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Euro trip

The Chocolate Factory

I had never heard the term Benelux. That clearly shows my ignorance of the world geography and also raises serious questions about the preparation I had done before coming on this exchange program. From what I have been told by my roommates (or should I call apartment mates irrespective of the fact that the apartment has just one room), it is an acronym used for Belgium Netherlands and Luxembourg. Whatever it is, for me what is important is that it is a region full of natural beauty as well as culture. And the best part is that it can be covered to a good extent in a very short trip.

And that's precisely what we plan to cover this week. The main attraction of this trip is going to be the Belgian chocolates and the 'night life' in Amsterdam. The trip starts with Brussels, goes on to Amsterdam, to Rotterdam, Bruges and Antwerp and finally ending in Luxembourg.

For the people leaving from Paris here is a piece of info. There is a cheap route to Brussels through Lille. This way you can also avoid the (obsessively expensive) Thalys trains. Same applies for journey between Paris and Amsterdam.

Brussels (Bruxelles) looks like a modern town which is still trying to hold on to its past. Concrete high-risers share the skyline with historic cathedrals and medieval palace. Currently the head quarter of EU, it's a city of cobblestones roads. The cathedral here has played a central role in many royal and historical event. An architecture that is very similar to that of the cathedrals in Paris (especially the Notre Dame), marks this place as a good visit to start the day. The glass paintings here are more lively than I have seen anywhere. The artists have remarkably shown the depth in those, thus making more realistic like a 3D view.

The Museum of the National Bank of Belgium is situated on the road next to cathedral and gives historical as well as current perspectives on Euro; the currency of EU. It is free for all visitors on the weekends.

Grand Place is a central place that is surrounded by some of the most prominent buildings in the town. This central square is abuzz with activities throughout the day. The Hotel De Ville is main attraction here. LP narrates its story as the lone building that survives the attacks by French in 1695. Considering that it was the target of the attack, this survival gives a mysterious character to the place.

The Galleries St. Hubert situated one block north-east of Grand Place hosts some of the most famous stores in town. The display windows showcase the best of Belgian art and craft. It also has shops by some the most famous chocolate makers (Neuhaus, Leonidas etc being the most popular amongst them). Belgium is the Mecca for chocolate lovers. It's the source of the finest dark chocolates as well as rum and other flavors. The aroma of cocoa is in Bruxels' air owing to the umpteen number of chocolate shops. The chocolate fountains are too difficult to resist. If they say its the presentation that the truly defines taste of a dish, chocolates-makers seem to know this magic formula. I could not take my eyes off from the chocolate offerings because of the way chocolates are packed and served (and of course because of their smell). We still need to taste them though. They are too expensive and more importantly there are always threat of them containing traces of egg. :-(

MIM (Musical Instruments Museum) situated in the historical Old England (department store/hotel) is another must visit in Brussels. The highly distinctive building will catch your attention when you are passing through the road to the palace. The brochure to the museum describes the building as "Its entrance is a jewel of the art of nouveau style while the rest is in perfect harmony with the neoclassical ensemble on the Plalace Royale." Whatever it means, in my words - it's a beautiful building and you can not miss it while passing through this road. The MIM boasts of an extraordinary collection of musical instruments from all ages and parts of the world. The tour inside the museum is made more interesting by the audioguide that is provided with the entrance ticket. You can hear the instruments play harmonious music suited to their history. It's superb use of technology. You just need to stand in front of the exhibit and music automatically starts playing. The songs and tunes are chosen from best of authentic sources and really gives you an unmatchable experience. It is a place to experience music and I will recommend it to everyone.

Manneken Pis is another symbol that is synonymous with Bruxeles. The pissing boy is the picture boy for the Belgium tourism. The small statue is decorated in various attires to mark some key occasions (of course he is no more nude then, still the pissing goes on).

Atomium was built as an exhibit during the Bruxels Expo of 1958. It is 102-metres (335 ft) tall, with nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. The story is that this grand structure was meant to survive only the expo and the plan was to dismantle it after the expo. However, it attracted so much attention and love from the people that they decided to let it stay. A major tourist attraction (must see in my view, especially when the lights are on after around 7pm), this place is an engineering marvel. Also situated close to Atomium is the King Baudouin Stadium. It is used by Belgian national football team for practice. The floodlit stadium with lush green field is a treat to watch. We were lucky to see some team practice some shoots at the goal.

There are so many things and we had so little time before taking our train for Amsterdam. For the first time in this EuroTrip we found ourselves really feeling short on time at some place. We could not go to the Mini Europe. Situated close to Atomium, it has replicated the Europe at one place. You get to see the best of natural beauty, architecture and art in a miniature version. It is a must visit too, I heard. And then there are many other places as per the tourist map which we could not visit. One day is too short for this city. Still, we could not have done more. There are more places to visit, more colors to capture.

We left for Amsterdam in evening train. I guess our time at Amsterdam will need a seperate entry altogether as the life begins at midnight in Amsterdam.
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