Jul 22, 2017

Travelogue - Brussels

To feel the conflict that Europe is going through, you need to visit Brussels ( Bruxelles ) .. Armed military Police in practically every sensitive location, visitors always mindful about their surroundings even while munching the delicious waffles. Refugees begging in some street corners, yet the humanity helping them - food coupons being distributed in many places, many of them getting employed in local shops. In restaurants, you could hear a plethora of languages - Flemish, French, German, English and much more.

Being the head-quarters of European Union and a multitude of other International organisations, one of the places that a visitor should not miss in Brussels is the European Union HQ building and the associated museum explaining the European history. A continent ravaged by wars from the times of Crusades to the World Wars and cold war moving into a concept of economic & political union permitting free movement of people and ideas.  The humanist ideals are deeply embedded in their educational curriculum - Perhaps the reason as to why the young generation is at the forefront of helping refugees. And perhaps, no nation in Europe will disown them - Because many generations of Europeans have themselves been persecuted in the name of religion and politics

While the diamond industry is concentrated in Antwerp, Chocolatiers throng the by-lanes near Grand Palace.  My initial thought was that the chocolate industry had
its origins from the Belgian colony of Congo. Apparently thats not the case. Large quantities of cocoa were sourced from Africa. However, Belgium turned into a net exporter of chocolate only after the 1950's. A few family houses - Neuhaus, Godiva , Leonidas etc perfected their own standards and processes. To preserve the authenticity & standards, they have stayed away from outsourcing of manufacturing.. It is actually a case of free markets coupled with long-sightedness that has developed this industry in Belgium. We were fortunate to be taken through various aspects of chocolate making process at Neuhaus which was quite informative.

Manneken Pis

A stark difference of Brussels from other European cities is that this is a car-congested city even though it has got good public transport network. Apparently the tax system encourages you to to buy vehicles by taking mortgage. Brussels was a stark difference in that aspect from Amsterdam where practically everyone uses cycles or public transport. Another reason could be that this is a hilly terrain.

European cities have a nice way of converting interesting stories or themes into tourist attractions..Just like Salzburg uses Mozart's history to bring in tourists, Brussels uses the story of Manneken Pis .. Legend says that when Brussels was under siege, attackers setup explosives charges on city walls. But a boy named Julianske urinated on those explosives to defuse them. In his honour, a bronze statue was setup in the historic center of Brussels. And, the tourist industry has caught on this.. From chocolates to T-shirts to miniature models, Manneken Pis is omnipresent in Brussels