A Room With A View, Mini-Bar, and Cable
By Dwip June 17, 2004, 8:20 am Comments (3) RSS Feed for this post

Or so says a certain ad on the London tube, which considering this is about Brussels is a bit odd, but whatever. The circumstances sort of merit it, as it happens.

Brussels, 6/13/04

Left London this morning, which felt a bit odd, since I sort of felt like I lived there. Packing, saying goodbye to Paul and Jan – all a bit surreal. Getting 6 hours of sleep to get up at 6 and catch a 6:30 tube to Waterloo for my 8:30 train, more painful than surreal. Since the first Picadilly ran at 7, well…yeah. Only to get to Waterloo and stand in a few lines to get my supposedly self-collectable ticket, and to get on the Eurostar.

Which is a fabulous train. Fast, and so quiet I forgot I was on a train, until I arrived 3 hours later in Brussels, and stepped off the train only to realize that everyone but me sort of speaks French and Dutch. But more on that later. Fortunately, Stephanie fairly quickly found me, and she DOES speak both languages. Funny considering she’s a resident, but there you go.

The conversation turned fairly quickly to my rather acute lack of a hotel reservation, which led us to a tourist info desk and a nice helpful lady who informed us that, oh, by the way, we can get you 4 nights in the Jolly Hotel du Grand Sablon for 65 euro a night. By the way, it’s a 4 star hotel and you get a bunch of stuff with that. Oh, and it’s in a really nice part of town. Not being a total fool, I took them up on the offer, and so arrived at a room which, if it’s not big, has nice stuff, and looks out over some really nice buildings.

Speaking of which, we then embarked on a walking tour of central Brussels, which mostly looks as if a bunch of guys were sitting around in like 1810 and were like “yknow, we need some great big palaces. So let’s build a few. And while we’re at it, let’s build some really wide roads, too.” So they did, and it looks cool. I won’t attempt to list where all we went, but it was a lot, and all very cool. And if it wasn’t 19th century, it was Gothic, which is even better. Nice place, central Brussels.

However, it is completely devoid of ATMs. The ones there are decided to not work, either, which may or may not mean that Skynet is taking over and that I’ll be in T4. In any case, I have like 17 pounds and no euros to my name just now.

As a final observation before I collapse from exhaustion, I note that the Belgians A) have real honest to God stop signs, which is amazing after London; B) Are not maniac drivers like the English; and C) have a habit of doing signs in whatever language they feel like at the time, be it French, Dutch, English, or the odd German sign. Plus everyone speaks multiple languages. Very strange, but kind of cool once you get used to it.

Addendum:

Apparently, according to my handy Lonely Planet guide, one of the largest ISPs in Belgium is called Skynet. Hrm.


Brussels, 6/14/04

I’m beginning to think that 19th century Europeans got it about right, at least in the architecture department. I say this writing from the Parc Royal (I think), where I’ve just enjoyed some ice cream and sat down under some nice shady trees to watch this highly impressive fountain. It’s one of those sorts of days, in one of those sorts of places.

I’ve spent the day wandering around, which means I only get lost sometimes. It’s not that hard, since half the cool places I’ve been are on one street, including the forementioned Parc, plus the Palais de Justice (they have nice courthouses in Europe, and this one has a great view of the city, too) and the Eglise du Sablon, a nice Gothic church I can see from my window. My hotel rocks like that. Around the Parc, there’s more palaces, the names of which I still haven’t learned because Brussels is fun like that, and a short walk takes one to the Cathedral, which is…quite a sight. Down the hill a bit is the Grand Place (which I can’t pronounce in French AT ALL), which is, well, appropriately grand, and the only place I’ve really been lost trying to find.

On another note, I have no idea why I’m such a good target for this, but twice today random people have come up to ask me stuff, except I don’t speak French, and they don’t speak English, so. Do I look Belgian or something? Dunno.


Rather later:

So, as it happened, I ended up hanging out in the Parc Royal for like 3 hours reading one of my large supply of books. Nice, sunny, and there’s this gigantic fountain and nice green trees for atmosphere. Almost fell asleep on a bench, even. Also almost got run down by two little kids on bikes, but.

Also went over to Stephanie’s and had dinner with her and her family. Quite an enjoyable time. Her family are nice people, and her mom cooks a great meal. :) Had mushrooms for the first time since March, which was great. Also got to use a spoon, which is one of those things the English haven’t quite gotten around to yet. One gets to notice lots of little things like that. Stop signs. Spoons. The odd-sized Coke bottles the Belgians use. The need to manually open the carriage doors on the metro. Random little things.


Brussels, 6/15/04

Oh my, what a day. Started out in the cathedral, which is sort of just above church status, but is nevertheless nifty. Too, you can walk right in, which is quite refreshing after English cathedrals where you have to pay an arm and a leg. Add some nice stained glass and Gothic architecture, and I liked the place.

After that, I sat around enjoying the rather commanding view from the steps, and waited for Stephanie to get out of her last exam (yes, she sacrificed study time for me. Lucky, aren’t I?), whereupon we both hung out at the cathedral, and she picked up a friend – an exceedingly docile and friendly bumblebee who decided to hang out with and hitch a ride on her shoe for a couple of blocks. Never seen anything like it.

From the cathedral, we went down to the museums, me being me, and hung out (you’ll notice there was a lot of hanging out – the rope called it a day after a while, though) there for a few hours. Saw a lot of great Roman stuff, including a great big model of Rome (sweet!), a great big collonade, and a bunch of Romano-Syrian mosaics (trivia – they’re different in style than Romano-British mosaics. Those have lots of geometric shapes and knotwork, where the Syrian ones have hunting scenes and different geometric shapes. Interesting stuff.) (Also, let’s hear it for huge parenthetical digressions). Then we saw your usual happy Egyptian stuff, and some assorted Asian and Merovingian stuff.

And then, well, we went to see Troy. The movie, that is, as the plane trip is prohibative, even for me. And…it wasn’t bad, for what it tried to be. You can’t really do the story justice without LOTRing the thing, but Troy did what it could for Achilles, and sort of managed[2].

In any case, we then went for a drink, and had one of those random encounters where you run into, not 2d6 orcs, but a 5th level American tourist. From San Francisco of all places. Turned out to be a brewing major, here for (of course) the beer. So we talked to our new and inebriated[1] friend for a while, and then went off to sleep, because, well, it’s off to Paris in the morning. But that’s another story.

[1] – So he’s telling us this story about how he’s in the same bar we’re in now yesterday, and he’s been drinking a fair bit, and he wakes up in the morning, and the last thing he remembers is midafternoon drinking at the bar. Doesn’t know if he paid, made an ass out of himself, what. So he goes to the next bar, where he sees the waiter of the other bar glance at him, squint for a sec, and he’s thinking “oh shit, I did something REALLY bad” and the waiter waves at him, and he’s thinking “saved! Saved!” Yeah. That’s about what I mean by inebriated. And then Stephanie pointed him towards a place with an even bigger beer selection. Heh.

[2] – And since I’m here, I should note that I read Colleen McCullough’s The Song of Troy when I was in England, and never talked about it. It’s a totally different sort of take on the Trojan War epic, and I really liked it. So all you McCullough fans should go read it.


Paris, 6/16/04

It’s one of those nights where you stagger into your room, feet sore, legs barely working, sweat running off of you, sunburnt, and bloody holes in your hand where the skin peeled off because you stuck your hand in your pocket too many times (!). And it’s like the most satisfying feeling you’ve ever had, because damn, what a day.

As the words to the song go, and we heard this one at the last karaoke night and it was awesome:

Take me down to the paradise city
where the grass is green
and the girls are pretty
oh won’t you please take me home

Had that one in my head all day, and it’s sort of appropriate. Grass, buildings, girls, it’s all good. In fact, everything in Paris is good except the Parisians, who live up to their fame as being the biggest dicks in the world. Except that one guy at the Eiffel Tower. He was nice. Must’ve been from the country or something. All the others were evil bastards, and give you a whole new appreciation for Chirac.

And the buildings, well, yeah. Let’s talk about those for a big long while, because there were sort of a lot of them. And like in Brussels, it’s like everyone was kicking around a century or two ago, and they’re like “Yeah, that whole thing with gigantic palaces, big parks, and big roads sounds like a pretty good idea. Let’s go bleed some peasants dry and get to it.” The peasants, showing good taste, guillotined the nobles and kept the buildings. Good plan.

First on the tour was Sacre Coeur (that bit rhymes, you’ll note. Oh baby I’m good), which is actually of 1870s vintage, but still. It’s up on this pretty fair hill on the north end of the city. Inside there’s some fabulous, fabulous artwork which of course I have no pictures of because they’re not all up into photography in the house of God. They do let you in for free, however, which is really cool. What I DO have pictures of is the view from the dome, which is bloody well impressive, I must say.

From there, we walked down through the Montmarte part of Paris, which is a bunch of dinky streets with lots of little restauraunts and painters and such, to the nearest metro station. And believe me when I tell you that the Paris metro is totally shittastic. The Brussels one isn’t quite the London Underground, but it’s got some life and attempts to speed up your journey. The Paris metro not only attempts to impede you, but it’s a totally soulless sort of place. And you have to open the carriages by hand, which makes me wonder why London is the only place on earth where you don’t have to do that. Also, the carriages have this picture of a poor little pink rabbit getting his fingers smashed in the door, which leads one to imaginings of horrific fates involving being dragged along with the train, into random aluminum things on the sides of tunnels and into mirrors and things.

But anyway. So we come out of the metro near the Arc de Triomphe, and I mean near as in we’re riding the escalator and the Arc comes into view slowly as we’re coming up. Awesome. Hard to get a really good view of because of the cars, but awesome. The Champs-Elysees isn’t bad either, as it happens, being one of Those Sorts of Streets. It ends up in the Place de la Concorde, which among other things has the US Embassy and this big Egyptian obelisk in the center of the thing, because looting big Egyptian obelisks is the thing we did back in the day.

From there we walked up the Rue Royale, and after a particularly harrowing stunt involving jaywalking about 5 lanes of cars in the Place de la Madeleine, found ourselves in the Eglise de la Madeleine itself, which is a fairly impressive sort of church. Then we went over to the Place Vendome, which apart from housing the Ritz and some hella expensive shops, has a big replica of Trajan’s Column, topped by a statue of…Napoleon. Trajpoleon’s Column, as we called it, was only the first mark that Paris is truly the home of that short dead dude, Napoleon.

That having been done, we wandered down to the Jardin des Tuileries for lunch, fed the ducks, and took some pictures. The Jardin is one of those places where if some guy in 17th century costume walked by, you wouldn’t even pay attention. It’s also right next to the Louvre, which we didn’t go in, but the outside is, uh. Yeah. Damn. They sure did build nice stuff, back in the day. Outside the Louvre is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which looks sort of like the Arch of Constantine, except it’s got (get this) Napoleon on the top. So the Arch of Conpoleon, or the Arch of Naptantine the Great, if you will. You’d think the guy could find his own style monument to erect at some point.

Or maybe he did. Apart from this bridge over the Seine with big wreathed “N” symbols on them, there’s the Palais de Justice, which has all sorts of Napoleonic stuff on it, and isn’t even a Roman ripoff, being sort of Englightenment looking.

Nearby that is Notre Dame, which one of those places that gets hyped a whole lot, and you’re standing outside going “Wow. Nice cathedral.” and then you get inside and it’s really dark and there’s not really anything in there, and you’re like “Oh.” And so we left. And found a metro station and immediately got going in the opposite direction, because even if you speak French it’s totally impossible to understand the system. Once we actually DID get in the right direction, we down to the Hotel des Invalides, which apart from being a great big hospital for soldiers, now a museum, is I believe where Nappy got himself buried. Of course they shut the place five minutes before we got there, so I’ll never know.

So instead we ditched that Napoleon loser and went off to the Ecole Militaire, France’s military college, which is a rather impressive place in it’s Englightenmentness. Behind it is the Parc du Champs de Mars, which apart from having trees and shade and water which are all important when you’re frying to death after walking all day, looks straight at the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower, incidentally, is one of those things you see pictures of, and you’re like “Oh, that must be kind of big.” but of course it does no justice to the thing in real life. Because believe you me, that thing is TALL. And has some long lines, and costs 10.40 euro to get in, but it’s totally worth it. View from the 2nd floor halfway up is pretty good, but from the top? Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Gotta see the pictures to do it justice, because I really can’t with words. Stephanie, who incidentally has a bit of a problem with heights, went up to the top with me. All thousand feet or whatever it is. And enjoyed the view of the world. So yay for her. And then we had ice cream, and it was good. Paris does vanilla differently from everyone else, and it’s kind of good.

That having been done, we walked up to the nearest metro station, skillfully switched between two lines to get back to the station our train left from, passed through the ticket gate there, and ran for our train which was due to leave in 8 minutes. Fortunately for us, there was another ticket gate randomly stuck in our way, and of course we’re out of tickets. So we try for the wheelchair gate, and almost get trapped, only to be freed by some quick thinking on Stephanie’s part. Then we kept feeding tickets to a regular gate until one worked, and we both ran through at the same time. Then we ran to the very freaking last platform of like 8, then ran all the way to the very end of the train, and jumped on like 2 minutes before it was due to leave.

And that was Paris in a day. Left at 10:10 in the morning, got back about the same time that night. A full day, as these things go. And that having been said, it’s bedtime.


Europe, Trips Comments (3) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on A Room With A View, Mini-Bar, and Cable
avatar Comment by Steph's mom #1
July 2, 2004 at 1:08 pm

Hi Erik,

I’ve just read your very kind account of your evening with us. I promise next time you come over you’ll get more mushrooms, and each time I buy some I can’t refrain from thinking of you. ;-)

Have a nice summertime.
Mich

avatar Comment by BelgiumGirl #2
July 2, 2004 at 1:19 pm

Pretty neat declaration of love from my mom right there, wasn’t it? :-)

It is cool to read about our adventures in and around the Belgian lands. Thanks again for the memorable days. I had a LOT of fun. Remember you’re aaaaalways welcome.

Good also to see you have survived Pizzaland and its numerous places of intellectual and esthetical debauchery. :-) Will look forward to knowing what you thought of the real Napoljan’s Column and surroundings.

Have fun at Whir’s (hey Whir!) and be good. :-)

avatar Comment by BelgiumGirl #3
July 2, 2004 at 1:35 pm

Addendum:

lol on the ticket gate episode. Boy, was that stressful!

I must say thanks again for the Eiffel Tower. A small step for most people I guess but a giant one for me. Thanks for helping me go on with my therapy. It was all thanks to the ice cream really. :-)

And what is so special about Paris girls anyway?? :-)