Monday 27 June 2016
The trip to the airport for the 0650 flight to Brussels was a lot slower and more scenic than the one into Prague.
The taxi trip into town from the Brussels airport was a slow one. Once we got off the motorway the traffic was often stationary. We checked into the Sofitel in the city centre and then Sylvia headed of to Mars Petcare Head office for a day of meetings. I headed off to Zuids Station to buy tomorrows tickets to Holland.
Arriving on the metro platform and studying the map, a local lady offered some help. I pointed where i wanted to go, a train pulled in and she indicated to me to get on. Three stops later she got off holding up her hand for me to stay. She smiled and held up three fingers, i presumed indicating three more stops. It didn’t feel quite right. A study of the map and station names and I soon realized I was going well away from where I wanted to be. I am sure the lady’s intentions were well meaning.
At Zuids Station I stood in the queue at the ticket office and when my number came up on the board got a really helpful guy who even explained which platforms to catch the train from. The price too was about half of what I would have paid on line!! In spite of soldiers patrolling the station with assault rifles, lots of security guards and even sniffer dogs people look very relaxed here.
I take a stroll down Rue Blaes to Place Du Jeu De Balle, a large square full of rather washed-out market stalls in the now heavy rain.
Conveniently located next the the square was a Belgium beer bar. A hot soup, bread and of course sampling some of the beer was a great way to wait for the rain to stop.
I wandered through some rather bland streets with lots of construction going on.
Then all of a sudden there was a group of people taking photos. I had arrived at Manneken Pis, the famous Belgian statue of a boy pissing in the fountain. Lots of shops have sprung up around this bad boy.
A little further down the street is Grote Markt, a square surrounded by old palace type buildings. Many chocolate shops filled the available retail space in the square. I just had to try out this famous Belgium Chocolate. Very tasty it was.
A quick tour of the local cathedral revealed lots of stained glass windows.
Next I came across the local palace, with a lone trooper out the front of the large building.
Further down the road I came across a large building under repair with a large dome on top. It looked like some sort of cathedral.
Two soldiers stood outside. I made my way in and was directed through the airport style security. It was indeed a grand building with lots of large stairways, halls and passageways. I strolled around in awe of this magnificent building. There were few people about, some sitting at desks in the main hall. Strolling through corridors and looking through the odd open door into an empty room I realised it was the courthouse. The few people I came across seemed not bothered by my courisoty .
Tuesday 28 June 2016
Sylvia headed off for another day of meetings. I headed to the Zuids Station to catch the 0945 train to ‘S Hertogenbosch’. As we leave Brussels I am, as always, intrigued by the size of the railway sidings and the number of spare trains parked up – do they ever get used?
It’s a two hour-trip, changing trains at Roosendaal as we enter the Netherlands. Its flat all the way with neat farms alongside the track.
Arriving in ‘S Hertogenbosch I was stunned by the beauty of the town. The streets are mainly paved or cobbled; old brick buildings some bulging at the sides are in pristine condition.
People are well dressed as they sit at the bars around the town some eating others just enjoying a lunch time drink. There is a full on market in the square. In one corner there is an empty site where recently a bulging building collapsed – fortunately no one was hurt.
Like Amsterdam bikes are a prominent mode of transport with lots of cycleways around the town.
I head to a hotel to find it fully booked. The helpful person behind the desk gets on the phone, finds me a place on the edge of town and organises me a taxi to get there. I am here to meet Rob (a guy I first met in Vegas four years ago) and his wife Femke. Rob meets me as planned at the station and we head to a local bar for a catch up as we hadn’t caught up since last year.
Then we head to their house on the edge of town. Femke had prepared a great meal of salmon, asparagus, a very tasty anchovy sauce, along with a salad. We had a great evening chatting about our lives and travels. It is the people one meets while traveling that really puts the icing on the cake of travel.
Wednesday 29 June
At Rob’s suggestion I decided to see the underneath of the town, indeed a unique experience. This place was first established in 1185. In English the name translates to “the Dukes Forest”
This area was once basically a mound in a swamp. Canals were built as a moat to defend the city in the 1200’s. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt during that period. In the 1400’s the city was expanded and more fortifications built. It survived the 80 year war and later a 30 year war. It was finally conquered by Frederik Henderik of Orange in 1629. He diverted the rivers by constructing a forty-kilometre dyke and then pumped out the water by mills. After a siege of three months, the city had to surrender.
In more recent years the city has been expanded and the canals built over. Over the period from 1960 to 1980 some 40 million Euros were spent strengthening and raising the canal walls. Now many houses and buildings in general are built over the canals. Hence one can now do an under city tour. The tour is only in Dutch. I was lucky to have on board the boat a lady and her son who were able to translate for me.
After the tour I took a stroll to the cathedral. Bosch a famous local artist died 509 years ago in August so a scaffold has been erected alongside the cathedral. For 7 euros one can walk up and around the top of the building.
A quick look inside and a it was time to catch the train to the airport in Amsterdam.
Its been another few fantastic days away. I am heading home a day early to go to a party in Auckland. Sylvia still has work to do in Brussels so will follow tomorrow. Thanks Rob and Femke it was great to see you guys.