A few quick impressions
I spent a couple of days in Brussels, in part to meet with a work contact related to heat pump technology (separate post – they’re piling up!). I traded in my backpack for a suitcase and it’s much easier to mount on my bike. The bike is working flawlessly so far, and it’s a great feeling to step onto it and have my radius of easily accessible places instantly open up to several km.
My accoms were not in the touristy centre, but in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood (wikipedia says they are 25% of the pop. in Brussels). I went for a short walk my first night in search of a convenience store but everything was totally shuttered and the streets deserted. The next day it transforned into a surprising diversity of bustling shops and bakeries.
As I said, I’m not too into museums and cathedrals, etc. but I did enjoy riding to the Grand Place and then up the canal to some gradiose church (another pile of rocks!) that was constructed in honour of some queen or other. The egos! Although I’m not religious I feel a lot more affinity to small country churches and the shrines of Japan. Anyway I’m more interested in street life than monuments. But, it made for useful landmark and destination for my ride.
I admit, the compactness of the urban form here makes me feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s a solid mass of 3 to 4 storey apartments immediately avutting the street, and not much in the way of trees and greenspace, at least not in the small part of the city that I saw.
As for bike-ability, if Amsterdam gets an A+, I’d give Brussels perhaps a C+. In their favour, tere are some separated bike paths along the wider major roads. And they do allow bikes a lot of access — to ride both ways along streets that are one-way for cars, and to lanes that are shared with buses and taxis. And because the streets are so narrow, the cars move slowly and are often backed up, so you can squeeze by them. But in contrast to Holland, where people of all ages cycled with an obviously relaxed and laid back manner, casually chatting, here I didn’t see any kids, and fewer women, and the men seemed more grimly focused.
As I write, I’m on the TGV (fast) train heading to Lyon, and then – if the travel gods are smiling – on to Montpellier in the south. I don’t have any immediate work objectives so I hope to try to line up some leads in Spain and catch up on some writing while in Montpellier.