Busy Brussels

Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
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Trip End May 22, 2012


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Saturday, May 5, 2012

May 5-9: Took the train back to Brussels, and what a difference from Brugge! It's a big, bustling, multicultural city that takes some getting used to. Everyone has their head buried in a map. I’m good with maps, and I have to say that Brussels street maps are the most challenging I’ve seen. The streets go every which way, and what makes things so crowded and cumbersome on maps is that each street has two names, French and Dutch, which often aren’t at all similar.
I was a bit shocked to see the condition of the big church right beside my hotel – it’s all blackened and looks horrible, complete with a set of recycling bins on the sidewalk beside it. There is evidence of big-city social issues as well. But there is plenty to do and see – a brochure listed 91 museums! And of course there are plenty of cultural activities.

I happened across a city fair with booths from many organizations, such as police, fire department, street cleaners, museums association, European Parliament, etc. Too bad the weather that day was less than ideal: cool and windy.

The Museum of Musical Instruments is housed in an attractive art nouveau building called Old England, which was a luxurious department store established in the late 1800s. The museum holds more than 7,000 instruments from all over the world and includes listening points to hear the instruments being played, an exhibit showing how pianos are constructed and local folk instruments.


I attended a Sunday afternoon concert at the Bozar, formerly named Palais des Beaux-Arts. It turned out to be student musicians collaborating with members of the Belgian National Orchestra. All the announcing was in Dutch. Some familiar music though.

Earlier I’d read a small book about famous Belgians – there are many significant historical figures, artists, cartoonists, actors, scientists, etc. Here are a few: Adolphe Sax, "father" of the saxophone; actor Jean-Claude van Damme; Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot; singer Jacques Brel; architect Victor Horta (who influenced Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others); Pierre “Peyo” Culliford, who created the Smurfs; John Joseph Merlin, who invented roller skates in 1760; Charlemagne; and author Georges Simenon.

The topic of the day is: will Belgium ever split? (Between French-speaking south and Flemish-speaking north.) Let’s hope not.

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