I am now in a hotel called "Windsor" in Brussels. It is 7:35 pm and it is raining outside.
I saw the movie "Pretre" (i.e. "Priest") for the second time last evening at a cinema on av des Champs-Elysees. I had seen it once at the Hong Kong Film Festival. After that, I got in the underground to get the RER back to my hotel. The train was very crowded and the doors were about to close and I could not decide whether to get on. Then, an indecisive step and I fell off the platform gap. Well, just my left leg, actually. Someone pulled me up and luckily I was not hurt except for two colourful bruises. But it was dead embarrassing. What was worse was that this was not the first time that I had part of my body "fallen" off the platform gap. It had happened before in Hong Kong. Mon Dieu! (I learnt this from the subtitles of the movie.)
I took the TGV to Brussels early this morning so I missed the breakfast for which I had paid 25 FF. I could not find my seat on the train. The main reason was that I could not fully understand my ticket : it was all in French. What was worse was that I got very frustrated when I discovered that I could not just take any seat for all the seats had to be reserved. The staff pointed to different directions and I, taking all my luggage with me, walked from car to car in search of my seat. Finally, I had to ask one staff to personally take me to my seat, which I had apparently missed. I was so exhausted when I finally sat down.
Then there was the breakfast served by an attendant who had not been very helpful to my search of seat. She served the others but not me. I of course got angry. But I did not complain for I was sick of non-communication between French/English. And lucky that I had not complained because I later found that those breakfasts had all been ordered and paid for in advance at the time of seat reservation. But then I had not been told that I could order breakfast. Anyway, it costs over 60 FF and I think it is outrageously expensive.
Talking about non-communication, I must write this down. After the platform gap incident, my jeans became visibly dirty. I did not care to wash them so I went to Bd St Michel, hoping to buy a new pair, and also to kill some time. But it was already after 7 pm and most shops were closed. There was this shop selling denims that was still open. I went in to have a look but was not really preparing to buy anything. A male staff approached me and greeted me in English. I was pleased by the language. He let me try on 501’s, which of course did not fit me, and then a pair of Liberto, French label I was told, which fitted me perfectly. The salesperson was friendly and, most importantly, we could communicate. I bought the jeans without much thought partly because of my need and partly because of the pleasant way I was served.
Back to Brussels. I arrived here at around 9:40 am. I called the hotel in "Let’s Go Europe" but it was full. I then tried to walk to the Grand Place hoping to get some information from the Tourist Office there and, if possible, find a hotel as soon as possible so that I could unload the luggage. On the way I saw a decent hotel which charged a decent price. The next hotel I saw, which was literally next to the first one, was this Windsor, a three-star hotel. Nice room, nice service. The room is spacious and has a sink in it. The bathroom is separated. I am not sure if it is for my sole use. The WC is as usual detached. This room will cost me 2375 BF per night maximum. I am not sure about the charge because the price posted in the room is not the same as what the receptionist told me. Anyway, I can afford it.
Brussels, or the Brussels I see, is more like a town than a city. There is not much modern development. Cobblestones, churches, old medieval buildings, etc., are everywhere. Wandering around here made me miss Paris. Besides, I don’t know why, it is easy to lose my way in this place. The boulevards and avenues are, even in Hong Kong standard, just streets. They are not even good enough to be called roads. I find them a bit disappointing and boring. The Grand Place was beautiful. But this was about all. The Mannekin-Pis was just a very little statue pissing towards everyone looking at it.
I ate an early lunch at a McDonald’s. It was expensive. A set meal with McChicken, medium fries and a coke cost 179 BF, i.e. 52 HKD. The price here is three times the Hong Kong price. Having finished the food, I sat reading the map and information. A man at the next table started talking to me and then moved to my table. He said he was a Dane working for the EC. He had been to Hong Kong 12 years before when he was 18 playing football for his country. He then flipped through my information trying to introduce to me places to visit and then offered to drive me around during his lunch break. I politely declined, bien sur, and rushed to the toilet for escape. He was nice, but I had to be careful. And his hair was thinning (this is sad for men). As I always say, I never attract the right kind of people, i.e. I don’t attract the people whom I find attractive.
(Isn’t it strange that there is still sunlight outside at 8:15 pm?)
That Danish man told me that Leuvan was a beautiful place. As it was just 25 minutes away from Brussels by train, I decided to go there as there was not much to see in Brussels. All the guide books said I could go there by train, not mentioning at which station. I decided to try the Central Station. I was lost in the streets and got to the station half an hour later. I learnt how to read the train schedules which were in unidentified languages. (Just kidding. They should be French and Flemish.) When I got to Leuvan, ALAS, it was raining. I hate rain when I am on vacation. With the rain it became chilly and I had not brought my raincoat as it had been fine back in Brussels. I decided, almost instantly, to return to Brussels. So I did. What a waste of time.
I am going to Brugge tomorrow morning and then I will stop at Ghent on my way back and return to Brussels in the late afternoon.
One more thing. So far I have met nice/helpful people and the not-so-nice on the trip. I am very grateful to the nice ones as now I know how frustrated it can be being a tourist or new comer, and how much a kind word matters. I myself being the not-so-nice should perhaps consider changing.