04 Jan 04 European Vacation 06 Jan 04
In case you didn't realize it, you can click on the pictures for a bigger image.
Monday, 05 January 2004
The area now known as Brussels has been inhabited since 2250 BC, when an agrarian Neolithic civilization set up shop in what are now the districts of Schaerbeek, Boitsfort and Uccle. The Romans considered the area a lovely corner of the empire, building villas here during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Over the centuries, Brussels has been ruled by everyone from the Romans to
the Spanish to the Germans, a colonial history that well prepared the city for its current occupiers-diplomats, lobbyists, and Euro-politicians who flock to the NATO and European Union headquarters here.
For those of you who were paying attention, we just caught the train to Brussels. It left the station at 0104. If your weren't paying attention, you probably don't care what we do and shouldn't really be reading this website. If this is the case, GO AWAY!
We made a late snack out of jelly beans, pretzels, Bacardi-Cola, pistachios, and candied ginger, oh and the apple. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. You guessed it, the BordBistro was closed at this time on the train too! Never try to do anything between midnight and 4 am is the moral of this story - everything will be closed. After our meal, we settled in to catch a couple of hours of sleep
before we had to change trains. As it's been for most of the train rides so far, the 1st class section was empty. Jen and Andrea fought for rights to my coat in the onboard mudpit (just kidding). Actually Jen and Andrea stayed in our area, each claiming a row of seats while I moved a cabin over and tried to sleep. I had a lot of trouble sleeping, though, between wanting to watch over our things and not wanting to miss our connecting train.
We switched trains in Frankfurt at 0430 so not much of a nap. As the train arrived in Aachen Jen and I woke up and looked at each other through groggy eyes. Then we realized what had awakened us, the loudspeaker. There was an announcement in German talking about some sort of technical troubles on the train. I thought I had caught the gist of it, but wasn't sure until Jen confirmed my fear.

They were ordering everyone off to change trains and we were to go to track eight. We were also pretty sure they said (in German) that we had only 6 minutes to disembark, get to the other track, and get on the new train. Needless to say, the adrenaline kicked in real fast. We jumped to it and managed to pull it off, then tried to get some sleep.
(Too) Early that morning we arrived at Brussels-Midi and started our dramatic day. We checked outside the station and realized that there is nothing near Midi. So we tracked down the tourist info center and asked a few questions. They referred us to Bruxelles-Central and the tourist center near the Grand Plaza. We get to Central with all our things and find that they have a severe shortage of escalators or any other aids for people with as much crap as we were carrying, especially after our shopping spree in Munich.
We had many a choice word for the designers of that station. I hadn't really given it much thought my
last time through here, but compared to Germany this place was very dirty. We wandered through the station to find some lockers and were surrounded by gypsies, beggars and others. There were signs warning of pick-pockets posted at regular intervals, so we steered clear of unsavory looking people. It took quite some time to
find the lockers. We had to follow a rather curcuitous path because the signs seemed to contradict each other at each point in the path. We finally locked up our bags and started out towards the tourist center.
We walked to the Grand Place and the tourist center. Andrea was pushing for a hostel, specifically the
one we stayed at the last time we were here. The tourist info center doesn't provide info on hostels, though. We took a triple room in a hotel instead, the Hotel Arlequin. Everyone is a bit cranky, and nerves are frayed. We check in, drop off some of our stuff, then decide to go out and see the Atomium.
We didn't have too much trouble finding it. After all, it's supposed to be easy to find. You see, the Atomium was built as the centerpiece of the 1958 World's Fair, the first world exhibition after World War II. It's become the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. It is a representation of an elementary iron crystal, specifically the body-centered cubic crystal structure. The things you learn
when you're travelling with a pair of materials engineers. It was built 46 years ago and it is definitely showing it's age.
As we approached we noticed that it wasn't looking as shiny in real life as it does in the pictures. They told us we could only go up to the halfway point because they were in the process of renovating it, but we still wanted to go inside, so we bought tickets and entered. Just inside the door there is a guy dressed up as
Marsupilami (the character on the key chain on Jen's backpack), but they were asking 6€ for pictures with it so we passed on the pictures. We worked our way up into the bowels of the atom where evidence of repairs was everywhere. Someone decided she needed to play Attack of the 50 Foot Jen. It's too bad
we couldn't get close enough for Jenzilla to make an appearance. We had a good time reading about the design and construction of the Atomium. I'm hoping to see it again when the repairs are finished and it's restored to its original glory.
When we were finished at the Atomium we headed back to Brussels Central Station to pick up the luggage and move it to the hotel. Back at the hotel we sat for a bit to catch our collective breath. We used the time to check the eurail guide for our trip the next day. Not much time in Brussels, but then this has been a busy trip through out. Tuesday would be our last full day in
Europe and we were planning on going to Hagen to visit a friend of mine. According to the guide all the trains back out required reservations, so someone needed to go back to Central and make them. I was that lucky someone. I made reservations on the first run available, which took us out of Brussels at about noon and got us into Hagen just before 1600.
I called Martina before heading out to the Central station to confirm that a 1600 arrival time wouldn't be a problem. She said it would be just fine and that she would pick us up at the station. I returned to the hotel to find Andrea napping and Jen struggling to stay awake. After a little discussion we decided to head out and find some food, specifically mussels (Mussels in Brussels 2).
The last time I was here was when Andrea and I wandered around western Europe a few years ago and we happened on a place that had the most delicious mussels. We couldn't find that place, but we did get a to see the Grand Place at night. The last time I was here and walking through Grand Place the town hall was lit up and there was classical music blasting across the square. In fact, the lighting effects were synchronized to the music, almost as if the building were dancing to the music. We
weren't fortunate enough to see the music and light show because it turns out that's only done between the months of April and September. Fortunately, they didn't leave things idle in the remaining months, however. The building was lit up in orange and blue lights.

Grand Place in Brussels

After getting our fill of photos of the building we began hunting for the little street that had all the restaurants we
remembered. We showed Jen the place that had the full-sized stuffed horse and bear, and when we got to the restaurant area we definitely knew it. Suddenly there were people working to lure us into their places. They explained the menu and specials and telling us how much better their food was than other places. Yep, some things just don't change. We settled on a place and sat down and ordered two buckets of mussels steamed and served in a garlic, wine and butter sauce and served with frites.
It was just what the doctor ordered and we were feeling much more energetic. This was good because we had yet
to visit another of the sites that seems to draw tourists in droves ... Mannekin Pis. We're not entirely
sure why the people of Brussels immortalize him so much, but then we have some strange sites back in the states. I was able to remember for the most part how to get there from the last trip here. I started to doubt myself at one point, but we did eventually find him.
We did the tourist thing and stopped at a few of the shops nearby before working our way back towards the hotel. On the way back we found a statue of a dog stealing some guys lunch. Jen couldn't resist, so we took another picture. Then we headed back to the hotel where Jen checked in with her parents. Her mom had talked to mine and Andrea's parents to tell them we are all OK and having fun. Then we settled in for some much needed sleep.

04 Jan 04 European Vacation 06 Jan 04
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