Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Europe Day 10 – Brussels and Paris

I woke up to the after effect of being in Europe for 10 days now. My skin was extremely dry and it has become red in places where I was tempted to scratch. Even loads of moisturizing cream don’t seem to help. We had a nice breakfast and with people high on energy after the day out yesterday, we started off on the 3 hour trip to Brussels in Belgium. We arrived in Brussels around 11.45am amidst moderate rainfall. We walked around with an umbrella to a Chinese restaurant for a quick lunch. It is almost a standard set of items that we get everywhere, with cabbage, broccoli and some greens. The Sichuan chilli was quite hot, and the Chinese vegetarian girl next to me was quite surprised by the amount of chilli I had. I boasted saying that Indians are used to lots of spice and chilli, and nothing would happen. It might probably be good to clear out my running nose, I added.

Once the food went in, I started noticing more about this new country. Belgium is a small country of a million souls sandwiched between France and Holland, and notably has a nice mix of both cultures here, although I heard there is a bit of a tension between the two groups. All the road signs, street names etc are mentioned in both French and Dutch. Looking at these, I was more at ease as I know a bit of French (Je parlez francais cava). Brussels is a pretty old city, although it houses key EU departments, and it is used for conferences. The walkways are lined with bricks while the roads are not perfect. The ambience of the streets was more like India, with puddles of water and homeless people shivering on the streets. This was the first time in Europe that I have seen such a thing, and it was quite sad on this otherwise wonderful trip. As with other small cities on this trip, Brussels contains a nice big square with cathedrals, city hall, museum and a few commercial places. The streets lining up the square contains shops, and we got some nice Belgian chocolates and truffles from one of those shops at a very competitive price.

Belgium contains a curious story of the entire Belgian army being inspired by a little boy pissing on the French occupied territory, that they fought against the French to regain their land. The little boy probably just did what he had to do, but the consequences meant that his act is the celebrated Manneken pis, with a small statue dedicated to him near the square, and lot of watery mementos lining up the shops. Brussels was quite cold, although the temperature was about 9 degrees, maybe due to the rain. We also went to the Atomium, which is a wonderful 60s structure, mimicking a giant atomic structure, which looks like a tilted cube. It was very impressive with its size, and it houses a museum and science galleries. It was used earlier for some multinational symposiums. Brussels had its own character, but nothing really stood out as great or wonderful in my opinion.

Once we were done with Brussels, we took a long 5 hour journey to Paris, the city of romance. On entering the city, the tour manager promptly took us to the Seine river cruise, which is a fantastic way to see the famous landmarks and buildings of the city that line up on the edge of this river. The Eiffel tower was in all its glory, and later I learnt that it changes its color every hour. We started on the cruise and went past countless bridges and historical buildings, including castles, forts, the unfinished Notre Dame cathedral, and host of public buildings, museums and parks. Unlike the Amsterdam cruise, this was very open and the buildings were all majestic and huge, but each one different from the other in style, era and purpose. I just got a few glimpses of Eiffel Tower today; just enough to take a few photos, but the memories will always remain. What a wonderful structure and with the splendid lighting, it appeared to be a diamond necklace tapering down from the sky. I played around with my favorite D5K camera to capture as much as I could of the different hues, trying to match the projected color of the tower and those of the skies above. I don’t know if it was the city or the atmosphere or the slight chill in the air that made us enjoy it so much, but the 1.5 hour river cruise was really one of a kind and something we will treasure forever.

We kept turning to look at the Eiffel tower as we went to the bus walking in the middle of the road, oblivious to the few buses and cars crawling behind us. It is illegal to horn in Paris from the time of Charles de Gaulle, but maybe someone did honk at him when we was walking down the river to make him so pissed as to change the rulebook  When we got onto the bus, we did see so many other couples do the same thing walking in the middle of the road holding hand in hand without a care in this world, so I guess its just the magic of this city that makes people want to fall in love all over again. As Mettalica screams, “Nothing else matters”.

We had Thai food for dinner late in the evening, in the old town past the opera house and the famous luxury Café de la paix. I heard space is an issue in this popular place, but then it was a 20 sq m shop trying to cater for 40 people in the group and it was crazy. When we reached there and squeezed in to take our seats, the waiter realized that they forgot to prepare some vegetarian food for us, so we waited for 20 mins while the others finished their dinner, and then we got our share of fried rice, some vegetables and a jasmine jelly. With half a stomach full, it was time to walk out into the Paris night again and onto the hotel. I realized the potency of the Sichuan chilli immediately after I reached the hotel and it took me 1 hour to get rid of it from my system.

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