Brussels 2018 – Day 1

Friday, March 23rd 2018

Tigger’s birthday falls during this weekend and to celebrate it we are making a short trip to Brussels. We ‘discovered’ Brussels in August 2008 when we passed through it on the way to Waterloo on a courier run for Tigger’s firm (see A trip to Waterloo). We thought it looked interesting and that we should visit it properly one day. We passed through it again on our trip to Bruges in 2011 and made our first ‘proper’ visit in 2013 (see Brussels 2013). We returned in 2017 (see Brussels 2017) and by now I had decided that Brussels was one of my favourite cities. I was therefore looking forward to this trip and I can say (spoiler alert!) that I was not disappointed.

To the monolingual British, Brussels may seem a strange place. As the capital of Belgium, it is theoretically bilingual in the nation’s two main languages, French and Flemish. Street signs and public notices are written in both languages but with 85% of the population being francophone, the French language is dominant. (For more details, see my Linguistic note in Brussels 2013.) If you speak French, you will feel quite comfortable there but if not, English is the next best language to use as it is widely spoken to a high degree of competence.

Getting to Brussels from the Angel, Islington, is easy: walk or take to bus to St Pancras International Station and board a Eurostar service that goes to Brussels direct. Our train was scheduled to leave at 8:04 and was due to reach Brussels at  11:05 local time (10:05 London time). A slight complication is that the clocks go forward this weekend. This means that we must advance our clocks one hour on arrival in Brussels, advance them another hour on Sunday morning and then push them back one hour on returning to London!

A note on the name of Brussels. In Flemish, it is written Brussel (without a final ‘s’) and in French, Bruxelles. The Flemish version is pronounced much as you would expect (click here to hear it pronounced) but there is argument over the pronunciation of the French version. Some people, mainly non-Belgians, pronounce the ‘x’ as ‘ks’, but the consensus among Francophone Belgians is that the ‘x’ is pronounced like ‘ss’ (click here to hear it pronounced).

The Hotel Ibis Brussels City Centre
The Hotel Ibis Brussels City Centre

Our passports were checked by British and French immigration officers in London prior to boarding the train so that on arrival at Bruxelles Midi station there were no formalities. We simply left the train and walked off into the town. We wandered around for a while looking for somewhere to have lunch and eventually plumped for a bistro near the station. Afterwards, we returned to the station to take a taxi to our hotel. This was the Ibis Brussels City Centre, a rather bland name for a rather bland hotel.

Hotel corridor
Hotel corridor

The room turned out to be very small with a very small ensuite containing a miniscule shower unit. As we are spending only two nights here we are not letting it bother us. The bed is comfortable and there are plenty of power points for recharging our electronic devices. After making tea and having a little rest, we set out on our first visit to the town.

Église Sainte-Catherine de Bruxelles
Église Sainte-Catherine de Bruxelles

A close neighbour of our hotel is the Church of Saint Catherine of Brussels. If this were an English church we would describe it as Victorian because it was built between 1854 and 1874 but such a designation does not seem appropriate for a Belgian church.

Monument to the Centenary of the Cinema
Monument to the Centenary of the Cinema

Near the hotel is this unusual monument. By Patrick Rimoux, it was unveiled in 1996 and celebrates the centenary of the cinema with special reference to the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau, after whom the street is also named. Plateau is credited as being one of the first to produce moving images (see here).

A row of buildings
A row of buildings

One of the pleasures of exploring Brussels is viewing the buildings. There is a broad range of styles and it is usually not easy to categorize them according to British equivalents. Here we have four buildings in four different styles and I would be at a loss to know to what period they individually belong.

La Bourse - De Beurs
La Bourse – De Beurs

This is the Stock Exchange, built between 1868 and 1873. Highly decorated in a mixture of styles with sculptures by famous artists, including Rodin, it was meant to impress and reflect the expanding economy of the day. Its role as the centre of finance and commerce ended in 1996 and it is now used for public exhibitions.

Le Falstaff
Le Falstaff

It felt as though it was time for refreshments and across the road we spotted an establishment called Le Falstaff. Brussels is famous for its Art Nouveau buildings and Le Falstaff is one of the jewels of the collection. We went in and ordered hot chocolate which was served to us by waiters dressed in the traditional waistcoat and apron. We asked if we might take photos of the interior and permission was readily granted.

Le Falstaff, interior
Le Falstaff, interior

What is now a cafe-restaurant was originally built as two houses in 1886. These were bought in 1903 by a certain Madame Broekaert in order to convert them into a ‘taverne’ or cafe-restaurant. The interior decoration was done by E. Houbbion, about whom little seems known beyond the fact that he was employed by the famous Belgian architect and designer, Victor Horta.

La Grand'Place
La Grand’Place

Our next port of call was the Grand’Place (Main Square), also known in Flemish as the Grote Markt (Great Market Square). Here we find opulently designed and decorated buildings, arguably the most prestigious in Brussels. They include the Town Hall, the Museum of the City of Brussels and what is known in French as La Maison du Roi (the King’s House) and in Flemish as Het Broodhuis (the Breadhouse).

Grand'Place, Museum of the City of Brussels
Grand’Place, Museum of the City of Brussels

The City of Brussels Museum is built in Gothic Revival style, perhaps to match or at least blend in with the Town Hall that it faces. It was inaugurated in 1887.

Hôtel de Ville - Stadhuis
Hôtel de Ville – Stadhuis
(Brussels Town Hall)

The Gothic Town Hall is remarkable both for its age and the height of its belfry – 96m or 315ft. Building began in the 15th century and most of what you see from the square is of that age. There have inevitably been several episodes of additions and refurbishment mainly in the 19th century which was when the statues of the Dukes of Brabant were added to the façade. The statues we see on the Town Hall today are in fact reproductions, the originals being preserved in the King’s House Museum across the road.

Maison des Ducs de Brabant - Hertogen van Brabant
Maison des Ducs de Brabant – Hertogen van Brabant

This public building was completed in 1698 and is known as the House of the Dukes of Brabant, not because they ever lived there but because of their statues that grace the interior.

Here are a couple more pictures of buildings in the Grand’Place. (Identifying them is left as an exercise for the reader Smile )

Buildings in the Grand'Place

Buildings in the Grand'Place

The Grand’Place is usually crowded both during the daytime and at night. There are sometimes exhibitions and markets here too, including the important Plaisirs d’Hiver et Marché de Noel (Winter Wonders and Christmas Market).

Horse-drawn coaches
Horse-drawn coaches

In common with other European cities (with the notable exception of London), Brussels provides horse drawn carriages to take you on a tour of the city. I have never been on such a tour and cannot vouch for the quality of the commentary delivered by the driver. If you look carefully, you can spot the canvas dung-catchers hanging beneath the horse’s hind quarters to avoid soiling the streets. I suspect that the dustbin in the foreground is provided for the purpose of emptying the dung-catchers.

Galerie de la Reine - Koninginne Galerij Galerie de la Reine - Koninginne Galerij
Galerie de la Reine – Koninginne Galerij

This fine ‘Victorian’ shopping arcade was inaugurated in 1847 and is worth a visit, both for the beauty of the arcade itself and for the shops, theatre and cinema that it contains. It is formed of three parts collectively known as Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert or Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen (St Hubert Royal Arcades). The first part, shown above is the Galerie de la Reine or Koninginne Galerij (Queen’s Arcade).

Intersection

You pass through a pillared intersection – this no doubt has a name but I don’t know what it is – into the next part whose name you have probably guessed.

Galerie du Roi - Konings Galerij Galerie du Roi - Konings Galerij
Galerie du Roi – Konings Galerij

Yes, this part, as you would expect, is called the King’s Arcade. There is a further section, called Galerie du Prince or Prinsenglaerij (Prince’s Arcade), but it is quite short and we didn’t visit it.

In case you are wondering about the pronunciation of Flemish-Dutch ‘ij’ in words like galerij and Parijs, the sound usually resembles that of the ‘ay’ in the English words fray or stay (listen here), though there is some difference of opinion, some preferring to pronounce it like the ‘ie’ in lie or like the word eye. In my experience, ‘ay’ is the most common.

Palais de Coudenberg
Palais de Coudenberg

The Coudenberg Palace takes its name from the hill on which it was originally built. That was back in the 12th century when the Dukes of Brabant chose this location for their court. In 1731 a fire ravaged the palace and the inhabitants moved out, never to return. The site lay derelict until the 1770s when the present palace was built. It now hosts exhibitions.

Palais Royal de Bruxelles - Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel
Palais Royal de Bruxelles – Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel

Nearby stands the Royal Palace of Brussels on land that was once part of the grounds of the Coudenberg Palace. Built in the 18th century and added to in the early 20th, the Brussels Palace is the official residence of the King and Queen of Belgium… except that they don’t actually live there. (They live in the Palace of Laeken.) The Brussels Palace might be considered to be the King’s business premises as it is here that he conducts affairs of state.

Brussels tram
Brussels tram

We took a bus and disembarked near the Palais de Justice (Law Court). I took my first photo in this trip of a tram. As previously mentioned, we like trams and ride them for pleasure when the opportunity presents itself. Public transport in Brussels is run by the STIB, Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company). The best way for the visitor to get about on public transport in Brussels is to buy a 24-hour pass for €7.50. You can buy as many as you like and they won’t expire because they only become ‘live’ when you use them for the first time. You do this by touching your pass on one of the electronic readers on the bus, tram or metro. The pass remains valid for 24 hours from that instant and you can make an unlimited number of journeys during that time. The trick is to validate your last one at such a time as to make it remain valid to take you to the station when you leave Brussels!

Palais de Justice - Justitiepaleis
Palais de Justice – Justitiepaleis

The Palais de Justice or Justitiepaleis (Law Court) was built in 1866-83. At present it is not looking its best, covered as it is in scaffolding. The renovations taking place were made necessary because at the end of the Second World War, retreating German troops had the bright idea of destroying the building by setting it alight. This caused the eye-catching cupola to collapse. Work did not start until 2003 and is still continuing. The square in which it stands, Place Poelaert, is named after the architect, Joseph Poelaert, who designed the original courthouse.

In front of the courthouse you can see the monument raised to the memory of the Belgian Infantry and their losses during the First and Second World Wars.

Monument Britannque - Brits Oorlogsmonument
Monument Britannque – Brits Oorlogsmonument

Nearby stands what is known as the Anglo-Belgian War Memorial. It was unveiled in 1923 and records the gratitude of the British to the Belgians for the help and support that they gave to British prisoners of war in the 1914-18 conflict.

Time was getting on and the light was beginning to fade (having been rather dull to start with). We went to a cafe, hoping for refreshments but the service was so slow that we left before anyone bothered to take our order. We conceived a plan to visit our favourite Brussels restaurant. We would be sure to get good service there. Wouldn’t we?

Porte de Hal
Porte de Hal

The restaurant resides in a district called Porte de Hal after the medieval fortified city gate that survives there.

Le Faucon
Le Faucon

And here it is, Le Faucon (The Falcon). We were sure to be well received and marched boldly up to the door… only to be told they had closed for the day! We made do with a nearby substitute before starting the journey back to our tiny hotel room. Thus ended our first day in Brussels.

St Catherine's Church, illuminated
St Catherine’s Church, illuminated

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.xxxxx

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Willesden Green and Kensal Rise

Saturday, March 10th 2018

The weather has continued cold with intervals of very cold, and this has proved a disincentive to wandering the streets. Today we made the effort, however, largely because Tigger had an Idea in Mind. As usual, I did not enquire what this was but waited for it to materialize. The first item on the agenda, though, as usual, was breakfast.

Inside Giraffe at King's Cross Station
Inside Giraffe at King’s Cross Station

We went first to King’s Cross Station and looked around at what was on offer. There were several choices but we eventually plumped for Giraffe on the upper level in the departures hall. Unlike most branches of Giraffe, where you are served at your table by waiters, in King’s Cross you order and pay at the counter and are given a number on a stalk to stand on your table. Waiters then bring your items to you. This is perhaps a more efficient way of serving large numbers of people, many of whom are in a hurry, having trains to catch. Through the window, you can glimpse the famous tree-like support for the roof of the departures hall.

The departures hall, King's Cross Station
The departures hall, King’s Cross Station

In the old days, both departing and arriving passengers all passed to and from the platforms in what is now the arrivals-only hall but in 2012 a splendid new departures hall was opened which attracted admiring comment for its unusual system of roof support. Instead of supporting the roof with pillars which would have obstructed movement, an overarching tree structure was created which left the area beneath it unencumbered. At certain times, the ‘trunk’ and ‘branches’ of the tree are illuminated with lights that change colours. I wrote a post on the new departures hall soon after it opened to the public – see A look at new King’s Cross.

Shops in Brondesbury Park
Shops in Brondesbury Park

After breakfast, we took a bus to Willesden Green. I used to live in Willesden Green but that was a long, long time ago. The area feels much the same as it did then and most of the buildings are the same but so much has changed that, for me, visiting it is like being in a place I have not seen before.

Turreted building dated 1893
Turreted building dated 1893

Like many London suburbs, Willesden’s main streets are lined with Victorian and Edwardian houses and shops. The sometimes garish modernized shop fronts and signs contrast oddly with the sober but elegant design of the buildings of which they are part. Not all buildings have a visible date like the one above, but where they do appear, one can often trace the development of an area by the dates that gradually change from one end to the other.

Willesden Library
Willesden Library

The original Willesden Library was built in 1894 and extended in the 1970s. That extension has been replaced by another one, using the car park for extra space. Happily, the Victorian library has been preserved.

Willesden Library, interior
Willesden Library, interior

It’s good to see a public library surviving and thriving when so many have been closed down.

Library and apartment block
Library and apartment block

Next to the library and separated from it  by a path or road is an apartment block. I think this was created jointly with the new library extension.

Apartment block with topiary cat's head

Topiary cat's head
Topiary cat’s head

In Sidmouth Road, we discovered this topiary cat’s head in front of an apartment block. It was obviously created and continues to be maintained by someone who has a talent for that kind of thing.

Corner house
Corner house

I was intrigued by this building on the corner of Sidmouth Road and Donnington Road. At first glance, I thought it was a single-occupancy dwelling and wondered whether it had once been a pub. Closer inspection, however, showed that it accommodates several apartments or maisonettes. Quite how they all fit together, I don’t know.

A row of similarly stled houses
A row of similarly stled houses

The corner block is part of a row of houses stretching along Donningtom Road that are all similarly styled. I don’t know when they were built but I would guess that they are Edwardian. (Just a guess, mind!)

Meet the neighbours
Meet the neighbours

We stopped to photograph these two cats sitting together on a garden wall. We spoke to them but neither showed any interest in responding. The tabby kept a watchful eye on us (though not evincing either interest or concern) but the black and white avoided eye contact and looked only at the tabby. When the latter moved to a new resting place, the black and white followed as though attached by invisible strings.

The Lexi Cinema
The Lexi Cinema

194B Chamberlayne Road (right next to the Constitutional Club) is, I think, an unlikely location for a cinema but there is one, the Lexi Cinema. to give it is name. I don’t know how long it has been a cinema or what the building was originally. I suspect it might have been a chapel or a church hall but can find no evidence  of its past life. Fans speak enthusiastically of the Lexi which, as well as showing films and hosting ‘events’, is also a charitable organization. devoting all of its profits to good causes. For more information, visit the Lexi’s Website.

Chamberlayne Road is quite long and seems even longer when, on a not very warm day, you are walking down it looking for something and are not sure where it is. What we were looking for was Tigger’s Idea in Mind. We found it at last and sampled its wares but I am not going to name it because it made us cross and we vowed not to go there again.

I will just say that it is a cafe bar purporting to sell food of a certain (European) ethnicity which was what had attracted Tigger to it in the first place. We ordered coffee and chips with mayonnaise (one of its ‘ethnic’ menu items). The chips were, frankly, a let-down and not at all of the quality of those that they were supposed to emulate (and with which we are quite familiar, having visited their supposed country of origin on several occasions). There were one or two other irritations that I won’t bother you with and then, to cap it all, a waitress came and in surly tones announced that our able was reserved and we must leave. Yes, just like that. We politely pointed out that there was no card indicating that the table was reserved nor had any other staff mentioned the fact to us. This cut no ice and we were summarily dismissed.

Maybe the waitress was having a bad day but even so I do not think that such rudeness is justified. Had we been approached politely and with consideration then we would have responded accordingly and might have returned on other occasions. As it is, we have been left with a bad impression of the establishment and will not return, much less recommend it to others.

The Manor School
The Manor School

Continuing along Chamberlayne Road, we came upon what is now called the Manor School. From 1870 to 1904 or so, there was a programme of school building in London and many of those schools still remain extant today, still in use as schools, albeit refurbished and extended. Such schools usually have a built-in panel showing the year of completion and the name of the London School Board, which was responsible for creating them. Manor School looks very much like one of the LSB’s productions but I could not find any identifying panel. Reading between the lines, I think it may have been built in 1904 and was then called Chamberlayne Wood Primary School, though I am open to correction (or confirmation!). It nice to see this substantial structure, with its separate doors inscribed ‘GIRLS’ and ‘BOYS’, still performing as a school 114 years after it first opened.

Caretaker's Residence
Caretaker’s Residence

At one end of the site is this little gem of a building, finished in the same style of the school and labelled on the gable as ‘CARETAKER’S RESIDENCE’. The TV aerial on the roof (impossible for the original builders to have imagined) suggests that the handsome cottage, like the school, still serves its original purpose.

A house with discreet decoration
A house with discreet decoration

A terrace of similar houses
A terrace of similar houses

Houses like these are no longer in fashion but I like them. They are solidly build and have a small amount of discreet decoration. I can forgive the ‘Tudorbethan’ woodwork on the gables! From what period do they date? I don’t know but suppose they are early 20th century, perhaps Edwardian or post Great War.

We made our way to a bus stop to start our journey home but first, there was that church on the corner…

Church of the Transfiguration
Church of the Transfiguration

Though obviously intended as a local church of modest capacity, it has a rather striking spire. These days it is known as the Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration but, designed by the Bradford architect W.G. Morley, it started life in 1899 as a Methodist Church, under what name I do nor know. Presumably the Methodists declined in numbers and could no longer keep it up. The Catholics have had it since 1977 and gave it a major refurbishment in 2010.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Views of the King’s Cross development

Sunday, February 18th 2018

We had arranged to meet a friend at King’s Cross Station. After having tea in the Yumchaa tea room at Granary Square, we spent a while wandering around the area behind the station that is being redeveloped. Some of the historic buildings – mainly Victorian warehouses for temporary storage of goods brought by train for elsewhere in the country – have been preserved and adapted but most of the structures are modern blocks of offices and apartments. Here are a few photographs of things seen on our walk.

The German Gymnasium
The German Gymnasium

Between King’s Cross Station and its close neighbour, St Pancras Station, stands a rather chateau-like building whose inscription declares it to be the German Gymnasium. Today it is a restaurant (bad luck if you were hoping to pop down for a quick work-out) but it was built in 1864-5 for the German Gymnastic Society, which had been established in London in 1861, and was our nation’s first purpose-built gymnasium. The architect was Edward A. Bruning.

Water Feature, St Pancras Square

Water Feature, St Pancras Square
Water Feature, St Pancras Square

Part of the newly developed area is a roughly triangular area called St Pancras Square, hemmed in on both sides with modern buildings. In the middle is a water feature which comprises several levels. Quite pleasant, I suppose.

Google lives here
Google lives here

Yes, Google has a pied à terre in St Pancras Square, though I don’t know what it is that they do here.

A coot on the Regent's Canal
A coot on the Regent’s Canal

Integral to the area is the Regent’s Canal that winds its way through the middle of it. In times past, goods would have been transferred from train to barge and vice versa here. Today it remains a picturesque feature with mainly pleasure craft moored along its sides. It has a population of ducks, geese, moorhens and coots, one of whom is seen above perched on a barge.

The Canal at Granary Square
The Canal at Granary Square

At Granary Square this staircase leads down to the canal. I say staircase, but it seems to be intended as both that and a place for people to sit. I don’t understand its purpose.

Another view of the Regent's Canal
Another view of the Regent’s Canal
(Spot the solar panales)

Observing these barges moored along the canal, I was amused to see that the canal-dwelling fraternity has caught up with modernity: many barges were sporting solar panels.

Ping-pong beside Waitrose
Ping-pong beside Waitrose

Though still under development, there is a vestigial shopping area here and a Waitrose supermarket has already been established. In front of it, four table tennis tables have been installed for public use. These tables, in twos and fours, are popping up all over London and seen quite popular.

Examples of buildings in tne area
Examples of buildings in tne area

When looking at modern buildings, I often find myself wondering, as with the structure of the left, whether someone actually designed it or whether they just started building and let it grow haphazardly. There seems to be no logic to its shape, as though people have come along and stacked a heap of boxes just anyhow.

Gas Holders
Gas Holders

In times past, gas holders, as people now call them, or gasometers, as they were better known in their day, were a common sight throughout the land. They were used to store ‘town gas’, a gas refined refined from coal and piped to the nation’s houses. Within the cast-iron frame, a huge drum rose and fell according to how much gas was contained within. During WWII, they made attractive targets for enemy bombers. With the changeover to ‘natural gas’, these installations have become redundant and many have been demolished.

The drum replaced by a building
The drum replaced by a building

Developers have been lusting for the land on which they stood. The King’s Cross gas holders have become quite famous with popular resistance to their demolition. Those photographed here have been ‘redeveloped’: the cast-iron frame has been kept but the drum has been replaced in each by a building.

Not like the others
Not like the others

When I first saw this gas holder frame, I thought that it has been gutted and was waiting to have a building erected inside it. However…

A gas holder garden
A gas holder garden

…closer inspection revealed that it had in fact been arranged as a garden for residents. This must surely be one of the most unusual of London’s parks.

Another coot
Another coot

Yes, another coot, this one swimming along. I like coots and they are fun to watch. Unlike ducks, geese and swans, coots have lobed, not webbed, feet. They are adept at diving and can forage and even feed under water. They are a very ancient species and go back millions of years.

A lock and lock keeper's cottage
A lock and lock keeper’s cottage

Locks are a common feature of canals but not all of them have lock keepers’ cottages like this one.

The Coal Drops

The Coal Drops
The Coal Drops

These buildings, dating from the 1850s are called the Coal Drops, though I am not sure that that was their original name. Coal, brought to King’s Cross by train, was stored here and then distributed by horse-drawn carts. As the demand for coal declined, the buildings were used for general storage and the plan now is to turn them into a trendy retail park.

The work goes on
The work goes on

Though a lot od the revelopment has been completed and is already inhabited by apartments and businesses, work still goes on and there are building sites all around.

The Regent's Canal
The Regent’s Canal

I took this last photo from the bridge over the canal at Granary Square. (On the right, you can just see the steps shown in one of the photos above.)

We made our way back to King’s Cross Station and had supper in the pub that now occupies the old parcels office. Appropriately enough, it is called the The Parcel Yard.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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