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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

James Went To Brussels

There tend to be disturbances prior to my visits to foreign lands - riots in Paris many years ago, a bomb threat evacuated Ibiza airport the morning of one trip, the army were sent to protect London airports just before another trip abroad...this, my first trip to look at foreigners this year, was no different:


I can only assume my precence has a calming, reassuring effect when I arrive.



I hadn’t been on holiday yet in 2014, however I thought I should take one final opportunity to use the Euro before it collapses.  The arrival of an e-mail offering return train fares to Brussels for £69.00 was too good an opportunity to miss, it ticked the both the boxes of a country I had never been to and the nearest country I had never been to, so 746 e-mails later between myself and my sister we were booked.

As you may know, one is from the exceptionally upmarket city of ‘Ull, so myself and my sister thought it most appropriate to launch our adventure from the champagne bar in St Pancras, which by the way is quite a spectacular train station with the grandest clock.  Even better than the new Reading station.

 
£41.63 is hopefully the most I will ever have to pay in my life for a round of drinks for two people.  I will state this for clarity now – I much prefer beer.  Champagne is probably nicer than Carlsberg but give me a real beer any day.

The Eurostar security procedures seem so less unpleasant and less threatening than an airport.  I yet again succumbed to the conspiracy to give me table seats despite requesting airline seats on a train, however we were sat opposite a friendly lesbian.  Well…she had short hair.  Shorter than me anyway.  Then again my hair is now longer than a horse.  Jumping ahead a bit, we saw a horse with a nappy in Brussels.  And she told me she was a lesbian.  The lady opposite us, not the horse, obviously.

 
I had decided that I would find our hotel by looking at Google Maps on the journey and memorising it.  To be fair, we were at one point only one street away and perhaps we would have found it had we not been distracted by the European Union building but we gave up after trying to wheel our suitcases along cobbled streets and got a taxi.  The hotel itself was fine, respectable but the room had a slight but distinct whiff of sewage.  Very comfortable beds – crap pillows.

We headed out to a local bar which had happy hour – except it wasn’t open on a Saturday or Sunday.  Whoever said Brussels was boring?  Instead we had a Leffe in Fat Boy’s pub.  It was nearest, I needed beer, OK?

Our hotel was around 30 minutes walk from the centre of Brussels – the Grand Place was the central focal point and was indeed rather nice.  Just how beautiful?


I am not the only point of beauty.

Both myself and my sister have a love of Tapas so we went to a highly-recommended locals place.  This was where the beauty ended.  Once we had walked around quite a lot trying to find it.

We ordered 8 dishes and a jug of Sangria.  The Sangria was from a box with some added ice.  It looked cheap and tasted cheap.  No wonder we were not allowed drinks whilst waiting for a table.

We had some bread with alioli – the alioli was really nice, the sliced baguette average.  5 dishes arrived at once – the chorizo was badly overcooked, the one piece of lamb kofta was ok.  The 3 prawns were pointlessly submerged in a swimming pool of sauce.  I cannot remember what else we had.

Patatas bravas arrived after.  This was probably potato corners from a frozen bag and there was no bravas – just potato.

We then discovered that the goat’s cheese we had ordered didn’t exist, a good 20 minutes after our 5 dishes arrived.  The replacement was some horrid omelette-type thing.

Then 30 minutes later – the piece de la resistance – albondigas – or meatballs to you and me.  They were cold and slimy, one assumes out of a can.  Absolutely horrid.

I really cannot wait to write my first Trip Advisor restaurant review.

Enough drinks were consumed to make the remaining evening memory hazy, though not overly drunk.  I am really unsure as to why we did not go to the Drug Opera.


Sunday morning and we trusted my Trip Advisor research again for some reason.  Navigating by way of accessing wi-fi from standing outside bars that we had connected to the night before, we found our Shoreditch-style cafĂ©, full of young people, albeit nothing hinting at hipster – this is boring Brussels, don’t forget.  We were served a gorgeous eggs benedict (though I had the sausage variety), with Hollandaise sauce (new discovery).  It was so good that I ate the accompanying salad.

We then headed to the outskirts of Brussels to Mini-Europe which I have wanted to go to for years.  Honestly.  The attached bars kind of reminded me of Hornsea Pottery (yeah I know most of you won’t get that) – rather tacky.  But the park itself was excellent – in a tacky 90’s kind of way.  For €13 we got to walk around every country in the European Union – beat that Ryanair.  Not only that but we got to press a button to hear the individual national anthems.


We got to the UK and guess what happened?  It started raining.  When we walked to France, it stopped raining.  Those were the only 3 minutes of rain all weekend.

FIRE!

Not sure why Spain had an oil refinery catch fire, I am probably missing something from my history lessons that I didn't attend - the fire engine boat did a fine job of putting it out by spraying water near it but definitely not on the fire.


It was rather Euro-kitsch – especially the lift-off of the Euro-rocket.  A delightful hour or so.

We then went to the Atomium.  An impressive tower of balls.  We saw the queue which was about an hour long and spent a good 15 minutes deliberating as to whether to spend the necessary €12.  We did and found out the queue was just for the observation tower, so we went through the escalators and stairs through the exhibition pods.  The exhibitions were absolutely boring.  Thoroughly boring.


Not sure why my camera changed to blurry mode for a while.

The only good bit was this party escalator we went down, which I imagine is what it would be like in a nightclub having taken too much ket.  Possibly.


So then we queued for the observation tower.  And queued.  And queued.  The bright side was that there was a hottie in hotpants to stare at, though she did have a bit of a horsey face.  I cannot say I was impressed with the Belgian women.  50 minutes and we were going up in the fastest lift in Europe.  In 1958.

A few drinks later and we headed to our next researched restaurant – the Chilean lady who ran it didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French or Spanish so it was an interesting experience, especially when I tried to tell her my favourite DJ, Ricardo Villalobos, is from Chile.

We didn’t understand the starters so settled for bread and a main of 400g of fillet steak.


Remembering that rare in Europe means blue in England, I ordered the medium-rare which was quite an exceptional piece of steak.  Absolutely making up for the horrific experience of the night before, and we even got a kiss from our hostess.

We discovered Delirium for our night-cap which had over 2,000 beers – quite an impressive range.  Delirium is a beer itself and probably my favourite new beer – a banana beer was also rather tasty.

I had a really good time but I wouldn’t add it to my must-visit list.  There was little unique or special about the city and one can see why people think it is boring.  However it was a nice place – lots of chocolate, tons of beer, decent weather, a fabulous sister for company.

I wouldn’t recommend against going, however Berlin, Barcelona and London are all light years ahead of Brussels.

Oh and Mario Dragi, if you are reading - QUANTITATIVE EASING!  Do it!