…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 1
[Tuesday] 8/23/88—It’s morning in Brussells, a rather pretty one. Yesterday was really hectic. I tried to sleep on the plane to Brussells but didn’t have much luck. I sat next to a girl from Omaha, she was in the army reserve and her unit was being sent to Belgium for training. I did get to sleep a little bit, but everytime I did, the stewardess would wake me to feed me. First a snack, then dinner (at 3:30 AM Brussells time!), then breakfast 3 hours later! The meals were quite good however. The Brussells airport was a real experience. I didn’t really know where Bill [my friend who I was going to visit] would meet me. I got off the plane and nobody was at the gate (I mean nobody, the place was nearly deserted). First I had to pass through border control and have my passport stamped (my first stamp). Then luggage pick up. My suitcase came up right away, but I had no idea where my bike would be. I began to have fears that my bike was lost. Bill was still nowhere around and I began to worry that he got the wrong day or something. I finally found an airport official and asked him if I was supposed to pick up my bike somewhere else. He told me they would bring it up. After over an hour it did come up. I still didn’t know where Bill would meet me so I just started heading for the exit. It turned out no one was admitted in past that point and I eventually found him outside. We had a problem getting my bike to his house, the taxis wouldn’t take it so we had to call a big van to deliver it—for 1400 francs! (about 35 US dollars). Bill’s house is really neat; classic Europe. Lots of leaded windows and stucco. Cute courtyard in the back. All the buildings are joined, no sides. It’s the same way everywhere except for the big government buildings. After a nap, Bill took me down to the old section of town. We rod the bus, everyone drives so fast, you really have to watch out crossing streets. Had lunch at a little café. I had fillet with french fries (every dish is served with french fries), it was very good (also expensive). Then we walked around some more. I exchanged $200 dollars for 1,725 Belgian francs, it was hard to equate the two. I did get used to it after a while. On the way home we went to the local supermarket and got some sausage and pasta for dinner. The sausage was interesting, but very good. The flavor was very robust. It was fun being with Bill again, I really missed seeing him. We spent the evening at his place, barbequed the sausage and fixed the pasta with a garlic and butter sauce. Drank some wine and listened to music. I could hardly stay awake afterwards, the jet lag and lack of sleep was really catching up with me. I forced myself to stay awake till 10:00 so I wouldn’t be off schedule. I slept like a rock, woke up this morning at 8 AM and felt great. Bill had this bread from the grocery that we had for breakfast, it was wonderful, very heavy, hard, and robust. We just ate it sliced with butter spread on it, delicious.
—11:30 PM. We’re just now getting back in. Left the house at 10 AM and took the train into the old city (Centre). It turned out that I forgot my rain jacket [for the bike trip] & Bill decided he should get one so we went to a bicycle shop. They had some that were what we wanted and seemed reasonably priced so we each bought one. That was quick. I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday so we went back to some of the places we saw yesterday and took pictures of them. It was probably better that we took pictures today since it was much nicer weather, warmer with more sun (or fewer clouds I should say). Brussells has some incredible, huge buildings such as Palais Royale, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Palais du Cinquantenaire, and Porte de Hal (remnant of the old city wall that surrounded the Centre). There are many large churches around town such as Notre-Dame du Sablon & Notre-Dame de la Chapelle which are incredible buildings architecturally. Basilique du Sacré Coeur (the national church) is incredible due to its massiveness, but was not what I would consider a pretty structure. Walking through the city gives one the feel of classic Europe. Narrow, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, very few straight roads, old buildings all adjoining one another, many of them with scaffolding on them illustrating the constant need for maintenance on such old structures, lots of stone & stucco with slate or clay roofs. The city is officially bilingual French & Flemish, but French definitely dominates. And lots of streetside cafés. We stopped around noon at a café in Grand Place and had a Belgian beer called Sixtus. Dark, heavy, very robust, with lots of foam, served in it’s own brand of glass. And 12% alcohol, one of those on an empty stomach and we were two happy tourists. We had lunch at a delightful French restaurant near Grand Place. Bill had rabbit and I had a chicken dish with a heavy cream sauce, very good. Later in the afternoon we bought a box of Leonida chocolates and sat at an outdoor café and had them with coffee. The coffee over here is much different, stronger. I started out using heavy cream in it but as I get used to it I like it more and more. We had dinner at what Bill considers his favorite restaurante. They specialize in mussells (moules). Bill had moules a la continental which is a tomatoe based sauce which was exceptional. I had moules a la bourdelaise, essentially a garlic stock with lots of celery and a little onion. The celery overpowered the dish, though it was still good. The french fries were the best that I have had ever. I ordered a second plate of them. All day long we enjoyed looking at the women [I was, after all, young and single]. Mini-skirts are quite popular here, including leather. We both fell in love several times today. Too bad we can’t speak French. We plan to get up early tomorrow so we can get on our bikes before rush hour starts and head up towards Amsterdam. I’m in pretty good shape for cycling because of all the training I did, but Bill was not able to ride as much so we’ll see what kind of mileage we can cover. I would like to get in about 60 miles tomorrow and Thursday. That would make Friday a very short travel day and we could have all day Friday and Saturday to visit Amsterdam. We’ll just have to take things as they come though. Tonight will be kind of a short nights sleep because of getting up so early, but I have apparently gotten over my jet lag so I should still feel good.
To be continued…
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013