Before saying farewell to Hilary, Will one of Hilary's neighbors in the Paddock was good enough to take some photos of us ...it was also fortuitous as he was also able to carry my suitcase down two flights of stairs!
After a 43 min overland train trip I was back in the heart of London and finding my way to a cozy B and B not far from the Hilton Metropole at Edgeware. Unfortunately it was on the third floor so the suitcase was lugged up a very tiny staircase. All the time I knew that less than 12 hours later it would have to be lugged down again.
It was such a lovely day and still quite hot so rather than stay in my cozy little room I took a tube into Oxford Street as I knew that there would be a few people around for a while. It was also a good opportunity to first do a dry run down to the Hilton so I knew exactly where to go and how long it took. It all feels like familiar ground and so finding my way was no problem. As I was going to be too early for the breakfast part of my B and B I thought I would buy some fruit for the morning. The fruit shop on the street was selling a huge range of summer fruits, so I thought raspberries and a few cherries would do the trick. I asked the lady for a handful of cherries and she tried to charge me 3 pound for them ( they were 4 pound for a pound) and when I questioned her she didn't like it one bit. So decided that she should be told that she must not rip off tourists and she knew darn well that she was trying to overcharge me. I asked her to show me how much they weighed on the scales and she liked me even less after that! So when she had weighed out the correct amount I told her I wouldn't take the cherries, paid for the raspberries and walked off. How dare she try and rip off unsuspecting tourists!!
I managed to see a lovely gift pack of coke bottles in Selfridges marking 125 years of Coco-Cola and ventured into Primark affectionately known as Primarni. Believe me it is nothing like Armani- it’s cheap as and the shop is in the thick of controversy for paying less than the standard wage.
As you can imagine I had a fairly lousy nights sleep waiting for the alarm to go off so I could get up. Two tours were going off from the Hilton and there were people and bags everywhere, but somehow they managed to get us off on time. They have done this many times over and our tour leader has worked for Globus for over 30 years and is on his 316th tour as leader. We are lucky to have someone so experienced and knowledgeable.
We headed for the wonderful St Pancras station to catch the Eurostar. Quick security and customs check and we were off. What a wonderfully smooth trip of just over 2hours and we arrived in Brussels and picked up our coach. It’s a huge machine and has a wonderful driver and we have already experienced his expertise. How they manoeuvre these beasts of things in narrow streets and through traffic is a small (large) miracle.
What a surprise that most of the tour party are from Queensland. I have worked out that they think there is safety in numbers and there is a large (and loud) party of 9. There is one couple from Nelson, one from Taranaki, a single woman from Invercargill and myself from NZ. Single ladies from Philippines, LA, a mother and young precocious 12 year old daughter from Alabama and a couple of Chinese girls from Texas!! The rest are all Australians. I guess I expected a bigger mix than that.
I ended up on the Eurostar sitting next to the 41 year old from Invercargill who has not travelled outside of NZ before ( or hardly ever from Invercargill I think) and is now running the 650 acre sheep farm on her own. She was widowed 18 months ago and told me a very sad and tragic story about her husband of 22 years racing out in the middle of the night to rescue his jet boat from his workshop as it was on fire. He ended up getting trapped inside and his wife and son had to drag him out but he had 87% burns to his body and could not recover from that extensive trauma. She is amazing but is quite apprehensive about being on the tour just a little more than me.
We had a short orientation tour of Brussels and then a walk through to the city centre. Being the administrative hub of the European Union, Brussels has gained the ‘Capital of Europe' title. The city centre offers a variety of architecture which ranges from medieval constructions to modern EU institutions. Brussels' has many attractive attributes, such as the city’s picturesque medieval streets, lively town squares, beautiful boulevards and Gothic styled cathedrals and churches.
Brussels city is split into a Lower Town and an Upper Town. These two distinct divisions in the city are surrounded by the Petit Ring road which borders the line of the city’s medieval walls. Both Lower and Upper Town areas are very different from each other. The Lower Town is famous for its historical quarters and of course the magnificent Grand Place; renowned as being one of the most attractive town squares in Europe, the Upper town is branded as the ‘posh’ half, for housing royalties and holding many important institutions.
Brussels is mainly inhabited by the French and Dutch but it has changed into a more multicultural environment. The city is also officially bilingual, with information presented in both French and Flemish.
For many years Brussels has also been the capital city of comics and although I didn't get there also has the Brussels Comic Museum. Belgium is the home of Tintin and the Smurfs and there are several familiar comic characters painted onto the side of very large buildings.
Of course there are some other things that Brussels is well known for like the infamous Manneken Pis (literally little man pee in Marols, a dialect spoken in Brussels), is a famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. Is this where the word piss has come from????
The other things relate to food, namely Belgium chocolates and waffles. Tick those both off. Had 2 chocolates and a fresh fruit only - options of cream and chocolate by the bucket load. Believe me that every second shop is a chocolate shop and every other shop is a waffle shop...it was hard to say no and there was no lunch stop today. Excellent justification.
Tonight was a welcome 3 course dinner with wine. For those of you wondering, it is not too Hi De Hi ...we have not yet had to play any name games (horrors!!) nor is wearing your name badge compulsory...we have had to stand up and introduce ourselves tonight at dinner. The hotel room is as you would expect (4 star is my guess) quite comfortable but small. Free Wi Fi tonight and who knows when we might get that again!
We have a group wakeup call at 6am ...bag outside door by 6.45am , breakfast from 6.45 am and leaving for Amsterdam at 7.30. One month of this.....seems like a long time but there is so much to do and see it will go very fast. Bring it on...