Sunday, June 28, 2009

Europe Here I Come - Part 7


I never expect them to be scanning our luggage as we were just going to ride a train and not a plane. Anyway they did just did that and arrested me for having them in my luggage. I didn't realize it was an arrest until they asked me to sign certain forms which I didn't even bother to read. I was in a hurry and wanted it to get it over as soon as possible because the train was already in the station and ready for boarding. Read on to know what really happened to me when we were in Brussels, Belgium.

Before the above happenings we were on the bus entering Brussels. Brussels is the capital of Belgium, a country which most Malaysians may not know much. I guess we know too much about the other European Union countries but not Belgium. The only certain thing I know of Belgium is they are into steel industries and produce guns. When I was a manager of Felda Taib Andak in Kulai, Johor which was made famous by the popular singer Mawi and later when I was in Felda Sungai Tiang, I had the use of guns supplied by Felda to all their managers. The guns were made in Belgium. When I mentioned that Belgium is famous for gun making, Eddy the German bus driver concurred with me and volunteered that Belgium is the poorer cousin among the European Union countries. Anyway they have made Brussels the administrative capital of the European union so it can also be considered as it's capital.

We will only be passing through Brussels for some shopping. Just passing through Brussels can be considered as a sin if not a crime. At least two days is required to see Brussels. The old buildings and architecture is something not to be missed and you need more time to really enjoy this old vibrant city.

When we neared Brussels we saw road widening work being done. Another lane is being added. That indicate a bustling traffic and a growing population of cars.
This is how the fringe city of the city of Brussels appeared from the highway when we entered it.
We stopped at the Atomium in Heysel Park. Yes we were there but we didn't have time to really see it and go inside it. This icon of Brussels is what The Eiffel Tower is to Paris. This 102 meter tower is in the shape of a single iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. From the top sphere you can see the city of Brussels. Read more about it here.
All the time we had was to take a group photograph.. We could not wait longer as some members (the female side) didn't do their thing when we did the last pee stop. As such they were carrying a half bladder full of waste water that have no where to be dispensed around the atomium area. So we had to move on.
Gorgeous architecture.
The obelisk at a round about reminds me of the one in Istanbul Turkey.
The traffic in mid city is getting heavier.
Well pruned trees lining the streets will add beauty to the the street as well as make the street cooler during summer.
Beautiful cathedral.
Is this a river or a canal? With waterways around there will definitely be a boat cruise to enjoy.
Modern sculpture
People walking down the streets.
How do you make a profile of the people? These seems to be of Arab stock.
A modern arch amid old buildings.
There was no parking area for the bus so we alighted somewhere near this landmark building which is The Marriot Hotel to regroup later when the bus comes back to pick us up.

Can't make up what this grand building is. Somebody please help me.
An anonymous person told me it is a big Chinese Restaurant as indicated by the Chinese words should you click on the picture to enlarge it. Thank you anonymous. Xplorer said it is the Bourse with a chinese restaurant near it. I think the Bourse is more like it. Thank you Xplorer.
Unlike in Malaysia, pedestrians will cross only at a zebra crossing.
A pedestrian mall
Crowd queuing at a fast food outlet.
An election going in Belgium and this van is pasted with the faces of people running for election.
My first sight of the Grand Place or the Market Place.
Look at that building!
And that one behind me.
Some artists with their work being displayed and for sale.
One of them busy at work. The weather was fine and cool and very conducive for a productive day.
Wow! Look at the details.
More of them.

Road side cafe with many tables still empty.
fabulous chicks. KBguy will definitely love this pic. Lim do you think the Chinese babes can be any cooler than this?
Our own ladies taking a group photo wile waiting for clues as to which direction to go.
Souvenir shops of course!
Many of us missed this figure of Van Gough thinking it was just another statue. He had been in this position for quite sometime and I was waiting for one kind soul to put in some coins to make him move. To me the bottle of drinking water and the coin box was the giveaway even though he was so still that he was really like a statue. The sight of the chain anchoring the coin box indicate that he must have experienced a snatch by a theft sometime in the past. I guess this kind of performing art is tougher than most others like busking or playing a musical instrument as a way of making a living. Pray tell me what do you call this kind of performing art?
Victorinox swedish knives. They are definitely sharp. I lost the one I bought in Phnom Penh when I was at moving house from Gua Musang.
Were they giggling at the sight of the peeing statue? That's the Manneken Pis and is seen as the symbol of the French and Dutch cohabitation in Brussels. What a laugh. Anyway it is an icon of Brussels and people will come to this point to have their photograph taken to show the world that they had been to Brussels, Belgium.
The Manneken Pis.
My other half was fascinated by this melting and flowing chocolate.
A complete stranger came and offered to be photographed licking the chocolate together. Pak Zawi made a poor work of it as both of them were too faraway from the flowing chocolate. Anyway the moral of the story is a complete stranger of vastly differring culture will not mind being friendly if you look and act friendly.
Tuan Haji Fuad and Tuan Haji Mustapha had their lunch first before joining us for shopping or just window shopping.

At last we bought our chocolate to be taken back to Malaysia.
Hotel Amigo not far from the Grand Place. A night at this hotel will cost you a minimum of Euro 199 (about RM915).

This lady was viewing the pictures she had taken. Just like me, she must have been taking the pictures of the same building several times over. What can we do when a different angle gives the building a different meaning to our sight.

This girl decided to have her face immortalized on canvas. Her friend was egging her on. I didn't wait to see the result but I guess the artist must be really good to be able to work at the Grand Place.
I first saw this two wheeler at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I approach the guy on the contraption and asked him how easy it is to learn how to ride it. He said there is a computer in the vehicle that will detect any tilt and thus correct the tilt by moving forward or backward thus keeping you upright. You can ride this contraption for a fee. I din't bother to ask how much as our Euros was fast dwindling. Mekyam of New York said this machine is a Segway Personal Transporter (SPT). If you are the lazy to walk kind, get one and in no time you can get yourself bloated up due to lack of excercise. Pak Zawi is guilty of this crime even though he doesn't own an spt.

We boarded our bus again for the final leg of our journey on the bus with Eddy. The last journey was towards the central station in Brussels. Pak Zawi was given the task of collecting contributions from all members to be given as tip to Eddy. Eddy had been with us for more than a week had been spending a lot of his own money for expenses which is only claimable upon his return to the office. He said he doesn't mind accepting any amount in any currency. So all those loose coins in Euros and Swiss francs went into a plastic bag which Eddy gratefully accepted. We still want to keep our pound sterling for use in London.

We alighted from the bus not far from the railway station. There was no way for the bus to get anywhere nearer. So we will have to lug our baggage.
Eddy thanked us all for the tip. Above all he thanked us for the friendship. He had been a great friendly driver. He and me had been joking all the way. He jokingly appointed me as his assistant driver and I called him boss. Later he felt awkward when I continue to call him boss until I told him that in Malaysia we call everybody 'boss'. Even the head of department call the office boy 'boss'. Maybe that is how we created the little Napoleons in Malaysia. After that he understood why I call him 'boss'.
The check in into the railway station.
The waiting before boarding. It was after this boarding that my trouble with the law enforcement began. Before boarding we had to scan all of our luggage. I never thought anything will trouble me until the officer manning the scanner monitor asked me to see the two knives in my bag. I had to call my wife to come and find the knives as she was the one who packed the knives. We didn't bring out 2 but 3 of them. All three were locking knives. The smaller one was brought all the way from Malaysia and the two newer ones were bought in Titise Germany. As I said ealier we thought nothing of the knives as others had also bought knives and one of them even bigger knives and in more numbers than mine. The only difference was that they bought swiss army knives and the bigger knives were in the form of kitchen knives usually used by chefs. Of the 3 knives the two knives bought in Titise Germany was the offending items as they were said to be too big to pass off as a pen knife. It was slightly larger than the one I brought from Malaysia although they were of the same shape.
I thought it would end in confiscation and I would be allowed to board the train. I had experienced similar situation when I was boarding a plane and forgot about the pen knife in my hand carry luggage in Beijing. No it was not so. Another officer by the name of Van Hallen if I heard it right took me to a lady officer and she said something in their own language which of course I didn't understand. After that I was taken to a room and Van Hallen had my details recorded in a form after asking me a few questions.
The mistake I made was not buying the Swedish knife which I wanted to give to my son who had celebrated his 30th birthday on 6th June. Instead of buying a Swedish knife I have opted to buy a locking knife because of being a cheapskate with a limited budget. I bought the locking knife because for the price of a swedish army knife I could get two locking knives, one for him and one for myself. To me the locking knife is better because it is useful to have when you go for outdoors which my son loves to do. He once went on the Head Hunters Trail in Sarawak.
Now back to my situation with the law in Belgium. Van Hallen had asked me to sign on the forms which he had filled and I didn't bother to read as time was fast running out. He said the two knives will be confiscated and returned the smaller one from Malaysia. I pleaded for exchange with one of the confiscated one which he laughingly said he can't allow. Then he said "You are technically under arrest. I should have handcuffed you". The crime? Trying to smuggle dangerous weapons! They are only slightly larger than penknives.
Oh my God! To be arrested and handcuffed while on holiday in Europe? It would make a nice picture and item to blog, I thought quietly to myself.
When we went out of the room, my group was no where in sight. Van Hallen helped to direct me to the boarding gate and on the way we met my other half lugging all the suitcases with the help of Puan Zainida of Poto Travel. Puan Zainida was definitely a good tour leader. She had not abandoned me. On that score alone I would love to have her to lead my group again should we go on another tour with Poto Travel.
Upon reaching the train, we didn't know which way to go to to reach coach number one. Initially I ran to the right but reversed upon seeing the numbers on the coach which read 16 after the fifteenth coach. Oh dear coach 1 which was our coach was 15 coaches away. That day I ran the length of fifteen coaches lugging my luggage in one hand and smaller bags and camera in one hand. My other half was doing the same. I have not done any running for the past 7 years! Imagine me doing it for the first time. I was breathless. Later my wife showed me her broken nails on her toes as a result of the run. Poor wife! I must make up to her for that.
When we reached coach one, we were breathless. Somebody had to lift my luggage for me. When I managed to get myself seated, I regained my breath and promised myself to pray to the Almighty for sparing me from a hear failure.
The train soon pulled out from the station.

Those pictures above showed how my other members looked after the ordeal. Here is how I looked.
Happy to be on the way to London.

We reached St. Pancras International Station, London on time. The bus driver who was supposed to meet us there was nowhere to be seen and we had to wait for him. Later he came with a banner reading Boto Travel and was looking angry muttering something incomprehensible because he had been waiting for so long outside the station. I think he was late and he made the ruse to cover up. What was he doing waiting outside in the bus?
Disembarking from the train at the newly refurbished St. Pancras International station.

The time in London. It was evening.
The waiting in St. Pancras International Station London.
Everything on time.
Collecting our baggage on arrival at the hotel
Holiday Villa in Bayswater area is owned by a Malaysian company.
Waiting for the lift to our 4th floor room at the hotel lobby. The minuscule lift can only take 2 persons at a time with luggage. We had to experience similar sized lift in Lucerne, Paris and now London.
After settling down in the room, we found that the room was very stuffy and hot. A draft of cool refreshing air entered the room when I opened the shutterd window and we felt more comfortable. Later I heard a member complaining of the warm room and asked for a room with air condition only to be told that air condition was only available in the suites.
There was no free wifi in the hotel. Wifi is available at a fee which can be paid online. Internet fascilities was avaialble at the lobby at the rate of 1 pound per 20 minutes. The rate is cheaper at cyber cafes at the rate of 1 pound per hour. I decided to delay my postings till I reach Malaysia.