Yesterday evening at 6.00, I had to take the train to England. At 3.00 with two sick children (welcome to the Leper House) who were responding well to paracetemol and one hyper girl who hadn’t been out in days, we decided that we needed to get out, but where?
I found this very nifty website which lists all the museums in Brussels by various search criteria including by theme and by area. On Rue Paul Spaak no 7, is the Fondation Raymond Leblanc. It is five minutes from the station and it is a comic museum. Well worth a visit we felt.
As we circled around the exceptionally dodgy area (you know, adjacent train and bus station, drunks, louts, nervous visitors scurrying in the opposite direction) looking for parking we would have been sure that we were in the wrong place had it not been for a large neon Tintin and Snowy on the roof of one of the buildings.
We parked the car and navigated the children round the various hazards and made our way to no. 7. All around were closed, barred shops, internet and cheap telephone shops, money transfer places and suddenly there was a very swish comic shop but it looked closed. Beside it was an open door to what looked like a smart residential building in a very spartan style, maybe 1940s. Closer inspection revealed that this was the Fondation building. We went in, it was deserted. We pushed the button for the lift. It didn’t come. We stood there alone, baffled. I went back and checked the front door. There was a small postcard pinned up. It advised climbing by foot to the second floor. We all clumped up the spiral staircase of the beautiful empty building.
On the second floor, a pug dog emerged to greet us. The Princess fell upon him, the boys nervously asked to be lifted up. A chic young woman emerged and swooped up the dog and smiled graciously upon us. Her equally chic colleague positioned herself behind the blond wood desk, reassured us that we were in the right place, lamented the quality of the quartier and sold us two adult entry tickets (children free) for the princely sum of 6 euros. Did we know the history of the place, we did not. This building is, I think, still a working publishing house, it was there that the Tintin magazine was made for many years and it was also the home of the Belvision studio which made animated films.
The museum consists of various comic strips, information about the publishing house and various other bits and pieces that I, alas, didn’t get a lot of time to examine because, the piece de resistance, or at least as far as my family was concerned, was a miniature working cinema with plush red seats which we had to ourselves. It was showing Asterix and Cleopatra which I think was originally made there in that very building. The seats had names on the back (Herge,) and I think they must have been original because the plush velvet was faded in places. We were all entranced. Mr. Waffle and I wandered about the exhibits outside a little bit but mostly we stayed and watched.
At about 4.45, I suggested that I would go and get my luggage from the car and come back and give him the key (you will recall that I have lost my car key and refuse to fork out for a new one as I know it is somewhere in the house) before going to the station. I went and got my luggage and came back. I stayed until about 5.15 and decided that I’d better trot along to the train. I left them all entranced with the film and indifferent to my departure (a delightful contrast to the howlfest that ensued last time I went away overnight).
Off to queue for the train, passport, baggage control, then my mobile started ringing. It was Mr. Waffle, had I taken the car key with me? Yes, I had. Back through the various layers out on to the street back to the building, up the spiral staircase, hand over key, renewed goodbyes to puzzled children, back down the staircase etc. etc. And I still had loads of time to get the train because despite two sets of passport checks and x-ray machines, it’s still a lot faster than the airport and also because this place is exactly five minutes walk from the Eurostar terminus. I know because I have recently done it three times.
If you have children, or even, if you don’t, may I enthusiastically recommend this place to you, if you find yourself in Brussels by Eurostar (or, I suppose, even if you don’t though it is supremely handy for the Eurostar). I found the whole experience to be quintessentially Belgian from the deserted beautiful building, to the pug dog and the high seriousness of the comic strip. It’s fabulous and, for my money, better value than the much more famous comic strip museum. True the latter is housed in a spectacular building but the art is more difficult for children to appreciate, since they have to muscle their way through a crowd of spectators to see it and, as far as I know, it certainly doesn’t boast a private family cinema. 6 euros well spent.