Awake at 8:30 to witness the dance of the footpath builders. A truck of sand and a grader outside our window are involved in the re-creation of the footpath which has the road blocked in one direction. This is fine except for trams which travel both ways. In order to accommodate them, the big machines regularly move away from each other and over to the opposite side the road in a sort of choreographed shuffle. Given that there’s cars parked on the far side (which has a footpath) this dance is pretty intricate, leaving scant distance for the trams.
Well, today saw some of the worst tourist attractions we have ever seen. This title once belonged to the truly appalling Aboriginal Museum at Lakes Entrance (and my apologies if this has been improved) but, after 12 years, the crown must now go to the Atomium in Brussels. The Rough Guide warned us but we took no notice and, to be honest, the Rough Guide was very, very kind. But I rush ahead: first there is the abysmal ‘Visit Brussels Line’ hop on/off sightseeing bus.
It’s nice sitting in an open top bus on a nice day but, be warned – the commentary does not always sync with the subject and if you stand up at the wrong time you’ll almost surely be decapitated. Also, when your stop approaches, do not wait for the driver to announce the stop as he does this two seconds after arriving which is when he leaves. Amazing.
Anyway, when you reach the incredible Atomium – a model of a molecule expanded 165 billion times, built for the 1958 Worlds Fair – it looks quite amazing and, in a fifties Jetson’s sort of way, quite futuristic. Ah, but then you buy a ticket and zoom up the super-fast elevator which takes an amazing 23 seconds to rise 100 metres. Wow! The fastest man on earth can run a 100 metres in less than 10 seconds! Though it was probably quit impressive in 1958.
Once at the top there is a grimy view of the smog covered city. There are no openings so it’s all a bit enclosed. There are signs everywhere declaring that the windows are always being cleaned on the outside due to the pollution so don’t dirty the inside – I think it would be better to get rid of the windows altogether and have them open like most towers around the world. Unless, of course molecules actually have little observation windows. Anyway, this was the good bit.
The lift then drops you halfway down and you walk from globe to globe by stairs and escalators passing odd displays of toys in hot-air balloons, unlabelled photographs and locked environments for plastic animals. Yes, it was very weird. The walls are composed (and looked decomposed) of what appears to be fibreglass insulation (silver backed) and everywhere there are totally meaningless squiggly lines with arrows at both ends.
They are being given money to restore this thing; Mirinda thinks it should be left to rot, as it appears to have been doing since 1958. I reckon they should paint all the spheres very bold colours so it looks like a real molecule and open a bar at the top. One important point that Mirinda picked up is that it was almost called the moleculium, which is not easy to say.
Next is Mini-Europe. This is approached by first walking through Restaurant Village with its blaring force 10 music coming through doorways and thousands of empty chairs – not exactly inviting. Being a Monday, most of Brussels has closed and you can see why. When this place is full there must be half a million people in it. I think the restaurant staff like having an easy day. We had a tepid coffee and an anonymous beer then went to Mini-Europe. This could be really bad and the Rough Guide is not exactly complimentary but it was actually quite good.
A lot of the major European sites have been reproduced in 1:25 scale and there’s quite a good guide book as well which takes visitors through every place with lots of facts about the EU countries. Halfway through (just past Portugal) you can stop for refreshments. Unfortunately we took advantage of this. If anyone reading this is ever tempted do not go for the hot dog special as the ‘special’ is a bit of pale, half cooked bacon – or the cheeseburger as the burger pattie is paler than the cheese. Good beer though.
After our journey round very tiny Europe (the most fun was ‘ticking off’ the places we’d been to) we managed to reach the bus hop-on stop for the second last bus. It was early but that didn’t stop it leaving. Good job we didn’t cut it finer as it’s half an hour between buses. We then had a stop, start trip through heavy Brussel’s traffic, while the bus gave us the biblical version of Belgian history – Leopold I begat Leopold II who begat Leopold III who begat blah, blah, blah. Until, finally, we were once more at Place Louise and only a short walk back to the hotel. What a funny day.
We went to dinner (after two episodes of The Simpsons and one Friends) via the Avenue Louise and down a side-street (Rue Jourdan) to a group of about 10 restaurants. Ended up at Au Boeuf Gros Sel where I had a delicious fillet aux Rochefort and Mirinda had lamb ribs with veg. Finished it all off with a Colonel Vodka (you have to pronounce the ‘Colonel’ the same way Louis LeBeau did in Hogan’s Heroes) which comprises a lemon sorbet and a glass of vodka. Mirinda had profiteroles which tasted like they’d been on a shelf for far too long. Pity, as mine was strangely nice. We once more were serenaded by busking piano accordionists who must have attended the same school as the other guys because the repertoire was the same.
Back to our hotel by 9:45. Watched The Talented Mr Ripley which I hadn’t seen before and enjoyed (even with the pain in the butt habit of British television interrupting movies at 10pm because of the news). Mirinda has just started an unputdownable book…