14.06.2007 - 15.06.2007 28 °C
After a relaxing train ride from Cologne we arrived at Brussels Nord Station at 5pm. We headed down stairs from the platform and into a wall of people heading toward us, yip we were at the main station for the business district of Belgium and it seemed that the contents of all the shiny office blocks had just been told to go home. After battling through the oncoming traffic we managed to push through the exit doors and into the sunshine outside.
After a quick look at the map and feeling confident we headed off down a quiet street, it looked like a short cut on the map, and luckily it put us just where we needed to be. After about 10 minutes we where inside the hostel thankful for the airconditioning. After changing into shorts we went for a wander to grab some dinner then headed back to the hostel. After checking emails etc we had an early night.
Woke up after a nights sleep in probably the hottest room we've ever slept in, after having a shower to rinse off the dripping sweat we packed our bags and struck out for the Midi Station. Contrary to how it sounds this is actually the southern station (the Dutch version Sud Stat makes more sense). We hopped of the tram at the station and put our packs into a locker then sat down for some breakfast.
We had a map from the hostel that had a list of all the good things to check out, so heading out from the station we wandered in the direction of the 'Flea Market' apparently a not to be missed destination. Arriving at what looked to be a rubbish dump full off dirty,broken,dusty household items neatly laid out on the ground we wondered what all the fuss was about... It most definitely deserved the title 'Flea' market as that would be about all that you'd get there...
After beating a retreat down streets with plenty of curious stares from the locals opening up shop for the day, and slightly wary of the value of the 'must see' places on the map we decided to head toward a Brewery Museum that wasn't too far away (luckily for us Brussels is a perfect city to explore on foot, its flat and pretty compact). Following the map we arrived where the brewery was supposed to be; and saw a big area where a building had been demolished... Looking around, and seeing nothing promising we wandered a block up the street looking for where the place might be. It was only on our way back to the station after giving up hope of finding the place that we spotted a sign down a side street. The museum turned out to be a working brewery, not a normal brewery, but a 'Lambic' brewery. The difference turned out to be the way in which the beer is fermented. Lambic beer undergoes 'Spontaneous Fermentation' which means that the yeast that cause the fermentation process are introduced by exposing the 'wort' or liquid left after boiling water with wheat and malted barley to the air. This happens in a big open bath under the eaves, and the special yeasts fall into the liquid and begin the process. It just so happens that the most 'special' of these yeasts comes from the river that has been capped and flows underneath Brussels, and that that capped river was for many years Brussels main sewer The beer produced at this little brewery is now the only commercial beer in the world left being produced using this method of fermentation, also they stick to tradition in not adding any sugar or preservatives to the beer, so when you taste it its very bitter, even sour... but really refreshing and different!
After tasting the plain Lambic beer, which is a mix of three different years batches we got to try the Raspberry Kirch, or Raspberry infused Lambic, this is made by putting 150kgs of raspberries into 1000L of Lambic and leaving them to steep for 6 months... as you can imagine its pretty fruity, but really good, more like a wine that a beer.
After the brewery we headed to a Viatnamese restaurant for lunch, on recommendation of the map. Had an awesome feed for not too much and then headed off for the Grand Place, or Brussels main old town square. On the way we dropped by the statue of Manneken Pis, a statue of a little boy taking a wee... Its apparently the 3rd actual statue as the others have been nicked. The reason for the statue seems to be that once long ago a little boy peed on a fire, putting it out and saving the city... Brussels has this civic pride in being a city of strange/quirky things, they say that they like having things for no reason.... such as the live size horse drinking a cup of coffee at one of the tables where we had breakfast, and the massive speaking horn on a street that you could go and address the non existant masses from. Oh well if it makes them feel good i guess its all good, seems kind of desperate though...
After Manneken we walked up the street to the Grand Place and had a look at that, this is probably one of the nicest town squares we've been to, there is a whole row of old Guild Houses that belong to the various guilds that used to control the trades in town, each of the buildings has ornamentation that relates to the occupation. After a bit we headed in the direction of Belgium's Comic Book museum.
We almost made it to the museum without getting wet, up until then it had been a beautiful sunny day and really hot, but about 100m from the museum the sky opened and a huge downpour hit us, as we must have been boy scouts in previous lives we were prepared, and whipped out the priceless umbrellas We payed the exorbitant entry fee for the museum and wandered around with a book translating the information panels into English. Unfortunately the endless comic strips themselves had no English translation and we kind of missed most of the content of the museum... oh well...
We headed back out and decided to head toward the station to wait for the night train, after dodging more torrential rain with our trusty umbrellas, we got back to the station in time to grab some dinner.
After a long wait for 11:40 to roll around we were finally boarding the train. Hopping onto the car that we had a reservation in, we were hit by a stench of unwashed human... and then found that the culprit was occupying our reserved seats... retching, we quickly scouted out the only unreserved compartment on the train and swiftly closed the door, drew the curtains and stretched out on the seats. (Some trains here have a car which is made up of 3 x 3 seat compartments. Normally you sit in an uncomfortable silence as you face someone whose previously personal compartment you have just invaded, but at night you can pinch all 3 seats on one side and stretch out ) We had a pretty good sleep that night, and woke up in time to be ready to get off in Bremen at 5:54am... as we drew up at the station we saw that the sign said Munster, and a flicker of doubt made us check the map...to find out that Munster was about 1/2 of Germany away from Bremen...a quick check with an oncoming conductor informed us that the train was almost 1.5 hours late! Sweet! that meant that we would get to Bremen at a much more sensible time