Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Rendezvous in Brussels

Maastricht, Netherlands
Woke up a couple of times but got out of bed around 7am. Ready to go at 7:40. My train leaves at 9:10. I did the scheduling on a touch screen computer in Dutch. That train should put me into Brussels at 11:10 after a change at the border in Liege. I walked back across the St. Servaasbrug, the main pedestrian bridge between Maastricht and the Wyck district, where the train station is.
As I was doing so, a part of the bridge was elevated to allow a barge thru. The bridge was designed to allow people to cross even as the boat was passing under. I walked up the inclined ramp and the bridge lowered while I was on it, so I walked off a flat bridge.
Despite wandering some streets on the Wyck side of the Maas, I was still an hour early for my train. I changed USD 40 to 1600BFr, or about 1 USD to 40 Belgian Francs. To sit and stay warm, I bought a sandwich in a brasserie in the station. I have about 20 minutes before the train departs. I charted my train ride from yesterday, and at Sittard I could have walked into Germany, and once in Maastricht I could have walked into Belgium.

Brussels, Belgium
The stoptrein entered Belgium and the only reason I noticed was because the ticket guy had a different hat. I flashed my passport and he kept walking. My first impression of Belgium is that the people are small in stature. On the plus side, the signs and announcements are in French, which is at least a little more familiar to me than Dutch. I had about 5 minutes to figure out just which train (IC) would take me to Brussels-Midi. It was more than enough time. I should arrive around 11:07, giving me enough time to drop my bag in a locker before meeting up with the roomies.

Sure enough, I arrived at 11:07 give or take a few minutes. I knew that Andy and McG would arrive from Paris on the Thalys, so I went to the platform and met them there. We dropped our bags in a locker (I’d made change from the bills I exchanged in Maastricht). The locker locks as soon as you close the door. I think it’s related to either a pressure sensor in the locker, or maybe some circuitry on the direction LCD. So we crammed all our stuff (they bought pots and pans for gifts and our kitchen) and we hit the streets of Brussels.
We wandered North from Brussels-Midi to the Grand Palace. Had Belgian waffles for lunch around 12:30 or so. It took half an hour to find an ATM. From there we walked by some lace stores and tapestry places. Basically stumbled upon Mannequin Pis, the little urinating boy that became a city emblem.
We then walked in a northerly direction until we came up to the large garden palace thing. The garden was under construction, but we saw a set of trees whose limbs were woven together and supported in a lattice like form. Walking along the road that circles the city, we stopped at a hotel to ask where a chocolate shop might be found. The receptionist told us there was one right across the street, another down the road, and another…etc. We bought around 12 dollars worth of chocolate for the trip back.

Because the trains for Amsterdam leave at 42 minutes past the hour, we wanted to catch the 3:42 train. This is mostly because Brussels wasn’t really that interesting. We did see a bus to NATO but that wasn’t even all that interesting.
We were close to the station and rapidly running out of time. The train was an IC, in theory a fast train, but it had many stops on its trip description.

We made for the train, but since there was so little time left after pulling out bags out of storage, there just wasn’t enough left to see if we could get on the inarguably faster Thalys. After stopping in a number of little stations, we ended up stopped for 15-30 minutes (or at least it felt that way) outside of Antwerp for rail construction. We made it up to Rotterdam before an announcement came on telling us that we’d have to change trains. So we got out only to find that our new train was delayed 20+ minutes. We got on another train that went up thru Den Haag/Leiden/Haarlem until we finally made it to Amsterdam Centraal.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Our cab to the hotel was a Mercedes and very posh. The dash was filled with enough electronic gadgets it felt like a spaceship rocketing thru a city with no descernable roads. Most of the ride was along the tram rails, but those branched left and right, almost like a video game diving thru a mineshaft. We made it to the hotel without incident, then got dinner at Brasserie Bark’s, where I managed to order one of the specials written in Dutch—grilled swordfish. We got back to the hotel around 9 or 10 and watch an English movie on TV. So lights went out around 11pm.

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