Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brussels - Places, Platzes and Pissers

The Grand Platz is considered by many to be the most beautiful public space in Europe. In the 17th century a French king positioned his cannons on a nearby hillside and, using the tall spire of the town hall, even at that point in history several hundred years old, as a target, bombarded the original plaza. In great irony the spire survived, the rest was reduced to rubble. The local guilds rebuilt the square resulting in the breathtaking group of facades visible today. On one side of the Platz stands the imposing rebuilt town hall, it's ancient spire remaining intact to this day. It is not difficult to understand this space's UNESCO world heritage status.

Along the way to the Platz we stop for our second taste treat. Belgian waffles served at a sidewalk stand. The vendor takes our picture as we take our first bite. We return on the way back to the hotel for seconds.

We head down a small side street off the Platz to view the famous Mannikin Pis. We pause to touch the inside of the mouth of a sculpture of a bronze dog for luck. My partner cannot resist and attempts to stick his entire head in the beast's mouth.

We come upon the diminutive fountain. A young boy standing high on a wall urinates, for centuries now, into a small bowl beneath him. Much loved by the city's population, we read that at certain times of the year he is adorned with different costumes appropriate to the season. This day he stands in all his naked glory. The street around him is being worked on. The tourists are forced to share the street with heavy construction machinery.

Shops abound in this area selling all manner of souvenirs relating to the fountain. Pens, bottle stoppers and magnets share space with the countries trademark lace. We choose a letter opener, to join yet another collection of ours, and two small lace butterflies that grace a ornament laden garland which hangs in our living room window during the holidays.

This day, like the others on this trip, is sunbright and warm. We're informed later, by a local, that this is one of only a few sunny days the city has seen since spring. We visit the ancient, beautiful, spare cathedral. We take a break, resting on a bench on the edge of a park overlooking the old portion of the city which surrounds the  Platz and it's towering spire, visible rising above the venerable buildings. Across the street, atop a hill, sits a fantastic structure of glass and lacy cast iron. Another example of the city's Nouveau heritage.

We descend the hill searching for a late 19th century shopping arcade mentioned in the guidebooks. We ask a local chocolatier for directions to it's location. He replies "You mean that?" and points across the street at a colonnaded facade emblazoned with the name of the building. Much embarrassed we go inside. It is long and narrow with a barrel vaulted ceiling of leaded glass. Upscale shops line it's sides. It is divided in the middle by a small street. Caryatids recline above the doorways of the two halves. Outside, along the stone street which divides the arcade, are restaurants with outdoor tables and chairs. Each restaurant has a neon sign hanging over the street. We resolve to eat at one of them the following evening. If for no other reason that to experience this neon lit spectacle at night.

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