5 November 2007 (posted 24 December 2007)
This is the tale of my Eurostar trip to Brussels at the start of November. I know, I've been very bad with postcardage, but in looking for work it seemed imprudent to focus on other than the job search. Besides, now I have heaps of time to postcard on my long daily commute.
My trip started with shopping. Yes, SHOPPING! And no, I'm not a Stepford imitation. I find that I do need to go shopping occasionally when I have specific purchases to make: Like when my belt buckle snaps and my trousers won't stay up. So arriving in Belgium, my first mission was in procuring a replacement. But my introduction to downtown Brussels, at 11am on a weekday, was to deserted streets. I kept looking for opening hours in shop windows, making poor attempts at deciphering the French and Dutch signs. Late that evening, I managed to finally confirm that it was a public holiday and I'd not landed in a Belgium from a post nuclear age.
Beltage finally sorted next morning, I walked into a nearby department store to investigate what Media Markt might be, trumpetted so boldly in signage. Most of the 5 or 6 floors were a general department store. Media Markt was on the 5th floor but I never got in, since they don't allow backpacks in-store and all the functional lockers outside were taken. Looked interesting, though.
To this point, Brussels had seemed particularly unremarkable, albeit from the limited point of view of the subway system and the main drag (not pretty). I'll have to remember in future not to make snap judgements on such limited observational data.
In search of my belt before the department and other stores opened, I sought out the central Grote Markt and was stunned to happen upon this classic European square, apparently world heritage listed as one of the continent's most beautiful. And beyond the market, I discovered a labyrinth of beautiful streetscapes curling through the city.
Later that morning, I trekked to the airport to surprise Mark off his plane, but waiting at the arrivals gate, he called me from a taxi on the way to his hotel. I surprised him alright! *GRRR*
My guidebook directed me to the local arthouse cinema, Cinema Nova, which I read about in Brussels in 2 Days/Brussels Map for Young Travellers, my bible. So much more interesting than the usual crap free tourist maps. I got there randomly an hour before the next session of anything, not particularly caring about the film. As it happened, my ticket admitted me to Pink Screen, the Queer Film Festival. I only realised later that it would all be in French! C'est la vie.
In killing some time before the film, in the immediate neighbourhood, I stumbled upon the most beautiful and grand of arcades, Galleries Saint-Hubert. Stunningly illuminated and enticingly understated retail spaces down each side were capped by a delicately glazed barrel vault. I yearned to see it in daylight, but was ultimately only disappointed because the romance of the lighting was gone.
My Brussels bible, my guide map, recommended Belgian waffles from a restaurant beyond the arcade which I dutifully located and ordered. However, the experience delivered was very different to the promise thanks to the most aggressiVe panhandler I've ever encountered. Her aggression only strengthened my resolve not to relent, though. It really got my back up. I'd made it clear that no money would be forthcoming, so to exit the situation I took a big bite of my waffle, got up and left. She was welcome to the waffle, but it came with a bonus. As flavoursome as it was though, the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth, dominating my thoughts for the rest of the evening and leaving me resolved to avoid al fresco dining.
Back at the cinema, the smoke in the foyer was suffocating so I stole back outside for some fresh air. Luckily, there was no smoking allowed inside the auditorium. It's amazing how quickly you become accustomed to mandatory non-smoking venues. It was such a cool cinema, too... it seemed they'd just thrown up a big screen in an old warehouse. Noiyce!
When the film finally started, I was like, YES! English subtitles! Except that some way into the film, far enough for me to get involved in the plot, there was a problem with the video projector which they fixed by restarting the DVD. Yeah, quality cinema, eh... a DVD player? But when they restarted it, the subtitles had been switched off! So I sat there dying to know what was going on with these characters whose lives I'd become so engrossed in.
On offer the next day was a bears city tour with a bent towards the gay and architectural history of Brussels. In other words, right up my alley. Commencing with the world's largest building of the nineteenth century, the Palais de Justice. We continued through a maze of streets and saw such things as