17.2.16

Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 1

So, I had my e-voucher from Eurostar for £34, they were doing a sale with fares at £29 single to Paris or Brussels (the deadline was sneakily extended!) and I'd just read an article in the Independent on Sunday (10 January 2016) about the new Train World museum and nearby Train Hostel. It was time to start planning what would be my longest solo foreign holiday so far!

Schaerbeek station with 92 tram to Fort-Jaco
Schaerbeek station and the 92 tram to Fort-Jaco
Day 1 Thursday 4 February: The plan was to get to Brussels Midi station, find the tourist info, get a map or two and some tram tickets*. But where was it? Never did find out. I'd forgotten my plug adapter so bought a replacement for €15 at the station. After struggling with a ticket machine, I bought a local train ticket (€2.10) from a human and got the train north to Schaerbeek (pronounced Scar-beek, I think). The Train Hostel was recognisable by the carriage hanging off the roof Italian Job style. I was given room 12 up some metal stairs in the drizzle, that had been converted from a six bunk room to a double, with ultramodern bathroom / wet room. The receptionist got me a beer (a €2 Stella) and after trying to find the pizza place (I managed to walk in a big circle) watched Buster Keaton's The General on YouTube on my iPad Mini. Thank goodness for wifi and my hip flask.

Schaerbeek station hall
Inside the old station hall
Day 2 Friday 5 February: I'd opted for the €7 breakfast, which was well worth it, what with boiled eggs available… I'd brought my own tea bags! Thence to Train World. After buying my senior ticket for €7.50, I had a bit of trouble getting past the scanner. A woman the other side of the door helped me via sign language - I'd to scan the bar code part of the ticket! The Train World experience starts quietly in the grand hall of the old station, dotted with models of locos and stations.

Hall 1
Hall 1

Then it's outside and into the first modern hall. It was much bigger than I'd imagined. I'd downloaded the app to my iPad so had plenty of time to take it in. And it's quite unlike York, in that it is a journey through time, with dramatic accompanying sound and vision. The app didn't let me miss anything, which I would have done, just wandering. Soon I was in the hall of the star attraction - the Type 12 Atlantic (4-4-0) streamliner 12004 and I took a seat to take it in.

Type 12 Atlantic 4-4-2 No. 12004
Type 12 streamliner
The museum had all kinds of delights, both wonderful and poignant, like the car smashed up on a level crossing by two trains (the driver survived) and a cattle wagon used by the nazis to transport Belgians to the camps. There was a coach from the Trans-Europe Express and Art Deco panels from the Orient Express. At the end, you are taken up high to walk back through the halls seeing the exhibits from above, and there's a fab train simulator to have a go on that takes you to the future.

Trans Europe Express interior
Trans-Europe Express
In the cafe (Rn Express) I had carrot soup (€8) plus a whole pile of rocket then caught a 92 tram into town for a recce. I got off at Louise and wandered aimlessly, missing almost any point of interest in the area (I was aiming for Central Station, designed by Horta) and had to jump on a bus to find somewhere more familiar.

Carrot soup at Rn Express
Carrot soup at the museum cafe
That evening I did find my way to Pizza Margherita and had a funghi pizza by the wood-fired oven while watching the chef fling the dough about. It was so filling I nearly didn't finish it! Note to self: next trip take a compass!

* I'd planned to buy a MOBIB (a sort of Oyster card) with ten journeys on it - you're allowed an hour to use as many metros, trams or buses to get to your destination. In the end I bought ten tickets at €2.10 each from the machine outside Schaerbeek station. A MOBIB costs €5, so there was probably nothing in it! The paper tickets served me well, I only had to buy one more to see me through the week.

More photos on Flickr.

Brussels part 2
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