Sunday 29 September 2013

Brussels, Belgium

Belgium is a country very much of two halves - the mainly French-speaking Wallonia in the south, and the Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north.  It is only in the national capital, Brussels, that both languages are in use side-by-side.  As well as being the Belgian capital, Brussels is also the main seat of the European Union (although some EU functions are shared with Strasbourg).  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has its headquarters here, adding to Brussels' status as a hub of international affairs.

The city's public transport system is operated by the Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) also known by its Flemish name, Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer te Brussel (MIVB).  The network comprises a Metro system, a number of tram lines and plenty of bus routes.

The Metro system comprises four lines, running mainly below ground.  It does come to the surface at some places away from the city centre such at here at Heysel.

The structure in the background is the Atomium, installed in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair and now one of Brussels' most popular tourist attractions.

Parts of the tram system are below ground in the city centre.  Two lines (3 and 4) have lengthy underground sections passing beneath the heart of Brussels.  These lines are designated as "pre-Metro" in anticipation of being upgraded to full Metro status in the future.  Other lines also dive beneath the surface for shorter stretches.

Otherwise, the tram network operates at street level.  These images were taken near the Royal Palace...

... while this one is outside the south station (Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel Zuid). 

The tram fleet comprises a mix of modern, low-floor vehicles and older step-entry cars. 

The STIB/MIVB bus fleet is a mix of conventional single-deckers and articulated vehicles.  


The articulated buses I observed have four doors.


The conventional single-deckers are two-door.

One feature of this bilingual city is that a number of place names have French and Flemish versions.  Buses show both, with their electonic displays alternating between two languages.

These images show an example, of a display alternating between Porte de Namur (French)...


... and Naamsepoort (Flemish)

Not all the bus routes operate their full length at all times.  To help indicate where a route is not running its full length, buses display the route number with a diagonal red stripe.

A further helpful feature of the electronic display screens is deployed at route termini.

The bus will alternate between showing its destination...


... and the length of time before it is due to leave.

The STIB/MIVB bus network is one of three which, between them, cover the whole of Belgium.  Outside Brussels, the Flanders region is served by De Lijn while TEC (website only in French) provides bus services in the Walloon region.  Routes of both networks operate into Brussels from the surrounding areas.  This image, taken outside Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station, includes buses of both:

Two TEC routes reach Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station, where I took these images.  I found three-door articulated buses operating on route W, to Braine-l'Alleud:

On the less frequent, longer-distance route 365A to Charleroi, I found this two-door, high-floor vehicle operating.

Isolated journeys on two other TEC routes reach Brussels.  Although TEC is a single brand covering the whole of Wallonia, it is provided by five regional bus operations.

De Lijn services into Brussels are more numerous than those of TEC.  This is undoubtedly because Brussels is actually an enclave surrounded by the Flanders region, although it is not far from the Walloon border.  I found a mix of standard two-door and articulated three-door buses in use.

A number of De Lijn routes terminate in a bus station on the western side of Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid railway station.

The fare system within Brussels is relatively simple.  Apart for journeys to and from Brussels Airport, a single journey on STIB/MIVB services only, including interchanges, costs €1.90 if bought from a ticket machine or booth.  A marginally more expensive "Jump" ticket also allows travel within Brussels on the buses of TEC and De Lijn, along with suburban rail services operated by the Belgian national rail operator SNCB/NMBS.  "Jump" tickets are sold at ticket machines and booths, and also at a number of retail outlets, costing €2.00.  If you buy your ticket from the driver on board the bus or tram, only the "Jump" ticket is available, at a cost of €2.50.  Prices are, of course, those which apply at the time of writing and are subject to change.

Double-deck buses do operate in Brussels but, in common with many of the cities I have visited outside the UK, they are used only on sightseeing tours.  

Finally, Brussels is one of a growing number of cities to have introduced a cycle hire scheme.  The Brussels scheme is known as Villo!

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Biarritz, France

Biarritz is a town on the French coast.  It is situated in the Basque region, less than 20 kilometres from the border with Spain.  Home to around 25,000 residents, during the summer the population is swelled by visitors, drawn both by the town's elegance and by its surf.  Biarritz is proclaimed to be Europe's surfing capital.

I visited Biarritz in June 2013.  This is what I found.

Unsurprisingly for a town of this size, there are no trams.  Public transport is provided by five bus routes (with extra services during the high summer months).

The bus network, which also covers neighbouring Anglet and Bayonne, operates under the Chronoplus banner (website is currently only in French). 

The bus fleet comprises standard single-deckers.  Some have three sets of doors...


 ... while others have two



Biarritz railway station is around 3 kilometres from the town centre.  Route A1 provides the main link between the station and the centre of Biarritz, although route 10 provides a less frequent alternative.

The bus network in Biarritz operates seven days a week, however the services do not operate during the late evenings, while on Sundays the frequency is much reduced.

The fare structure on the Chronoplus network is very simple.  At the time of writing, a single ticket costs €1 and can is valid for an hour (including interchanges where necessary).  A 24-hour ticket is available for €2.  These can be bought from the driver.  Multi-journey tickets and longer period season tickets are also available from Chronoplus ticket outlets.  Tickets must be validated when boarding the bus (this includes tickets bought from the driver).

The regular bus network is complemented by a couple of free shuttles which operate around the town centre.  I observed minibuses being used on one of the services.


The other service was being operated with electric-powered midibuses.

Longer-distance services are provided by the Transports64 network (website in French).  However, these services don't reach the centre of Biarritz.  One route, linking Bayonne with the town of Hendaye on the border with Spain, calls at Biarritz railway station and airport.  Others start from Bayonne.  Through tickets from Chronoplus to Transports64 services can be bought on the buses.  At the time of writing these cost €5, and are valid for 24 hours.

Finally, for tourists, there is a road train (website in French only) which operates a circuit around the town and seafront.