It is a maze of narrow cobbled streets flanked by tall buildings sitting cheek by jowl in the central part of Brussels. It’s the oldest part of the city and everyone in the street suddenly gives way to a courtyard whose perimeter is lined with beautiful buildings depicting incredible styles of architecture. Perhaps, the biggest and certainly the most stunning of the lot is the Grand Plas or Market Square.
One of the roads leading to the Grand Place or Grote Markt is the Rue de l’Etuve. The little road leads from Brussels’ iconic Manneken Pis (a little fountain with a bronze statue of an adorable little boy peeing). The statue is a symbol of the city and the boy’s attire is changed several times a week. In fact, he reportedly has a wardrobe of over 900 costumes that is managed by a non-profit organisation, which reviews costume design submissions before accepting.
But an even more interesting sight on this street is located a few metres from the statue. On the side of a residential building rising three floors, is a brilliant blue mural of a fire escape from which Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy come hurtling down the stairs. Taken from The Calculus Affair, the mural fascinatingly merges with the surrounding architecture. You even feel that the three will stomp down the stairs and join the crowd on the pavement which is gaping at the mural.
Travel to any part of Brussels, and one is sure to find many such scenes. Tintin, the adorable reporter-adventurer character created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, is such a strong presence in Brussels that it is difficult to reconcile the fact that he’s only a comic book character. In fact, there are over 50 murals all over the city, especially the old part, depicting excerpts from comics by various artists, including a large one on Rue Haute of Quick and Flupke, a pair of street urchin characters created by Hergé himself, teasing a policeman on Rue Haute.
The biggest and undoubtedly the most riveting spectacle is of the 300-metre mural with some 140 characters from Tintin books. Located at the Stockel metro station, the mural is believed to have been designed by Hergé himself, a year before his death. Not just these, one can catch Tintin at Gare du Midi, where he clings rather precariously to a rushing train engine.
Once you’re done with Tintin spotting, head to the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Arts on Rue des Sables to know a bit about comic book history. A museum, it is nevertheless, quite attractive and has an incredible amount of information regarding the history of comic books and characters. But then, Tintin is everywhere.
There’s a huge section dedicated to him and it traces the character’s evolution over the years and provides detailed information on introduction of major characters and how the design itself evolved over the years. The museum itself has a beautiful structure, designed by art-nouveau master Victor Horta and has information regarding other famous Belgian comic characters. Head to the shop on the ground floor for souvenirs, and if wandering around has tired you, rest at the cafe to taste some lovely Belgian waffles.
About 10 minutes from the museum on Rue de la Colline, there is La Boutique Tintin with a stunning array of memorabilia and adorable miniatures. If you feel like continuing with the Tintin journey, there’s more to be done. On Place du Grand Sablon is the Comics Cafe with its walls filled with comic book characters including Tintin. One can even travel to Louvain le Neuve, which is about 40 km to the south of Brussels, to see the Hergé Museum.