Tuesday, February 03, 2015

February 3, 2015 -- Brussels, Belgium

I took the noon train from Paris to Belgium and walked from the South Train Station to the youth hostel. As I walked into the hostel, a voice from behind the reception desk called out in English, "Mister Quinn! I have been expecting you!" It was the same young woman who checked me in weeks ago when I arrived from the airport after flying from Phoenix, and she was in fact expecting me. She remembered me from my last visit, and she said she saw my name on the computer in the list of reservations. I don't know if it is a good or bad thing that people all over Europe seem to remember me. It might be that I have made a very bad impression.

At any rate, here she is at the reception desk. Her name is Melonie, and she is fluent in at least three languages, possibly more, so she will be happy to give you a warm reception in your language if you come to stay at the hostel.

Melonie at the reception desk at Bruegel Hostel
The Bruegel youth hostel is right next to the Chapel la Chapelle in French or Kapellekerk in Dutch on Holy Ghost Street. Here's a picture of the Chapel. To me it looks big enough to be called a cathedral or at least a church, but it is a chapel. Well, that's not quite true. It's full name translates as the Church of Our Lady of the Chapel, and it is called the Chapel for short. It was once a mere chapel, but it began its transformation into a church in the year 1210 when it was decided to enlarge it.

The Chapel near Central Brussels
Right across from the Chapel is a skate park. It is not very crowded now, because it is winter and school is in session, but I have seen it crowded with skaters, skate boarders, and BMX bikers in summer. There is a heavy plexiglass wall at the back, which is a good thing, because the skate park is built out over the railroad tracks.

The skate park at the Chapel
I am staying at the Bruegel Youth Hostel, which is the Flemish youth hostel in Brussels. There are also several Walloon or French youth hostels. Belgium is a country deeply divided between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons, so there are two of everything including two youth hostel associations. Brussels is a French-speaking city located in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

The Bruegel Youth Hostel
If you come to Brussels, there is one place you should avoid, and that's the Pommes Frites or French Fry (or chips if you're British) stand on the Place de la Chapelle. It serves the most delicious French fries (which actually come from Belgium and not from France) that I have ever tasted. I've already succumbed today, despite the fact that I'm trying to keep my weight down for Saturday's bicycle race back in Phoenix. A large (who would get a small?) portion is about three times the size as a large order of fries at McDonald's and about six times as tasty. The only way to eat them is with spicy Belgian mayonnaise.
The Pommes Frites stand is a good place to avoid
Finally, below is a picture of a disappearing French cultural item. In fact, I never see them in France anymore, although they used to be all over the place. It's a (very) public pissoir. Yes, the name means just what you think it means. A man with an urgent need can walk inside, turn his back to the public, and....well, you get the idea. What do the ladies do? I have no idea. Perhaps gender equality and the lack of facilities for ladies to publicly relieve themselves is what is leading to the disappearance of this important symbol of French culture.

  • One of the few remaining public pissoirs
I walked to the Central Railroad Station this afternoon and purchased my train ticket for Thursday's ride to the airport. The station is about a five-minute walk away, perhaps a bit more with luggage, and there seems to be a train to the airport about every 10 minutes. My flight leaves at 10 am, so I'm planning to leave the hostel about 7 am to make sure I have plenty of time in case there are any snags at check-in or security.

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