After spending a couple of days with Chris’s sister, and then two nights in London we set off on the morning of Monday 16th August on Eurostar for Brussels.
I have come to the conclusion that Brussels would rather not be visited. Everyone knows that if you have a spare 2 hours in Brussels you will want to see the Grande Place. So you would expect to find lots of information about how to get there – not any that we could find. Not even a finger post saying Grande Place this way. The bus station tells you the terminus of the bus routes but not anything en route. The underground will not let you buy a ticket for cash – you need some sort of card. So we decided to walk.
But first we had to find a working luggage locker. This actually took us half an hour and the assistance of a friendly station cleaner who knew how to find the ones which were not “en panne”.
After using my navigational skills to work out which entrance to the station we had come out we started walking – still no signs.
The pavements of Brussels are made of polished fossiliferous limestone which looks very interesting but is slippery (very!!!) when wet. It was wet.
When we got to two hundred metres of the Grande Place we saw our first sign – we had picked the right route. The Place is rather grand and spectacular but as it was wet I did not bother to take my camera. On a sunny day it would be beautiful and you could walk without fear of imminent disaster.
Now to get back to the station. One more attempt to find some means of buying a ticket – not possible. So a brisk walk back along an unfashionable street without polished limestone underfoot. And found that it costs €0.50 to have a wee.
The train to Cologne was a relief.
In Cologne the station is right next to the Cathedral so, although it was a grey day I was able to get a photo.
A rather good meal at a restaurant right next to the station put us into a better mood after the frustration of Brussels – but then we got into our sleeper compartment. This was a vintage model, designed when suitcases were narrow. If you could have got your suicases under the seat/bed you had a decent amount of space, otherwise every move was a choreograph of person and suitcase. Not only had the couchettes been designed many years ago, so had the suspension; we had a very rocky ride. However once in bed we managed to fall asleep – frequently. Noises, bangs and buffetts woke us fairly often.
In contrast to Brussels, Vienna was a model of what a tourist friendly town should be. Luggage lockers worked at the first time of asking, the information bureau was open and dispensed information and maps and told how to buy underground tickets. We emerged soon after at St Stephen’s Cathedral which is nice but not particularly special.
The nicest thing was an elaborate Altar Screen.
So after the relative austerity of St Stephen’s we walked a short distance to St Peter’s Church. This is an elliptical church in a no holds barred, over the top, baroque style. It is pure theatre and even has royal boxes, where the great and, very possibly, good could get close to the Mass action.
We then walked down to the Hapsburg Palaces. Like St Peter’s, they are baroque and their job is to persuade the populace (and the rulers?) that they are living in a great empire which will last for ever. They do a pretty good job of it.
Vienna is a city of Imperial Glory. The empire did not last for ever – it ended in 1918. So many of the buildings of the everlasting empire are struggling to find a use. But it is a splendid city to visit. However our two hour visit was coming to an end. So back to the station and off to Budapest.
This will be recorded in Part II soon.