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Saturday 21st October
Brussels

Saturday

Last Saturday morning I found myself onboard a train to Waterloo; my final destination was Brussels in Belgium (via Eurostar). To get to Brussels by lunchtime we had to check in by 9:00. We made good progress for a couple of hours but it was inevitable that there would be some delays ... We arrived in Brussels half an hour late, but after a smooth journey which had provided the opportunity to catch up with some reading.

Initially it felt strange to be in a place with foreign road names and cars that drove on a different side of the road; after all we hadn't flown anywhere ... Soon, after figuring out the local maps and road abbreviations, we were on our way to the hotel.

Our hotel was in the Ixelles area of Brussels, a bit like High Street Kensington surrounded by Gucci, Armani and the like. We were staying for the weekend and decided to maximize our experience of Brussels, walking everywhere, stumbling across shops, cafes or views otherwise overlooked. The first destination was the Grand Place, a pedestrian square surrounded by the most amazing, gilded buildings that tower above and completely surround you. The Hotel de Ville (town hall) is a dominant Gothic structure in the square with a 315 foot (96m) tower; gradually you notice that the tower appears to be off centre with the amazing architecture below. Legend has it that the architect, Jan van Ruysbroeck, was so distressed when he realised the problem that he climbed to the top of the tower and flung himself off.

A short walk down one of the side streets from the Grand Place and you will find the Manneken-Pis, easily found by heading for the crowds armed with cameras. The statue is smaller than expected but worth visiting as it is synonymous with the city. The statue is dressed up depending on the event, for example, Christmas, Valentines Day, etc. When we were there he was wearing a black tuxedo and holding a snooker cue!

We visited a well known Art Nouveau bar just off the Grand Place and sampled some of the many Belgian beers. If you ask for a large, be warned, you need two hands to lift the glass. For dinner we chose a restaurant from the hundreds that surround the main square, followed by more beer to prepare us for the long walk back to Ixelles.

Sunday

After a large breakfast at the hotel we headed to the Musee Communal d'Ixelles an art gallery that houses the work of artists such as Magritte, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec as well as modern artists. Unfortunately, when we visited, only the permanent collection was showing and the works by the most famous artists were on their way to another venue for a show, ironically in London! We carried on to an Architecture Museum passing the colourful and loud Sunday street markets. An exhibition of the work of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was on show. The retrospective exhibition was amazing, with sketches, plans, models, animations and photographs of his work. One section of the exhibition even had life size photographs of the spaces where he works, blown up and pasted on the walls so that you are transported into his office/living room, whilst his favourite music plays around you.

We walked to Maison Antoine, a chip stand opened in the 1940s and famous for its frites which are fried twice to create the perfect chip, crispy on the outside but soft in the middle. There are a wide variety of sauces to have with your frites and needless to say Maison Antoine is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.

We headed back to the Grand Place to walk off our large portions of delicious frites and browsed around the surrounding markets which had a wide range of hand-made jewellery, ornaments, toys and sweets. After all this shopping refreshments were in order and we investigated the bars in more detail before visiting the local chocolate shops to buy presents for friends and family and, of course, sampling the produce ourselves.

Next we visited the Palais Royal and the Palais de Justice. The Palais de Justice, an enormous building, also saw the untimely death of its creator! The architect was supposedly sent mad by its construction, entered an asylum and died before its completion in 1883. From the terrace in front of the Palais de Justice we watched the sunset over the city, the skyline interrupted with wonderful shapes such as the Atomium, the building made of steel and aluminium which represents the atoms of a molecule.

Monday

This was our last day and only a half one at that! A quick swim in the hotel pool was followed swiftly by a delicious breakfast. We visited some of the larger parks such as the Bois de la Cambre before returning to the Grand Place for lunch. The surroundings make a spectacular lunch venue; the prices are high, but well worth it. Just enough time was left for final strolls, last minute purchases, quick drinks and a manic packing session before we got a taxi to the Eurostar terminal at the Gare Midi. True to form the train home from Waterloo took almost the same time as the Eurostar from Brussels to Waterloo! (2002)

Visit the WIZ information on Belgium. Read news from Belgium in Newslink

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