From LONDON to BRUSSELS to ANTWERP
I’ve said it before and I will say it again — it is so, so civilised travelling by train. The seats are generous, the security and immigration is less intense, you can walk about anytime you want, watch the countryside (except for the tunnel parts) and you generally arrive right in the centre of town. I would even rate the chugging motion, the clickety-clack of the train over the tracks being quite therapeutic and conducive to sleep – if that’s what you need.
EUROSTAR 2007 vs EUROSTAR 2016
In saying all that — our hotel was in the old part of Brussels so we had quite a walk up there on rather hot day, dragging Dee’s suitcase noisily over the cobbles. A good 20 minutes passed.
Dee carried my backpack, while I looked after her suitcase and my smaller pack
Eventually we arrived and the place was pretty fancy. But we conversely — were quite dishevelled. We must have looked so awful they gave us a glass of home-made lemonade while we checked in. It emerged the hotel was an old Dominican monastery. It was the kinda place that had a personalised welcome message on your room’s TV and the kinda place you took a photo of before you messed it all up with your crap. In the public areas a loop of Gregorian chants was omnipresent. I am not sure if that was settling, or kinda weird. As we came and went here I am sure the staff thought of us as probably simple folk that have accidentally come into wealth — “nouveau-riche”. We wore pretty simple attire relative to the other guests and we didn’t have the breakfast and we were always coming and going. I guess it was all confirmed when we famously got the barman (right in this supremely palatial bar) to open — literally the cheapest bottle of wine in Brussels — because we didn’t have a bottle-opener.
Did some boxing in the hotel gym — was great!
While Dee freshened up I hit the town exploring and found a bunch of places to show Dee later. Here Brussels had those tiny lanes and organic street layout. Brux had a charm. The flags draping over the lanes and the fact it was a tiny, but quite big city all at the same time. We were staying in the hyper-touristy section but you could still get a feel of the place despite the incessant “frites” signs and “chocolate” stuff.
That evening we spent 50 euro on two ramens for dinner. Why it was so expensive I do not know — maybe it is a delicacy here.
Meanwhile my feet were a mess. I had developed a massive blister on the plane 4 days earlier and it was now a goiter-sized bubble on my left foot. The other foot was littered with blisters too. Jess Kearney and I did a comparison — I won. And the only relief I got was to get walking for about 15 minutes. Once you had got accustomed to the pain, once your feet were “warmed up” — then you could perambulate with some degree of dignity. The cobbles did not help.
The next day I hobbled the 400 metres to the Museum of Comics which was super-interesting. The english translations were a bit dodgy, but it was so amazing realising cartoons go back to those monks back in the middle ages and their innovative illustrations to religious texts. And nowadays a lot of comics are done with super-sophisticated software on massive tablets. It’s almost cheating. There was a lot of Tintin/Hergé — he’s pretty-much a national hero in Belgium.
But also this comic about a guy called Boerke. Which I think loosely translates to English as a dude named “Dickie”. (Of course it does. LOL). There was this installation devoted to these comics and it was so subversive — but so incredibly hilarious too. (And beautifully illustrated too!) It’s the sort of thing you could only get away with in Europe. But we both thought it was the best. You be the judge:
The town square looked postcard perfect the day we arrived, but then overnight all these trucks arrived and ugly bunting and pavilions were being set up for some gooby beer festival. All that old-world-chic was now ruined by 21st century logos and plastic and cordons and crowdedness. In all the airports in Europe, just after you get through security, or though immigration, they have this pad with 4 options on it. Colour coded and happy/sad face options. “How was your experience today?” it asks. But “Ugh” or “Sigh” was never an option. I think I would hit either of those buttons on this day if one of those bad-boys were available. But maybe mostly I was complaining cause any photo I wanted of the place was compromised and instantly dated.
That night we had a beer at this pub that Jon recommended which apparently had over a 1000 beers on tap. It was called Delerium and it was one of those places that was a bit of a warren. It had exotic and historic beer memorabilia plastered all over the place and all the tables were barrels. Outside (at the rear non-entrance) it had a gigantic beer bottle hanging off the facade and the words “BEER PLANET”. Ordering one of 10 beers available is intimidating. Ordering 1 of 1000 is just utter bullshit. But being the trooper I am — I somehow managed.
The next day I did an early morning trip to get breakfast at the local “Paul” — a popular boulangerie chain over there. According to the diary I wrote that day I was a bit scared about ordering something in a place not necessarily frequented by foreigners — especially at that hour. Despite practising, I managed a very bullshit “Deux croissants et un cafe au lait, sil vous plait.” But of course they answered in perfect English and I was all worked up about nothing. My “Merci!” was literally perfect it should be said.
We met Jess at the train station and then had a quick lunch in the tourist-trap restaurant section and then we headed up to our train. I checked another “FAIL” into our list when buying our tickets from the only FRENCH speaking vending machine. So I accidentally bought 3 return tickets — we were only going one-way. Oh well.
We arrived at the magnificent Antwerp(en) Centraal Station. Possibly *the* most amazing train stations I have ever been to. From where we arrived, at it’s deepest depth, we looked up towards the light and it seemed like a temple. We took all these successive escalators up and up towards the pinnacle, all the while more and more bathed in natural light and getting closer and closer to the original station building with its massive dome and incredible architecture.
Our hotel was just across the road but it was a bit “basic”. Jess was sharing with us. Despite the fact it was blazingly hot there was no air-con, no fans and the layout of the rooms was weird. (Jess was basically sleeping in a windowless cupboard off the main bedroom). The shower was a bit awkward and there was no WIFI! UGH. Deal-breaker. But it was just for one night — right? Luckily the temperature dived once it got dark. We got composed and headed off towards the old part of town. The route was through a major commercial district. Malls and expensive shops everywhere.
Then were were suddenly upon possibly the tallest church I have ever seen. And it was like 12th Century. Crazy. We stopped for a drink (I had a Duvel) in the courtyard ahead of the church then somehow arrived at a bar that had a “house dog”. A place called Billie’s Bier kafetaria.
I had something that tasted truly awful but apparently was revered and had an incredibly complicated brewing process.
Next we had the WORST dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I accidentally ordered basically a macaroni-cheese in a Chinese style. (The menu was in Dutch). It was more bland than disgusting. Like the kind of food you might appreciate if you were on a long-haul flight and you had slept through a meal-service.
OH YEAH — I GOT A HOLE IN MY THUMB NAIL
(more on this later — eek)