I got off the plane, looking forward to some real Belgian waffles for breakfast. But first, I had to make it downtown. I stashed my bag in the lockers and grabbed the train. Since the information desk wasn't open yet, I didn't have a map, but that's ok. When I came up downtown, I relied on the niceness of the Belgian people to get my waffle. I asked some lady where the best waffles were, and she pointed me to a place right next to Mannekin Pis. Since he was on my list of things to see anyways, it worked out perfectly. I grabbed my waffle and walked 5 steps over to the fountain. There were a ton of topping choices, so I asked the waffle maker to give me the "most Belgian" toppings. Apparently, that means no toppings at all. The waffles were really good though. I had seen on food network how they put some sort of sugar chunks in there so that they caramelize just right. Also, they're made of a dough that you tear chunks off of, not a batter you ladle, like in the US. They really are that good and they don't need toppings. Mannekin Pis would have been anti-climactic, had I been expecting much. It's basically a (tiny) statue of a boy peeing. I'd seen pictures, but didn't realize how small the statue was. Plus, it's behind a big fence so you can't get that close. Eh, I got my picture and moved on. Neuhaus was right next to Mannekin Pis. The entire street was lined with tourist shops and chocolate shops. I love Neuhaus and I love our Belgian IT vendor who always brings Neuhaus when they come visit. So, I forewent the Neuhaus since I've had it. I tried some of the free samples in some of the generic stores, but they weren't that impressive. Sure, they clearly were European chocolate, not the waxy US chocolate, but they just didn't compare to my Neuhaus. I eventually ended up at another one of the big 3 Belgian chocolatiers- Leonidas. Again, I let the Belgians guide me. I asked the lady at the counter to fill me a small box with whatever her favorites were (other than coffee flavored stuff). She did a really good job picking chocolates out. There was a passionfruit one (I adore passionfruit), other fruit flavored ones, ones with exciting toppings, and some with all sorts of creams, including one that is a new fad. As I went through the day, I savored my box, one chocolate at a time. Totally worth it. Of course, being a foodie, when I saw a cheese shop, I didn't hesitate to stop in, even though I had just had breakfast and only hit food sites so far. It was exactly how I imagined a little European cheese shop. There were two ladies working behind the counter, taking people's orders, cutting the cheese and slicing the meat to order. There were all sorts of interesting cheeses there in all sort of interesting colors and patterns. I saw some marked "tallegio" and almost got a chunk of that, as I loved it in Italy and can't get tallegio that tastes the same in the US. However, my unwitting Belgian guides had done right so far, so again, I put my choice into the hands of the experts. The lady at the cheese shop picked out a very strong gruyere with just the right amount of grit to it. I began nibbling on it as soon as I got out the door, and nibbled on it all day. I was pretty amused that I was carrying cheese around alternately in my pocket and my purse. Now, on to enjoying the rest of the city. I wandered around town, pretty aimlessly for a while. The architecture in the city is so neat and varied! There are some very ornately decorated buildings, especially at the main square. There are also some more modern buildings with very cool designs. A couple of them have unique footprints to maximize the surface area so that more people get sunlight. Overall, it was a pretty architecturally diverse and exciting city. I'm sure that if I knew more about architecture, I'd have pages to say about the buildings. Since don't, I can just say that they were cool. There were a ton of souvenir shops selling the same standard souvenirs (postcards, magnets, hats), an then some that were selling Belgian "specialties" like chocolate. I saw a bunch that sold carpet bags. I was inclined to get one so I could feel like Mary Poppins, but after that feeling wore off, I'm pretty sure I'd have no use for it. There were also many lace shops, including one that sold lace umbrellas. That one made me scratch my head because a lace umbrella won't keep either the rain or the sun out very well. I suppose if people were throwing large chunks of confetti, it might do something, but other than that, I'm not sure they really have much of a use. One of the buildings on the main square holds the city museum. It's worth the couple of Euros to get in. I learned a ton about the manufacture of Belgian porcelain, saw some Belgian tapestries, and learned about how and why the city was built the way it was and what the designs in the older architecture mean. The two highlights though were the stained glass windows and the Mannekin's closet. I wish I could have taken pictures of the stained glass windows, but the docents were keeping a sharp eye out and caught me before I was able to get my camera even turned on. The windows were all part of a series. Each held the name and emblem of a different location or perhaps house. (I'm not really a history buff, so I don't know what they were at the time of the creation of the art, but I recognized names like Austria, Roman Empire, Sardinia, and Andalucia.) The windows were just so artfully designed and so colorful that they really stood out from other stained glass. The Mannekin's closet is on the top floor. At the entrance, they have a whole booklet of legends behind the Mannekin Pis. Really, nobody knows why it's there, but there are a few rather interesting possibilities. As for the MP's closet...basically, it holds outfits that the Mannekin has worn over time. There's about one outfit for every country, plus ones for sports teams, special events, and anything else you can think of. There's one that looks like a bellboy full suit. The one catch is that all of them have a hole sewn into them so that the boy can still pee through the hole. It's a little bizarre. When I was done there, I was walking around aimlessly again, and I was noticing that restaurants were getting ready for lunch. They were all setting large ice boxes out front and filling them with seafood. I know the city is known for the mussels, and I guess this is the restaurants' way of showing off how fresh theirs is. I also had been noticing walls with comic strip murals all over the place. I figured, if they're that into comic strips that they mural their exterior walls with them, I might as well stop by the Comic Strip Museum, even though it wasn't recommended for non-French, non-Flemish speakers. The museum is locate in a very cool building. This one has stained glass ceilings and is open enough that you feel outside, even though you're inside. Even if you don't hit the museum, the building is worth seeing if you're into that sort of stuff. The museum itself isn't spectacular, and probably isn't worth the price if you have anything better to do, unless you're hooked on TinTin. I didn't have anything better to do though, so I was fine with it. There are a few displays that show how a comic strip is created, which I thought were neat. There are a ton of original comic strips from the beginning of comics, but since they're all in French or Flemish, I didn't really get a ton out of that. On the other hand, there are some displays set up so that you can feel like you're in a comic strip and get your picture taken like you are. Those were fun. The rest of the displays were about a few specific comics. I now know more about TinTin than I ever wanted to know or could ever possibly need to know. Downstairs, they had a bookstore that just sold comic books. After seeing what a big deal TinTin was upstairs, I thought I'd buy a TinTin comic book for the road. They had TinTin postcards, dolls, posters, and about a kazillion books in French and Flemish. However, in the English section, they had Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and Maus, all of which I already own. The only exciting thing there was that they had Agatha Christie mysteries in comic form. I picked up Murder on the Nile, as it seemed most fitting and I had never read it. I also noticed that they had posters and post cards of topless women just hanging around, even though in the US, some of that stuff would be relegated to an "18 and up" section or covered in some way. I guess the culture is a little different over here. By this time, I was hungry to the point where noshing on cheese and chocolates would not suffice. I put myself into the hands of a couple of students this time, but their first recommendation was McDonalds, which was not happening. They recommended another location and I headed over that way. At the Brussels grill, there were a few items on the menu marked with a Belgian flag. I'm guessing that means they're the "more Belgian" menu items. I ordered one. Imagine some really good homemade mac and cheese. Now, stick it in a blender until it is a puree, bread it, and fry it. That's basically what I got. It was interesting and good. From there, I caught the metro out to the Atomium. I knew nothing about it, other than it had atom in the name, which was good enough for me. OMG I loved it! Basically, it's a large structure that looks like a molecule and was built for a world's fair. Each atom is a room full of displays. Each bond is an elevator, escalator, or set of stairs that you can take to get between the different rooms. First, they take you straight to the top. The elevator gets you there pretty quickly. I think I got from the base to the top faster than the elevator at work goes one flight. The view from the top is decent. I didn't think there was anything that spectacular to see, and the windows were a little dirty, but it was still cool. I did see somebody hanging from the building, cleaning the windows on my way in, so I don't think it stays as dirty as it was today. Then, you come down and get to see the exhibits. I thought they were great, but that's because I'm a science geek. I think that in order to really appreciate the exhibits, you have to be a history, art, or science geek. Otherwise, it's probably not that exciting. There was a cute exhibit on the status of Belgium and the world the year that the structure was built for the history geeks. There was an exhibit on the history of the technology at that time and how new devices were starting to change people's lives. They had some pretty old appliances on display that I found fascinating. There was also an entire room dedicated to the technology of shapes, just for the math and art geeks. Any museum that has a display dedicated to a hyperbolic parabola wins in my book! Even the gift shop was neat. There were a ton of very artsy postcards as well as some from that era. Anybody for a Viva Las Vegas postcard with Elvis on it? They even had atomium dot graph paper, which I promptly bought as a gift because that's just awesome. I got myself some artsy dog-shaped holder thing. I headed back down town with just enough time to check out the park and a palace before heading back to the airport. I ended up having to wait at the airport longer than I usually like to, but I really didn't have anything else to see in Brussels and my next flight was not one I was willing to even risk missing. Brussels airport seemed really small and not busy. I got through uneventfully, boarded the plane, and was on my way to see the cousins!