Just before the pandemic, we had our first long-distance overseas train holiday of more than a couple of days, to Switzerland. The success of that, together with the delight of clear blue, unsullied skies during Covid, made us resolve to continue with the 6% club as our preferred mode of travel, and so for our return to Europe, we spent 10 days visiting family in Bavaria travelling by train.
The great thing about train travel, apart for the lower emissions, is that you can see the landscape slipping by and change as you get further from home, and that you can extend your holiday by exploring intermediate destinations. For us, heading out, that involved Brussels. Just a couple of hours out of St Pancras we were living the life, eating moules frites and drinking Belgian beers under blue skies (which sadly largely disappeared for the next few days behind the grey cloud we have become used to at home this Spring).
Over the next couple of days we got to know the city well: the architecture, from the extravagances of the Baroque to the naturalistic curves of Art Nouveau to the edges and reflections of modern times…
… the monumental art …
…. to the street art, of all kinds.
And of course, even on the mean street of Brussels there was wildlife, from the mini-forests of moss sporophytes atop the walls, to the Black Redstarts in crackling song from many a rooftop, and the (unsprayed!) planting pockets for boulevard trees extensively colonised by Little Robin (rare in the UK) and other delightful pavement plants.
There was also more formal greenspace and there the noisy battalions of Monk Parakeets, seemingly more keen on feeding on the ground than the Rose-ringed Parakeets we are more familiar with in London and elsewhere, together with (wherever there were Lime trees) the ubiquitous Firebugs.
Next day we explored further, taking the Metro out to the Atomium, the wonderful Modernist structure built as the centrepiece of the 1958 Expo (and actually designed to be standing for only six months!). It still feels futuristic now, so its impact 65 years ago is unimaginable… Wherever you have a view of the skyline, throughout the city, the Atomium is there.
It is sited on the edge of a vast royal park, much of which has open access, around the lakes, grasslands and through the extensive Beech woods, where the flowers were pretty much as in British equivalents, with the addition of Yellow Strawberry.
Statues, monuments and a magnificent avenue of Copper Beeches that casted an almost autumnal light were all indiciations of past and present human use, but the pair of Goshawks displaying high overhead clearly don’t mind!
As with the flowers, invertebrates were mainly those we might expect to see in a London park (including a range of ladybirds and Beech Woolly Aphid), with the exception of the huge Roman Snail.
An excellent couple of days, in a city we would like to see more of, in a country we would love to eat more of the food of and drink more of the beer of! From a nature perspective, it was good to see the apparent steps towards sustainability, from the spray-free street tree planting pockets, to the swathes of longer grass in the greenspaces with wildlife-friendly native and non-native plants allowed to flower, and the mini-wildlife sites in the heart of the city proudly labelled as parts of the Nature Network. On top of that, while we were there it was Eurovision, and in a commercial break on Belgian TV, a prime-time ad for their equivalent of No Mow May!
And so, after a fun-filled couple of days, and with rain in the forecast and the cold north-easterlies re-establishing, it was back on the train and heading to Bavaria, with just a couple of hours in Cologne to stretch the legs and have breakfast, and wonder anew (see here for our last trip there) at the vast, scary monster, the apogee of gothickry, that is Cologne Cathedral…