Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brussels redux

Here's our Brussels' photoalbum

KT gave you a rundown of her brave sampling of street stall snails and other fair food in Brussels but we haven't told you much more about our 4 day vacation there right after Christmas. The Christmas market was indeed the highlight of the trip. It snaked through much of the city center and included a huge Ferris wheel and large outside skating rink (with a beer garden next to it to make one even more unsteady on skates). I think our favorite part, however, was watching the two amazing carousels. They were both so much more creative than anything I've seen in the U.S. Balloons and rocket ships went up and down, insects flapped their wings, etc. Check out the video--don't you wish you were a little kid again (hmm, check back again later--video not loading properly).

Brussels carousel from dceditors on Vimeo.

We also enjoyed jazz twice in Brussels. Once, after a dinner at a great Italian restaurant next door (La Boule Rouge), we went to the Music Village club for some traditional jazz from a group covering Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald songs. The other show was a 5pm concert at L'Archiduc, an art deco jazz club that dates back to 1937. An unusual round space with a 2nd balcony level encircling the club, the venue had a very retro feel, highlighted by the outside buzzer that visitors had to use to be granted access. The jazz couldn't have been more different from the previou snight--a trio of what looked like university students played jazz versions of various pop and rock songs (including a Nirvana song!). Still very cool.

One day we ventured outside the city center to the Basilica Koekelberg, the sixth largest church in the world. Built to celebrate Belgian Independence, the church (right) was hosting an exhibit on the life, art and science of Leonardo Da Vinci. Since it's an active church, the place wasn't designed to host such an event and the exhibit rooms were a bit claustrophobic at time. Still, one could not but be impressed by Da Vinci's amazing life. The English audio guide was nice but we wish we could have read all the exhibit signs, which were in Flemish and French.

Another unusual stop on this trip was Brussel's famous Musical Instruments Museum--housed in a beautiful 1877 building that used to be a department store--that displays thousands of, uh, musical instruments. The most innovative aspect of the museum is that visitors wear infrared headphones and when they walk near many of the instruments, music played on them is heard. A highly recommend stop for anyone visiting Brussels--and the penthouse restaurant has glorious views as well.

MIM (left) and one of its many odd musical instruments.

The MIM wasn't the oddest stop on our vacation. We also went to the Atomium, whose website labels it "the most astonishing building in the world". Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this 10 story-high structure mimics an iron crystal and was built for the 1958 World Exposition. It's recently been cleaned up and one can travel through its tubes and sphere via stairs or escalators. School classes can even spend the night in one of the spheres. If you haven't guessed yet, it's the picture at the top of this post.

Since we expect we'll visit Brussels again, it was nice not to rush to do ever thing. We sampled the great Belgian beers and chocolates, scrutinized the beautiful buildings around the Grand Place, strolled a neighborhood looking at Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings (with the European Parliament's modern glass buildings in the background). Just a 3 hour train ride away, Brussels will see us soon.--JT

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