Dispatch, Brussels: Discoveries, old and new

By Nadine Godwin
Brussels wall cartoonTravel Weekly contributing editor Nadine Godwin recently spent nearly a week in Brussels, using the Belgian capital as a jumping-off point for rail journeys to several cities. But there were a couple of days to discover, and rediscover, all sorts of things in Brussels itself. Here are some of her observations.

BRUSSELS -- I hadn't been in Belgium in years and could not wait to get to the Grand Place and the other sites in the older sections of this city, located in the area known as the lower town.

No matter how many new and appealing attractions a destination adds in the normal course of events, I remain a fan of the core touristic sites and love to return for what I call review sessions.

I did just that here.

With a travel companion, I also looked for good food.

And, with a guidebook, we followed parts of the walking routes that have been mapped out to make it easy for visitors to find the more than 40 cartoons that were painted on the sides of Brussels buildings beginning in 1991.

Belgians are over the top about the comics and even boast the Belgian Comic Strip Center, a museum dedicated to the art form, located in a gorgeous art nouveau building not far from the Grand Place. I visited the center, too, twice.

Brussels, EU ParliamentMy friend and I then headed to the newer parts of Brussels, in the section called the upper town, for a change of pace. I had previously strolled the upper town, but several new buildings, associated with the business of the European Union, had been constructed since I last visited.

Our self-guided itinerary took us east on Rue du Luxembourg for a look at the European Parliament complex that sits just behind the Place du Luxembourg.

On a beautiful, sunny morning, we wandered through all the public spaces around and among the big, modern, shiny glass-and-steel structures, which date from 1993. I admired the buildings, my friend not so much.

In this way we emerged in Parc Leopold on the other side of the massive structures. The park was both smaller and a little more au naturel than I would have expected for a government complex of such monumental dimensions.

Brussels, Old City overviewWe looked for a number of the area's other modern buildings, some also built for E.U. purposes. Suffice it to say, this is where much European business gets done, but it is not where Brussels' most beautiful buildings are located.

Walking back toward our hotel near the Grand Place, however, we stumbled onto the best way to get an overview of the Brussels lower town area, a nice conclusion to a relaxing day wandering the city.

For those who have not discovered it themselves, the viewing spot is just off Place Royale, on Rue Montagne de la Cour, still in the upper town, but with a great view of the older parts of the city, which actually are at a lower altitude.

The ornate spire atop City Hall, which stands in the Grand Place, rises well above all its surroundings.

My vantage point was across the street from another of Brussels' very appealing art nouveau buildings, the Musical Instruments Museum.

Housed in a former department store, the museum has a rooftop restaurant, an even better place for viewing the city's historical skyline.
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