*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*
I've lived on and off in Belgium (with a few years out in China) for ten years now. Most people's response when I tell them I live here is usually a big fat 'why' and sometimes 'where is Belgium again'?
I'm used to it now. I embrace the obscurity and complexity of the place. Belgium is somewhere you can drive across in two hours yet has three official languages (French, Dutch and German); a place that is meant to be the center of European government, with the European Commission and Parliament based in Brussels, yet Belgium has just broken the record for the longest time to exist without an officially elected government of its own.
But when Belgium does something good, it does it magnificently. Fries were invented here - please don't call them 'French'; our neighbors had nothing to do with them...and you'll still find the best twice (deep) fried fries in the world here. Chocolate, beer and Audrey Hepburn are all Belgian superstars but perhaps the best-loved Belgian character is the boy with the beautiful quiff - Tintin.
With Spielberg and Jackson putting the finishing touches to the new stop-motion animation of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, now is a great time to discover all things Tintin in Brussels.
Though not hugely advertised (like most things here), with a bit of digging you can find some brilliant Tintin-related places to visit, drink and eat in. Here are my all-time Tintin favorites...
Brussels is full of comic murals. Chances are, if you walk around the center of the city, you'll stumble upon a couple. Tintin has his own mural on Rue de l'Etuve, a stone's throw away from the Grand Place, the main square. There's a great comic strip museum to soak in more about Tintin and his creator Hergé (real name Georges Prosper Remi) just a few minutes walk away.
For the best photo opportunity of Tintin, head to the Lombard publishing house near the South Station (where the Eurostar gets in). On top of the building is a huge rotating Tintin and Snowy sign. You can get a good picture from the square opposite but for a really great photo, sweet talk your way up to the roof.
Riding the Brussels metro is a bit dull, but Stockel station, at the end of line one, is Tintin crazy, with hundreds of the characters painted on the walls.
For would-be comic strips authors or anyone in need of tasting Belgian beer, La Fleur En Papier Doré is a tiny bar which became a favorite among the surrealist painters including the king of the surreal, Rene Magritte, and was also a regular haunt of Hergé's.
A lesser-known connection is to be found in the Chinese restaurant L'orchidée Bleue. The owner Zhang Xue Ren's father, Zhang Chongren, became one of the key driving forces for turning Tintin into the character we know today. He met Hergé in Brussels and shared his knowledge of Chinese drawing techniques and perhaps more importantly shared with Hergé a 'real' view of China and the outside world, which made the comic books more authentic. Zhang Chongren was the inspiration for Tintin's first real friend, Chang, who appeared in the Blue Lotus and Tintin in Tibet. Zhang Xue Ren first stayed with Hergé when he moved to Belgium and mentioned having met Spielberg here in the early 80's.