on July 11, 2012
The Atomium is to Brussels what the Eifel Tower is to Paris, the CN Tower to Toronto, the Gateway Arch to St Louis. No, I don't mean a big useless obelisk, but the city's most famous landmark.It was built in 1958 for the World Expo which was hosted by Brussels that year. It represents a crystal molecule of metal, magnified 165 billion times, with nine electron spheres (each measuring 18m across) which are linked by thick tubes containing walkways and escalators. It has exhibitions and viewing areas inside, as well as a top-floor restaurant. The Atomium dominates an area on the northern fringes of the city called BRUPARCK - a vast park which is home to such attractions as the Planetarium and the Heysel Football Stadium. Then there's the Océade, an aquapark complete with flumes and wave machines, palm trees and sandy beaches, and bars by the poolside. There's also the Kinepolis, which claims to be the biggest cinema complex in the world with 29 theatres, including an IMAX theatre.As if that's not enough, there's an International Trade Fair, an Exhibition Centre, and Botanical Gardens. Not to mention acres of parkland.Hungry? --- The Village, next to Mini-Europe, has around 20 different restaurants and bars offering a wide variety of ethnic eating experiences.You can casually walk around most of the major landmarks of the EU's member states in an hour ortwo.The United Kingdom is represented by a North sea Oil Rig, Bath's Royal Circus, The Chunnel and many other models and sites. Why not listen to the chimes of Big Ben as you gaze wistfully at the Mother of Parliaments and wonder exactly what (if anything) goes on in the real version.Any area concerning France would not be authentic without the Eifel Tower, and it's no different here. There's also models of the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacre-Coeur, the Castle of Chenonceaux and a working model of the TGV, as well as many more.Italy is well represented with the leaning tower of Pisa, the Palazzo Dicale from Venice and a model of Vesuvius complete with eruptions - the platform next to Vesuvius actually vibrates when the eruptions take place and can be quite a shock when you're not expecting it!Germany has the Brandenburg Gate, Trier's Porta Nigra, various castles, and a Berlin Wall which is demolished and rebuilt at regular intervals.Greece has the Acropolis; Portugal has the Torre de Belem and the Algarve; Denmark, a Viking village as well as Copenhagen; Sweden is depicted by Stockholm's City Hall; Finland has Olavinlinna Castle; The Netherlands is portrayed by Amsterdam, Veere and windmills galore; Eire has Cashel; Spain - Seville and Barcelona; Luxembourg by the Pont Adolphe; Austria the Abbey at Melk.Belgium?Not surprisingly, Belgium is featured more than any other nation here. There's Brussel's Grand Place, Middelburg, Dinant, Liege, Celles, Antwerp, Ghent and of course, Bruges.In total, Belgium has a disproportionate number of exhibits - 15 to Finland's 1.The preceding list is by no means comprehensive, merely a taster of the better-known landmarks. Of course, there are a great many landmarks that you might expect to be there, but which aren't.For example: The UK has Longleat House but not Buckingham Palace and Italy has the Villa Rotunda but not the Colosseum. I suppose there are limits to what could be included - or maybe the Colosseum was just too hard to make a model of?Some of the more fastidious visitors might wonder why somewhere like Edinburgh Castle isn't included, but wouldn't dare broach the subject for fear of entering into a political rant about the inequities of a 'United Kingdom' display that only has models from England, and none from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.Of course, the reason might be because the inhabitants of those places don't pay the same level of taxation to fund the UK or the EU as others ..... (aye right) or it could just be sheer ignorance.I suppose lots of people from all over Europe could feel aggrieved at the lack of representation from their part of the European Empire ..... with the possible exception of the Belgians!Another thing - how come the Denmark area doesn't have a model of Legoland?One of the advantages of visiting a place like Mini-Europe is the ability to compose photographs creating the illusion that the models are the real thing. The trouble is, once you're ready to snap that piccy of your loved one seemingly posing in front of the Eifel Tower, or, cliche of cliches, holding up the tower of Pisa, it spoils the setting somewhat when a group of grubby little oiks from a school outing come clambering over Stratford-Upon-Avon.That's not the only problem in composing that perfect illusionary shot. Almost anywhere you look in this Lilliputian landscape, the view is dominated by the giant Atomium, giving a totally surreal mélange of the scaled-up and scaled-down. If you'd been paying attention earlier, you'd remember that the the Atomium is an enlargement of an iron atom, which puns neatly into my next statement.It's ironic that a site of miniature versions of monumental landmarks is dwarfed by an enlarged model of something microscopic.In conclusion, Mini-Europe is quite an enjoyable way to pass an hour or two. If you have any interest in architecture, or you're impressed by the craftsmanship of the model-makers, then you can't fail to be impressed.Children might get bored rather quickly, but then that's nothing new.I don't think I'd make a special journey just to visit Mini-Europe, but there are so many other attractions in the Bruparck that combining two, or more, can make for a good day out.
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