Sunday, 27 September 2009

Belgium Day 2

It has been a very full day today! C 21.18 BT and I'm completely exhausted! We slightly overslept this morning as I forgot to change the alarm clock to BT – though this was not a bad thing, as we'd had a bit of a broken night – the walls here are very thin, and someone coming in to the room next door sounded like they were trying to break into ours! However, we still got downstairs in time for breakfast – a very bready meal of croissant, a baton and two small toasted bits of bread (bad luck to anyone with an allergy to wheat!) but with a good selection of jams (including bilberry and quince!) and some nice soft cheeses. There was also a tiny slab of chocolate each and a small biscuit which we squirrelled away for a snack (and pinched from the lady who had finished (and gone) from the table next to us).

Then off out into Brussels for our day of touring. We decided to take the tram as much as possible – although John's tendon was better than yesterday, we still didn't want to risk it too much! Fortunately, the tram runs from a couple of streets along from the hotel, so we didn't have to go too far, and it dropped us off right outside the Magritte museum. There was a little bit of confusion initially, as we did not realise that we had to get a separate ticket as well as showing our Brussels card, so we got sniffed at by the security guard who then went back and took a while to actually print off the tickets showing a E0 value! The museum was built slightly oddly in that you went down to the basement to pick up the audio phones (which we didn't use), and enter the exhibition via the lift, which took you up to the third floor. You then worked your way down through the three floors of Magritte's life, ending up at the gift shop. The museum itself was very interesting – mainly his paintings, although there was a good chunk of other work that he had done, including adverts, posters and even some music. They had also carved some of his sayings into the wall in French (with the Dutch translations next to them) – these were fun to try to translate (we did find after we had got through the first floor that the museum had printed off leaflets with the sayings translated into every language conceivable, but I still preferred the challenge of trying to see if I could decipher them myself (particularly as some of the translations weren't exactly accurate)). I definitely preferred his surrealist paintings, and it was particularly interesting to watch themes develop and change through his life. (an early picture in the exhibition included a tree trunk with two open doors, showing a house and a jingle-bell, with a stump standing on an axe next to it. In one of the last pictures that we saw, the same tree, minus the stump next to it, was in full leaf. There were numerous pictures of leaves turning into birds, and one of the last of these, very sad, was of the bird/leaf with a caterpillar eating holes in it) I am not very good at artistic criticism, but I am good at remembering pictures (even if I don't remember the names of them) that I have seen earlier on. We did have to do a lot of circular movement through the various galleries avoiding all of the different groups and tours, but this wasn't a great hardship, and we did manage to stay away from most of the crowds.

Unfortunately, the gift shop was a little bit disappointing – we are hoping to give each other t-shirts as our cotton anniversary presents to each other, but the ones in the gift shop were not only expensive, but also not of any of his more interesting works. (not even “ceci pas une pipe” or a bowler hatted man...) So we decided to leave it (John did pick up a mini-book) and see what the other museums had to offer.

Our second museum of the morning was the Museum D'Instruments Musicales (sp?) which allowed us to go through multiple floors of instruments (mainly in glass cases), but with an audio / headphone system whereby you could stand in particular points and hear the instruments around you being played. Very peculiar in some cases – I'm not sure that I particularly liked a lot of the Chinese instruments, but then I know that my ear isn't tuned to the harmonics. I did enjoy (naturally) hearing the various double reed instruments, which did include a double-reeded version of the saxophone. We did skip the level that promised to be keyboards and strings, partially because there had been a lot of keyboard and stringed instruments in the “Western” section (and quite a few in the “native” section, but also mainly because it was lunchtime! The museum did have its own restaurant, and we decided that as we'd had a bit of problem finding a suitable evening meal yesterday, we'd try to get our main meal at lunch and just have a snack in the evening (very handy as the restaurant itself was a bit pricey and I don't think we could have justified spending that for a snack lunch!) The restaurant was right at the top of the museum and gave gorgeous views across Brussels. We even managed to spot the Atomium hiding in the distance, and I got a lovely pic (I hope that it does come out ok when on the computer – it is a bit difficult to tell from the camera screen) showing the juxtaposition of the Cathedral with the more modern buildings around it, and with the Atomium in the background. Then, after lunch, back down to the gift shop, which, again, was sadly lacking (I was very disappointed in their musical instrument representation range – fridge magnets, badges etc all pretty much just showing guitars, violins and the occasional modern drum set – no oboes or classical percussion).

Our third museum of the day was the Musee de Bandes Dessines. We did manage to get ourselves confused – there was a little shop which was a comic strip museum, but was not the one with free entry with a Brussels card... On closer inspection of the map, we discovered that we actually had a bit of a way to walk, and headed on down the hill. The Musee de BD was actually tucked away down a little side alley, and almost looked like it was shut (there was a delivery lorry outside the doors, which had one of the 'grating gates' shut, and the lorry driver standing in front of the open door chatting with his mate). But when we walked inside, the building opened up into a beautiful Art Deco foyer. The Musee was dedicated to all kinds of Belgian comic strip art, with a small introduction on how a strip is created, and a few short early films playing of the Smurfs (not exactly a Belgian strip, but rather fun all the same). Then there was an exhibition of some of the original strips that the Musee holds (they have over 7,000, but only show c 200 at a time to ensure that they don't get too light damaged), and finally an exhibition of some of the famous Belgian strips, including, of course, Tintin, and also a series called Troy, which is about a set of trolls, heavily influenced by the Asterix strips (and openly acknowledged as such by the creators – they have even put in some direct homages to Asterix). We didn't get all the way round this exhibition, as not only were my legs starting to hurt, but I was also feeling a bit cartooned out and was starting to fall asleep! (I think it might have been different if we'd been seeing more than a page at any one time of the strips, but it became very difficult to concentrate, particularly as only the main parts of each section of the exhibition were translated, so I was mainly reading French, when there wasn't a coherent thread running through)

We decided, after a successful visit to the gift shop (I got a French Tintin, and John not only picked up a gift for his manager, but also a BD history of Belgium, which will be very interesting to read. No decent t-shirts, though!) that at 4.30, we weren't going to get out to the Atomium in time, so instead we decided to take a look and see if we could find one of the advertised choclatiers (we had a couple of adverts which gave us a 10% discount) to pick up some souvenirs. After a bit of walking (and wandering round the non-advertised ones for price comparisons), we found one, and picked ourselves up a bit of a bargain (I hope!) - 6 large boxes (we think with 30 pieces each in them) of hand made chocolates (made on site – we actually watched the choclatier working away) for E81 (including the 10% discount). Whilst that still isn't cheap at E13.50 a box, for Belgian chocolates, it isn't too bad...! We are going to have to reassess our budget, though – we did really rather break E100 today! (we did also get a free cool bag and some postcards – we definitely needed the cool bag – it was another scorcher of a day with nary a cloud in the sky – it is difficult to imagine that it is September!)

Then we had our snack supper of a very nice toasted panini with camembert, lardons and honey (one thing I do like about the food here is that a lot of it comes with a good pile of salad as well - very welcome when it is so hot – at 6 pm it was still 28 C, and even at 8 it was 25C.), and headed quickly back to the comic shop as the Belgian history had some pages duplicated and others missing – it was a good job that John flicked through it whilst we were waiting for food to come out!

We then headed over to our final museum of the day – the Toone exhibition. Purely chosen because of the name, this was a little café / museum / theatre devoted to marionette puppets which was hidden away down a very narrow side alley. It was a lovely old building, with the puppets hanging down from the ceiling and posters everywhere. Unfortunately, both the museum (the parts that weren't part of the bar/café) and the theatre were only open on a Saturdays, which was a bit disappointing, as the brochure had implied that it was all open all week, rather than just the café/bar. Still, we got ourselves a glass of wine each, and had a bit of a rest, then headed back out into the city. As we had a bit of time to play with, we decided to take advantage of the free transport on the Brussels card and travelled on a couple of buses out to the Royal Museum of History and Art, which also had a large park. It was a very grand, Victorian building, with acres of parkland and boulevards of trees in front of it. The museum itself was obviously shut at this time of the evening, but the green spaces were being taken full advantage of, with people playing, dog walking and running everywhere – again, lovely to see it being used! After we had had a wander and I took a number of photos (the museum buildings had a gorgeous archway from which was suspended a Belgian flag. Oh, how that flag teased me as it threatened to billow in the wind, then flopped down again!), we then went over to get the tram which runs along the streets close to the hotel. It was surprising how hot and stuffy the tram was, even at 8.45 at night with all the windows open, and I was glad when we got to our stop and we could get off.

We are now back up in the hotel room, and I do not think that it will be long before we go to bed – it is 22.23 BT now, and we have another incredibly full day ahead of us – we are going to go out to the Atomium tomorrow morning after checking out of the hotel (could be interesting with our very full bags!), stay there till about 2, then head back to the station to catch the train to Paris. Fortunately, the same tram that we got back to the hotel then runs through to very close to the Atomium, and there is also a Metro stop there which will take us back to the Gare, meaning that we aren't going to have to walk too far with heavy bags. I'm vaguely hopeful that there will be a cloakroom at the Atomium, but I'm not banking on it!

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