We were also ready for the rain to stop. The backpacks were loaded underneath the bus with each change and by the time we reached the airport, both packs were a muddy mess. Once we arrived in Belgium, it was a forty-five minute bus ride from the airport to Gare du Midi, our main bus station. From Midi, we take the Metro to our stop for the street where the hotel is located – all while rain was drenching us from head to toe. It ended up being one full day of wet and muddy travel! BUT, we were now in Brussels and ready to explore. At the corner of the Rue de l’Etuve and the Rue du Chene, stands the fountain of Manneken-Pis (which is Dutch for the “little pee man”). This cherubic statue is adorable. Standing a lofty 24 inches from the top of his curly head to his chubby little toes, this naked fellow is one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks. Bending his knees and smiling with glee, the Manneken Pis stands forever happily peeing into the fountain. He actually has over 760 different outfits to match special occasions in the city. Heads of state from visiting countries traditionally bring along a Manneken-sized version of their national costume. Some of his more popular attire includes Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Nelson Mandela and St. Nicholas.
The story of how Wee Manneken found a place to perpetually pee varies with who tells it, but one story we both liked had a little boy saving the city from enemy explosive attack by wetting the burning fuses, much in the same manner he portrays to this day. The lucky little guy is often hooked up to a keg of beer and cups are given to people passing by during certain festivals. We were most disappointed to learn this week there were no such festivals.
Taking a walk to find a nice place for a drink, which we seemed to be doing quite often these days, we turned from a small side street. It was there, without a doubt, we’d stumbled upon the most singularly spectacular sight we’d seen so far – The Grand -Place to the French, the Grote Markt area to the Dutch. It was a good two minutes before either of us spoke. Our jaws simply refused to close – it was that stunning. The Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Filip II of Spain wrote about the square during her visit to Brussels on September 5th, 1599: “Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square of the city where the town hall rises up into the sky. The decoration of the houses is most remarkable “. That’s exactly what I would have said, too if I could have actually formed a sentence.