I spent a summer semester studying in the UK back in 2007. When the semester ended, most of us spent a couple of weeks traveling around Europe. Some went the backpacking route, planning their own itinerary and booking their own accommodation and transport.
Me? I joined a students tours, organized by one of the ex-students, our senior, so to speak. I don’t remember the exact price I paid for the tour, it was in the region of £600 – £650, a couple hundred pounds cheaper than the tours offered by tour agencies. For this, we get to visit 8 countries in 14 days on a tour bus.
I have already blogged about Amsterdam, here and here. It was one of our pit stops for the tour. I shall now blog about the rest of my tour. Or at least a few more locations, until I get bored and stop again.
[Sept 8, 2007]
Our first stop would be Brussels, Belgium. To get there however, we would first have to cross the English Channel (sea) into France in one of these…
I heard SeaFrance has gone bankrupt since and there is a new company taking over the ferry operations though…
The ferry goes from Dover in England to Calais in France…
From Calais, it is still almost 200 kilometers from Brussels. Good thing is that most of the EU countries are consolidated into something called the Schengen Area, and there are no customs and immigration checkpoints. In terms of border control, it is like one big EU country.
So, what happens in Brussels, or rather what would you see in Brussels, if you see it through a Europe Tour?
1. The Atomium
You should be able to see this structure as the tour bus enters Brussels city, this thing is located on the outskirts of the city. This would be the first ever stop that the tour bus would make for you to get off and take pictures.
If you are really interested, the Atomium is a structure of a 9 atoms molecule, magnified by 165 billion times. It is one big ass structure. It was originally constructed in 1958 in conjunction with the World Expo held in Brussels that year.
2. Bus Tour around the city
I remember us running into all sorts of troubles when we were departing from England and we were delayed by a few hours. I remember being like a walking dead by the time we arrived at Brussels. So, I honestly can’t remember much of the bus tour around the city.
But I do remember this one…
This was as strange a sight as it gets. At least it was to my eyes. If you do not understand what this picture is implying, the building has basically been demolished on the inside, while the outside shell was left intact and standing, supported by those yellow beams. This was how they do building restoration works, make everything inside brand new while maintaining the ancient and heritage outlook of the building.
I was mind blown. I was not used to seeing such efforts being expended on buildings redevelopment. You see those jokers in the KL Town Council going on a demolition rampage in the name redevelopment and I could not help but wonder why they cannot do something like what I have seen here.
3. Grand Place
We had a Chinese tour guide with us for the tour. His name is Paul. He is from Hong Kong and had been based in France for more than 20 years when he took us on back then.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, Paul is a good tour guide for us in the sense that he speaks Cantonese, so we were able to communicate well. But I don’t think he is a very good tour guide in terms of knowledge of all the places we visited.
For example, he took us for a walk through a series of alleys and walkways…
And then we arrive at this huge open area which he calls 布鲁塞尔大广场, literally translates as Brussels Big Plaza…
Wikipedia tells me that this big plaza is actually called the Grand Place, and the buildings in the background of the group photo are called guildhalls.
There are also two main buildings in this plaza, the Brussels Town Hall and the Maison du Roi (King’s House).
The entire Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is probably one of the must visit places for a tourist to Brussels. This is also the place where the Flower Carpet festival is held once every two years. You won’t be able to those lovely flowers here. I was there in September 2007, and apparently it was the wrong year and the wrong month, as the flower festival is held is even years (2006, 2008, 2010…) and in August.
If you really want to see how a Flower Carpet festival is like, Shing of The Culture Map has a lovely blog post of it.
4. Manneken Pis
About 100 meters from the Grand Place, there is another attraction. Paul calls this the place the see 童子撒尿 (Child Pee).
The real name of this statue is called the Manneken Pis. Apparently, this statue is very old, built in the 1600s or something, and it is another hot spot for tourists. It is basically the statue of a kid peeing into a man made pond.
The statue is located on a narrow alley, and gated. You can only take pictures beyond the gates, and the place is bloody crowded. In other words, I was not too impressed with this one…
Belgium chocolates are probably one of the most famous in the world, and there is a chocolate museum in Brussels, but your tour guide will most likely NOT bring you on a chocolate tour. Fortunately, chocolate shops are in abundance here in Brussels. You can see them on almost every street,
so it is still possible to feast your eyes on these sinfully decadent noms,
and if your budget permits, grab a few boxes of them to bring home with you.
Although they might not last until the end of your trip…
6. Night Stroll
We stayed in a hotel that is in relatively close to the city center. This was also the ONLY place where we got a hotel in the city, sadly. To make better use of this convenience, we went out for a walk on our own. I don’t even remember which part of Brussels we were in exactly. We found a map along the street, but it was no use. We still didn’t know where we were…
So we kept close to the hotel. Close enough to be able to find our way back to the hotel.
And then we chanced upon a burger joint called Quick. I have not seen this joint before. I think this is a Belgian joint that only exists in Belgium.
And then we decided that we were hungry. So we went in. But we didn’t know what to order. So we went with the one that was most visible on the counter. At €3, Menu OK was also the cheapest..
I kind of remember the burger was just a very thin slice of processed meat sandwiched in a bun. There wasn’t even any cheese or sauce to it like how the picture showed. It was not OK at all…
But we did come across a bunch of friendly local lads while having our supper.
It made our meal a bit more OK…
And then we got really tired and went back to the hotel to get some much needed sleep…
And that was the first leg of my Europe Tour back in 2007. That’s Brussels seen through my eyes…