My sleeping skills have greatly improved the longer I’ve been on the road. I didn’t wake up when a single one of my 5 roommates came into the dorm last night, and naturally woke up around 6:00 AM. I did force myself to go back to sleep, several times, since I knew I needed it–but kept waking up in a panic that I was running late for something.
I checked out of the hostel in time to run to the pharmacy before the Walking tour. I needed new blister plasters for me feet and new sunscreen. I couldn’t smuggle my enormous bottle of SPF 50 through airport security out of Greece, but thankfully retained my face sunscreen.
At the pharmacy, there was no sunscreen for less than €20, which is money that I simply do not have. Usually I’d buy it from a large pharmacy like Boots, the UK equivalent to CVS or Walgreens, that has cheaper brands. Even a large supermarket would probably have it, but no such places were to be found in downtown Brussels. There were small pharmacies and mini markets on every corner. As much as I love to see the small businesses still competing with mega super stores, it was pretty freaking annoying today.
I grabbed a waffle for breakfast and a water bottle. The waffle was covered in something sweet and sticky, like a doughnut, instead of powdered sugar like yesterday. It had still been sitting in a window, though, and was still disappointing.
It was about a quarter til when I arrived at the square. As an American, I still haven’t broken the mindset that you arrive early because things will begin at the scheduled time. In Europe, though, you arrive at the scheduled time and the thing actually begins a few minutes later. The tour guides reminded me of this, and sent me back on my sunscreen quest with directions to a large supermarket.
I never found it. The directions were pretty simple, so I’m not sure what happened. I also had forgotten what happens when I’m back in Northwestern Europe: people ask me for directions. In Greece or Italy, nobody mistakes mr for a local. Here, even after hearing my accent, tourists look at me skeptically when I tell them I can’t help them as if to ask, “can’t or won’t?” Believe me, I’m as lost as anyone.
I actually barely made it back to the square in time for the tour. They’d already moved away from the meeting point and separated people by language to the appropriate guide. Fortunately, I found the English speaking tour. I confirmed this with the guide, then looked across the crowd. Much to my surprise, I saw a familiar face.
It was the Australian doppelgänger of my old friend, Sean. This guy’s name is Matt. To recap, I had met Matt in Krakow after the first walking tour, then we went on the second one together with his friend Corry and my friend Irene. This was followed by pierogies. So basically, he and I go way back.
I wasn’t sure it was him at first, and I’m sure I was giving him the strangest look when he waved at me. It’s just so odd to run into him again. I cannot believe we ended up, several weeks later on the opposite side of a continent, in the same city going on the same walking tour on the same day. And we got there in completely different ways. He went north through Berlin, I went… Well, I went way off track through Athens.
Much like in Krakow, Corry was sleeping in so he was doing the early walking tour on his own. Matt and I have discussed our mutual appreciation for these tours before, but today he summed it up quite nicely. “There are the people who swear by walking tours, and there are the people who’ve never done one.”
Because really, what’s not to love? In a few short hours, you see all of the sights you are obligated to see to say you’ve been to a city. It’s a more meaningful way to do this because you then actually know what you’re looking at and why it’s important. You get insider information about the city, restaurants, etc from someone who lives there. You learn a little something. You take all the compulsory photos, and then you’re done. You can do whatever you want for the rest of the day, whether that be lollygag in a museum or drink all of Belgium’s famous beer.
Since my sunscreen quest had failed, my new mission was to stay in the shade. I was mostly successful. There was once or twice when I was in full sunlight for ten minutes, but generally I hardly had to be in it for more than a few seconds. Fortunately I’d had enough sunscreen for my face, which is the most important thing (protect your wrinkle zones!). My goal, always, is to catch as little sun as possible.
Our tourguide was interesting and informative. I think there just isn’t as much material in Brussels for the tour. Some cities are like this. I’ve never been on a bad walking tour, but the better cities have better ones. It was a great way to spend my last day in Brussels, and I did learn some new things. I saw the fountain of the little boy relieving his bladder, which is the very famous national symbol of Belgium. He has his own tailor, and was in a special costume today. I’d have preferred to see him as he regularly is.
The tour took a short break in a square. Matt and I took this opportunity to visit a popular fritterie. A fritterie is what a chipper is called in French. A chipper is what the Irish call a place that sells chips. Chips are what Americans call french fries.
“French fry” is actually a misnomer. I’m not talking about “freedom fries,” that’s just silly. French fries, as they’re called, are actually Belgian in origin. During the world wars, hungry American soldiers loved these fried potatoes and were determined to take the concept back to America with them. There aren’t exactly clear political boundaries painted on the ground, and since the people were speaking French, the name to catch on was french fry.
When made properly, they’re boiled twice. The first time is at a low temperature til the potato is thoroughly cooked. The second time, they’re briefly boiled at a very high temperature so they will be hot and crispy. By the way, this is how they are made at the restaurant where I work in Kansas City. I would highly recommend a trip to Aixois if you’re in the city.
I had been hoping to try Brussels moules frites, one of my favorite Aixois dishes that is apparently an Brussels specialty. Unfortunately, it’s not mussels season. You could still get them, but I was out of time and money anyways. The chips were good enough on their own
Maybe I’ll come back someday for mussels.
When the tour was said and done, I had a little time to kill before my train. Matt and I wandered into a few Belgian chocolate shops to try the free samples and maybe make a small purchase. We followed this with coffee and people watching.
There is a weird trend in Brussels of people wearing matching outfits. We saw two guys walking around together in the same shorts, and a mother-daughter pair in the same shirt. Later on, I saw two more guys in matching sweatshirts. I’ve seen this in no other European city, and none of them looked like they were on Amazing Race. It was odd.
After a nice chat, it was time for me to head onwards towards London. It took us a moment to orient ourselves, but I made it back to the hostel then train station easily. When I was at the hostel and finally indoors again for the first time that day, I realized my shoulders had gotten a little touch of pink. This is so irritating. It could have been worse, I suppose, but I can’t believe I made it through this whole trip and get sunburned for the first time in Belgium. Of all the places I’ve been!
I used my eurail pass for the last time, a five minute ride from the Brussels Noord station by my hostel to Brussels Midi/Zuid where the Eurostar terminal is. I hope the pass was worth it.
I arrived right on time to check in 30 minutes before departure, as it says to do on the website. I barely made it on the train. The customs line, although not particularly long, was the slowest I’ve ever been in. I didn’t start to worry until we were within 10 minutes of departure and I still had security to go. Fortunately, I made it. It’s the last time I’ll be crossing the UK border for a while.
It’s amazing to think that you can go from Belgium to London in under two hours, especially when you consider that London is on an island.
I made my way through the city to Jolie’s house. It’s strange to be in a city again that I already know my way around, but the strangest thing about returning to London is how natural it feels. It’s only just new enough now that the normal ness is still unusual. Does that make sense?
She and Ray picked me up from the train station down the street so I didn’t have to walk up their massive hill. I relaxed and showered. Jolie has the best shower in the entire world. I have no words for how luxurious it is, and how good it is to be clean. She made a big Greek salad for dinner, we sorted out my luggage situation, and I went to bed early.
I love hanging out with Jolie. I love being in London. I’m trying to focus in that, and not the fact that my return to London signifies my inevitable return to Kansas City and the end of this wonderful adventure.