Our overnight plane arrived this morning and we spent the day in Brussels. We were here about ten years ago, for just a day. At that time we stayed in charming Brugges during off season, and were delighted to be there. We had taken a train from much smaller Brugge to see the larger city of Brussels. At that time we toured in the central, historic area and very much enjoyed seeing it. Now, in Brussels some time later, and staying outside that heavily touristed area, our feelings are a little different.
The historic area was being visited by international travelers, of course, speaking many languages. We saw few Belgian people. CertInly the lovely historic buildings had lost no grand urge but, somehow the tee souvenirs were less charming and the endless rows of the little peeing boy, maniquin pis, less cute. There were some extremely lovely chocolatiers and patisseries though and we stopped at a nice restaurant for a local bier (beer) and a croque Monsieur (cheese and ham sandwich). Nearly all the signs in the city, as well as the airport were in English and everyone we have spoken with are politely tolerant of our attempts at French, but quickly and graciously switch to English for us. Our goal here is to keep moving as long as possible to get on to Brussels time and fight jet lag.
However, there is a grey cloud hanging over us, literally and figuratively. It is threatening to rain and we used a travel agent who did some of our bookings, she put us into a hotel that made the cab driver shutter. He went as far as to write down the name of other hotels in the area that were much better for about the same price. Hotel Van Belle is no “belle”, utilitarian would be an overly generous compliment. It IS clean we keep telling ourselves…but…so tired and so ugly and cheap. Most disconcerting is that the neighborhood is not well kept, it has fairly recently filled with immigrants. The cab driver said it was the Turkish and Algerian part of town and we had to promise him that we would not go into the streets after dark, that there were gangs and drug addicts. He said the Eastern Europeans stayed in this hotel, not Western Europeans or Americans. We decided to check it out and possibly go to another place. The staff was pleasant and we were tired and it wasn’t that far from nicer areas and we would taxi at I if we went out at night. It might have been the worst place we’ve ever stayed in, it not that much worse. We ended up buying some fruit and trail mix at a Turkish grocery, then slept on and off in a jet lag haze ’til morning.