European Tour, My Own Way #2: Brussels, Vienna – Belgium and Austria
On May 1, I took a train from London to Luton which takes about an hour. I am flying Easyjet from Luton to Amsterdam. When I landed in Amsterdam, I actually landed at the Schipol Airport and I thought you had to go the the Central Station of Amsterdam to catch any and all trains. Kind of true. I go to the Central Station get on a train to Brussels only to go back to Schipol Airport and continuing on. So, check the schedules at the station before you go on thinking you know what you are doing.
I arrived in Brussels a few hours later and I consider this as the beginning of my trip because now I am really in Europe. It took me a bit of time to figure out how to get to the hostel I was staying at. One should prepare themselves to be eternally lost when one walks in Brussels (or drive for that matter – not recommended as there are little rules). When I ended up walking along a strip joint lined street I figured I was in the wrong area.
So I called the hostel, told them where I was, and they were just around the corner. I stayed at the Sleepwell hostel which was very modern, clean, and fairly cheap. They provided breakfast which comprised of cornflakes, bread with a spread, and coffee (or tea). This was the same breakfast I had in London but it was free! After I made it to the hostel, I just went to my room intending to go to bed. Instead I ended up conversing with a women who spoke no English (I know no French) but we did know a little bit of Spanish. That was a very unique yet gratifying experience. I had pictures of my family which was a great way to start a conversation.
My plan for my first day in Brussels was to find the Meneinken Pis and then take the train to Brugge. I bought a guide book at the hostel had which cost 35 bf and was really helpful. Now, the statue was only 10 minutes away from where I was staying but Brussels has got to be the mostly insanely laid out city I have ever been in. Every time I thought I was close to the statue I was further away. About three hours later I did find the Meneinken Pis and was sorely disappointed that he’s only about 200 cm tall.
I then made my way to the famous Grand Place which was architecturally interesting. I had fun getting lost for three hours so I ending up treating myself to a decent lunch after spending several days eating bread. I ate at a little cafe near the Meneinken Pis and had something like 30 mussels, beer, ice cream, coke, and ice cream for 940 Be Fr. So I went overboard, I was starving! I went back to the hostel chatted a bit with my roommates and went to a little Greek restaurant call El Grec. The people there were friendly and spoke no English but the food was really good.
On my second day I learned an important lesson in the end. If I don’t think I’m going to make, I probably not going to. I should have taken up the offer from the French woman, whose name was Monique, to go on a tour of Brussels. Instead I decided I would go to mini-Europe, see the Atomium, visit the Greenhouse, and go to Amsterdam to see the Van Gogh Museum.
Mini-Europe was pretty cool and it was basically mini-Europe. It was just a little amusement park type of deal where there were fairly large models of some of the well known buildings throughout Europe. The Atomium was nearby and it is about 300m tall and in the shape of a molecule with a ball and stick type of structure. You could go up inside the balls and get a great panoramic view of the city…except the day I went when it was very foggy. It cost me 590 bf to see both.
To get there I did use the metro and bought a day travel card that cost 140 bf.
I didn’t know where the Greenhouse was until I went back to the hostel and by then it was around 12 pm and I wanted to see the Van Gogh Museum. This is when I learned my lesson.
The Greenhouse is supposed to be this beautiful and huge greenhouse in Brussels and is only open to the public one week of the year and I was there during that week. I did take a train to Amsterdam only to get there too late. I realized then that I shouldn’t have forced myself to do that because it’s not like the Van Gogh is open only one week of the year and fall off the face of the earth. I had a rare opportunity to see the Greenhouse and passed it up which was quite frankly foolish especially now that I know I probably won’t be going back to Belgium. I had to tell myself, we live and we learn and life goes on, eh?
I then waited about three hours to catch an overnight train to Vienna. By the way, the two nights that I stayed at Sleepwell cost me 945 bf.
I arrived in Vienna on May 4 and stayed until May 6. I stayed at the Hostel Ruthensteiner which was very close to the train station. It was a very nice hostel closer to what you would think of a hostel in that it was simple and pretty. I must say I was not enamoured by Vienna because I am from the city and to me it was just another city. By the time I got here, I had my share of cathedrals thanks to the three hour self tour I took in Brussels.
I bought a three day travel pass for 210 AS even though I was only going to be there for 2 full days. This card is good for discounts to some sites as well as cafes and maps! For the first day I mainly got lost and I am highly inadequate at reading maps. The public transportation in Vienna is as impressive as that in London so it was very easy to get anywhere if you knew where and what you were doing.
After taking many pictures and being lost I wanted to find the famous Cafe Central where the likes of Freud drank their coffee at. I hooked up with a couple of girls from Germany and we found the cafe together. I had a good time chatting with them about where they live and what they have seen in Vienna. I went back to the hostel and had my usual yogurt and banana deal.
The second day I went to the Stephensdom and took a lift to the top of the South Tower for 40 AS. This was worth it because you do get a great view of the city. I tried to find Sigmund Freud’s house but ended up taking a a nap at Sigmund Freud’s park for couple of hours. I went to the Kunsthistorishes Museum (say that ten times) which had some beautiful artwork. Be sure to look around inside the museums because you’ll be surprised of the architectural beauty of these places. I then went to an amusement park on the other side of the river and rode a 100 year old Ferris wheel much like the London Eye but a little smaller. The hostel cost me 140 AS/per night.
By the way, do buy the Hostels of Europe card because you can get more discounts than you do with the HI card. I could have had a 10% discount at Sleepwell but I forgot however I did remember at this hostel which got me a 5% discount. I again had my bread and jam and went to bed. Next stop, Salzburg!