After our two action-filled days in Amsterdam it was a pleasure to head back to the train station to catch our Thalys train to Brussels. By now we were very comfortable with the layout of the station in Amsterdam and knew exactly where to go to catch the train. This would be the same train that we'd taken from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, but now going in the opposite direction and back through Rotterdam as we returned to Belgium, but to explore a new city.
There were some very nice differences on the train, however! Because this was a longer journey, and because the route originated in Amsterdam, placing our luggage in the baggage area was easier. There is assistance on the platform in Amsterdam, so before the train arrives passengers are already standing in the boarding areas where their particular assigned train cars will be stopped. We heard several announcements made to warn those who didn't have reserved seats that this train was full; they'd need to plan on a later journey. It's important to get these tickets well ahead of time! Senior cititzens who can travel after the peak rush-hour times will find these "deluxe" train accommodations attractively priced; when we bought ours it was actually cheaper to go this route than to have left earlier in the morning and travel on a standard-class fare. Purchasing in advance reduces the cost as well, it seems.
Once again we had very nice seats; the wi-fi was working splendidly, and very soon the car's service staff came by with at-seat food. Offered were choices of breakfast pastries, fresh from the bakery and the odor was incredibly enticing. No packaged food here! Beverages were available, and it was very pleasant to munch and enjoy the view of the countryside. Later in the morning, after the train was past Rotterdam, the staff came around again; this time offering food that was more lunch-type, along with a choice of dessert pastries. Wonderful! Finally, as we neared Brussels, the car's porter came by again, offering an opportunity to pre-book your Brussels taxi. The cost would be a bit higher, since the driver would lose some work time, waiting for passengers to exit the train platform, but we thought it worth the expense. At the city's busiest train station (Brussels Midi), known for lengthy lines for cab access it was very nice to see, as we exited the station, a driver waiting for our arrival.
The Brussels Marriott Hotel, not far from the Brussels Midi Train Station, was very nice and conveniently located. The room was smaller than others we've enjoyed on this trip, but it was comfortable and the Executive Lounge (where we are fortunate to have access, due to George's loyalty status with Marriott) had very nice snacks and accommodations, as have all of the Lounges thus far. We'd only be here the one night, so we were perfectly satisfied. We dropped our bags and headed out to try some of the Belgian Frites that are justifiably famous. (I'd hoped for Belgian waffles sometime on this trip, but this is a "street food" mostly, eaten out of a paper-wrapped fresh waffle, dripping with berries and whipped cream. It was raining everytime we ventured outdoors while we were in Brussels, and somehow, rain and whipped cream just seemed less appetizing. Another time!)
Soon it was time to meet our prearranged Brussels guide, Claude Janssens, another guide whose name we got from one of Rick Steves's publications. Here, because many of the Brussels attractions are out of the city center, we arranged that Mr. Janssens would take us to other areas of the city in his car. We were particularly interested in the Atomium which had been featured on the television series, The Amazing Race #19 (2011) and as it turned out, our guide's particular expertise is in architecture and there are many fine examples of Brussels history, as expressed in the architectural styles here, along the drive to the Atomium, so we were treated to excellent descriptions of some notable buildings as we passed them. Although it was raining fairly steadily by now, Mr. Janssen was able to stop for us to see some of these buildings up close and to even get some photographs.
The Atomium was as interesting as we'd expected, and we learned a lot about its construction and how it is used (it's possible to sleep in some of the "pods" and conferences/receptions are held there too) as well as learning more about the area where it's located. We were glad that we'd added this to our trip.
Back in the city, we parked the car and walked through the area, learning about Brussels history and its modern role as the headquarters for the European Union and as a center for both local and foreign business firms. Then we headed off to the Museum of Fine Arts where we soon learned that our guide is well-versed in the artwork on display there and time spent with him there was time used very well. Finally, he walked us over to the Carillon Mont des Arts, a Jacquemart Carillon clock that houses 24 bells, along with 12 figures that represent historic and folklore personages from Belgium's history. At the very top is a little character that (when the clock is working; it often isn't and wasn't the day we were there) chimes the hour by striking a little hammer. The clock is built into the arch of the Mont des Arts and is an amazing sight, whether or not the mechanisms are working. The unit was installed in 1958 for the Brussels Worlds Fair. We walked back through the Grand Place are to the hotel, knowing that we'd spent our day in Brussels very wisely.
That evening we walked over in the rain to Le Marmiton, a local restaurant for a taste of Belgian specialties. On the way back to the hotel we wandered through several chocolate shops, purchasing some bars to take home. Another wonderful day!
The Gallery for this Brussels includes more photographs than could be included in the slide show at the top of the page. GALLERY: Brussels
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Rick Steves: Tour and Guide Service Information