Europe 2010:
Day 10 - Belgium


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Europe 2010: [Day 1 - Luxembourg] [Day 2 - Germany] [Day 3 - Switzerland] [Day 4 - Liechtenstein] [Day 5 - Austria] [Day 6 - Germany] [Day 7 - Czech Republic] [Day 8 - Poland] [Day 9 - Netherlands] [Day 10 - Belgium] [Day 11 - England]

Sunday, July 4, 2010: We were up early for the short drive to Belgium. During the ride, we had a tasty breakfast-on-the-go of beef jerky and whatever was left in the snack bag. Here is the last pair of country signs for our trip: first, the one in the departing country's language (Dutch), ...

... then the one in the arriving country's official languages (Dutch and French).
Our destination was the Atomium on the Expo grounds in Brussels, as depicted in adorable pictogram style on this highway sign.
What's the Atomium? This is the Atomium, 335 feet of pure awesome.
The sign at the base of the Atomium welcomed us. Thanks, Atomium!
We got this awesome parking spot. It was still early in the day and the attractions hadn't yet opened. But this was going to be the center of the Tour de France festivities later on, and this shaded parking spot turned out to be very valuable real estate.
It was still quiet along the boulevard in front of the Atomium as vendors started to set up for the day, ...
... and packs of cyclists prepared to ride portions of the Tour.
We headed to Mini-Europe and waited patiently for the 9:30 AM opening time.
We were the first ones in when it opened and here is the wonderment we beheld. What's that we see in the miniature docks?
It's Maersk! Adorable miniature Maersk!
The Atomium is always visible just a block outside of the Mini-Europe grounds.
Several tiny trains ran on train tracks throughout the park.
Let's go check out the miniature European city scenes.
A bull ring in Seville, Spain.
A tiny Don Quixote chasing after windmills in La Mancha, Spain.
El Escorial in Madrid.
The Château de Chenonceau in Chenonceaux, France, with carefully-tended miniature trees.
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.
The detail on the models is amazing. Even the stained glass designs in the windows has been reproduced.
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Royal Crescent in Bath. We were glad that we'd be seeing the real thing the next day.
Tom got into a British mood to prep for the next day's trip to England.
Parliament in London.
The Town Hall in Antwerp.
Amsterdam.
The cheese market in Alkmaar, Netherlands.
The Grand Place in Brussels.
City Hall in Brussels.
The Stadhuis in Maastricht. Didn't we just see this the night before?
Olavinlinna Castle in Finland.
This Finnish sauna was anatomically correct.
City Hall in Stockholm.
The Exchange in Copenhagen.
Tom was quite taken with the miniature airfield featuring European airlines.
Monument a Colom in Barcelona.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Miniature divers and dolphins.
Mount Vesuvius in Naples. Like many of the displays, this one had a button to press. Usually, the buttons played the national monument of the country represented, but this one caused the volcano to spew smoke while the metal plate under our feet shook like an earthquake. Nice!
The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
St. Mark's Square in Venice.
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Adolphe Bridge in Luxembourg.
The Millennium Tower in Magdeburg, Germany.
The Bonngasse in Bonn, Germany.
The Astronomical Clock in Prague.
Here's a bigger view of the Old Town City Hall that houses the clock in Prague.
The Széchenyi Baths in Budapest.
The Parthenon in Athens.
This random space exhibit was near the end of the path. It blasted off when you pushed the button. Spaceships are fun! We visited the gift shop and picked up a couple of trinkets with "Claire" on them, since we can't find any personalized "Claire" items in the US. French-speaking and Queen's English-speaking countries always have "Claire" in stock.
Next stop: the Atomium!
This is the interior of the base looking up at the center pole.
Up we zoomed in the glass-topped elevator.
The view from the top was fantastic. Here's the view of Mini-Europe right next door.
Just beyond it is the tree lined street where the last stretch of the first leg of the Tour de France would happen later in the day.
Ninety degrees to the left is the view of the boulevard where the little street party would be happening later.
This is looking down to one of the lower globes of the structure. It's hard to imagine the scale of this, ...
... but knowing that this is the interior of one of the globes might help.
Here are steps from one level to another, ...
... and stairs up to the next globe, ...
... and another one. It was a maze of going up and down so it's hard to keep track of where we were at this point.
This globe featured a small snack bar.
This one featured a display of futuristic spherical sleeping pods that could be raised and lowered.
It's almost as if they expected us to be a little lost by this point.
This escalator down featured small round windows, ...
... just the right size for getting a cool shot of one of the spheres.
One last set of stairs and we were back on ground level where we picked up our own tiny Atomium at the gift shop.
We had purchased a combination ticket for Mini-Europe and the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus, so we made a dash for it when it pulled up outside the Atomium minutes later. Here are the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, ...
... and the Royal Residence of Laeken.
A portion of our route would be used for the Tour de France later in the day, and we were very lucky to be on the last bus that was allowed to get back into the Expo area before they shut down the roads for the race.
We drove past the area where our hotel was and made a mental note to have some tasty kebabs later. We ended up eating at a take out place across the street from this one.
Pretty building, pretty windows, pretty ironwork.
Pretty street leading to Grand Place.
Brussels is one of several cities we saw with rental bikes available for use in the city.
This is the Royal Square with the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg in the background.
This the Cathedral of St. Michel and St. Gudula.
The Palais de Justice was under restoration.
This a monument dedicated to the Belgian troops who died in World Wars I and II.
The Atomium is visible in the distance to the right in this shot.
This is the Jardin du Petit Sablon.
This is the Royal Palace.
The flag flying over it means that the crown prince was in residence.
Did someone mention the Tour de France? Our timing was just lucky -- we did not plan to be in Brussels on the day that the Tour rolled into town, but we're so glad it worked out that way.
This is the Arc de Triomphe ...
... and this is the lovely fountain behind it, facing Avenue de Tervuren Laan.
Downtown Brussels.
This Comfort Inn was housed in a very cool building with a space ship tower on the top.
This is the Charleroi Canal.
This is the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, where the tombs of all former Belgian kings are located.
Back to the park where the Atomium is, our bus turned in just as the police were barricading the street we turned on to.
And we're back!
We were starving by now, so it was time for lunch. This portable snack stand offered many delicious treats for sale. Debbie was filmed by a news crew while ordering a ton of food.
We had banana beignets, pommes frites, a brochette (French meat on a stick), a hamburger, and delicious Coca-Cola Light. Mmmm, fair food, Belgian-style.
Next, we had to pick up an official Tour de France bag of souvenirs for our friend Geoff, who loves the Tour more than anyone we know.
Debbie was wearing Livestrong yellow or Tour de France yellow, depending on how you look at it.
There was a huge television and viewing area set up directly underneath the Atomium, where we could see the progress of the riders as they made their way south from Rotterdam, Netherlands.
For today only, the French flag flew over the Atomium in honor of the Tour.
On a sunny day, the beer truck looked pretty good to us.
The fruit beers on the menu caught our eye.
Debbie had the Timmermans Kriek (cherry) beer and Tom had the Timmermans Strawberry. They were quite tasty.
Next, we walked a few blocks to the Tour course. Vendors were giving out freebies, such as the giant green hands PMU was giving out ...
... and slap bracelets from Festina.
Team buses drove past, ...
... including Team Radio Shack.
Here's one of the official Tour vans. We picked up a couple of official Tour hats for friends from the Tour employees who were handing them out.
Groups of cyclist rode past to cheering crowds who were practicing for when the actual racers showed up.
A large monitor along the route showed the race in progress. At this point, it was several hours before the riders would be arriving.
Orchy was there, of course. This was the barrier at which the common folk couldn't pass, because this was a VIP area with shaded seating.
The nice Vittel water lady had a water gun, ...
... and it felt great in the afternoon sun.
The PMU truck featured dancing girls and giveaways. Tom got a hat but ended up giving it to a little girl who was trying to get one but didn't.
After a while of soaking in the fun atmosphere, we decided to return our rental car and check into our hotel to watch the race.
We passed some Livestrong cars on the side street while heading back to our car.
There wasn't a single parking space to be had anywhere, so we congratulated ourselves again on our excellent plan to arrive early and sightsee. We stashed our freebies and Tour gear in our suitcases.
So, the only challenge now is: how do we get out of here? There were trucks and buses and roadblocks everywhere.
We made it out and headed to Brussels airport.
Our mileage after 10 days was 10,427 km. Since we had started at 7,070 km, Tom had driven 3,357 km, or 2,085 miles.
We took a taxi from the airport to the Ibis Ste. Catherine hotel. It won the award for the tiniest room of our trip, ...
... with a bathroom the size of a small closet.
But the view was really cool, and the windows in the bathroom and bedroom opened up completely so you could peek your head out ...
... and look outside.
We got comfortable and watched the Tour on TV. There's the Atomium, ...
... and there are the current standings superimposed over the city of Brussels.
The final stretch of the race went right past where we were standing earlier.
And it's over! Oh, my, that was exciting.
We had an early train to London in the morning, so we decided to do a practice run on the subway to see how long it took to get to the station we'd be departing from. First, we took a few minutes to figure out the ticketing machine.
Then we took the train to Gare Midi, passing this cool station featuring mehndi art on the walls. In Gare Midi, we found the departure lounge, calculated how long it took us to get there, then turned around and headed back to the Ste. Catherine area.
As we had promised ourselves earlier, we had kebab wraps for dinner and ate them at an outside table.

On the short walk back to our hotel, we saw numerous France Télévisions cars, so it wasn't much of a leap to guess that the sharp-dressed people we saw in the hotel lobby were French media types in town to cover the Tour.

Day 11 >


Europe 2010: [Day 1 - Luxembourg] [Day 2 - Germany] [Day 3 - Switzerland] [Day 4 - Liechtenstein] [Day 5 - Austria] [Day 6 - Germany] [Day 7 - Czech Republic] [Day 8 - Poland] [Day 9 - Netherlands] [Day 10 - Belgium] [Day 11 - England]

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