I’m currently on the ICE High Speed train from Brussels to Cologne, which will take just over 2 hours, including two stops along the way. I’m currently speeding along at 250km/h. I booked the train well in advance through SNCB Europe for €39 plus I splashed out the extra €5 to reserve a seat rather than try to find one that hasn’t been booked. Well worth the small fee in my opinion!
Well, Brussels was a much more interesting place than people make out! Not only is it the capital of the EU, it has amazing street art everywhere – and is home to Tin Tin and the Smurfs! They also insist that “French Fries” should be called “Belgian Fries” as they actually originate in Belgium – and of course while on the topic of food, I have to mention waffles and chocolate! OMG YUM!
After my early start in London for the 8:04am Eurostar, I arrived at my hostel – Hotel Meininger, too early to check in so I put my luggage in their store room and made use of the free WiFi to look up a good free walking tour. I highly recommend these tours, which are run in most cities around Europe (and possibly the world?). They’re advertised as free, which is a bit of an exaggeration – truthfully, they’re tips only which means you can decide how much you pay, depending on how good (or not so good) the tour guide is. I usually give about €5.
On the tour, I learnt many interesting things – some of which I’ve already mentioned. I found it very interesting to hear about how Belgium was created, and that there are two distinct communities in Belgium with separate cultures, histories and languages. You’ve got the French speaking community who are mainly in the south of the country and the Flemish who speak Flemish (basically Dutch, but their own version). Obviously, the different communities have different ideas on how the country should be, and often they don’t get along all that well. My tour guide identified as Flemish, and would never call himself ‘Belgian’.
After living in Northern Ireland, I found this whole story quite familiar!
Street art can be found everywhere, and I’m sure there are walking tours you could do that would take you to a lot of them and explain any stories. You’ll see plenty on your wanderings alone as well. There is everything from Tin Tin, to what appears to be 2 men holding hands (but apparently it’s meant to be a man and woman… The gay area built itself up around it nonetheless!) and plenty of other random things.
I was interested to find that Brussels has lots of huge buildings, as this doesn’t seem to happen much in Europe. Most of the skyscrapers are based around the Brussels Nord station – and believe it or not, so is the red light district! Perhaps those hard working office men like to… work off some tension during their lunch break? Think that only Amsterdam has women in windows? Think again! Brussels does too, albeit a much smaller amount of them (unless there is more than just this one street I found.
Overall, I enjoyed Brussels – it was a good start to the trip, relaxing, sunny (and a thunderstorm), different but not too different, friendly and easy to get around by walking (though there are also trams and busses for people who don’t like to walk as much as me). Next stop is Cologne, Germany – let’s see what it has to offer!