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Off to Europe : Belgium : BRUSSELS BLOOMS

March 21, 1993

More than 400 tiny costumes have been created for the 2-foot-high boy in the buff, including a 1745 outfit of gold brocade that was contributed by Louis XV. The statue's costumes change regularly and are stored in the city museum. Tourist literature, available at the well-stocked trinket shop across the street, lauds the child as a symbol of the individuality, or informality, or irreverence, or tenderness, of the citizens of Brussels. If tour groups have only an afternoon in Belgium, they come here to form their impressions. In the land of Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck, Pieter Brueghel, Peter Paul Rubens and Rene Magritte, this is most widely known artwork. (Less known is the addition in recent years of an elder sister. She can be found, doing the same thing he is, at the end of a dead-end off Rue des Bouchers.)

In its capacity to induce perplexity, the Manneken Pis is rivaled only by the Atomium, another prominent city landmark. It looms north of town on the Heysel Plateau, surrounded by convention and trade fair facilities. Built for the 1958 World Fair, the spheres and connecting tubes of the Atomium were designed to represent the molecule of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It's made of steel and aluminum, weighs 2,200 tons, and this can be said for it: At least they didn't magnify the Manneken Pis 165 billion times.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 28, 1993 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 2 Column 5 Travel Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Brussels map--Due to an editing error, in some editions of last Sunday's Travel section a map of Brussels was missing a label identifying the Grand Place square.

But in the catalogue of sights to be seen in Brussels, the immodest statue and enormous molecule are extremes of strangeness. Inspecting most of the city's other landmarks, our traveler feels a happy, creeping familiarity.

The Cinquantenaire Arch, built to commemorate Belgian independence in 1830, puts Paris in mind. Some crooked, bohemian lanes of the central city recall some corners of London. The Galeries Saint Hubert--an 1846 glass-covered shopping arcade that makes a fine place for ice cream and people-watching--will remind some people of the much-admired steel-and-glass Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, even though the Belgian mall was the first of its kind in Europe.


In the shadow of the Atomium, a 4-year-old theme park called Mini-Europe offers perhaps the ultimate pan-European spectacle: about 100 detailed models of Euro-landmarks, each at 1/25th scale. With 18 holes and a few retracting drawbridges, this could be the world's greatest miniature golf course. But it's fine as is. For a $12 entree fee ($9 for children under 11), visitors can tower over the windmills of La Mancha, stand half as tall as Big Ben, and peer down with a blimp's view into the bullring of Seville.

For a more first-hand experience, a lazy traveler can lounge at the Place du Grand Sablon, southeast of the Grand Place, while pedestrians stroll past art galleries, pause at sidewalk cafes and perhaps admire the 16th-Century architecture of Notre Dame au Sa- blon church. On Saturdays and Sundays, one of the best-known antique markets in Europe takes over the plaza. On a typical weekday, luthier Antoni Jassogne labors in his shop, carefully repairing an old violin. Upstairs, someone is practicing the cello. And in the shade of a sidewalk cafe's umbrella, while a fashionable woman at the next table delicately fingers a green-stemmed glass, a fortyish man in slicked-back hair is looking over his sports page--and publicly flossing, with great savoir faire . Only a European could do this.


Then there are the museums. In the Museum of Ancient Art, the peasants of Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1567) stand frozen forever at their chores, joined on the walls by the full-figured females of Rubens, the telling portraits of Frans Hals, the deranged 16th-Century humanoids of Hieronymous Bosch and hundreds of further canvases that make up a mother lode of Flemish painting from the 14th to 18th centuries. In the immediately adjacent Museum of Modern Art, the works of Chagall, Picasso, Dufy, Klee, Matisse, Leger and, most prominently, the surrealist Magritte, fill eight floors and stagger the unsuspecting. (Instead of rising from the museum lobby, the galleries descend down the side of a hill, so that even when one stands on floor "-7" the room is filled with natural light.)

There are some 70 other museums in the city: a car museum, a musical instrument museum, a military history museum, a lace museum, a museum dedicated to Victor Horta, the turn-of-the-century architect who founded the curvaceous art nouveau style that sets apart many of the city's most-loved residential and commercial buildings. Further museums celebrate public transportation and comic books. ( Brussels: Too Damned Many Museums .)

There is also a great, white-columned opera house, a spectacular glass-domed former botanical garden that houses a cultural center for the French-speaking commu nity, and the Bois de la Cambre and Foret de Soignes, a contiguous city park and forest that cover about 11,000 acres, including lawns, lakes, a beech forest and a 14th-Century church abbey.

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