Well, these are maps which are as good as any tourist guide but actually they are so good that they are also souvenir in themselves. That means, when you are visiting a city then in search of a good souvenir, you first get a souvenir in form of a map. And these are no normal maps. These maps are now turning 10. USE-IT, the tourist info for young people, will soon celebrate its first ten years in European capital Brussels. They’re a household name for city maps made by young locals, with no-nonsense tips for how not to be caught as a tourist in Belgium. (Nope, we don’t have fruit on our waffles.)
These maps are starting to conquer Europe, and the research team Expeditions has measured the impact on tourism in the entire network. Does alternative city info really make people move outside of the city centre? Do they stay longer? And what does this imply for the local economy? The results were very positive, and Brussels stands out. 59% of users say they went further from the centre indeed. Desk personnel at hostels and the tourist infos confirm. 86% think also that off-the-beaten track information boosts the investment in the local economy. Furthermore, 14% of the young tourists extended their stay with one or more nights, and nearly everybody (97%) would like to get the same kind of no-nonsense info on their next city trips.
When asked about their best experience in Brussels, the maps’ local tips are mentioned more often than the tourist classics. Highlights include the panorama on top of Parking 58, the vegetable garden on top of the Albertina library, a walk through Molenbeek, going out at Bonnefooi until the morning, and pissing in the public urinal that’s built against Sint-Katelijne church.
The survey ran in the entire European USE-IT network (more than 40 cities) and Brussels came out on top. Of the 4,000 respondents, one out of three had already used the Brussels map. Strikingly, a large number of them (38%) was also motivated to start up a USE-IT map for their own city.
“The creative side of Brussels speaks to many tourists’ hearts, and USE-IT embodies that side well. As Alderman for Tourism it’s important that we support young innovative teams. So we’re proud that these city maps have spread out all over Europe from Brussels,” says Philippe Close, the Alderman of Tourism in Brussels.
The USE-IT headquarters is stationed in the Galerie Ravenstein, where it attracts more than 20,000 travellers per year. Apart from all the European free maps, visitors also get tips about nightlife there from the young Brussels volunteers, or they head out together for a walk along the Anderlecht supporters’ bars or the latest genital graffiti in town. Anything but the Manneken Pis.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Pride.be, celebrated on the 17th of May 2015, Manneken-Pis will be on show at his very best. In fact, during the MiniPride celebrated in Brussels on the 30th of April, which is a prelude to the PrideFestival, Manneken-Pis will be dressed by the timeless fashion legend Jean-Paul Gaultier.
The celebration of 20 years of Pride.be, from the 1st to the 17th of May 2015, does indeed promise a nice array of surprises, one of them being that Jean-Paul Gaultier, one of the great names in the fashion world and activist of the LGBT community, has designed and created a new outfit for Manneken-Pis for the occasion of the anniversary of Pride.be.
Best of all, the ‘enfant terrible’ of fashion will present his Pride.be anniversary gift in person since he will be gracing the MiniPride with his presence that very same day!
The MiniPride will, as usual, inaugurate the PrideFestival on the 30th of April. And that is when the new outfit of choice for Manneken-Pis will be unveiled to the world.
After the reception at the City Hall, which will start at 19.30, the procession will make its way to the center of Brussels led by the Meyboom band following a new route specifically designed for this 2015 edition. The parade will have its first halt in front of Manneken-Pis at 20.00 when the public will have its first opportunity to admire Manneken-Pis dressed in his master piece created by the famous fashion designer.
Lastly, after the tour around the city, the parade will end with a big party at Smouss Café hosted by DJ C-Snow.
As a reminder, in 2015, Pride.be will include:
The MiniPride (30stApril)
The PrideFestival (from 1st May to 17th May), two weeks during which the LGBTQI community will be putting on a whole host of activities throughout the country.
Three days of festivities (from 14th May to 16th May) to close the PrideFestival:
To every comic lover the name Tintin brings an exciting feeling. Steven Spielberg’s- The Adventures of Tintin- The Secret of the Unicorn, released last year might have renewed interest in Tintin’s country and even inspired a few to be there. Surely, whether you love comics or chocolates, Belgium is a traveler’s delight. And, it certainly has a lot more to offer.
Belgium is the country which gave birth to Tintin. Capital Brussels is fondly called as capital of Tintin by comic lovers around the globe. It all started here when Georges Remi, who would go on to world acclaim as Herge, was born in 1907. Here he grow up, went to school and created his first comic strip. Brussels was his life and obvious source of inspiration. In 1929, Herge first breathed life into his most celebrated hero Tintin in Le Petit Vingtieme (The Little Twentieth), the weekly youth supplement to Brussels-based newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle (The Twentieth Century). Believe it or not, since 1929 some 230 million Tintin albums have been sold and adventures of this diminutive reporter have been translated into around hundred different languages to date. No wonder, Tintin has the stature of the world’s best-known Brussels resident.
But then, comics in Belgium is limited not just to Tintin, they also have stars like Smurfs and they have a created a huge following of… no, not comic lovers but of comic strip writers. It’s statistically said that with more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than any other country in the world! It is here that the comic strip has grown from a popular medium into an art in its own right. Nowhere else comics are so strongly rooted in reality and in people’s imagination. You can feel it everywhere you go in Belgium. It can be said that the heart of European comic strips beats in Brussels.
This also gives a completely new dimension to travel the land photo-represented mostly by Manneken Pis. Belgium is among the countries that love their art and are most happy to display it publicly. Belgium has indeed been home to many legendry artists like Jan van Eyck and Peter Paul Rubens, but going around in Belgium, it is street art that will fascinate as much as the Graffiti street at Ghent or MAS at Antwerp. And it is certainly not surprising for a country which shed its inhibitions centuries ago to glorify a pissing boy as a mythological icon. And as if it was not enough, went ahead in creating a feminine version as Jeanneke Pis, albeit just about twenty five years ago. It might not be as celebrated as its illustrious partner and there might not be that many visitors as the historical male version attracts, still it sheds light on the inclusive culture of the city.
But then, Brussels was the last stop in my Belgium trip, where my encounter with Tintin was destined. My tryst with Flemish art started well in Bruges during the boat ride in its canals for which it is also called as ‘Venice of The North’. I could see interesting sculptures and paintings along the waterway for full public view. I started enjoying the way art was mingled in the daily life of Flemish people. So much so that I even almost missed the setting of dog scene of the movie ‘In Bruges’. But luck was my way and I managed to even catch that beautifully.
But it was Graffiti street in Ghent that I instantly fell in love with. Had googled about it before the trip and every search result had in fact brought impatient me to the fore. It was something, I haven’t seen anywhere before. A street overflowing with all kind of colourful and expressive graffiti from top to bottom and start to finish, not just on the side walls but on the walkway itself. In it were some finest expressions of feelings, emotions, ideas and ideologies. I was fortunate enough to see some young artists at work. Perhaps it was also the playing ground for all budding comic strip artists of Belgium. They way different graffiti co-existed and were overwritten again and again every time, I couldn’t help thinking that it was where they were sowing the seeds of tolerance within the society.
Antwerp was more of a happening city, often termed as fashion capital or the diamond capital. Here comic art was live and intriguing. You can find all kind of exhibitionists on roads- from pretty guitarists to masqueraders who can fool you (or rather impress you) with their Vincent Van Gogh. Since Belgium is everything about chocolates, you can find all types of experiments with them from body paint to cartoon characters. In Neuhaus chocolatier at Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert I found a whole range of Tintin comics packaged with chocolate boxes. Kids will just love it.
Brussels’ comic museum is a huge draw for the tourists coming to Belgium. Every year more than 200,000 visitors come here to explore 4,200 m² worth of permanent and temporary exhibitions. At the Belgian Comic Strip Center, you will witness the unusual marriage of the Ninth Art and Art Nouveau, two artistic forms of expression which have always been particularly cherished in Brussels. Besides Tintin, this kingdom of the imagination is home to some of Belgium’s best-known comic strip heroes like Spirou, Bob and Bobette, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, Marsupilami, etc. They are one big happy family of paper heroes. Belgian Comic Strip Center has become the number one reference for comic strip lovers. It is also a modern research centre which boasts more than 40,000 titles (albums and theoretical works) in more than 20 languages.
But then, as in other cities of Belgium, in Brussels too, comics are not just limited to comic strip museum. Going down the Stoffstraat towards the Manneken Pis, you may find comic scenes drawn across the whole height of side wall of a four-five storey residential buildings and in one of them I even found Tintin coming down a four storey ladder. Ofcourse, when it comes to comics and Tintin you will never escape them when you are in Belgium.
Capital city Brussels is one of the most well connected European cities from India. We have direct, non-stop, daily flights from all the four metros to Brussels. Once in Brussels, Belgium is well-connected through roads. Driving there is fun through the countryside, a typical European one- lush green. Brussels to Bruges was just a few hours’ drive and then Bruges to Ghent, Ghent to Antwerp and Antwerp to Brussels, every bit worth enjoying.