The conclusion of the current phase of a project at work necessitated another trip to Europe, and this time it was to Brussels, Belgium. I had never been to Belgium so I was pretty excited to make a pilgramage to the heartland of frites, chocolate, and cyclocross. I would have really liked to have seen a World Cup Cyclocross race, but unfortunately there wasn't one coinciding with the time that I would be there, so I was unable to realize this dream. One thing that did coincide with my visit, however, was that my friend Jesse would also be in Europe during the same week to attend a conference in London, so we laid some plans to meet up afterwards for some climbing at Ceuse, one of the most fabled sport climbing areas on earth.
I left Seattle in the early afternoon on Monday, and arrived in Brussels around 11am on Tuesday morning. After making my way to my hotel which was on the outskirts of town, I took a brief nap and then headed out for some sight seeing. The hotel was close to a metro station, and I was very pleased to realize that the metro station was named after the greatest cyclist of all time (who happens to be a Belgian): Eddy Merckx!
I headed down into the station and tried to buy a ticket, but I didn't have any cash on me and I couldn't get my credit card to work in the machine (I later learned that it was because it didn't have the chip inside that most of the Europrean credit cards do). So, I left the station and began my hunt for a bank machine, and after asking directions I found one inside a nearby mall. With cash in hand, I headed triumphantly back to Eddy Merckx station and tried once again to buy my ticket. This time I learned that the machine only accepted coins, not bills, so after admiring Eddy's bike which was parked next to the ticket machine, I headed out on a quest for change:
The closest spot to obtain change turned out ot be a "Quick Stop" which is the Belgian (I assume) version of McDonalds. I bought the healthiest looking thing on the menu (some sort of gross sandwich) and headed back to pay Eddy a third visit, hoping to finally board a train. This time my efforts were met with success, and I boarded the metro and rode it into the city center, disembarking at Gare Centrale. Brussels is in the northern, Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, but thankfully the spoken language there happens to be French (as it is in Southern Belgium) so I wasn't totally at a loss for making myself understood.
I left the metro station and began a walking tour of the city, with a map in hand that I had obtained from the hotel pointing out many of the main sights. I started with some big cathedral, which was pretty nice:
From there I headed over to La Grande Place, which is a big square with fancy buildings on all sides. This seemed to be a popular tourist site, given the number of people around and the number of restuarants with signs outside advertising "Typical Belgian Food". Here is a photo:
I continued walking, seeing a number of other old buildings along with a plethora of cobbled streets, whicih explains why Belgium produces such good classics riders: lots of good training terrain.
I continued walking, and after seeing numerous waffle proprieters I finally yielded to fate and enjoyed a delicious Belgian waffle covered in chocolate, whipped cream, strawberries, and bananas:
As I continued on my way I encountered a large cycling cat stopped for a break in front of a row of bicycles that are part of the bike sharing system that seems to be present in every European city (in the background behind kitty):
I saw a number of other interesting sights, including old buildings, parks, and sculptures. Another interesting thing was that at one point I heard sirens and after a few motoryclcle policement whizzed by, they were followed by a motorcade of about 20 identical black Mercedes, with several of them bearing some sort of official flag. There was some sort of European summit in town that week (Brussels is home to the European Union headquarters) so this must have had something to do with that. I have no idea who it was for, but it was pretty fun to see. Here is one of the other sculptures that I saw:
After having my fill of sightseeing I headed back to the hotel for some dinner followed by an early bedtime. The rest of my stay in Belgium was consumed by work activities so I don't have much else that is worthwhile to write about. We did some stuff, our client didn't fire us, we had a nice dinner, and then I got ready to head to France to meet Jesse for some climbing at Ceuse.
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