Table 400: Oostende – Brussels – Liège – Verviers – Eupen

PART 1

This month we head to Belgium to explore the route from Oostende to Eupen. The Belgian National Railway Company is often referred to by the abbreviations SNCB (in French) or NMBS (in Dutch). Services include a mix of long-distance Intercity and local connecting trains.

The average journey time between Oostende and Eupen is 3 hours 30 minutes and covers a distance of around 228 kilometres.The first leg of our journey is from Oostende to Brussels which takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Along the way, why not take in Brugge, the most popular tourist destination in Belgium. Key sights include the 13th century belfry where visitors can take in the panoramic views, the Groeninge Museum with its early Flemish art or take a walk around the old cobbled lanes.

Gent is the next stop, with its vibrant atmosphere, scenic waterways and soaring spires. Take time to visit Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, home to the world-famous painting, Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers.Soon we arrive in Brussels, Belgium’s capital and home to the European Union Parliament. Journey up into the Heysel area of Brussels to explore the Atomium, a legacy from World Expo 1958, with spectacular views of the city as well as art and science exhibitions and a restaurant in its 9 spheres.

Belgian chocolates are rated some of the best in the world and many souvenir shops around the Grand Place (Grote Markt) will tempt you to purchase boxes of these tasty treats.

Before you leave check out Brussels Trainworld which has the oldest preserved locomotive in Continental Europe and many other interesting exhibits housed in an historic railway station.

PART 2

We pick up our journey in Liège, the third largest city in Belgium. Situated along the tranquil Meuse river in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region near the borders of the Netherlands and Germany.

Designed by the world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava, Liège-Guillemins station is a stunning example of modern architecture with its curved steel and glass design. It is a major hub on the Belgian rail network with a range of Intercity and local services connecting it with other towns and cities in Belgium, together with cross-border connections to Maastricht, Aachen and Luxembourg. High-speed Thalys and ICE trains provide regular services to a variety of international destinations such as Paris, Köln and Frankfurt.

For those interested in architecture, art and history you shouldn’t miss the fantastic Museum of Walloon Life and Museum of Modern Art, two of the country’s best museums. Also St Paul Cathedral, or Liège Cathedral, built in the 15th Century and now lovingly restored. The building is a great example of Gothic architecture especially the pulpit, vaults and ceiling.

Nominated as the most extreme stairway in the world, the Montagne de Bueren (Bueren Mountain) winding stairs are well worth climbing, with a 30 degree slope and 374 steps. At the summit you will be rewarded by breathtaking panoramic views of Liège and the surrounding landscape.

Don’t forget to indulge in some authentic Liège waffles, which contain delicious exploding sugar crystals. Check out the bakery Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette with its completely home-made waffles.

PART 3

We approach the final leg of our journey travelling from Liège-Guillemins to Verviers-Central, a distance of around 21 kilometres and a journey time of 27 minutes. Verviers also has a smaller station, Verviers Palais.

Nestled in the Vesdre river valley is the former wool-processing city of Verviers with its picturesque hilly landscape and elegant 19th century buildings.

There’s a superb chocolate museum, La Chocolaterie Darcis, where you will discover the history and development of chocolate through times and continents and take a look at the chocolate production process along the way. If you are looking for somewhere quiet, take a leisurely stroll around Parc de Séroule in downtown Verviers.

Verviers is also an ideal location for those wishing to visit nearby Hautes Fagnes, Limbourg, Blégny Mine and Val-Dieu abbey.

We end our journey in Eupen, the German-speaking town in the French-speaking part of Belgium with its unique history and culture.

Christmas Markets by train

This week we are taking a look at a small selection of the wonderful markets worth visiting around Europe this December to stock up on Christmas presents and festive food and drink! All of these cities can be easily reached by train on major routes from all over Europe.

  1. Vienna, Austria.

This beautiful and atmospheric city is perfect for a Christmas visit. Christkindlmärkte is the name for the many markets that pop up all over the city in the cobbled streets adorned with hundreds of fairy lights. Rathauspark in front of City Hall is the largest market with its giant tree, ice rink and fairground rides. You can also listen to international choirs singing carols to get you in the spirit.

  1. Brussels, Belgium

At the largest Christmas market in Belgium, Winter Wonders’ 240 stalls sell a wide variety of Christmas items, from traditional gifts to delicious Belgian delicacies against the backdrop of a giant Ferris wheel. When the sun goes down, make your way to the Grand-Place for a dazzling sound and lights show.

  1. Berlin, Germany

The German capital boasts 60 Christmas markets, so there’s something for everyone! You can expect everything from elaborate illuminations to live entertainment such as a nativity with real animals, crafting demonstrations, magical attractions for children or even medieval processions.

  1. Strasbourg, France

France’s oldest Christmas market sells a variety of traditional items, sweets and mulled wine from around 300 wooden chalets dotted around different areas of the picturesque Alsatian town. The markets each have an individual feel and showcase different products or themes including one from a guest country, with a different one invited every year to display its Christmas wares.

  1. Stockholm, Sweden

For a guaranteed snowy Christmas, head north to Stockholm’s Skansen’s Market which has been held annually since 1903. Pretty red huts sell traditional sausages, cheeses, spices and other homemade delights. The markets also sell an array of Swedish crafts alongside traditional Christmas ornaments and hand-dipped candles.

TABLE 18: London/Paris – Amsterdam

PART 1

We have a new Table for July, this time we will be taking a look in detail at Table 18 from our International section. This table covers the popular route from London/Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels.

There is a now a choice of three train connections between Brussels and Amsterdam – The fast Thalys and new Eurostar connections or the slower (and cheaper) InterCity service that runs every hour during the day time. Thalys operate high speed trains running every one or two hours and make intermediate stops only at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam and Antwerpen, making the journey in under 2 hours. The slower IC service goes via Den Haag and other local stops and does not allow seat reservation, which means greater flexibility (tickets are valid all day so you can hop on and off at will) but trains can be full during peak periods. Tickets for Eurostar and Thalys must be pre-booked and offer different classes of travel. Thalys offer Standard, Comfort or Premium class, with Premium tickets including food and drink as well as access to Thalys lounges. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass, you won’t need to buy a ticket but you will pay a seat reservation fee.

The slower IC route takes us through the cities of Antwerp, Den Haag and Rotterdam as well as serving both Schiphol Airport and Brussels National Airport. An extra stop at Breda was added in April 2018. Using the slower service, the entire journey can be taken in just 3 and half hours meaning it can make an interesting day trip particularly if you stop off along the way.

The Brussels Capital-Region has three main train stations, Noord/Nord is best for connections to Liège or Luxembourg, Centraal/Central for the city centre and the busiest station where the majority of international trains and Eurostar services arrive is Midi/Zuid (Brussels South Station) where there are numerous connections to Gent and Brugge as well as Lille, Paris and London. Due to Brussels-Capital being bilingual, both the French and Dutch names of the station are official, hence the Midi/Zuid shorthand used in the ERT.

PART 2

We are going to begin in Brussels, easily and quickly reached from either capital city. Brussels has enough art, culture and cuisine to keep even the most ambitious explorer busy for days. Combining French, Dutch and Flemish traditions the city has a mixture of old world grand and art nouveau buildings alongside modern skyscrapers.

The Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the hub to which all visitors to Brussels inevitably flock. The busy World Heritage listed square is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world, with architecture from all eras. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but there are many interesting buildings and elaborate statues. A short walk away you will find Brussels most famous statue, the Manneken Pis (Peeing boy!) embraced by the people of Brussels the statue often has a different outfit for every occasion.  Another statue worth a visit is the space-age Atomium. Towering over north Brussels’ suburbia the 9 glittering spheres are topped with a panorama-level restaurant with some great views of the surrounding area and ‘mini Europe’ below where you can see models of famous sites such as Big Ben and the Berlin Wall.

Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, there are almost 90 museums, extravagant shopping arcades, stunning churches, beautiful parks, and wonderful cafes and restaurants to explore. Most of the museums are within the city centre or easily reached by public transport. Apart from the usual arts and scientific museums, there are quirky ones like theToy Museum, Belgium Chocolate Village and also Train World, a modern attraction displaying an impressive collection of old and new locomotives. Due to its excellent rail links there are many day trips possible if using Brussels as your base. Liège or Bruges (Table 400) can both be reached in under an hour and a little further afield you can reach Lille on the French/Belgium border.

PART 3

Following on from Brussels the next station is Mechelen which lies approximately 25 kilometres between Brussels and Antwerp. This picturesque city is one of Flanders’ prominent cities of historical art and has some wonderful museums and hundreds of listed monuments, churches and renaissance buildings. The imposing Catholic church in the centre of the town is visible from nearly everywhere so is a great compass point from which to explore. Its unusually shaped Rumbold’s Tower is a wonder to behold and a spectacular view can be reached by climbing its 514 steps. Also not to miss is the newly renovated majestic renaissance palace that houses the Museum Hof van Busleyden with its impressive collection of artworks.

Onwards now to Antwerpen Centraal, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. There are three levels of tracks and a shopping centre which includes a diamond gallery with more than thirty diamond shops. The station is conveniently located within walking distance to the historic city centre where there is plenty to see for lovers of art, architecture or fashion. Belgium’s second biggest city has two museums showcasing the best of avant-garde fashion as well as plenty of shopping in the surrounding fashion district. The city also displays plenty of references to its most famous resident, the 17th century painter Rubens. The artist’s palatial home Wapper Rubenshuis is a must see, together with the Royal Museum of Fine Art, displaying works from masters such as Magritte and Van Dyck. To experience renaissance works in a spectacular environment visit the iconic cathedral which towers over the skyline. The city has plenty of options for eating and drinking with trendy restaurants and bars where you may sample the local speciality Antwerpse Handjes, little biscuits or chocolates in the shape of a hand.


PART 4

After Antwerp the line travels through the southern Netherlands, stopping at Breda, a popular destination due to its rich history. In the city centre you’ll find lots of interesting architecture and cultural delights but Breda is also a fun-loving town with many cafés, terraces and excellent restaurants as well as a range of specialty shops and boutiques.

The next stop is the modern Centraal station with its striking slanted roof, in the maritime city of Rotterdam. The Netherlands second biggest city is famed for its futuristic architecture and has a wealth of top-class museums and galleries. Split by the vast Nieuwe Maas shipping channel, Rotterdam is crossed by a series of tunnels and bridges, notably the dramatic Erasmusbrug – the swooping white cable-stayed bridge dubbed de Zwaan (the Swan). Many day trips are possible from Rotterdam either using the frequent trains and buses or by following one of the well-marked cycle routes. Historic and scenic Delft is nearby, home of the world famous ceramics, its an unspoilt traditional town with pretty canals. Bicycles can be hired from the railway station and are the ideal way to explore.

Onwards through the largely urban landscape the next stop is the administrative capital Den Haag (The Hague) home of the Dutch parliament and the royal family. The Hague offers a unique mix of small lively beach resorts and a historical city centre. Many of the attractions such as the royal palaces and eye catching buildings around ‘The Plein’ are within walking distance of the station. Rather than having canals like other Dutch cities, The Hague has wide streets and avenues and plenty of areas of green space, giving the city a more continental feel.

After a stop at Schiphol airport the final destination on this route is reached, the vibrant capital city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Centraal Station is the primary station, providing quick access to the city centre. This terminus not only offers train services in all directions but is also directly connected to local bus, tram, metro and ferry services. The city centre is very easy to navigate and compact enough to be walkable or canal cruises are a popular way to get a different perspective. If you’re planning to head out into the Amsterdam Area during your trip to Amsterdam, it makes sense to use the Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket – a special public transport pass valid on bus, tram, metro and train in Amsterdam and the entire region. The ticket is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and comes with a useful public transport guide for the Amsterdam area filled with sightseeing tips.

Route No. 14: “From Flanders to the Rhine”

ROUTE OF THE WEEK

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 14: “From Flanders to the Rhine” which begins in Lille, passing through Brussels and Liège, ending in Cologne. The Thalys and Deutsche Bahn trains from Brussels to Cologne all follow the same route. They dash across the flatlands of Brabant to reach Liège (Luik in Dutch and Lüttich in German), an industrial city that sprawls along the west bank of the River Meuse.

In Liège, all trains stop at Guillemins railway station, a stunning piece of design by Santiago Calatrava. The building is best appreciated from the road outside rather than from the platforms, but on a sunny day the play of light and shade on the platforms is quite seductive. Part of the station is shown on the front cover of this book. The station is a reminder that Liège is a city which has always had strong railway connections

A new high-speed line from Liège to Aachen opened in 2009, thus marking the end of a slow dawdle through the hill country of eastern Belgium to reach the Germany border. Nowadays, the fast trains dive through tunnels and miss the best of the scenery. Of course, you can if you wish still follow the old line via Verviers to Aachen. There are hourly trains on this route, all requiring a change of train at Welkenraedt (ERT 400 & 438).