Thursday doors #38

Here’s Part III of a  large selection of doors and doorways from my early July trip to the Belgian capital, Brussels.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Thursday doors #37

Here’s Part II of a large selection of doors and doorways from my July trip to Brussels.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Thursday doors #36

You may recall that I visited Brussels in July which proved to be a fertile hunting ground for old and interesting doors. I took soooooooooooo many photos that I’m going to feature them over the next few weeks.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Postcard from Brussels

Aside from watching Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France 2019, my beloved and I re-aquainted ourselves with the architectural splendours of Brussels, and some of its fine dining establishments. Our hotel was centrally located, next to the Town Hall and behind Le Grand Place, perfect for pottering around the city’s largely pedestrianised cobbled lanes. Knowing the traffic would be hellish due to Tour road closures, we took the train from the airport to the main station and walked the half a kilometre or so to our hotel which was an oasis of air-conditioned calm – sheer bliss.

Not to be left out, the hotel had embraced the spirit of the Tour with a couple of Merckx bikes, one in the restaurant and one in the bar which also had a signed photo of Eddy on its walls. This was aside from all its references to The Adventures of Tintin, a series of 24 comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name Hergé. My beloved and I fondly remember the tales of Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, the Thompson Twins (called the Dupont Twins in French). 

Aside from it being 50 years since Merckx won his first of five Tours, 100 years since the introduction of the yellow race leader’s jersey, it was also the 90th anniversary of Tintin’s debut, 50 years since the moon landing and 10 years since the opening of the Hergé Museum. That’s one hell of a lot of celebratory cakes or, as we’re in Brussels, celebratory chocolate! Fortunately it was too hot all weekend to be tempted by any of the wonderful chocolate shops, not even those of Pierre Marcolini.

Having arrived later than anticipated we unpacked and headed out to find a place for dinner. We didn’t have to stray too far before we found one that fitted the bill: traditional Belgian fare, long-established family business and the obligatory white linen tablecloths. We were not disappointed. My beloved indulged in mussels and chips (with mayo) – well we were in Brussels – and they were delicious! I may have had one or two…….just to substantiate his claims.

It was evident from the languages being spoken that many cycling enthusiasts the world over were in Belgium for the start of the Tour de France. It was going to be a full house for its first couple of stages. Sated we wandered back to our hotel and a good night’s sleep.

After breakfast, we headed out to the Brussels Expo on the train to collect my press accreditation. Brussels Expo comprises 12 exhibition halls on the Heysel plateau. The five emblematic Art Deco style halls (5, 4, 6, 2 and 10) built around the lake (facing the Atomium) are a legacy of the 1935 World Fair and are truly imposing structures. We hot footed back to our hotel just in time to see the peloton roll past on their way out of town.

We lunched in the hotel bar and were royally entertained by a series of wedding parties exiting the nearby town hall. Tempting though it was to watch the finish live, we had already viewed the packed crowds at the finish this morning before the stage had even started, we opted to experience it in air-conditioned comfort on the large screen.

The hotel had a highly-rated restaurant where we ate dinner after expending a few calories in the gym. Dinner did not disappoint and we went for a slowish amble round town to enjoy its many splendours. Le Grand Place was smaller than I remembered and more gilded – more finery perhaps in honour of Le Grand Depart. However, I had not forgotten how painful it was to walk on those cobbles and had packed uber-comfortable shoes! We even popped into the hotel where we’d last stayed – still splendid – for a nightcap.

The following morning we met up with some cycling friends and walked to the stage start in the Place des Palais, enjoying hospitality in the Village du Depart where we lunched courtesy of 21st Century. We greeted a few more friends in the Bus Paddock, watched the first couple of teams roll off of the starting ramp before continuing our ramble round Brussels, this time taking in the area around Le Petit and Le Grand Sablon. As the crowds began to disperse it was much easier to take photographs of the buildings and their splendid architectural details. Brussels is, of course, home to a number of fine museums but we preferred to continue wandering around in the sunshine.

Again, we watched the conclusion of the stage in our room and visited the gym before heading out to find another restaurant for dinner. We’d spotted a couple of likely candidates on our many walks but these were both closed on Sunday evening. However, one nearby looked promising, and it was. After a delicious dinner, we continued our perambulations before returning to the tranquility of our hotel and another good night’s sleep.

Monday morning allowed us to continue our investigations on foot. The crowds had greatly decreased as the tour circus had left town, sadly most of the museums are closed on a Monday, providing us with an excuse to return. After lunch in the hotel bar, my beloved left by train for London while I flew back to Nice where a security alert had prompted a comprehensive passport check which involved a 45 minute wait in an area where the air-conditioning had caved. Emerging hot and bothered, it was good to see the friendly face of our driver Christophe. Home sweat, sweltering, home but at least my beloved’s presence wasn’t raising the temperature a couple of degrees more.

 

 

Postcard from Brussels: Le Grand Depart

Last week-end we were ostensibly in Brussels for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France. However, I did have a hidden agenda. Brussels is another town that I haven’t visited in over 20 years! On our one and only visit all those years ago I was totally charmed by all the Art Nouveau wrought ironwork which I later discovered was largely the work of architect Victor Horta – more of which much later. This time I’m back for a closer look, but first, Le Grand Depart!

We generally arrive in time to attend the team presentation and most of the team press conferences, but not this year as my beloved had only just managed to shoe horn this trip in-between business trips to Italy and London. Also, because of our forthcoming trip to Australia, we won’t be dropping in on any further Tour stages. Mind you, we’ll probably make up for it next year when Le Grand Depart is in Nice.

I’d timed my arrival on Friday afternoon to coincide with the BORA-hansgrohe team press conference where I’d hoped to snatch 10-15 minutes with Peter Sagan’s wingman, Daniel Oss. Sadly, our Sleazyjet flight was delayed and I arrived way too late to nab anyone. You might wonder why I didn’t target potential 7-times green jersey wearer, Sagan. I’ve already interviewed him and he paid me an immense compliment by saying that I posed him questions no one else had ever asked!

For those of you who aren’t cycling fans. The Tour de France is big, really big. It’s the biggest annual sporting event in the world. That’s the first thing that hits you. There are 4,500 people working on it, and only 176 of those are riding. There is no other annual event, not even other bike races, that comes close to this scale. Yes, there are two other Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, yet they are family affairs in comparison rather than this State-like occasion.

Everytime I visit the Tour, I’m always impressed with the level of its organisation, it’s superb. I’m beginning to suspect that ASO’s secret is a very low level of staff turnover. Even the volunteers return year after year. Though, much as I enjoy the Tour, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to spend my summer holidays working at it every year.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of Grand Departs. My first was in London in 2007, followed by Monaco in 2009 where, working as a volunteer, I scored a great gig. I looked after HRH Prince Albert’s VIP guests. Next up was 2014 in Yorkshire where the crowds had to be seen to be believed. In 2015, we sweltered in the heat in Utrecht. 2016 saw us dodging rain in Normandy, and again the following year in Duesseldorf, Germany. Last year the weather was glorious in Brittany, and again this year in Brussels. Next year, Nice will most likely be my Tour swan song.

The staging of this Grand Depart paid tribute to the maiden Tour victory, 50 years ago in July 1969, of the Belgian legend Eddy Merckx who was omnipresent in the first few stages, particularly the first stage which passed through WoluweSaint-Pierre, where the five-times Tour winner grew up.

On Saturday, the peloton rode round the city’s narrow cobbled streets before heading out through Molenbeek and then Anderlecht, in the direction of the Mur de Grammont (which was also part of Eddy Merckx’s first Tour route). Riders then raced towards Charleroi, crossing a section of cobbles before heading back towards Brussels. They rode past the base of the Lion’s Mound, the battlefield where the defeat of Napoleon’s troops was set in motion. The last stretch of the route paid hommage again to Merckx as riders traversed the streets where Eddy first learned to ride a bike… as well as where he earned his first maillot jaune. Coincidentally, it’s also the 100th birthday of the yellow race leader’s jersey.

We watched the race start which filed past our hotel after we’d been to the Brussels Expo on the train to collect my press accreditation.

profil-general-etape-01

Sunday we met with some of our many friends from the world of cycling and scored a VIP pass for my beloved so that he could join us in the Village du Depart – much upgraded and enlarged this year – and the Bus Paddock. This enabled us to briefly catch up with some of the riders and team staff we’ve gotten to know over the years.

The organiser typically likes to see the leader’s yellow jersey changing hands during the early stages. And, after the first stage was won by the poisson-pilote (lead out man) of one of the more fancied sprinters, someone who didn’t feature on anyone’s radar, it was (wrongly) assumed that the team time-trial would produce a new race leader. But, the previous day’s winner was in one of the more highly ranked time-trial teams who’d recently recruited a four-time world time-trial champion. Not for nothing is German Tony Martin nicknamed the Panzerwagen. This marginal gain helped Jumbo-Visma to pip all the other teams to the post.

The wide streets of Brussels had provided the ideal route for an impressive team effort, with few turns and a series of false flats, that truly tested riders’ technical skills, terminating at the Atomium, built for the Brussels World Fair in 1958. So the jersey stayed firmly put on the broad shoulders of Holland’s Mike Teunissen for another day.

The newspapers estimated that 500,000 people were in Brussels to watch Le Grand Depart and it was true! Not that I counted them but the place was jam-packed with tourists and fans. Brussels put on a good show, not dissimilar to that in Leeds in 2014, making me wonder whether Yorkshire’s Sir Gary Verity had been acting as a consultant. But no in the land of cycling and Eddy Merckx, there’s an excess of expertise even if they also called their volunteers « Tour Makers. »