This is the sort of day I struggle with what to do with. My checkout at my accommodation was 11.00am and my train to Berlin not until 6.00pm. I decided after a workout and a shower (warm this time after instruction from the owner on re-pressurising the boiler), to avoid “killing time”, as I had done in days like this in past holidays.
Waffles beckoned so I took my bag and case to “Mokafe” in “Galerie de la Reine”, right next to where I was staying. I enjoyed lingering in this beautiful covered shopping centre with my filter coffee and fresh fruit waffle with Chantilly cream. I get very nervous about choosing the wrong dining establishment, and ordering the wrong thing. So far in Brussels I had avoided this fate.
I took myself and my luggage on foot south through the city to Brussels-Zuid, the railway station I had arrived at and would be departing from later in the day. Thankfully, they had luggage storage facilities so locker purchased, I briefly got lost in the station before heading west in the direction of the National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium.
It was shut. Gates locked and no way in but I did get a peek at it through the fencing. It looked like a fitting tribute, if any memorial can be such.
I had noted that the area I had walked through was quite different to the plush and shiny centre of this city. Here were many sleepy groceries and cafes with a far more “local” feel to the ones I had encountered before. There was also a rise in the number of stores advertising themselves as selling African goods, again an indication of a population who immigrated to this areas sometime within the last 100 years or so.
A number of commentators had recommended that I view the “Atomium”, so this seemed the opportunity to do so. This would involve navigating the Brussels Metro but this was easily done and soon I found myself at Heizel station, passing the Atomium on the way.
This impressive structure was built for a World Fair or “Expo” in 1958. It is one of a number of unusual structures round the world built for such affairs. One of the most famous is probably the “tour Eiffel” in Paris, build for a Word Fair in 1958.
The Atomium was built to highlight the Belgian metal industry and represents the body-centred-cubic (BCC) alpha-allotrope of iron. This is despite the fact that the original cladding was aluminium (hence “-ium” in “Atom-ium”. The views from the top sphere offers a spectacular vista over Brussels, with many landmarks identifiable. Afterwards, the tour leads you on a history of the structure and of the 1958 Ezpo that led to the construction of it. It was interesting to consider these events where countries showcase themselves with their vision of the future and how they could potentially collaborate with others to help realise this. The display of pamphlets from each country offered a “snapshot” in to not only the design of the era but also how each participant wanted to be seen in the world. With hindsight, I could see the crossover between the seemingly well-intentioned and what could easily be perceived as propaganda.
The route then led to an impressive ad immersive light and music show before an exhibition of photographs of similar “Expo” sights from over the years taken in the modern age. Some of these, like the Atomium had clearly lasted and were thriving whereas many seemed abandoned. I considered the legacy of these events and wonders if it was always a positive one.
After leaving the Atomium having very much enjoyed my visit, I returned to Brussels-Zuid station via the “6” metro line to prepare for my journey to Germany.
My train was to be the new “European Sleeper” or “Good Night Train” which had begun service earlier in the year. The train rolled in to platform 5 at Brussels-Zuid and it became very quickly apparent that the operators of this particular service had purchased quite elderly rolling stock in order to make it happen. This was not to negate it in any way however as the cabin I was in had 6 comfy seats and converted into a 6-bed “dorm” after hours. I ate my “carry out” from “Carrefour” and read “The House by the Lake” by Thomas Harding – recommended by the same very good friend who had recommended the previous tome.
I read and dozed while the train hurtled through the backyards and countryside of Belgium towards The Netherlands, and Germany.