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Downtown Brussels

Brussels is the heart of Europe, the birthplace of Art Nouveau, the comic capital of the world and the headquarters for numerous EU institutions. A stroll around Brussels will enable us to discover its marvellous architecture, enchanting nooks and crannies and the typical gastronomical delights from the city, such as the chocolate, the beer or the mussels.

The centre of Brussels is home to two charming taverns that can be found on side streets off the busy Rue du Marché aux Herbes. The first is À l’image de Notre Dame, a place with traditional décor and a cosy ‘popular beer bar’ atmosphere that will transport you back in time.

Another of the taverns to be found near the Marché aux Herbes is the Toone Marionette Theater, a place full of history and owned by a popular puppet master dynasty. It comprises a typical tavern, a puppet museum and a small theatre with shows that are as popular with the locals as with the tourists.

The Saint Hubert Galleries link the area around the Monnaie Theatre with the Grand Place. They are a passageway between two worlds, linking a more modern Brussels to the most historical Brussels. The place is home to luxurious boutiques, traditional sweet shops, magnificent bookshops, avant-garde galleries and cafés.

Right next to the exit from the Galeries Royales, we will find the À La Mort Subite restaurant – a place with hundreds of years of history where one can enjoy the namesake beer as well as many others. The name comes from a 19th Century game of dice that the employees used to play during their break. This is one of the most traditional places in the city with long wooden benches, high ceilings and a collection of old mirrors. The thing to do here is try the Cherry or Kirk beers with a bit of cheese or one of their toasted snacks.

Steering clear of the bars around the edge of the Grand Place (which are mainly focused on tourist hunting and where the waiters try to catch you on the fly so you sit down to enjoy their typical and expensive mussels with chips), you will soon arrive at the Impasse de la Fidélité – the side street where you’ll findDelirium Tremens, one of the most famous places in Brussels and a paradise for all beer lovers. It is an enormous underground basement that is decorated in a very rustic fashion with barrels and flags on the ceilings. They serve hundreds and hundreds of different brands, which come in all different colours, aromas and flavours, each one served in a different glass that is especially designed to enhance the beer in question.

When leaving, don’t forget to visit the Jeanneke Pis fountain (Peeing Girl) at the end of the street. This is the female equivalent of the Manneken Pis, the most representative symbol of the city.

The time has come to visit the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels and considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and houses a large number of historic buildings, such as the Town Hall (Gothic in style and situated in the middle), the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula and the Royal Castle of Laeken (with its large greenhouses). Around the square, it is possible to see traces of the old city and an architectural style known locally as the ‘Spanish style’ due to the fact that the main historic buildings in the Flemish style date back to a time when what is now Belgium (then Flanders) was one of the provinces controlled by the empire ruled by Carlos V.

Moving on, we come to Le Roi des Belges, a modern café at 34 Rue Jules Van Praet where having a quick breakfast or lunch becomes a delightful experience. Pleasant music at the right volume, meticulous service and a selection of delicious and healthy dishes, such as salads, quiches and lasagne, make it the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat.

However, one of the most popular and central places in Brussels for enjoying small fish dishes is Mer du Nord. A few tall tables where you can stand up to eat in the square, just behind the Saint Catherine Church, mean you can stop and try the typical baby prawn croquettes, the delicious fish soup or the typical mussels. Did you know that the best mussels are eaten during those months that contain the letter ‘R’, such as December, January, February and March?

Surrounded by the exclusive shellfish restaurants of the Santa Catherine district a delicious gourmet hamburger restaurant called Ellis Gourmet Burger can be found.

These shellfish restaurants fill up with both locals and tourists at dinner time for a meal of exquisite quality. But if your budget won’t stretch to a table on one of their terraces, one of these enormous hamburgers will fill you up for between € 8 and € 10. You also have the option to order a trio of mini-hamburgers for € 13 in order to try the various specialities all in one sitting.

If you keep walking through the Place Sainte Catherine, you’ll find the Micro Market Marché culture centre and a bar-restaurant inside called Via Via Café where they serve international food and organic drinks. This centre organises parties, DJ sessions, concerts, screenings and seasonal exhibitions. It is a meeting place for young creators and lovers of more alternative art.

And if you prefer somewhere with more of a rock music atmosphere and American-style meat dishes, Le Corbeau is the place for you. Located on Rue Saint-Michel, it can be found in what was once one of the oldest breweries in Brussels.

One of the greatest attractions in Brussels are the journeys to be had along the side streets full of comic wall art. Brussels is the comic capital of the world and is the birthplace of such legendary characters as Tintin, Lucky Luke, Spirou and the Smurfs. One of the more fun activities to be enjoyed in Belgium is to discover the large-scale reproductions of elements and pages from comics that you can find on any street corner. The idea began in 1991 as a way to renovate old buildings but has now become an identifying symbol of the city.

We took it as a bit of fun and took photographs of the ones we encountered on our visit but there is an entire route to be followed that should not be missed by any lover of Art Nouveau.

Finally, we recommend you take the train to Gantes for a day trip. Gantes is the Flemish city with the largest number of historic buildings, a strong cultural vibe and a privileged location between Bruges and Brussels – 50 km from each. The city has five abbeys, three convents and eighteen museums, as well as numerous other attractions that are all concentrated in the central district.


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A Walk Through Tintins Brussels

We know that Tintin travelled to America, the Soviet Union, China and South America… he even got to step onto the moon! But, where did the endearing reporter created by Hergé actually live? While the cartoonist never revealed it explicitly, there is no doubt that Brussels, where Hergé lived all his life, is the backdrop in the cartoon strips whenever the amusing reporter and his faithful dog, Snowy, are captured at home. We ventured into Tintin’s haunts and discovered the palaces, museums, hotels, theatres and parks in Brussels which Hergé converted into comic artefacts.

On their return from their first adventures in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin and Snowy are welcomed as heroes by a crowd in the Gare du Nord, an exact copy of the former Brussels Gare du Midi. Now featured in the railway station is a mural inspired by a cartoon of Tintin in America to mark the centenary of the birth of Georges Remi, “Hergé”.

In the second of his 24 adventures, the iconic reporter and his faithful friend travel to the Congo, an album which Hergé was likely inspired to pen after various visits to the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Among many other nods, the leopard man that threatens Tintin in the comic is an imitation of the statue sculpted by Paul Wissaert on display in that museum.

The address, 26 Labrador Road, is well known to Tintinophiles. First mentioned in The Broken Ear, don’t waste your time looking it up in a Brussels street finder. Instead, head for 26 de la rue Terre-Neuve, where you will come across an uncannily similar building to the one where the young reporter’s flat was located!

Built in the late-19th century on the south side of the Royal Park, the Royal Palace stands out as one of the most emblematic landmarks in Brussels. This majestic building was where Hergé drew inspiration for the Royal Palace of Syldavian King Muskar XII in King Ottokar's Sceptre.

Dating from 1873, the Flea Market or Marché aux Puces, located in the Place du Jeu de Balle, is the Brussels mecca of collectors, antiquarians, treasure hunters and bric-a-brac seekers. It was at this flea market that Tintin discovered the model ship at the opening of The Secret of the Unicorn.

However, it was most likely in The Seven Crystal Balls that Hergé captured most of Brussels’ architectural landmarks. For example, in this thirteenth instalment of The Adventures of Tintin, one of the city’s most emblematic hotels appears – the Metropole. Also easily recognised in this comic album is La Monnaie theatre, renamed the Music-Hall Palace. And, the mansion where Professor Hercules Tarragon lives is the spitting image of the opulent villa on Avenue Delleur 6.

Also in The Seven Crystal Balls, we come across the character, Rascar Capac, a mummy inspired by a relic on display in the Cinquantenaire Museum. Hergé was a regular at this gallery, where he went in search of ideas. It was also where he discovered the fetish created by the Arumbaya, the focus of the storyline in The Broken Ear.

Another prime magnet for Tintinophiles is the southern Brussels district of Uccle, one of the nineteen districts making up the Belgian capital. In Uccle we find the Brussels Planetarium, an observatory which Hergé portrayed in The Shooting Star. Interestingly, the Centre Culturel d'Uccle has a statue of Tintin on display, while in the district cemetery, a short distance away from where he lived until his death, is the artist’s grave. A plaque at 33 Rue Philippe Baucq, in the more central district of Etterbeek, reminds visitors that this was the birthplace of Georges Remi “Hergé”. (The house is not open to the public.)

At Louvain-la-Neuve, less than half an hour from the centre of Brussels, stands the Musée Hergé. Designed by the French architect, Christian de Portzamparc, the Hergé Museum is three storeys high and has 8 exhibition halls, featuring 80 original prints, 800 photographs and countless documents and miscellanea related to the life and work of the creator of Tintin and Snowy.

Highly recommendable for Tintin lovers in particular, and enthusiasts of the ninth art in general, is a visit to the Brussels Comic Strip Centre (Rue des Sables 20) which features thousands of original works relating to some of the most outstanding Belgian creations in the comic world, notably The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Spirou and Tintin, among others.

The huge dragon from The Blue Lotus painted on the ground at the entrance to rue de la Colline 13 announces your arrival at the Tintin Boutique. This is the ideal store for stocking up on all types of objects and souvenirs associated with the illustrious reporter and his endearing troupe of cartoon companions.

Fire up and venture into the world of Tintin – book your Vueling to Brussels here.

Text by Oriol Rodríguez for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Oscar W. Rasson, Julien, Andrea Carrozzo, CTJ71081, Dustin Hackert, Laurence Livermore, Su-Lin, Stephane Mignon

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5 Brussels Museums For the Autumn

Brussels has a heady cultural agenda where exhibitions andvernissagesare common fare. Some especially interesting spaces have been unveiled there in recent times, augmenting the established ones. Thus, art enthusiasts and culture devotees in general would do well to visit them on a brief getaway.

The first of these is the ADAM (Art & Design Atomium Museum), located in the Atomium, an iconic construction in the Brussels district of Heysel which was built for the 1958 World Fair. ADAM is an art and design centre which showcases a unique collection of plastic furniture and other objects owned by the Belgian artist, Philippe Decelle, who has been collecting these artefacts since the 1970s. And, while you’re in the vicinity of the Atomium, you should make a point of dropping in on the light and sound installation, ID#2016, which runs until 13 November 2016 and forms part of the ID (Innovative Display) programme, a digital art festival which has been operating since 2013.

Another major cultural landmark in Brussels is MIMA (Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art), located in the enduringly interesting district of Molenbeek. This space revolves around the highly specific, innovative theme of the evolution of contemporary art following the advent of Internet and the emergence of Culture 2.0.

Another highly edifying cultural landmark in Brussels is the Museum of Natural Sciences, famed for its Dinosaur Gallery, and particularly its iguanodons, the skeletons of which were unearthed in 1878 at a mine in Bernissart in southern Belgium. Be sure to also visit the Gallery of Humankind, a unique exhibition unveiled just a year ago which traces the evolution of man and the human body.

It is always a good time to visit the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, not only because it is one of Belgium’s most dynamic art hubs (it receives an impressive 1 million visitors each year), but for the building itself. Designed by the acclaimed Belgian Art Deco architect, Victor Horta, it is a magnificent specimen of the country’s architectural heritage. An exhibition showcasing 80 sculptures by Pablo Picasso entitled Picasso. Sculptures is due to run here in the next few months – specifically, from 26 October 2016 to 5 March 2017. Organised in conjunction with the Musée Picasso of Paris, the exhibition will feature works expressing the creative power of the innovative Malaga art genius, who used a host of materials and numerous techniques in his sculptures.

Lastly, an area well worth strolling about and which always throws up some novelty is the Parc du Cinquantenaire (“Quincentenary Park”). Located in this park, a case in point is the Horta-Lambeaux Pavilion which showcases the stunning bas-relief known as Human Passions, the crowning work of Jef Lambeaux, sculpted in white Carrara marble. Another interesting venue is Autoworld, featuring the world’s most important automobile collection which this year marks its 30th anniversary.

Ready to discover these offerings in Brussels? Book your Vueling to Brussels here.

Text by Tusdestinos.net

Images by Tusdestinos.net, IRScNB-KBINTh.Hubin (Museum of Natural Sciences) and Visit Brussels (Olivier van de Kerchove)

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In Summer – A Beach in Brussels

The idea is not new. For some years now, these artificial urban beaches have popped up each summer in Berlin, Hamburg and under the bridges of the river Seine in Paris. You won’t have to cram the whole family into your car, or embark on a long, hot journey to feel the sand under your feet and freshen up in the water. In Brussels, this tropical paradise is known as Les Bains de Bruxelles and it lasts for five weeks on the Quai des Péniches, along the Brussels Canal. It opens from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

True, there aren’t many waves, but some ingenuity has been applied to making the beach as attractive as possible; indeed, it draws an extremely diverse crowd of beach-goers. The 6,000 m² of sand are dotted with deck-chairs, palm trees and coconut palms, striped sunshades and beach bars serving vividly coloured cold beverages. The atmosphere is a family one during the day and sports activities include beach football, volleyball, boule and ping-pong, as well as games for young children. Pedalos and kayaks can be hired at reasonable prices on Sundays. You can also go for a ride along the canal on board the Bruxelles les Bains, which offers various tours – the short one takes 55 minutes; the longest one is a 2-hour cruise, and there is also a “cocktail cruise”, by night – while the harbour’s history and geography is expounded on by a guide.

This chill-out on the beach is accompanied by the Let It Beach festival, now in its third year. A variety of concerts liven up the evening on weekends, while on Fridays the music turns to folk, rock, pop and hip-hop. Jazz and world music take centre stage on Saturdays. The Sunday programmes target the younger set, with workshops, dances and, of course, more concerts. Night reverie is bolstered by free sessions of Croisetteke, every day from 6 p.m. on, in addition to theBoat Club,an exclusive floating club which hosts the liveliest parties in Brussels.

Not Without My Ice-cream!

When the thermometer seems to be driving endlessly upwards, another delicious way of keeping cool is to have an ice-cream. And, for those who can’t contemplate a day at the seaside without ice-cream, here are some of the best parlours in town:

Comus & Gasterea (Quai aux Briques, 86)

A place for trying the newest and most unusual flavours. It features some of the strangest ice-creams in the world, with such flavours as caviar, olive oil, Roquefort, lichi, wasabi aubergine and basil, home-made and free of additives or colouring agents. All you need is to be patient, as queues can sometimes build up outside its doors.

Capoue (Rue de Wand, 112)

Chez Capoue is one of the oldest ice-cream parlours in Brussels and, while at Comus & Gasterea you find the most unusual flavours, in Capoue they make the most daring combinations, notably bounty, blood orange and spiced bread. They are also have them sugar-free for diabetics, or lactose-free for those allergic to dairy.

Il Monello (Chaussée de Charleroi, 31 -33)

While Il Monello opened only recently, it has already made a name for itself in the city for its traditional pastries and homemade ice-creams. They also serve the latter atop a waffle for those seeking consistency (or calories).

Zizi (Rue de la Mutualité, 57A)

Zizi, a veritable institution in Brussels, is the city’s best-known ice-cream parlour. In the sixty years they have been open, they have never altered their manufacturing process. The flavours are natural and free of colouring agents.

Brussels Rules!

Brussels is a refreshing destination this summer, but not only because of its urban beach. Throughout the summer, every Friday from 5 p.m. to 11.30 p.m., the Apéros Urbains or animated afterworks are held in some of the most attractive spots in the city. Also featured is the Midis Minimes classical music festival, with daily concerts lasting 35 minutes from 12.15 p.m. (until 28 August), held in the Church of Saint-Jean et Etienne aux Minimes and in the Conservatorio Real.

Come and experience it for yourself. Come on! Pick up your towel and check out the flights to… Brussels!

Text by Scanner FM

Images by Eric Danhier

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