BRUSSELS: A Royal “Laeken” Walk

Having arrived in Gare de Bruxelles-Midi at 11:43 AM, I rushed to the EGG Brussels to search for lunch, which turned out to be an office, no more no less. I was shocked of how silly I was. I walked slowly back to the station under the Belgian light rain, which was enough to soak my head.

The neighborhood in Anderlecht, one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region. Brussels welcomed me in a rainy weather.
The neighborhood in Anderlecht, one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region. Brussels welcomed me in a rainy weather.

Looking at the surroundings while walking was and still is my habit when traveling. I thought of how many months it took them to build those buildings, how many years it took them to build the whole neighborhood, how many decades it took them to build the standard for these buildings. I wondered.

The Process of Choosing

Only 5 hours I had before the next iDBus to Amsterdam around 6 PM, hence, I chose only one destination to go to. I spent half an hour in a fast food store to search for where to go, how to get there and why that place is my sole choice in Brussels.

I am always a culture seeker kind of guy, so I wanted to visit the central of Brussels, hence, I would be able to visit famous monuments and could acknowledge my friends and family (via Facebook) that I had been to Brussels really by those touristy photos. And the central is close to many museums which excited me.

However, none of those options made into my list.

After a few days in Paris, being exposed to those timeless monuments and famous attractions, I was ready for a more indie type of adventure. I wouldn’t go to the famous Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, or Brussels Town Hall. I craved for a less touristy spot.

I chose Laeken.

Entrance to the Castle of Laeken, one of the most important architecture in Laeken.
Entrance to the Royal Palace of Laeken, one of the most important architecture in Laeken.

Laeken is a municipality of City of Brussels, located in the north-west suburb of the city, which took me significantly 15 train stops to get there. The easiest way is taking the number 3 line, hopping on the train at Gare Du Midi station, almost only 200 m away from the station, the enjoy the journey by reading book or shuffling your playlist until the train stops at Araucaria then walk to the Laeken area.

The Process of Going-With-The-Flow 

I got lost a lot while traveling in Europe. This time in Laeken was one of those moments, but one of the most tiring one thanks to my 25-kilogram-baggage on my shoulder. I walked a lot during my traveling, but walking was not a big issue until you got a heavy weight on your back. I struggled with the weight under constantly pouring light rain, which made me feel like giving up and going back to the train station.

A view on the Park of Laeken, typical view in Laeken area.
A view on the Park of Laeken, typical view in Laeken area.

Luckily, I somehow accommodated with the weight by relaxing myself.

From castles to monuments (which fulfilled my thirst for touristy moments) and greenhouses, there were indeed a multitude of relaxing areas in Laeken municipality. All of which are covered in shades of green. This Laeken is like a lung of the whole City of Brussels, being displayed on the map as a huge green area dashing up by few architectures to balance the natural and artificial beauty.

Many Shades of Laeken

Royal Palace of Laeken, official house of the royal family.
Royal Palace of Laeken, official house of the royal family.

It is an understatement to say there are only a few architectures in Laeken. There are many. One of them, Royal Palace of Laeken has been housing the Belgian Royal Family. This palace was not available for external visit at the moment I was there, but its majestic beauty was hard to deny.

An overview of the domed greenhouses.
An overview of the domed greenhouses.

In my perspective, the most impressive architecture wasn’t a singular architecture but a complex of architectures Serres Royales de Laeken (Royal Greenhouses of Laeken), built by Belgian architect Alphonse Balat. The significant aspect of this complex was not because of its jaw-dropping glass designs, which sparkles in rainbow colors under sunlight, or the huge area that contains it; it was thanks to the limited access to the greenhouses, and the rich variety of plants inside.

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The colorful glasses that shine under sunlight.

So fortunate I was, having a chance to visit the Serres Royales de Laeken during its limited-3-week-opening a year (17/04/2015 – 08/05/2015).  

But the luck wasn’t with me for so long. Due to the one time per year opening period, visitors including locals and tourists came like flocks of bird. It was a long line waiting to enter the domed greenhouses while the rain didn’t spare anyone. With my 25-kilogram-baggage on me, the wait was even painful to take. But at that moment, I just put my earphones, ease my brain and rub my shoulders as a soothing remedy.

I was so happy entering the dome but it was full of visitors, which I could not complain. Because I was eager myself to contemplate the most beautiful flowers.

A view in the Jardin d'Hiver (Winter Garden) of the greenhouse.
A view in the Jardin d’Hiver (Winter Garden) of the greenhouse.

The greenhouses have many ways to display their plants, inside a dome which reminded me of Pterosaur’s dome in Jurassic Park. 
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Or they were displayed along the sidelines in a hall and vineyard-like above our heads.

Strelitzia reginae or Crane Flowers in the royal dome.

Inside the gigantic glass buildings are numerous quantity of flora species. You can find from temperate to tropical plants, thanks to the heating from over 800,000 liters of fuel oils for heating every year. From fern to banana trees, which remind me of my country, to beautiful flowers like Strelitzia reginae, which is my personal favorite. I specifically loved the harmony in the photo above, the giant old pillars and the lively greenery surrounding them, made such a contrast between artificial beauty and natural one, between past and future. Because the plants will grow and die and grow again, while the pillars would be solidly standing there witnessing all, like the unchanged past. It was a moment of reflecting on life I had during the “Royal Laeken Walk.”  Probably, the only moment I had during my Europe trip. Despite the weight on my shoulders, my mind was lurking into another world. They had it right that green can soothe someone’s mind.

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Thinking deeply about life didn’t stop me being touristy. While exiting the greenhouse, I stopped by the “Orangee” restaurant for some refreshment and bought a souvenir which was a book on the complex of greenhouses. Most of the detailed information mentioned in this article are taken from it.

It was also a personal traveling habit. Instead of magnets, statues, vodka shot cups, I buy books on the attraction that I have visited, in order to look at the information that I missed, to read about it and to live the memory again.

Notable Monuments in Laeken

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Before entering the Royal Palace of Laeken, there was a photo taking worthy, Monument of Dynasty opposite to where the royal family stayed.

As seen on the cover of this article is the Eglise Notre Dame de Laeken (Church of Our Lady of Laeken), a neo-Gothic Catholic Church, built as a mausoleum for King Leopold I’s wife, Louise-Marie.

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Overall, green was something that Laeken proudly possessed, and it had satisfied my desire for a peaceful afternoon. Then, it was about time to head back to the station heading to Belgium’s northern neighbor.

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