Sunday, 8 June 2014

Bye Bruges and Adventure in Brussels

Bruges was by far the prettiest European City so far.  Clean and so quaint.  We both had our hair cut yesterday and feel better for that too. Clever Canadian Bonnie had researched restaurants in Bruges so most of those from the barge that stayed over met up for dinner.  Here are a few shots I took on the way to and from the restaurant.
The Belfry
The church of our lady. Did I mention the tower is 122m high and thus the highest brick tower in the world?
Our restaurant was way off the tourist track
We decided, as it was sunny to sit out in the garden.
As our racks of ribs were served Garrie thought he heard thunder. Within minutes the sky opened and we grabbed our food and drinks and headed inside.
Inside we were dry but perhaps a bit too warm as we were right near the cooking.
The food was fantastic with a creme brûlée worthy of Paris.  Well done Bonnie!  The rain had stopped by the time we left so we wandered back happily enjoying the sights some more.  Today dawned grey but dry and we headed to the station for the 8am train.  The train to Brussels is on time, spacious and fast.  Oh Australia you are so behind Europe on this stuff.  Well you'll laugh, when the conductor came through we discovered we were in first class with second class tickets. Woops! So half the trip was a bit less spacious but still double the leg room of economy class air travel. 

So we arrive and decide to use the metro to get to our hotel. We buy our ticket and we know we need platform 3 to DeBrouckere and then change to St Catherine.  Easy right? So we find platform 3 and the strangest little train arrives and we get in.  So after just one stop we pop back out into the open air and then we find we are stopping at tram stops.  Who knew that their trams also ran on the metro so now where the heck are we going?  Garrie asks some passengers and the driver none of whom have English I try to check the maps which do not correspond to our metro map...thankfully the old adage fortune favours the brave kicks in and a business looking fellow asks me if I need help. I explain and he says we should get off with him at the next stop and he then directs us how to walk to St Catherine's which is only about 200m away!  How lucky is that.  The area seems grim, deserted and dirty and it starts to rain.  We are not impressed with Brussels.  We walk almost to St Catherine's Cathedral then I use my French (having realised all signs are now in French) to ask a waiter for the street we need. That's just across the road and our hotel is back about 100m.  Another stroke of luck - check in is 2pm and it's only 10am but our room is available!  (I think we looked in need). This hotel is excellent and even has a kitchenette.

So what a difference an hour makes. The sun is shining, a market has started up and in just a few minutes we are in the most amazing square.
This is city hall.
I couldn't get the tower into the shot, so here it is in close-up
The detail in this building is amazing,
You may have noticed a group in green shirts. They are from Catalonia and they are touring Europe looking for support for their vote for independence in November.  They were only in the Square today and this is what they do to attract attention.
(The girls in pink were on a hens weekend we think).
We also found The Mannekan Pis, the little boy who has been amusing people on this corner since 1619.  He too was supporting Catalonian independence it seems.  Giving him outfits has become a "thing" and he now has over 900 outfits apparently.  Let's hope he doesn't have a pair of budgie smugglers!
Though this is the real one, you see them everywhere in Brussels in various forms
We found this in a famous restaurant strip.
Mussels are certainly the national dish, though our barge guide told us this is not the best time for mussels so though I enjoy them I have not bothered.
Time for our last Belgian waffle, but which to have?
We both picked bottom right and laughed when they too had a gummy mannaken pis in the top.  Ok yes I sucked the cream off mine and tucked him away for later!
We also found Europe's first shopping arcade
It dates back to 1847 and is just lovely.
It includes lots of shops, coffee houses and even a theatre. Here'a shop I avoided...
The Church of St Nicholas includes some magnificent stained glass windows and is almost 1000 years old.
In 1868 the relics of the Martyrs of Gorkum were transferred from the Netherlands to the Church of Saint Nicholas. This shrine contains these relics. These martyrs were 19 Catholic priests who had been tortured and executed on 9.July.1572 in the Dutch city of Gorinchem (or Gorkum, a village about 15 miles southwest of Rotterdam) during the religious troubles between Catholics and Protestants in the Low Countries. The Protestants were trying to force Franciscan, Norbertine, Augustinian and Dominican priests to renounce Catholicism and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Bas-reliefs of each martyr can be seen on the reliquary.
Again the detail is exquisite.
These Madonnas are on many corners in both Bruges and Brussels.
There's plenty of entertainment going on with several markets and we came across this jazz band entertaining a crowd that had spread blankets on the road and were enjoying their picnics.
It has turned into a gorgeous day.  Check the temperature...
Of course Belgium is the home of Tin Tin and evidence of him pops up in many places.
We also come across some ruins that are being preserved from 1238.
The city mayors are friendly so I have a quick sit down on this ones knee.
It seems some of this city is well preserved, other parts are more like the outskirts of Ghent, perhaps run down due to the GFC? There are also odd spots where new buildings incorporate the very old.
So, both of us bing tired, we buy some salads and rolls to eat for the rest of the day and head back to our hotel room where we both crash for an hour or so and decide that's it for today.  Our flight to Venice leaves at 6.55am tomorrow so we'll rest up for new adventures in Italy.  So see you in Italy.