Sunday, November 29, 2015

Brussels - Atomium

Date of visit: 10th October 2015

Sometimes it's nice to mix a tour to a historical paces and a modern structure, like we did when we were in Brussels. The Atomium is something that a tourist should consider exploring as it offers a magnificent overview of the city from its observatory deck. It was nearing 4pm when we arrived at Heysel exhibition park. Beside the Atomium, the park is also a place for another Brussels famous attraction, i.e.  Mini Europe. It sit side by side and you may view the whole Mini Europe from the observatory deck. We decided to reminiscence our time when we were in Galata Tower, in Istanbul last year by having similar coffee break at the Atomium restaurant deck. Surprisingly, it was a long queue still at the lift area although it was almost closing time. The Atomium is open from 10.00 am till 6.00 pm almost everyday.  

The Atomium is a building in Brussels originally constructed for Expo 58, i.e. the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. It was designed by the engineer Andre Waterkeyn and 2 architects Andre and Jean Polak as a 102 meter height structure. It has 9 of 18 meter diameter of stainless steel clad spheres which are connected to each other so that the whole thing forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is being used as the Art and Design Atomium Museum (ADAM) dedicated to the art and design of the 20th century and today.

A tubes of 3 meter diameter connected the spheres along the 12 edges of the cube and all 8 vertices to the centre. In the central part of the vertical tube, the stairs, an escalators and a lift are built to allow access to the five habitable spheres which contain exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere includes a restaurant which has a panoramic view of Brussels. Beneath the restaurants are the observatory deck. CNN has named Brussels Automium as Europe's most bizarre building.

Due to its popularity, the renovation of the Atomium began in March 2004. During that period of time, it was closed to the public until 18 February 2006. The renovations included replacing the faded aluminium sheets on the sphere with stainless steel to give a significant view of the whole city at every angle. The old aluminium was sold to the public as souvenirs as to finance the said renovations cost. It was recorded that a triangular piece of about 2 metres long was sold for Euro 1,000.

3 out of the 4 top spheres lack vertical support and hence are not open to the public for safety reasons, although the sphere at the pinnacle is open to the public. The original design called for no supports; the structure was simply to rest on the spheres. Wind tunnel tests proved that the structure would have toppled in an 80 km/h wind (140 km/h winds have been recorded in Belgium). Support columns were added to achieve enough resistance against overturning.

The observatory deck can only be occupied by a certain number of tourist at a time. It explained a long queue earlier on. There's also a staircase from an observatory deck to the restaurant upstairs beside the staircases provided for those who choose to climb instead. Climbing is not a bad choice at all as along the way up there are many attractive things to see, which we missed that day. You may website Atomium official website for further info and for more photos.

For the record, we truly enjoy our time in Atomium that day. Instead of having coffee, we chose soda, for a change. The restaurant has been decorated to match its external facade. Everything had similarity in each other, i.e. comes in modern arts design. See a curvy and unique restaurant chair for instance in below photo. It's very stylish yet comfy. 

Before leaving, we explored the souvenir shop located at the ground level admiring some of the display items that are for sale. How I wish to brought these little cuties back. If not because there's  a long way to go plus another 7 cities to visit, I would not mind collected them too for a display at home too.

And before bidding our farewell, we snapped the last few photos as memory of the last toured place before heading back to the hotel and getting ready to leave for Amsterdam the next morning.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Brussels - Park of Laeken

Date of visit: 10th October 2015

Park of Laeken is the Royal Park which can be access vide avenue du Parc Royal and avenue Jules van Praet. It is open free for public all year round. This beautiful park has been created in the 19th century during the King Leopold’s time. One side of the Laeken Park has an open view of Brussels city whilst on the other side there is a great view on the royal palace. The park is currently managed by Brussels Environment board. 

I've discovered about the Royal Greenhouse of Laeken, while scrolling the Brussels attractions photo that are available in many of the website. No matter what, I have to see it with my own eyes the beauty of the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. Hence, I have persuaded Anne to change our prayer time direction to be in this park instead of Juberpark which was originally intended in the itineraries. That is how we discovered another beauty in this area, the Church of Our Lady of Laeken. The burial caretaker has directed us towards the park entrance. So unfortunate that we could not locate an entrance to the greenhouse till the end. As we were too tired from walking, we finally decided just to use the park for prayer, explored a little bit what we can covered and adjourned to see the Atomium. 

For the record, I have use Google photo editor software, Picasa 3 to improve the poor image of the photo that was snapped due to cloudy sky. It helps to bring some light into the photos and sharpen some of the images that can be seen from all photos that I shared in this entry. 

The monument of the Dynasty, in Gothic style and set up in memory of King Leopold I is not the only interesting thing of the park, that is integrated between the Avenue du Parc Royal and the Avenue Jules Van Praet. Numerous trees can be found here like chestnut-trees, rowan trees, purple beeches etc. Some of the trees are more than 100 years old. Although we covered only a small area of the park, we somehow manage to see some of the monuments and the big huge and old trees within the vicinity. Such a bless trip. 

Even with our failure to find the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, I am more than happy to share some fact about it in this entry. The Royal Greenhouse is a vast complex of monumental heated greenhouses in the park of the Royal Palace of Laeken in the north of Brussels. It is one of the major tourist attractions of the city. The complex was commissioned by King Leopold II and designed by Alphonse Balat. Built between 1874 and 1895, the complex was finished with the completion of the so-called "Iron Church", a domed greenhouse that would originally serve as the royal chapel. The total floor surface of this immense complex is 2.5 hectares. About 800,000 liters of fuel oil are needed each year to heat the buildings. Argh, the complex can only be visited during a 2 week period in April till May each year, when most flowers are in full bloom.

We intent to pray at the green grass area in the above photo. But, somehow a strange feeling occurred after we saw a lady who walked her dog did it's poo business at some corner of the park. It gave us some curiosity and uneasy feeling whether the grass is good for us to lay our prayer mat. We inspected over and over again and finally decided to use the concrete floor at the monument instead. 

Despite of what happened, we had our moment of peace while offering prayer that day surrounded with a Godsend view, the views that we never have thought that we could be inside. Indeed, no words suffice to express our blessing to the Creator, who has firmed up the trip and save us both from any harm during 16 days of our trip.

Part of the Royal Park can be seen from an observatory deck at the Atomium, which we visited later on. Seeing the terraces, rows of lovely trees and the lake in below photo left an incomplete mission in my heart. Maybe there will be a come back to Brussels 1 day with my husband. If we did, I will definitely return in April or May, during spring time to visit both the Royal Palace and the Royal Greenhouse of Laeken. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brussels - Church of Our Lady of Laeken

Date of tour: 10th October 2015

We started using Metros from the Grand Place to the remaining places onwards as all attractions seated quite far for us to walk. Initially I was planning to visit 2 parks, i.e. either Juberpark or Royal Park but looking at the far distance of Juberpark, I cancelled my plan. Instead, we've headed towards Royal Park, which is nearer and since it was about time for us to perform our obligatory prayer. And yes, we wanted so much to perform prayer at the parks, like we did when we were in Paris and London last year. The metro route that we rode took us to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken. Its beauty can be seen from far distance. A beauty that brought so much motivation for a person to walk despite the distance. However, I was rather disappointing as the church was closed due to a scheduled wedding later that night.

Church of Our Lady of Laeken is a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church situated in Laeken, Brussels. It was originally built in memory of Queen Louise-Marie, wife of King Leopold I, designed by an architect by the name of Joseph Poelaert. The Queen died in Ostend in 1850 and it was her wished to be buried in Laeken. Leopold I wished the church to be constructed in her memory and as a mausoleum for her. It is situated nearby Royal Castle of Laeken was, and still is, the royal residence till present. We headed to the Laeken park thereafter for our prayer with confidence that we were on the right track, I mean nearing the Royal Palace and greenhouse that I wished so much to see.

The then young architect Joseph Poelaert was chosen to design the new church, who later became a renowned figure for the Law Courts of Brussels. The first foundationstone was laid by King Leopold I himself in 1854. The church was consecrated in 1872, but not completed until 37 years later after a lengthy interruption of the work. The crypt holds the tombs of the Belgian royal family, including those of all the former Belgian kings, including King Leopold 1 and II.

The adjacent Laeken Cemetery behind the church is sometimes known as the "Belgian Pere Lachaise" because it is the burial place of many people who were rich and famous. Inside the church of which we cannot see is the grave of Prince Baudouin with honour guard. I managed to peek inside in between a half open heavy door in photo above. I felt like an intruder. The burial place somehow brought a memory of where I was at exploring in Istanbul, a graveyards of the Ottoman ruler 's family in Suleymaniye Mosque. There are many common things between people of the books, I mean similarity the way the ruler were respected.

We cleanse for prayer at the nearby public toilets with the permission of the guard. The toilet is spotless clean but there is no heater, hence, the tap water was as cold as ice. Still, we were bless for being able to cleanse before headed to pray at the Laeken park, nearby. 2 below photos was after we have done with little exploration and heading towards the last destination, Atomium.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Brussels - Little Men Pee "Manneken Pis"

Date of visit: 10th October 2015

Manneken Pis is a Dutch words. It is a landmark of a small bronze sculpture, 61 cm height located in Brussels, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain's basin. It was designed by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder being placed where it is now since 1619. The famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l'Etuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chene/Eikstraat. To find it, one takes the left lane next to the Brussels Town Hall from the famous Grand Place and walks a few hundred metres southwest via Rue Charles Buls/Karel Bulsstraat. I did not seriously wish to visit this little man but since we were passing by while searching for a place to have lunch, we found him. Hence, we stopped and snapped photos like the rest of the tourist.

What fascinated me most was the passionate face and loud clear voice of the local tourist guide (his photo at the end corner of the little men below, a guy with a cap) explaining the history of mannekin pis to all who crowds around him. Besides, snapping moments where happiness are reflected on the tourist faces being able to see the little man in person and their excitement to record a photo with them are priceless. It was like witnessing a blessing face from God to all His devout, no matter what faith they had inside, true happiness are in the eyes of the beholder, just like beauties are. 

The little men and his spoke person

He won a huge attention from his crowds
History wise, the 61 cm tall bronze was made in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder, father of the more famous Francois Duquesnoy. The figure has been repeatedly stolen, hence it was not the original statue that we’ve seen today. The current statue was erected in1965. The original restored version is kept at the Maison du Roi or Broodhuis on the Grand Place. 

There are several legends behind this statue (5 stories shared in this entry), but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this 2 year old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.

The 3rd story (told often to tourists) tells about a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son went missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built. The 4th was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was urinating on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as a tribute to the well-known legend. The last story legend tells about the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.

I saw this lovely lady with her mother. Her mother was struggling to take the best shot of her and the Manneken Pis, hence, I thought that I could read both her and her mother's mind to achieve a perfect photo. Still, my shot were photobombed by a tourist from China. I hope this beautiful lady may find her photo here. Please by all mean, share it as you please.

The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes, many of which may be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum, located in the Grand Place, immediately opposite the Town Hall. The costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken-Pis, who review hundreds of designs submitted each year, and select a small number to be produced and used. This little men is really no jokes, his statue is built in Tokushima, Japan, which was a present from the Belgian embassy. For the record, Tokushima is a twin city of Brussels.

The souvenirs shop in Brussels mostly sells Menneken Pis statues in their shop. I'm sharing few examples that I snapped while strolling at the Grand Place so that you have some ideas what to brought back as souvenirs. I did not buy any, not even a Manneken Pis fridge magnet.

Rather, I have a priceless photo with him (bigger than mine) and yes, I did teased "it" as evidenced in below photo ...

Remarks: The legend stories of Manneken Pis is obtained from Wikipedia.