Monday, September 1, 2014

The Brussels Flower Carpet: A sweet smelling layer of awesomeness

What happens when you take the prettiest square in all of Europe and make it even more spectacular for a weekend? That is a question that is answered every two years when artisans create a floral carpet in Brussel's Grand Place. Sounds nice but somehow the term 'floral carpet' does not really capture the magnitude of what is taking place.

On odd numbered years, a scale design is created and calculations are made determining how many flowers and what colors will be needed to execute the plan.  Then, in the month of August, on even numbered years, 120 volunteers have four hours to place close to a million begonias directly onto the cobblestones into a pattern that will soon be seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Nope, that explanation is not capturing it either. So...you've got this baroque square that is impressive all on its own, only now you are adding a sweet smelling layer of awesomeness right in the middle of it all.  One that, despite a year's worth of planning will only last for four days.

My point is that this is something I really wanted to see but with such a limited window of opportunity- just 4 days every two years- had never managed to pull off.  Until now.

I had a day off from work, an Amsterdam-Brussels bus ticket, a reservation at the incredibly cool Mozart Hotel and a plan.  I was going to see that carpet.  

Arriving in the city around 6pm, I wanted to run straight up to the City Hall observation balcony to view this long awaited vision, only I had friends that were already in Brussels, so it seemed only right to meet them beforehand for a drink.  Build up to the big event, as it were.  One intoxicating Belgian beer led to another and then another- I think someone may have ordered fries- then another until it dawned on us that it was almost 9pm and the evening's light show, which we had planned on attending, was about to begin.  

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to locate your hotel, the one where your camera is, when it is located on a little windy side street off a square crowded with wall to wall people and your IQ is hovering somewhere around that of a special needs hamster? 

Suffice it to say, we missed the light show, the City Hall observation deck closed on us and I'm pretty sure we ordered more fries.  But the good news is that at this very late hour, everyone else in the city had already gotten their fill of the flower carpet, leaving us a clear- albeit slightly blurry- view of the star attraction.





Pretty damned amazing, right?





Area man ponders the 2 for 1 Leffe special.
The following morning I woke up with a strong disdain for Belgian beers and all things fried but also with a plan to go on a free walking tour.  I so wanted to go up to that observation deck but it would have to wait.


Instead, we walked through Brussels' famed galleries.....


Checked in on a local incontinent child, who was all dressed up for a celebration of the newest Delirium Tremens bar...



Came across a parade in honor of the very same bar opening....



Belgium's most impressive 'stache, also the work of much planning and probably a good number of volunteers





Stopped by the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula...


And eventually got caught in a massive rain that sent us all running underneath a tree.  What if this continued? What if the flower carpet came undone and washed away into all of those evil bars? What if they didn't but the observation tower was closed?  Why had I booked a bus ticket home that same evening? Shit.

Our guide concluded the tour underneath the tree as we all waiting for the rain to stop.

Thankfully, it did and he was able to lead us to a lookout point, at the end of which was a funky street fair.


Like an ADD chipmunk, I now wanted to check out the fair.  Veg food, live music, cool jewelry...I wanted it all.


But the clock was ticking.  It was now or never....or at least not for another two years.  With just hours before I was to board my bus back to Amsterdam, I rushed back to the square.  Finally, I was in the line to go up to the observation deck. The slow moving line snaked through the many rooms of the City Hall building and the few glimpses out the windows suggested that the weather might be improving.

It was not until I made to the balcony...the balcony... that I realized just how beautiful the day had gotten.  And there, before me was IT.  The 2014 Brussels flower carpet, inspired by the artistry of Turkish carpets, lay there before us.  Even more glorious then I imagined.  More breathtaking than my hazy drunken memories had led me to believe.







My favorite square in all of Europe turning it up to 11.  I may have waited to the last possible minute, but I had finally made it.

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