29 June 2016

Springtime in Brussels, 7-10 June 2016

With deep foreboding, your MoMI editor completed his last will and testament, donned his helmet and body armour, and flew into the heart of Europe's 'Jihad Central' (also known as Brussels, Belgium) on 7 June.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise to instead find a vibrant and resilient historic city with bustling shops, cafes, and restaurants, and not a single crazed Islamist screaming 'Allahu Akbar' before self-detonation.  Yes, the sight of Belgian Army trucks and armed troops on the streets was a grim reminder of the 22 March 2016 terrorist attacks upon Brussels Airport and the Maalbeek Metro station that killed 35 people and injured another 340; however, this visit proved thankfully uneventful and, with some free time after the completion of a busy program of business meetings, it was possible to explore a part of Belgium's capital city on foot.        

The front of the Atlas Hotel, an 88-room, 3-star hotel on Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains, only a five-minute walk from Brussels' historic Grand Place.
Second floor corridor of the Atlas Hotel.
Room 251 at the Atlas Hotel.

Room 251 features a wall-mounted flat screen television, coffee/tea service, a mini-fridge, floor fan (to compensate for lack of air conditioning), and in-room safe for valuables.  A large window looks out into a small courtyard in which hotel staff have placed a large number of potted plants to offset the otherwise grim view of fire escapes and concrete paving stones.
The comfortably-appointed basement breakfast room in the Atlas Hotel, serving a buffet breakfast daily from 7:00 to 10:30.
The continental European-style breakfast offerings include coffee, tea and hot chocolate, juices, cold cereals, croissants and pain au chocolat, a variety of bread rolls, cheeses, cold sliced meats, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and fresh fruit. 

La Grand Place / Grote Markt

The Grand Place is the city's central square and, therefore, the heart of Brussels. Measuring 68 x 110 metres (223 x 361 feet), this UNESCO World Heritage site features a large number of historic buildings dating back to the 1400s, including the city's Town Hall, the Maison du roi / Broodhuis (Breadhouse), and ornate, gold-leafed guildhalls. The power and influence of Brussels' merchants is reflected in the fact that the Grand Place is notable for not being anchored around a church, but rather by mercantile and government buildings.

The bombardment of Brussels by the French army on 13 August 1695 reduced much of the Grand Place to rubble, but the buildings were rebuilt by the city's craft guilds by 1700. By the 19th century, neglect of the Grand Place's buildings and the effects of pollution led the city's mayor to launch a major restoration and reconstruction effort, which was completed by the late 1800s.

As the Grand Place is Brussels' most important tourist destination, the square is busy around the clock, with restaurants, shops, taverns, and cafes occupying the ground floors of many of the guildhalls and musicians and artists catering to the throngs of people constantly wandering through. Since 1971, the Grand Place has hosted every two years a 1,800 square metre (19,000 square foot) floral 'carpet', crafted from a million begonias arranged in patterns and displayed for several days as a major tourist attraction.

A view of the Grand Place, looking northwest.
Brussels Town Hall, home to the city's municipal government.  The building's east wing and a shorter belfry (tower) were constructed between 1402 and 1420, with a subsequent western wing added in 1444 and the current belfry added in 1455.  The top of the 96 metre (315 foot) tall belfry is capped by a gilt metal statue of the archangel Michael (patron saint of Brussels) slaying a dragon or devil.  The building is designed in the Brabantine Gothic style.  The bombardment of Brussels by French forces in 1695 caused fires which gutted the Town Hall, destroying the archives and art collection.  Subsequent renovations and additions to the building were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.  
A closeup view of some of the many ornate sculptures that adorn the exterior walls and arches of Brussels Town Hall.  The statues currently found on the buildings are reproductions, the originals having been moved to the Museum of Brussels, located in the Maison du roi on the opposite side of the Grand Place.  The sculptures depict nobles, saints, and allegorical figures.
A view of the front façade and belfry of Brussels Town Hall, showing the building's ornate Gothic architecture.
Some of the guildhalls that line the perimeter of the Grand Place, built in 15th and 16th centuries.  
A closeup of the elaborate decoration on the front of the Maison des Brasseurs (Brewers House), one of the guildhalls that line the Grand Place.  The Maison des Brasseurs now houses a brewing and beer museum.
Cafes, shops, and restaurants now occupy the former guildhalls in the Grand Place.
Intricate masonry, statuary, and lavish use of gilt characterise the guildhalls on the Grand Place, while tourists enjoy a drink on the patio of La Chaloupe d'Or (The Golden Rowboat).
The Maison du roi (King's House), known in Dutch as the Broodhuis (Breadhouse). This building, constructed by the Duke of Brabant between 1504 and 1536, was designed to symbolise ducal power and balance the municipal power manifested in Brussels Town Hall, located across the square. The Maison du roi / Broodhuis was built on the site of the former bread and cloth markets that once occupied the Grand Place.  The building was badly damaged by the French artillery bombardment of Brussels in 1695, rebuilt shortly thereafter, and reconstructed in 1868.    
The Maison du roi / Broodhuis has been home to the Museum of Brussels since 1887. The museum tells the history of Brussels from its origins to the present day through tapestries, paintings, sculptures, models, dioramas, photos, and other artefacts.
Closeup view of one of the guildhall buildings.

Manneken Pis ('Little man Pee')

Manneken Pis is a small bronze statue located at the intersection of Rue du Chêne and Rue de l'Etuve, a short walk south of the Grand Place.  The 61 centimetre-tall statue depicts a naked boy urinating into a fountain, and was designed in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder.  With numerous castings of the statue having been stolen over the years, the current version was installed in 1965 and is guarded by a high protective metal fence and a security camera.  The original, restored copy is on display at the Museum of Brussels in the Grand Place. 

The Manneken Pis statue, showing its small size relative to the overall fountain.
A closeup view of Manneken Pis. Several times a week, the statue is dressed in costumes. The costume selections are announced via a bulletin posted on the fence in front of the fountain. Several hundred costumes have been created over the years, with the collection on permanent display in the Museum of Brussels in the Maison du roi / Broodhuis in the Grand Place.

Central Brussels

Located a brief stroll from the Grand Place, this area is home to many hotels, restaurants, taverns, and boutique shops catering to tourists.    

Looking southeast up Rue Auguste Orts at the intersection with Rue des Poissonniers. The columned building in the distance is the Bourse de Bruxelles (Brussels Stock Exchange).
The Bourse de Bruxelles, located on Boulevard Anspach between Rue de la Bourse and Rue Henri Maus.
Dusk on the Place de la Bourse, named for the Bourse de Bruxelles.  The stock exchange was founded by decree of Napoleon in 1801, and this structure was built between 1868 and 1873, mixing Neo-Renaissance and Second Empire styles.
A building at the corner of Rue Henri Maus and Rue du Midi is adorned with the Belgian flag in support of the national team's imminent participation in the Euro 2016 football (soccer) tournament in France. 
The Danish Tavern, located across from the Bourse de Bruxelles, at the corner of Rue de la Bourse and Rue de Tabora.
Looking down the pedestrianised Boulevard Anspach from Rue de l'Evêque.  Boulevard Anspach is the main artery in downtown Brussels.  
A Belgian army Unimog utility truck sits on the Place De Brouckère. Following the 22 March 2016 terrorist attacks, the Belgian army began bringing squads of heavily armed soldiers into the heart of the city every morning to supplement the enhanced police presence.   
Looking up Rue de Chair et Pain (Flesh and Bread Street) from Rue du Marché aux Herbes (Herb Market Street). The belfry of Brussels Town Hall towers over the Grand Place in the distance.
Walking down the narrow, cobblestoned Rue des Bouchers, home to many restaurants and bars.  Hosts standing in front of the restaurants actively entice passersby to dine in their particular establishments, noting the day's dinner specials.
Les Galeries Royale Saint-Hubert, a covered shopping arcade located a block north of the Grand Place.
Exotic chocolates on display in the window of the Corné Port-Royal chocolate shop, located in Les Galeries Royale Saint-Hubert.
More handmade chocolates in the window display of the Corné Port-Royal chocolate shop; chocolate has been a Belgian specialty since the early 1600s after the introduction of the Latin American commodity to Europe.  Belgium is the birthplace of the praline, a chocolate shell containing a soft or liquid filling made from various combinations of hazelnuts, almonds, sugar, syrup, and milk or cream, invented in 1912. 
Looking up the Rue des Fripiers, bedecked with colourful soccer ball decorations in honour of the then-upcoming Euro 2016 championship in France.
Looking northeast along Place Sainte-Catherine.  The trees flanking the open square have been pollarded, an ancient process used in Europe since medieval times to encourage the growth of  dense foliage and control the height of trees.
Some of the quaint restaurants and bistros fronting onto Place Sainte-Catherine on the Quai aux Briques.
The Église Sainte-Catherine de Bruxelles (Church of St. Catherine of Brussels), located in Place Sainte-Catherine.  Built on the site of a basin in the old port of Brussels, this church was completed in 1874, replacing a previous structure sating from the 15th century.  The church combines Gothic and baroque architecture. 
The Jules Anspach fountain (1897), topped by a bronze gilt statue of St. Michael. The fountain is located next to Quai aux Briques and honours Jules Anspach, mayor of Brussels from 1863 to his death in 1879.  Anspach was instrumental in pushing for the covering of the Senne River flowing through Brussels, which improved hygiene and permitted the construction of new boulevards and public buildings in the city.
Army trucks parked in the Place de Brouckère remind resident and visitors of the heightened risk from Islamist terrorists in the wake of the 22 March 2016 attacks on the Brussels Airport and downtown.
Cafe-goers enjoy a drink on the patio of the Café Metropole, on the ground floor of the Hotel Metropole. Located in the Place de Brouckère and built in 1895, the Hotel Metropole is the only 19th century hotel in Brussels still in operation.
The ornate lobby of the Hotel Metropole, which features 286 rooms and 23 suites.  The lobby and lounge contain Corinthian columns, gilded ornamentation, and large, intricate chandeliers.  Before being converted into a hotel, the building had housed a bank, and the hotel's reception desk is easily recognisable as a banking counter.  
Another view of the lobby of the Hotel Metropole, a Brussels landmark.
The interior of the Café Metropole.  It was here, in 1949, that bartender Gustave Tops invented the Black Russian cocktail for U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta.
A Bombardier Flexity Outlook (3000 series) tram travels along Rue de la Régence, outside the Église Notre-Dame du Sablon.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Béguinage, a Roman Catholic parish church, located on the Place du Béguinage.  The church, which was started in 1657 and consecrated in 1676, showcases 17th century Italian-inspired Flemish Baroque architecture.  It was restored following a major fire in 2000.     
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.  Construction of this Roman Catholic church was begun in the 11th century and took over 300 years to complete, only being finished shortly before Emperor Charles V assumed the throne in 1519.  The two towers, added in the 13th century are 64 metres (210 feet high), and the south tower (on the right) contains a 49-bell carillon. 
A view down the 109 metre (358 foot) long nave of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, showing the 4,300-pipe organ mounted above the columns on the left. 

Devotional candles in front of a statue of Saint Michael.
Light streams in through the enormous stained glass window in the south transept.
A sculpture of Christ following his crucifixion.
A closeup of the stained glass window in the south transept.
The ornate wooden pulpit in the nave is a masterpiece of Baroque carving.  Dating from the 1699, the pulpit was crafted by Antwerp sculptor Hendrik Frans Verbruggen and represents the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Garden of Eden.  The canopy of the pulpit is topped by a sculpture of the Virgin and Child piercing the serpent, symbolising redemption.
Palais Royale de Bruxelles (Royal Palace of Brussels), the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians. As the official residence of the royal couple is located in Laeken, on the outskirts of Brussels, this palace is instead used for affairs of state, including receptions, state banquets, and the housing of visiting dignitaries. The Royal Palace of Brussels was built between 1783 and 1934 on part of the grounds of the former medieval Palace of Coudenberg; however, the façade dates only from 1904, part of the embellishments and enlargement ordered by King Leopold II.    
A police constable guards the ornate, gilded front gates of the Royal Palace on the Place des Palais. 
Looking down the main pedestrian avenue inside the Parc de Bruxelles.  The large octagonal pond in the centre was constructed in 1780.  At 32 acres, the park is the largest in the centre of Brussels, and was laid out between 1776 and 1783 on the site of the gardens of the former Coudenberg Palace.  The main entrance is on the north side of the park, across from the Palace of the Nation, the Belgian parliament.  Other avenues inside the park offer views of important Brussels landmarks, including the Palace of Justice and the Royal Palace.   
A large fountain inside the main entrance to the Parc de Bruxelles, with the Belgian parliamentary building seen in the background.
Le Palais de la Nation (Palace of the Nation), the seat of Belgium's parliament.  Built between 1779 and 1783, this Neoclassical building housed various assemblies during the periods when Belgium was ruled by Austria, France, and the Netherlands, sequentially. In 1830, the provisional Government of Belgium and the Belgian National Congress moved into then building, with the first session of the House of Representatives and the Senate being held here in 1831.

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