30 December 2014

Science is Cool!

When I said I was headed to Belgium, people would often ask what I planned to do there. My first answer was always "go to the Atomium". To get to the Atomium, I took two trams north of the city center. I was absolutely surprised by this part of Brussels. I saw a huge cathedral that reminded me in some ways of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a 6 story temple in the Chinese style and a large Japanese temple. Along the way I changed trams at the De Wand station and was treated to amazing street art  / graffiti. This graffiti showed dragons, people, space ships and so much more. I would recommend visiting this station just to see the art.

Finally I reached the Atomium. The walk from the station to the larger than life atom was treacherous. It was still completely iced over and quite slick. Part way through I asked someone to take my photo. Jay and his Mom were visiting from the Philippines. They tried to take several photos of me but the settings on my camera kept darkening my face. They took one on their camera and we exchanged email addresses. Hopefully they will send it.

The Atomium was originally built for the 1958 World Fair and was intended as a temporary structure, however its popularity and success made it a key landmark and it was never torn down. A few statistics about the structure:

height: 102m
surface of the spheres: 1082 square meters / 240 square meters
diameter of the spheres: 18m
diameter of the base pavilion: 26m
diameter of the tubes: 3m 30
length of the cube edge tubes: 29m
length of the diagonal tubes: 26m
constructed  in 1958
renovated in 2003 / 2006
mass: 2,400 tons (1958)  
          2,500 tons (2006)

To ascend the structure one can take an elevator directly to the center sphere. This elevator travels at a speed of 5m/s, which made it the world's fastest when it was built in 1958.

To ascend and descend through the side spheres, one utllizes

3 escalators and 80 steps to go up
1 escalator and 167 steps to go down

Each sphere of the Atomium serves a different purpose. The middle sphere allows for panoramic views and also houses a very expensive restaurant. Needless to say, I only saw the views and did not sample the food of the restaurant. It was a beautiful morning. As I looked out, the sky was clear and I could see quite a distance, yet there was a low hanging fog that made the city in the distance look hazy. It was also possible to see other spheres from the windows of the panorama. 

The other spheres contained exhibits including one on plastic and 55 years of the Atomium history. Plus some spheres contained viewing platforms as well.

Traveling between spheres, the escalators themselves were an experience. The escalators were steep and narrow. Eerie music played in the tubes. One of them had windows that allowed me to see out and see bits of the Atomium as I traveled. I almost lost my balance several times trying to look out the porthole windows above me. The other was in a completely solid tube and had red and blue lights. It reminded me of a retro take on the future of space. 

The other method of transversing the Atomium was via stairs. I noticed the railings echoed the design of the Atomium with tubes and spheres.

Several hours later, exiting the Atomium, the sun was higher in the sky and the structure appeared to sparkle. I went to the otherside of the structure to take some more photos, including the stereotypical one in which it looks  like I am balancing the spheres on my fingers. I also took my photo in a Atom like structure at the base. It's mirror feature reminded me of the Bean in Chicago. (Don't know what the Bean is? Check out my post from Dec 24, 2014). Finally returning to the side that would lead me to the tram, I took some photos with the "be. welcome" sign as well. I had an amazing time visiting the Atomium. This will definitely be remembered as a highlight of my trip. Although my tour guide on my first day in Brussels recommended against visiting the Atomium, I would highly recommend it if you have the time. 

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