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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Back to Brussels

After yesterday’s wonderful experience, I can’t wait to return to the town of urine - yes it’s back to brussels to see the Asterix festival. The train leaves at 9.20am so I’m out of the hotel in plenty of time at 8.30am. It’s only a leisurely 15 minute walk to the station, it will give me a good opportunity to check it out a little better in preparation for my departure on Monday. I know one thing, I won't be catching a taxi!

I snap a few pics on the way of the empty restaurants, the smell of stale beer and shattered glass from broken bottles are lodged in the cobblestones - they chain the table and chairs together. I wonder how many get stolen? I wonder how many get thrown at people?
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When I reach the Dom, I experience the true Eau de Cologne - early morning urine. This is what it smells like before the plaza gets washed down. How lovely. That's one way to clear your nostrils.

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There’s a large crowd waiting for the train and I’m a bit nervours about getting a seat. I do manage to find one that isn’t reserved - and it’s facing forward so it’s all good. I learnt my lesson from my last ICE trip and I’ve purchased water before leaving.

There are large groups booked - one of which seem to be made of 60+ brits who all have “great train voyages” stickers on their bags. From what I gather, they are heading back home and are going to Brussels to meet up with Eurostar for their final leg.

When the drinks server comes along he asks for drinks per usual. One of the brits wants tea, he asks her “black or green?” she answers “white”

Along with her husband they mull over having something sweet and eventually settle on biscuits.

When it’s time to pay she starts going through her wallet and pulls out a note - “No...that’s swiss francs”, the now slurly server tells her, someone behind me muffles a laugh - the server gives that “what a dumkoff” look. At her third attempt she pulls out the right note “yes that’s a Euro” he tells her, half mockingly.

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Half an hour into the trip the weather turns bad - and I wonder if Brussels is going to be a wash out. I shouldn't have worried the weather brightens up considerable as we enter Belgium proper.

I get into Brussels Midi around 11.30am but as it happens, I can’t seem to find the connecting train - so I decide to just take the metro to the Bourse station and then it’s only a couple of mintues from the Grote Market. Well, that is true, in theory.

Needless to say, I end up on the metro going in the right direction and if you look at it’s timetable it does say to goes to Bourse - unfortunately, it’s not the Bourse I was looking for. True to form, while on the tram, there’s a bit of fight between a couple of women. It appears that a local loon decided to have a go at some complete stranger. There’s also a guy that gets on, drinking beer and leaving a trail of vomit smell as he walks down the carriage. Oh yes, my mood is getting better by the moment.

I end up about 30 minutes away from where I wanted to be and it’s a warming trudge to the square.

The square hasn’t lost it’s stunning-ness and low and behold there’s the gaul village all fenced in. But umm, this isn’t quite what I expected. And where the hell is Asterix?

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Since it doesn’t open until 2pm, I decide to give myself a reward and have a nice lunch. I brave the restaurant strip - and I feel a bit like a druggie looking for a hit, the waiters eye you, and ask you in hushed tones “are you hungry?” “you looking for a meal” “you want some food” - as they begin to point you at tables “sit here” they urge you.

I succumb to the temptation when the waiter says that magic word - champagne. His restaurants menu includes an apertif in the meal, and for me, I get a glass of champagne. I get the whole restaurant to myself and the champagne is quite nice, it’s a sweetish rose, almost strawberry characteristics.

I’ve opted for the €12 menu, for that i get a choice of entree, main and dessert. I pick Scampi in garlic oil and Grilled Salmon.

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As I’m waiting, the restaurant cat comes down the stairs and has a wander through the restaurant - it makes what looks like a well worn path under the line of tables. I can’t see that ever happening back home. I can imagine the outcry - it’s bad enough when chef’s use their hands, I think some people might just collapse in horror.

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They don’t really look like scampi, I call them prawns, but they are extremely tasty. They have been butterflied and the tails are very crispy (so I eat them, tails and all - I can see Paalo smiling at that). The garlic oil is perfect compliment for the bread that’s offered.

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Can’t have a meal in brussels without having frites. The salmon is nice, probably cooked a little more than I would normally do, but it’s not dry. Its naped with a simple tomato passata, the salad is pretty inoccuous.

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Desert is this dense chocolate and vanilla spiral cake - it has an almost marizpan element to it. It goes down a treat with my Cafe au lait, which, per the norm for brussels, is served with a metal capsule of cream.

For most of the meal I’m the only person inside the restaurant so the inside waiter has a bit of a chat with me. The usual thing, where do you come from, and the like. Ali (the waiter), and his family came from Morocco - they walked to Brussels. He has grown up here and loves it now- it’s his home - he says the people here are very kind and considerate - hmm, yes, I suppose they are, when they aren’t pissing, sneezing and spitting.

It was an enjoyable way to pass time but the €12 euro ends up being €20 once they charge €4 for water and €3 for coffee.

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By now the Village is open so I take a stroll around and can say without question - this is the lamest thing ever and a total waste of time - but you know, it was better than being stuck in Cologne for another day.

I get into the right Bourse Metro and it’s really not what i expected - their metro is just underground trams - it's the same vehicles that I had travelled on before. Their metro does go aboveground in places.

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It's a fairly easy trip (for a change) and within a couple of minutes I’m at Brussels Midi Metro. Deciphering the directions I eventually find the station proper. It’s a very large station, since it’s the hub for international trains but severely lacking in seating. Once again, it’s a ploy to get you into the cafes and bars. I take the opportunity and get myself some bargain water - amazing 44 cents! I wonder if the cost of water is relative to the cost of living? So far, it would be Paris cheapest, then Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and London.

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I remember to get a pic of the Thalys train.

I'm back on an ICE train and this one is pretty empty.
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One annoying thing about the ICE trains - you can actually go and have a look at the train driver, he sits in the first carriage and is just separated by glass from the passengers. Now the first carriage is always first class - and for the most part the train is non-smoking.
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The smoking section - is separated from the main compartment by a double set of automatic sliding doors. It’s also the area you have to go to if you want to see the train driver. Naturally enough a lot of people want to have a look, so those double doors are constantly opening, sending waffs of smoke through the non-smoking section. Kinda freaking pointless.

I do brave the front end to get this shot
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Yes, the train was going 250km/h!

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I snap these as we go past - I'm not sure what they are (I'm sure Paalo will know)

The station at Liege-Guillemins is under renovation - is that a wave roof?
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It's good to see that wherever you are, there are always a large group of people standing around looking at other people working. This station is going to be huge.

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This is just a nice view from the train after leaving Liege...
and a village nestled along a river just before Aachen.
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Getting slightly bored I end up taking some photos of the track
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I was fascinated by the blur.

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I get back to Cologne a little after 7pm

If you'd like to see more photos from today you can click the link for the following
Brussels Festival Set (for the Gaulois Village)
Train Travel Set
Cologne Set

Postscript:
You know what I really hate - being woken from a deep sleep. Yesterday was a long day so I got to sleep quite quickly after my head hit the pillow. This peace was shattered when a herd of walking a'holes (germans) came charging through the hotel at quarter to 1. They were shouting and singing and stomping the ground - shit faced and not caring how loud they were. And even when they got to their rooms, they were still shouting to each other THROUGH the walls. Now I could have told them to shut up but they probably feign ignorance, well, they are ignorant. Ignorant, self-absorbed, rude f&ckwits with their I see nothing, I know nothing attitude. *@#&*@*(@(@)*!^!&*@@$%;!))@_!^#(&#

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