops €16 and Flamed pan cakes with ice cream 8.00 among other choices. From our window table we were captivated with the coloured waves of lighting of the architecture in the square not to be out done by the spectacle of the dazzling themed flower carpet of begonias created only on even numbered years in August on Assumption day. Lucky for us!

Next day we set out on the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus for Rue Antoine Dansaert a trendy area for Belgian fashion designers and home design, art shops and cafés. We discovered Wiels, an old renovated brewery with copper hoods hovering over the tables returning  later for lunch in the bar. We then hopped on and then off the bus at the Atomium in Brupark  for the theme park of architectural miniatures of the most famous sites and scenery of Europe.
    
Our sightseeing continued to the Upper Town where our Hotel du Grand Sablon overlooked the elegant Sablon square with its fashionable cafés, chocolatier Wittamer, antique shops of Congolesse tribal artifacts and the beautiful Notre Dame du Petit Sablon church.  Across the street the Place du Petit Sablon garden- an oasis of tranquility. 

For Art Nouveau fans, Victor Horta was one of the founders of the nouveau movement where his small home, now the Horta Museum, 25 Rue Americaine is a stunning ‘must see’. Multiple perspectives, visible supporting structures, metal arches and a central staircase skylight are a testament to the Art Nouveau vocabulary that broke the concept of imitating other styles. A perfect gem!

Place Royale, approached by Rue de la Régence is the centrepiece of the Upper Town, a white symmetrical neo-classical square rich in museums, the church of St. Jacques-sur-Coudenberg  and the Royal Palace and park. The Musée d’Art Ancien showcases Flemish primitives, the fantastic images of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. The new kid on the block Musée Magritte with entrance through the underground passage of the Musée d’Art Ancien, exhibits the witty works of the Belgian surrealist painter Belgian René Francois Magritte. Just off the Place Royal was one of our favourite museums – the Musical Instruments Museum housing the richest and most diverse collections of musical instruments in the world in the former Old England Art Nouveau department store. 

As we savoured our chocolate dipped waffles and ice cream in the café on the top floor of the museum, we surveyed this culturally diverse city-scape of the European Union that enriched our weekend and beckoned a return visit.  

For your next Belgium Vacation, Call  1 877 411 6359 or Click here, and get ready for the vacation of a life time       

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