12.12.2014 - 14.12.2014 8 °C
Looking at my tickets from Berlin to Brussels, there was one small scary element: I had a train to Amsterdam, then a bit of a wait for a train to Rotterdam and then 2 minutes until the train to Brussels. I'd already been on a train that was 12 minutes late, so convinced myself I'd not be seeing Brussels that night. Luckily that part of the journey was on an open ticket, so I was able to leave Amsterdam much earlier than expected, have a beer and shitty microwaved pasta for lunch in Rotterdam and carry on. I was a bit bemused by the local trains in Holland - absolutely full in second class, and first class, half a carriage (of a two carriage train), absolutely empty. Sorry, I tell a lie. I stuck my bags in there, so they traveled first class in splendid isolation.
I was in Brussels in the late '80's on a weekend bus trip from London. I remember walking for miles but I'm pretty sure of two things: I never saw then what I saw this time, and I didn't find the area I walked through last time. Odd, really, since this time round I was right in the very centre of the city - missed it completely somehow before - and I had a great time. I never once went looking for a library, or even left the central couple of blocks except to walk out to the railway station to pick up a ticket. On the way out there, I found a hotel I should really have stayed at.
Nah, not really. I was very happy at the one I chose, because it was right in the centre, up a small alley so away from the hubbub. I went for all of the cliches of a visit to Brussels: frites, chocolate, waffles, beer, carbonnade à la flamande, and moules mariniere. They weren't hard to find - I think I'd seen them multiple times before I was a block from the train station. I was a bit disappointed to see that most of the waffles were pre-cooked and re-heated but eventually found the real deal.
I ate the mountain of moules moules mariniere without thinking to take a photo, sorry. Same with the various beers. As for the frites, I didn't really get the queue at Fritland - funnily enough it doesn't even rate in a study by the Telegraph of the best fritkots in Brussels, or the one in the New York Times. I did entertain the idea of trying them, but the queue put me off, and I found a great place right next door to my hotel, no queue, no wait. Next day I did even better, I was plonked in a bar testing the beer, and they fried up some frites in the basement for me. The bar maid in that bar amused me: at one point she dressed as if she was heading off on an arctic expedition: gloves, big hat, furry coat. She was only outside for a minute, setting candles on the four outside tables.
It is probably a good thing I was only there for a weekend, as every meal I had, they included frites. I felt sorry for the fritkot in the last photo - it was just around the corner from Fritland and decidedly lonely.
Of course, there are other food sources in Brussels - like cake, sausages, champagne, coffee, rotisserie goatsheads
In another bar, I watched a wee drama unfold. I'd noticed this woman standing on the opposite street corner, and I don't know why, thought she was waiting for business. After a while, however, it became evident she was waiting for someone - every ten minutes or so she'd ring someone, I am pretty sure it was the same person, as she was clearly wanting to know how long the person was going to be, then she'd be reassured and put her phone away. I dawdled over my drink as long as I could to see if this wee drama was resolved, but it was getting late and I needed to eat so I just don't know - I hope there was a happy ending.
It didn't seem to matter what time I ventured out, the streets were abuzz with people, and entertainment during the day
I had a wander through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a covered shopping arcade built in the 1840's in place of what was a sordid area. It has posh shops, a chocolate cafe, a tavern and so on but there was one display in particular which caught my eye.
I think, for me, the most impressive sight was Grand-Place = the original market place which houses the Town Hall, the Brussels museum and various gilded Guild buildings.
It was impressive during the day but at night - wow! I don't know if it happens year round or it was a Christmas thing (huh - now I do know, it happens between late November and early January), but there was a magnificent sound and light show - predominantly classical music played very loudly (I heard it clearly from my hotel) and thousands of coloured LEDS to light up the buildings. Quite a lot of photos, but I couldn't decide which ones to cut.