Today I am off on another of my weekend trips, I am not flying this time so having just finished my Friday dialysis session I am having a sandwich in a hospital café for lunch. I am travelling to Brussels, in Belgium, on the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel. All morning people have been warning me of chaos this weekend on Eurostar but the problem is actually with the Eurotunnel which is the vehicle carrying service. From the hospital I crossed over the road to get a bus in to Wrecsam bus station where I got another bus to Chester railway station. I then caught a Virgin West Coast train to London Euston.
The train out of Chester was packed full on what was the hottest day of the year so far, and to make things worse the air conditioning had failed in two carriages and was failing in a third. People had refused to move for me to get to the wheelchair space so I was in the vestibule between carriages until beyond Crewe when the guard made her rounds. She insisted people made space and began moving luggage. On arrival in London Euston I made my own way along the Euston Road to St Pancras for the Eurostar to Brussels, details of that journey can be found here.
On arrival in Brussels I headed off from the railway station in the direction that I thought my hotel was but after about 20 minutes of not finding it I returned to the railway station to get a taxi. The taxi driver told me he would have to charge €10 because it was only around the corner, he then gave me directions and I didn’t take the taxi. The main exit to the railway station was the opposite side of the tracks to what I had assumed and I had been looking in entirely the wrong place! The hotel Mercure Brussels Centre Midi was only about 450 metres from the station and my detailed review can be found here.
On the Saturday morning I had a bit of a wander around the area of my hotel before going to the railway station taxi rank and getting a taxi to the Grand Place, this cost about €10. The taxi dropped me a short distance from Grand Place and directed me to find it, you can’t actually see the square until you enter it from one of the six lanes leading to it. It is a large rectangle surrounded by tall buildings of four or five storeys that are beautifully decorated.
As I entered from one of the lanes immediately to my left was a photographer photographing a wedding party outside of one of the buildings. There were quite a few stalls in the square mostly selling paintings. I had a look around and then headed off out of the square down one of the lanes that seemed to have mostly Greek businesses along it. About half way along it I found an Asian noodle bar called Noodle Bar Brussels where I had Thai fried rice for lunch.
The noodle bar wasn’t wheelchair accessible as it had a couple of big steps to get in, but there were tables outside. The menu showed a large range of Asian street food dishes to choose from and the price was determined by the ‘protein’ you chose; there was a price for beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian or tofu. Surprisingly for an Asian food place there was no pork option. With the meal I had a latte coffee and a Coca-Cola.
After lunch I wandered back to Grand Place and had another look around before going down another one of the lanes leading off the other side and looking round the shops there and bought some postcards before finding an Irish bar called Celtica. In this bar I had a couple of glasses of beer at €1 each. There was a large screen tv in there where I watched the Formula 1 qualifying from Budapest in Hungary. The bar was OK for wheelchair access though there was one small step to get in, however the gents toilets were downstairs and the ladies upstairs so neither were accessible.
I decided then that it was time to find the Manneken Pis statue/fountain that I had come to Brussels to see. At dialysis in the hospital I am often asked by the nurses if I still pass water and my usual reply is that the Manneken Pis was based on me! Mostly I get blank looks when I say this so I came to Belgium to send them a postcard to explain all. 🙂 When I found it it was surrounded by tourists taking photographs and when you get to the front of the crowd to see it you suddenly realise how small it is. Most photographs you see are just of the boy himself and give no sense of scale, the boy is only about 2 foot/60 centimetres tall. Many times throughout the year he is dressed in various costumes but not today.
I then headed back to Grand Place for a third time. I had read that if you visit the square several times in a day you are likely to see different things going on and this time I found a crossbow competition happening. One team was of older gentlemen who were wearing green and white like an archer would wear at a competition in the United Kingdom, the other younger team were wearing sports shirts.
Each time I passed by Grand Place I saw horses and carriages taking tourists on sightseeing trips round and about, these trips seemed a bit expensive. I now decided it was time for a cup of tea or two so looked down one of the other lanes off the square and found an organic café/bar called The Sister. It looked a bit difficult to get in but I didn’t actually try as I was served at the tables outside. After my tea I headed off to the taxi rank to get back to my hotel.
Approaching the first taxi in the rank I told the driver where I wanted to go and he said wait and ran off down the street. A couple of minutes later he returned with a driver of a wheelchair accessible taxi, as they were about to put me in the taxi they mentioned that it would be €25 for this accessible taxi! I told them it was only €10 coming from my hotel and I could get in a normal taxi with no problem, they then decided they could do the ‘special’ taxi for only €15… I didn’t have the energy to argue further and accepted the journey.
After watching some tv in my room and writing the postcards I decided to take a look around the fairground that was set up down the road, and then find something to eat. The fairground comes to Brussels for the summer each year and sets up along one of the roads near to my hotel, at one point there is a main road crossing through the fair! Just beyond where the fair ended I found a 24 hour fast food place where I bought fried chicken, chips, and a Coca-Cola. When you place your order you are given a large plastic disc And when it vibrates and makes a buzzing sound your order is ready for collection. Finally after a busy day it was time to retire for the night.
Sunday morning after a cup of tea I headed out again. Today the whole of the street in front of my hotel was taken up by a Sunday market that was very busy. I wandered over to the railway station as I didn’t have the energy to go very far this morning and didn’t want to pay big taxi fares to get to anywhere. There was a small break in the market before it began again and surrounded much of the area around the station. I had a good look around and the only things that I could think of that I couldn’t find were Brussels sprouts (not in season) and mushrooms.
I stayed around the area of the railway station all afternoon until my Eurostar departed in the evening. I found an Asian food place in the station where I had phad Thai for lunch and then I got a forest fruits smoothie and sat out behind the station watching people go by to pass the time. The Eurostar to London departed on time and after two stops on the way in Lille Europe, France, and Ebbsfleet International, England, arrived at St Pancras on time.
Following the weeks of hot weather it was raining on arrival in London so I chose to take a taxi to Euston station. The wait for one at the rank was about 10 minutes but it then took the driver nearly another 10 minutes to try and open the rear door wide enough to get my wheelchair in, eventually another driver had to come and show him how it was done! I thought London taxi drivers had the reputation of being the best in the world?
In conclusion, after the accessibility of Barcelona and Berlin, Brussels came as a disappointment. I really thought that as the headquarters of the EU are here Brussels would have been an example to other cities on accessibility. A challenging city but well worth a visit if you are up for it.