Wednesday, January 06, 2016

20151018 Brussels with its pissing boys and street art

The day started off well enough. Being the cheapskates we are, we chose one of the earlier trains to Brussels because they were cheaper. Actually, also not very cheap because it came up to S$170 per person, round trip.

But first, the beautiful sight of Amsterdam before the sun rise.
pretty skies
Beautiful reflections in the water but the water was not as clean as it seems

We left Amsterdam Centraal at 8:20am and reached Brussels (Bruxelles Midi) around 10am. On our itinerary was the Grand Place (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and also Manneken Pis, the famous pissing boy. If we were to walk from Midi, it would take around 20 minutes. With the very high likelihood of us getting lost without a SIM card, we decided to take the train from Midi to Central.

Guess which station this is? Hint: Look at the sign. Lol. I'm funny.

Gotta do the artsy feet shot, what with the fallen autumn leaves and all

The interesting thing about Brussels is that it is very different from Amsterdam. The architecture is very... French. I am no Arts connoisseur so you can judge for yourself.

Galerie Du Roi, our introduction to Brussels

Do you know what Belgium is famous for? Are you ready?
Sweet stuff

Chocolates in pretty boxes

I'm not a huge fan of gourmet chocolate, being more of a Kinder Bueno girl myself, but I think Belgium is famous for chocolates. Godiva was founded here in 1926 and Praline itself was invented here under the Neuhaus house (haus house! lol!). Oh, I just realised the photo above of the pretty chocolates in blue boxes was taken at Neuhaus. Noob.

Anyway, I'm sure chocolate lovers will go gaga in Belgium because the pralines are a lot cheaper than what we get back home. We saw pralines going at around S$1 each at Leonidas.

Time to get back to the sights. Being the busy career woman I am (ya, right), I didn't do much research prior to the trip except for sourcing for flights and accommodation while Peiying dug for activities and tours. Hence, the first sight of La Grand-Place was quite breathtaking.
This is not a postcard.

Imagine walking down a narrow alley which widens to reveal tall, ornate, intricate buildings built hundreds of years ago.
See the human there for scale

Imagine walking to the middle of the square to find yourself surrounded by an eclectic blend of Baroque architecture, some buildings with gold elements, others in lovely dove blue. Imagine turning 360... wham! Sorry, it's one of those tourist spots with lots of people taking photos, selfies, wefies and we even saw students shouting their school cheers to announce to the world that they have arrived. No space for you to turn 360. 180 still got chance. Hard Rock Cafe is actually located here so you get the idea.

You can float though.

That's not to say that this is a tourist trap. It does have a rich sense of history and the City Museum houses some interesting artifacts, like tapestries and sculptures. Oh, I should probably mention that the entry (4 euro) comes with free WIFI. You're welcome.
Getting our art on.

The other thing on our agenda was Manneken Pis, the Pissing Boy.
Hoards of tourists at Manneken Pis, the object of desire for many a thief

Do you know that the sculpture has many costume changes and there is a schedule to see what the upcoming outfits are? There is even a costume change ceremony. The only ceremony for my costume change is the cutting of price tag. Sometimes the statue is hooked up to kegs of beer which is dispensed into cups and shared with passer-bys. No such luck for us. The wardrobe of Manneken Pis can rival that of Carrie Bradshaw and you can view it at the City Museum. More on that later.

Besides the statue, you will also see other kinds of pissing boy:
Hip hop hipperty hop

Waffle type. Doesn't look very sanitary though.

After visiting these two sites, we were quite lost. What to do next? We tried to recall all the phrases that start with "Belgium" and tada! Waffle time!

Chantilly cream and Belgian chocolate ice-cream. Potent! 

By then, it was only 2pm. Our train was at 8pm. 6 hours away and we've done what we came to do. It was time to get lost.

Ok, we don't actually have the courage to really get lost. We decided to walk straight down various roads. I think we worried too much because (a) there were many signs pointing back to Le Grand Place and (b) most shops were one-of-a-kind so it was not that hard to remember landmarks.

Did you know that Brussels is the birthplace of Tintin? I didn't so I was surprised to see this:
Tintin walking down the stairs like a boss.

If you're a fan, there is a Herge Museum you can visit and some tips on where to catch street paintings of Tintin. Guess we're not fans then because I thought these are Tintin's friends:
Same artist but different comic. What are they looking at?

They're not.

Have you ever imagine things you've drawn coming to life? Wouldn't it be nice if I can draw a Chanel or a house by the sea and they're all real? I know my bag will look like the counterfeit it is and the house will probably be topsy turvy, but hey, imagination~ imagination~~

I recalled the draw-and-it-shall-come-to-life childhood fantasy when I saw this.

We were semi-lost so I can't tell you where this is.

There was a place where we could take a lift up to get an expansive view of Brussels. Ok, I just Googled it and it's Place Poelaert. As this link is leading to a TripAdvisor page, I had to see what the highly ranked places of interest are in Brussels. Mainly museums. I'm beginning to understand why Brussels wasn't our favorite part of the tour.

Sometimes we try to stuff too many things into our itinerary. Sometimes we are too chill about a trip. This is when you need to have a compatible travelling companion. I wouldn't say there are hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing your kaki but ideally, they should be someone you won't want to murder. Other things that are important:

  1. Sleeping pattern/time
  2. Stingyness level
  3. Songs/movies preferences (go on a road trip and you'll know how important this is)
  4. Reliability
  5. Fairness

1. and 3. are self-explanatory. For 2., it's from my friend's experience. She went on a trip with a group of friends and one of them was complaining about the shared travel funds because she didn't take alcoholic drinks and shouldn't be paying the same as others who were. I have to qualify that they were in Switzerland where a can of Coke is around 4Fr. and beer costs 5.50Fr. You get the idea?

When it comes to 4. Reliability, it matters because you usually split duty on trips. At the planning stage, I volunteered to look for accommodation and flights as I work in the hospitality industry and love pouring over these. Peiying contributed pre-trip by bookings activities and tours. We both did our fair share of research to come up with the itinerary. Imagine the person assigned to book flight booking a flight without check-in luggage (ka-ching!) or Person B "forgetting" to book the restaurant everyone wanted to try.

We don't all have skills that are relevant to travelling. Some may have driving licenses but shitty navigation skills. Others come with insider's info on where to go and what to do while the partners are pro in negotiation. We all have bits and pieces of ourselves that we can contribute to the trip. If you really don't have any, I think it is only fair that you start/end the trip with a little treat for the rest who are doing more. If you're too busy to do anything pre-trip, you can always do something during the trip, like offering to be the person in-charge of communal fund. Speaking of which, it's really helpful to have a pouch for communal fund where everyone pools in $X at the start of the trip for things like transport and food.

Ok, that was a pretty long digression.

As we wandered, we found a market. Not the food kind which would really perk us up but the flea kind. Les Amis du Vieux Marché is what you should look out for if this is your scene.

So there we were, having covered quite a bit of distance. We didn't really feel hungry but there was nothing else on our itinerary. The other phrase we can think of that begins with Belgian? Belgian mussels.

Where there is Belgian mussels, there is Belgian beer.

We chanced upon the little bistro, Le Chat Noir, took a look at its menu and saw the mussels. It wasn't cramped full with tourists and it looked like a good place to "go local". The mussels were good but the fries we ordered on the side was even better. :x Apparently, fries or frites is something people queue for here:
Don't want to get heaty. Cannot eat.

I found a 2012 article here which tells you a bit more about frites. More than I can ever tell you.

By this time, it was only 4pm at max. I started to feel the ache at the back of my head, you know, the part where headaches usually start. We got so bored that we went back to Manneken Pis to see if the crowd had thinned and did the tourist selfie thing. The sky had changed so we headed to Le Grand Place and took this:
Still crowded though.

This was when we decided to walk into the buildings to see what was there to see. City Museum, which I mentioned earlier, was not too expensive, which was the main reason for us visiting it. It had free WIFI too. Historians should be cursing and swearing at this statement now. You can take photos inside but you have to carry your backpack in front of you.

There were displays of paintings, sculptures and even household items. We saw cutlery, plates and intricate teapot. Not our cup of tea, you can say. Then a familiar figure emerged along the gallery.
Hello, old friend!

The kind of art we like. The amusing kind.

What a show(er)!

We discovered the part of the museum that really interests us, the wardrobe of Manneken Pis!
Carrie Bradshaw can retire.

You know what happened after I took this photo? A bell rang and I thought it was a fire alarm.

It wasn't.

It was worse.

The museum was closing. It was 5pm. I thought we had a lot of time? What do you mean it's closing? But we just got here! This is the interesting bit! 

So yeah, we didn't get to see much of the boy's fashion. If this is something that interests you, head up to the 3rd level first and make your way down.

What kind of souvenirs do you think we brought back? Belgian chocolate, of course. There are so many to choose from that a chocoholic would be giddy with joy. Us? We just went for the prettiest packaging.

I'm not sure if any of these actually tastes good.

You get to sample some of these.

Did I mention we were there for the packaging only?

By then, it was only 6:30pm. We decided to slowly make our way to Midi station since Brussels had nothing left for us. The dull ache had gone up a notch to nagging pain level. 

It took us almost 30 minutes to reach Midi. Along the way, we asked if we were going in the right direction and we were assured by the long-limbed locals that we were. It was supposed to be "just down the road" but it turned out to be half an hour with our not-so-long-limbed bodies. After confirming that we were in the right place, we sat down and waited. 

The police came. No, not for us. They cordoned off an area near where we were sitting. Instead of panicking and moving away, we were so tired that we just sat and tried to learn French in 30 minutes. No one was allowed to walk down one of the passageways. Subsequently, we saw a few burly men in uniform carried out a luggage that looked like it was ripped apart. On hindsight, with all the high alert in Brussels now, we should probably have moved our asses and headed outside. May this be something no one has to experience.

On the journey back to Amsterdam, the headache escalated into a persistent throb. I downed a Panadol Extra and the persistent throb persisted. I was mentally preparing myself to brave the 3- to 5-minute walk back to our apartment. It was torture. It was the worst day of the trip for me. I took another Panadol after a hot shower which didn't improve matters. I dropped my head into the pillow and darkness took over. Meloodrama much? 

What to conclude about Day 2 then?
  1. It's probably enough to spend half a day in Brussels if you are not a fan of museums or chocolates. Given a choice, I would probably have given Brussels a miss, especially when we saw the chocolates we lugged back from Brussels selling in Amsterdam at the same price. Meh.
  2. Choose your travel partner wisely. See tips above.
  3. A communal fund is probably a good idea as it can simplify payments.
  4. It's an even better idea to be alert and be safe than sorry when you encounter situations of high tensions.
  5. Panadol Extra is good. Sufficient sleep is even better.

Yeah, I did get the grandfather of headaches which didn't get better after popping pills. Nothing cures headache more than a good night's sleep. Thankfully, Day 3 was just going to be a chillaxing day. Or so we thought.