Friday, July 24, 2009

Europe's great travel secrets..

Brussels was just a nice place to stop and buy a waffle on the way to's a city of 1.8 million, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO and the political center of the European Union. It may be easy to skip as you zip from Amsterdam to Paris by train, but its rich brew of food and culture pleasantly surprises those who stop. Its magnificent grand square, rightly named La Grand Place, alone makes a visit worthwhile.
Brussels has its silliness, too. Its mascot is the Manneken-Pis, a fountain statue of a little boy who lives up to his name. You'll find him three blocks off La Grand Place, possibly wearing some clever outfit. By tradition, countries send him costumes from around the world. Cases full of these are on display in the City Museum on La Grand Place.

The Atomium, another of Brussels' offbeat attractions, looms on the edge of town. This gigantic, silvery iron "molecule" has escalators connecting the various "atoms," fun space-age videos and a view from the top sphere. If you're scared of heights or tight spaces, tell your friends you'll wave to them ... from the ground.

If you're hungry, muscle your way into a restaurant to order mussels in Brussels. They're served everywhere. You get a big-enough-for-two bucket and a pile of fries. Use an empty shell to tweeze out the rest of the mussels.
Belgium is split between Wallonia in the south, where they speak French, and Flanders in the north, where they speak Flemish, a dialect of Dutch. French-speakers have often dominated the national government, which irks the Flemish, who comprise about 60 percent of the Belgian population. The longstanding rivalry has made it increasingly difficult for the Belgian Parliament to form a stable coalition government. One prime minister recently said that Belgians are united only by the king, a love of beer and the national soccer team.

While the Belgians debate their unity, Brussels is the administrative center of the European Union. It hosts business people from around the world -- only Washington, D.C., has more lobbyists. When Europeans have a gripe, this is where they demonstrate. The European Parliament, a towering complex of glass skyscrapers, has 785 members representing 28 countries and more than 450 million citizens. Take the audioguide tour. It's exciting just to be here -- a mouse in the corner of a place that aspires to chart the future of Europe.

Located at the foot of the Atomium, MINI-EUROPE is the only park where you can have a whitlestop tour around Europe in a few short hours. A truly unique voyage ! Stroll amid the typical ambiance of the most beautiful towns of the Old Continent. The incomparable chimes of Big Ben welcome you to the heart of London. The gondolas and mandolins will invite you to discover the charms of Venice. Follow the T.G.V. from Paris to the other end of France. You can make the models work yourself : the eruption of Vesuvius, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bullfight in Seville and many more… In total 300 models and sites in a quite unequalled craftmanship. Also don’t forget to visit the European Space full of interactive multimedia games.