8 March 2014

Further afield in Brussels; heading west then south

On my last full day in Brussels I set off west (and a little north) towards Stainte Catherine just because I had not been there before and the map suggested that it might be interesting.

The first discovery was this old round tower that had a Novotel hotel built around it. A strange thing to let happen.

The tower sat at the bottom of a long square, but more of that later.

I was following a route of sorts (more on that another day) and that took me past Beguinage Church. The church was attractive enough, but just a church, and what I liked more was the way that it was framed by the sympathetic mix of houses along Rue de Peuplier as I walked towards it.

There were other neat buildings and neat squares in that area which I walked around before making my way back to the top of the first square (the one that I am going to tell you about later).

I said that I had a route in mind which may have been overstating the case slightly. I had a series of possible destinations but which ones I actually saw and the routes that I took to see them were driven by what I found. The rule remained that when faced with options I always took the prettiest one.

That thinking led me to the canal, which is not where I had expected to find myself when I set out that morning. Having walked past and along some former canals long since reclaimed for squares and roads (the clues where in the shapes of the roads and in their names, e.g. Rue du Canal and Quay au Foin), it seemed natural to go and find a real canal.

There was nothing else that I wanted to see in that area so I took the metro from Comte de Falndre round to Louise. Using clock directions, that was moving from 9pm (west) to 5pm (south-east).

I went there to see the Palais de Justice. I had the usual struggle to find a decent cafe and was very pleased to eventually find one opposite the Palais where I had some very nice mushrooms on toast, and a beer. The mushrooms were described as "cheese croquets" on the English menu but the French and Dutch descriptions were more accurate and I got what I wanted.

It was warm and sunny by then and I sat outside to enjoy being in the flow of the city.

There was a large square in front of the Palais with a war memorial and some tram lines. The city fell away at the north-west edge of the square, and that one of the reasons that I went there was for the views that this created.

The reflections reveal that this picture was not taken from the square but from inside the lift (Ascenseur des Marolles) that led me down to the streets below.

Some more wandering uncovered a vibrant area that reminded me of places like Clerkenwell in London. There were few other tourists, if any, and all the shops and cafes were there for the locals.

As with the area that I started the day in, that part of the city felt comfortable and lived-in. And so close to the centre too.

To prove that last point, I then walked back to the centre.

Along the way I got held up in some celebratory march with about twenty people in smart clothes and wearing masks. I also got delayed in Rue des Minimes which, as I got close to the centre, became a succession of art and antique shops that made me stop and look in their windows.

The Grand Market was sort of on my way back to the hotel so it made sense to make the small detour required to see it again.

To state the obvious, the market looked different at different times of the day as the sun moved around it and I had not been there in late afternoon before.

This is the main building in the square, occupying most of the south-west side. I have no idea what it was originally (that sort of history does not interest me very much) but one of its functions when I was there was to provide Tourist Information and I went there a couple of times to get maps.

I needed more than one map because of the way that it was folded. I had to spend a lot of time unfolding it each time that I wanted to check directions so I refolded it with the current area on the outside and that destroyed the first map. The second I got as a souvenir.

I have included this picture just to give some idea of the scale of the square and the buildings in it. Being so large it swallowed a lot of tourists at once so it was never that difficult to walk through unlike, say, Covent Garden.

It was, of course, time for another break then and I went back to the cafe, Le Mokafé in Galerie du Roi, that I had been too on my first day there. This time it was the cake that was the attraction. The cafe was always busy but there was a good turnover and alert staff so I was able to get a table and get served without any problem.

Then it was back to the hotel for a little rest, i.e. to switch the computer on, download that morning's photos, check emails, post something on Instagram/Twitter, etc.

I ventured out again before the sun set to fill in some of the gaps in the morning's walk where the detour to the canal took me away from some of the other things that I wanted to see there.

It also gave me the opportunity to catch up on some of the podcasts that were coming in every day.

Again I was impressed by the vibrancy of the residential (i.e. non-tourist) areas and there were lots of people out in the cafes and parks.

I was particularly pleased to see so many children out playing in the many little squares that populated the region and were one of the reasons that it had such a human scale to it.

My journey took me back to the square at Sainte Catherine. This is the view looking north from the church.

It was clear to see that this was a canal once. Then it was known as Quai au Bois à Brûler (Dock of Burning Wood).

It was a shame that none of the fountains in the square were working at the time. It was obviously too early in the year for Brussels to fill its water features and almost all of them were dry when I was there. The only exception was the one in Montgomery.

The sun was winning its battle with me and it was soon too dull to take the pictures that I wanted so I headed back to the hotel for a little more computing before going out again. I went to Hemispheres for a nice farewell meal of a Bangladeshi soup to start with and an Algerian pastry to follow. It was a good end to a good day and a good week.

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