Right, folks, I am sorry it’s taken so long to update this blog but you know how it is with such a mammoth project like this. I had to deal with so many things, from finding my way around to finding the energy and time in between packing and unpacking to feel inspired to write. And you know I don’t like giving you mediocre stuff.
I arrived in Brussels around noon on Friday 5 August 2016. A big “thank you” to Eurostar who sponsored my Standard Premier ticket and Ben Sawyers from the Press Office who made it possible. The journey was smooth, with a lovely breakfast and excellent service from Rachel and Sebastien.
The wifi connection and sockets on the seats gave me plenty of time to work on my laptop and catch up with friends on Facebook. Alas, we arrived too soon – I was still enjoying the journey and the wonderful service. Aaah…
Before I stepped down, Sebastien told me to go to the weekend flea market in Brussels, which is supposed to be the biggest in Europe. Aw, shucks, I can’t take any more luggage!
After the euphoria of arrival on the first leg of my odyssey, I realised I hadn’t printed the directions to the hostel (duh!), but I learned that my Vodaphone contract covered Europe. Whoopee! I still didn’t know where the heck to take the local train from, though.
Which is North???
Sometimes with these directions, they should just tell you to in plain English that the local train is in the same bloody building instead of telling you to walk so many minutes in whatever direction. It certainly doesn’t help when you don’t know where North actually is to be able to head that way. If the sun is rising or setting I will know East and West but that’s as far as I can go. And don’t tell me to check the compass on my phone; can you imagine how embarrassing that would be? I am not in the Sahara for goodness sakes! Anyway, I finally found the local ticket office and scrambled up the escalator with my two heavy bags.
It was only three stops to the Train Hostel in Schaerbeek, north of the city centre. Dragging two heavy cases in a steady drizzle, I took a welcome break when I got out of the short tunnel to see a steam train engine. It was part of the Train World museum display. The road was not well signposted but finally cold and wet, I found it, the blue train carriage sticking over the roof, a dead giveaway.
I was fascinated by the décor of the hostel (more in the next blog). My room, which has ensuite facilities, simulated a train cabin, complete with bunk beds. My double bed is made up of two bottom bunks.
Schaerbeek is also the last stop on Tram 92 which the hostel’s operations manager, Yves Hölzgen told me I could take for the weekend flea market (Sablon). I was busy trying to catch up with missed deadlines so I spent the best part of Saturday working so, come Sunday, I forced myself out of the room. It would defeat the whole purpose of my journey to be stuck indoors, deadline or no, I needed to be out there seeing places and meeting people.
I had only been travelling for a couple of days but already I was out of touch with the news. Brussels city centre was full of military personnel. My friend Tajuddin in London told me that the day before (6 August) there had been a machete attack on police officers in Charleroi. But going by the tourists thronging the city, people either don’t feel the threat or chose not to let terrorists dictate their lives, which is how I prefer to lead my life.
Brussels is as cosmopolitan as London and everyone spoke English. Like London’s Portobello Road market, at the Sablon antiques market you will find lots of curios from different parts of the world and new goods like silverware and crockery mingled with the antiques. I was fascinated to find a stall with a kris. “This is from my country,” I shouted, to the amusement of stall owner and specialist in antique weaponry, Alain Jernander, who was kind enough to let me pose with this beautiful, yet lethal weapon.
Vincent Dhaussy”s stall with his collection of Japanese art included some erotic Shunga safely stashed away from sensitive eyes. Over at the silverware stall, I chatted to Rwandan, Blaise Uzabakiriho and her daughter Paris, fascinated by her choice of names for her daughters. Her other daughter is called Florence.
My next mission was to find the Manneken Pis, that statue of the pissing boy that is as iconic to Brussels as the Trafalgar Square lions, to London. t was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618 or 1619.
The naked boy has some 800 constumes, stashed away at the City of Brussels museum and is dressed on festive occasions. Fortunately for me today wasn’t one of them so I can really see why people keep complaining online that “it is so small.” Of course it would be small; he’s just a boy! I shall assume they actually meant the statue size (standing at only 61 cm).
On the way I passed by a couple of Leonidas chocolate shops and a host of other chocolatiers. Despite being overloaded with luggage I indulged in two 250-gramme boxes of my favourite Leonidas. Belgian chocolates are the best; don’t let the Swiss tell you any different. I find them tasty without being too sweet. And on that note, I shall leave you, my sweet readers.