Monday, August 15, 2016

Brussels does Japan: The re-flowering

Two years ago, after a lot of planning combined with a dash of luck, I finally had a chance to see the Brussels' biennial flower carpet.  This is when the city of Brussels takes what is, in my opinion, the prettiest square in all of Europe and dolls it up with a couple million begonias.

Every two years, there is a different design.  In 2014, the theme had been a celebration of the Turkish rug. With its jewel tones and symmetrical pattern, the flower carpet was glorious.  The hotel I'd stayed in was both funky and fresh. The weather had been (mostly) good. Overall, it had been a great trip which I remembered fondly and mentioned every time someone brought up Brussels in conversation.

That is exactly what I did when a coworker told me she was thinking of going to Belgium.  Realizing that it was an even numbered year, I pulled out my phone to check for her when the carpet would be displayed.  It was that very weekend!  She was off the weekend after- too late for a carpet that is only on around for four days -but in a twist worthy of one of the crappier M Night Shyamalan films, I did have the next couple of days off.

From that second, it was clear what I had to do.  I immediately booked a hotel, not the funky one, it was full, but another one within blocks of the Grand Place. I got myself a spot on the Eurolines bus.  I mentioned my plan to a friend. He was available and wanted to go. I booked his ticket too.

He mentioned it to another friend. Friend #2 wanted in so I booked him...and he told a friend who told a friend who told a friend.  Pretty soon, I was running a flower carpet based travel agency. When all was said and done, there were six of us running for the bus to see what this year's offering was going to be.

We arrived early enough on Friday that I thought we might see some of the process that goes into making these temporary masterpieces.  Nope. After dropping off our bags and stopping to sample the first of many Belgian ales, we arrived at the square at 1pm to find a fulling formed carpet.

The fine city of Brussels did not disappoint.  This time around they had thematically continued eastward, this time to Japan. The carpet featured a reference to the country's flag, a crane (the Japanese symbol for happiness and eternal youth), koi fish and what might be posies. 

We marveled at this beauty from all angles, going as far as to sneak into the Hard Rock cafe's top floor for the best free view available.

Most of us had been to Brussels before so we spent the next two days doing a greatest hits walk for the benefit of the newbies.  Of course, we started with The Urinator, Mannequin Pis...

...and continued on from there.

Thanks to a free walking tour we did, we learned that the art nouveau building that houses the Musical Instrument Museum also has a rooftop cafe with a spectacular view and more of those enviable local ales.

This was the view from our hotel room.  In  the summer of Pokemon, I was jazzed to find out this was also a Pokestop.

During the same tour, we learned that the peeing boy has a female counterpart across town.
Jeanneke Pis is located down an alley by the Delirium Tremens complex.  She gets no crowds, no cute outfits and nary a magnet or keychain.  So much for urinary equality.

But as all roads lead to Rome, all our wanderings would lead us back to the Grand Place.  Each time, the carpet brought a new wave of oohs and aahs. That is its superpower, to impress anew each time you see it.  I awoke early Saturday morning to beat the crowd and go up to the City Hall viewing balcony to catch yet another perspective.

It was official.  The Brussels Flower Carpet does not have a bad angle.  Not a one.  It could selfie itself from any direction and not have to use a filter.  I'd now lucked into being able to witness this not once but twice in my lifetime.  The next one, in 2018, will be the 20th anniversary.  Let's see if I can keep the streak going...

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