Saturday, July 24, 2004

In a Stupid Ass Way


Another heavy night on the rose put me a couple of hours behind schedule today, then I endured a stifling three hour train journey in too-close proximity to a burly black gentleman who diligently read his French bible throughout. I thought better of starting the Charles Bukowski book I was going to read, it's probably best not to offend anyone who could easily have me in a fight.

Brussels seems nice enough, it's modern, quite pretty, not too in-your-face. Probably a good place for middle aged couples to spend a weekend. Judging by the street cafes around the Grand Place I'm not the first person to spot that.

I'm staying in the Jacques Brel youth hostel, which I was very disappointed to discover isn't actually a bordello. In a desperate search for some sleaze (or at the very least an opium den) I just walked down a street of gay bars. No sign of Peter Mandelson yet though.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Just Like Honey


Went out last night with Andy and some of his Dutch work colleagues. We were in a cafe place in the middle of the Vondelpark, and much to my surprise we were drinking rose wine. Not only our group, but seemingly everybody that was there was knocking into some, with only a few foreigners having beer and nobody at all having white or red wine. I can't remember ever having much rose before, but after half a dozen glasses it was beginning to taste sickly, like Vimto. Looks like Vimto too. Unsurprisingly, as time wore on, Andy started to hold court in foul fashion, and he insisted we go on to another local bar. On the way, one of his friends lent me her bike (everyone here has one of them, too) and pointed me in the general direction of this place. As I tottered uncertainly forward, I was aware of her shouting "to brake, just pull back" but before I knew what was going on, I was careering down a hill and clattering firmly into the inevitable concrete pillar. Not sure if my insurance policy covers crashing a bike like an idiot while pissed on Vin de Vimto, but thankfully my ego was the only thing to take a battering. Finally making it to this bar, we stumbled in on a game of 'DJ Bingo', everyone had a card with the name of a song in each square to tick off when it's played. First to get a line had to run to the front of the bar and hit a big button, not unlike the final game of TV's Wipeout. I was one short, but sadly the bit of trashy 90s Europop I needed didn't come up, so we went back to Andy's empty-handed and stayed up drinking tea, playing Cure and Pulp records and ranting until 3.

I felt a bit delicate this morning, but managed to slump in front of the TV and watch "Lost in Translation" on DVD. It was just as good as I remembered it.

Thursday, July 22, 2004



Eschewing the hordes of Americans queuing to get into the van Gogh gallery, I ambled along to the Rijksmuseum earlier. Spent a reasonably pleasant couple of hours strolling around what little of it is open to the public, the main building is shut due to building work until 2006. Yes, 2006. What kind of building job takes more than two years? "Listen mate, if we start Monday, I reckon we'll be finished by about 2006. Tea and eight sugars please mate."

As for the paintings, I liked the Vermeer ones best of all, and Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" was very impressive too. There was a remarkably wide series of works by various different Dutch painters. Indeed, it seems the whole nation is never off the canvas, which perhaps explains why it's never produced a world heavyweight champion.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Blending In


So I finally managed to rendezvous with Andy. Ambling through town last night on our way to the pub, he pointed out a Dutch celebrity having a drink. A man who is apparently a major TV and radio presenter, although to be honest with his flowing fair hair and inconceivably brown tan, to me he was indistinguishable from the rest of the populace. Everyone seems to look like that here - anyone who doesn't is a tourist, and dear God there are plenty of them. After a well earned 12 hour sleep, I went along to the Vondelpark earlier. As I opened the Martin Amis paperback Andy threw in my direction last night, I noticed everybody else there who was reading had some kind of guidebook. Lonely Planet this, Rough Guide to that, sad tourist bastards. I have one too of course, but I took great care to leave it back at Andy's flat, which means I've spent the last half an hour wandering round slightly lost, but at least I look cool.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


For reasons never adequately explained, people have always felt the urge to stop me and ask for directions. Perhaps it's my purposeful expression or manly stride, but back in London lost foreigners inevitably turn to me when they need to get from London Tower to Windsor Castle Palace. Despite blatantly being a tourist backpacker, and sporting a suitably hangdog expression after four hours trudging round in Glasgow-like drizzle, I was called upon to do my bit once again earlier. "Are you knowing the way to Dam Square?" said the woman of the family as they pulled up in a van. Remarkably, I did, although it was only about 50 yards away. Or 50 metres, if I'd said yards I would probably have been run out of town or beaten with clogs.
Other than that, things are already looking up. The sun's come out, I eventually reached the end of Anna Karenina (who'd have thought she'd turn out to be a man?) and a trip to a supermarket led to a truly epic display of gorging on half a dozen very welcome cheese and ham sandwiches. I've even managed to make contact with the elusive Mr Sime, and we'll be meeting in one of those hilariously-named squares later on, so I can explain to him once again that not having a phone means I can't be contacted on it.

No Sign of Sime

Dear me, day one and already the first disaster to chalk up on my disaster board. No Andy at the bus station this morning, two hours went by and nary a sight of his fat face. Tired after a lengthy coach and ferry journey alongside various dregs of society, and hungry having not eaten since a Greggs yesterday afternoon in Shepherd's Bush, I'm resigned to a day mooching around the city wishing I was in bed with a ready supply of pasties. It doesn't seem like much of a morning place, but it's prettier than I remembered it, at least in parts. Flicking through the local version of Metro (called - wait, get this - 'Metro') on the tram was a sobering enough experience: lots of large writing, every second word ending in 'aaart'. Maybe I should go and see some aaaart galleries, or possibly find out where Andy is. In the absence of any friendly blue and yellow fronted bakeries, I think foraging for some food is probably the number one priority.