Sunday, November 13, 2016


I arrived in Brussels at 8:30 pm with my backpack and handwritten directions which were to lead me from the central train station to my hotel, but something went askew (i think a street disappeared. It couldn't be that my directions were flawed.) so i spent the next 45 minutes making false starts and returning to station to set off again. Finally two young men unloading an art exhibit into a car (or stealing art, i can't be sure) offered to help and pointed me in the right direction. 
First impressions of Brussels. It looks properly European. Cobblestones, old churches, bicycles, men in scarves, accordion players, cigarettes, pretty buildings, and squares centred around statues of men posing nobly. The area my hotel is in (which is about a 5 minute walk from the train station, notwithstanding the 45 minutes it took me to find it) is great. It is lined with waffle shops, cafes, and chocolatiers. The streets actually smell like chocolate in spots. Plus, my hotel is also about 5 minutes from La Grand Place and walking distance to everything else.  

The downside to my hotel (le hotel madeleine) is that it is almost sleazy. It's fine, really. Clean and cheap and the staff are good, but my room is literally an old bed, a wardrobe, which i can't open due to the proximity to the bed, and a sink. I am sharing a toilet. There is no shower or bath - not even a shared one - there just isn't one. But there is the sink, so sponge baths it is. As a bonus, under the circumstances, it is freezing in Brussels; it was minus 1 when i arrived, so i can get away without bathing for a couple, days.

I had only two nights and a day in Brussels, so i set off that first night to get the lay of the land. I walked the streets which were busy with young people drinking, smoking, and eating sweet treats. I easily found La Grand Place, which was a glow in warm floodlights, but freezing in every other respect. The square was crammed with people posing with selfie sticks and waffle props. 

I kept wandering around and finally gave in to hunger and cold and had a waffle with nutella, which was good, but i couldn't finish it and i think it literally killed off my craving for anything sweet. There really are waffle shops everywhere. Although apparently proper waffles are served only with powdered sugar, the ones in the tourist area are piled high with whipped cream, chocolate, and fruit. I'm pretty sure you would have to be high to eat one. I have been informed that a proper waffle is 10 squares by 10 squares (someone should tell the people at eggo). 

The next morning, i rose early, had a coffee, and took a stroll through a local super market, picking up a small baguette and a small round of cheese for a breakfast. I picked the cheese wanting something i didn't recognize and something local. It turned out i picked the world's stinkiest cheese. It was alternately amazing and gag inducing (but mostly good). Unfortunately, despite multiple hand washings, i smelled like that cheese for the rest of the day. Maybe i still do and have just been desensitized to it.

I don't have a ton of revelations about Brussels.  It's nice. It's Europe. The coffee is good, the architecture is pretty and impressive. The cafes are historic and beautiful. But i wasn't in love with it. It isn't on par with cities like Rome or Paris, Lisbon, or London. But there is enough to see. I went to the comic strip museum, which i very much enjoyed. Interesting, fun, and not too big. I learned a lot about Tin Tin and saw Smurfs represented. 

I visited a Catholic church, i bought a ridiculous but adorable toque to protect myself from the cold, and i rode the subway. 
The subway ride was specifically to visit  Brussels' local La Casa Del Habano (cigar shop), which was in a posh shopping area of the city where the streets were patrolled by soldiers carrying machine guns and pistols and wearing very snug camouflage trousers and jaunty berets. I half expected that at any moment they would drop their weapons and break into some sort of choreographed dance routine.

Anyway, i made it to La Casa, picked a couple of cigars from their excellent humidor and settled into the comfy smoking lounge. The lounge was busy and every time a man entered, he went around the room and shook each person's hand and said bonjour individually (those people who were known to him got a kiss on the cheek). I am not accustomed to this level of formal politeness. I must say though, my "bonjours" are exceptional now.

Donald Trump's recent election victory is the #1 news story. People bring it up when when they hear me speak and assume i am American. They share my disappointment and disbelief. 

In the evening, i wandered more, had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant (Belgian food is not so veg-friendly - even the frites are cooked in lard) and then i went to a bar. Not just any bar, but a goth type bar called The Coffin (en Francais). It has a cool decor that is right up my alley. Black and graffitied with red or uv lighting, skeletons, bats, and coffins decorate the place and they play rock and metal music. It is almost perfect. As i walked in, dressed in my usual cold weather traveling outfit (all black with army type boots, leather jacket with metal studs, black hair and eyeliner), i felt right at home...except that the place has become something of a tourist attraction and most of the people in there had blue jeans and polar fleece jumpers or khakis and ball caps. So that was a bit disappointing, but it's still a nifty bar. How often can you sit at a coffin and drink from a skull? Not often enough.

This morning i had coffee on the square. Cold and rainy now. Then i swiftly made it back to the airport for my flight to Casablanca. I passed the time having coffee with a lady from rural Belgium who is traveling to Morocco for a week exploring on horseback with a tour. 

Right now i am on board a Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca. From there i will fly to Ouagadougou, but first: a 7 hour long layover in Casablanca, during which i hope i will be able to take the train into the city for a quick walk around the old medina and whatever else i have time for. But it isn't certain. I'll assess the situation at the airport and make sure i have enough time to get through customs and back without missing my connecting flight. Even if i don't get to leave the airport...i'm still that much closer to Burkina Faso!


Melinda said...

Brussels sounds like a place I would love to visit. And hell yeah, a coffin and drink in a skull, a definite must.

Betty-Lou said...

I laughed at your description of the gendarmes in their "snug camouflage trousers and jaunty berets" breaking out in a dance. I could picture it as a musical theatrical performance.