Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Day 25: Brussels -> Paris

Day 25 marked the final day before our interrail pass expired. Or, in slightly more specific terms, the day at which we had to end up in Paris before midnight, or else pay a small fortune to get our final train there. Travelling from Brugge to Paris required us to go through Brussels, and we figured that while we were passing through we might as well stop off and see the city. We were going to be spending five nights in Paris anyway, so we figured we might as well arrive fairly late in the day.

Arriving mid-to-late morning, we didn't bother to see any museums or galleries or suchlike in Brussels (though the guide book seemed to suggest there wasn't much anyway), and instead just wandered around to see the sights.

First off was the city's cathedral. It's huge, and whilst the décor inside is fairly plain, it does feature some pretty badass stained-glass windows.

From the cathedral, a small wander into the Grand Place, which features an absolutely humongous town hall - so big that it's actually awkward as hell to get a decent picture with the whole thing in one spot. The facade is really nice though.

From there, more wandering around, including the palace, and very randomly bumping into Sarah Crowther and her [Belgian] boyfriend. We stopped off and had lunch at a Quick (because there are seemingly no McDonalds in town centres in Belgium, and also because we were poor).

I'll go off on a slight tangent here, because this was the first and last time I'd eaten at a Quick restaurant, and the only two things of note were that drinks were refillable, and that you had to pay to use the toilet. Even as a customer.

It's a fairly British thing (or at least a Northern thing) to make a deal about having to pay for toilets in London. "You know you're in London when you have to pay to go for a piss" is almost a stock phrase. For large portions of Europe, it seems that you have to pay when you go for a piss absolutely sodding everywhere. Free public toilets were pretty much gold dust on our trip.

To perhaps divulge a bit too much information, I am not blessed with a bladder of steel. I drink fluids, and then I need to go to the toilet. And around most of Europe I had to pay for the privilege of not just urinating out in the street. I reckon I must have spent easily €5 purely on toilets over the four week trip. You can't even just nip into McDonalds and go for a McPiss because most of the fast-food restaurant chains are prepared, and the doors are either locked with a code you get on your receipt, or, even more ridiculously, require you to pay to use the toilet. Or in Paris they seemingly employ security to stop you using the toilet if you're not a customer.

Anyway, having seen pretty much everything we felt that there was immediately to see in Brussels, we made our move to Paris. This was far less straightforward than we'd anticipated, because the only trains that run from Brussels to Paris directly are either Thalys or TGV, both high-speed private rail companies that interrail passes aren't valid on. These trains would have gotten us to Paris very quickly, but they also would have cost us a small fortune.

Instead we were forced to faff around on the regional trains, following a route we'd been given at the information desk, which required us to use four different trains. It did successfully deliver us to Gare du Nord, from which we took the Métro to our hotel in Montmartre. It was reasonably late at this point, so we wandered the area trying to find somewhere to eat (eventually settling on quite a nice and well-priced Italian), before heading to the Sacré-Coeur, which gives some fairly spectacular views across the city at night. It's also rammed with street traders trying to sell tat or cold beers, so fairly standard for that sort of scene.

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