5 March 2014

Around Brussels; Hallepoort, Horta and Botanique

Having covered most of the central old town in my first couple of days in Brussels meant that my next exploration had to take me a little further, and that meant giving the trams a go.

I bought a set of 10 jump tickets that each lasted for one hour. That was cheaper than buying individual tickets for each jump/journey and also meant that I did not have to worry about buying more tickets.

My hotel was close to De Brouckère station from where a number 3 tram (light green line) took me directly to Hallepoort and the most spectacular remnant of the city's former fortifications.

It now houses a museum of sorts though what sorts was a little hard to tell as there was very little information in English. There were some displays on the  evolution of the city and the maps of this I found interesting. Less interesting were the two large rooms set aside for children's activities.

The best bit was the ramparts from which I could get some reasonable views of the city. I always like it when I can get slightly above the prevailing roof-line to look at those roofs. Much higher than that and the roofs lose their personality.

From there it took two short tram rides to get me to the Horta House and Museum, my main objective for the day.

The museum is located in the former house and studio that Victor Horta lived and worked in. The family house is on the left and the studio, with the large windows, is on the right.

Sadly photography was forbidden inside, which is a great shame as the outside only hints at the great decoration inside. This was especially true of the reception rooms that flowed neatly across different levels and off an open staircase.

The most unusual feature was the white tiling used for the walls in the dining room. It could have looked something like a public toilet except for the airiness, brightness and delicate decorations.

The house is carefully looked after and we were only allowed in a few at a time and it was one out, one in. I got there not long after 2pm when it opened and went in without queueing (though that was mostly because of in the absence of a queue I did not realise that I was meant to wait and I went straight in) and when I left an hour or so later there were about forty people waiting outside.

I was a little tired then so went to recover with a beer in one of the local bars before getting a tram back to the centre.

At least that was my original plan until I noticed that the tram back went on to Botanique, which correctly hinted at botanical gardens.

These were on a small scale which suited my energy levels at the time.

There was a decent enough glasshouse though that was mostly used for exhibitions and events. One of my favourite current bands, Wild Beasts, was due to play there a few weeks later.

There were just a few plants inside, little more than a reminder of why it had been been built in the first place. That was no great problem as I like glasshouses for their own sake, not just what usually goes in them.

Outside the gardens were designed for walking though, so that it was I did. There were several parts to it, none of any size, and I was able to see all of it before the 5pm whistle blew to let us know that it was closing.

The final tram of the day took me back to Parc, so called because there is a park there. It was a park not yet ready for Spring and it looked barren and dull, and like elsewhere in the city the fountains had yet to be fed with water.

It would have taken a bus to get closer to the hotel and the prospect of walking was much more enticing.

The most direct route took me past the Cathedral. Because it was so close to the hotel I saw it many times while I was there but I never paid it that much attention and never went inside it.

The Cathedral was surrounded my interesting buildings, old and new, and I took a particular delight in this one thanks to its bricks and tiles, always a wining combination.

I approached the Cathedral from its less attractive back side and crossed to the front where the fading sun was doing its utmost to show the Cathedral at its best. If I am going to look at Cathedrals then it might as well be when they are in such fine form as this.

And that was it for the day.

The walking and sight-seeing had drawn their toll and I had a quiet evening. I ventured out at some point to Mort Subite (Sudden Death) for a beer and an omelet but that was enough for me.

Brussels was proving to be quite adept at keeping me interested and entertained.

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