Back in Belgium

I woke at a reasonable hour and made sure I was all packed up. I had time to do a quick email check and get breakfast before I had to walk over the road to the hauptbahnhof for my coach to Brussels. Hans was already there doing the tourist thing and we’d agreed to meet up for a drink in the pub with 2004 beers.

At 10:30, I was on time for check-in on the coach. Here’s a warning… Eurolines are OK. But despite booking through them, I was on a “Euro Buses” (I think) coach instead. As a result, I had to pay an extra Euro for my rucksack. When I complained, the driver got out a battered A4 sheet stapled to some card with the details of the luggage charge in three languages – none of them English.

Bizarre thing is that I swear this has happened to me before. Something similar happened when Hans and I were ripped off by a taxi driver and his mate in Mumbai (at least they’d laminated their sheet which they used to fleece us). But I have a niggly memory of being charged for luggage carriage in Europe before. Yeah, it was only a Euro but it’s the principle.

Anyhow, the journey was pleasant enough with some nice weather and scenery. I watched another Dead Zone on my PSP and read some more of my book (Elephant Song by Wilbur Smith – rather good). We passed through a couple of other cities on the way in, including a drop-off in Liége. Which I can tell you is definitely not designed for coaches. Brussels hove into view later than planned due to traffic, but it didn’t feel like I was late.

I walked down to the 2Go4 hostel where I’d stayed last time. In fact, almost exactly a year ago when Marina and I attended last year’s Graspop. As ever, the welcome was warm and the place was clean and busy. I had been lucky to get a bed as Hans had been kind enough to keep badgering them until they assured me a spot due to a cancellation. A very busy hostel and justifiably so.

After dropping my stuff we headed straight out for some food (kebab was quick and easy) and a walk around. We took in the usual touristy stuff like the town hall and the Mannequin Pis. Bizarrely when we got to the little fella having a wee, few people were looking at him. Instead, eyes were focussed on a woman trying to rescue her kitten from a window ledge.

Lowering a basket with food in only succeeded in having the cat tip the basket over, pinch the food and eat it on the ledge. D’oh. Eventually he found another open window and – I hope – would have been found by office staff the next day.

Walking back towards the town hall, Hans dropped a few cents into the hat of a human statue. “Have a photo!” he shouted, so we did. One each. Cool. Then “Give me two Euros!” resulted in a firm “no” and us walking off.

A word for anyone planning on doing the whole statue thing. If you want money for photos – ask first. Not after. It’s far more polite.

We located the Delirium Bar which serves over 2000 beers and enjoyed a cheeky one each followed by ice cream from an nearby stand. Hans was exhausted as he’d had a couple of early mornings and I wanted to catch the footie so we walked back to the hostel where I got online while he had a snooze. Spain beat Russia to go through to the final, which entailed the entire Spanish population of Brussels driving arond town beeping their damn car horns till the silly hours. Who’d have thought Brussels had so many Spaniards?

Our plans to go out again kind of tailed off when we both realised we were still tired later on. We’d need our strength the next couple of days so had a moderately early night after chatting to our roomies for a while. Tomorrow, Graspop beckoned.

Zemanta Pixie

Back in Belgium

I worked out that this is my fifth visit to Belgium, making it my most-visited country in the world outside of the UK. This, however, was my first trip entirely on foot and also my first to the north-eastern part of the country. The first couple of days didn’t really show me much change from the Luxembourgish scenery as I continued to go through teeny (though nice) towns and woods.

The largest town in the region, and my main destination on this little dog-leg, was Liege. I had arranged two couchsurfing hosts, one for each of two nights, but due to changes in arrangements I ended up staying with just one host for my stay. Thank you to Sonia! Thank you also to Clara, Abo and Jacqueline as well as everyone else I met while I was there as well.

Like Turin, the couchsurfing scene here is incredible good with a nice community who go to plenty of trouble to ensure you enjoy your stay. Sonia showed me round one afternoon, I visited some of her friends, and we all had dinner together at Jacqeline’s.

Liege is a very old city with some churches and cathedrals dating back to the 11th century, perhaps earlier. It’s amazing that some of these are still standing and I got some great photographs of them. As ever, I’m not religious at all but to see what people can build for whatever reason never ceases to amaze me. Liege’s buildings aren’t as well-restored as those I saw in the likes of Paris, Metz or Nancy but sometimes an old building looks better with some grime on it and foliage growing up the sides. The interiors are generally a different matter with glowing stained glass windows and bright paintwork.

There is actually a fair amount to do in Liege according to the leaflet I picked up, but I didn’t have time for all the museums and so forth. I settled for being taken out on the Saturday night and forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol by Sonia and some of her work colleagues. Friday is apparently the main night out, but Saturday was hectic enough. There’s a very nice area in the town centre with a main shopping street flanked by a large number of narrow alleys. These alleys hold many pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants and at night it erupts in to a near street-party as people flow from one to the other. Certainly great nightlife here!

There is more – some interesting sculptures dotted around and a scenic view from the war memorial at the top of 111 steps to name only a couple – so that I wish I had more time to spend. It’s a very “comfortable” city to someone from the north of England. It’s the right kind of grimy and the people are friendly! And let’s not forget the fantastic Belgian beer which I sampled far too much of. Only to be polite, you understand.

Next stop, though, would be Germany. My second visit and quite a few cities to get through. Thankfully someone had built them all close together.

Guten Tag, Deutschland!

A huge thank you to Belgium for another great long weekend. Still the friendliest Europeans in my experience, with one of the cleanest and most efficient rail networks. No surprise given that they laid Europe’s first in 1830.

Thanks also to Sheilah for the pedometer, and Anni for mailing it on to Marina for her to bring over when I left the silly thing lying in Cardiff. Obviously, it was great to see Marina again (along with “Lumpy”) for the first time in ages. Great company as ever, and good luck with the de-Lumpy-ing next month!

At Mol station, we gave out free waffles to appreciative rockers on the platform before being whisked to Antwerp and onto another train headed south. I disembarked at Brussels North to spend over three hours onlline updating this blog. Marina stayed on until Charleroi South and, as I later gathered, made it home both safely and on time. A remarkable feat given that she was flying with LyingAir.

My bus was easy enough to get on and off although there were two screaming kids to put up with until we reached Dusseldorf. There was a muted cheer when the doors closed after they’d stepped off.

Almost seven hours after I got on the bus, I got off in Frankfurt-am-Main (the one in the south-west-ish of Germany) and had to walk a whole two minutes to the Frankfurt Hostel on the other side of the street.

The directions said to look for the big flag advertising a language school. As I arrived late in the evening and it was dark, it would have made more sense to tell me to navigate towards the very brightly-lit and easy-to-spot WORLD OF SEX shop where one can obviously buy poppers, and just pop into the door next to it.

It’s a great little hostel with a wonderful atmosphere and I had to book an extra night when I found out that Frankfurt-Hahn airport (two hours from Frankfurt…) is closed overnight. My original plan was to sleep the night there for my early check-in. Well, I did book the night. Then I cancelled it (no quibbles, refund right away) and opted to just stay up really late in the reception area instead.

As I sat in the reception/bar, I listened to all the accents around me. To paraphrase a line from Hostel – are there any Germans in Frankfurt? Barring the two guys working there, every single accent I heard was American. Oh, and I did overhear one guy completely mistaking Monaco for Morocco.

Despite sleeping for an age on the bus, I was dead tired and the first one to bed in my dorm. Nice and comfy and I was asleep all too quickly.

Graspop day 3 / Brussels again

A short post I may expand on later just to get things up to date. Slayer owned Download and I’m still bruised with a very, very sore right thumb from the ‘pit. Ozzy Osbourne is like your grandad on stage. Almost embarassing to see, but you can’t help but love him and hope he’s there for many more years to come.

We finished off the beer we bought so I was somewhat tiddly while answering emails on the festival site. Hope I didn’t offend anyone!

The cybercafe here in Brussels is three Euros an hour and I’ve been on for almost three hours getting up to date. Apologies for any bad spelling in the recent posts. I’ve been rushing, and the keyboard is an AZERTY one that I’ve set up as QWERTY so things aren’t where they’re labelled.

Just off for a burger and my bus to Frankfurt!

Graspop day 3

Yes, I know this post is late and I’ve already put some of the details on the other posts, but it’s here and it’s staying so there.

Today was a busy day bandwise with a lot of performances to see. We popped in briefly to see Chimaira before running into town to grab a sandwich and some posh chocs from the same shop as yesterday. Bizarrely while we were in there a TV news crew filmed us. So if anyone in Belgium happens to see a guy in a Newcastle strip blowing money on some delicious chocolates…

Back at the festival, we rocked through the following:

Black Label Society, Children of Bodom, El Guapo Stuntteam, Moonsorrow, Cynic, Hammerfall, Slayer and Ozzy Osbourne. Zakk Wylde played with both his own BLS band and as the lead guitarist with Ozzy.

As I said in the other post (almost, but I’ll get it right this time), Slayer owned Graspop. Best band of the weekend in my opinion. Ozzy looked like he was about to collapse but still belted out the classics including Sabbath songs “Paranoid” and “War Pigs”.

Other high points of the day included torrential rain turning the field in to a mudpit. Not on the scale of Glastonbury, I’m sure, but messy enough! Two guys had managed to roll up a huge plastic sheet were using it as a skipping rope for anyone to join in. Until they got bored, moved it really quickly and tripped them up.

The Coca Cola emergency squad people (good looking guys and stunning women in doctor/nurse outfits) were doing the rounds, giving free massages and shaving heads. As I’d forgotten to pack any AA batteries for my clippers, I took advantage and had two very attractive young ladies strim my noggin for free. I also got a very nice photograph up one of the staff’s skirts. A kind young lady nearby volunteered to do it for me as I was more likely to get punched in the face if I was caught.

Ozzy finished around half past midnight and we staggered back to the tent and crashed out. I actually had to remove my mud-encrudted top for the first time all weekend after a somewhat muddy English guy who’d been sliding around in the muck gave me a huge hug!

All thoughts of sorting the luggage for an easy start in the morning vanished with exhaustion.