Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fares please – On the Buses !

Sunday 23rd April 2017

After a day of much walking yesterday we had decided on a more leisurely and easier approach to our exertions for today – we had decided that - but sometimes plans do not quite work out as well as we might wish.
Our plan was to do the Hop On/Hop Off bus tours today – there were two routes to be followed and it would give us a bit of a chance to take it a bit easier and sit down whilst we toured – that’s a good plan isn’t?
On top of that we could use our train ticket from yesterday to get into the centre of town.

We had previously done these tours in Liverpool, Paris and New York and it is the easiest way to see so much in a city and then simply pick out the places that you want to see in more detail and then the bus drives you to the locations that you pick-out – easy, peasy.

I think I can pinpoint the exact moment that the plan went off the rails – we had finished our breakfast a bit early to actually go into the city so I suggested ……. “If you like we could take a stroll up the road and have a look at the canal and then make our way around to the station” …. There you have it; a simple suggestion, which we started out doing.

A gentle stroll up the road, past the roadworks for the tramway extension, to the canal; had a good look at the lock and then carried on along the path alongside the canal.

So, we made it to the canal and had a look at that, then....

Then we came across people with full carry bags walking one way and others with empty trolleys going the other.
Now Diane is pretty quick at sizing things up and she immediately knew that there must be a market just on the other side and of course, instantly knew how to get there.
“Can we just have a little look, please?” – how do you resist – “Yes my lovely”

...the markets

I am sure that there are larger markets, but not sure that there were too many bigger, and we didn’t walk up every aisle – although it did seem like it.
Have to say that all of the produce was better than anything we had seen in
our time on the boat...

...they're doing alright here in Brussels

We came away with a few things and by that stage we then headed for the station and the bus – already we had done more than half our usual daily allowance of steps and we hadn’t started on what was planned for the day.

Train into Bruxelles Centraal, found the guy selling the tickets (and we had some discount vouchers from the Tourist Information office) and the bus was standing there ready for the first trip of the day.
Front seat upstairs – her indoors was pleased – and we were off.

It is a great way to go and we saw places that we might not otherwise have found or bothered with – certainly would not have bothered with the congested traffic around the Atomium area – every person in Brussels must have been in their car and heading the same way.

With little trouble and a bit of patience the bus driver found his way through it all and we were back at our starting point in a little under 90 minutes.

The Atomium - part of the 1958 World's Fair and like the Eiffel Tower, it
was not designed to stay around for long after.
Found this little tram along the way

By that stage it was time for lunch – Diane had her mind set for a Belgian tourist and local staple – no, it had nothing to do with chocolate.
We found a little place called Le Fiacre and a table outside and ordered our meals; whilst we enjoyed a beer and glass of wine and the warm sunshine, we had a great chance to just do a lot of people watching – people going every which way as they too were enjoying the full dose of springtime weather.

The meals arrived and Diane enjoyed the Moules and Frites, whilst I had the Salmon and Frites. Both were very good indeed and nothing survived except for the mussel shells.

A couple of coffees and another beer later, bill paid and we were ready for bus number 2.

A short walk up the hill and luck was with us again – there was a bus waiting for us and just after taking our seats we were off again.
We were a bit disappointed with the commentary tape on this – it kept on jumping and then stopped playing entirely; the driver didn’t know and consequently passengers who wanted to get off at certain stops were unaware that they were approaching these stops and therefore not ready for the stop.

We made a decision to move downstairs and be ready for whatever the next stop was – which happened to be the European Parliament buildings – it appeared that even on a Sunday, just as much work was being done as any other day of the week – of course the building was closed.

Popped into a café for a drink – hot chocolates only, whilst we waited for a bus, but really not in any hurry as we were using their wifi to check out football scores and other stuff – it was a lovely café – London Experience – that was as close as it came to London at all.

Eventually caught the next bus back to the starting point, and by then we were getting a bit tired so as far as we were concerned it was a train back to the hotel and time to relax.

Yesterday’s plan of minimal walking somehow didn’t quite eventuate – there is always tomorrow!

Walking distance so far: 27.0 km (previous) + 7.1 km (Sunday) = 34.1 km (Total)

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Antwerpen here we come

Saturday 22nd April 2017

As with any new place that we visit there is always a bit of uncertainty about the second day and what exactly we might go and do – in this case we had a different dilemma – before we even left London we had thought about also taking a day to take a short train trip to see another city in the same country – in this case it was Antwerp.

It was about an hour away by train and we found out that there was a special weekend rate for any train travel – just €17.20 for two return tickets for the whole weekend – too good to turn down, so immediately after breakfast we were off to Bruxelles Zuid to head north.

All I knew about Antwerp before we left was that it had held the Olympics in 1920 and was the second largest port in Europe (behind Rotterdam) – with that we were all set to see the sights – but just for safety we visited the information centre in the beautiful Antwerp station when we arrived.

Imagine arriving by train 100 years ago and finding all
of this to greet you... would speak of the wealth of the city...

....and the outside did the inside justice

The young woman behind the counter certainly knew a lot more than I did and pointed out a number of highlights that we might want to cover in the short time that we had.
We have said before that cities/towns truly committed to giving tourists a great experience put their efforts (and money) into the tourist information offices – Antwerp had done that.

We had a number of interesting sights to see and experience.

Bansky had been here but the exhibition had finished

Up front – the “gold” lined ceiling of one of the shopping centres in the city and almost immediately behind it was the outdoor markets.

This photo just does not give the full visual effect but it was impressive

It is simply lovely to wander around markets in a new place – especially a new country (to us) to see, smell and taste the food and to hear the sounds of people and the city.

We certainly did all of that.

Many stalls had samples for tasting – and not just a miniscule piece but plates of each of their wares; so many foods that Diane would easily have bought and consumed over the next week – if in fact we were residents in the city – knowing that we could do it all over again next week – it was wonderful, just like being back home.

The dishes on the top of the display case are the sample dishes - no half
measures here

Kip = Chicken

What would a market be without flowers and being this close to the Netherlands
there were bound to be plenty of tulips

After sorting out lunch – a roast chicken and rolls – we headed further along towards the river (where we had been directed)

The Cathedral was in our path and as we have done many times previously we went in for a look around – just a small charge and being seniors it was discounted – Diane is concerned about her feeling on this – she doesn’t like that nobody challenges her about her age (makes her feel that people believe she qualifies), but at the same time she likes to save the money.

One of the many museums were closed for a while so they moved a lot of their
paintings to the Cathedral - amongst them were quite a few by Rubens

meanwhile down in the crypt...

...couldn't tell if it was still occupied or not

The statue is supporting a gold cross

One of Antwerp’s favourite past inhabitants was none other than one Peter Paul Rubens – we had spotted his old house on our walk to where we now stood.
Paul Peter Rubens, one of the sons
of Antwerp...

...and his house is well preserved

The cathedral now houses some excellent examples of his work as well as many works of other fine artists.
Besides these art works, the cathedral is a fine work of architecture and a fine building in its own right.

This was unusual - a statue in the pavement

The architecture is definitely influenced by the Dutch style

Time for lunch and we found a spot down by the Scheldt River hoping to see some water traffic – sadly there were just a couple passing by.

Further walking and we came across Het Steen Castle which has had an interesting history but today it is a youth educational centre – and it did have a lovely café which was just a bit warmer than the 14-15C outside with the chill wind.

Along the way we we heading towards the Museum aan de Stroom which has a lookout on the very upper floor whereby we could see for miles across the very flat area that is Antwerp and surrounds.

We looked directly down into the basin where many boats had found moorings – we spotted a few craft that, in other circumstances would have attracted more than just our passing interest and certainly a lot that we could only dream about. There were a few empty spots where we could have moored up in Ferndale but it was time to move on and start heading for home.

An unlawful entry in progress??

Walking down along less well used streets we found some more lovely old buildings and finally when we decided that a bit of a rest would be worth while we came across a lovely little pub/bar with outdoor seating for a far greater number than could be accommodated inside and we (Diane) made the executive decision that a drink was in order.
Finding a seat by the window (allowing us to look out) we indulged in a couple of Leffe Blonds each and as we had done earlier at the market, we soaked up the atmosphere and the background music and the general feeling of well-being. This was a pub off the beaten track and it was occupied almost exclusively by locals, but we did not feel out of place.

Sampling the local product - one of our favourites

Sadly we had to leave and the station was found, the timetable was consulted, the platform was waiting as was the train and an hour later we were back in the hotel, almost completely exhausted but having enjoyed a lovely city and it’s inhabitants and it’s sights.

What a smart young woman she was behind the information desk in the station.

Walking distance so far: 15.7 km (previous) + 11.3 km (Saturday) = 27.0 km (Total)