A couple of months ago June had asked me what we were going to do on my birthday as by pure fluke I had a long weekend off work. I’d forgotten all about it due to the holidays in Poland and Hungary but a chat with Dave Roberts reminded me that our long weekends often matched. Earlier in the year we’d had an overnight stay in Bruxelles for a few beers and to check out some of the new Type 18 electrics that were being delivered and this got me thinking - how about a re-run but with June also coming along for a longer and more relaxing break. The plan was hatched but due to the closing of the Paralympics we booked two nights in Bruxelles (no Eurostar availability on the Sunday afternoon). I thought a few beers on my birthday might be a good idea especially as the forecast was looking good so I suggested to June that we went for a trip on the “Kusttram” from De Panne to Knokke. Spooky coincidence #1 – I mentioned the tram trip to Dave and he replied that he’d had the same idea as he’d never been on the coastal tram before!
We bought FIP tickets to get to De Panne and back from Knokke on the Sunday as well as a day ticket for the tram. On Monday we used a 24 hour Bruxelles Jump ticket.
All opinions and comments in this report are my own unless otherwise stated and I make no apologies for any typos or grammatical mistakes! As usual, new loco’s are marked in bold, late running is highlighted red and unscheduled stops are shown in italics. A review of the hotel, beers and railways follows at the end of the report.
As I was working Friday night, I’d booked us on an afternoon Eurostar so that I could grab a few hours kip before we made our way to London. As Dave was heading down from Shrewsbury and June dislikes Newport, we decided to head via Birmingham where we met Dave and had a quick pint in the Post Office Vaults (Black Throat & Penguin Porter). Spooky coincidence #2 – I picked up a copy of Out Inn Brum while we were in the POV and in the middle of it was a trip report from someone spending a few days in Belgium – including a pub crawl on the Kusttram coastal tram!!
After a quiet journey to London on a “not for much longer” Virgin Pendolino, we called in at the Euston Tap for a pint of Dark Arts before making our way to St Pancras to collect our tickets and check in. Security was quite busy and as has happened before, we used the right hand queue and got fast tracked via the empty business premier section (the belt police were having a day off). After having a quick snack that we’d picked up at M&S, we boarded the Eurostar in the Standard Premier (a birthday treat and a bargain with PRIV although not as good as the old first class). The food was okay and I’d managed to book us a table for four so we had a nice relaxing journey. The Belgian crew were pretty friendly and I managed to get three bottles of wine out of them – a rare achievement these days. The highlight of the trip was Dave recounting the story of his “personal” flight in the Scottish highlands, complete with beach landing!
After an on time arrival at Bruxelles Midi (no RiotScare style fanfare on Eurostar) and raiding the cash machines, we caught an extra train (no doubt from the coast) to Bruxelles Nord and headed to our hotel. While not an ideal choice (uphill through the red light district to get to it) it was about the best on offer when I booked and it turned out to be pretty good for the price we’d paid. After a quick freshen up we headed off down the road for a visit to the Bier Circus, somewhere new for Dave and where June and I hadn’t been for about ten years. We overshot at first and doubled back wondering why we’d missed it – the answer was it was closed! This was a bit of a blow as I’d checked the opening hours (confirmed on the door) and there was no sign of any sort to explain it not being open.
We decided to walk into the centre, stopping off at the Port Noire for a couple of beers (Barbe Noire and Barbar Blonde) en route.
Porte Noire – the cellar bar that’s easily walkable from Poechenellekelder and Moeder Lambic Fontainas but a bit of a hike from our hotel near Bruxelles Nord! As none of us were very hungry we passed on the chance of a spag bol in Poechenellekelder, instead heading downhill to Moeder Lambic, a favourite of ours. After relaxing with one of the guest beers, we each decided to have one of their platters – Dave went for a quiche, I went for the pate and June opted for the cheese although hers didn’t turn out to be what she’d had before. It was a small bowl of cream cheese with spring onions and black pepper served with the usual salad and bread – quite nice to start but she’d soon had enough as the pepper was a bit overpowering! As we weren’t sure of the last tram back to Rogier, we decided to save ourselves the hassle of checking by walking back to the hotel. It was a good 2km walk and a fair bit of it was uphill but the exercise helped work off a few of the calories that we’d just consumed!
LM DMU 10:40 Hereford – Birmingham New Street 12:11 10:40 Hereford – Birmingham New Street
Virgin EMU 12:50 Birmingham New Street – Euston 14:14 12:50 Birmingham New Street – Euston
ES 373.221 16:04 St. Pancras International - Bruxelles Midi 19:05 9144 16:04 St. Pancras International - Bruxelles Midi
ES 373.222 16:04 St. Pancras International - Bruxelles Midi 19:05 9144 16:04 St. Pancras International - Bruxelles Midi
I’d suggested catching one of the two loco hauled services to De Panne as doing the tram in the Northern direction would give us more options for returning to Bruxelles in the evening. The only downside was it meant either an early start from Bruxelles or a lunchtime arrival at De Panne. Despite only having about five hours sleep, we all decided on the early start so after a quick breakfast we walked downhill to Nord and bought our Priv singles to De Panne (€5,50). As the De Panne trains go via the “slow” route at the weekend, we decided to catch an IC-A train direct to Gent. We boarded at the back as the DVT is often quietest and the seats are mainly set out in bays of four rather than airline style. Unfortunately, the “quiet” coach contained an annoying little German brat who kept running up and down (how I resisted the temptation to put my foot out I’ll never know!)
After grabbing a quick coffee at Gent and being surprised when June also presented me with a birthday waffle, we joined the De Panne that had left Bruxelles Nord a minute in front of us! As De Panne is home to “Plopsaland” kids theme park, the train was pretty full by the time we reached our terminus. I made a dash for the tram ticket office and bought us three day tickets (€5,00 each) as well as picking up a ticket/route map before boarding the next tram. Although I’m not overly into trams, I had been on the De Lijn “Kusttram” once before when June and I had travelled from Blankenberge to Oostende and sods law, when I checked I found out that it was the same tram!! (Note – tram stops used are highlighted in bold)
Quite a few passengers baled out at De Panne Centrum as the station is actually out of town at Adinkerke but we stayed on for a few more stops to reach our first bar of the day in Koksijde Sint Idesbald. A short walk found us on the front and sat in Belle Vue although I resisted the temptation to have a beer of the same name! The interior of the bar was mainly brick and wood but we decided to enjoy the sunny weather by sitting outside. There were five beers on tap including Rodenbach but instead, we went for one sharing the town’s name, Huyghe St Idesbald Bruin. I went and took a few photos down on the sandy beach including a duck – not the feathured variety but an ex WWII army DUKW amphibious truck!
Time was ticking by and I realised that we’d possibly overstayed our welcome as if we spent the same amount of time in every bar it would be midnight before we reached Knokke! Our next bar was only two stops away at Koksijde Bad and Noa’s was right next to the tram stop! The outside seating was quite busy so we decided to sample the modern stylish interior as this would also mean better service. There were eight tap beers and we all decided to have a Chouffe – you can’t really go wrong with that, especially as it was on tap.
Our next stop was Maree in Newport town, sorry Nieuwpoort Stad. The tram line had veered inland although we were still on the waterfront courtesy of the docks access. The bar was nothing special to look at but served the tourist trade well with some tasty looking food and six beers available on tap including Rodenbach and Chouffe so we had another Chouffe! I was clock watching again and had just suggested drinking up when a tram rolled past and as I was the only one who’d finished we decided not to make a dash for it. Dave kindly donated a bit of his beer to pass the time before the next tram.
As we departed Nieuwpoort, we looped round past the Yser sluice gates and the Albert memorial, with the king astride his horse within a crown raised on ten columns. We baled off the tram at Middelkerke Casino (you can’t miss it!) for the short walk to the Iceburg bar. This was a stereotypical seafront café and consequentially quite busy so it was a while before we got served which was a blow as there was another noisy brat present. They had seven beers on tap including Rodenbach again but we each went for a bottle of St. Bernardus Prior before heading back to the tram stop via Carrefour for a snack. On the way to Oostende we passed through Raversijde and we were quite surprised to see a few anti aircraft gun emplacements with the guns still present. I later found out a bit more about them for a possible return visit in the future (http://www.warmuseums.nl/gal/058gal.htm).
Despite having been to Oostende plenty of times in years gone by, I’d never really ventured far from the station as my visits were often limited to a quick beer and croque monsieur in the Titanic bar after coming off the night boat! We got off the tram at Oostende Marie Joséplein and walked into the centre for a visit to Botteltje. This to me was the star of the trip, a cracking bar with a very British feel to it but not in a tacky or touristy way. I was surprised that it was very quiet. June was very impessed with the Chouffe gnome on the bar but this time we went for a Westmalle Dubbel rather than a Chouffe.
Back at the tram stop I fotted the tram approaching and then joined June ready to board. She was right in front of the doors so moved to one side to let the passengers off as you do but she then had some cheeky cow try to push past her to board so I let my elbows do the talking! Her boyfriend wasn’t impressed and started mouthing off but his bark was worse than his bite so I told him what I thought of him – he may not have understood what I said but he certainly understood the way it was said!! After this little episode we were almost caught out by a tram swap at Oostende Station but managed to get on the replacement before it departed. We baled at Bredene Campings where we were looking for the oddly named Jonathan bar but we failed to find it so I’m not sure whether it’s closed or whether we were looking in the wrong place.
We hopped on the next tram to De Haan Aan Zee for a visit to De Torre, another bar right next to the tram stop. This was probably runner up for the day with an imposing exterior and an arty interior coupled with a good beer list giving an all round nice feeling. They had five beers on tap but I decided that I fancied a kriek so June and I had Kriek Boon while Dave had a Chimay Red. We were just finishing our beers when a tram rolled in but unlike Nieuwpoort we had time to dive out the door and catch it.
I’d been to Blankenberge a couple of times before on the Summer T trains but it was another town that I’d not really explored. From Blankenberge Markt we should have had two bars within walking distance but the first one, Dem Brasseur appeared to now be a hole in the ground! The second bar was another beachfront café and nothing special to look at. After a Corsendonk Bruin we went for a wander down onto the beach as June had said in the morning that she’d probably go for a paddle somewhere. Despite looking like a typical Englishman abroad, Dave flatly refused to go for a paddle but this was possibly as he’d been distracted earlier by the Belgian version of crazy golf – crazy snooker!! It was laid out just like a crazy golf coarse but everything was about three feet in the air – I’m not sure what Steve Davis would’ve made of it!
Back at the tram stop the odour from the nearby friteur was too good to ignore so we decided to each have a portion of chips. Not surprisingly, just as I was collecting the order a tram arrived so we took our time eating our chips and caught the next one. The downside of this and the paddle was the time as it was now gone seven and we’d originally thought that we’d be back in Knokke for the 19:06! We weighed up the options but as the next tram was running slightly late we’d only have about ten minutes at our next bar or twenty five minutes with a very tight connection at Knokke onto the Bruxelles train. I reluctantly suggested that we miss out Schildia at Knokke Heistas it would at least be quite easy to get to again and stay on the tram to Knokke Station. This gave us time to buy our tickets (€4,50), grab a soft drink from the shop opposite the station and head up the busy platform ready to board as soon as the train arrived. I was pleased to see 1915 roll into the platform, a required loco and even a new (sub) class that had stuck to diagram from the morning.
It wasn’t long out of Knokke that the effects of the day started to take their toll and at one point we’d all dozed off. I was awake at Brugge though so I was able to view the loco on the second half of our train (also required) as well as the opposite working (including another Type 19). We arrived back at Nord on time and Dave headed off for a kebab but I was more tired than I was hungry so June and I headed straight back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep.
The interesting interior of the Botteltje bar in the centre of Oostende, matched by a pretty decent beer list! SNCB 1843 07:55 Bruxelles Nord - Gent St Pieters 08:36 IC529 06:15 Eupen - Oostende
I’d originally contemplated getting up for a rush hour but as I’d been so tired the previous night I hadn’t bothered setting an alarm and June had turned hers off and gone back to sleep! In the end we surfaced, had breakfast, checked out and reached Bruxelles Nord at 10:15.
After buying a jump ticket for the day, I headed to Central with June where she left me as the shops were a better choice for her. I managed to pick up a few required Type 18’s, bumping into one crank and viewing another across the platforms at Nord although I somehow managed to avoid Dave! He did however send me a text to say that 1345 (my bogey loco and now in the freight pool) was knocking about at Midi and a possibility for the lunchtime EC to Luxembourg – just after I’d arranged to meet June in A La Becasse for lunch! I rescheduled lunch and then promptly received a message from Dave saying that 1352 was on the EC so as I was just arriving at Central I baled off and headed straight to A La Becasse. June had arrived just before me and had already ordered a jug for two of the Lambic Doux. Just as we were finishing Dave arrived so we ordered our food together with another jug of Lambic Doux.
After lunch June went back to her shopping although she took a break half way through and had a beer in the Grand Place, soaking up the atmosphere and doing a bit of people watching. I went back on my hunt for 1345, managing to pick up a few more Type 18’s and a couple of Type 19’s in the process but alas no sign of 1345. I met back up with Dave and June in the Eurostar terminal and after a fairly painless check in we were through security about ten minutes before boarding commenced. As we were “slumming it” in standard class June had picked up a few snacks to keep us going. The journey home was a painless one, the Eurostar was quiet, we arrived on time at St Pancras so easily made the train to Birmingham followed by the last train home to Hereford – after all, we’d already been to Newport once during the trip!
New Type 19’s are currently entering traffic and despite being built for use on the double deck push/pull trains they are finding work on a variety of services. Easily identifiable by the auto coupler, 1904 runs into Bruxelles Nord with IC537 to Oostende.
SNCB 1872 10:25 Bruxelles Nord - Bruxelles Central 10:28 IC4531 09:12 Essen - Charleroi Sud
SNCB 1832 10:36 Bruxelles Central - Bruxelles Midi 10:39 IR3931 09:41 Louvain la neuve Uni - Binche
SNCB 1895 10:36 Bruxelles Central - Bruxelles Midi 10:39 IR3931 09:41 Louvain la neuve Uni - Binche
SNCB 1890 10:56 Bruxelles Midi - Bruxelles Central 10:59 IC2010 10:08 Charleroi Sud - Antwerpen Centraal
SNCB 1887 11:04 Bruxelles Central - Bruxelles Nord 11:07 IR3709 09:46 Quevy - Bruxelles Nat Aeroport
SNCB 1905 16:40 Bruxelles Central - Bruxelles Nord 16:43 IC1515 15:06 Knokke - Tongeren
SNCB 1893 16:58 Bruxelles Nord - Bruxelles Midi 17:05 IC2037 16:17 Antwerpen Centraal - Charleroi Sud
ES 373.011 17:56 Bruxelles Midi - St. Pancras International 19:03 9153 17:56 Bruxelles Midi - St. Pancras International
ES 373.012 17:56 Bruxelles Midi - St. Pancras International 19:03 9153 17:56 Bruxelles Midi - St. Pancras International
Virgin EMU 19:03 Euston – Birmingham New Street 20:45 19:03 Euston - Wolverhampton
LM DMU 20:59 Birmingham New Street – Hereford 22:29 20:59 Birmingham New Street - Hereford
Considering the trip was planned at the last minute it went really well and all three of us had a good time, especially me as the Sunday tram pub crawl was a very enjoyable way to celebrate my birthday. I was a bit disappointed not to find 1345 but the new Type 18’s and 19’s are still providing some entertainment although SNCB timekeeping is still rather hit and miss.
The biggest disappointment of the trip was walking all the way to Bier Circus only to find it was shut.
The weather was excellent, a marked contrast to most of the Summer and had I known it was going to be so hot I’d have possibly splashed out for a better hotel (with air con!) and wouldn’t have brought an extra layer and our macs.
Located about 10 minutes walk from Bruxelles Nord, close to Gillon tram stop. Not the best route to walk as it’s mainly uphill and passes through one of the less salubrious areas if you know what I mean! A double room including breakfast cost us €111,00 for two nights (including €1,50 city tax per person per night). Dave’s single room was only €13,00 cheaper! The reception was open 24 hours a day and there’s alledgedly WiFi access although I didn’t have time to try it. My verdict would be average at best – the hair dryer didn’t work, their website quotes air con (although HRS didn’t) but there wasn’t any in our room, the shower suffered from low water pressure and the breakfast was a bit poor (stale bread on Sunday monring).
All the bars visited on our Kusttram pub crawl are featured in the Good Beer Guide Belgium and in addition I also referred to http://www.beerpubmap.be/.
Rue de l’Enseignement 57
Open: Tue-Fri11:00 – 23:00, Sat 18:00 – 23:00, Closed Sun & Mon.
We tried to visit on Saturday evening but the place was in darkness. I’ve e-mailed them to find out if they’ve changed their hours.
Only open a couple of years but already gaining a cult following so it can get busy in the evenings. 46 beers on tap including six lambics served through hand pulls. The food is limited to quiche and cold platters although the pate is very good.
A la Becasse
Rue de Tabora 11
Tel: +32 2 511 00 06
Open: Sun-Thu 11:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 11:00-01:00.
A pleasant Belgian café located at the end of a small passageway near to the Bourse (the red neon arrow is a good pointer but inside everything is wood and old fashioned). It is often quiet at lunchtime but can get busy in the evenings. As well as a standard Belgian selection of about 30 beers they also serve Timmermans Lambic Doux (Faro) and Blanche in jugs, straight out of the barrel – far better than fizzy pumps! The food is limited to the usual snacks and pasta dishes but the spag bol is huge!
I’m a member of several private railway groups on Yahoo, used for posting news and trips reports as well as loco diagrams/observations. New members are welcomed but it is expected that members post gen when visiting the country. I’ve compiled a Bruxelles T18 simplifier to run alongside the loco diagrams on both groups listed below which I used on the Monday and will be updating in the next few days.
Belgen - http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/belgen/ - A specialist group for Belgium.
ERG - http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/europeanrail/ - A general group for all European countries.
The T11, T21 & T27 gen was provided by Dave Roberts.
Loco’s seen working IC-E were 1805, 1826, 1831, 1859, 1866, 1870, 1880, 1882, 1885, 1905. Just when I was about to decide that the old 27MUX diagrams were holding up, one that should be a unit (IC1536) rolled into Midi with two Type 18’s! Also, IC1515 was 1905 on its own when it should have been a pair.