April 28, 2001: Well, here I am in Brussels, at the “Roy d’Espagne,” proving to everyone (mostly to myself) that I can do this — that I can just pack up and skip the country for the weekend. I’ve been spending way too much time on my studies back in Arras, France — I couldn’t have let this semester end without doing some more traveling first. I mean, how often am I going to be in Europe?
Anyway, things are going pretty well. Had some trouble finding my hostel at first, but got it worked out. Lunch was good, too — although I’m still having trouble justifying spending as much as I did.
Brussels really does have a different feel from Paris. Mostly, the attitude is different. Particularly in the newer part of the city, you really get the feeling that they’re proud of their city and its quirkiness — and they want you to like it, too. Paris more or less expects to be appreciated (and justifiably so); Brussels seems to ask for it.
The difference isn’t lost on the locals. When I asked a waiter whether there was an additional price for eating inside the restaurant, he good humoredly responded, “No, that’s only in Paris!”
The city definitely has a quirkiness to it. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Paris has le Tour Eiffel, and Brussels has … a little statue that urinates. The old part of town is filled with winding, narrow streets, baroque (and some gothic) architecture, and street performers. The newer part of the city is filled mostly with newer buildings with generous sprinklings of public sculpture alongside the occasional ancient church or fortification or whatever.
(later that day)
I’m back at the Roy d’Espagne — eating for about half as much as I paid at lunch (because I only got a sandwich this time). But the mustard they served with that pork sandwich … whooooooooooooooooooooo. I should have tasted it before I slathered so much on my sandwich. This is put-hair-on-your-chest stuff.
Side note: at the Roy d’Espgane, the management has installed giant (fake?) battle-axes between urinals instead of the regular dividers. Save this mental image.
(later that night)
The hostel has certainly filled up. I think I’m the only “loner,” though — the only one here who’s not either (a) here with friends or (b) making new ones. Ah well. I really need to get to bed — my train pulls out early tomorrow morning.
April 29, 2001: Well, I was getting ready to bed down last night and got out my pajamas. I hadn’t planned to bring the whole set, figuring I’d wear the pajama pants with a T-shirt. So, I put on the T-shirt and went to put on the pants and … discovered I had a problem. I had packed the pajama top instead.
So, I very discreetly slept in my underwear. Most of my roommates were just wearing boxers anyway, but you have to admit that it’s not quite the same when I’m just wearing briefs.
Ran into one of my roommates later at breakfast. Nice guy. Wish I had been feeling more talkative. Turns out he’s French. When I learned that, we switched over and continued the conversation in his language.
Not a bad night, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my bed in Arras.
(later, on the train)
It’s filling up more with every stop. Fortunately, the guy who chose the seat next to mine is a rather elegant older gentleman traveling with his wife (who is sitting in the seat in front of him).
Whoops. He’s getting off at this stop. Ah well.
(later, after chainging trains)
I was settling in after boarding when suddenly a pair of travelers burst into the train, seconds before it pulled out — panting and relieved to have just made it. They then proceeded to converse loudly. One of them is American (naturally). The other is … Dutch? I can’t place his accent. It’s not quite British, but it doesn’t sound like any other accent I know.
Then, at the last stop, this car was taken over by — of all things — an entire Belgian Boy Scout troop. They’re also talking loudly, but in Dutch or maybe Flemmish. Makes it hard to concentrate on writing.
Oh look. Here come more Scouts. Yippee. I’m missing that distinguished older gentleman from this morning.
Maybe I’ll try writing again later, when it’s quieter. I hope.
Well, it seems like all the Scouts are here for the duration. It is kind of funny, though, to watch the vague looks of surprise, terror and — gradually — grim resignation washing over the face of each new passenger who walks into the car, expecting to find a seat and instead finding a train packed with muddy campers.
In any case: Luxembourg.
I’m really glad I came here. The city does indeed have a feeling that’s different from anywhere else I’ve been. It exudes an atmosphere that sort of reminded me of Mont-Saint-Michel, but not exactly. Similar old-village-built-on-a-rocky-outcropping sort of feeling.
I ran into a lot of tourists, but not too many Americans. A lot of Dutch speakers, I think. Plus a tourbus full of Japanese.
Digression about the newer part of the city, around the train station: I stumbled upon a store called “Placebo Head Trip.” Its primary attraction seemed to be a huge selection of brightly colored plastic bongs (one of which was modeled after a rocket ship, if memory serves). A little bit of Amsterdam, right here in Luxembourg.
I walked through part of this new part of town en route to the old part of town and, more importantly, a non-fast-food restaurant that was open. After crossing the dizzyingly high viaduct to the old, walled part of the city on top of the mountain peak, I happened across a very nice restaurant called (I think) something like “Le Gaugin.” It clearly catered to tourists, but the price was reasonable, the food was good and (the crowning touch) their menus are attached to little wooden painters’ palates.
After touring the Casemates (old underground fortifications built into the cliffs) and the Chemin de la Corniche (a sort of pedestrian street on top of the southeastern wall of the fortifications; a nice view but maybe not “the grandest balcony in Europe,” as it’s billed), I headed down to the Grund, which is what the locals call the deep valley between the new part of the city and the old. I was hoping to get a worms-eye-view of the viaduct I crossed before.
En route, I happened upon what I’m interpreting as Luxembourg’s answer to Le Metro: Instead of a subway, they have … an elevator.
Yup, it even has terminals at the top and bottom that resemble subway stations. It just takes you from the Grund up the mountain to the old, fortified part of the city. I made sure to ride it before I left.
This whole trip has gone quite well. I’ve got to admit, I’m rather proud of myself. And the whole weekend for $40 or so in Brussels and $20 in Luxembourg.
I’m headed back to France, the crowd in the train is starting to thin out, and I’m feeling good, if tired. A few more hours on the train, and I’ll be back in my own bed.
Well, sort of.