Today started with the perfect crime – yesterday’s crime was OK with the theft of egg and bread roll but today we also nicked mayonnaise and mustard! Obviously with the stakes so high, it was time to get out of dodge. We checked out and hopped in an old black cab with an even older driver who was every bit the English gentlemen. The perfect way to end our time in London as he delivered us to St Pancras International train station.
Last time I caught the Eurostar, it left from Waterloo so it was lovely to see what a great job has been done in creating the newish annex to Kings Cross Station. We checked in and before long were en route to Brussels (via Calais and Lille). To celebrate Mum’s first time in France, albeit at speeds of hundreds of kilometres an hour, we popped a bottle of champagne, as opposed to sparkling wine – the ideal accompaniment to our eggs rolls with french mustard. Luckily the change in time zone, an hour ahead on the other side of the channel tunnel, meant it was a perfectly respectable hour to be drinking.
But of course, France was not our final destination. We arrived at Brussels-Midi and it was like seeing an old friend – so many happy visits including being at that very station withdrawing euros for the first time on the day they were first issued. Today we just checked our bags in at the Left Baggage area and headed into town.
No matter how many times I have seen it before, stepping into the Grand Place (main square and UNESCO world heritage site) is breathtaking. It is a very grand place indeed! But as thrilling as it was for me to be seeing it again in all its opulent glory, it was even more exciting to witness Mum seeing it for the first time – I think its safe to say that she was impressed!
We couldn’t have asked for a better day for it either – to hell with the budget traveller advice, this moment deserved an overpriced beer in the sun on the square – after all, we’re in Belgium! Mum had a framboise (raspberry) and I had kriek (cherry) – after our grape juice on the train, we were well on our way to having our 5 serves of fruit for the day.
After plotting our time in Brussels, getting our bearings and then losing them, we caught a subway train back to fetch our bags, public transport being a key feature in the full tourist experience that too many avoid at all (and great) cost. None the less, my Mum is a fancy lady (with blisters – the barefoot shoe revolution is a work in progress), so once we were reunited with our luggage, we hopped in a taxi to our very modern and stylish B&B – we’ve gone from being 2 in a million to being the only guests!
We were so hungry again that we headed for Sudden Death, which is to say we had dinner and drinks at nearby ‘Mort Subite’. This austere and sophisticated bar was instantly familiar from previous visits, famous for its own brand of beers which we were quick to avail ourselves of. Mum had a peach one, taking her fruit count for the day to 4, while I opted for the house speciality of Lambic Blanche. In between drinks, we enjoyed an omlette and a comedically long slice of bread.
We went for an after dinner stroll through the Galleries Royals St Hubert, a famous 19th century shopping centre where I once performed in a choir… or behind the choir… without them really knowing… or approving. We were so overcome by the splendour of the place that we accidentally fell into a chocolate shop! Next thing we knew, we were back in the arcade, giggling over a bag of chocolates!
Freshly energised, we decided to return to the Grand Place to see it lit up at night and we weren’t disappointed. I snapped away while Mum marvelled at the majesty of it all. Just as I zoomed in to take a photo of the bell tower of the Town Hall, the lights suddenly went off and a chorus of birds could be heard of a loud speaker system. Confusion gave way to utter delight as the Town Hall itself became the star of a magical and enthralling light and music display that ranged from frighteningly gothic to enchantingly fairytale and everything in between. It was awe inspiring as evidenced by the gaping mouths on the upturned faces of every person in the square. The show ended to a spontaneous round of applause but for who, none of us seemed to know.
Inspired, excited, delighted, nostalgic and utterly exhausted, Mum and I headed for home with smiles on our faces and chocolate in our bag! What more can you ask for?