Arrived at Oxford station yesterday morning and bought tickets into Paddington. Boy was that train packed to the gunnels. There were a Swedish couple travelling with their three kids, a toddler and two twin babies. It seems like having a pair of twin babes is a little like trying to play two games of tennis at once. One's okay then the other goes off, then you switch to calm that one, and then the other is triggered off, and then they both go off and then you try frantically not to drop all the balls.
Anyway, we got to St Pancras, which is now a wonderful station (in fact the whole King's Cross-St Pancras area is much transformed) and entered into the sleek Eurostar terminal. The train was superfast now on the British side, unlike in the old days when it ran from Waterloo, and we were in Brussels in two hours. A quick hop on the metro and we got to our flat. A bit of a struggle with the keys and working out which door was ours and we were in.
Previously Alex had written about the sticky knob on the bedroom door of the room in our house that rent out via Airbnb; well this flat has a knob to the door out to the interior patio area that simply falls off. At least you know where you are with it I suppose. Apart from that the flat's good, quiet, comfortable bed, a kitchen, a pretty good shower, and nice and quiet. There's a notable lack of any chairs though.
We're near to the Botanical Gardens and so we decided to make that our first stop today. We entered to discover that it was mostly closed off due to preparations of a week of concerts starting on the twelfth. There were signs to the Orangerie and the Rotonde; but these turned out to be auditoriums, where people were sound checking; no sign of any plants. There's a pretty good-looking café cum restaurant there, with vistas across the city, but we weren't in the market for lunch at the time.
Talking about vistas, Brussels is a city of them. It's got lots of big, wide avenues with impressive looking buildings at the end of them. We wandered around most of the day in the old quarter in the centre (I think) and noted that it's got a lot of H&M stores. Really it's a nice town. I especially liked the Place des Martyrs and the Grand Place, but also we had some great frittes at a pretty ordinary place in the sun.
We then happened upon the Place de Bourse, which was laden with flowers and candles, and tributes to those who died in the recent terrorist attacks here. There were flags from many countries around the world (the Union Jack seemed to be absent) mounted on the front of the building and lots of words of wisdom; I especially liked Make Waffles not War. It made me sad, not angry, nor scared, to think that people think that this kind of action is going to be the best way to make a statement, or get revenge.
After some more walking we got onto the metro to get back to where we were staying. When we arrived the gate onto the platform was wide open, so we just walked in. Lo and behold at the other end there were inspectors (did they set this up?) and so we had to explain that we were English and that in Oxford we didn't have a metro system. The inspector understood with a raise of his eyebrows and we had to make good and go and buy some tickets. This made me think of a word I've learnt in Russian: propusk, which means permit. We didn't have the right propusks for our journey; I can see me having to get used to this word in Russia.
So this evening I think we'll head out and try to find some gauffres, which is definitely one of the things to do in Bruxelles. Tomorrow we're catching the train to Berlin and I'm hoping that the Interrail tickets we bought are the correct propusks to permit us to do this.