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Brussels – Bin It

Manneke PisDaddy is just back from the Bluetooth Unplugfest-28, a quarterly industry meeting for testing all things Bluetooth. Last time it was in Taipei. Next time it is in Las Vegas. This time, it was in…Brussels.

Here is what Bryson had to say on the city: I walked and walked down long streets that never changed character or even acquired any, just endless blocks of grey sameness, which Brussels seems to possess in greater abundance than almost anywhere else in Europe.

He goes on and on like this. I have an update to give him: its worse now. They have put purple lights into one building so that it lights up at night. Other cities do this to good effect (Hong Kong comes to mind – a place that I have only flew over, so far). In Brussels, they made the colour change to orange, then to green. It looked like the vomit that it was. Worse, it was right beside the hotel, and it shone in through my frosted windows.

Did you catch that? My hotel room’s window was frosted. The whole thing. I opened it (a sign beside it said “Warning to parents: window opens fully”). It clunked all of 2cm open before the chain-lock caught it (there was no key). The sign should have said, Warning to guests: Brussels is ugly, please don’t open the window to look at it.

Why am I writing so much about this awful city? I guess its therapeutic.

There’s more to add: now there are many begging 20-somethings, some with their baby in their arms; and taxi drivers that are intent on testing that their side air bags work. I thought nothing would top Montreal drivers.

I would even go on more, but Brussels isn’t worth it. Just avoid it.

No, I have to go on.

There are two tourist attractions that I saw (probably the only two).

One is the market square – Grand Place, Grote Markt. Its truly stunning…better than Munich’s Marienplatz. After a few minutes, though, you begin to feel sad. That’s when you realize that this is probably what all of Brussels was like until about 50 years ago.

The other “attraction” is a statue of a boy taking a piss, Manneken Pis. My dad had a model of it on his bar back when I was a kid. At least, I always thought it was a model. Now I know it was a full-size replica! We’re talking a silly 15th century boy taking a piss sitting on top of a stone column on a corner between waffle shops. Thoughtfully, the city council was digging up the road and pavement all around it and had erected very ugly barriers everywhere. Tourists, like me, took pictures of it (barriers and the boy), thinking, I’m sure, “Well, I found it (for it is down a small street), so I might as well take a picture of it, especially given that everything else around here looks like shit”.

Speaking of shit…I nearly stood in it three or four times on my stroll through town. Be aware: Brussels is home to displaced Parisian dog owners.

And the shit didn’t start then, either. Just after my arrival at the hotel, while stepping outside to go get some lunch, what should appear but a nice green-yellow plop on my right shoulder. It was only the second time in my life that a pigeon has shitted on me. The last time was when I was about 7, on my way to school. On a positive note, at least this time it shitted on my shirt and not on my hair.

I haven’t even mentioned the hourly (and I’m not kidding) sirens that went screaming past the Crown Plaza’s conference room. My colleague said they were probably on their way to another suicide attempt.

Remember, as Katya says, this is the capital of Europe. Washington, now there is how to do a capital! Heck, even Ottawa is better than Brussels — especially in the winter when you can skate for miles along the Rideau Canal.

So, what else to do in this capital city except drink beer and eat chocolate? My colleague and I found a very good restaurant. And you’ll love its name. I mean, what would you call a well-decorated , warm-glowing restaurant that serves delicious dishes like succulent lamb, frog legs and fish and chips (is this a real European place or what!)? Top it off with an extensive selection of fine Belgian beers and finish it all off with melt-in-the-mouth waffles. We were in heaven. What would you call this place? Think hard. No, not even close.

Drug Opera.

Across the street from it was a huge erection of steel girders holding up the façade of a once majestic building, it seems. Behind it was just a hole in the ground (think Twin Towers after they cleared away the debris). We shuddered to think what will fill that hole and have that façade on the outside. I’ve seen this done to disastrous effect in Toronto. I’m positive Brussels will out-do them.

I must stop now lest you decide to go visit the place.

Did I mention how cramped and grey the Eurostar train is these days? That’s another story…

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