Saturday, August 28, 2004

Antwerp, Belgium—Brussels, Belgium—Day 210

After getting a taxi to the train station (coincidentally the same driver who took me to the train station yesterday! He asked me how I liked the zoo) and another train ride to Antwerp, and I was back at the zoo.

Well, first I had to store my luggage at the train station which meant finding the train station luggage storage area (following the signs that led me in circles until I found it) and then figuring out how the dang things worked. IT would have been easy if someone had written on it “exact change only” but I kept popping in coin after coin (after a few had gone in at first) and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it wouldn’t take my last coin. Then I saw the light and soon my luggage was safely stored while I went next door to the zoo.

Again, I bought a ticket and headed to the hippos and Hippotopia! I found Hermein to be inside while Heini was swimming away outside in the huge pond that they had. So I went outside and luckily caught Heini in the act of getting out of the water, walking up to the entrance to the indoor enclosure where Hermien was, and then turning around and getting back into the water. Perfect.

Hermein was another challenge. She was inside and it seemed like she was going to be in there all day long. So I took a few pictures of her the rare times she would pop her head out of the water for more than like three seconds. There was an older woman standing next to me the whole time and she was saying things to me in French that I just couldn’t understand. Maybe she was another hippo aficionado?

So I decided that I would just have to come back tomorrow. From the looks of it (and based on what I saw yesterday) I was pretty sure that they rotated the hippos—one inside on one day, then outside the next—so coming back in the morning seemed like the best bet.

So I had lunch at the zoo before getting on the train again and this time heading to Brussels, where I spend a good four days using Brussels as a “base” for me to go to all of the other zoos in Belgium since they’re all pretty much about an hour and a half in different directions from Brussels.

When I arrived in Brussels I had to wander around a bit to find a bank to actually get money for my taxi, and then finally I found a Citibank around the other side of the train station (of course). I got some cash and a taxi and was soon at my hotel. I checked in, got a metro map, and headed out to explore Brussels.

Brussels is a beautiful place, if not supremely touristy in the main city center area. I took the metro to the Parc de Bruxelles which is a nice big park near the National Palace. Walking through the park I discovered an “Invisible Concert” going on (that really was the name for it) which was basically a man conducting a synthesized recording of a symphony under what looked like mosquito netting. How amusing! I sat down (along with several other people) and watched for a while before head onwards.

I toured the National Palace where the King and Queen actually live (they are on vacation now so they open up their “house” to the public) and if you are ever in Brussels, you have to go. Not only because there are more chandeliers in there than I have ever seen, but there is the most bizarre thing that I have ever seen in a Palace or Castle or anything really, and it was only recently added in 2002. Apparently an artist decided that a certain room needed a little pizzazz so he decided to put thousands upon thousands of green june bug shells all over a chandelier and on the ceiling. It was sooooooooo strange because it didn’t match anything in the room at all. Everyone who walked in would just stop and stare up at the ceiling in disbelief. And the chandelier! It was ridiculous! Looked like someone had poured a green mess all over the chandelier which, based on the other two matching ones (yet remained clear of the green bug covering), used to be quite pretty.

After visiting the palace I then walked along down to the Grand Place which is a huge square which is very beautiful but very touristy. You couldn’t walk anywhere without the fear that you were blocking someone’s camera or cutting off a tour group. I managed to weave my way around people the best that I could. In the center, this huge sort of beer garden has been set up with all sorts of booths to test of different Belgian beers. So I had a drink of this cherry flavored beer which was quite interesting.

I then walked around for a bit and happened upon the famous Mannekin Pis (a statue of a boy who is urinating continuously). The statue itself is actually very small but based on the number of tourists lining up to take pictures of him, it was like he was a celebrity. The funny thing is is that he has all sorts of little costumes that have been made for him so they change his clothes regularly, and of course all of them have little holes for his you-know-what that is still you-know-whatting. It was pretty funny and I had to be the tourist and take a picture.

I then walked around some more and decided to go back to the hotel for a little bit (the beer was getting to me—I’m pathetic!) and then went back out on the town for dinner a little while later. I didn’t make it far—only to a restaurant down the street from my hotel. I did a great job of spilling my drink on the floor next to me and ordered something that turned out to be some sort of cat-food looking entrée (it was salmon but it definitely looked like cat food). I didn’t know what or how to eat this, so I had to pick apart chunks of salmon and put them on my bread. It was thoroughly disgusting, but I wouldn’t blame it on the restaurant or the food here. I’ll blame it on my inability to read French menus.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.