Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cycling Europe 2017 Days 16 to 18: Maastricht to Brussels - Cycling Brussels

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Cycling Europe 2017 Days 16 to 18: Maastricht to Brussels - Cycling Brussels
United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands & Germany : Days 16 to 18 - Tuesday to Thursday,  12th to 14th September - Maastricht to Brussels
This is part of cycling tour of Western Europe, covering from Maastricht (Netherlands) to Brussels (Belgium) and around Brussels:
Day 17 Route of exploring Brussels - to the Palace of Justice:
Cycling Distance - 4.00 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 11:00am to 4:30pm
Time Taken : 5 hrs. 30 mins. (inclusive of lunch, visiting places of interest, shopping, rest, and many photo opps).

Day 18 Route of exploring Brussels - to the National Basalica:
Smart Flat Grand Place>Marolles Flea Market>Le Petit Chateau>Place Sainctelette>Basilique Nationale>Statue of Agent 15>Smart Flat Grand Place.
Cycling Distance - 12.90 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 11:30am to 4:45pm

Time Taken : 5 hrs. 15 mins. (inclusive of lunch, visiting places of interest, shopping at flea market, waiting out rain, rest, and many photo opps).

This is page 12 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D14-15 Maastricht     |    Go to Other Days       |       Go to D19-21 London >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
        On the Continental Europe, vehicles are left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. And do remember the traffic directions at road crossing. Also note that often cycling lanes run next to pedestrian lanes at town and city areas, at crossings there are separate lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, so stick to the correct land

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Due to cold weather and strong headwinds we decided to take the train from Maastricht to Brussels. The route around Brussels was fairly flat.
    For planning cycling routes in Europe, Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel trip planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.  

3. Weather
12th September 2018
   AMaastricht mid-morning temperatures was cold, averaging at 15°C and a low of 13 °C. Wind speed average 19 kph with gust of up to 31 kph.
   At Brussels afternoon temperature averaged at 18°C. with a low of 15°C; wind speed averaged at 19 kph with almost continuous gusts up to 31 kph.
13th September 2018
   At Brussels day temperature ranged from at 14°C to 19°C. Evening temperature averaged at 15°C with a low of 12°C; wind speed averaged at 19 kph with almost continuous gusts up to 31 kph.
14th September 2018
   At Brussels day temperature ranged from at 13°C to 19°C with a low of 10°C. Evening temperature averaged at 14°C with a low of 12°C; wind speed averaged at 19 kph with almost continuous gusts up to 31 kph. Their was a short drizzle around lunch time.
   It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites are BBC WeatherAccuWeather and Weather Spark.

4. Places of Interest
On Day 16:
   - The architecture of the dark-brown brick Maastricht Railway Station (GPS: 50.84972, 5.70534).
   - The streamlined structure of the Liège-Guillemins Railway Station (GPS: 50.62443, 5.56670), a transfer station enroute from Maastricht to Brussels.
   - Manneken Pis (Brussels Pissing Statue) (GPS: 50.84499, 4.34997).
   - Grand Place (Brussels Town Square) (GPS: 50.84673, 4.35241). Don't miss view this central square of Brussels at night when the buildings are spectacularly lit up.
   - De Beurs (Brussels Stock Exchange Building) (GPS: 50.84797, 4.35036). The square in front is full of revelers in the late afternoon and evening.
   - Sint-Niklaas Church (St. Nicholas Church) (GPS: 50.84785, 4.35144).
On Day 17:
   - Sint-Jan En Stefaan Ter Minimen (Church of Saint Jean and Etienne aux Minimes(GPS: 50.83916, 4.35279).
   - Ascenseur des Marolles (Marolles Lifts(GPS: 50.83799, 4.35114). These are two large capacity lifts that take passengers from the road level of Rue des Minimes thirty meters up to the Place Poelaert. Bicycles are allowed into the lifts.
   - Palais de Justice (Palace of Justice) (GPS: 50.83664, 4.3516).
   - Place Poelaert (Poelaert Square) (GPS: 50.83747, 4.35326).
   - Monument A la Gloire de l'Infanterie Belge (Belgium Infantry Monument) (GPS: 50.8379, 4.35227).
On Day 18:
   - Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Chapelle (Church of Our Lady of the Chapel) (GPS: 50.84156, 4.3511).
   - Marché aux puces des Marolles (Marlolles Flea Market) (GPS: 50.837, 4.34578).
   - Le Petit Chateau (GPS: 50.85527, 4.34445).
   - Memorial Monument To The 9th & 29th Regiments of the Line (Aux Morts Des 9E et 29E Regiments de Ligne) (GPS: 50.85647, 4.34487).
   - Place Sainctelette (Sainctelette Square)(GPS: 50.85914, 4.34567).
   - Willebroek-Kanal (Willebroek Canal) (GPS:50.85897, 4.34646 ) of the Brussels Canal system (Canal de Bruxelles).
   - Elisabeth Park (GPS: 50.86584, 4.3213).
   - Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg (National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Koekelberg(GPS: 50.86709, 4.31708).
   - Statue of Agent 15 (GPS: 50.85871, 4.34519).

5. Food
On Day 16:
   - Breakfast: Buffet at Stayokay Maastricht (GPS: 50.84353, 5.69771).
   - Lunch: Brussels Mussels at Chez Leon (GPS: 50.84818, 4.35404).
   - Dinner: Take-away pastries at apartment.
On Day 17:
   - Breakfast: Take-away pastries at apartment.   - Lunch: Burger set at Quick Burger Brussels Louise/Louisa (GPS: 50.83565, 4.35577).
   - Dinner: Self cooked salmon spaghetti and salad at apartment, ingredients bought from Marks & Spencer Brussels (GPS: 50.83631, 4.35755).
On Day 18:
   - Breakfast: Take-away pastries at apartment.
   - Lunch: Moroccan set at Cafe Dixmude Maes (New Dixmude Cafe) (GPS: 50.85710, 4.34737).
   - Dinner: Brussels mussels at Au Coin Gourmand (50.84753, 4.35297).

6. Accommodations
    We stayed three nights at the Smarflat Design Grand Place (GPS: 50.84564, 4.35032) which we had pre-booked online a small flat with two 2-pax family room and a folding bed at the living room at €144.24 per night inclusive of city tax. This was a special introductory rate as the apartments were newly refurbished.
    Address: Rue du Lombard 39, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.

7. Bringing Bikes Onto European Trains
    The European local trains allow any bicycles on board, but there may be a fare to be paid for the bicycles. To avoid this, we folded and bagged our bicycles before bringing them into the stations. Details on bringing bikes onto European trains can be obtained from the site. 
   The train fares from Maastricht to Brussels was €22-40 per pax. There is a change of trains at Liège-Guillemins Railway Station.

8. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We got pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three under the All-in-One #15 deal for only £15/= from one of their outlets in Bristol (GPS: 51.45735, -2.59074). This plan lasts for 30 days and allows for 5GB Data, 3,000 minutes of call time & 3,000 text messages within the system. More importantly it has their "Feel At Home" which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countires (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!

9. Communicating with Locals
    In Belgium, the locals speak Flemish, Dutch and French. Many can speak English fleuntlyly, so communicating with them is not a problem.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

10. Navigation
    As Bill had pre-planned the route and had loaded the GPX route file onto his Garmin GPS unit. I was the assistant navigator and had loaded the route maps onto my unit too.

11. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.


The previous two days we had cycled from Düsseldorf to Maastricht. It was a fairly long route of 113 km., that and strong headwinds zapped us but we were glad we did it as it was an accomplishment and there were nice sites along the way. We stayed in Maastricht. for two nights and had a whole day to explore the old UNESCO Heritage town.
We left the quaint old town and prepared for the next leg of our cycling tour, we will be looping back to Belgium. Ten days earlier we had zoomed pass Belgium on our way from Dunkirk (France) to Middelburg (Nettherlands), it was a long route that did not give us any time to enjoy the country. But we will make up for that and spend three "get-to-know Belgium nights" in Brussels.

10:00am - Riding out to the station on a cold, misty Maastricht morning.
We woke up to a cold, cold, misty morning in Maastricht. It may feel normal to the locals but to our tropical bodies it felt freezing cold. Also with strong head winds and rain forecasted. we decided not to brave the inclement weather and forgo cycling the 120 km. to Brussels and instead take the train.

We took the 10:49 train from the Maastricht Railway Station, it's a modern station but the old railway building with its dark brown Flemish architecture had been retained.
At Liège-Guillemins Railway Station there was a short forty minutes stop to change trains and we took the opportunity to admire the architecture of the smooth sweeping arches of the station, it's modern column free steel-glass structure contrasting but somehow blending in with the nearby old houses. Here we met and made friends with a Dutch man, and he was most happy to pose with the girls.... lucky fella!

12:58pm - We arrived at Brussels Central Station, it was too early to check in to our hotel, so why waste time... might as well take a short cycling tour of Brussels old town district, starting with the Manneken Pis. Although it was a weekday, this iconic site was busy with tourist and we patiently wait our turns to pose in front of the statue.
It depicted a naked little boy urinating into a fountain's basin and was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a copy which dates from 1965. The original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels. This statue of a little  boy is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels. It also embodies their sense of humor (called zwanze in the Brussels' dialect) and their independence of mind.

No tour of Brussels is complete without a visit to the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels. It is a large square surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city's Town Hall, and the King's House or Breadhouse which holds the Museum of the City of Brussels. It's a beautiful place which is even more beautiful at night when the old towering buildings are lit up.

We checked into the Smarflat Design Grand Place, a lovely apartment located very nearby, it will be our home for the next three night. Right at the entrance was this poster of a lady making a shushing sign with her forefinger to her lips, a gentle reminder to keep quiet as a respect to other guests. This brought back memories of our South Korea cycling tour where we stayed in Korean love motels which often had a poster of a smartly dressed concierge shushing .... but that man was shushing for a different reason; his was to lovers using the love motels for the secret liasons and meant, "You don't tell, I won't tell". Haha!

It was out again, this time to savor Brussels famous mussels at Chez Leon. Oddly most of the mussels are not Belgium as many would have thought, they are imported from Holland. We ordered three buckets (each holding about sixty mussels) of different flavours - their house-favorite with herbs, one with white wine and a last one with cream.

Judging by the empty shells and buckets, although we had more than thirty mussels each, it was not enough... fortunately the mussels set came with shrimp cocktail, the renown Belgian Fries (frites) and glasses of good white house wine. Still we will be back for more gooooood mussels on later days.
(.... read more about Chez Leon)

There are several art murals around the narrow streets of the old town, the girls loved this one of early 20th Century peasant ladies and "sat" with them for a while. This mural was done by (R)estart  Reality, an app that traces street art in some European cities.

Our final tour destination for the day was the De Beurs (Brussels Stock Exchange Building). At the front are steps leading up to the stately building, tourist will often sit here (just like the Spanish Steps in Rome) and watch street performances. While we were captivated by some talented young taking part in the street dances, Bil was walking around the place, oddly with his right hand upright all the while.... what was he up to, trying to get some sweet Belgian lady's attention? Actually he was trying out his 3-D camcorder!
We returned to our apartment, which had two 2-pax bedrooms and a fold-out sofa bed in the living hall for the five of us ... and guess who got to sleep in the living room - me the super loud snorer...

Good night....



Cycling route: Smart Flat Grand Place>Sint-Jan En Stefaan Ter Minimen>Palais de Justice>Place Poelaert>Marks & Spencer>Smart Flat Grand Place.
Cycling Distance - 4.00 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 11:00am to 4:30pm
Time Taken : 5 hrs. 30 mins. (inclusive of lunch, visiting places of interest, shopping, rest, and many photo opps).
The short route to explore the southern section of Brussels town with a surprise of a huge outdoor Ascenseur des Marolles (Marolles Lifts) for pedestrians and bicycles.

Our target destination for today was the Atomium, it's a huge sculpture consisting of  nine 18 m (60 ft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected, so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. This modern sculpture-building was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (Expo 58). We had some trouble locating it on our GPS units and so switched to Google maps for directions (set to cycling option), now the odd thing is the directions given had us heading south while the Atomium was actually located north. We just put it as Google Map's way of avoiding highways and heavy traffic and followed the directions given by the app, hoping to see some interesting things along the way.
The first of which was this old church with an bell tower on one side instead of at the middle. This is the Sint-Jan En Stefaan Ter Minimen (Church of Saint Jean and Etienne aux Minimes), a church built by the Order of the the order of the Minimes.

From afar we could see the golden dome of the Palais de Justice (Palace of Justice), and used it as a beacon to head in that direction. As we neared the place a pleasant surprised awaited us: the large lifts of the Ascenseur des Marolles (Marolles Lifts). This were large outdoor lifts that that transported passengers thirty metres up from the Rue des Minimes level up to the where the Palais de Justice is, otherwise it would be a hard climb up steep roads.

Bicycles are allowed into the lift too! And at the top just cycle across an elevated platform to where the Palais de Justice and other attractions are.

A bonus a the top, a fantastic panoramic view of Brussels.

That's us, further on at Place Poelaert (Poelaert Square), in front of the Monument A la Gloire de l'Infanterie Belge (Belgium Infantry Monument).

At noon time hunt for lunch found us at Rue de Jourdan where there were rows of eateries, but then it was an upmarket place beyond our budget and we humbly made a U-turn out. We settled for burgers at Quick Burger Brussels Louise/Louisaa more affordable place round the corner. One thing we learnt is that at busy commercial areas, establishments like these charge for use of their toilets, irrespective of whether one is their patron or not.
Since we were staying in a nice apartment which came with an equipped kitchen, we had planned from the onset to cook ourselves a good meal there. From the nearby Marks & Spencer Brussels we bought the ingredients for our dinner later on.

Google seemed to have difficulty to plot a route after that, so we might as well return to our apartment and start cooking. Our return trip were down gentle slopes wending through streets with quaint old houses.

Siah, squinting her eyes while slicing up sausages; here eyes were still teary after having cut loads of onions for the spaghetti that we were cooking.

Our happy meal, it was a multinational one of Italian pasta, cooked with English sausages while drinking Belgian beer!


Cycling route: Smart Flat Grand Place>Marolles Flea Market>Le Petit Chateau>Place Sainctelette>Basilique Nationale>Statue of Agent 15>Smart Flat Grand Place.
Cycling Distance - 12.90 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 11:30am to 4:45pm
Time Taken : 5 hrs. 15 mins. (inclusive of lunch, visiting places of interest, shopping at flea market, waiting out rain, rest, and many photo opps).
This is a short route to explore the northern outskirts of Brussels and go visit the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg (National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Koekelberg). En-route it passes by a flea market and the renown Brussels Canal (Canal de Bruxelles).

The previous evening we while checking on where else to visit in Brussels, a beautiful church on the northern outskirts had caught our eyes and we will be heading there.
But first the girls wanted to visit the Marché aux puces des Marolles (Marlolles Flea Market).

"The market is composed of dealers selling pieces strewn out on blankets and sheets or off the back of their trucks and cars. There are also stands crammed with objects, from antique porcelain and pictures to 19th-century crossbows and tiny tin objects made from the 20th century, parchment, fabric, vintage clothes, etc. Most of these stands offer a variety of different objects, but here and there you can find sellers dedicated to only one specific kind of treasure. For music and book lovers, there are boxes full of old vinyl records and rare books, so dig in – you may find some good old stuff. While you are passing through the aisles of antiquarians, pay close attention, as each object could hide an interesting story."

For me, an avid scale model maker, these collection of World War 2 planes caught my eyes. Siah got some brass lamps to add to her collection.

En route we passed by the Le Petit Chateau. "It stands out with its unique, very military style. There is no mystery about this: for a long time Le Petit Chateau was a barracks, housing soldiers right in the centre of Brussels. The Neo-Tudor building was constructed to plans by Mathieu Bernard, a Captain of the Engineers, in the mid-19th century. After hosting the Carabineers and the Fusiliers of the 9th Regiment of the Line, the chateau was turned into a prison for wartime collaborators. It also remains etched in the memory of many former Belgian soldiers, as it later became the Army’s recruiting and selection center. In 1986 it was converted into a reception center for asylum-seekers."
The asylum is operated by Fedasil, the Federal Agency for Asylum Seekers.

Although it was a rainy day with intermittent drizzle, Lady Luck was with us. We were looking for some cheap bistro to get some pastry lunch and found one at Damejeanne. Fortunately it was closed..... er.... I don't mean the food was not good but it being closed led us to finding the Cafe Dixmude Maes (New Dixmude Cafe) restaurant just a few doors away. This was a Moroccan restaurant, a small cozy place where the staff and local patrons slowly warmed up to us.
We ordered their daily sets at that came with good Moroccan coffee at a good deal of  €7.50 each. Their food was really home-style cooking, the mother of the lady operator was the chef, coming out with this delicious Lamb Couscous, with a big chunk of tender lamb and lots of vegetables covering the couscous.

The Chicken Tajine was also wonderful; tajine dishes are savory stews slowly cooked in an earthenware pot. They are typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include gingercuminturmericcinnamon, and saffron. This one lovingly made by the mother was beyond expectations, with the tender meat having soaked in the flavors of the spices.

The locals were easy to warm up to us, and the girls gave one of the man a big hug.... big because he was a huge man, and another lucky man too!

We were lucky too, as the man was most happy to treat us to a round of Moroccan Maghrebi mint tea, something that would definitely keep us warm in heart and spirit on this rainy day.
(.... read more of our Moroccan meal)

A quick stop at the to Willebroek-Kanal admire some nice carved columns at the bridge there...

... and also the nice murals on the walls of the canal below.

The route led us through the well landscaped Elisabeth Park fronting the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg. With cycling paths there it made the park all the more enjoyable.

Yippeeee at the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg ..... Meng shouted with a joyful jump. This church had attracted us with it's blend of eastern and western architecture, something which we found unique in this Belgium. Instead of tall steeples, it had two tall minarets capped with small domes.

Side view of the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg.
"The church was dedicated to the Sacred Heart, inspired by the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris. King Leopold II laid the first stone of the basilica in 1905 during the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence. The construction was halted by the two World Wars and finished only in 1969."

The church sits on Koekelberg Hill and from there is a great view of the boulevard below.
(... read more of our visit to the Basilica)

Our returned route back-tracked to Willebroek-Kanal, but this time on the other side of the road where this comical statues caught our eyes. It is the Statue of Agent 15; the famous Agent 15 from Hergé’s Quick and Flupke series by Hergé, he had his foot grabbed by a vaartkapoen or ‘canal urchin’ emerging from a man-hole cover. This light-hearted statue is the work of Brussels sculptor Tom Frantzen, and was installed in 1994.
We added to the comic atmosphere by adding Bil's Brompton bicycle to the artwork.

We had been blessed with good weather the past few weeks, however these few days it had been drizzling. The good thing is that the rain here is not like the torrential monsoon rains back home and one can still safely cycle around in the rain.

In the evening after a round of warm showers, it was out for more mussels at Au Coin Gourmand. Their mussels were not as good as that from Chez Leon; but they did have very good escargot served with pesto sauce.

Did I mention that the Grand Place should not be missed at night? The views of the tall building lit up on a dark night were almost magical!

Enchanting views, yah?

bonne nuit!
(that's "Good Night" in Dutch)

(For more photos of the Day 16, Click Here)
(For more photos of the Day 17, Click Here)
(For more photos of the Day 18, Click Here)
This is page 12 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D14-15 Maastricht     |    Go to Other Days      |       Go to D19-21 London > 

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