And weren’t disappointed.
A lovely selection of pastries, hot food, nice bread, fruit, yoghurt, etc. I am a firm believer that if you’ve had a good breakfast, you can keep going for ages. Buzzy is a big fan of anything with that much nutty choice – they even had a cheeseboard with fresh walnuts, although there weren’t quite as many by the time he left.
Alas, most museums in Brussels are closed on Mondays, so although Geoffrey didn’t have to register until 12:30 pm, our choice was fairly limited. Luckily, one of the few things open was the Atomium, a rather geeky place just outside the city limits. We grabbed a couple of useful maps, and were about to head out when there was a SCREEE from the bedroom. Someone wanted to be dressed appropriately for a space-age exhibit.
Luckily, he had a spacesuit handy. (In fact, we’d bought it for him 10 years before when we went to the Smithsonian. It’s a good thing he hadn’t eaten too much at dinner, and that the spacesuit had plenty of spare room in it.)
Next, it was my first time at sucessfully negotiating the Metro ticket sellers. My French is pretty rudimentary, and nearly everyone around speaks at least a bit of English, but even so I felt very smug at having bought two one-day all-day tickets that would get both of us out to the Atomium and back, and then let me bop around town while Geoffrey conferenced.
The trip out to the station gave us a lovely view of the suburbs, and of the countryside. Brussels is going through a nasty economic crisis, and the paper in our hotel room spoke of not enough places at schools for the students, and public servants losing large amounts of wages, but while the streets looked run down, they were basically clean. The Metro ran pretty much as it was supposed to, and most of the entrances were easily accessible and had escalators and lifts. I was surprised by the name “Baudoin” (the station at the end of the line), thinking it sounded rather like “Bedouin”, but I knew that the French for “Bedoiun” was “Bedou”. It wasn’t until a lot later that I discovered that the English equivalent for “Baudoin” is “Baldwin”.
Also of interest, the station second from end, at which we got off, was Heyzel / Heisel. (They do everything in French and Dutch here, because the country of Belgium is both). I thought the name of the station sounded familiar, and later discovered that the huge stadium nearby had been called Heisel, but had been renamed to Baudoin. Then I remembered what had happened at Heysel Stadium, and was very glad that they had changed it.
Now – the Atomium, for something a lot nicer. Like the Eiffel Tower, it was built as a temporary exhibit for the World Expo, and was so successful that Brussels kept it. It’s a crystal of iron, magnified 165 billion times. Not all the balls are accessible. When the government did a major overhaul of the structure in the 1990s, and gave it its current, shiny, stainless steel exterior, they realised that the upper three balls (on the level just below the centre top one) did not have enough support to take the piles of tourists expected through. Also, when it was first built, the lower three balls were supposed to be supported only by the rods to the centre, until the engineers worked out that a wind of 80km/h would blow the whole thing over. So the accessible balls are the very top, the middle one, the three outer lower ones and the very bottom one where you go in.
We were very early – we had left for the train at 8:00 and it had deposited us at the Expo park at 8:40 – but the Atomium wasn’t open until 10am. Not even the coffee shop was open. (Something for your people to discuss, @Atomium staff). So we wombled around a lot, looking at the outside. There was a large red-and-shiny-bits sculpture by the name of Growing Rock, which you can see here. There were things to peer at in the windows of the giftshop. There was even a rather pretty half-timbered house down the road.
I should have mentioned – that sign about pickpockets? Apparently they’re all over Brussels. I kept (and still keep) my wallet in a hidden pocket on my backpack. (Buzzy threatens to bite anyone who comes near). There are signs on a lot of stations to beware of them. And I’m pretty sure they tried opening my bag a couple of times, because I’d find the main zipper open at the top. (All I ever kept in there was a warm jumper). But Buzzy and Geoffrey helped by keeping a dubious eye out for people as well.
I should mention that there was free WiFi almost everywhere, so we of course took full advantage of this and let @SkwerlBuddy know what her playmate was up to.
Finally, we were able to buy our tickets and head in. There was a strange cartoonish character waiting for us (and for a photo opportunity). We humans declined, although of course Buzzy insisted. The character kissed him on the top of the helmet afterwards too. It wasn’t until later that another couple of travellers told us that it was Tintin, who is, of course, Belgian.. Geoffrey and I both know Tintin, and have never seen him dressed like that, or with such red hair!
Then it was up the lift to the very top, to check out the view and the exhibition of the wonders of Orange Plastic. (We’re not kidding. The exhibit was all about orange plastic in the 60s and 70s. Maybe that was why Tintin had such orange clothing and hair?) We had a hot chocolate on the top floor (at revolving restaurant prices), and ran into people we’d spoken to in the queue downstairs, who were able to fill us in on many of the views we could see.
The whole place is a showcase. They’ve got lots of souvenirs of the Expo itself, including a gorgeous poster of the Atomium as if it were made of potatoes and forks. They had maps of the various pavilions (many of which are still standing) and various different designs for the main building. The amazing picture here is the view up the lift shaft all the way to the top. And there’s Mini Europe, which has models of things from all over the continent. (Mini Europe isn’t open until the 16th March though). I could only recognise a couple of the buildings, although from the size of the people nearby, they are quite large.
The Fantastic Plastic exhibit made me nostalgic! They had the hoop radios that I’d coveted back in the 1970s, bubble chairs and beanbags, and every variety of plastic designer stuff that had been in common use when I was a 10 year old living in the UK. They even had my PVC mackintosh. I would, however, like to state quite clearly and concisely that I never wore flares. Honest. And as soon as I find those negatives, they’re getting destroyed.
There was a Buzzy-sized model of the Atomium. Of course he wanted to keep it.
I took one more picture of Geoffrey and Buzzy reflected in the Growing Rock, then we headed back to our area of Brussels for Geoffrey to go to his conference. And as this part of the blog has become unwieldy, I shall publish it now and then write the second half later!
1. The shower was the only disappointing thing about the hotel. The shower head wouldn’t stay up on the adjusting bar, the water when you tested it coming out the faucet was lovely and warm, but when you pulled the lever to have it come out of the shower, it turned cold, and the towels were almost threadbare.