Giant balls of steel, and a European Odyssey – review of the Atomium and Mini Europe in Brussels

 

As we prepared for our Brussels visit I kept coming across images of this massive strange looking giant atom structure. At 102m tall, this atom is magnified to 165 billion times the size of an iron crystal. Constructed out of 24,000 tonnes of steel, the nine spheres house a range of different functions. The Atomium is an imposing and intriguing structure on the outskirts of Brussels. 

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Atomium in Brussels

Not quite as high as our summer visit to the Burj Khalifa,  but with specular views nonetheless across the city of Brussels and wider Belgian countryside. We took the lift (once the fastest lift in Europe) straight to the top to see the 360 degree view. Hard to believe that this time last year Miss 11 was pretty terrified of heights. The ‘exposure therapy’ at the top of the Empire State Building last Halloween has worked its magic, as without a blink she looked out at the beautiful views across the area. It felt surreal to gaze below at these balls of steel with the sun reflecting off them. 

A number of the spheres house an interactive museum on the history of the creation. Initially built for the 1958 World Expo, the first one after the World War,  but so loved by the Belgian people that it has become a permanent feature in the Brussels landscape the Atomium feels a bit like a national treasure.

Connecting each sphere is a total of twenty tubes, some with light filled elevators that make you feel you are blasting off to the moon on a futuristic space trip.

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Other spheres host temporary art galleries and we were invited to the opening weekend of the Bruegel- a poetic experience. This immersive and interactive exhibition celebrates the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel, the famous Renaissance painter.  We enjoyed exploring his paintings feeling like we were part of the oversized images. The temporary exhibition is open until September 2020, check it out if you are in the area. 

 

Miss 11’s favourite ball was the mini spheres within a sphere that allow school groups to come and stay for a night in the little sleeping pods.  She loved that idea, and thought it a good one for a school trip.

 

An unusual afternoon, but one that is worth a visit if you are visiting Brussels, it is incredible to see the scale and size of the Atomium. 

 

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Next door, is Mini Europe, an opportunity to travel around all of Europe in a few hours.  What more could a wanderlust like me and Miss 11 want? Spending our time reflecting on the adventures we have taken, and where next to explore in Europe. 

Mini Europe is a miniature homage to the 27 countries that make up the European Union at a scale of 1/25 the size of buildings. We loved it, if you like the miniland in Legoland this will be a perfect location.  It is educational as well as entertaining, and the adults seemed to be enjoying it as much as the children, sometimes more so with the miniature trains, planes, and automobiles. A family attraction in many ways. 

It opened in 1989, and has been added to over the years as the EU has expanded, now with 350 models. There is something to represent every country, no matter how small. We travelled through Belgium, explored the Brussels we had seen in our walking tour the day previous in miniature form, visited Denmark, Sweden, and checked out where we had recently been in Amsterdam.

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Crossing over water, we arrived at the United Kingdom, visiting the Houses of Parliament complete with placard waving Brexiters, both for and against!

A brief visit to Ireland, and we continued on through France, Spain and Portugal. As we wandered through Italy, Miss 11 began to plan future holidays, before experiencing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on a vibrating platform. We made our way to Eastern Europe, and I remembered that Athens is high on my bucket list! 

 

At the end of the visit, the indoor ‘Spirit of Europe’ exhibition provides interactive quizzes where you can test your European knowledge (vastly growing in this trip with our visit to the EU headquarters),  learn more about the history of the European Union and take part in the big screen movement game. It is an educational and fun visit for all the family.

Both locations are situated right beside each other at the Bruparck area of Brussels,  just beside line 6 on the metro at Heysel/ Heizel, our Brussels card (kindly gifted) took us right there. We were invited by Atomium, but paid for tickets with Mini Europe ourselves. There are options to buy a combined ticket for both locations and save yourself a few Euro. There’s a nice park right beside, a waterpark, and cinemas – a perfect location to spend a day. 

 

We were kindly hosted by the Atomium to visit, and were gifted a Brussels Card for museum and transport access during our weekend trip. 

Theatre with kids – review of Les Miserables, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

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We are big musical fans in our house, there’s always a performance ongoing with the 3 dramatic ones, so any opportunities of a ‘big show’ in Belfast or Dublin and we are there. When I saw ‘Les Mis’ was coming over the Christmas period to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, I knew Miss 10 was just about ready. She’s been learning ‘Castle on a Cloud’ at singing  lessons for the last few months and this recently resulted in a brave moment whereby she sang for her class- even making it on to the school website. A big step for the usually shy one in class. We decided to make it an intergenerational adventure with an overnight, so Granny, Mummy and Miss 10 set off for a Dublin adventure. 

Equipped with the soundtrack, we were excited for the musical adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel.  Set in 19th centenary France, ‘Les Mis’ is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, ready for parole after serving nineteen years in prison for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean breaks his parole, and starts a new life after a bishop inspires him through a tremendous act of mercy, however his journey to a new existence, is relentlessly hampered by a police inspector, Javert. Based during the revolutionary period in France, we witnessed young idealist students attempting to overthrow the government and all the devastating consequences of such a struggle.

Killian Donnelly is fabulous in his role of Valjean as he follows a righteous path through decades of war, suffering, themes of death, prison, prostitution and poverty. There are of course parts that are a little ‘adult’ in content, such as the ‘lovely ladies’ for sale. I fielded a couple of awkward questions about it on the drive home.

With fantastic musical numbers, we journeyed through the suffering and passion of little Cosette, her hardworking mother Fantine, and Miss 10 was particularly impressed with the young performers and more generally with the vocal ranges in the show.

I enjoyed the clever use of projected images at the back of the stage gave nearly cinematic feelings at times. It is long, but even Miss 10 was gripped throughout. She barely moved and we have been hearing the songs performed since!

A wonderful show.

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We followed it by a delicious ‘Les Mis’ themed meal in the The Marker Hotel in Dublin. It is a perfect location for a pre  or post theatre meal. Often with some theming of a set menu. We previously enjoyed a ‘Mary Poppins’ inspired meal when that musical was in town a few years ago, and the tasty food and attention to detail is still discussed by the two girls. We stayed in the Clayton Hotel in Cardiff Lane. Both  The Marker and the Clayton are right beside the Bord Gais theatre.

Undoubtably a wonderful classic theatre musical. Do I recommend it for kids? I think they need some maturity. For my 10 year old, it was perfect, she enjoys musical theatre, we’ve seen most of the more child aimed shows, she was familiar with some songs,  she could process the notion of war and any more risqué aspects went over her head. I would have more caution for the younger ones, and I will be leaving it a few years before bringing the two little ones in our house. Perfect post Christmas afternoon out, with the three generations.