HYDERABAD: Imagine a cool escape from the great Indian summer?! Clad in light woollens, armed with a camera, gazing at the architectural beauties of Europe, walking with a carefree gait on cobbled streets, peeping into shop windows overflowing with beautiful artifacts while feasting on chocolates – Sounds like a dream holiday? Well, it is certainly dream come true, if you choose to go to Flanders this summer. I did, and am still reeling under its spell! Flanders is the northern part of Belgium, where people mostly speak Dutch.
Belgium’s capital Brussels (also the capital of the European Union), is a lively, cosmopolitan city that reflects the diversity of its cultures from the past and present. Besides the biggest attraction of the universally loved chocolates, Brussels has many interesting activities for children, museums, shopping, the largest parliamentary visitors’ centre in Europe (Parlamentarium), and other attractions for adults. With all these pros, Brussels makes a great family holiday destination. The bonus being, the other fascinating cities like Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp are all, an hour or two away.
A modern-day colossus built for the 1958 World Exhibition, at the time considered a real technical innovation, is now a popular attraction in Brussels. It represents an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times and comprises six huge spheres, whose interiors can be visited via giant escalators. A super fast lift takes visitors to the uppermost sphere which offers a restaurant with splendid views.
Set in a garden at the foot of the gigantic Atomium, is Mini Europe; with authentic models of the most beautiful European sites and monuments, representing over 80 European cities. A wonderful way of discovering the most charming places in Europe, Mini Europe is a kind of pocket guide. Provides the opportunity to recall previous visits to European cities, also gives some inspiration to plan further sightseeing trips. Each model, patiently and painstakingly built by craftsmen, is a true copy of the original building or site.
A great hit with children and adults alike, the Autoworld Museum is a ‘must’ for lovers of vintage cars. It showcases a 100-year history of automobiles with more than 400 vehicles, the classic collection giving a feeling of old world charm. Special models which belonged to the Belgian royal family, to the US presidents Franklin Roosevelt and J F Kennedy, some rare car models like the Bentley 1928, the Bugatti 1930 and the Cord 1930 are also on display.
Brussels’ most famous fountain is the Mannekin-Pis, the iconic statue of a little boy impishly relieving himself, which everyone finds very amusing. It is part of a tradition which glorifies the naked human body as a source of life. Tourists gather around this cute little fellow, clicking pictures as he does the job, unmindful of the crowds around!
The Comic Strip trail
As the acknowledged capital of comic strip, Brussels’ several museums, galleries, markets, festivals and specialist stores are entirely dedicated to it. Take the amazing comic strip trail and meet Tintin, Asterix, Blake & Mortimer Etc. Huge murals of comic characters are found on the walls of many buildings.
Not just children, adults too who grew up reading these comics enjoy the scenes, going back the memory lane.
The Comics Café, located in the historical centre of Brussels, is an ideal place to stop and have a bite. Its comics-theme features original sketches, paintings, figurines and lithographs of comics from around the world. Apart from burgers, pastas, salads, pastries and Belgian cuisine, the famous “melt in the mouth” potato fries are a great draw here. While in Brussels, enjoy “Belgian Chocolate Mousse” at every meal (never mind the calories). It may be the most sinful dessert, but ignoring it may even be more sinful!!
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; blogs at www.vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)
Getting there: Major airlines have daily flights from India.
Transport: Metro, Trams & BusesThe Brussels Card: Valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours (28, 34, 40 Euros) with free admission to museums, public transport, free city map, discount at tourist attractions, shops & restaurants. www.brusselscard.be
Buy: Chocolates WWW.VISITBRUSSELS.BE