Saturday, August 8, 2015

Belgium - 2015



  • Train stations in Brussels are very confusing (at least for me) with no Tourist Information desk or useful multi-language or English maps.  Also, if you are take the train and your destination is not the final destination of the train, you better figure out before getting to the train station which train you need to take.  If you are in a hurry, you will be stressed out unless you know French.
  • Getting out of the train station in Brussels and getting into the bus is another problem because once you get the get the ticket to go in the bus, there are whole bunch of gates in multiple floors, there’s no proper guidance to get to the right place.
  • Brussels in one place where I had to pay to get the local Tourist map while in other European countries, you will be able to find the tourist maps in the train stations and airports.
  • Most of the hotels in Belgium have wifi but there’s no password required, so if you want to get on the internet to research something or get the map or whatever you want to do, go to one of the hotels where you will have the service available to you.

  • The Tourist Information at Bruges is much better than Brussels and the person at the information center was very helpful & patience.  A lot of useful information at the information center.
  • During the weekend, get the train tickets on the Internet that is more discounted than the same ones available in the train station
  • Visit Bruges very early in the morning before the tour groups start arriving.  Walking in the non-crowded streets takes you back in time.  When the crowds start arriving, even though you are standing in the middle of the historical place, you may wonder whether you are standing in the movie set because of all the crowds around you.  So get there early.
  • I’d stay in Bruges and enjoy the city in the quiet hours than staying in Brussels.

Getting into Brussels
Struggled to get to the correct platform to catch the train to Brussels North and after leaving the Brussels North station, I had trouble getting to the bus station within the metro to get to a particular bus number.  Initially, I thought that it was a language issue but I can assure that it is not the case.  There’s no proper direction or maps in the train or metro stations.  

When I booked my apartment through AirBnb, I didn’t realize that the apartment was in the Elsene section, it is one of the areas where most of the migrants from North Africa and Turkey live.  The information about that area in some of the forums was pretty negative, but my experience I really enjoyed staying there and I walked around that area about 11pm without any issues.  There’s a police station just a block away from where I stayed and didn’t see any sketchy characters hanging around.  I was staying with a nice couple (French and Greek) who are ballet dancers and teachers who invited me to join them for a drink later that evening.  I joined them for a drink the next day when we talked about their profession, my work, capitalism in US, US work hours, etc.  It is a nice place where they provide me with good breakfast and a lot of advise on what to do in Brussels.

Walking Around

Even though it was a cold and gloomy day, I didn’t want to stay in the house so ventured out to 
explore Brussels.  Brussels is relatively a small city and you can walk to most of the touristy places by walk.  Before I left the house, I checked with the hosts on the security situation on the streets after dark and they told me that there won’t be any problems in that neighborhood.  I was able to walk around in a leisurely pace and cover most of the touristy areas before went for beer in one of the oldest pubs in the city, À La Mort Subite, to taste kriek and half-en-half. 

Getting to Bruges
The next day, after having cereal and coffee in the apartment, I headed out to the Brussels center to go to Bruges.  I was not sure whether they will accept the electronic copy of the ticket and when I asked the ticket counter, the person at the counter told me to get it printed somewhere.  I decided to take a chance and got on the train just with the electronic ticket where no one checked for it.  Since it was Saturday, there was a lot of crowd with a bunch of people standing and traveling.

Beautiful Bruges
Bruges is a must see place if you visit Belgium.  The Tourist Information center will provide you with the map in the language of your choice and provide all the information that you need - very friendly people.  I walked on the side streets where there’re not many people around and enjoyed the quietness.  But after sometime, around noon, I couldn’t find any place there’s not a lot of tourists :-(  I walked around the city so much and enjoyed every bit of it.  Ended the tour of Bruges by going to one of the oldest bars in the city and having their local brew :-)  

Brussels - Grand Palace
When I reached Brussels, I wanted to spend the evening at the Grand Palace and wanted to see the whole place light up.  They finally lit up the place at 10pm but til then I was enjoying the local scenery where the youth were sitting on the floor in the plaza and socializing and people of different cultures walking around the plaza.  This is a very nice place to hang around for people watching.

My Views
Overall, it is a beautiful country with very good transportation network with less guidance to use them.
I didn't find anything to do for more than a day in Brussels but I could have spent more than a day in Bruges.

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