EMUs in Belgium
Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
13Trip End Feb 22, 2006
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We started in the morning at the Laundromat down the street and around the corner from the ETAP. After washing our clothes in this facility featuring a sign asking people NOT to vomit in the bin, we headed to Gare du Nord to change to the RER Line B station Luxembourg (on the corner of Le Jardin de Luxembourg) where we used the Internet café to bring you the last blog update. At Gare du Nord we used the huge vending machine that we used last time to grab sandwiches and drinks for later lunchtime consumption.
Following the update we took the RER and Metro once again to Iena to visit the Palais du Tokyo. Prior to visiting the museum we stopped on the steps next to the museum over looking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower
From one visual feast to another, we headed once more to a Gaumont Cinema on the Champs-Elysees. This time we were seeing the 3:20pm session of Banditas, in the original (English) version with French subtitles. Unlike the larger screen that we had seen Lord of War on, this auditorium had room for only 40 seats, had a very small screen and was stuffed underneath the foyer. Despite the viewing conditions, the movie featuring Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz was very good fun and extremely hilarious. Completely by Europeans, this Wild West movie with the 2 Latin American heroines is first released in France and Belgium and is without a release date at home. It is a must see when it arrives at home, hopefully not straight to DVD.
As articulated in the last update, we already had tickets to see the 6:30pm session of Mystery of the Nile at La Geode on this last evening of their Large Format Film Festival. However, before heading off to the Parc de la Villette we popped into Le Macdo at the top of the Champs for quick dinner.
The Sunday night Metro took a little longer than usual to take us to La Geode as the frequency of trains was lower, not only lengthening our changes, but also meaning that the trains were pretty crowded, forcing us to fight our way through all the other commuters to get along the platforms and in and out of trains
Although we managed to get to the foyer of La Geode at 6:20pm, the queue to get into this session was already very long, with more than half of the cinema's 400 seats sold.
We had to wait for about 20 minutes due to the fact that the hourly sessions were running late, probably a result of the large crowds throughout the last day of the festival.
Due to the popularity of the session we had seats further towards the front than usual, which was good to give us a different perspective to the norm, even more into the film.
The movie was again interesting, tracking the first ever expedition from source to sea of the Blue Nile. We both enjoyed this movie although we probably prefer the other 2 films a tad more than Nile.
Following our late-running session we headed across town on the Metro to Porte de Clichy, just across the road from the hotel that WAYO was staying at. We headed up to Belinda and Ingrid's room and chatted before Jack found Charles and they went off to chat with Jack's friends.
We continued to socialise with our WAYO friends until 11:30, when we regrouped and headed back home on the Metro
Tired from our previous late night, we woke late on Monday for a leisurely breakfast before heading off to Gare du Nord. Although we had our seat reservations for our Thalys journey to Brussels, the SNCF employee who gave them to us didn't want to validate our Eurail passes until the day of departure. As such, we queued for around 40 minutes to get our passes validated. We were very glad for factoring in a lot of time for this process, as we only had our passes validated 15 minutes prior to departure.
Again the Thalys was a great way to travel, a nice long trip on the 300km/h high speed line. The only downside was that our seats were part of a group of 4 inward facing seats around a table.
Once settled into our hotel across the road from the Brussels-Midi (Zuid) station, we took the Metro to the Bourse in the center of town and walked around.
The trams and busses here in Brussels look very inviting and are clean and efficient. Unfortunately the Metro and tram tunnels under the CBD let the system down. They look like they were constructed in the 1970's and have not been touched since. It gives off that dirty, dingy and unsafe vibe that Montreal does, but at least it doesn't look like it's falling apart as Montreal does. As Charles said, "The baby vomit orange has got to go". Don't get us wrong, we like Brussels, it certainly isn't another Montreal, the above ground services hold it up, but underground really needs work to prevent the downfall of this city.
We got off at the site of the old Brussels Expo, where the large structure, the Atomonium is. One can usually go inside and climb up to the structure, which resembles a molecule, with visitors travelling through the bonds and stopping in the atoms. Unfortunately the Atomonium is closed for maintenance at the moment - typical of Europe during the winter low season.
After taking some photos we walked to the complex over the tram and metro tracks, housing a water park (closed) and Mini Europe (also closed). There is also a 29 cinema complex here, featuring a disused IMAX screen. We purchased tickets for the 5:30pm session of The Libertine. To fill the time we went to Quick for dinner, in the complex next to the cinema. This has to be the slowest Quick we have ever visited, there were 2 staff on duty. It was a very quiet complex, but one took the order, then they both made the order together. At least we know the food was fresh. Due to the slowness of the service, we were almost even late for our session.
The movie was interesting and then a bit awful at the end. It documents the life of the Earl of Rochester (played by Johnny Depp) under King Charles around the 1600 and 1700s, after the Puritans
We caught the tram back to Gare du Midi, initially by the streets and then through the underground tram tunnels through the CBD.
The trams look similar to the Eastern European designs we saw last year, with only a few more modern low floor trams being spotted.
The following morning we rose earlier to get ready for our day trip around Belgium. We enjoyed our breakfast at our Ibis, which was great with tons of pastries, hot drinks, fresh fruit and even cake. After getting excited by our breakfast we headed across to the station where our swanky 1999-built Bombardier/Alstom EMU InterCity train took us to Brugge with speed and efficiency. As Brugge is in Flanders, the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, once out of Brussels, the train announcements were only in Flemish, as opposed to the French and Flemish announcements in the mainly French Brussels. We are finding the Flemish manageable as we get used to its weird bastardisation of German/Dutch with some French pronunciation
As Brugge station is on the southern edge of the town, we walked up across the canals and into the center of this gothic style town. In the morning it was not very busy, giving us nice relatively quiet streets to stroll down, as we navigated the cobblestone streets past canals and frozen ponds. Of note was the main town square with musical clock, and the Australian Gift Shop (disappointingly closed). In the center we visited a few shops, including the Tintin shop, the Belgians enjoy their comics, especially those by Belgian artists. From the center of town, we continued walking around to the eastern side of the town, through the King's Garden and down to the southern canal around the edge of the town following it back to the station. We both got the vibe that this would be a nice city to stay in and sit down, navigate the canals, have morning tea, lunch, breakfast, and just generally chill in due to it's cool gothic atmosphere. Unfortunately it isn't possible to take advantage of the large selection of eating houses and the canal system in the winter, this town is more of a summer destination.
Back at the train station, we were once again on a swanky EMU (this particular set built in 2000), this time heading to another town in Flemish-speaking Belgium, Antwerp. The station building in Antwerp has a very high curved roof and ornate stone building. It appears that lots of work is underway; it appears they are constructing more platforms underground (there are currently 6 above-ground platforms at this dead-end station). Out of the main entrance to the King's square we visited the Diamond Museum in this city of diamonds.
The museum was strange in that there was not much written text, the entrance fee included the electronic audio guide which explained each part of the exhibit in place of the traditional written boards at a normal museum. In true "weird European" style, the Goddess of Wind amongst other characters was part of the exhibit, and was seen in her flowing gowns and mask dancing on several screens throughout the visit, explaining her role in the creation and discovery of diamonds.
Several exquisite artistic diamond items as well as jewellery were on display, along with the message that the guards did not have the keys to open the cabinets.
From the museum we headed toward the center of town, towards the river. We were distracted for lunch at Hectors chicken, our "Chicken Pita" made before our eyes, and beer included in the meal instead of the soft drinks we're so used to in Australia. It took a while for the fact that I was have a bottle of Juliper instead of Coke at a fast food joint to sink in. From lunch Charles was lured across the road to MediaMarkt, where a CD was purchased. In the line for the "Cassa" (checkout), a lady started speaking to us about how she wanted to visit Australia because she found Germaine Greer "inspiring".
We continued to follow the street, which became the Meir shopping street, all the way to the river, stopping in shops looking for ink, CD's and chocolate and visiting several squares along the way.
At the river we walked north, through the old castle and up to some of the trams. We then turned back east-wards and walked along the tram tracks (routes 4 and 10) towards the Meir. We continued to be impressed by this city, which appears to be continually changing and featuring good transport, and some good attractions that we have yet to explore. It was nice to just chill here too; it seems relaxed, but not slow. I would love to dine at one of the cafés on a square in the center of town that the trams circumnavigate, eating as the trams roll by soothingly. Charles and I both agree that this town is worth staying at next time.
The only thing we didn't get was the large selection of Australian bars/restaurants around town!?! Is this a result of the war, or just a Belgian fascination with our country?
We continued window shopping on the way back to the station, where we saw a few trains come and go (with the camera handy of course) before catching the 4:40pm InterCity train back to Brussels. This time our train was hauled by an electric locomotive at each end of a set of double-deck cars, of a similar age and style to the swanky EMU's we caught earlier in the day.
We cruised back into Brussels from the north, on the approach to Brussels-Noord station we passed several buildings with interesting girls in the windows, lit up by red lights, right next to the train line. We are staying at the opposite end of town, in the south; the dodgiest it gets for us is the urine outside the Brussels-Zuid station across the road.
Back at Brussels-Zuid we grabbed dinner, enquired about reservations and trains to Amsterdam on Thursday and browsed the 3 chocolate shops on the concourse. Of course we couldn't resist a little Cote d'Or dark chocolate for a post-dinner treat.
Now I'm updating the blog on Charles' laptop using the wireless internet at the hotel, on this, our last full day in Brussels. Tomorrow it's off to Amsterdam, where we will be staying in our first ever Botel (hotel on a boat). Stay tuned to see how it is!