Big City Tales

A Showcase of Palaces, Parks and Political Institutes in Brussels

March 13, 2018
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As the home of the King of Belgium, the unofficial capital of the European Union (EU) and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the city of Brussels, Belgium has its fair share of palaces, parks and political institutes to showcase to the world.

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Here a Palace, There a Palace

Unlike Buckingham Palace in London, the Royal Palace of Brussels is not the residence of the Belgian monarchy. It is, however, the official palace where the King exercises his duties as Head of State, grants audiences and conducts other general affairs. The palace hosts large receptions in the State Rooms and also provides lodging for foreign Heads of State.

The Palace of Charles of Lorraine was occupied by Charles Alexander of Lorraine, governor-general of the former Austrian-Netherlands region in the 1700s. Today, the palace is a museum that contains five main halls and features a grand staircase leading to a large main floor rotunda with an elaborately decorated floor and painted ceiling.

Here a Park, There a Park

Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large, urban park that includes a monumental arch and a U-shaped complex. The park was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence and sits on 30 hectares of land that is decorated with gardens, ponds and waterfalls. The statues in the central arch were constructed of iron, glass and stone with the intention of demonstrating Belgium’s economic and industrial success.

Praised as a destination offering a botanical, historical and cultural experience, Josaphat Park is divided into three sections: the historical park, the great lawns and the playground area. There is also a series of sculptures and open fields for sporting events and concerts.

Brussels Park is located next to the Royal Palace and the Belgian House of Parliament and is home to several public buildings and monuments. It is the largest urban public park in the city and is surrounded by a double row of lime trees.

Here a Public Institution, There a Public Institution

As previously mentioned, Brussels is home to the EU and NATO.

The city hosts the seats of the European Commission (EC), Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers), and European Council. The EC manages the day-to-day business of the EU as well as proposes and implements legislation and maintains various treaties. The Council of Ministers represents the governments of the individual EU members and primarily oversees budgetary matters, as well as foreign policy and macro-level coordination of intergovernmental EU affairs. The European Council defines the EU’s high-level political agenda and is more strategic in nature.

As for NATO, it dates back to 1949 and is a military alliance comprised of 29 European and North American countries. The basic mandate of NATO is to defend its members in the event of attack by a third party, but the entity also advocates for creating more trusting relationships with non-participating European countries and the former Soviet Union via its Partnership for Peace program.

La Piece de Resistance – The Grand Place

OK, it’s not a palace, park or public institution, but you can’t write about Brussels without mentioning the Grand Place, the city’s central square. Surrounded by guild houses, Old Town Hall and the King’s House, the Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe.

Guild Houses

Some of the guild houses are: House of the Corporation of Bakers, House of the Oath of Archers, House of the Corporation of Brewers, and House of the Corporation of Sculptors, Masons, Stone-cutters and Slate-cutters. In addition to guilds, there are also a number of private homes on the streets around the Grand Place.

Town Hall

Town Hall is noted for its asymmetrical design with the main tower being off-center. It also has the distinction of being the last standing Medieval building in the square.

King’s House

The King’s House is also referred to as the Bread Hall because it was the location where bread was sold dating back to the 12th century. Since the late 1800s, the building is home to the Museum of the City of Brussels.

Flower Power

Every two years the inner square area of the Grand Place is converted into a massive floral carpet made up of millions of begonias laid out in colourful patterns. The display takes place in the month of August and lasts only for a few days but attracts thousands of visitors eager to take in the splendid sight.

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The Loveliness of Small Cities in Liechtenstein and Luxembourg

March 1, 2018
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While the monarchies of Liechtenstein and Luxembourg may not garner the same attention as other European royalty, there is no denying the loveliness of the small, yet very regal-like capital cities in their respective countries.

Liechtenstein

Nestled in the mountains between the countries of Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries with a total population of under 40,000 people.

Vaduz is the capital city and is located along the Rhine River. The city’s most famous landmark is Vaduz Castle, home to the prince of Liechtenstein and his family. The castle sits atop a steep hill in the middle of the city and is easily visible from all directions.

Every August, the royals host a huge party at the castle to celebrate National Day and the Feast of the Assumption. All residents are welcome to take part in the festivities that includes food, fireworks and festive costumes.

Other points of interest include Government House, City Hall and the Cathedral of St. Florin. Visitors to the city and other parts of Liechtenstein will note that there is a daily mandated relaxation period between the hours of noon and 1:30 p.m. with “quiet time” strictly observed.

Luxembourg 

As the world’s only remaining Grand Duchy (its head of state bears the title of Grand Duke), it seems fitting that Luxembourg and its capital, Luxembourg City, exude old world charm. In fact, owing to the preservation of ancient city quarters and fortifications, Luxembourg City’s Old Town district was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along with Brussels and Strasbourg, Luxembourg City is one of the designated capitals of the European Union (EU) and is home to the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank and other EU institutions.

Some of the popular sights to see in Luxembourg City are the Royal Palace, the Place d’Armes, and the Adolphe Bridge, with its large central stone arch and lovely views of the gorge forged by the Petrusse River.

Outside of the capital region, fans of fairy tales will enjoy the numerous ancient castles that dot the landscape. Vianden Castle, located in northern Luxembourg, has been fully restored to its former glory and is noteworthy for being one of Europe’s largest and most beautiful fortified castles.