"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Sioux under General
3 Comments

 

From Paris, I headed to a friend in Brussels, after an invitation over beers in London. The train trip from Paris to Brussels wasn’t too long and the station I got off at was very close to where the bombings had been, at Maalbeek Metro. Floral tributes, long dried out, were still there. The road is still closed off from traffic, and is now pedestrian only.

 In the 15th century, a new Duke of Brabant emerged from the House of Valois, with another line of descent from the Habsburgs (Maximilian of Austria, later Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, married Mary of Burgundy, who was born in Brussels). Brabant had lost its independence, but Brussels became the Princely Capital of the prosperous Low Countries, and flourished. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the city was like a ping-pong ball, ownership being handed over between Austria and France.  

Twice fried frites and sauce
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I headed for a recommended eatery to try out the ‘twice fried frites avec saus’ – double fried chips and sauce, while I waited for her to meet me. Well worth it! They were yum!  After I had sated my appetite, the first priority was to get rid of my suitcase and then head out on a walkabout.

Belgian chocolate
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IMG_8648 LR (1 of 1) The Royal Palace of Brussels
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IMG_8668 LR (1 of 1) La Petit Sablon The Tinsmith-Plumber and The Tler
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IMG_8695 LR (1 of 1) Manneken Pis is a well-known public sculpture in Brussels
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IMG_8700 LR (1 of The Town Hall of the City of Brussels municipality
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IMG_8705 LR (1 of 1) Guildhalls on the Grand Place
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What a stunning city!

 

As with most European cities, there is so much history and the buildings have been well preserved. The most common theory of the origin of Brussels’ name is that it derives from the Old Dutch Broekzele or Broeksel, meaning marsh (broek) and home (zele / sel) or “home in the marsh”.

 

After the construction of the city walls in the early 13th century, Brussels grew significantly. To let the city expand, a second set of walls was erected between 1356 and 1383. Today, traces of the walls can still be seen, mostly because the “small ring”, a series of roadways in downtown Brussels bounding the historic city centre, follows its former course. 

Despite heavy bombing during the Second World War, after extensive rebuilding and modernisation, Brussels has become a major centre for international politics and is the defacto capital of the European Union. The secretariat of the Benelux and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are also located in Brussels.   Historically a Dutch-speaking city, there has been a language shift to French since the late 19th century onwards. The majority language is now French, and the Brussels-Capital Region is an officially bilingual enclave within the Flemish Region.   Folklore plays a major role in Belgium’s cultural life and the country has a number of different processions, cavalcades, parades, ‘ommegangs’ and ‘ducasses’, ‘kermesse’ and other local festivals, nearly always with an originally religious ormythological background.  

Brussels is known for its local waffles, chocolate, French fries and the numerous types of beers. The Brussels-sprout has long been popular in Brussels, and may have originated there. French fries (frites) with mayonnaise are a popular snack. Contrary to their name, french fries are claimed to have originated in Belgium, although their exact place of origin is uncertain.

 

The national dishes are “steak and fries with salad”, and “mussels with fries” (moules-fries). Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Côte d’Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva are famous, as well as independent producers such as Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary’s in Brussels.

 

Belgium produces over 1100 varieties of beer. The Trappist beer of the Abbey

of Westvleteren has repeatedly been rated the world’s best beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch In Bev, based in

Leuven. Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx is regarded as one of the greatest

cyclists of all time. The Smurfs and

Rin Tin Tin also call Belgium their

motherland.    

Our early evening walk took us past a few inner city parks, beautifully

kept and adorned with all manner of different statues.

 

La Petit Sablon, a garden created by the architect Henri Beyaert, and

inaugurated in 1890. The park is surrounded by an ornate wrought iron

fence which is punctuated by tall stone pillars; and on top of each pillar

stands a statue of one or more historical profession, with 48 statues in total. Each pillar has a unique design, as does each section of fence. 

As in most of Europe, trams are still very much in use in Brussels. Our walkabout was fascinating, with my host showing me many different places.

I had a chocolate filled-waffle too! I’m sold on Belgium chocolate! 

Not far from the park is the Church of Our Blessed Lady

of the Sablon. A magnificent building dating back to the early

13th century. Legend has is that the chapel became famous after a local

devout woman named Beatrijs Soetkens had a vision in which the Virgin Mary instructed her to steal the miraculous statue of ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouw op ‘t Stocxken’ (Our Lady on the little stick) in Antwerp, bring it to Brussels and place it in the chapel of the Crossbow Guild. She did so and through some miraculous events was able to get it to Brussels by boat in 1348. The statue of Mary was then solemnly placed in the chapel and venerated as the patron of the Guild. The Guild also promised to hold an annual procession, called an ‘Ommegang’, in which the statue was carried through Brussels. This Ommegang developed into an important religious and civil event in the annual calendar of Brussels.

We walked through the Grand Place or Grote Markt (Dutch) which is the central square of Brussels. Surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the Breadhouse building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels, the square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels.

 

Every two years in August, an enormous “flower carpet” is set up in the Grand Place for a few days. A million colourful

begonias are set up in patterns, covering an area of 24m x 77m (in total 1,800 square metres). The first flower carpet was

made in 1971, and due to its popularity, the tradition has continued.  

The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the centre of the nation’s capital Brussels. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live on the outskirts of Brussels.

 

The website of the Belgian Monarchy describes the function of the palace as follows: “The Palace is where His Majesty the King exercises his prerogatives as Head of State, grants audiences and deals with affairs of state. Apart from the offices of the King and the Queen, the Royal Palace houses the services of the Grand Marshal of the Court, the King’s Head of Cabinet, the Head of the King’s Military Household and the Intendant of the King’s Civil List. The Palace also includes the State Rooms where large receptions are held, as well as the apartments provided for foreign Heads of State during official visits.” 

My host knew I wanted to see the Mannekin Pis, so we headed in that direction. I was amazed at how small he is! I always imagined him to be much bigger. The 61 cm tall bronze statue was made in 1619, and has been repeatedly stolen – the current statue dates from 1965. The original restored version is kept at the Maison du Roi/Broodhuis on the Grand Place.

 

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about a 2-year old lord, Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, his troops were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke. The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung it in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

 

Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. 

 

There are other legends about a young boy going missing form his family and being found urinating into the fountain. The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes. On occasion, the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer. Cups will be filled up with the beer flowing from the statue and given out to people passing by. To Belgians, the celebrated Manneken Pis – the “peeing boy” in Dutch – is a symbol of Brussels’ capacity for self-mockery. The ability of the city’s inhabitants to laugh at themselves is now being put to the test as scientists attempt to discover whether the famous bronze statue is, in fact, a fake. 

 

3 responses to “Brussels – Smurfs, Chocolate and Manneken Pis!”

  1. Ursula Evans says:

    Thank you for your interesting articles on your travels. There chocolates are divine.

  2. Derrick Baney says:

    Looks and sounds like a fascinating City – Would love to go there one day
    Sound and also looks like you’re having a Joll going all around Europe
    Keep it up – better than the printing indiustry

  3. Pauline Smith says:

    Lovely photos – and you look so happy too…

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