That top image is of a random piece of graffiti I saw on my wanderings.
Geoffrey had to head into his conference, and I needed to grab some new camera batteries at the hotel, so we headed back to our local station, Schuman, (currently undergoing renovations. This will become more relevant later), and discovered a lovely little lunch shop nearby that specialised in organic food, fair trade coffee, and nice fruit. One fast lunch there, and Geoffrey headed into his conference while I dived into the hotel, grabbed the batteries and headed back out.
And here’s where things got a little weird. I got off the Metro at De Brouckère station, which felt really odd. Everything was closed in there – it was as if this was the centre of the financial issues they’d been having. I was trying to find a post office, but the one sign seemed to say that it was the central administrative centre of the postal system, and didn’t actually sell stamps.
I had a good map, but I kept going in completely the wrong direction from where I was supposed to be. I’d head uphill north instead of downhill south, I’d turn left instead of right, and managed to walk totally away from the Old Town Centre. I came to this church (St Michael and St Gudula), and instead of walking back down the street I came up, I turned left and ended up in I can only assume that a combination of the sun being in the wrong position, combined with my jetlag, was causing the problem. It was very odd, and I kept having to refer to my map.
And while I was doing this (with a backpack on my back, a camera over my front and a map in my hands), a man came up to me and said (in a very eastern European accented voice) “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
He was my height, my age, with dark hair and a Mediterranean complexion.
“Yes, I do.” I was curious, but I knew where my wallet was and there was no way he could easily get to it without me knowing.
“Oh thank goodness. I need your help.” He waved his hands at his two companions – a man and a woman, both in their late teens or early twenties. “This is my son, and my daughter, and we have no money. It had all disappeared, and we need some help getting to my friend’s place.”
Now I had been warned endlessly about the various scam artists around, and this was almost a textbook setup. Either they were going to ask to look at my map (and while I was talking with two of them, the third would steal from my backpack), or they would ask me to accompany them to somewhere where I would be asked to pay for something, or … the possibilities were endless. But honestly, they were a walking, talking cliche of the situation. So I said the only non-confrontational safe thing I could think of that would immediately get rid of them.
“Did you realise there’s a bloke two blocks down who’s telling exactly the same story?”
“Oh. Sorry. Goodbye.” And they left, probably to accost some other, more gullible tourist.
And the thing that really made it obvious it was a scam? The “Do you speak English?” Nearly everyone in Brussels speaks English! Nice try, kids.
By then I was getting a bit tired and footsore. I had, however, managed to womble my way past some amazing older buildings ( such as the Museum of the City of Brussels, pictured here), and finally worked my way into the older part of town. I worked my way around to the small street that housed the Museum of Costume and Lace …
Remember how I had chosen to go there because it was one of the few things open on a Monday? Because it was closed on a Wednesday?
They changed that. Now, it’s closed on a Monday, and open on the other days.
I believe my words were not exactly complimentary.
The nearest next “Must do” that was actually open was a small statue, created, it is said, for lots of reasons that I’ll let you read yourself. The statue is of a small boy, urinating into a fountain. It’s in a tiny corner in the old town, but it’s easy to find – just trace the never-ending line of shops containing the Mannekin as badges, pendants, key rings, and even corkscrews. And you can guess where the business end of the corkscrew is, can’t you?
It was definitely getting to coffee time, so Buzzy and I found the main local road, and sat down for what is called a “Belgian Cappuccino”. I’d have called it a Vienna Coffee – that’s one thing I adore about travelling – finding all the different names for things. To be honest, none of the coffee in Brussels was very nice. but Buzzy seemed to like it, and I rather liked the reggae music in the cafe (and very different decor to most of the rest of the touristy places).
By this time I was getting rather tired, so we headed back to the hotel, which is where the comment about the station being renovated comes in. I chose the wrong end to come out, and ended up climbing 5 flights of stairs, almost collapsing by the top. I barely made it back to the hotel, yet all of this I managed without being pickpocketed, abducted by aliens or sent to Tunisia by mistake. I’m calling that a win. and had a rest before dinner with friends. And all of this I managed without being pickpocketed, abducted by aliens or sent to Tunisia by mistake. I’m calling that a win.