I woke up at seven, looked at the clock, chuckled and resumed my snooze. Then I woke at eight, made a coffee and woke up properly, waiting for Mirinda to emerge from sleep’s sweet cocoon, which she did at 10:15.
Have discovered a few very civilised things about four-star hotels: you get bathrobes, breakfast is from 7 to 11 and checkout is by 1pm! We went down for breakfast to discover how truly civilised this hotel is; they have doughnuts for breakfast!
We then hit the Chaussee de Charleroi and took the 92 tram into the centre, getting off at the Place Royale. This is a square full of very aggressive buildings including the Museum and Royal Palace. Between these massive buildings we walked till we reached the Mont de Arts where we were accosted by some enterprising beggars. They stop you, ask you to write your name on what appears to be a petition then ask for money. €5 to be exact. Grrrr. So, traveller beware.
So far our view of Brussels is one of a miserable big city with little personality. That was until we found ourselves in the Grande Place which, at least this weekend, appears to pay absolute homage to beer. The centre of the square was completely covered with white tents, each serving different brews. There were marchers and bands and horse-drawn carts. Easily my idea of heaven.
Our first stop was a cafe for coffee and a beer but their coffee machine was broken so Mirinda had hot chocolate. I had a Kwak which comes with its own distinctive glass that resembles a test-tube with a bulb on the bottom and a little wooden stand which (I later discovered) constitutes the handle.
We then strolled around the square – the buildings are pretty amazing. They were built for the guilds of the city and each has quite distinctive markings and statuary. The only one still owned and run by a guild is the brewer’s guild. This is now a museum. Most impressive is the Hotel de Ville (town hall). Most of its impressiveness comes from the fact that it’s been scrubbed very clean while the other buildings are thick with the grime of years of pollution since 1695 (when Brussels was devastated by the French and had to be rebuilt – I think this was the last French military victory). It is very impressive, with it’s spire created by Jan Van Ruysbroeck, the leading spire specialist of the day. There is a great legend that Van R committed suicide because the main entrance is misaligned with the tower. This was actually intentional to ensure the tower would stay up! Why he REALLY committed suicide I do not know.
I visited a beer shop and bought a t-shirt and a box of Kwak, including its glass.
There’s a gold statue on the south side of the square of someone with the odd name of Everard ‘t Serclaes. There is a long-standing superstition that stroking it will bring you good luck. Before we got in two big tourist groups rubbed past, running and chattering (this sort of thing is very big with the Japanese and one of the groups was Japanese). Mirinda finally had a stroke of the shiny leg. According to the Rough Guide it’s very interesting that people believe rubbing it brings you good luck as Everard was hacked to death in 1388 after he recaptured the city from the Count of Flanders.
We then walked down to the world (in)famous Manneken-pis which is much ado about nothing. A little statue and a massive crowd watching him piss. It seems that visiting dignitaries bring him little jackets to wear and he was wearing one today! No one knows for sure what this little chap is meant to symbolise but the most popular theory is that he represents the ” irreverent spirit” of the city. Interestingly the only spirit I’ve seen so far is one of misery. Perhaps it’s the economic turmoil the taxi driver assured us envelopes Brussels.
Anyway one street away and the crowds vanished so we made our hungry way back to the square for lunch. Mirinda had mussels and chips which is a national dish of Brussels while I had rabbit in a plum sauce (yumbo) with a beer, naturally. This was the Charles Quint restaurant which, according to a sign outside, is a non-stop restaurant. I assume this means they will give you your food as you walk through and you just keep walking. We sat outside, next to a young couple who Mirinda thought looked about 10. I think this indicates Mirinda is getting older!! Ten year olds do not normally drink beer openly, even in Belgium.
After visiting the subterranean loos, we set off for Santa Claus’ church (Church of St Nicholas) but it’s unfortunately closed for restoration. D’Oh! That was one of my three choices. We then decided to try the underground (or Metro) back to the Louise area.
We made it to Horte and walked about 10 minutes to our lovely four-star room. Not over-impressed with the trains, I must say. They look almost exactly like the trams – thin and small. Each side is only one seat wide so there’s no sitting together except facing the other side like the tube. Only two carriages but I assume there’s more during commuter hours. The stations aren’t as pretty as I read but then it’s hard to see when you’re standing. The two we walked through didn’t impress me. At least it’s like New York and only a flight of stairs under the ground.
Back at our room Mirinda had a bath and I watched England play Macedonia. Dismal first half, but we won 2-1 thanks to Wayne Rooney’s first international goal (and the youngest in an English shirt) and a perfect penalty by Becks. We were lucky.
We ordered room service and had yummy though expensive hamburger each with egg and bacon. Watched Charlie’s Angels then half of a Colombo before falling asleep around midnight – lovely day.