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Hit the Tintin Trail in Brussels

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With this weekend's premier of Steven Spielberg’s multi-million dollar production of the 3-D family movie, "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn", the peripatetic boy reporter will soon be discovered by a new generation of Americans.

Tow-headed Tintin, his faithful fox terrier Milou (or Snowy ) and friend Captain Haddock were all born in Belgium – created by Georges Remi, better known as Hergé - in the inauspicious year of 1929. Through World War II and after, Tintin grew to be one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, was translated into 100 languages and sold more than 350 million copies of the 24 books.

Now with the release of the film on Dec. 23, tourism interests are hoping Americans will be so enchanted with the 3-D version (played by Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame) that they will book the very next flight to visit the real Belgium --in particular its capital Brussels.

While Belgium is full of artistic and cultural activities it is most famous for the Big Five: chocolate, mussels (from Nov.-March), frites (don’t call them French fries) beer, and waffles. Tiny Belgium’s more than 700 comic strip artists could also make it the Comic Strip Center of the World. 

But before you  follow in the foot steps of Tintin on his adventures, first start your day with a good breakfast.

Follow your nose as it leads to your first temptation at Dandoy’s, one of the oldest waffle makers in the country just the Grand Place, Brussels' stunning and main square. Don’t be shy, fortify yourself for your comic pursuit with a regular waffle or a Liege waffle, which is heavier and sweeter. 

Hit the Tintin trail right outside the Hotel Amigo or The Dominican by walking through the Brussels’ park depicted in King Ottokar’s Sceptre --where in the comic strip Tintin and his friends go on a quest to recover the king's sceptre and power.  Visit  Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie- the concert hall that inspired the Hippodrome in The Seven Crystal Balls,where Tintin and the Captain go see a show of magic and mystery.  Browse antiques at the daily flea market on the Place du Jeu de Ball – the setting for the film’s opening scene in which Tintin buys a model ship that kicks off the suspense.

For a morning treat stop in at Chocalatier Laurent Gerbaud’s workshop to taste his most original chocolates -- peppered with exotic spices, dried fruits, nuts -- try your hand at making a few crazy combinations of your own. 

Head for the Comic Strip Center, situated in the heart of Brussels, that traces the history of Tintin and other comic favorites such as The Smurfs and Lucky Luke. The former Waucquez Warehouse, which houses the center, is all sweeps, light, and whiplashes created by Art Nouveau master, Victor Horta in 1906. 

The center is the brainchild of Hergé and his colorist, Guy Dessicy, former director.  Dessicy, 96,  is alive, alert and  the number one encyclopedia to the comic culture in Belgium and meeting him is a little like standing alongside Tintin himself if he would ever age: small, slim, with lively blue eyes, a wave of white hair (not unlike Tintin).

Its permanent exhibition is a voyage through the imagination of the pioneers of Belgian comics: Hergé (Tintin, 1929) to Bob De Moor, to Roba (Boule et Bill, 1959), Jijé, Jacobs, Vandersteen, Franquin, Peyo and Morris. New exhibits include 77 Years of Romanian Comics and Cyril Pedrosa, a Portuguese comic strip artist born in 1972.

Have lunch at the center in the Restaurant Faubourg Saint-Antoine decorated with Hergé-related posters and bric-a-brac, including a life-sized Snowy in an astronaut suit, not to mention an arm’s length of great Belgian beers from which to choose.

Cross the street to the Marc Sleen Museum, creator of the Nero cartoon, the first comic strip character with his own beer (Nero Beer) brewed and named after him.

Famous comic strips were painted like frescoes on at least 40 walls throughout Brussels in the 1990s. For a glimpse of one head to the Stockel underground station where you’ll find a huge mural with characters from the Tintin books drawn by Hergé shortly before his death in 1983. A pocket guide from Visit Brussels maps out your trail to some 1,000 traces of comic culture throughout the city. 

If you want to head out of the city, the Hotel Amigo’s package makes it easy to get to the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve about 30 minutes ride out of Brussels. Be sure to request a Tintin-themed room so you are never very far from the little guy.

An astounding piece of architecture the Hergé Museum displays more than 80 original print plates, documents, photographs, interviews with Hergé, original drawings, scale models, films. Most impressive is the pre-internet research he did as Tintin traveled to Russia, Egypt, China, the U.S. and other exotic places Hergé never traveled to himself.

Spielberg’s movie promises to hook Americans into following  Tintin and Captain Haddock as they set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor and could make Tintin go from cult star to mega hit. 

Travel Tips:

Just eight hours from New York, Brussels is served by American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Jet Airways, Northwest, United, USAirways as well as European carriers.

To get around Brussels, purchase The Brussels Card for free transportation and entrance to museums and other attractions.

Click here for more information on the Tintin trail.

Extra bonus: For all you Tintin fans --if you are planning a hotel stay in the near future, Hampton Hotels announced a partnership with Paramount Pictures. Guests who book online at any U.S., Canada and Mexico Hampton hotel through December 31, 2011 will automatically receive tickets to see “The Adventures of Tintin,” and an entry into a sweepstakes for a chance to win an exciting family trip for four to a European destination.

Click here for more information.