Last day on the European continent. England-bound tomorrow morning.
Since it was looking like a self-guided tour kind of day I decided to make my way to the visitor centre to acquire a map and use the pencils I purchased the other day to chart my course so I new where I was and how to get back to where I wanted to be (since I have no internet access outside the hotel).
To my surprise when I reached the visitor centre I asked if the tour buses were running today as I’d seen they were closed and she said they were only closed for the morning while the Brussels Marathon happened but tours were restarting at 2pm. Awesome, no need for a self guided tour. Picked up a map anyway (it cost 1 Euro here, everywhere else they’ve been free!) just in case I needed it.
It was still early at that point, around 11am so I wandered around the Brussels old town section. Had a moment where I thought I’d rolled my ankle (the same one I had trouble with in Lucerne) but luckily the cobble pavers caught the side of my foot before it went all the way over. Still a ping of pain as the ankle still hasn’t fully recovered from whatever happened in Lucerne but avoided doing more damage (so far, let’s see how it is in the morning). Found a couple of city squares and took some photos of some very stylish and expensive looking buildings (there’s a lot of gold), wandered through a couple of markets (didn’t buy anything as I’m running out of space in my case), and found myself back at Central station. Turns out it’s only a 20-25 minute walk between the two stations, but I wasn’t doing that yesterday with the case in tow.
By this time it was 12:30. Time for lunch. When in Belgium!
For almost an hour there was a duo playing a set of guitar + saxophone music. Amazing that they were able to play in the sun for over an hour (they were there when I got there and I could still hear them from the tour bus stop 15 minutes after I left). Not a single repeat and no paperwork aside from a set list. They earned 7 Euros from me (initially I gave them 2 but after lunch threw them another 5 for their efforts). I think they played 10 songs in the time I was there and probably would have been nudging 20 by the time I was jumping on the tour bus.
There were actually two routes. A north (blue) and south (red) line. I ended up catching the blue line first as it seemed to be the quieter of the two. I caught on to a winning strategy that I should have thought of sooner. Mind you I think I should just give up on the idea of taking photos on these buses, I either miss what I’m supposed to be taking a photo of or middle a fucking tree or a pole in the photo instead of what I’m actually trying to capture. The bottom level of the bus was empty so not only was I able to sit out of the blistering sun (it was actually 24 degrees today and the upper deck was like a glass house with the clear glass roof), but I was also able to sit at the back and get easy access to both the left AND right side of the bus.
That was until a family jumped on board at the Atomium stop and blocked my access to the right side. It was okay though, after the Atomium stop we were mostly retracing our steps back to the departure point so we were seeing a lot of things we had already been past.
The red route took us through most of the core of the city where the blue route took us through the northern suburbs. The red line was busy, a large group actually decided to wait for the following bus as the top deck filled extremely quickly. I wasn’t able to deploy my back row strategy here because the lower deck was also pretty much full by the time I boarded.
There was a lot of focus on the European Union and European Commission on this line as the path took us past the European Council building. The EU actually has four capitals, Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, and Strasburg. Each overseeing a different branch of the European charter. Brussels’ focus is on the European Council, and the European Commission, basically the legislative branch. The financials are handled in Frankfurt and houses the central bank, Luxembourg has the auditory and justice branch, and Strasbourg houses the European parliament. The Commission is made up of 27 representative members, one political representative from each member country usually the leader, to guide on the direction of the entire EU in a non-legislative capacity. As of today there is only one member nation that has ever left the EU, pretty easy to tell which one that is. There are currently 10 nations applying to join at various levels the most recent applicant being Moldova just after Ukraine, some have been in the application process for over 10 years! Interesting to note that while Switzerland is part of the European Single Market it is not a member of the European Union, having withdrawn their initial application to join (likely due to EU getting involved in things that threaten Switzerland’s position of neutrality), a 2001 referendum on re-opening the application was rejected with 79% disapproval of joining the EU. Interestingly though, Canada has been proposed as a potential candidate if they were willing due to regional proximity and aligned goals.
That was a bit of a tangent. As the tour rolled through most of the city it ended up being almost three and half hours across both buses so by the time I was headed back towards the hotel it was basically dinner time. The Belgians are known for four things (well, at least four). Waffles, Fries, Chocolate, and Beer. I have tried all four in my short time here and enjoyed each of them.
Tomorrow it’s time to leave mainland Europe and the EU. It’s Eurostar time! Also hooray for being back on schedule with my posts.