Brussels is the unofficial “capital” of Europe, and it is a city that is no stranger to risks, making it a perfect location for us to show off our risk-mitigation solutions at inspire EMEA, which takes place Nov. 7-9 at the beautiful Radisson Blu Royal Hotel.
You Go, Hugo
To get a sense of the city’s rich history of “risky” propositions, look no further than the world of literature. In the mid-19th century, for instance, if it weren’t for a small Brussels-based publisher, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece “Les Miserables” might not have seen the light of day. As the Paris Review recently explained, an upstart Belgian publisher was able to persuade a local bank to let him borrow 300,000 francs (the equivalent of $3.8 million in today’s currency for an eight-year license) to pay Hugo for the rights to publish the book in what was “probably the first loan ever made by a bank to finance a book.”
On top of that, the young, risk-taking publisher made this move without even having read the book. And the ending was truly a surprise because Hugo, who was in exile at the time, didn’t finish the novel until he traveled to Brussels. Needless to say, the book has become “master of the [literary] house” if you will and has been “doling out the charm” to readers for generations.
Incidentally, the place where “Les Miserables” made its stage debut in 1862 is just a three-minute walk from the conference hotel at the Théâtre Royal des Galeries. The theater was rebuilt in the 1950s, but the current look features a stunning red seating area with a beautiful ceiling fresco of clouds painted by the great Belgian artist Rene Magritte who you might remember as the guy who drew a self-portrait with a giant green apple covering his face.
By the way, Magritte also has his own museum in Brussels—The Musée Magritte Museum, which is about a 15-minute walk from the conference—and features some surreal examples of Magritte’s risk-taking in his art, including the paintings “L’ellipse” and “L’homme du Large.”
Take in a Taxi
And more recently, one must look no further than the proposed eco-neighborhood that Vincent Callebaut Architectures has designed to be built in the famous Tour & Taxis area to find an example of risk. The area boasts the largest maritime station in Europe as well as the Royal Depot and The Sheds. Tour & Taxis is located about a 10-minute drive from the Radisson Blu. Even though the eco transformation won’t be done anytime soon, there’s still lots to do at Tour & Taxis. Keep an eye on the calendar to see what events might be going on before, during or even after inspire. But even if there are no events planned, there are also many design and jewelry stores and restaurants for you to check out—as well as a spa! The planned Callebaut project speaks directly to sustainability as the structure would include three “vertical forests”—daring architecture for sure—positioned on curvy structures that look like something that cartoon daredevil Bart Simpson might ride down on his skateboard. He can do that; he’s a cartoon after all!
After touring Tour & Taxis, consider taking a 10- to 15-minute taxi ride north to check out the Atomium. An impressive-looking structure consisting of nine spheres that represent what an iron crystal would look like if magnified, oh, 165 billion times, this tourist attraction has been wowing visitors since the 1958 World’s Fair. This 300-plus foot tall building is nothing short of an awe-inspiring homage to scientific progress. The original plan was for the structure to be dismantled after six months, but nearly 60 years later, the Atomium is one of the most iconic sites in Brussels.
There Be Hergé
Comic strip fans will also recognize the many risks reporter/explorer Tintin has taken over the years—including the search for a sunken ship in the 2011 Steven Spielberg film “The Adventures of Tintin”—as the protagonist of the funny-page classic with that same name. The comic is the creation of the late Hergé (real name Georges Prosper Remi) who was born in Brussels. Today, fans can visit Hergé’s work at the Museé Hergé located about a 30-minute ride from the conference in Louvain-la-Neuve.
A Grand Place to Visit
Before you venture too far away from the hotel, you definitely want to check out the Grand Place (majestically pictured at the top of this blog), which has seen its share of risky business over its long history. Located in the heart of the city, this magnificent square traces its history back to the 10th century with many improvements and rebuilding projects along the way. It was Charles Buls, Brussel’s mayor in the late 19th century, who is credited with helping to bring the Grand Place back to all its historically grand glory. You can find his statue—he’s petting a dog and holding a book—at a fountain a few blocks northeast of the Grand Place, but before you head over there, make sure to stop by the Manneken-Pis fountain near the Grand-Place. We don’t know what that little bronze guy’s going to be wearing or not wearing in early November, but it will be quite a relief when we find out.
Chocolate, Waffles and Beer
Brussels is known for many things, but probably more so than anything else is its gastronomy. We’re talking chocolate, waffles and beer. Nothing risky about that. According to Conde Nast Traveler, there’s no better place to get your fill of chocolate goodies than a stop at Mary’s place. The Mary Artisan Chocolatier has been indulging its customers with cocoa-bean creations for nearly a century. There you can try, among other things, the chocolate langues de chat (cat tongues), which actually look more like chocolaty tongue depressors to us but who are we to argue with good-old Mary? There are many locations in Brussels, but if you want to check out the original one Mary Dullac started way back in 1919, head to 73 Rue Royale. It’s only about a mile west of the hotel.
When it comes to Belgium waffles, there are actually two types of delicacies that might be a little different from what we are used to “across the pond.” A traditional “Belgium” waffle is, as Travelfreak.net explains, a “fluffier, lighter waffle with deeper pockets made from yeast-leavened batter.” The other Belgium waffle, called a Liege waffle, looks more like a typical waffle fry only more sugary, dense and chewy of course. To experience some of these decadent dishes, try the Maison Dandy tearoom, about a mile southwest of the hotel. You can also pick up some speculoos (crunchy biscuits) to enjoy later.
If waffles and biscuits aren’t your thing, how about a beer instead? Opened in 1928, the A La Mort Subtite cafe, for one, offers some unique Belgium beer-drinking experiences from the cherry and peach beers it has on draught to the Grimbergen Optimo Bruno and Grimbergen Tripple bottled beers that pack a punch with 11 percent and 9 percent alcohol levels, respectively. If you’re hungry, you can pair your beer with a “crinkly lettuce with bacon” salad or a “Cannibaal” sandwich—which apparently is the equivalent of steak tartar on bread. Curious? Lucky for you this Belgium brasserie is around the block from the hotel.