Thankfully my train back to London wasn’t leaving until early afternoon so after checking out and storing the gigantobag I headed to the Scottish National Museum which turned out to be startlingly near to my hostel when I’d passed it the day before. I mostly skimmed their natural history and world cultures section (though I was impressed at how proper their Canadian First Nations section was despite its small size) since I’d done that sort of thing a lot at bigger museums of late and I was short on time. Instead I focused on their particularly great history of Scotland section, which traces the history of the nation from the ancient kings up to the present. Though it was presented with a very proud to be scots message, I was glad to see that they showed the other side of most of the sticking points of history. Their collections of artefacts are quite vast and the collection is well worth a look, though by god it’s one of the most convolutedly designed museums I’ve ever been in. It’s quite an old building that they didn’t move into that long ago so it’s been completely modernised, but in doing so they neglected to create any kind of actual path through the Scots section. Displays are stashed everywhere and unless you can read the mind of the curator in charge you’re likely to either stumble from Mary of Queen of Scots legacy to a medieval church from hundreds of years earlier then back again. I failed this telepathic test but enjoyed things all the same.
It was raining again off and on in Edinburgh, I’ve definitely fallen in love with the city and want to be back but unless I start moving across the continent I’ll likely miss out on using some of my rail pass. Besides, I can definitely see myself coming back and putting a month long trip just into Scotland. The train ride was a little less eventful this time and we pulled into London then I hopped on the tube. My hostel this time actually wasn’t too far from the hotel my parents and I had stayed in in earl’s court. Unfortunately upon arriving I was presented with a desk clerk who asked if I could wait a moment while he finished his cash drawer count. Fine whatever, but I proceeded to wait 25 minutes while he chatted or hugged or smooched every person who came in, all of whom seem to be staff. For a hostel that isn’t particularly big they seemed to have a ton of staff given that it was past cleaning times, perhaps it’s because none of them actually do anything. Once I’d finally checked in I headed back to Gloucester Road to grab some drinks and a snack for the train ride the next day. Since I ended up being all of half a block from it I kept going and ended up having a quick meal at the pub we’d eaten at the first night in London. It was just as good the second time around.
Back at the hostel I headed down to the common room to take advantage of some free wifi, I’d just settled in with a guy from france and two from Denmark at the same table when there was a monstrous crash and the plaster from a quarter of the ceiling dropped down inches from my head. Had I not moved chairs I would have been seriously injured and I suspect the trip would have been over. Luckily no one was hurt though two girls who were just about to enter the doorway when it fell were near speechless. Needless to say we all exited the lounge quite quickly and were herded out onto the sidewalk with many of us closest to the drop laughing the nervous adrenaline filled laughs you get in that situation. Mixed in were a large number of coughs from the giant cloud of plaster dust as well. Some of the staff kept us outside while someone who must have been the acting manager threw on a high visibility vest and inspected things. A while later they told us it was safe to come back in, but given it had been all of ten minutes and I’m fairly sure none of them are civil engineers I’m not exactly sure where that belief was coming from. At that point I knew my train was leaving early the next morning for Belgium so I just went to bed, watched a tv episode on my laptop then tried to sleep.
Guess my hands were a bit shaky…
What is it about England that they don’t understand temperature? I get that it’s not warm enough to justify A/C for most people, in fact they look at you like you’re a wuss if you mention you have it. Of course, let them enjoy a +43C w/ humidex summer day then say that. Even so, surely it’s obvious that muggy summer days and small rooms = too hot to sleep? Is it not patently obvious that when you chop a large old townhouse into tiny rooms with doors that stay locked that you lose all the cross ventilation that kept them cool? Put a ceiling fan in, hell give us a window fan and I’d be happier Also, in a hostel that was recently renovated (though the plaster would say not well) how are you only having only 2 plugs and no individual bed lights? Admittedly one of my roommates was a total bitch, coming back, turning on the light while the other two of us were trying to sleep and rummaging around in her bag for 10 minutes before going to take a shower and leaving the light on. Individual bed lights at least give a person the chance to not have to turn on the overhead. When morning came I’d probably only slept about 3 hours.
Getting to the Eurostar departure lounge was pretty painless, but getting on the actual train was an exercise in stupidity. Like most stations they don’t post the platform for the bigger trains until it’s ready to go so that they have free access to the platform. My train to Brussels was leaving at 8:57, a train to Paris was leaving at 9:00. There was no other train before for at least 40 minutes, and the next train after was in another 30. They have 3 platform areas with a train loading on either side. So what do they do? Load both the trains from the same platform of course. I was up and in the line for the ramp asap and I still ended up waiting so long that they were calling final boarding before the departure lounge was even half empty. For a continent so good at public transport their larger transport traffic control (airports and international trains/coaches) really sucks. The train itself is quite neat and there’s nearly instantly a massive sensation of speed from the scenery flying by even though the train itself doesn’t feel like it’s straining at all. Before I knew it we were into the chunnel and back out and suddenly all the announcements were in French first.
It was only a little over two hours from departure to arrival in Brussels and since I’d thankfully had a chance to check before the ceiling fell I knew just how to get to my hotel. Once I’d dropped off my bag I went for what turned out to be a hell of a walk around town. Apparently since becoming capital of the European Union Brussels has been somewhat overrun with Bureaucrats, with this being the weekend and university also being out of session most of the city other than the heavily touristy grand place area was completely dead. I did manage to snag a quick tour of the Palais Royale after walking through the Parc de Bruxelles and really enjoyed the interiors. Unlike Windsor though it’s not set up for tours all the time (they only happen during part of the summer) so a lot of the rooms had a somewhat stripped feeling as anything easily stolen was not just somewhere safe out of reach but completely gone.
The other fun thing is that it’s the first of several really bilingual countries I’ll be in. As a result some street signs have the name in both languages and some only in one. Directions will sometimes only point you to one of them, which in some cases isn’t too bad. I can certainly figure out Rue de Lombard and Lombardstraat, but Chapelier/Hoedenmakers is a bit more opaque of a duo. Most of the streets near my hotel are named for the old guilds. There’s Butcher, Baker, Brewer, Chickenmarket etc… all centered around the Grand Place, a gorgeous old square absolutely surrounded by amazing architecture. All the old buildings were apparently previously the guild houses for the old market city. You can really see how they each tried to one up the other as they were built. The square is constantly full and surrounded by cute little cafes and bars. I really didn’t feel like much to eat the first night (I seem to be getting back to my Australia style eat once a day plan of attack) so I grabbed a proper cone of Belgian frites. They of course invented the so called French fry and everyone I mentioned belium to said I had to try them, they’re fried once during the prep process then flash fried again when you order. Though everyone knows the famous mustard and mayo combo they like, I got them diabla style which involved three different kinds of spicy sauce. I then camped out a spot in the grand place and sat for a while. The frites were amazing and I definitely recommend Friterie Tabora if you happen to be in Brussels. Later on while enjoying the view after dark I also treated myself to a proper Crepe Nutella, I know it’s somewhat sacrilege to not have a waffle here, but i’ve been craving a proper crepe like my last French trip ever since seeing some in England and not buying one because they wanted the equivalent of $10 for a simple nutella crepe.
I was pretty wiped by this point since I’d been up since 6AM, but Belgium is famous for Beer as well,so I found a likely looking place (hardly difficult here) and ordered what turned out to be a pretty great Raspberry Wheat beer. Not something I’d drink every day, but it fit the moment. It was also probably about 8% so it didn’t help the fatigue factor. Back at my hotel I discovered something I’d previously missed. I’d originally thought I didn’t have a bathroom, but then I’d seen a door when checking in so I assumed I’d gotten an upgrade. Not so, apparently I have a shower and sink, but not a toilet. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? You think they’d just put a shower in somewhere central and give everyone a toilet, people use toilets more and a shower requires expensive tiling all the way up the wall. Thankfully on this floor at least there are at most two rooms without a full ensuite so I haven’t had to wait for the WC yet. The only other problem is that all the lights are on motion sensors in public areas, even in the potty so as you sit there you either need to shimmy a bit or wave your hands from time to time.
The next morning I treated myself to a bit of a sleep-in before further exploring. I’ve been enjoying the music of the occasional busker floating up to the room from the square below. I’d also just been thinking that I had only heard American style sirens when I finally heard a proper Doppler shifty euro-siren screaming past. I think after further inspection that it’s only the ambulances that have them where the police cars have shifted to yank style L I was finally forced out of lazy semi sleep by the first of several barrages of bells from the 9 or so churches within hearing distance (the 11am one being particularly noisy.)
Day two ended up being quite like day one sadly, as pretty as it is, this isn’t the world’s most exciting town for someone travelling on their own. The architecture is gorgeous, but it’s really a town made for sitting in a cafe with your significant other, enjoying conversation and the view. As a solo traveller on a Sunday afternoon/evening, it’s not really the perfect place for me. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little afraid it will be like this a lot of places on my journey. I’m not the most lightning quick to make friends and 90% of the other travellers even in the hostels, aren’t travelling solo. I ended up at the train station to activate my eurail pass for tomorrow’s journey then mostly walked around again. There actually turned out to be a music festival going on this evening, I was too cheap to buy a ticket but you could listen to most of the stages just by wandering around some of the squares, some even had video screens pointed to public areas. I ended the day with the aforementioned waffle sitting and listening to a string combo with a lot of talent that was set up right outside my hotel.
Tomorrow I’m off to Luxembourg, haven’t decided what’s after that, likely Amsterdam. I’ll be glad to be solo in Amsterdam since I’m fairly sure even getting near the door of a coffee shop would give me an asthma attack and I don’t know any of my friends who wouldn’t have at least wanted to check one out. Speaking of though, does anyone have any hostel recommendations for Amsterdam, Prague or Rome since those are my only firm destinations so far?