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Brussels: Regally diverse

Offering the best of Europe, Brussels is a melting pot of cultures and traditions from the continent and beyond

Arjun Chaudhuri |

By virtue of being the world’s finest producer of wine and chocolates, Brussels, the capital of Belgium, figures on the top of many a tourist’s list. However, despite being a chocolate-enthusiast myself, I have realised Brussels has much more on to offer!

With people from all over Europe locking horns with one another, dealing in debates and negotiating treaties, Brussels has that envious international vibe, which encompasses not only the incredible diversity of Europe but also crosses the geographical limit of its host continent.

The pall of Brexit has certainly stirred intellectuals to come up with ideas for the future of a new Europe. Mock parliamentary debates, showcasing of day-to-day activities and efforts of eking out good deals seem to have taken over the city.Without getting into the intricacies of politics, the EU Parliament building and its surrounding complex is definitely a sight to behold. The EU complexes, also referred to as the Hemicycle, is the gateway to understanding how European bureaucracy functions. There are guided tours that visitors can make use of to comprehend how the European Parliament works, the dynamics of continental politics as well as to get a grasp of the challenges at hand.

The Parliament Building is accessible on all days of the week and a comprehensive visit would take around a couple of hours to complete. It is also useful to know that admission and guided tours are not charged. The complexes are usually busy as they are frequented by groups of tourists, majorly from South-Asian countries as well as school children across Europe. Hence, the authorities emphasise on booking tours in advance, especially, if you think of visiting it with a group.

The EU Headquarters is accessible by public transportation. Internationally, a train-line serves Brussels from Luxembourg. Bus lines 12 and 21 directly transport passengers from Brussels Airport to the EU complex. From Brussels city centre, one has the option to choose from lines 22, 27, 34, 64, 80 and 95 to the EU parliament.

Not only are constructions in the EU parliamentary complexes area magnificent and elaborate, but they are also incredibly diverse within the space of just a couple of kilometres. Just a five minute walk from the modern edifices of the European Union complex, brings one to the historic Parc du Cinquantenaire.

The Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark is located in the European Union quarters in Brussels. The site comprises of museums surrounded by serene green. In the centre of the location, is the Cinquantenaire that stands triumphantly with three pillars. The monument, built in 1880, commemorating the 50th anniversary (cinquantainaire in French) of Belgian independence was commissioned by King Leopold. The centrepiece was designed by Gedoen Bordiau, an architect, who is also responsible for designing more than half of the structures in the vicinity.

The comprehensive alleyways in the gardens provide access to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, the Autoworld — a museum that houses vintage automobiles — and the Royal Museum of Art and History. A bronze quadriga adorns the top of the arches. One must take the liberty to laze around as well as walk the depths and breadths of the Jubelpark as it definitely will be time well-spent.

A short drive from the Parc du Cinquantenaire brings one to the centre of Brussels. The most famed attraction there is the Manneken-Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy, 61 centimetres high, attending to nature’s call into the fountain. The fountain was the sole source of water supply for the city from the 15th till the end of the 17thcentury.The Manneken-Pis today has become the centre of attraction in Brussels and has carved out a space for itself in Belgian folk-lore. A few metres from the Mannekin-Pis is the Grand Place, the city centre of Brussels, which is known worldwide for its beautiful façade of guild houses, town halls and palaces of monarchs. The place has made it to the Unesco list for heritage sites since 1998. The Grand Place of Brussels was the original market-place of the city. It rose to prominence in the 1500s when Protestant priests, Hendrik Vos and Jan Essen were executed by Brabantian courts for their public announcements of their adherence to Lutheran doctrines.

There is also s tradition associated with the Grand Place of founding a flower carpet, once, every couple of years. This is in lieu of celebration of the Flanders’ association with flowers and bulbs, and in recognition of the revenues earned via flower exports. Therefore, the carpet is designed around a particular cultural theme of a country that brings together both the importance of flowers and the international relationships of Belgium. In 2018, the Brussels Flower Carpet, for the first time in its history, had adopted a theme from Latin America. The design had been conceptualised from Guanajuato in Mexico.

While there, I was also fortunate enough to have witness the Brussels World Percussion Festival. The festival hosted troupes from diverse origins. From an African traditional tribal celebration to an American street drumming group, thanks to Brussels, I witnessed different parts of our beautiful world within 30 minutes! Through exuberant concerts and performances, these activities showed the celebrations of people around the world.

A trip to Brussels is incomplete without savouring its pancakes, waffles, chocolates and of course, ice cream. I wrapped up my trip to Brussels, by checking into Maison Dandoy, an esteemed confectionery that has been located in the Brussels square for over 200 years now. I munched on waffles that were awesomely crunchy for being traditionally baked, alongside delicious ice cream with cooked cherry and fruit sauce.The dainty ambience only added to the allure. And the environment gave off Christmassy vibes in August!