Monday dawned cloudy. There would be no museums open today. So we decided to do a walking tour of Brussels, starting in the Grand Place. Alan narrated from Rick Steves’ Amsterdam et al., which fortunately included a fart joke to keep the boys engaged. We learned about the buildings in the Grand Place – why do people insist on calling them medieval when they date to the later 1690s? We visited the original Belgian shopping mall, which originally charged admission. We saw a beautiful Victor Horta monument to the fin de siècle mayor who saved the Grand Place, which Leopold II (Boo! Hiss!) wanted to pave over to make a nice straight road to his palace. We ate chocolate.
Meanwhile, Mitchell biked to Oudenaard. You’ve probably never heard of Oudenaard, but it’s a hotspot of the spring biking season, the famed cobblestone classics. You’ve probably never heard of those either. But Oudenaard even has a museum devoted to the cobblestone classics. Tragically, as it was Monday, the museum was closed.
The rest of us had lunch at a creperie and pondered what to do next. Our options: a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, which had essentially nothing to do with Brussels, or the European Parliament. Alan and I were interested in seeing that, and its interactive museum-like exhibition, miraculously open on Mondays, was supposed to be excellent. So we started trucking east. We crested the museum mount and passed the royal palace.
We headed into the Eurozone part of town. And there before us were the gleaming buildings of the European Parliament. We followed the green arrows for the Parlamentarium, donned left earphones attached to fancy media guides, and began the tour. Realistically, it would take hours to get through it all. It started with utopian federal ideas generated in the 19th century and heated up by the devastation of World War I, then they followed the process of forming the EU after WWII, and then there were vignettes from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and so on until the present from every EU country. Each of these had a text explanation and many had associated audio as well. The next floor involved information about EU representatives and programs. You could wheel a console around a map of Europe and pause it on a country of interest to get loads of data about that state. You could access the biographies of all the parliamentarians. You could sit in comfy, unmatched chairs and choose different stories to watch – I saw one on an Argentinian dancer who emigrated to Spain and opened a Pilates studio with EU microcredit, one on a Lithuanian park ranger who cares for storks, whose populations are healthy in eastern Europe, declining in the west, and one on an Irish dairy farmer who loves his cows. Alan confessed that he could have stayed there a day or two, but eventually we had to emerge for coffee.
We decided to walk all the way back to our hotel, detouring past the soaring cathedral where we heard the organist warming up for a concert. Mitchell was already back – he had biked up to the Parlamentarium but missed us.
It was Sharon and Alan’s 51st anniversary, so we went to a nice restaurant, Kom Bij Ma, drank bubbly, and celebrated their remarkable partnership. Many happy returns!!