Belgium 3 – Brussels !

Day 2, Brussels :

Sunday, 5th Sept, 2008

Must admit, the adventures of the previous night had had a heavy toll on us !!! Barely managing to wake up in time for the sumptuous breakfast before they closed, and some quick packing-up later; we checked out of Hotel Ibis at around noon !

Turned out the BBC Weather guys were right – it was raining badly that afternoon in Brussels …….and supposedly in the whole of Western Europe as well ! With our backpacks tucked behind our backs, we marched into the elegant Grand Place – which was just about 10 minutes away. The Grand Place – with its origins around the 13th Century, is the most important and happening public square in Brussels….. and true to the reviews, it looked extremely elegant with all the impressive, medieval buildings enclosing it !

Rains pouring at the Grand Place

From Belgium 2008

Yet, the rains were still a dampener, and we couldn’t even stop to admire the architectural-brilliance of the place, let alone take pictures 😦 Left with not too many options, we took cover in a Souvenir shop, where we ended up buying, amongst other things…. a few umbrellas with Belgian / EU flags printed on it !

The ‘Grand Place’ is known for the many festivals that take place there, and generally during this time of year, they have large floral carpets laid out in the centre of the square, depicting the Belgian Coat of Arms. [ Yea, how excessively girlish ! 🙂 ] …….But I guess they had got wind of the fact that the ‘guys’ are in town, ‘cos when we walked in, right there in the middle of the square, welcoming us was a Beer-Fest !!! 😉

Beer promos at the Beer Fest

From Belgium 2008

Sadly, we had other things planned out in our agenda for the day, and so …..took a taxi and headed off to the Tintin Museum – whose address, the receptionist at our Hotel had been kind enough to give us.

Now … the taxis in Belgium are all 4-seaters, and unlike in the UK, they don’t seem to have the concept of a 5 or 7-seater. Since we were 5 of us, we’ve always had it tough……But, with a little bit of negotiation, most cabbies did oblige. This guy however, was a little hesitant to begin with, but finally, for an extra 5 euros, he offered to take us, as long as one of us could sit behind the seats at the back and stay low – to avoid being spotted by the cops.

At the back of the taxi

From Belgium 2008

So there I was, sitting at the back, crouching as low as possible, and I guess I did a pretty decent job, ‘cos in the end, he didn’t charge us the extra 5 Euros that he had said he would ! 😀

The Tintin Museum – in reality turned out to be a Comic Book Museum. Apparently, there is no exclusive museum for Tintin, here in Brussels…..Strange, considering it was here that Herge had created the character  – which went on the inspire and entertain kids and adults alike, around the world for over 80 years !

[ Btw, Spielberg is currently working on bringing Tintin to the big screen with a movie-adaptation of the ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ !!! Can hardly wait to watch it !! 🙂  People who think its too good to be true, check ]

Tintin's rocket

From Belgium 2008

Right at the entrance to the museum was a model of Tintin’s very own rocket, used in the ‘Explorers on the Moon’. Also on display, were busts of Asterix, Dogmatix and other paraphernalia associated with some of the biggest stars from the Comic World !

Capt.Haddock and Tintin - 298 and 297 euros respectively !

From Belgium 2008

We spent a solid amount of time [….and Euros] in the museum shop, and though Tintin and Asterix toys were highly over-priced, we ended up shopping almost more than what we could carry !

All the stuff we had shopped at the Comic Book museum

From Belgium 2008

By the time, we got out of the museum, the rains had ceased, and with all the extra luggage in hand, we walked over to the nearby 13th century Cathedrale St.Michel to board a City Sightseeing Bus from near it.

For about 14 euros per head, the bus offered a Hop-on Hop-off tour of the city. This turned-out to be a wise decision, as in no time, the rains lashed out yet again …and under the covers of the Double-decker bus, we managed to stay comfortably dry and warm…. whilst enjoying the various sights that the city had to offer – right from medieval churches, squares and sculptures … the grand Palaces where the royals of Belgium, to this day,  reside !

The Palais Royale

From Belgium 2008

The only place where we hopped-off the bus was at the Atomium – a huge 102m high structure based on the atom of Iron !


From Belgium 2008

The Atomium with its 9 spheres linked by stairs and escalators, was built in 1958 for the International Exhibition that was held here at Brussels. There was a big queue to go up to the Observatory on top of the Atomium, and since we were running short of time, we skipped it and hopped-on to the next bus that came along, and continued our tour of the city.

Atop the open-top bus

From Belgium 2008

By now, the rains had completely stopped, and the covers were off. Though it was still freezing cold outside, we took our places up on the open-top and listened to the commentary, as we passed through the suburbs of Brussels, the various monuments built by King Leopold the First, the Chinese and Japanese Pavilions and the modern quarters of the city – which turned out to be quite a contrast to the rest of Brussels – with its high sky-scrapers and gleaming glass buildings !

The Japanese Pagoda

From Belgium 2008

The latter part of the tour, took us through the European Quarter – a large area housing a concentration of EU Institutions – including the EU Parliament ! It had been just 2 weeks since Bharat and I had visited the other EU Parliament at Strasbourg – on the French-German border, however, Brussels with a much larger EU presence, is popularly known as the Capital of Europe !

Brussels [or Bruxelles, as it is known in French] , in essence turned out to be a thriving city – much larger than what we had expected it to be …..and a splendid juxtaposition of the ancient against the modern ! Reflective of Belgium in all, the city is largely bilingual – French and Dutch, however, French, without doubt, is Brussels’ lingua franca [as against Dutch in Bruges or Antwerp ].

Modern quarters of Brussels

From Belgium 2008

Our return train to London was at 7 pm, so after a few hours of touring the city, we got off at Beurs, near the place where we had stayed, and got moving. Hungry as ever, we charged into the ‘Sultans of Kebab’ for more Falafels and Shawarmas ! That done, we walked across to the Grand Place for the second time that day, but with the sun out and the rains nowhere in sight, the square looked absolutely fab ………and with the Beer-fest happening at the center, the place was absolutely buzzing with life !

Back at the Grand Place

From Belgium 2008

From the Grand Place, we walked along the narrow cobble-stoned paths to visit what is widely proclaimed to be the most important landmark in Belgium – the Manneken-Pis – which was nothing but a fountain in the form of a boy peeing 🙂 [ Quite creative, I must say !] The Manneken-Pis is a very striking symbol of Brussels, recognisable across the world ! However, considering how small and ordinary it seemed to be in reality, we were, to say the least, quite ‘pissed-off’ 🙂

Manneken-Pis ....currently dressed up in this green attire !

From Belgium 2008

The area around the Manneken-Pis was a shopping haven, with its intricate maze of narrow streets lined with boutiques selling almost anything from Belgian chocolates to Handicrafts to Cutlery to Beer ! While the gang settled in to do some more major shopping, I walked back to the Grand Place to check-out the Beer-Fest.

Belgians guzzling at the Beer Fest

From Belgium 2008

It was amazing to see the number of varieties of Belgian Beer on offer there…Personally, I had tried not heard of any other Belgian brand apart from Stella Artois

List of all beers available at the Fest !

From Belgium 2008

…As I stood there staring at the board listing all the different types of beers available at the fest, I didn’t realize time flying by ! I had just about half an hour in hand, and a decision was tough to make ! The counters were all pretty crowded as well, and that meant, all I could do was to walk around and savour the charged-up ambiance ! I also took a quick tour of the nearby Beer museum, where, if interested, one can learn about the more technical aspects of beer manufacturing ! […..I’d rather stick to the drinking part]

The shopping streets around the Manneken-Pis

From Belgium 2008

At 5 pm, the 5 of us got together at the Square and headed back to the Brussels Midi train Station……. taking a Metro from the nearby Beurs Station. Our train to London being only at 7pm, we were at the station remarkably early….quite contrary to our previous track-records [ Yea, it did feel a bit odd and out-of-place, but atleast we had some time to relax 🙂 ]

At 6:30pm, we proceeded through the security checks and the immigration clearance and boarded our Eurostar train. It was a 2-hour journey to London St.Pancras, and we put it to good use by settling all the accounts/expenses then and there. However, the surprise package was when Anil unraveled a set of Disney toys he had bought for each of us from the Comic Book museum ! Quite aptly selected, Bharat got Goofy, I got a frustrated-Donald Duck, Rama and Akansha got pairs of Chipmunks fighting with each other 🙂

Inside the Eurostar with the gifts Anil presented us

From Belgium 2008

Having gained an hour by traveling West, we arrived in London at 8pm, and quickly took a tube across to Paddington station, where we boarded a train to Swindon, and proceeded to Bristol in the connection Bus service.

The greater surprise of the evening had been back at London St.Pancras, when we ran into the King of Good Times – Dr.Vijay Mallya himself, who probably had also returned from Belgium following the Belgian Grand Prix that weekend !

Vijay Mallya at St.Pancras

From Belgium 2008

One Response to Belgium 3 – Brussels !

  1. Curpad says:

    neat stuff mate… Brilliant !!!

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