Brussels, Belgium

So how in the hell is Sri Lanka easier to figure out than Brussels?

I might give fatigue some credit.  After all, I got about two hours of bus sleep coming from Limerick and less than an hour of sleep on the plane.  Still, even with the fatigue, nothing was easy about today.

For instance, staying at a hostel where the reception is at a different property than the hostel itself.  Not the first time it’s happened, not ever amazing when it does, but I was more than a little shocked at how difficult the person working check in this morning made it.  Basically, if she had anything else to do other than greet and help guests, that’s what she was doing.  And I don’t mean in a “because they were busy” type way.  I mean that, in spite of whatever she was doing, there was no polite “Hi, how are you?” or “Just one minute….”  More of a barking of orders.

Add to that the fact that the directions from the train station to the check in were pretty horrible (not the only person there who was confused by them) and that check in wouldn’t be until 3, and we were off to a good start.

Still, time to get some tourism in during the down time.  Brussels is a pretty spread out city, being the capital of the EU and Belgium and all, so it seemed like a place where a hop-on, hop-off tour bus would make a lot of sense.  There’s two main routes in Brussels, one being the Atonium and the other being Europe, and I figured since the Atonium was the attraction that was furthest out of the way, that it would be the best place to start.

First, had to find the bus.  Because finding things in Brussels is easy.

At least the wander down was a nice enough one.  Opted not to go into the comic museum, which would usually seem like a sure thing for me, but didn’t know how much time I wanted to dedicate to Tintin and the Smurfs.  Headed down to the Grand Place, one of the smaller squares I’ve been to in Europe, which at least tries to make up for it with gold highlights.  Checked out the Mannequin Pis – the famous peeing boy fountain – before finally seeing a Hop On and figuring out where to catch it.

Now, today was a tale of two buses.  The one to the Atonium was nice enough, taking past old royal palaces and churches.  Didn’t go into the Atonium, but it is an interesting structure that pretty much screams “WORLD’S FAIR” at the top of its lungs.  The drive took us past the massive Brussels Basilica, which is one of the largest in the world (and looks it) and the stock exchange, where I got off and wandered back to hostel check-in, since it was around 3.

At around 3:30 (!), somebody came by with our keys, though these folks were much nicer than the lady in the morning.  Great thing, though, was the hostel location and comfort.  Nice bed, sheets, location, bathrooms.  It’ll be good for a night before a huge trip tomorrow.

Now, I mentioned the “Tale of Two Buses”.  One thing the City Sightseeing buses (brand name) have that’s cool is an audioguide in a few different languages.  The one from the Atonium worked perfectly.  Upon getting on the bus for the Europe route….  not so much.  First bus kept cutting out, hitting all the narration but chopping off the “in-between” music in a pretty jarring way.  Got off at the Palace of Justice to get some shots of the city (and palace) before hopping on the next bus, whose audio could best be described as ear-shredding.  Loud, inconsistent static that got in the way of you hearing anything.  The worst.  Same on two buses.

Also the worst was the lack of WiFi.  Now, usually I’m fine without this, but today I was counting on it, as I was meeting up with my friend Ahmed from cruise ships and I was going to message him when the tour was almost over so he could drive down from Ghenk.  Well, first WiFi didn’t show, next two showed but didn’t connect, last didn’t show (and, on that one, I learned Europeans refer to it as wee-fee), so I couldn’t get in touch with Ahmed to set anything up.

The off and on did yield some good pictures of the European Parliament, the Cinquaintenaire with its giant Triumphal Arch, and the Royal Palace and Belgian Parliament.  All very nice.  All very frustrating to get to because the buses were not running on the schedule they were supposed to run on.  Every 15 minutes was every half hour or so, and when you’re counting on those fifteen minutes, it makes for an annoying day.

Finally got back to the hostel and got in touch with Ahmed, allowing us to figure out dinner plans.  About 11 years since I had seen the guy, hasn’t aged a bit and still one of the nicest people I ever met from ships.  Good chat over fish & chips made the crazy if the day feel distant.

I’m definitely putting Brussels below Brugge and Ghent, and a lot of that is, admittedly, coloured by my frustration at getting around earlier.  The city does have some beautiful bones, and I could see myself being here for a day or two checking out galleries or museums, but I guess there’s nothing that’s exciting me about that prospect.  I made the comment about Dublin that it was a “European Capital” in kind of a “it didn’t blow me away” type way.  Well, Brussels is the European capital, and it definitely didn’t blow me away.  Nothing wrong with it, but not near the top of the list.

Good fish and chips, though.

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