Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Brussels; The Atomium

Hi guys! If there is something I usually don't have time to do when I travel but really want to is go to museums. Why? Mostly because the people I travel with are not interested (hey let's go grab a beer on a terrace and stay there all day) or not organized enough (come on man why would we wake up at 8am?). Since this time I was traveling alone I decided to treat myself out by visiting the Atomium, especially constructed for Expo 58. Today it's a museum and some of the conserved installations of the area have been converted to other uses.

So I took a tram all the way there because it was pretty much the easiest way. On the way there I discovered a more suburban Brussels, passed by some factories, and saw a park so huge I thought I was going through the countryside.

World's Fairs are all about "Go big or go home". Now that most cities are fully urbanized we have to get more and more creative and find ways to insert wow-factor architecture into the existing fabric. Back in the days though, taking down whole neighborhoods was easy (who cares about the poor), we could construct lands (think about Expo 67 in Montreal, the whole area are artificial isles) or just go to some place slightly remote and find ways to bring people there with a train, a tram, or the subway. And this is what they did in Brussels, going to the border of Flanders to develop a whole land and dedicate it to one of the most pompous events that can occur in the history of a country.

So I got off the tram and started walking I don't know where. I was following the signs. When I thought I had reached the entrance of the Expo 58 area, I realized the whole thing smelled like the glorious years : I was greeted by parking lots.

Wonderful right? Nothing says warm human hug like seas of empty parking lots. No awesome gate with the Belgian coat of arms. No welcome sign. No nice green pedestrian way with flowers and baby deer walking around. No. Just freaking parking lots. Like "Welcome back to the 50s".

Oh look! I can see it from here! At least I know I'm not lost.

As I was walking towards the Atomium I must have looked pretty weird ... like who's that girl WALKING alone through parking lots? Couldn't she grab a freaking car? Well no, this is 2014. People walk now.

At least I discovered some of the Expo 58 buildings. Like this amazing piece, located right across the Atomium (if you're facing this, the Atomium is behind you). This is the Palais des Expositions, and the basins and landscape layout in front is called Place de Belgique.

And then this thing. So huge. So shinny. So mesmerizing. I felt like a kid again. Just so you know, the Atomium was designed on an unit cell of an iron crystal. True story. Why? Because at that time the Belgians wanted to point out the benefits of the pacific use of nuclear energy (medical scanner, production of electricity, etc.).

So you get into the museum (after paying your entrance ticket, in the small building on the left) and guess who greets you? Spirou! A photographer takes your picture with one of your favorite childhood heroes (I don't know for you, but I grew up reading the Spirou and Fantasio comic books). I don't have a picture because there was a group of like 20 or so kids coming in (and other reasons explained later in the post) so I didn't want to bother the photographer and ask him to snap a pic of Spirou and me with my own camera. I should have though.

Before seeing the actual exhibition, you get into an elevator that brings you up a few floors so you can see the remains of Expo 58 and, if you're good enough, recognize some of Brussels's buildings. Actually you don't have to be good since there are plans all over the place telling you what you're looking at.

See the Palais des Expositions? Beautiful from ground view, it looks sort of pitiful next to the buildings surrounding it. Not that it looks small. But it looks like they don't belong together.

The elipse shaped building on the left is the King Beaudoin Stadium. And what looks like little houses is actually part of an amusement park, the Mini-Europe. I believe it's the restaurant and boutique area.

This weird looking thing is the Mini-Europe. An amusement park that offers everything for everyone. It's not La Ronde, obviously, and it's made on a much smaller scale, but it's got fun for the whole family.

And here begins the 360 tour.

Can you spot the business district?

Just a reflection of one of my favorite shirts.

What is this ... I can't even ... Oh, it's the Trade Mart. Nevermind.

When you're done gazing upon Brussels and the Expo 58 landscape you start traveling from a sphere to another through tubes to discover the exhibitions. The permanent exhibition is all about the glorious 50s and, more importantly, the Expo 58. Not only do you go through the process of the design and the construction of the Atomium, you also get to see models of some of the buildings of the Expo, which for most of them are not around anymore. The temporary exhibition then was Mobilia : 100 Years of Design from Belgian Architects. As a fervent fan of design it was just perfect for me. For that group of 20 obnoxious hyperactive kids it was a pretty terrible idea.

Oh, and at the end, when I took the elevator down, I got my heart broken. Remember the picture I took with Spirou? Some lady was there, waiting for me at the souvenir shop, showing me two copies of the picture and a terrible key chain with the picture in a small piece of plastic ... I think the whole set was like 10€. I said no because I didn't want to spend 10€ on that kind of crap. I think they should send us a copy of the picture by email or ask us, while we go out, what we want and the number of copies, print them in front of us, and we pay for it. It totally broke my heart when she threw the stuffs away in the garbage because 1. I don't have a picture of me with Spirou and 2. as a freak of sustainability seeing things like that makes me mad. Such a waste. But anyways. My advice: ask the damn photographer to snap a picture of you and Spirou with your personal camera.

Outside was another temporary exhibition : Artview#2. It's basically a piece of contemporary art designed to invite people to interact with it.

Since I'm not a selfie person, this is a terrible attempt of me trying to take an artsy selfie.

After visiting the museum I started walking towards the Chinese pavilion and  the Japanese tower, part of the Museums of the Far East, one of many realizations of dear King Leopold.

Oh hai there Poseidon. Let me take a break because my burning knees can't take it anymore.

Oh god, so close!

I must have been the luckiest tourist in Brussels : everything was under renovation!

At least there is some sort of park outside for the children! But I was the only one around, walking between the buildings and in the garden ... I looked suspicious as fuck.

DAT GLARE. It's in situations like this I realize that despite the advanced equipment I own, I most of the time don't have the actual proper equipment for certain days and certain kinds of picture.

And so that's it for today guys! Once again I've totally bombed you with way too many pictures. As I said in previous posts, there is just way too much to see in Brussels. I think you should take a look at the Atomium's website ( and look at the pictures in the different sections. Especially the ones that show the escalators in the tubes when we go from a sphere to another ... it's totally cool!

Until next time!

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