Left Luggage at Midi Station
Favorite thing: Roughly in the centre of the main concourse, where the ING bank thing is and just round the corner from the International departures area for Eurostar and the Thalys reception, you'll find both manned and automatic left luggage facilities. These are available 24 hours a day with a small locker costing 3 Euros per day whilst the manned office charges 3.80 per item regardless of size.
Friendly guys in the manned office but note that they won't give you change for the lockers.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Phone Calls and Internet Connection
Favorite thing: During my last trip I had to make a couple of work calls back to the UK and had initially intended using a payphone. I was at Midi railway station and the public phones there all seemed to be card-only, rather than cash. Then I noticed this place which is located on the concourse beside the exit to where the underpass bus stops are.
Friendly helpful guy, asked whether I wanted internet or phone, and telling him phone said to use any one and pay afterwards. My four calls of about three minutes each came to a total of 1.50 Euro which actually worked out cheaper than if I'd been making the same calls on a public payphone here in the UK. I even got a receipt!
So if you are around Midi and need to use a phone or the internet, search it out.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: On the VT travel forum a repeated question is that of the weather to be expected on a planned trip.
In Brussels, Belgium, with an Atlantic climate, vacations are often spoiled by rain.
For bRUSSELS, BELGIUM I use www.meteo.be (in 4 languages encl. English) from the Institut Royal Météorologique.
I also use the weather forecast from the Belgian (francophone) television www.rtbf.be/meteo (in French).
Good at short term. Not reliable at more than 3 days.
The weather is so changing in Belgium that nobody is able to tell you if it will rain the day after tomorrow or not. So never visit Belgium without taking your umbrella. You might leave your hotel in the morning with sunshine and get rain in the afternoon!
Fondest memory: The rain.
The Comic Strip Route.
Favorite thing: Here and there you can spot some big mural on many buildings and walls around the city. They are more than 30. These represent many cartoons characters. Probably these paintings were created to improve some areas in Brussels.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Be on the lookout for Belgian Cartoon - TINTIN!
Favorite thing: When in Belgium, be on the lookout for pictures of TINTIN, a famous Belgian cartoon character who has recently been on newspapers/magazines (2009) because Steven Spielberg has become interested in making a movie about him. I was actually reading about this while I was having my hair cut by my Russian barber today!
George Remi created this character who first appeared in the newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle on 10 January 1929. Tintin is actually a young Belgian reporter who is aided in his adventures from the beginning by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy and later accompanied by the brash, cynical and grumpy Captain Haddock, the bright but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus) and others…The slapstick humour, colourful illustrations, along with the satire of the political and ciltural milieu makes this wonderful comic appealing to both kids and adults.
Festivals & Events
Favorite thing: It is always a bonus to arrive at a tourist destination and find a festival co-incides with your stay. This happened to us whilst in Brussels and we enjoyed watching the parade of locals dressed in period dress for the Beer Festival held each September.
Brussels hosts Festivals and Events on most moths of the year. Some of interest are:
Arts Musica www.arsmusica.be
Serres Royales www.monarchy.be
International Festival Of Fantastic Film www.biff.org
Zinneke Parade www.zinneke.org
Brussels 20 km Run www.20kmdebruxelles.be
Belgian Beer Weekend www.visitbelgium.com/beer.htm
Comics Festival www.comicsfestivalbelgium.comRelated to:
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
- Arts and Culture
Rub The Bronze Statute For Good Luck.
Favorite thing: There are many buiuldings, fine architecture, historical items etc etc in the Grand Place, however tucked away in front of a building close to Rue C Buls Stratt is a beautiful bronze statute of Everard 't Serclaes who was murdered defending Brussels in the 14th century.
Legend says that if you rub the bronze arm of his statute it should bring you luck. The arm shines bright where countles tourists rub his arm. It worked for us as the constant rain ceased by the next morning.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
A bit of History
Favorite thing: Brussels is not very old by European standards. At least, it does not have the pedigree that other Roman or Greek founded cities can boast. Although its origins are unclear, it is considered that the city was founded in 979 A.D. on different islands in the small Senne River. Nevertheless, there are no written references of Brussels until well into the 11th century. Today, there is nothing left of the former swamps and all the arms and canals of the river Senne are either dried up or voulted. This lack of glamorous waterways makes that Brussels holds no comparison with more glamorous neighbouring cities like Paris or Amsterdam.
Brussels gained enormous prosperity during the Middle Ages thanks to the textile industry, becoming eventually the most important urban centre in Brabant (over Antwerp, Mechlin and Leuven). It was chosen as the capital of the Low Countries by Charles V and, since then, has had a tormented history, being handed from one European power to another.
Brussels was severely bombed by the troops of Louis XIV of France in 1695, which resulted in the old city practically being levelled and rebuilt in the style that we still see today in the Grand Place and its surroundings.
Since 1831, Brussels is the capital of the independent Belgium, with a new wave of grand architectural construction that aimed at putting it in the same league as the other European capitals. After the World War, it has also become the seat of many international organisations, the EU in particular, which make of it one of the centres of international policy in the world.
Favorite thing: Brussels has a hell of a bad press. The most benevolent critics will describe it as a smaller and far less self-important version of Paris, but often it is referred as a dank and irritable city where you can really understand the concept of hideous carbuncles, so ugly and badly kept some of its more modern constructions appear.
Unlike in Bruges, where you wander through a homogeneous conglomerate of medieval lanes and canals, a walk in historical Brussels could not be more heterogeneous. One moment you pass a maze of shady cobblestones only to come across a beautiful square lined with baroque buildings. The next moment, all you see are derelict office blocks erected in the 1970s in a brutalist style competing in height with the spires of a Gothic church. But then, Bruges has been a dead city where not much has happened for many centuries, and what we see today is just a sanitized and disneyfied rendition of what it might have been in its heyday.
Dissimilarly, Brussels, like all successful cities, has had a need to expand and grow beyond its limits. When there was not much room available, even some old buildings need to be replaced by others with better facilities. More recently, though, the city rulers have been keen on granting permission for the construction of high rise developments that only with difficulty match their environment in the historic areas of the city. Most of the people tend to question the taste of these buildings and ultimately the term "Bruxellisation" has been coined to refer to the very wide-spread phenomenon of mutilation of historic urban areas.
A walk in the Marais district of Brussels will provide with multiple examples of bruxellisation, but this phenomenon is common all throughout the city. Notwithstanding this, there are also some very interesting modernist buildings around and, as usual, the sharp contrast between old and new makes for interesting perspectives (If only the city was not so dirty and untidy). After all, this co-existence of old and new is not but a sign that the city is alive and forward looking, a thriving organism essential to Europe's future.
An Architecture Sanctuary
Favorite thing: While the city was expanding and planning new developments that would transform it into an international metropolis and one of the most prominent decision-making centres in the planet, some people drew attention to the fact that the city risked to lose its soul and its identity for the sake of modernity. In this context, many people started to advocate in the late 50s for the preservation of the historical buildings in the centre of Brussels and for the creation of a kind of sanctuary where modern buildings should be banned.
That is how the idea of the Ilot sacré (the untouchable area) came to live. A law was passed in 1960 setting the obligation to preserve or recreate the historical and folkloric character of all the façades in the blocks surrounding the Grand' Place.
The proliferation of touristy junk has somehow perverted the character of this area, but at least the essences of the core of the city has been preserved as it was conceived in the 17th for the enjoyment of future generations.
The European Capital
Favorite thing: Officially, The EU does not have a capital, but its most important institutions have their head quarters or a significant par of their services in Brussels. Thus, several buildings scattered all around Brussels accommodate the different services needed to manage such a complex organisation that the European Union is (Only the European Commission occupies 61 whole buildings in Brussels – mostly around Shuman square, near the Jubilee Park). Numerous diplomatic representations, lobbying institutions and law firms specialised in European affairs are hosted in this neighborhood too. That is why the EU and Brussels are indissociable, to such an extent that, outside of Belgium, Brussels is often used as a synonymous of the EU.
And yet, for many, this association with the EU has not but unfavourable connotations. Many, particularly in the Anglo-saxon world, identify Brussels with an army of high spending, boring bureaucrats running around while they figure out new useless regulations on the size and shape of cucumbers. Others even complain that these brief-case-totting officials and their big salaries have pushed prices up in an inadmissible way.
All this, however, has little of reality. The EU's colourful staff and the itinerant army of journalists and politicians who constantly meet here are not only what make the city unique. The EU is also vital for the economy of Brussels. With tenths of thousands of people working directly or indirectly in its institutions, it is, with difference, the biggest source of work in the city (According to a recent study by the ULB, the presence of the European institutions generates 92,000 jobs, which account for 12.7 % of the total employment in the region).
And yes, even with all these people from all across the continent, Brussels remains one of the cheapest cities in Western Europe. Enjoying one of the hundreds of locally brewed beer with a cone of the famous twice-fried local frites is still affordable even for the visitors on the tightest budget.
Favorite thing: When walking from one must see to another you'll see huge wall paintings (mostly with comic books characters) They are especially located in semi ran-down, however
touristic quarters, such as the "Marolles".
The first reason for these paintings is to discourage urinating against apparently favourable located walls for this issue, but they also brighten up the area. And... all the characters are Belgian.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
De Vijfhoek/Le Pentagone
Favorite thing: If you want to know some history about the streets in the old city, check this site:
Foto: Grote Markt / Grand Place
Fondest memory: The relaxed atmosphere, the nice people, the delicous food.
Useful Information About Belgium
Favorite thing: Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from March to October).
Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs can be used.
Language: The Flemish, in the north, speak Dutch, the Walloons in the south speak French and Brussels is bilingual, the majority of citizens speaking French. In the east there is a small German-speaking community. English is also spoken.
Health: No vaccinations are required. Medical facilities and care in Belgium are excellent but expensive so travellers are advised to take out medical insurance. UK citizens receive emergency medical care for a reduced cost, but should have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), to qualify.
Tipping: Service charges are included in bills and tipping is not necessary, unless for exceptional service. Porters, coatroom and bathroom attendants are generally tipped.
Safety: Most visits to Belgium are trouble-free, but travellers should be wary of street crime in the cities, such as mugging and pickpocketing, particularly in Brussels at major railway stations and on public transport. Brussels is home to a number of international organisations, including EU and NATO, which could become the target of indiscriminate terrorist attacks.
Customs: Belgium law requires everyone to carry some form of official identification at all times.
Fondest memory: Business: Belgians are very formal in business, enjoy a great deal of personal space, and are generally reserved and extremely private. Dress should be conservative, dark suits are acceptable, with a high importance placed on quality and neatness of clothing. Punctuality is extremely important at meetings, which will begin and end with a quick, light handshake with all involved, and exchanging business cards is standard practice; it is recommended that cards are printed in English with the other side translated in either French or Dutch depending on the main language of the region where business is to take place. Business hours are generally 9am to 5.30pm or 6pm Monday to Friday.
Communications: The international access code for Belgium is +32. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0030 for Greece). City codes are required for all calls within Belgium; the area code for Brussels is (0)2. Mobile phones operate on GSM and 3G networks. Public phones take coins or phone cards. Internet cafes are widely available.
Duty Free: Travellers to Belgium arriving from non-EU countries are allowed to enter the country with the following items without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits over 22% in alcohol or 2 litres of dessert wine 22% in alcohol and sparkling wine, and 2 litres wine; 50g perfume and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods such as souvenirs to the value of €175. Prohibited items include unpreserved foodstuffs.
Favorite thing: Belgique Money is called the "Franc" -- oops! I haven't been to Belgium in a few years. Belgian money is now called the Euro, and it's used by most of western Europe. I guess my Francs are collectors items now.
Money is never much of a problem in Belgium. Credit Cards are accepted everywhere, and ATMs accepting US cards are very common. The only money problem you'll have is trying to afford the luxury items -- the snails and mussels, coffee and croissants at the Grande Place, and dinner at the fancy restaurants!
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