Just like we weren’t planning on visiting Luxembourg, we weren’t counting on going to Brussels, either. But as we were doing one of those go-with-the-flow, ‘let’s just turn off anywhere that looks interesting’ weekend trips, Paul thought I might like to see the Atomium.
If you’ve met Paul before, you might be surprised that he’d even agreed on a road trip through Belgium. Now, how do I say this without stepping on any Belgian toes? The second-most popular search term to find this blog is ‘I hate Belgium’ due to this, this and this post, and the amount of hate comments I’ve gotten on them is quite ridiculous, if not slightly comedic.
But I’m going to say it anyway. As soon as we crossed the border (which is only 25 minutes south of Dordrecht) Paul pretty much started sweating profusely. The first bump on the highway sealed the deal and out came the usual line; ‘Welcome to a third-world country’.
So when Paul says that he thinks that I’d like to see the Atomium, he actually means ‘let’s go to Belgium’s biggest tourist attraction and have a great big laugh’.
Yes, after two years in the country Paul is still the most stereotypical Dutch person I know.
In our case, however, the Belgians had the first laugh. We could see the Atomium off in the distance, sort of in that ‘Big Ben kids… Parliament’ way from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, but we just couldn’t figure out how to drive up to it.
(As an aside, I used that analogy when tour guiding last weekend in Paris, as we kept seeing the Eiffel Tower popping up all the time. AND PEOPLE ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD, WITH NODS AND LAUGHS. Small tour guiding victory.)
Around and around we went, with us constantly seeing the carpark exit with a big ‘FERMÉ’ sign blocking its way. Then we’d see a couple of metallic baubles poking over the trees. Paul was getting stressed, and I was ready to throw in the towel. I’d kind of seen the Atomium by then, albeit from the car. But Paul was a man on a mission, and Belgium was not to defeat him. Eventually we pulled up in a random neighbourhood, with its only redeeming feature being that it offered free parking. And off we set on foot.
After fifteen minutes, we approached the long boulevard down to the Atomium, which boasted a multitude of car spaces. I had the wisdom to keep my mouth closed.
So we walked, and we walked. And when we got there, we looked up and saw… well, exactly what we’d seen for the past forty-five minutes, only closer.
You can go into the Atomium, but we really weren’t that interested. I don’t understand science at all and am past the point where I’ll have someone explain it all to me. Plus, Brussels is horribly ugly (the main square is gorgeous but go to Antwerp for a nice Belgian city) so the view wasn’t set to inspire, either. So we just stared up at the silver balls.
The Atomium actually has quite a cool history. Even though it looks quite modern (it’s supposed to represent a single cell magnified 165 billion times) it was actually built in 1958 for the World Fair. Yep, Paris built the Eiffel Tower for their World Fair in 1889, Barcelona constructed their Magic Fountain in 1929, Seattle came up with the Space Needle in 1962 and Brussels gave us some silver balls.
So that’s what we contemplated as we walked back to the car, in the rare Belgian sunshine. Silver balls.
Thanks Belgium. You never disappoint.