Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Yippee, I was off to Poland for a while. I just wanted the break. I have home for my yearlong travels a month and I felt I had unfinished travel business. I wasn’t exactly homesick when my year ended so a short sharp journey in Eastern Europe might bring me to my senses and appreciate the joys of been back in Ireland.

My dad drove me to Shannon Airport whose fortunes have dropped dramatically over the past five years. Its a ghost of an airport and requires an Independent board separate from Aer Rianta ASAP. Even Ryanair has moved its flights to Frankfurt from Shannon to Kerry. It?s a pity as Shannon is centrally located. It needs someone like Easy jet to jump in and offer low cost flights to Europe.

I was at the airport at 11.00am had a 12.15 flight to Brussels. I had only packed that morning and had no travel guide. I ordered “Lets go: Eastern Europe” a week ago but due to a postal strike in Dublin, hadn’t received it. I only packed two shirts, one T-shirt, one additional cargo pants, a jumper, towel and bathroom stuff.

Anyway the flight was pretty well booked up but headed off in time. It was the usual “Ryanair” experience of going to a small airport an hour away from your intended destination.

A city with a notable history, Brussels is carving out a bright future. The “capital of Europe” has begun to act like Europe’s Washington, D.C., a focus of economic and political power, where decisions are made that affect the lives of people around the world. Headquarters of the European Union (EU), Brussels both symbolizes the Continent’s vision of unity and is a bastion of officialdom, a breeding ground for the regulations that govern and often exasperate the rest of Europe.

Bruxellois have ambivalent feelings about their city’s transformation into a power center. At first, the waves of Eurocrats brought a new cosmopolitan air to a somewhat provincial city (though once the seat of emperors), but as old neighborhoods were leveled to make way for office towers, people wondered whether Brussels was losing its soul. After all, this city doesn’t only mean politics and business. It inspired surrealism and Art Nouveau, worships comic strips, prides itself on handmade lace and chocolate, and serves each one of its craft beers in its own unique glass.

Fortunately, not all of Brussels’s individuality has been lost in this transition, and though the urban landscape has suffered from wanton “development,” the city’s spirit survives in traditional cafes, bars, bistros, and restaurants. Whether elegantly Art Nouveau or eccentrically festooned with posters, curios, and knickknacks, such centuries-old establishments provide a warm, convivial ambience that is peculiarly Belgian.

Bruxellois like things convivial and simple yet stylish. If you are at home waving cutlery over a proud regional specialty, or feel at ease with a carefully crafted artisanal beer, or think that centuries-old traditions are not only worth keeping alive but still have meaning today–why, then, you should fit right in.

I arrived at 1.00pm and got a ten Euro bus to the city centre. I visited Brussels about 1.5 years ago (and indeed I was there 6 months previously as well) and they had the absurd idea of dropping you in the middle of nowhere near an Irish pub. At least now they are dropping people off at the main Eastern rail station.

I saw on the windshield of the Ryanair bus that in order to catch the 8.40am flight to Krakow tomorrow morning I would need to get the 4.10am bus. I had planned in getting a hostel but if I was to catch this bus, there was no point. I stored my bag in one of the stations baggage lockers for 2.40 Euro. There was a tourist information point at the station and so I asked for a map and how to get into town. I never met such a snotty information girl. She was in her forties and didn?t even answer me. She basically threw the information at me. She did the same with the people in front of me.

I took the number 55 tram into town for 1.40 Euro. I got off about 4 stops down at a station called Bourse where the Irish pub called ?O’ Reilly’s? is located. I walked around for a few hours seeing the main tourist sights.

Main Square

Ornamental gables, medieval banners, gilded facades, sunlight flashing off gold-filigreed rooftop sculptures, a general impression of harmony and timelessness — there’s a lot to take in all at once when you first enter the Grand-Place (M?tro: Gare Centrale or Bourse). Once the pride of the Hapsburg Empire, the Grand-Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) has always been the very heart of Brussels. Jean Cocteau called it “a splendid stage.”

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Brussels – Belgium (31-03-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Brussels – Belgium (31-03-2004)

Its present composition dates mostly from the late 1690s, thanks to France’s Louis XIV. In 1695, his army lined up its artillery on the heights of Anderlecht and blasted away at the medieval Grand-Place, using the Town Hall spire as a target marker. The French gunners destroyed the square, but, ironically, the Town Hall spire escaped undamaged. Other structures were not so fortunate, however, such as the wood-fronted buildings of the great trading and mercantile guilds.

But the Bruxellois weren’t about to let a mere French king do away with their centuries-old corporate headquarters. The guildsmen had the place up and running again within 4 years, on the same grand scale as before but on more solid foundations. The result throws one’s sense of time out of joint, as the medieval atmosphere is conjured up mostly in the baroque style known as the Flemish Renaissance. The Town Hall, though badly damaged by Louis’s guns, is the real thing, however, dating from the early 1400s.


DESCRIPTION: The Manneken-Pis, situated in Rue de l?Etuve, is as funny as it is well known. Crowds of tourists patrol the meandering cobbled streets near Brussels? Grande Place hoping to find this small statuette of a little boy in the midst of a never-ending pee.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

The Manneken-Pis – Brussels – Belgium (31-03-2004)

The famous Manneken-Pis statue is Brussels’s favorite little boy, gleefully doing what a little boy’s gotta do. More often than not he’s watched by a throng of admirers snapping pictures. Children especially seem to enjoy his bravura performance. This is not the original statue, which was prone to theft and anatomical maltreatment and was removed for safekeeping.

It’s known that the boy’s effigy has graced the city since at least the time of Philip the Good, who became Count of Flanders in 1419. Among the speculations about his origins are that he was the son of a Brussels nobleman who got lost and was found while answering nature’s call, and also that he was a patriotic Belgian kid who sprinkled a hated Spanish sentry passing beneath his window. Perhaps the best theory is that he saved the Town Hall from a sputtering bomb by extinguishing it — like Gulliver — with the first thing handy.

Louis XV of France began the tradition of presenting colorful costumes to “Little Julian” to make amends for the French abduction of the statue in 1747. Since then the statue has acquired more than 500 outfits, which are housed in the Museum of the City of Brussels in the Grand-Place

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Leading to the Grande Market – Brussels – Belgium (31-03-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

RTing that bell – Brussels – Belgium (31-03-2004)

I had a chicken dinner in a Turkish place for seven euro and went to see the “Ireland V Czech Republic” match at 8.30 at O? Reilly’s. There were three other matches on the different TV screens including the “England V Sweden” game. I had a few pints and spoke to Irish fans there. There was a group of geography students from UCD. We won 2-1.


1 place de la Bourse (02 552 04 80). Pr?-m?tro Bourse. Just one of the many Irish pubs in Brussels, though none are more central. it’s directly opposite the Bourse. It gets packed and noisy and is a magnet for football fans when the big matches are on. In spring 2002, it took over the nearby Wilde Bar Lounge (77 boulevard Anspach; 02 513 44 59), a venue attracting a younger type of expat.

I walked around this central area and headed to the “Celtica” bar, which was quiet. I took a taxi to the station where my bag was and where the bus would be leaving from at 3.30 and found it closed till four. I had to hang out with the winos and bums until 4.00am. I didn’t enjoy the experience.


55 rue du March aux Poulets (02 514 22 69). Metro Bourse. Some visit the Celtica for its punchy live blues and rock music of a Saturday eve. During the week, friendly students like to meet others of similar ilk in the reasonably sympathetic surroundings. But there are those doomed creatures who use it as a trough to wallow in sin at ungodly hours of the night, festering in alcohol, driven by all kinds of warped desire. Don’t be surprised if you wind up sharing breakfast with a complete stranger, somewhere around dinner time.

At 4.00am the station opened and I had to race to the storage area, retrieve my bag and race to the other side of the station to the Ryanair bus stop. It was ten euro back to the airport. I was tired and hung over.

I got no sleep at the airport as it was very busy and there is no quiet area to have a nap. I was tired and hung over with a feckin headache. I was happy to see the boarding time arrive and the flight left on time.

P.S. The best hostel in my opinion in brussels is: Centre Vincent Van Gogh (CHAB) . The largest hostel in town, the Van Gogh is about a 15-minute walk from the centre, and a two-minute walk from the metro. No curfew and a bar. What else do you need.