The Snow In The Summer Or So-So

Brussels trip (2)

Wednesday 15 November 2006

Previously: from Birmingham to Brussels in six hours.

Now, Wednesday saw a Euro-08 qualification match between Belgium and Poland, kicking off at 8pm. I was rolling around the city centre around 5.30, hoping to regain some of my bearings. Most of the visiting fans were congregating around the Grotemarket (Market-square); while they were peaceful, they were loud and boisterous, and not particularly the sort of person I wanted to spend time with. Instead, through the Grand Place (Central-square) to the Bourse area, where there are some slightly off-the-track restaurants.

I had hoped that that would be the end of things, that I could have a bite to eat, meander back to the hotel, and get my head down. But no. In the gap between ordering and food appearing, there was a tremendous commotion at the main entrance behind me. Two burly waiters rushed out, followed by someone who looked like the manager. They came back about a minute later with hands full of a scrawny guy holding a woman's handbag, one he'd clearly snatched from a customer. One of the waitresses had already called the police, and they turned up in about six minutes, but not before chummy had already pushed over a stack of plates in the kitchen, and tried to escape, only to get tripped up by a quick-thinking customer with an umbrella.

My hotel of choice this time was the Hotel de Congress, which (as the name suggests) is on Rue de Congress. While researching hotels, I only came across one review of this hotel, which suggested it was on a busy road, and that the breakfast service wasn't brilliant. That review was some years old, and it doesn't tally with my experiece. The Rue de Congress is a moderately busy road, but we're talking through roads in the city centre. Certainly, the traffic noise did not bother. My room was right by the lift, but the noise of operations did not disturb. Breakfast was a typical continental buffet - cereal, bread, croissants, cheese, meat, jam - with comfortably swift offers of tea and coffee. That's not to say the hotel was perfect - the cleaning staff left my window ajar each day, making the room a little cold; they also left a razor from the previous occupant. The showers required a little prodding to deliver hot water, and the central heating came on quite late in the night. The bed was a little uncomfortable, but then hotel beds (particularly single beds) always are. Would I stay again? Quite possibly.

Thursday 16 November 2006

I set out towards Teureven, the south-west corner, but get distracted by the Parc Wolwiers, a hilly enclave with many trees. On a warm, breezy day like this, there are lots of falling leaves, making their own way down the hill in large groups, sometimes following and overtaking vehicles. Europe doesn't do Autumn in the same way that Ontario does autumn, but we do sometimes get fast-falling days like this. There's a remarkable new bridge spanning the main road between the Parc and the Tram Museum.

The link to Teureven is on a tram, and for part of the route, it's on the central reserve of a dual carriageway, running through woods so thick that we can't see the main road on either side. The village itself is less interesting; though there's a nice café, Thursday is early closing day, and I'm back in the city centre by lunchtime.

All of this is made possible by the day-pass ticket, just €4 for complete access to busses, trams, trains, and the métro for a full day. That's £2.70, slightly less than the cash fare from Euston to Waterloo. Lunch is a nice pot of tomato soup from the Pulp café just opposite the Cathedral.

In the afternoon, I go for a quick look around the European Union buildings. There's a small and polite protest outside the Commission office, against the official results of the D. R. Congo elections, and claiming victory for Jean-Pierre Bemba, the (defeated) opposition candidate. Then I go round the new bits of metro - the Line 2 extension from Clemenceau to Delacroix (a whole one stop, most remarkable for the office-like building that serves as the entrance), and the 1B extension from Bizet to Erasmus - a cut-and-cover operation, though Erasmus station is quite remarkable.

This was the hottest 16 November that Brussels had sat through since records began - most of the city had temperatures of 17°C, six above average, and far warmer than I'd been expecting. A quick (and mercifully uneventful) dinner in the Anderlecht district and I'm headed back to the hotel for the night.

In part 3: Friday and Saturday.

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