Fear is the worst reason not to travel.

My employer is sending me to Europe for some meetings at the end of April, and I shared my excitement to Facebook after I received my booking confirmation.  “Airfare for Germany: Booked. Bazinga!”   Most of the comments were the usual sort.  People want to know when and why I’m going.  A while after the initial post, one of my old buddies said this:

“Are you sure you wanna travel there right now?”

My initial response was flippant- “Germany and Switzerland are fine.  It’s not as if I have a business meeting in Syria.”    The more I thought about it though, the more I wonder how many of my friends truly think that the world is that scary right now.       This response, one of trepidation, is almost certainly because the Brussels bombings have been in the news for the last few days.  Before that, it was Charlie Hebdo.  Or the Boston bombing.  Or any number of attacks in various places that seem like they should be safe.  If you believe the news, everything is terrible and we’re all going to die any minute now.

If you watch the news in the US, it’s all fear, all the time. But that’s not the reality.  It’s no more dangerous to go abroad right now in most of Europe than it is to walk alone at night in a major city in the US.   Be aware of your surroundings.  Travel with common sense about your personal security.  And stop worrying about the statistical unlikelihood that you might meet a terrorist.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable or nervous anywhere I’ve been in Europe.  In Germany, I worked side by side with Muslims and I never felt like they were doing anything more objectionable due to their faith than abstaining from the wonderful German beer that was all around us.   Since 2011, I’ve traveled to more than two dozen countries.   The only time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable was in Cairo, and that was mostly because of the terrible terrible drivers.    And the pushy people along the Nile who want to sell you stuff.

Fear is the worst reason to stay at home.   There are so many wonderful things to see out there, and if you let the news give you nightmares, you’ll miss all of it.

Have you ever felt nervous in an unfamiliar city?

The Art of the Brick

When my friend Charlotte was in New York, she went to an Art of The Brick exhibit.  She posted about it on her old blog back in April.

Art of the Brick is an exhibition of art by Nathan Sawaya.  Rather, it’s a series of exhibitions.  There are currently exhibitions in New York, Miami, and Dublin.  I caught the Brussels exhibit in its last weekend there.  Everything in the pictures below is made of Lego brick.

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What’s the biggest Lego kit you’ve ever built?


Mini-Europe and the Atomium

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Brussels is Mini-Europe.  Mini-Europe is exactly what it sounds like-  a 24,000 square meter park next to the Atomium in Bruparck containing models of well known structures from throughout the European Union, built in a scale of 1:25.   It’s delightfully cheesy and wonderful.

Also, I made new friends there!  The couple who sat down next to me on the metro on the way there turned out to be a Canadian couple who were traveling Europe, and we wound up hanging out together for Mini-Europe and the Atomium.  Hi, Chelsea and Andrew!


I was really curious after seeing this as to what the telescope looked at.  It turns out that it’s a slide-show about the history of the telescope.


Throughout the park, there are boats, cars, trains, and various other things in motion.  This boat caught my attention because the dude in the front-left seat is wearing a Stormtrooper helmet.  Unfortunately, it was too fogged up for me to see who else might be hiding in there.


This is the Grand Place in Brussels, depicted here with the carpet of flowers that is put down every second year.  It will happen this year around August 15th.


The Belfry in Bruges.   The big metal structure behind it is the Atomium… I’ll get back to that.


Random sailing ship!


At various points around the park, there are local outfits you can “try on.”  Near London, there was this traditional uniform of the Queen’s Guard.  Naturally, I couldn’t resist.  (Special thanks to Andrew for snapping this shot of me.)


London.  Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


The Eiffel Tower.  Even at 1:25 scale, Eiffel’s Tower was enormous.


The Arc de Triomphe, Parisian version.


Sacre Coeur, also from Paris.  The Funicular was running, too!


La Mancha!  Check out the tiny Don Quixote and Sancho Panza!


The Leaning Tower of Pisa.


Scientific exploration?  This is part of the detail on the Leaning Tower.


Venice.  The Doge’s Palace and the Campanile tower.


I think this Gondolier needs a little help.


A tiny recreation of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Prague‘s Old Town Hall, containing the Astronomical Clock.


Athens, Greece.


After we were finished with Mini Europe, we stopped briefly at the gift shop, where Chelsea spotted this happy little kitty hanging out on the roof near the exit.


When these workers stepped into the pool in front of the 16th century Castle of Chenonceaux (France),  all I could think was, “Giants in the playground!


…and then it was time to go to the Atomium!

The Atomium was  built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Its nine stainless steel wrapped spheres are connected to form the shape of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.  Four of the spheres contain exhibits, and the topmost sphere is a 360 degree observation deck and restaurant.  There’s a webcam on top, at a height of 102 meters, if you want to check it out.


The Atomium has perhaps the best “You Are Here” maps I have ever seen.


…and the views are unparalleled.  This is looking out from one of the spheres back toward Mini Europe.


This is the view straight up from the base of the Atomium.


And because I never get tired of the Atomium, here’s a shot from further afield that I took later in the day.


…and a rare picture of me standing in front of a landmark.  I much prefer being on the other side of the camera.


Have you ever been to Mini-Europe or the Atomium?

Brussels, Belgium

My trip to Belgium included a bunch of time spent in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union.  It’s a fascinating city.  I arrived via high speed train to the city around 5:30 in the afternoon.   Walking to my hotel from the station, I found something interesting in less than ten minutes-  this building’s angel/demon stone-work was just fascinating to me.


After I dropped my stuff off at the hotel, I went back out with my camera to see a bit of the city.  I also had a specific goal in mind, but I’ll get to that in a moment.  On the walk into the city, I found this Pop-Up Restaurant.  It was set up temporarily in front of the Le Monnaie De Munt, a rather nifty looking theater.  The Pop-Up Restaurant was set up so they could film a television show, according to the signage.  I briefly considered trying to get a table before moving on.


Walking further toward the Grand Place, I spotted this rather amusingly named restaurant.  It had pretty typical food on the menu and I almost had dinner there one evening, but changed my mind at the last minute.  Also, I thought the eggs were regular decoration, but they were just there because it was Easter weekend.


I wandered from there into the Grand Place.  It’s pretty hard to miss this enormous square.  The Town Hall has an enormous pointy bit.  I did not climb the pointy bit, as you had to make a reservation in advance to do so.


I mentioned above that I had a specific goal in mind for my walk through the city on the first evening.  Most everyone has heard of Manneken Pis, the famous statue of the little boy peeing.  That statue is widely associated with Brussels, and is one of the symbols of the city.   There are two more peeing statues, though:  Jeanneke Pis, a little girl peeing, was put up in 1987, and Zinneke Pis, a dog peeing, was put up in 1998.  I decided when I left the hotel that I wanted to find all three before sundown.

Zinneke Pis was the first one I found.    The tile Space Invaders art drew my attention to the corner before I spotted the dog on the corner.


Someone asked me if it was a male or female dog.  I can say with authority that it is most decidedly a male dog.  You just can’t see it in this camera angle.


Next up is the Manneken Pis.  This one is marked on sightseeing signs and tourist maps, because it’s the most famous of the three.  This fountain was erected in 1619, and they dress it up in various costumes several times per week.  There was no costume while I was there, which surprised me because it was Easter weekend.

This is not the only Manneken Pis; there are others in various cities in Belgium, and one in Tokushima, Japan which was a gift from the Belgian embassy.


I saw so many replicas while I was in the city, including one made all of chocolate, and this one dressed up for the World Cup later this year.


Moving on from the Manneken Pis, I found my way next to Jeanneke Pis, erected in 1987 very close to the Rue des Bouchers, which is a narrow street full of restaurants.   Jeanneke Pis is not far from the Grand Place, and it is regrettably behind locked iron bars which makes getting a good picture of her somewhat difficult.


Jeanneke Pis is basically across the street from the Delirium Tremens Beer Bar and Cafe,  which made this a perfect time to stop for a nice Belgian beer before dinner.


I tried the Delirium Nocturnum, a strong delicious dark beer with an 8.50% alcohol by volume.  Did I mention it was delicious?


After leaving Delirium, I decided to look for some dinner before retiring for the night.  Passing by it, I saw the Beurs, the Brussels Stock Exchange, which is the location of the Art of the Brick Lego art exhibit.  I’ll come back to this in another post, because I checked out this exhibit right before I left Brussels two days later.


The next day, it was time for my actual tour of Brussels, led by a professional tour guide.  It started in the Grand Place, so here’s another view of that large plaza.

While I was waiting for the tour to start, I had a Belgian waffle covered in powdered sugar.  The powdered sugar made me cough, which caused me to be completely enveloped in a cloud of white powder.

Delicious high comedy.


Moving on, we walked past the Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula,)  which was completed in 1519.


This is a monument to King Leopold I, the first king of the Belgians.  He ruled from 1831 to 1865.


This is at the base of a very tall monument, but none of my other pictures came out very well.  The structure is the Colonne des Congrés (the Congress Column.)  The four corners are statues representing the four freedoms of Belgium- Freedom of the press, of religion, of education, and of association.

The flame is atop a Belgian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,  from World War I.


Moving on, we visited the Parliamentarium’s visitor’s center, which is all about the European Union’s Parliament and how it governs.  It was pretty neat, actually.  This first section represents the main structures in the three governing cities of the EU-  Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg.


How far is it to your home city? Vienna’s only 917 kilometers away…


The exhibit had a detailed model of the European Parliament’s seating arrangement.  Interestingly, the seating is not by nation, it’s by political affiliation.


I missed all but the last three minutes of this film about how the Parliament makes decisions because I was fascinated by shiny objects on the other side of the hall.  It looked interesting, though.


On the way back from the Parliamentarium, we passed the Triumphal Arch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire, but alas, we didn’t actually go into the Jubilee Park, so this is the best photograph I took of the Arch.


This… this is just an enormously large flower pot that amused me.


I ate at two different restaurant chains that I quite enjoyed while I was in Brussels.  The first was called Quick.  The face of the restaurant was emblazoned with a giant lit up sign that said “Quality Burger Restaurant,” and the sign made me skeptical enough to try it.  (“Challenge accepted!“) It turns out that it’s got all the soul that McDonald’s has given up over the years,  and the burgers were delicious beyond all reason.  The other restaurant that I tried was a healthy chain called Exki.  This place was utterly delicious-  it was a little like the Pret a Manger and Eat chains that are all over London, but with more hot prepared foods and a few other interesting choices like the Ubuntu cola in the picture below.  (It was decent, but Coke is still better.)  They name their sandwiches with people names, so my lunch as pictured below was John.  The chocolate brownie in the background was so delicious.

I am excited beyond reason that they’re opening an Exki in New York City.  You have no idea.


My next-door neighbor Lori sent me a link before I left for Brussels with a list of the top ten places to get a great view of Brussels.  One of those places was a parking garage called Park 58.    Entrance is free (because it’s a parking garage, not a tourist attraction,) and the elevator will take you right to the tenth floor.  From there, you have a fantastic view in almost all directions.  This is the view looking back toward the Grand Place.


On the other side, you can see clearly all the way to the Atomium.  The Atomium is really cool, and I’ll talk about my visit there in another post.


This statue is near Grasmarkt.  I didn’t remember to catch the plaque that explains it, but I quite dig the man’s mustache and his friendly dog.


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?  Yup!  I’m not sure why it’s in Brussels, but it’s in Place D’Espagne, and it’s a replica of the original statue in Madrid.


Last, but certainly not least, Brussels is another city full of art.  I kept noticing that the exposed sides of buildings were painted all over the city.  I only snapped pictures of these four, and there was one more of a swashbuckler that I wanted to go back for, but I didn’t have time.   I love that the buildings have this much character.  These four are in different places all over the city:


Have you ever been to Brussels?  What was your favorite thing about the city?