Brussels, Belgium - Day 1

The weekend trip to Brussels flew by so quickly that only now, 3 days after the trip, we had time to catch our breath. The city took me by surprise by its dynamic spirit, a mix of youthful energy and historic serenity, a combination of seemingly polar concepts (a monarch country that leads the European Union), and a general sense of spontaneity awaiting around the corner.

Alas, speaking of spontaneity, around the same corner we found crowds of tourists! Maybe it was an usually hot weather or the annual Brussels marathon that drew 7000 runners from 40 different countries, but Brussels was so crowded that the only place I've seen so busy was St. Marco's square in July.

Javier Marin's heads ensemble
on the museum's square
A Euro-star train took us from Lille to Brussels  in 35 minutes and we immediately set on our traditional route: a fine arts museum with a break in a museum's cafe. Brussels is said to be home to 80 museums and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique) combines 4 - The Museum of Antiquity, Fine Arts, Modern Arts, and Rene Magritte Museum. 

There is also a terrific exhibit of Lucas Cranach, which we didn't visit. We assumed it'd be a bit early to expose the Little Nomads to glorious illustrations of human body, as vivid as they are in Cranach's work.

Javier Marin's work seemed to be the accent of the season in Brussels: it was on display throughout the museum and in the city's square presented in various media - resin, plastic, and ... beautiful emerald bugs! The installation of the heads' sculptures on the main square was disarming - the same way the Louvre pyramid amid the classic palace buildings or the head sculpture by St. Eustace in Paris leave you at a loss. I tried to categorize and archive the heads in my brain catalog, but really... I couldn't - they don't fall into any familiar category.
A few days later a friend of mine commented on our trip photos - "The heads are brilliant! Frequently, I feel like this - when my world gets taken over by emotions and I feel like one of those red heads standing upside down." That's a magnificent interpretation!

The highlights of the Fine Arts museum:
- a comprehensive collection of the Flemish School: Bruegel, Bosch, Bouts, van Dyck.
- "Rubens Room", which houses more than 20 paintings by the artist.
- The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David.

total height: 102m
diameter of the spheres: 18m
Having walked around the centre, we took a bus tour to the other side of town to see Atomium and mini-Europe.

Atomium - a structure, which was built temporarily for the 1958 World-expo, has become a visual symbol of Brussels. It represents an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times and corresponds to a cube centred on one of its points. Our of its 9 'balls' 5 are open to public and house various expositions. The upper sphere gives you the most beautiful top view of the city.

Mini-Europe - a miniature park represents all European Union countries on a scale of 1:25. Each country has built a pavilion, which is most representative of their nation. 300 models and sites in a quite unequaled craftsmanship were a thrill to the Little Nomads. Most of the sites have interactive features - mechanisms that trigger action and/or music - the Big Ben chimes, Finland has a person jumping into a lake right out of the sauna (wink-wink), Italy - gliding gondoliers, Spain - fighting bulls, etc.

Having walked in the park for a couple hours, we took the HH bus to the centre and had a nice leisurely walk to our hotel.

Mini-Brussels with the Eiffel Tower in the background
A heap of structures at mini-Europe
Information overload

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