Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapted, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer thatn that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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September 1st 2016 – New Zealand Day 12

Today I woke up at 4:45am. I didn’t sleep good and kept tossing and turning. I ended up reading for a few hours before making breakfast, and then heading to the Southward car museum, only a few kilometres away. The museum was absolutely outstanding, with over 250 cars and motorcycles dating back to 1895! The facility was immaculate, the cars were immaculate, and attention was made to every little detail. There was also a rather large collection of oil antique containers, signage, model cars, etc. The Southward Car Museum was opened in December 1979 by Sir Len Southward when he realized his collection was becoming too large and needed a place to store it. 

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After spending over three hours at the museum I drove to the town of Foxton, where I walked up and down the Main Street. I came across a gravel parking lot down a short narrow lane with a bunch of old trolley buses from the 1940’s, as well as a pretty rustic building with more inside. I didn’t want to snoop around as it looked deserted and not well maintained, and I didn’t want to impose on private property, even though it wasn’t marked accordingly. It turns out that the owner and his wife unfortunately passed away a few years ago and the place has been left to fall apart, unless someone takes it over. I certainly hope so because the place and the buses have a lot of character.

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I was getting hungry so I made myself a sandwich for lunch before driving onward towards Whanganui, which was a really cool little city. I visited Durie Hill Elevator, which is New Zealand’s only public elevator. It connects Anzac Parade, beside the Whanganui River, with the suburb of Durie Hill through a 205 metre long 3 metre high tunnel. The construction of the elevator started in 1916, and was completed in 1919. The elevator, which is 66 metres tall, also has a flat-topped tower encasing the elevator machinery, and it even has a wrought iron staircase on the outside so you can go on the top to see a view of the city. I paid $4 to do a return trip on the elevator. It was well worth it! The current operator, Zena Mabbot, has been operating it since 1971! She was a very friendly!

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After riding the elevator and taking some photos of the tunnel I walked next door to the war memorial, and walked up to the top. The walk took about six minutes and was well worth it. The views from the top were incredible! There was also many locks that were secured to the top of the structure. Over to the north I saw a water tower, which I wanted to go view next. 

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After driving over to the water tower I was confronted with a disappointing gate leading to the top. The trip to the top wasn’t going to happen, but instead I took a couple of nice photos.

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It was time to find somewhere to stay the night. I had lots of selections, but most had unfavourable reviews, so I settled on the best one, which was in an aquatic centre parking lot next to the highway. 

I actually got an overall good sleep, except for an 7.1 magnitude earthquake at 4:37am, but more on that tomorrow!

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August 5th 2016 – Blue Mountains, Sydney, and Koop Kooper

I started out today by heading to the Blue Mountains. I left my hotel at 3:30am and walked fourty minutes to Central Station, because the other stations don’t open until around 4:00am. It was raining lightly on my walk to the train station so I didn’t wear a rain jacket. I did have a slip and fall on the way because of the markers that are placed at crosswalks for blind people. I scraped a few knuckles on my right hand but rinsed it off with water and some toilet paper, which I had handy in my backpack. I made it to Central Station with ten minutes to spare and boarded the 4:20am train to Katoomba.
The Train ride to Katoomba, where the Blue Mountains are, took about two hours. The train was comfortable, smooth, fairly quick, and even had a plum interior to boot! When I arrived in Katoomba I noticed that the temperature was way cooler, around 2 degrees Celsius. I put on my rain jacket, as that is all I brought with me, and headed up the stairs of Katoomba station. There was a cute little coffee kiosk there, where I grabbed a Tall black coffee. I was talking with the Barista a bit, and she was saying that this was unusual weather for this time of the season.
I walked about half an hour from Katoomba station to Echo Point, a lookout from which you can see The Three Sisters and miles upon miles of beautiful dense rainforest. I was the only person there since it was barely 7:00am. I even caught the last few minutes of sunrise! When I was leaving Echo Point to walk towards a scenic lookout of Katoomba Falls. The view was spectacular. There was a 3000 step decent towards the bottom of the falls, but due to it raining so much and my slip and fall earlier I opted out.
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I then walked to Scenic World, which was not open for the day yet, and took some photos. They have one the worlds steepest Cable Way down to the bottom, the world’s steepest train (you can even adjust your seating position to lay flat if the angle is too much for you), and a very tall 360 degree glass Cable Car that spans across Katoomba Falls.
After taking photos at Scenic World I headed back towards the train station, but stopped at Aldi’s (one of Australia’s grocery chains) for a banana and Subway for a ham sub. I boarded the 9:10 am train back towards Sydney. The train arrived in Sydney at 11:20 am, and I then boarded the T4 line towards Kings Cross, where I walked back to my hotel. I downloaded my photo’s, relaxed for a bit, and talked with my friend Barry about a very old mall in Sydney called the Queen Victoria Building. I Naturally I had to go see it, so I packed up my gear and started walking towards it, while getting very distracted by other architecture along the way. I came across another old mall called The Strand, which was built in 1891. In a way I preferred The Strand over the Queen Victoria Building, because I felt it had more character.
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After visiting both buildings I walked towards Darling Habour, where I walked around for a bit, as well as got told off by an official for being too close to the water (even though I was definitely more than a meter away…). The sun was going to set soon, so I walked quickly to Sydney Harbour area so I could catch the sunset. I took some photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge while the sun was setting, as well as after the sun had set. This city has quite the impressive night life and really seems to come to life when the sun goes down.
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After taking in all the beauty of the Harbour I had to head back to my hotel room so that I could get ready to meet a gentleman named Koop Kooper. I’ve been listening to his Podcast called the Cocktail Nation for the past four or five years (I actually need to look back and see how long it’s been, but that’s a rough guess). I was always fascinated by his Podcast and the work that he does, so when I knew I was heading to Australia about a month ago I reached out to him and told him I was coming. He said that was great and that we should meet up for coffee. I was thrilled so I said yes.
I head down to my hotel lobby at around 7:50pm to wait for Koop. I got talking with an older lady from Melbourne, who was dressed up very nicely in furs, and jewelry. She came right up to me and just started talking with me, telling me about her younger years, air travel, living in the states, and what she used to do for work. This goes hand in hand with the era Koop and I like, which is the mid 20th century, so of course I was quite fascinated with the conversation.
Koop showed up so I had to say bye to the elderly lady. Koop was dressed in his vintage wear and had his hair slicked back, living the mid 20th century lifestyle like he does every day. We went in search of a coffee shop, which was actually rather difficult to find. The area my hotel is located in is more of a party area, with a darker past. Koop was telling me that this area is way nicer than it used to be, and was more of a red light district back in its days. Eventually we found a place that served coffee called Pie Face. I ordered a tall back coffee, and Koop ordered a tall latte. We continued walking through the area, talked about a variety of subjects such as his career, politics, and cars. His career is fascinating; progressing from tennis to eventually radio. He started out at a small radio station in western Australia, working his way up to voice overs all over Australia, as well as his Podcast. He has travelled the world and experienced such a variety of different experiences. He’s owned quite a few beautiful vintage cars in his years as well, my favorite being his 1965 Chrysler Valiant Signet. Classic Cars sometimes have a few quirks, such as the Chrysler, which ended up needing two engine rebuilds in less than a two year period. We spent about an hour together, before Koop had to go, and I was ready for bed, so we said bye. Koop gave me a signed book that he wrote called Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation: The Interviews 2. I’m going to read this book when I get some downtime on my trip. We didn’t end up taking a photo together unfortunately, but here’s a picture of Koop in his typical attire.
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If you like Jazz and Lounge Exotica music, then I highly recommend the Cocktail Nation Podcast. You can visit Koop’s website at https://cocktailnation.net/.
It was around 10:00pm when my eyes could not stay open any longer, so I went to bed. Tomorrow I’ll be travelling to Melbourne. Check back tomorrow for my latest blog!
If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.