Belgium, 2005

I need little excuse to go travelling, yet this time was perhaps my weakest justification ever. I’ve been away for some or all of November for the previous six years so I needed to leave the UK for at least one day to keep the tradition going.

[photopress:Image_69C87715549211DA.jpg,thumb,alignleft]I said it was weak.

Though I live in London I have somehow managed never to have used the Eurostar previously and, given I had no time to take off work, I wanted to avoid flying if possible. Heathrow always involves endless queuing and sitting around and, basically, not moving very quickly for an awful long time. The train was pretty swift and efficient, except when we came back, but that was a blessing as the guards at passport control scrutinised B’s US documentation very closely causing us to be late.

[photopress:Image_69C95FAA549211DA.jpg,thumb,alignleft]We arrived in Brussels, had dinner and pretty much fell straight asleep. I skip over this bit as it was dark and cold and we didn’t see very much, save the underground (which has those vicious closing doors) and a few largely deserted streets.

Starting (reasonably) early the next day, using a quirk of the train ticket to obtain free travel, we headed to Brugge. About an hour from Brussels, it’s a compact, pretty and busy town. Once in the town centre you find narrow, cobbled streets with brightly painted doors. (This picture probably would have looked better on a bright, spring day but beggars can’t be choosers.)

[photopress:Image_69CA05CC549211DA.jpg,thumb,alignleft]This being a Saturday afternoon, the shopping areas were packed. We wanted to climb a central tower but the queue appeared to be going nowhere and time was ticking on towards the “last entry” limit. We decided to eat waffles instead. It’s difficult to understand how any Belgian remains trim. Let’s see: waffles, beer, chocolate and the food is generally pretty hearty. We weren’t complaining.

We take a circuitous route along a river-side path back to the train station.

[photopress:Image_69CA3893549211DA.jpg,thumb,alignleft]Back in Brussels we head to a tiny cavern restaurant called T’Kelderke which is busy but they manage to squeeze the two of us in without too much of a wait. We’re mean and laugh at the people being turned away. It’s a great venue though and eventually feel sorry for them and stop our (distant) teasing. The food was great, the atmosphere even better. This place is probably packed every night.

Afterwards we head around the corner to see the statue that Brussels is famous for: the Manequine Pis. Only in Belgium. It’s a tiny statue of a boy, um, releaving himself. He has a cult and a nearby museum has a full collection of clothes that he is dressed up in from time-to-time.

Of couse one of the other things that Belgium is famous for is the EU. Our hotel was just around the corner from this imposing, shiny structure.

[photopress:IMG_1646.jpg,thumb,alignleft]We stay in Brussels on the Sunday.

B is keen to start the day in an area that’s packed with chocolaterie. We wander around and pop into a few. I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but I think if I lived in Belgium I might change my mind. It all looks fabulous and the few I had were amazing. I latterly discover that, while I bought some for my family for Christmas, I didn’t get any for myself. Oops.

We spend much of the rest of the day aimlessly wandering around. Brussels has lots of parks and cafes and pedestrianised streets which makes it easy to do this. The Grande Place, now I can see it properly in daylight, is a rather grand place. Other than that I can’t tell you I saw this amazing sight, or that wonderful church but can say that I left with a very warm feeling about the place.

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