Brussels takes its position as a leader of European government very seriously. While we were there, EU Monogrammed Iron Gates in front of the royal castle at Park Van Laken Monogrammed gates national leaders met to discuss the Irish vote against the Lisbon treaty. On one early walk, we came upon a street corner awash in policemen who were apparently monitoring the departure of one delegate from his hotel; he was whisked into his limo while alert officers studied the pedestrians nearby.

We decided to get a little more adventurous with Brussels public transportation. We took the Metro 1A to station Stuyvenbergh and then walked through the royal domain "van Laken" to see the large castle and the impressive Gothic mausoleum. Apparently the royal family was not in residence, because the guardhouses were unmanned and the gates closed. We then picked our way northwest through a pretty park A brilliant red and blue iron staircase climbs up one of the connecting tubes of the Atomium Stairs in the Atomium to the Atomium.

The Atomium in Brussels is a giant stainless steel model of an iron atom. The star of the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, it shines through its surrounding trees, visible far and wide. A visit to the Atomium begins with an elevator ride up to the middle dome, followed by an escalator to an upper level. From this ball, we looked out over Brussels, and down to Mini-Europe just below. Photos and souvenirs from Expo 58, including visits of the king and queen, were displayed to the special delight of the Belgian Mini-Europe with the Atomium in the background Mini-Europe and Atomium visitors. In fact, throughout Brussels there were various celebrations of the 50th anniversary of this, the first World's Fair after the Second World War. We photographed our surroundings, climbed the staircases through the Atomium, declined the opportunity for the special experience of a building built out of plastic beer crates, and proceeded to Mini-Europe.

Mini-Europe was also a star of Expo 58, and is still a pleasant exploration, as it has been slowly expanded over the years. A snaking path leads past dozens of 1/25 scale models of famous landmarks from Model of the Ljubljana bridge designed by architect Josef Plecnik Bridge at Ljubljana European countries. Boats and trains move through the models. We enjoyed identifying the more famous buildings -- the Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abbey, the Acropolis, and so on. Josef Plecnik's famous bridge -- in 1929 he added pedestrian bridges to the central stone bridge to improve traffic flow -- was the symbol for Ljubljana, Slovenia. Mount Vesuvius rumbled and shook, the leaning tower leaned, and the whole park was surrounded by dozens of restaurants, souvenir shops and a movie theater.

It was at Mini-Europe that we enjoyed steamed mussels, Brussels mussels, generally called "moules" in French. Emily, already a seafood fancier, enjoyed sampling them. Unfortunately, we only found them at one other View inside Victor Horta's building used for Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee Comic Strip Museum restaurant this trip.

For many tourists, this would have been a full day, but we finished our afternoon with a stop at Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee (the comic strip museum). TinTin, by Herge, is, of course, the best-known of Belgian comics. We hadn't realized that the Smurfs are also Belgian, and very popular there. We enjoyed browsing the rows upon rows of comic strips of all kinds, from goofy humor to exciting chase-and-adventure stories. The museum is housed in a 1906 department store designed by the famous Belgian architect and furniture maker, Victor Horta, whose flowing vines and romantic decorations represent art nouveau at its peak. We could have spent more hours looking at the exhibits, but our legs protested "we need rest!"