September 13, Saturday
We had breakfast in the hotel again and paid for the stay in cash as requested, €630. We were a little worried about having that much money just laying around, but it turned out to be ok.
Butch took several pictures of Fritz and he in turn took several of us. As it turns out he was a professional, fashion photographer. He said Loes, our hostess, inherited the hotel from her father. It has been in her family for 45 years. He said the bench just down on the corner had been used in the filming of The Fault in Our Stars and was now famous.
We took a taxi to Centraal Station, a behavior now becoming the rule, not the exception and bought tickets on Thalys for Brussels, 10:18 to 12:20. The Thalys is the bullet train but we stopped so many places along the way I don’t think it ever got up to its rated 200 kilometers per hour.
We sat with a couple from Australia on the way, Greg and Jan Bowman, which made the time go very fast. We traded addresses and emails with each other when we parted.
We took the now standard taxi ride to the Hotel a la Grande Cloche, €5.80. We checked in right away even though we had arrived early.
Again I found the oh so welcome fan. We did our email etc. and set off on our first day’s exploration of Brussels.
The first destinations were the Mannikin Pis and Jeanneke Pis by way of the Grote Markt.
The Grande Place or Grote Markt, was packed with tourists and there was an orchestra playing Star Wars music. We had been walking down narrow cobbled streets and suddenly they opened up into this grand square. It may be cheesy but it kind of takes your breath away to see it so suddenly like that. Buildings on one side of the square were being restored. Most of the places we had been to had some restoration work going on and the general practice was to cover the face of the buildings with a large piece of material that protected passersby from falling stonework or whatever. Here, they had printed the image of the buildings on the surface of the material (the 4th picture below). I bet it cost as much to do that as the restoration work itself.
Our plan was to find the Musical Instrument Museum and we arrived there at about 3:30 and they closed at 5:00 so we didn’t have a lot of time. It was a long walk uphill to get to it and a long walk downhill to get back to our hotel. Hard times!
I was in 7th Heaven at the museum. One whole floor was just the kind of instruments I wanted to see; shawms, hautbois, krumhorns, musettes and other very interesting bagpipes, serpents, sackbutts, a medieval treasure trove. Karen was bored stiff. She said that I was going to have to accompany her to the botanical garden to make up for it.
We were so pooped going back that we stopped at a little bar just around the corner from our hotel for large cold beers. It is amazing how that can help a person happy up. Later we went to a restaurant across the street for mussels, frites, and beer.
I was in bed by 7:30 and Karen by 9:00 because we were so exhausted.
September 14, Sunday
This was our daughter Wendy’s 42nd birthday.
We slept in until 8:30 am which is late for us.
We decided to rest and recover that day instead of taking our boat trip in Dinant. Two weeks of museums and sightseeing had caught up with us. Karen had the sniffles and was feeling under the weather. About noon we left again and walked to the Markt and found a café for lunch. Butch, beef. Karen, chicken stew in cream sauce. Both were overpriced and not very good.
We walked around the square again and found the carriage ride. One half hour for €39 but fun to see so many sights without walking so far. Brussels is pretty, charming, and interesting but seemed shabbier and kind of dirty compared to the other cities we visited. I think the Dutch live up to their extra tidy reputation.
One must eat a waffle in Brussels. Karen had one with powdered sugar and I had one with bananas, chocolate, and whipped cream. We ate them standing up on the square. For a major tourist destination there are no places to sit other than the restaurants. Hey, that’s probably by design.
About 7:45 pm I went to the bar across the street from the hotel for a couple of beers while Karen stayed in to nurse her cold. A waiter named Kevin took an interest in me and we chatted between the times when he was busy. There was an interesting mural on their wall with all the captions in French. I tried to use Google Translate to figure out what was going on. Later on I just took a picture of it. The next day, Google Goggles had found the picture and told me the location and the name of the cafe. Creepy!
In bed by 9:30.
September 15, Monday
We got up early and ate breakfast in the hotel dining room. It didn’t come with the price of the room, but it was reasonable and they just added it to our hotel bill.
We took the Metro to Brussels Midi. We had a lot of trouble using the Metro ticket machine and bank ATM. Karen put the wrong password in three times, but we figured that out. When we got our money and turned around there was a long line of people behind us. Those darned Americans!! We got on the train to Ghent and found seats this time, which we didn’t the day we went to Bruges. We arrived in Ghent about 10:30 am and found the restaurant where we were supposed to meet with my cousins and aunts. We tried a stroll around the block to see if there were any shops but there weren’t any of interest.
We went back to the circle in front of the station and sat on a bench to people-watch until 12:30. There were lots of young people with backpacks obviously traveling from country to country. It made us a little jealous that we ended up traveling when we are old! We went to the restaurant and ordered a beer, waiting for the family to arrive. It turns out they were having trouble finding a parking place but they arrived right at 1:00 pm. We got situated and my cousin Susan, who had picked this place, went to have a look at the buffet offerings. Both my Auntie Joan and I can’t eat onions and since this was a vegetarian restaurant, just about everything had onions in it. Sue determined the restaurant next door would be a better fit for everyone’s diet.
We had a nice lunch and a good chat. Sue picked up the tab which was very nice of her. It was so nice to have a chance to see everyone again and we really appreciated their great effort to meet us in Ghent.
My mom had sent her sister Joan a locket with both their pictures in it. Joan was delighted with it and showed it to us.
After lunch we returned to Brussels and took the Metro back to the tourist areas. I installed myself in a café and Karen went looking for chocolate. We walked back to the hotel for a rest and went out to dinner at about 8:00 pm. We chose the place across the street from the hotel, the one that I had gone to the night before. Karen and I shared shrimp scampi and fries. The neighborhood was quite ethnically diverse and lively. It reminded us of a neighborhood where Wendy lived in California before she was married.
Early to bed.
September 16, Tuesday
We got up at 6:00 am, finished packing up and checked out by 7:00. We skipped breakfast thinking we would have something at the airport. We took a taxi to the Midi train station. The train to the airport was delayed and we had to switch to a different track to catch the next one. It arrived at the airport about 9:00. We ended up standing in various long lines until boarding, so we had no time to get water, coffee, or a snack. We boarded our flight at 10:10 am and took off at 11:10.
The flight was uneventful but grueling. We were pretty uncomfortable by the end. However, we had never been on a flight that served so much food. They fed us a snack soon after takeoff, a chicken dinner a couple of hours later, another small snack, then a sandwich about an hour before landing. I guess they figure eating keeps people occupied. I read a Jack Reacher novel, Personal, by Lee Child. That made the time pass as quickly as it could.
We checked our bags for this flight, which turned out to be a mistake. Usually we take our small suitcases as carry-on luggage. In this case we thought it would be easier but it turned out not to be.When we landed, we had to go through a passport check of course then there was a machine which took our picture and spat out a “ticket” for the immigration officials. Then we had to pick up our checked bags and go through security again. I don’t understand why we had to do this because we had just gone through international security in Brussels and no one could have passed anything to us between the time we picked up our bags and got to customs. We finally finished up the processing by 4:15.
Our plane was not scheduled to take off until 8:44 pm so we had a tedious 4 1/2 hour wait. But we finally took off and arrived in Cedar Rapids two hours later. Our friend Jenny Wertz was waiting for us. We loaded up the bags and on the way home a semi roared by next to us and scared the daylights out of us. We had forgotten to close the back hatch so the sound was greatly amplified. Luckily, our luggage did not fall out and bounce down the interstate.
It was a long, long day of travel but we were home again and gratefully fell into our own bed at about 11:00 pm Iowa time and 5:00 am in Brussels time where we started.