Warande Park is what I’d call a business lunch park … that is, if Brussels professionals do power-lunch picnics. I did see a few brown baggers in deep negotiation, ties flapping in the breeze. They might have been trading important information on the Euro, or which countries would next join the European Union. Or perhaps they were only trading sandwiches, like a couple of schoolkids.
This is the atmosphere in Warande Park, surrounded as it is by an old palace, government and business buildings. It’s only a square city block in area, but gives the people working in this very busy section of Brussels a nice place to spend chill-out time, or use as a recreation park. Warande has wide lawns, lots of benches, quiet tree-lined groves, a fountain, winding trails through a small forest, and two broad, intersecting walkways that give open views of classic urban architecture. For tourists, it’s a place to pass through between the parliament building and the old palace, or to chill out for a while between train connections.
Oddly enough, perhaps, Warande Park had this same feeling to it since 1775, when the Austrian governor and the city of Brussels decided to turn this once very forested area—or “warande”—of the royal residence into a public park surrounded by a modern residential neighborhood. The area was leveled, new trees planted, and a classical “grid” design introduced. Of course, it was intended for the rich citizens of Brussels, but never mind that today. The two architects placed classical-style statues around the park, some of which had come from the burned royal palace 20 years before. The park is famous for hosting a dinner in 1803 to honor Napoleon Bonaparte and wife Josephine, in which 1,800 people attended.
The idea of a city park is to let people enjoy a natural setting within its urban landscape. This isn’t a new concept: urban parks were first designed and used in ancient Greece. By the 1200s, European city parks had sprung up across the continent. Urban people were no less busy than we are today, so city parks such as Warande are appreciated, and this little park really captures that whole spirit.
For example, I watched a businessman walk through Warande Park on an early Tuesday morning. He was a suit-and-tie type, in his 50s, gray hair, lugged a bulging briefcase, and was heading towards the parliament building. He seemed to be in deep thought—the pressures of government service? Then a pair of parakeet lovebirds flew down from a tree and landed on the lawn. Parakeets in Belgium? My thoughts exactly. The businessman stopped on the crushed stone path to also watch the birds. They walked about the lawn, staying close to each other, two green parrots so out of place for this part of the world. The man in the suit had this curious expression on his face, perhaps thinking likewise. Slowly then, he knelt by the edge of the grass, reached in his pocket, and pulled out a handful of seeds. The lovebirds looked alarmed now. The businessman reached his hand out and tossed some seeds into the grass. The birds danced over the grass and pecked at the ground, picking up the seeds. The man piled the rest of the seeds from his hand into a short pyramid. He watched for a moment longer as the birds pecked and ate their way through the grass toward the pile of seeds. The man smiled, brushed off his hands, stood, and left with his briefcase.
(read more about Warande Park’s highlights here)