First ensure you’ve had a couple of kwak beers in their proper glass, then head upstairs to Toone’s theatre with its puppets dangling from the eaves, take your place on the bench – and be prepared to not understand very much. Fear not though, this is normal. This is Bruxellois.
This time it is an adaptation of Hamlet, transported to the backstreets and canal of Brussels. There is a bit of hanky panky between King and Queen, a regal ghost burning his bottom on the fires of purgatory, and someone has caught the “English” flu. Sitting near the front you can appreciate the arms behind the artifice: 7 young puppeteers are needed to perform the show, and the lead puppeteer (Toone VIII) is also ticketmaster, barman and answerer of baffled-tourist questions.
“To be or not to be: that is the cwestion…” We’ll say this in English, that way everyone can say they didn’t understand a thing”, says one of the characters. But perhaps this Bruxellois dialect isn’t so tricky after all. There’s a spuuk in this play, you know, and a snotneus, and a stoemmeriek (stupid person). Mostly performances are in French Bruxellois, but once a week you can try Flemish Bruxellois (and be even more confused). The dialect survives mostly as a strong accent and vocabulary: you’re most likely to hear it amongst the older generation and Flemish speakers.
In the interval, you can drink yet more beer amongst retired 30 year old puppets in the tiny museum-cum-bar. Meanwhile I’m mulling over a line from the performance, “Justice is a snail. It will come in its own time.”
Performances at 20:30, and at 16:00 and 20:30 on Saturdays.
Check online to see what is playing, and reserve places online or by telephone a couple of days beforehand if you can.
Impasse Sainte-Pétronille, Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes 66, 1000 Brussels
+32 2 513 54 86
Google map: bit.ly/PYFjRD
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A kitsch copy of a Lourdes shrine, a modernist housing development influenced by Le Corbusier, historic lampposts, a memorial to homing pigeon trainers, a hidden passageway Leopold II used to visit a mistress ... Nothing really really juicy, but I still revelled in a few oddities on my “Secret and Unusual Brussels” guided cycle tour. It was run by Pro Velo: a non-profit organisation set up to encourage cycling in a city prone to traffic problems. They offer a regular programme of themed public tours in French and Dutch, featuring cafés and bandes dessinées, beers and brasseries, the green belt around Brussels, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism ... And yes, intrepid explorer, you’ll see the city from a different perspective and cover more ground that on a walking or bus tour. I am particularly looking forward to learning about the mysterious history of freemasons in Brussels come October. For tours in English (or Spanish, Italian, German), ask for a quote for a 3-4 hour private tour at least five working days in advance. Choose from a good selection of themes “à la carte”; including “Brussels for Beginners”, “Magritte and the Surrealists”, “Art Deco and Modernism” and “Castles and Abbeys”. As with the public tours, don’t forget that you can hire bikes if necessary.
It’s a little bit odd looking into a giant aquarium, only to see – not tuna or sharks – but strange limbed beings in masks and flippers.
For once I haven’t come to gawp at fish. Did you know that Nemo 33 in Brussels is the deepest indoor swimming pool in the world? I didn’t, but recently I took my first ever scuba diving session here in the warm water, under the careful supervision of Filippo, one of the diving coaches. He patiently shepherded me as I practised sinking, hand signals, breathing, mask-clearing and trying to advance without rolling in circles according to the whims of my waistcoat. By the end of the lesson I was finally making progress, and we descended the rope down to the five meter bottom and peered through the glass windows trying to catch sight of the diners in the restaurant.
The Nemo pool is divided into various different compartments. Filippo beckoned us over to see down into the 10 metre area, and then I nervously sneaked a look into the abyss of the 33 metre pit. I could not see the bottom and was very glad not to be going down there!
My one hour introduction to scuba diving cost 45 euro per person, with a maximum of two people sharing the instructor. However there are different levels of courses available, not just in French and Flemish, but in English and other languages. All equipment (fins, masks, waistcoats and oxygen tanks) is supplied, and for hygiene reasons the only personal dive equipment you can use are your fins and dive mask. Divers not accompanied by an instructor must have a buddy and a dive computer. Certified divers pay 22 euro a session. Non-certified or those with less than a PADI Open Water certificate pay 30 euro. 15 minutes before your allotted time a bell rings to summon you to the changing rooms, and shortly before time’s up a bell will ring in the depths to tell you to begin your ascent….
Afterwards you could try your luck and have a drink or dinner in the Thai restaurant, with a view of the divers. However after 25 minutes of bubble watching without acknowledgement I was getting annoyed and hungry – so I gave up and went home!
I’d advise you to book well in advance and read the Dive briefing and other information available online.
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