Brussels Belgium visit

A few weeks ago, I decided to fly home and see family.

I wrote earlier this year about new cheaper flights between Belgium and Israel.   So I did exactly this route, planning to spend just 1 1/2 days in Brussels.

The flight was reasonably pleasant, apart from the troubles booking.   I remembered some former colleagues originally from Antwerp told me there is quite a large Jewish population in Belgium, mostly in Antwerp.   Getting off the plane I could here some of the Orthodox Jews speaking in Flemish.

Getting off the plane in Liege, meant to I realised I was at a fairly remote industrial estate as the airport is quite small, after waiting for a bus, the drive didn’t speak any English so I just followed the journey where was going to.

This is the weirdest railway station I have seen, in the main part of the town of Liege.   About 30 minutes later I was in Brussels.

 

This pleasant street with a Citroen 2CV car seems to be a good representation of the Franco- influence of Belgium.  But actually there is more to Brussels than just being France’s neighbour.

 

Cartoons are very popular here.   The locally produced books in stores are alongside Japanese Manga, and of course, Herge’s adventures of Tin Tin which is painted on a few walls as it was penned from here, and Tin Tin is something of an icon here.

Restaurants here are great!  There is a small alleyway I found with plenty of nice places with fantastic value for money.   Me and my Australian room mate I met went to this place and got a nice steak and frites with red wine for 10 Euros!   The next day I went to the place two doors away, and has Paella with white wine for 12 euros.

 

As far as food, everyone has to experience a proper Belgian waffle.   This isn’t a lame supermarket sourced frozen thing, but comes out of one of these purpose designed metal grilling appliances.   There is a load of different places to chose from to grab one to take away or sit down, this place had a 5 kilo jar of Nutella chocolate spread in the kitchen.   1 Euro for a plain one, 2 Euros with strawberries and ice cream.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the large number of Arab people in Brussels.

Brussels has a lot of immigrants, mostly from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, all countries that speak a mixture of Arabic and French.

 

On the left is an Arabic bank which provides Shariah compliant services.   On the right, this very long boulevard is nice and has a lot of computer and technology shops (like London’s Tottenham Court Road?) Arabic restaurants and it seems most of the businesses here are owned by Arab people.

How long did it take for me to see in an Islamic community promoting dislike of Israel and the Jewish people?    Sadly, not very long.   This Islamic book shop on the right had plenty of that in the window.   Ok, Israel is far from perfect.   Maybe this shop could have books warning youth against Hamas, Hezbullah and getting into extremism?   Or, show the mass slaughter of Muslim people in Syria.   No such chance.

There is a lot of people begging out of the streets, and the majority of them seem to be Arab.   I was saddened to see an Arab woman looking forlorn at the pavement so I went into a bakery and bought a sandwich and gave it to her, she looked at it, so not sure if she was surprised or if not really hungry.    I know domestic violence amongst Arab people is common in the middle east and I am sure it must happen here as well.    Distressingly, I don’t know of any Christian organisations that could help with women in this situation, although it would need some very specially trained people to deal with this.

The Mannkin Pis.   The iconic statue of a young boy urinating in a fountain which has been copied many times.   Although it is quite small but has a large crowd of people getting their pictures in front of it.

Some of the huge office buildings in the east part of the city that part of the EU.   Another place that can bring out strong negative emotions.

Oddly, Brussels seems quite prosperous apart from the beggars I saw, no closed down shops, I think there were plenty more tall offices being constructed in progress.This sign looks like it could have some funny slogan, but couldn’t think of anything at the time.

 

This is the Arc de Triumph.    No not the same one as in France.

I went in here to the Brussels car museum, in one of the corners of this majestic place.

Brussels is a pretty huge place.   I think a lot of people from other EU countries can easily come and work here, and to be honest its a wonderful place.

Here, in the town square, something important was happening, not sure what, but there were several big cars with people getting out that I am guess are government officials.  There was a stage and some live music, I left as I wanted to get some lunch.

On the right here, part of the old buildings in the square are being repaired, so a fabric cover over the scaffolding has an exact copy of the buildings whilst the work is being done.  Quite clever.

The red flowers in the window boxes and canopies in front of the cafes here reminds me of the ones in the 1990s Stella Artois TV ads where the man selling flowers trades his stock in for a beer.

I got chatting to a girl in a restaurant who was from Slovakia who just been accepted after a job interview.  It seems theres a lot of people from other parts of Europe and Africa here.   I can see why.    Its a beautiful city and I think an appealing place to come and live and work.

I didn’t get any pictures later, but here I got on the Eurostar which took me to London in 2 hours, although the train didn’t feel like it was going that quick, surprisingly enough the bit under the tunnel is actually only 20 minutes!

 

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Flight purchase blues

Ordering flights online isnt usually too bad of an experience, just this week its be fraught with gremlins 😦

I am trying to get some plane tickets to go home and see family, lately I have been disappointed at airline web sites.  I avoided using Easyjet this time make a quick journey back to my house rather than go to Luton, I am using them to go back as I need to visit Wales on the way back to Israel.

First is Jetairway an airline I am not familiar with but wrote about their new route between Liege, Belgium and Tel Aviv, I bought my ticket, then Google Chrome came up with an odd error message towards at the end of the purchase that some parts of the web site are missing and asked if I want to display the non-secure parts.   I clicked yes.   It then took me back to the first stage all over again!!    Thinking I had not had my payment go through, I did it all over again and then realised I had bought two tickets.   I regret not hitting ‘printscreen’ and getting a shot of this error now to prove this issue.

My fears were confirmed by this message I had a short while later,

Later I called up and was told nothing could be done by phone and I would need to email back, responding back to this specifically, which I thought was an automated generic response.

I got this message.

Ok, I got my funds back, but “contrary to your claim”???? the tone of the email lacks any kind of empathy or customer service and forces me that its my fault and not a technical issue with the site 😦     It doesn’t make me think about using this airline again afraid.    Wouldn’t of hurt to have a spell checker as well!!

As they have my name and title, its normally common courtesy to refer to me to as “Dear Mr Hayward” I think, and give the name of the person dealing with the complaint, you know, those usual business type traditions that show respect.

I looked at another airline Flybe to get the 2nd leg of my journey, to go from Brussels to Southampton.   I wasnt sure if this combination was possible.   Rather than a simple message why, when clicking on this link….

I was choosing different options between using Eurostar between Belgium and the UK, or flying.

So when ordering a ticket to go from Brussels to Southampton, I got this this rather oversized blue screen which means I have to scroll down to see Belgian airports that is inconsistent and vague to the user’s simple request to find out if he can go that combination of cities to fly is possible.

So why is it asking me to go flippin’ Dubrovnik?? (which is in Croatia)

Its most annoying that airlines don’t provide a simple method of seeing which combination of cities are possible, and this blue window has the bottom cut off, as the web seems poorly thought out.

Eastern Airlines could take me from Brussels to Southampton but at nearly £200.  Hmm.

I looked at one of the ‘best price’ type sites called ‘cheap flights’, with some odd results:

In other words, you have to use a German site, even I am using this on a computer in my flat in Israel!!    I guess the web site made a guess at my IP address and tried to give a page better for my location but got it totally wrong!

So next trying Eurostar….

Heres the ticket I wanted…..

Payment declined, oh man…

I called my bank who told me theres nothing wrong with the payment method, I called Eurostar to be told I could buy the leg of the trip that goes from Brussels to London, but not the bit for going home, I got on the phone to Eurostar’s customer support, with a nice friendly chap called Peter said it was simple to get Brussels to London bit booked.   I was told ring someone called ‘Bob’ who could give me an explanation for the rest of of the journey, which was largely unknown why this part wasn’t possible to order online or on the phone (engineering works or something maybe)

Later I got this email….

This below also seems like a poor job of doing the emails out to customers as it seems some part of the formatting or any logos and branding are all messed up.  Might be Gmail sometimes screws this up a bit, something that ought to be tested given how popular Gmail is.

Should say “we¿re sorry for these grammatical problems as well!”

I don’t want to put people off booking journeys online as it still is the best form of commerce the internet does best at, but I hope these odd problems could get notice but the airline and railway PR people maybe.

Does anyone want to hire me to test usability on your airline’s retail system from a customer perspective?   Whether you offer a free flight or a financial payment, I could do with something like this to help me with the big costs associated with travelling for the volunteer work I do.   Feel free to contact me on jp.hayward A T gmail.com


Cheap flights to Israel from Belgium

Found out today there is another budget airline from Europe to Israel, Jetairfly (which I guess are owned by Thomson, given their logo looks the same)

http://www.jetairfly.com/en/

They only go from Liege, in Belgium.  Given you could get there from UK or France via high speed down the Eurostar tunnel in less than 2 hours from £39, this might be a good deal if Easyjet doesn’t appeal, or indeed for travellers from continental Europe.

The other nice thing about this, some Belgian Christians told me there are lot of Jews that live in Antwerp but they don’t seem to be interested in Aliyah (immigration to Israel)  maybe this is good to give them a taste of what living here is like.

Flights to Israel from Belgium start at 79 Euros each way but there is a 15 Euro admin fee and usual annoying credit card fees too.

Heres a map I made:-

You can see the annotations I made closer.

I assume its simple to get a bus or train from Brussels to Liege, but not been to Belgium in a long time.