Brussels Card caveats

We returned Nov. 21, ’03, from nine days in Paris and three in Brussels. Brussels has a fairly new offer called the Brussels Card, advertised as “a 3-day pass to most of the major and minor museums in the area plus 72 hours of public transportation.” It costs €30 (about $36) and covers almost all of the bus, premetro (trams) and metro transportation in the major metropolitan area of Brussels, except for the rail link to the airport.

The card/pass is sort of like a camel, a horse designed by a committee, since it is the result of a cooperative effort of the Brussels Museumraad (the organization of Brussels museums), the Tourist Information (TI) office and the STIB/MIVB (the local public transportation companies). They haven’t worked out the kinks yet, and the museum card is more difficult to use compared to the museum card in, say, Paris.

The Brussels Card and transportation pass come sealed in plastic wrap in a spiral-bound book, which has pages for all the valid museums and gives descriptions in four languages plus addresses, opening times and public transportation access info.

While validation dates are indicated on your transportation ticket, the museum pass (the Brussels Card itself) has no place on it for validating dates; it just has a unique serial number. You must have the book with you for most of the museums, since each museum stamps its individual page with the date of your visit. There is no indication in the book, in the TI office or in the info brochure that you MUST have the book with you.

Each museum has to record by hand on a form the serial number of your pass plus the date, etc. Some of the people at the ticket counters in museums we visited were unsure of where the form was stashed away or how to put the entries in it. I don’t know what they are going to do in the summer at the city museum when long lines of sweaty tourists are trying to get in to see the costume collection for the Manneken Pis. The pages have room for maybe six to eight entries each, and I saw in some where groups of as many as five visitors had their numbers listed in one entry.

Potential buyers also should be aware that, despite what the people in the Brussels TI office at the Grand’Place location tell you, the STIB/MIVB magnetic stripe ticket you get with the Brussels Card is a 3-day ticket, not a 72-hour ticket; that is, it runs from midnight to midnight. If you buy the card and activate the ticket at 4 p.m. on a Monday, the transportation is actually good from 12:01 a.m. earlier on that Monday until 12 midnight on Wednesday. You get 72 hours, but it starts at midnight on the date you activate it.

This is the way it is in most major European cities that offer one-day or multiday transportation passes, although some do start the clock at the time of first activation.

I only learned about the validation time on the transportation card after activating mine at about 3:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 17. I got into a major argument with the TI office about this. (The Brussels Card itself says, in bold letters, “72h” on the front, but, in fact, it is a 3-day pass.)

The intention of the Museumraad was to give the user a continuous 72 hours of transportation upon first activation and three days of museums including the activation day. I learned this from Ms. Sylvie De Weze of the Brussels Museumraad, who kindly intervened and gave us new transportation cards.

Champaign, IL