Brussels/Berlin 2023

Wednesday 26th July 2023 – A Musical Interlude in Brussels

I slept fairly well on the train. I think. It can be very hard to tell as it feels a lot like you’re wide awake the whole night but at the same time, it all passes and before you know it, 8.00am has arrived.

A very polite steward brought a coffee and a breakfast bag with a roll, butter, and jam and a bizarre savoury biscuit. This was consumed and the morning spent trundling through The Netherlands and then Belgium, reaching Brussels at approximately 11.07am.

My accommodation was to be a bit “cheap and cheerful” on this occasion – the “Sleep Well Hostel” a little north of the main tourist drag of the city. I headed there on foot from the station.

The receptionist was very polite. There was a second person who may well have been an owner or manager. He complemented me on my hat and asked me where I was from. On my reply he enquired why I didn’t wear a kilt. I said that actually, I did wear one on a fairly regular basis but it was quite heavy to carry around. I also spoke extensively about how the garment was made of wool and absorbed water when it rained with shrinkage being a very real possibility on drying.

He left. I checked in.

I deposited my case in the luggage store and headed back to a café I’d enjoyed on my previous visit. The Lloyd Coffee eatery furnished me with a coffee and pancakes with maple syrup and fruit. Having had very little to eat over the previous 24 hours, this was very well received indeed.

After my extended brunch, I ventured to the Musical Instruments Museum. I arrived just as a large group of teenagers were getting their audio guides and got somewhat mixed up with them but they overtook me quite quickly. I started on the 1st floor with a display of traditional musical instruments from countries across the world. I was glad to see the “penny whistle” getting a shout-out as one that derives somewhere in the British Isles. the one on display was assigned as “England”, please make your own judgement.

In the basement was a display of automated instruments, including barrel organs and pianos operated by punch-card. My favourite of these was the “Ondes Martenot”, an anaogue synthesiser invented in 1928. The audio guide had clips of many of the instruments, and when I heard this one I instantly recognised the opening notes of the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters”. These occur over the “Columbia Pictures” logo and are very distinctive. A very quick “Google” search confirmed my suspicions. Elmer Bernstein, the composer used this instrument in many of his film scores, including this particular favourite of mine.

The second floor had an exhibition of the history of western music from single “bone flutes” through to the establishment of court orchestras and recorded music in the present day. Finally, floor three was a display of keyboard instruments and had everything from pianos to harpsichords to virginals to an iPad with a keyboard “app”.

The whole exhibition was very good indeed and highly recommended to any music lover. It was certainly a good distraction for me while I awaited my hostel room to be available.

My room turned out to be cozy and functional, if slightly monastic. Resisting the temptation to take holy orders, I instead had a long-needed shower and shed some of the muck and dust from the overnight train.

A simple beer, burger, and fries was the desirable option for dinner and there were plenty available. Eventually, I settled on “Fritzguard”, who advertised their fries with a “secret sauce”. This of course had to be sampled and you can only imagine my delight when this turned out to be a curried mayonnaise of the sort often used for what many mistakenly call “Coronation Chicken”. Despite not adhering to the original recipe, this is in fact a favourite of mine and was very much enjoyed.

I made my slow way back to my “digs”, dropping in on alcohol-selling establishments on the way. As chance would have it, I happened upon a street-fair with a musical act at De Brouckèreplein. The musicians were both singers with one also playing guitar and stomp-box, and the other playing fiddle. Their version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” encouraged me to buy an ice cream and a white wine and stay to listen. It was a very good cover indeed. This turned into an extended stay as when the act finished, the music playing over the PA was the greatest hits of the aforementioned band. To me, it would be sacrilege, nay blasphemy to not sit and listen to these songs. Therefore, another beer was purchased and the religious rite satisfied. Eventually, a lesser act was being played so I left to sleep, perchance to dream.


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