I turned in the audio guides and retrieved my driver’s license. We left the museum and headed for our next destination, the tower at the Porte De Hal, southeast of the city center. We decided not to use up any of our time by stopping for lunch, instead resorting to Clif bars. After retracing our steps for a while we reached the ring road that follows the trace of the old city wall. Since our destination was once a gatehouse for the wall, this was a good way to find it. Some of the streets we passed were now blocked by taxis, as the drivers were holding a protest against Uber. The rain continued on and off, and sometimes we resorted to umbrellas. On our way down we noticed ranks of helmeted riot police off to our right, in the direction of central Brussels. This was apparently related to the taxi situation, but nothing much appeared to be going on. The area we passed through was mostly office buildings and upscale shopping. We saw regular people going about their normal daily business.
The tower is surrounded by a little park. As we approached, a crew was engaged in cutting back the trees. Naturally, we stopped to watch for a while, and Fran took some pictures of her fellow workers. There was a cherry picker, and the guy on the platform was trimming back the twiggy branches with something like a brush trimmer on a stick. It seemed pretty haphazard. Another person on the ground was gathering up the cuttings into piles.
We went to Porte de Hal because we had seen a poster advertising a special exhibit of toys from the World War I period. The structure is a circular tower with a spiral staircase in the center. We worked our way upwards. The first few floors deal with Brussels history. There are displays of the regalia that the guilds carried in the city processions and an elaborate painting (really a diagram) showing one of the processions taking place. Other floors have display of medieval weapons, such as longbows and crossbows, and some good armor displays.
The toy display was worth the visit. There were toy soldiers, of course, but also tanks, ships, aircraft, trenches, board games, and even an ambulance team. One section was set up so that you could peer at the arrangement as through the embrasures of a fortification. There were also examples of boardgames. Many of the signs were in English, which was helpful.
We followed the spiral staircase all the way to the top of the tower. The top chamber is a big playroom, with art supplies, toy soldiers, medieval armor, and video games. I imagine that it had some educational purpose. The beams holding up the room of the tower are exposed, so that we could see how it was constructed. There was also a walkway on the outside that gave a view of the city.
Our last stop of the day was to be the Horta Museum, the former home of art nouveau painter Victor Horta. However, we just couldn’t find it. We had maps and an address, but, try as we might, we kept getting turned around and into “this can’t be right” situations. Fran suggested we give up, but I wanted to keep trying. Eventually, though, I had to admit defeat. It’s down there somewhere, but we’re not going to see it soon.
We started our walk back towards the city center, this time by the southern route. We passed the southern train station (the Gare Du Midi) and continued. Then we got a bit lost again. Fortunately, we knew the general direction we needed to go and eventually started to see familiar landmarks. On the whole, it was a tense ending to the day.
After reorganizing at the hotel, we went out to find the Maison du Crepes for dinner. It wasn’t our day for direction finding, though, and we had trouble with that, too. We were at the point of saying, “We’ll go one more block in this direction before giving up,” when Fran spotted the sign. It was a small, homey place. Naturally, we had crepes, savory for the main course and sweet for dessert.