Our adventures in the colder parts of the European continent have taken us through Bruxelles thrice now; we’ve passed through twice on our way to Amsterdam and once on our way to Bruges. While the stops were always short (on the order of three or four minutes in the case of the Amsterdam trips, a whopping five or so for Bruges as the conductor had to go from the previous front of the train to the new front of the train), I always found myself looking at the window (the back of my head in the Purrito’s face; she’s an occupier of window seats, whereas I tend to get grumpy if not in an aisle seat) wondering to no one in particular as to what this or that building is and how interesting I imagined the business district to be (it’s the [undeclared] capital of the EU, which elevates this assumed level of interesting to pretty damn high).
I suppose that it is thus odd that, from a philosophical standpoint, I find myself wondering if we actually went to Brussels (I’m currently imagining the sigh that will escape the Purrito when she reads this, but onward, to glory…); we bought train tickets to Brussels. Our hotel was in Brussels (the Sainte-Catherine district, to be precise). We walked through the Grote Markt, saw the remnants of the medieval gate from the window of a bus, bought nominally Belgian chocolate (far, far too sweet), photographed Manneken Pis, and even ate at the Hard Rock Café Brussels (I wanted a new T-shirt to sleep in; so sue me). We did not, however, enter the medieval gate, descend into the subterranean museum under the city center, run around mini-Europe, subject ourselves to the extortion that apparently defines a visit to Atomium, or walk through the gleaming business district to sate my curiosity regarding whether The International (criminally underrated) was actually filmed in Brussels (yes, I am aware of the existence of IMDB).
Indeed, our Brussels visit was not really to the city itself, but rather to a hill.
The hill in question is by no means normal; it’s 40-odd meters high (225 steps up) and has an approximately 25-tonne, 5-meter-high lion standing on top of it. It’s 4km from the Wellington Museum at the center of Waterloo, which is itself approximately 15 kilometers south of Brussels. The mound is also much further away from Gare de Braine-l’Alleud than the nice lady at the tourist office told us it was, so while we muttered under our breaths about the unexpected 3km hike to a train back to Brussels (which, funny story, we didn’t end up taking, since the bus line that had taken us to Waterloo terminated at that very train station), we don’t hold any lasting resentment because she let the Purrito pull a fresh plush lion (wearing a Waterloo tee shirt) from the as-yet-unpacked box that he and his clones were shipped in. The Purrito’s fitbit overlord was also assuaged by the surprise hike, so there was a secondary benefit.
I liked the hill, dug the lion, completely forgot about the Wellington museum approximately 30 seconds after we exited, and had my dislike of buses reaffirmed (they’re my transportation nemeses at this point).
All in all, it was a fun trip, albeit one where nothing was quite what we expected it to be. Alas, our journey to Brussels just had effectively nothing to do with Brussels.