Last year Molly and I went to the Belgian capital to see our son Peter who had been working in Brussels. As a family we had been there before with our teenaged children; we had done all the usual touristy things like being photographed with Manneken Pis and visiting The Atomium, the large representation of the structure of an atom, originally constructed for the 1958 World Fair. On this occasion Peter was coming to the end of his engagement for the European Universities Federation, and would shortly be returning across the Channel to work in Bristol. It was February, so the weather was a bit wintry, although there was no snow. When we had last been there it was a summer holiday and then it had been boiling hot. In 2001 we had flown by Ryanair from Stansted Airport, and the “Brussels” airport they used had been miles away from the city, leaving us a long coach journey to Midi station where we eventually alighted. We returned there a few days later to take the train to Bruges.
This time we took the train right to the centre of Brussels from Norwich. Midi station was only a matter of metres from our hotel, so it was all very convenient. As a wheelchair bound passenger I not only merited assistance at all stations, I travelled First Class. More to the point, so did Molly as my companion. We had free coffee on the train to Liverpool Street and free dinner on Eurostar. We had only to pay for Second Class tickets though. There was no problem in getting to London, but the Underground was a little more challenging. Once we had contacted a member of staff however all was smooth enough; the young lady guided us to the lifts which we would never have found unaided, and even showed us onto the Underground train. At St Pancras we again found a member of staff and went straight to passport control.
We had assistance again getting onto Eurostar and were put in a Business Class seat. As we sped along the track eating our meal Molly said it was the first time that she had ever been so pampered on a train. We were met at Brussels Midi station by Peter. We were soon in our Ibis hotel and our large room had an en suite shower.
We had made the trip to Brussels for me to see where Peter had been working for the past year. Molly had been there on her own a few months before, so it was not so new to her. We only had the weekend, so there was plenty to do if we were to get an idea of Peter’s daily working environment. His offices were near the Belgian War Museum, and we went from there past the large and expensive looking new buildings of the European Commission. It was a bit nippy but the worst thing was the cobbles. Brussels is certainly not a wheelchair friendly city, and we saw no other disabled people struggling round the streets; I wonder how they manage? Only the slope up to the European Parliament building was perfectly smooth, and that was not enough to make up for all the kerb-stones and pot-holes elsewhere. There were armed soldiers all round Brussels on account of a recent terrorist attack by a fanatical Muslim.
We went round the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, an Art Deco church of enormous proportions that stands in a prominent position in the city. Although the main part of the building was well advanced by the time the Second World War halted further work, many of the stained glass windows are in a post-war style. The structure is of reinforced concrete, although the exterior is of brick and the interior of tiles. It is one of the five largest churches in the world.
Peter had just discovered Uber taxis, and we went everywhere by them. I was impressed by how simple the system was, and there was no agonising over payment or tips, just a flash of a credit card. We spent Saturday evening in the flat he shared with his girlfriend Alexandra. It was on the 2nd floor up some pretty steep stairs, but I managed the climb, and the more difficult descent. The young ones cooked us supper before we returned to our hotel.
Breakfast was included in our hotel fees, so Molly was keen to make the most of it. I was able to eat a hearty breakfast by increasing my morning insulin. Molly went round the Sunday market and marvelled at all the cheap fruit and vegetables on sale. She would have liked to have bought much more, but we took what we could carry, and left Peter to bring us a kilo of chestnuts when he returned home. They were grown in China, and did not taste quite as good as Spanish chestnuts!
In the afternoon we walked round the block and saw an interesting old tower. In the evening we went out to a restaurant. The weekend was over but we did not return until Monday. The train stopped to take on passengers at Calais, which it had not done on the way out. There were soldiers on the platforms on account of the Charlie Hebdo massacre which had recently occurred. The only drawback about our journey home was that the fact that the train was delayed several times, and the driver of our promised lift home from Norwich station had forgotten all about us.
Apart from those minor inconveniences it was a good trip, but I was pleased to be home again with my dog Wesley.