7 March 2014

The Atomium and other delights

I could not go to Brussels and not see the Atomium.

Getting there was fairly easy, the same number 3 tram that I took two days previously (except in the other direction) and then changing to a 7 for a couple of stops.

A long avenue led from the tram station to the Atomium and I had this view of it as I approached.

I toyed with the idea of going inside but, judging by a map in the ticket booth, it was not possible to get to the very top and I was not sure that there was very much nearby worth climbing high to look down on. I prefer my towers in cities. Besides, it was a bit pricey for me.

[I have since been corrected by the Atomium via Twitter and I am happy to include the corrections. There are two parts to the Atomium, the expos on the lower levels and the panorama at the top. One tickets gives you access to both. An adult ticket is €11.]

Instead, I was perfectly happy just to wander around beneath looking at the strange object from different angles. I took a ridiculous number of photos but that is what I went there to do.

It was also nice to find a cafe there for a mid-morning coffee (little did I know how long it would be before I would get the chance for another one). It was also nice that there was open wifi there so I could post a photo of the Atomium on Instagram.



Once I had finished my coffee I left the Atomium and headed in to the large park next to it (Parc de Laeken), though it was quite a while before it finally disappeared from view.

The park was somewhat less attractive than I hoped though, to be fair, it was early March and so too early for Spring to have done much to brighten things up.

The paths were not that helpful either, presumably people are not meant to walk across the park like I was.

The other evidence for this was the almost complete lack of other people in the park, I saw under ten in an hour or so, and the absolute lack of facilities. I was rather hoping to find a chip van somewhere.

There were some nice parts to the park, such as this plaza. The only confusing thing was that it did not lead anywhere and there was a sheer drop behind me when I took this picture. I had to walk back beyond the fence on the right to continue my journey.



There was one feature in the park which the winding paths eventually led me to.

I have no idea what it was but it must have had something to do with the Royal Palace (Laeken Castle) that sat at the end of another avenue that led down from the monument.

I could not continue my walk through the park at that point because the rest of it also belonged to the Royal Palace so I had to head down to the main road instead. Having gone through the park heading south-east I was now forced to walk north until I reached the next junction.

The one redeeming factor was that I got to see a lovely collection of glasshouses by Balat, Horta's teacher. Sadly these were also part of the Royal Palace and were partially hidden by a high wall. These are open to the public for a few weeks each April/May, but this was March.



I was not on my planned route but I was still heading towards my planned destination.

Just beyond the Royal Palace, nestled among a collection of dual-carriageways, were the Japanese and Chinese Gardens.

I had hoped to find a cafe there, much needed after all that additional walking, but there was none. And the houses were shut.

All I could do was walk around them, take a few pictures, and try to pretend that is what I had walked a couple of kilometres to do.

To be fair, I had also walked a couple of kilometres to walk a couple of kilometres  and the walk had been fair reward in its own right, though I would have preferred for more of it to have been in the park and less along the main road.

There was some good news when I heard a tram passing close by though there was a fence in the way (for reasons that escape me) and it took a little effort and a slight detour to get to the nearest station.


The road by the tram stop was wide and slightly downhill which allowed the street lights to show off a little.

It was not long before a number 7 tram arrived and I headed back in to town.

My faultless plan for getting a desperately needed drink and to have decent break was to head to the first major metro interchange on that line, Montgomery, and find something above ground there.

Montgomery is a major intersection for roads as well as the metro, as a large roundabout with a large fountain in it, has a nice view along one of the main roads towards a monument that looks like the Brandenburg Gate, but has nothing remotely approaching a cafe or bar.

The need for refreshment was greater than the desire to explore this unknown neighbourhood and I headed back underground, took the number 1 metro back to where I started that morning, De Brouckere, and dived in to the first cafe I found, a branch of Paul. It was well after 3pm that I sat down to have my cheese panini (I had to pull the ham out) and a late. I also bought a cake to have back in the hotel later (not much later).

I was done in for the day and spent a couple of hours in the hotel reading comics (I always have a few to read on my iPad) before venturing out the short distance to À la Mort Subite for a beer and an omelet.

At the micro-level the day had not always gone as planned but the two main objectives were to see the Atomium and to get some walking done and these were achieved. I was happy with that.

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