Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 4

 Day 5 Monday 8 February: On Mondays most museums are closed, so a long tram or metro trip was in order. And as it was windy and absolutely throwing it down outside, I stopped for a while at the Natural Coffee House on the corner. Bought a croissant from Teddy L and jumped on the 73 tram (temp stop outside the Michael Collins irish pub cos the road was up) to Louise then down to the M6 metro to Heysel and the Atomium. "Built for the 1958 World Exhibition, the Atomium is shaped on the model of an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times."

I was planning to buy a combo ticket, to include the ADAM art and design museum, but the price was considerably higher than the website said (it would have been €14) , and there were hoards of kids in the queue. Also, they warned of stairs, so I figured they'd not repaired the escalators since last I went up it with Jonny the Lodger.

ADAM, Brussels
So I headed back towards the station and into the modern building that is ADAM. It was €8 to get in and very disappointing - unless you love plastic chairs. It was basically the Plasticarium Collection (that I think used to be housed in the Atomium) plus a lot of big empty rooms. The cafe was tiny and the shop expensive. Bad choice, I should have gone up the Atomium. Ah well. I walked up towards the Art Deco building (Palais des Expositions from the 1935 Expo) and back to the metro station.

Palais des Expositions 1935

On the way back I took a detour on the metro to find Central Station, which I did and discovered I was literally yards away  the other day! I bought a crusty sandwich from Exki and skirted the Grand Place heading for Bourse. I'd been tipped off on Facebook (by Tamsin) about an Art Nouveau bar called Le Cirio.

Central station, Brussels
Central station, designed by Horta
It was late afternoon, so first I had a coffee at another Natural Coffee Cafe, then had a couple of Grimbergen dark beers in this wonderful bar. A strange woman on the next table to me, who was eating her way through the not so appetising menu, gave me a praline! Then it was the metro back to Gare du Midi and a try out on tram 81 back to Bailli (one of those older ones with three steps up.) I popped into the Cock's Fresh (yes!) supermarket to buy a couple of cans : Leffe Brune, and Palm, and watched tv in my room. The building work outside went on all night!

Grimbergen at Le Cirio

Day 6 Tuesday 9 February 2016: I struggled to get my case up the three-step 81 tram in the rain (it was easier getting off). A slightly goth young woman sat opposite me and pulled from a brown paper bag a brand new copy of Mein Kampf, with day-glo cover. I bought another crusty sandwich from the station Exki, had a cappuccino in the departure lounge, and soon I was back in Blighty.

More photos on Flickr.

Brussels, part 3 >


Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 3

Magritte museum
Main Magritte museum at Place Royale
Day 4 Sunday 7 February: Today I'd planned to take a tram out of town to the Tram Museum and a vintage ride through the forest, but it doesn't open properly until April! So, it was to be the other bigger Magritte museum, the Musée Magritte Museum, in the city centre, near Royale tram stop. Now, although this has its own building, the entrance and ticket office is round the corner, through security. It's in a complex of four museums so I opted for a combo ticket at €9. After leaving my bag in a locker, we were taken by lift up to the top, and enjoyed three whole floors of Magritte art.

Brussels and Magritte
Still not a pipe!
I've seen many a Magritte exhibition - the last one in Liverpool in 2011 - and remember well that Brighton had its own collection courtesy Edward James (long gone), but there are so many more paintings of his to discover, albeit many of them variations on a theme.

Gavin Turk
Gavin Turk homage
After some cauliflower soup in the cafe (€4 plus €1 for bread), it was downstairs to the Fin de Siècle Museum. This is even bigger than the Magritte museum and doesn't really get interesting (to me) until the deepest rooms, of Art Nouveau paintings and sculptures, including a nice Burne-Jones. There are some very strange ones too, like the waterfall of naked children tryptic by Baron Léon Frederic! Thankfully there was a lift back to the surface and after a quick whizz round the Old Masters to see the Bruegels emerged into the sunlight.

The real Mannekin Pis
The wee Manneken Pis
Now for some sightseeing. I walked down through the gardens behind the museums, past the impressive Musical Instruments museum and across the Grand Place to check out the wee Manneken Pis and have a De Koninck beer in the Taverne Manneken Pis in front of a roaring fire.

Entrance to La Fleur en Papier Doré
Entrane to La Fleur en Papier Doré
Thus revived it was just a short walk to Magritte's favourite bar La Fleur en Papier Doré, polishing off my leftover sushi. Inside I had a glass of Le Forte and another Leffe Brune (yes, Belgian Special Brew, but I like it, OK?).
Beer at Magritte's favourite bar: La Fleur en Papier Doré
Le Fort and some nibbles, that's Magritte second from right
I didn't fancy the veggie stoemp option so it was a walk up to the Sabon and a 73 tram to the hotel and Call the Midwife, followed by War and Peace. There was building works outside, replacing the cobbles between the tram lines, which went on all night!

Tram repairs outside my hotel (all night!)
Road works on Avenue Louise
More photos on Flickr.

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Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 2

Day 3 Saturday 6 February: After breakfast at the Train Hostel (the egg could have done with a bit longer), I packed my things and took the 92 tram to Bailli and checked in at the Four Points by Sheraton, a very swanky hotel off the Avenue Louise. I'd been allocated the hotel by lastminute.com top secret deal, and it worked out even cheaper than the hostel! I was on the ground floor in 125.

Magritte's house in Jette
Magritte's flat
 Now, there are two Magritte museums in Brussels and today I was to seek out the one in the suburb of Jette, and luckily the 93 tram went all the way. First I thought I'd walk to the Horta museum nearby, but when I got there late morning I found it didn't open until 2pm! So, I bought a croissant and took the tram to Cimetière de Jette and followed the sign to the Musée René Magritte at 135 Rue Esseghemstraat, arriving as a Spanish couple were outside ringing the doorbell. This house, or rather flat, is where Magritte lived and worked from 1930 to 1954. Coincidentally be died in Schaerbeek!

Magritte's bedroom
Magritte's bedroom
After paying €7.50, we were guided round the ground floor of best front room (very Northern), bedroom and dining room, where he painted every morning then cleared away his things for teatime. There is also a smarter studio (Studio Dongo) in the garden where he did his commercial work. The guide pointed out all the features that appear time and time again in his paintings - the fireplace, the windows, the floorboards, the furniture. After donning overshoes, we were led upstairs to wander round two storeys of fascinating ephemera, minor works and recreated 'lost' paintings (his first London show was bombed!).

Magritte's living room, for best
Magritte's front room, note the 'loco' coming out of the fireplace

Then it was a tram, metro and tram back to the hotel. I fancied some moules frites for supper so wandered over to La Chou de Bruxelles, early to get a seat. It wasn't open yet, so had a beer in a rough pub nearby until 7pm then wandered back to find it was fully booked, and closed on Sunday and Monday! The only eating place I could find on Avenue Louise was Sushi Factory, so I made do with cold sushi and warm miso soup! The chips here are apparently cooked in beef or horse fat anyway! Back at the hotel I had a beer in the bar - Leffe Brune at €4.50 - and retired to watch Casualty.

More photos on Flickr.

< Brussels part 3 | Brussels part 1 >


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