The most exciting part of the train ride from Cologne to Brussels was the luncheon. In order to save changing and thus overcome the difficulty of luggage we have been given a special carriage in most places as we have almost sufficient to fill one of the ordinary size. Consequently, we have usually found ourselves at one end of the train or the other. Sometimes when a dining car has been put on at the same time we have been placed right next to it and it has been most convenient for us just to go in next door to get our lunch.
On this occasion, however, it was a very long train and ours was the very last carriage. The dining car was right at the other end next to the engine. It was an express and it travelled faster than any other train we have been on, with the result that we felt the motion much more. When it came to the hour for lunch we had to walk through the train to the other end. It took several minutes to do this and it also took a lot of skill, otherwise there would have been bruises about our body.
The lunch was good and it was so close to Brussels when the meal was over that quite a number got permission to stay in the dining room until the train stopped rather than attempt the return walk to their own carriage. When we reached Aix-la-Chapelle we had to present our passports and get our money changed in the same manner as with the other countries. This money business is always a trouble and there is usually a loss to suffer which has to be taken as kindly as possible.
Brussels was reached in the early afternoon and it was dull and cold. We went for a walk around the shops, but the afternoon was uninteresting as the shops showed prices higher than we expected and the ladies could not spend money in the usual manner. Personally, I think it was a good thing.
Next morning it was raining hard and was also quite wintry. We were taken on a sight seeing tour in spite of the rain.
This gave us a good idea of the city, which has a population of 800,000. It is one of the largest cities we have visited so far. The town hall was very interesting with its very valuable tapestries some hundreds of years of age. It also contained some very beautiful oil paintings of the old Brussels which in the very early days had some streets of water like Venice. The river has now disappeared entirely, as it has all been built over. The old part of Brussels has narrow streets like the other old cities we have seen. On three occasions our bus scarcely had room to pass a car parked right up to the curb and our driver just quietly mounted the narrow footpath in order to get through.
In the new or more modern Brussels there are wide streets and very good buildings. We expected to see war scars, but there were none.
We passed the Hall of justice, which is a wonderful piece of architecture, but notwithstanding that 4,000 German soldiers were housed there during the war there was no outside damage that we could see. We also saw the spot where Edith Cavelle was shot as a spy, together with another woman whose name I forget.
We paid a visit to the Wiertz Museum which contains all the paintings done by this artist. Some of these were the best I have ever seen. As this great artist never sold or exhibited any of his painting his works are not as famous as they deserve to be. Some of the figures in the pictures were so lifelike that they appeared to be coming out of the canvas.
There was one I remember of a girl coming from behind a curtain and holding out a rose in her hand. Some of us were told to approach it slowly and watch the hand. When I did this I thought there was some trick, for the hand quite definitely appeared to be held out for me to take hold of.
It is the law here for every marriage to be first registered at the town hall before the church service. While we were at the town hall a couple came for the purpose. We were not permitted to see the whole ceremony, but we saw several officers, dressed in an ancient uniform and with old fashioned battle axes and spears, enter the special hall for this purpose. I understand that the whole ceremony takes less than two minutes and the people are then man and wife and no further ceremony is necessary, although one is usually carried out at a church. Silver and golden weddings are carried out in the same manner, but in this case the registrar has the privilege of kissing the bride three times before the ceremony and three times afterwards.
In the afternoon we visited the field of Waterloo. This was very interesting, notwithstanding that it was still raining and very dull. We went several miles out of Brussels through the best part of the city and some very nice suburbs. Then we had a long drive through the forest, which was very beautiful. The trees are mostly beech and birch. As it was spring time they were a pale green colour with their young leaves washed in the rain. This kind of forest was something different from anything we had yet seen. We went down an avenue of copper birch trees which was three miles long. Although I had my camera with me and could see the beauty of it with the misty rain it was useless to attempt a photograph.
When we arrived at the little village of Waterloo we went into the church to see where the remains of some hundreds of soldiers had been buried. The church was erected over the spot by the British Government. Right beside and kept in the same condition as when it was used on the eve of the battle were the headquarters occupied by Wellington. We saw his bed and the rest of the furniture he had used. We saw the old rifles, stores, pistols, ammunition and many other relics which had been carefully preserved. Then we went on to the battlefield and our guide described the battle to us in such a manner that with the aid of the pictures we could well imagine the scene of horror when so many thousands of lives were lost. Several of the places where the important officers lost their lives have been marked by monuments and the largest monument of all is that erected over the British soldiers.
We were told that Napoleon never paid his soldiers when they won a victory, but he let them take what they wanted from the spoils. When this took place the women suffered very badly and because they were saved from this by the British soldiers the women of the country constructed this memorial with their own hands. It consists of a huge mound like a pyramid some hundreds of feet high and on the top is a British lion. This great monument took seven years for the women to build, as they carried all the earth of which it is made from around the battlefield in baskets and would not allow male hands to assist them. I went up some hundreds of steps to the top and that in itself was an effort. Those women certainly deserved a lot of credit for the work they undertook.
We returned to the city by another route and saw some very ordinary homes, as well as some ultra modern flats built in the very latest skyscraper style. We also saw several other monuments and fountains, but the most unusual of these was that of a little child. According to the guide, about 600 years ago the governor had a boy 2½ years of age and he got lost. After two days without finding him the parents became distracted and the father said if anyone could find the boy he would present the city with a monument to perpetuate his recovery. The next day the boy was found and on the spot is the monument which describes what he was doing at that moment. I hope the photograph I took will be a good one.