10 April 2014

New Festival Music, Huge Waffles and Finding Snowy...

Feeling accomplished by reaching the “visit six countries in 12 months” quota. Here’s saying goodbye to Netherlands and hello to Belgium via Eurolines bus.

Catching a bus from Amsterdam to Brussels – an easy and cheap option. Whisking past windmills the trip seemed faster when reading DK Eyewitness Top 10 Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp & Ghent. Turns out in this edition the Brussels top ten list is a top five.

Break out story of this trip was as annoying at the time and then funny the rest of the trip. Plan was to meet a friend arriving from London, at Central Station by 11:30 am, before travelling to Hasselt the closest town to the festival site. Except our wonderful friend realised the train left London at 11:30 am! Us two girls booked an early bus based on the original information and was left wasting two hours using free Wi-Fi in a café overlooking the station until the rest of the group arrived. However, it got worse. By 2:00 pm knowing our friend’s train arrived and yet he still wasn't at our station. An hour had gone by and taking turns looking outside and around the station – we were concerned. Finally, once he found free Wi-Fi, contacted us to say he, er, our friend, was at Midi Station and can get a train from there. This wasn't the plan! Throwing us through a loop, we gathered our things and went to the platform to board the next train. Guess who arrived at Hasselt first? You’re right, we did! Another half an hour wait later and from that point on our friend was suitably nicknamed “useless” the entire festival.

Pukkelpop is one of the biggest alternative music festivals in Belgium. Also the sole reason for this trip and we were finally ready for the action. The major players head lining the three day festival were Eminem, Nine Inch Nails, Fall Out Boy, Kendrick Lamar, The Prodigy, and Franz Ferdinand. I missed a lot of the electronic and DJ sets I wanted to see, but made up for it by seeing (and loving) new acts. Best part of a festival is wondering around and checking out acts you've never heard of. The best new additions to my musical life was Haim, Imagine Dragons, Chvrches, Foals, Crystal Castles, and Knife Party.

Here is the breakdown:

B is for Belgium music festivals. Pukklepop was until last year unknown to myself. One tick off the European summer music festival list. New Zealand festivals with around 10,000 music fans did little to prepare my friends and I for the chaos of a festival, for the first time, reaching an attendance peak of 115,000 music fans. The whole experience at Pukklepop was an extravaganza. We enjoyed time out at the camp-site, and coinciding with a group of Aussies next door, and took a trip to the supermarket and shops in the nearest village after finding out there was a Subway, it had to be done. Lots of memories of drinking (water included as it was SO hot), dancing, squished sleeping, walking, standing in pouring rain for over an hour, squished mosh pit, and the highlight for us all was seeing EMINEM!

R is for Rest. Three nights camping we all felt SO, SO, good back in a hotel. Staying in the Thon Hotel at the north end of the city centre pentagon. Showered and refreshed we went for a stroll around the centre to find a flower show in Grote Market. Leaving phone in hotel to charge I missed the pretty photo opportunity. The rest of the group wanted to find Laundromat and receiving a map and directions from the hotel desk clerk the mission faired impossible. The desk clerk gave us complicated and unclear instructions to no avail. A different front desk clerk even gave us directions to the wrong airport. Unaware Brussels had two airports and because the correct airport name unmentioned this clerk assumed wrong and should have asked.

U is for Unbelievably tiny bronze statue. Mannekin-Pis, a bronze statue of a boy peeing a jet of water, close to Grote Market is one of those monuments that has become so famous to visit, but who knows why. The statue is also much, much, smaller than I thought. I saw a chocolate sculpture that was bigger!

S is for Smurf museum. Centre Belge dela Bande aka Comic Strip museum was a top ten I had time to visit in the morning while waiting for the right time to head to Eurostar train. People forget Smurfs are were first created and introduced as a series of comic characters by the Belgian comics artist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford) in 1958. The word “Smurf” is the original Dutch translation of the French "Schtroumpf", which, according to Peyo, is a word invented. I grew up watching this one Smurfs movie dubbed over using the American English.

S is for Streets. Grand Place is the historic centrepiece of Brussels. Grote Market or square is surrounded by curvy, and cobblestoned streets and reconstructed guild-houses. Two and a half days is plenty of time to explore the city you can walk from one side of town to the other in half an hour. On our walking tour we ticked off a first church happened upon St. Michael Cathedral. The honey-coloured Gothic church dates back to the 12th century. My quick run through of churches, is looking at impressive stained glass windows and that’s about it. I took off outside and sat on the steps admiring the view and the perfect amount of peace and quiet.

E is for Excellent Waffles. As they should be! It became evident in Brussels that a) chocolate shops on every corner and b) waffle vendors everywhere else. After hanging out with Mannekin-Pis – hey presto a waffle window shop! What’s not to like? Strawberries – good, cream – good, chocolate sauce – good, and all on top of warm, fresh waffles – goooooood!

L is for Large Atomium. The modern architecture among old-fashioned Brussels to some would be an eye sore. To everyone else it’s a symbol of new meeting the old. Atomium is 165 million times larger than a real atom, silver, and was a pit stop on my favourite travel show The Amazing Race. For that reason alone was why I needed to stand in front and take tourist photos. Side note - If you don’t have time to see the whole of Europe then visit Mini-Europe Park, and right next door! Little time and money to visit the park, we skipped the attraction. Tempted to go on a second visit.

S is for Snowy, poor Snowy. Around Brussels is a 3-mile series of 30 murals based on comics and the famous The Adventures of Tintin, like Smurfs, created by a Belgian Herge (pen name of Georges Remi) in 1929. One mural featured in The Amazing Race when the contestants dressed as characters searched for an actor dressed as Tintin. I found that mural and was too excited for my friends liking! Tintin shop in Grand Place is where poor Snowy’s story begins. Leaving with Snowy in shop bag we walked the streets up the hill to Palais de Bruxelles and through Parc Royal. Toilet break later, we walked half an hour walk away, tired, carrying shopping, and almost at the Hotel I realised the important Tintin Shop bag was missing! I placed the bag down on the shelf behind the toilet, I left the others to head back to the park. Luckily the woman running the refreshment shop and public toilets found the bag and as I began to explain she reached under the till handing over Snowy! “I wondered when you’d return” she said. Super happy I got him back!

To finish this chapter, here I am with the delicious excellent proof: