After our cold and rainy day in Bruges, we spent the next two days back in Brussels. One thing I forgot to mention in my first entry on Brussels was that when we first arrived in the city and made our way to the hotel, we were surprised to find a huge police presence. Seriously huge. As in police on horses. Police in riot gear. Barricades topped with razor wire blocking off streets. A bit unnerving but, what do we know? This is our first time here. Later that night as we were walking back to our hotel from the center of town, we found ourselves in a fairly deserted section of town. We passed several groups of police people, what appeared to be an awful car accident, and then turned down a street in the financial district. It was completely deserted, except when we caught glimpses of heavily armed police patrols. And there was broken glass everywhere. Windows had been shattered, buildings defaced, signposts ripped out of the concrete. It was so strange and eerie to walk down this quiet street that had obviously seen a whole lot of action just hours before we arrived. And the destruction kept going – block after block of crunching through glass on the pavement. When we did pass police they were anything but friendly, staring at us with suspicious glares, fingers on the triggers of some intimidating weaponry. Needless to say we were happy when we finally turned the corner and saw our hotel. Of course we had to do a Google search to find out what had happened and apparently there had been a demonstration held by Congolese immigrants protesting the election of the president. Somehow the manifestation went from peaceful to crazy. So strange.
OK, so back to the wrap up of our experience in Brussels. We spent the last two days, exploring more of the city, taking a tour of the EU, and learning about Brussels most famous statue: Manneken Pis.
So, everywhere you go in Brussels, you’re bound to run into replicas of Manneken Pis – replications in plastic, ceramic, glass, metal, and even chocolate. Of course, they range from tacky to tasteless and the worst was the chocolate fountain rendition where the little boy is peeing chocolate. I don’t know how anyone thought that would be a good idea. I mean, seriously?
Well, this little guy has played an important part in the history of Brussels and has come to represent a lot more than meets the eye. According to a 25 minute video we watched at the history museum, he means “freedom” and “rebellion to tyranny” and “innocence” and has not only been kidnapped but has also been knighted. He does have a long and illustrious history as well as quite the colorful wardrobe. Apparently in the ’70s and ’80s it became popular for other countries to send outfits to Manneken Pis – so his wardrobe of elaborate costumes ranging from complete samurai get-ups to an Elvis ensemble numbers in the hundreds. Personally, I love history and tradition and all of that, but I think the meaning attached to this little guy has been a bit inflated. If you’re wanting to learn more, here’s a link to more info.
One really interesting thing we did was visit the European Union. We showed up early for our tour and I have to say that after leaving, I was thoroughly impressed. This governing body is fascinating and the organization that goes into running anything with 27 sovereign nation members, 23 official languages, and hundreds of representatives is amazing.
In addition to insuring that the interests of each nation are fairly represented the EU appears to be committed to ensuring that every citizen of the EU has access in their own language to everything that goes on in the EU. That’s a huge endeavor. Every word uttered during a meeting of the EU is immediately translated into all 23 languages and is available in print, on-line, and at local EU offices.
Interestingly, the euro turned ten on January 1. As we all know, it’s been struggling lately and the statue below seemed strangely prophetic, at least to me.
While I think the original concept of the sculpture involved a representation of the peoples of Europe uniting under the euro, it now looks like it could be a depiction of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, single-handedly holding up the euro while being sucked into a vortex of other country’s debt. Or am I reading too much into it? Anyway, while I know the crashing euro is not a good thing, I’m not going to complain about it ’cause it’s certainly helping with our grocery bill.
So, I found the EU fascinating and would highly recommend a visit. Regardless of what you think about the politics of the organization, the logistics are mind-boggling.
And a few more Brussels shots:
All-in-all, I would say our visit was a success. Neither Scotty nor I felt like we really conquered either Brussels or Bruges, but we had a great time together. Isn’t there something about getting away and spending concentrated time together that is just good for two people?