The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


New Year bells in Bruxelles

Following their now established custom of celebrating the New Year in a different capital of Europe, Barbara and Rod selected Brussels (also spelled Brussel or Bruxelles according to ethnic and political allegiance) to get away for the festive season. This city, regarded as the unofficial capital of Europe, is a vibrant and exciting place to be, whatever the season, and is very well served at festival times. Eurostar from St Pancras was the method of travel. St Pancras itself is a marvel of majestic Victorian construction. The  glass vaulting of the vast roof is reminiscent of that of the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, and the exterior brick edifice is of sublime and awesome proportions. The statue of John Betjeman the poet laureate stands in bronze at the upper level and a beautiful sculpture - five-times human height - of two lovers, meeting appropriately under the clock, is nearby. The journey took only approximately two hours and was effortlessly smooth.

The hotel accommodation, just off Grand Place, in the rue du marché des herbes, was ideally situated for walking to places of exciting action, despite the roughly cobbled streets of the old town and the bitterly cold weather. Transport is also very efficient - whether by train, bus, taxi or tram. The latter is rather disconcerting, being mainly underground like the Metro. One can converse in a multiplicity of languages - French, Flemish, English or German - and sometimes all of them in the same sentence. The Flemings prefer to speak English, whilst the Walloons insist on their French. The street signs are bi-lingual.

New Year was ushered in at the remarkable Grand Place, reckoned to be the finest square in Europe. Its architecture, principally of City Hall and the various Guild Houses, flanked on one side by the mansion of the Dukes of Brabant, was the scene of a magnificent light show. A substantial nativity scene had been erected in the square which was packed with people. As the New Year approached, the bells of the churches rang out and a superb firework display from nearby Central filled the air, and bystanders wished each other ‘Bonne Année’.

Amongst the activities which Barbara and Rod engaged in, were:

• A visit to the scene of the battle of Waterloo

• Ice skating in the district of St Catherine

• Entertainment in a Mongolian set of displays

• Mass at the Cathedral dedicated to Saints Michael and Gudule

• Time spent in the musée des Beaux Arts.

The Waterloo Battlefield

Barbara and Rod took the tram and train to Waterloo, a cheerless and drab town some miles south of Brussels. A long walk took them to Wellington’s Headquarters with gates emblazoned with the cipher 1 8 1 5. Four kilometres further down was the actual battleground, marked by an enormous pyramidal mound - the Butte du Lion. Progress to the top was by 224 steps up which they climbed to the top in freezing weather. The viewpoint, atopped by a bronze lion, is where the onlooker can see where the strategic battle events took place, including the three farms and concealed ridges. There was a good visitor centre, audio-visual displays, a film and museum. No bus appeared to take the couple back to the railway station, but a most kind resident offered them a lift in his car to the main line station of Braine Alleude, from whence a connection to Brussels was made.

Ice Skating

Near the Church of St Catherine was yet another Christmas Market, where gluwein, courtesy of Lions International, was drunk. Further along was an open air ice rink where Rod exercised his enthusiasm in skating for nearly an hour.

Mongolian Section

In the same area was a collection of Mongolian yurts (round huts) where enthralling displays were held. In one part there was a four-piece band playing their folk music. One singer had an unusually powerful and deep voice. Other yurts held magicians, art work, children’s toys, clothing... and so on. Rod was very impressed by the designs and patterns on clothing and other goods. He intends to follow these up and to develop and modify them in his personal artwork.

The Cathedral

The couple went to mass at the Cathedral Church of Saints Michael and Gudule. The latter is not widely known but is said to be a woman of purity who lived 1300 years ago. Both are patron saints of Brussels. The edifice dominates a wooded square and the frontage has recently been cleaned. The service was beautiful, the organ playing and devotional music being particularly fine. Rod remembered from his past that the setting was most similar to one of his choirboy youth - the Missa de Angelis.

The Musée des Beaux Arts

Works by Van Dyck, Rubens and Breughal, amongst others were seen at the museum. The visitors were particularly interested in a scene described in Luke II:

“And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed... And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city...”

Two paintings of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem for this purpose were in the same room. Both were by a Breughal. It was exciting to examine and compare the two - the first by Pieter Breughal the elder, the second by his son Pieter Breughal the younger. The houses, people and street scenes were virtually identical but there were some differences in colour and treatment.

Brussels is famous for its chocolate and beer. Both were partaken in abundance. A truly wonderful experience not only for these but all the things seen and done in this wonderful city.

Rod Dawson

Easter and Spring Edition 2010