The Sweet Smell of a Magic Carpet
As if the Grand’ Place – one of the world’s most beautiful squares – was not spectacular enough, every two years the Belgians cover it with a carpet of flowers – nearly one million fresh begonias. The famous Flower Carpet covers 19,000 sq. ft. right in the center of Brussels.
Fountains within the pattern help keep the flora in bloom deep into the August heat. This monumental work, an original and ephemeral creation, requires months of design and preparation. The result is an exceptional, harmonious tableau.
Weaving the Carpet: Grand Place, Grand Plans
Plans begin often a year in advance, starting with scale models and illustrating a commissioned theme. Once the theme has been conceived, the number of flowers and color combinations are calculated. A life-size drawing of the carpet is then realized and put on a transparent and micro-drilled plastic sheet. The outlines are drawn on the ground and then work begins.
The skillful, dedicated work of over one hundred experienced gardeners put together this giant floral jigsaw in under four hours. The day before, the spaces between the floral patterns will have been filled with rolled turf. The flowers are packed together, one by one – without soil – creating their own microclimate. In heat waves, the turf has to be watered to prevent it from shrinking. But if the weather is too wet, the grass can grow up to 2 inches in 3 days!
The 2012 edition of the carpet exhibit will take place from August 15 through 19. For a special treat take in the panoramic view from the balcony of the Town Hall. (The balcony is open from 9 am until 11 pm. Admission is €3.)
Getting To Brussels By Train
Brussels is at the crossroads of major high-speed trains. From Paris, the journey takes one hour and 22 minutes on board Thalys. Or take the “red train” from Amsterdam and be in Brussels in less than three hours. In London? Eurostar gets you here in just a little over two hours.
If you are traveling with tickets, be sure to book your tickets as far in advance as possible. Trains like Thalys or Eurostar have a tiered pricing policy: once the lowest priced tier is sold out, the fares increase. Therefore, the closest from the date of travel you book your ticket, the more expensive they will be.
Thalys and Eurostar offer special fares for travelers who have a Rail Pass. However, these so called “passholder fares” can be quite expensive on those trains and it is even possible that an advanced purchase regular ticket may cost less than a passholder fare, in some circumstances. Be sure to compare the cost of traveling with a pass or booking tickets when you do your research.
One thing to note is that when traveling on Eurostar with a pass, you can use the Eurostar passholder fare without using a travel day on your pass. On the other hand, when traveling on the Thalys with a passholder fare, you will have to mark one day on your pass as used.
If you find the price of reservations on the Thalys too high, there are ways to get to Brussels using your pass for a lower cost. For instance, if you are traveling from Paris to Brussels, you could take two connecting TGV trains (Paris to Lille and then Lille to Brussels) and you only need to pay two TGV reservations, which often end up costing less than one Thalys passholder fare. Similarly, if you are going from Amsterdam to Brussels, you could travel on non reservable local trains which don’t require travelers with a rail pass to purchase a reservation. The total travel time might be slightly longer, but you could end up saving a lot.