Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #21, from Belgium
Received 11 May 2008
Travels for May 11/08 — Brussels
The sound of constant muted voices wakes me at 8:15 AM, and the noise is coming from outside. The street is teeming with people browsing at flea market tables. After breakfast I stroll the tables, and it's just like Vancouver and everywhere else — mostly junk of every description.
Next to the internet cafe, then back through the maze of tables to the station. The return fare to Brussels is €11.80. I sit in the front seat of the first car, and the train driver steps out of his cubicle in shorts and sandals only — he explains that the air conditioning is broken, and that we will be waiting five minutes to take on passengers from an Ostende train. This is a commuter train and stops at Oudenaarde (the site of a battle in the early 1700's between the allied armies led by John Churchill and the French army in the war of the Spanish Succession), Munkzwalm, Zottegem, Herzele, Burst, Halltert, Denderleeuw, Bruxelles Midi (Zuid), then into Bruxelles Central, a bit late.
The first thing on my list is to find out from which station the Chunnel train leaves, and at which one the Amsterdam train arrives. Both use the Midi station and the train from Amsterdam takes three hours for the trip, so I go ahead and make a EuroStar reservation for June 6 in the afternoon, getting into St. Pancras station in London just before 4 PM London time. It will be the the 64th anniversary of D-Day, and I will be reversing the invasion trip, but under the English channel this time. The cost is €75 for the reservation, so I'll be able to go from Amsterdam to London via Brussels for €75 — my Eurail pass was worth it. The regular fare is €232!
Across from the station is a rank of tour buses, so I take one for a one and a half hour tour. First St. Michael's Cathedral (royal family marriages), then an art nouveau building called the Old England building, city hall, the ducal palace, European Community buildings, the royal arch commemorating the founding of Belgium, a huge commercial building that I suspect will hold some of the Euro Community bureaucracy by its size, and more Euro Community Ministry buildings — they are all over the place, and probably help to keep Brussels afloat financially.
I soon learn that taking photos from a moving tour bus on the upper deck is very tricky, and although we have headsets for the guide narrative, it's hard to hear over the noise of the diesel bus and traffic.
Then it's on to the tower of Leopold the First, a big park, the Atomium ( a molecule-shaped centre akin to Science World in Vancouver), the Chinese Mansion and Japanese Tower (probably leftovers from Expo 58 here), then a slow drive back to the station.
Now I want to get photos of the area around the station. It's a holiday weekend and the streets are crowded, and it's hot out — about 28°. So I get some shots of soapbox racers, the royal palace, the entrance to the Parc Royal, and a building with classic architecture which I think is an art gallery. There are buskers everywhere including a piper with dancing dolls outside a very long arcade lined with shops.
A big square has large old buildings on all sides, very ornate. I just have time to buy a sugar waffle and walk back to the station to catch the 18h29 (6:29 PM) back to Kortrijk. On track 4 the trains roll in and out every few minutes like buses. This evening will be my usual routine.
Is Brussels on the military trail? It is, being on the route taken through Belgium by the First Hussars, Oct. 5-18, 1944 from the French border to Ieper, Aalst (which I can't find on the map), Gent, Brussels, Turnhout, and Poppern near the Dutch border. So tomorrow I go to Turnhout.