26 October, 2013

an (un)expected journey part 1: belgium

the class trip had been planned for months. the faculty did not disappoint and dished out its usual generous helping of disorganization, steaming pile of miscommunication, assorted grab bag of mixed messages and various delays, as a result of which i found out i had gotten into the course the day after i had made peace with the fact that i had not gotten into the course (followed immediately by a rather frustrated email to the person in charge of admissions and a phone call to my mom telling her i'd visit her instead of europe). so yes, confusion. followed by happiness. and then, my typical reaction to anything remotely traumatic (journey, large party, planned outing) i.e. what the everliving fuck-knuckles was i thinking? i don't wanna do this! can't i just cancel? back out? call them and tell them i have dengue fever? mumps? ebola?! fortunately, after 41 years on this earth i have finally figured out my emotional modus operandi  and know that like the temper tantrum by a 2-year-old, one must merely wait out the storm. the bonus of my pre-everything freak-out is that my expectations on going into whatever-it-is are so low that i am bound to be pleasantly surprised. and so i was.

we landed in brussels, took the train into the city and knew immediately that the atlantic had been crossed: trains, such as they are on our side of the pond, have nowhere near the sex appeal of their european counterparts. nor the availability. nor the range.

brussels was nice, though a little looming and stark, charming bits interspersed with monolithic EU architecture. perhaps the sun would have imbued it with more charm, but alas, rain was on the menu. we meandered, wandered, looked and gawked, stopping once to eat hot liege waffles that singlehandedly made the visit worthwhile: 1€ for a piece of carmelised chewy dense and madly satisfying heaven. after some hours of walking around we met up with my classmate c, and headed to our hostel.

at my advanced age, this was my first time staying in a hostel. in fact, an exception had to be made because the cut off age was 35. c had to write an email explaining how utterly cool mister monkey and i were despite our advanced decrepitude, going so far as to tell the the blatant lie that we did not even mind 23-year-olds (c is 23)! turns out there was no problem - our flatmates were korean, quiet, and predisposed to even earlier bedtimes than yours truly. we found within the first day that men are preferable to women, as there is far less grooming and juggling of bathroom space (not everyone is as low maintenance and fuss free as i am*). the room was neat and new, the pillows and duvet feather-filled, and the sheets freshly pressed (oh for a laundry press on this side of the water! how i miss the feel of a pressed pillowcase on my face...), and everything was just hunky dory, with the notable exception of youthful sports enthusiasts having a very loud conversation about futball at 3am right outside our room, right beneath the poster asking for quiet in the hallway, and who appeared completely baffled when i opened the door and requested that they shut their gobs (not in those exact words).

the grand place in brussels is the crowning glory of the city, dripping with gold-encrusted curlicues and garlands, charmingly overwrought and utterly unexpected. it's a vegas showgirl, old world edition, and we were suitably impressed, especially on day 2 when the sun chose to appear:

let me just add that there was cheese, good cheese; there were amazing baguettes, fabulous croissants, all things that europeans take for granted but that bring tears to the eyes of these jaded and broken north americans used to a steady diet of prefabricated shit. so yes, we ate and lo, it was good.

tomorrow, when i'm undertaking study-evasive manoeuvres, i might write about bruges, though there's not much to tell other than: go there immediately.

*scoff not - i went on this 10 day trip with nothing but a carry-on, while c, the most casual of dressers, lugged with him a hockey-sized** duffel bag filled with god only knows what: he only brought one pair of shoes!

**very big. almost big enough to fit a smallish corpse, if one were so inclined.


Lucy said...

We were travelling on a train from Paris to Germany, missed the buffet car's lunchtime opening hours, when it re-opened at tea-time I procured some leftovers, including a chicken tikka sandwich from the chiller cabinet which Tom had. I asked him how it was, he said:

'Sort of cold and soggy and not very interesting' and looking out of the train window at the grey, muddy monotonous landscape interspersed with the occasional isolated 1st world war, graveyard, added 'a bit like Belgium really.'

Glad to hear your experience was rather more positive!

Lucy said...

Sorry, seems to be rogue comma in there. I wouldn't usually mention it but I know how particular you are and didn't want you to think I would normally put a comma between a noun and its, qualifier.

(Meant to say, I shall certainly put you on the made-with-love-stripy-things list, though it is getting quite long so it might be a while!)

Tom said...

Well now, what can I say? Apart from Lucy's story of our trip to Belgium, I also recall that on that trip we arrived at the Franco/Belgium border on time, but were something like 15 minutes late on the Belgium/German border, in the midst of a howling snow storm. That may not sound too bad, except that Belgium isn't very big, and it was enough to miss our rail connections thereafter.

My first experience of Belgium and its rather lugubrious population, was when I served with the R.A.F. in Germany. The architecture felt massively overweight and everyone looked so....well....lugubrious.

Anyway, glad the sun shone on your visit, and that you enjoyed yourself. Obviously you must have a way with you, to charm the sun from behind the clouds.

polish chick said...
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polish chick said...

ucy - rogue commas are the bane of my (prescriptive grammarian) existence. and i mean my own! i have found that i tend to overuse the comma, using it in that newfangled way wherein a natural pause in speech would occur rather than its proper location...sigh.

i can't even blame my polishness because their comma use utterly mystifies.

and yes, belgium wasn't the highlight of our trip but it did have its good bits and i was trying to be positive. and really, those damn waffles and perfect croissants really did make up for A LOT.

and as for being actually put on a made-with-love-stripy-things list - i was rather fishing and didn't expect results. thank you for even considering me! i am honoured.

tom - the weather was certainly lugubrious though the populace seemed fine. they also charmed me by speaking such lovely french - sad to say but the canadian version of french doesn't bring much joy to my ears as this did.

and yes, the architecture did feel rather... heavy.

as for having a way to charm the sun out, it was only strong enough for a couple days' worth. the rest of our trip was damp and grey.