Europe. Paris, trains and Brussels, take 2.
Published 07-22-2009 on my old wordpress blog.

So, I made this post once, but my phone ate it. I’m not that excited about typing this again. The last version was a pretty good one and this will be half-assed.

My morning started in Paris. I scared off the honeymooners, apparently, because they never showed up. Weird. I gathered all my stuff and climbed down the million stairs from the hottest room in the world.

I walked over to a local bakery and, using my high power pointing skills, obtained a loaf of some raisiny sugary bread that will make two breakfasts. It was pretty excellent as I ate pieces off of it down by the canal with a one-legged pigeon watching me the whole time.

Eventually, it was time to make my way to the train station and my adventure in Brussels. I got on the train no problem, but as we were making our way, the train stopped on the tracks. Rural France looks a lot like Eastern Washington. I know this because I got to stare at the countryside for about an hour as we sat waiting for the engine or something to get fixed. Eventually it did and we arrived in shiny and wonderful Brussels.

Now when I say shiny and wonderful, I mean shiny and wonderful like a room painted flat black and then smoked in for fifty years. This place reminds me of Pittsburgh or Baltimore or one of those towns formed around steel mills. Except that those towns look relatively uniform. Brussels looks like somebody spilled the Scrabble pieces of architecture on the map and said, “good enough!”

I walked a couple kilometers with my full pack (once I got pointed the right way. Thanks, GPS!) to my hostel. I checked in just as they were closing the office and was told that I got the best room at the cheapest rate! When I walked in at 1:30, two dudes were still asleep in my five bed dorm. Cool with me, I wanted lunch.

I dropped off my pack and headed the short distance back to a little sandwich shop I saw. I spent a million years trying to decipher French ingredients, with no help from my sandwich lady, until another worker spoke English and I took his advice. I picked up a tasty eggplant sandwich with onions and tomatoes and green olives on it.

After fortifying myself, I was ready for another ridiculous walk. I headed towards the outskirts of town. I happened upon a large intersection by some massive bank building. As I stood there, I noticed the hundreds of cops around escorting a bunch of farmers on their tractors through the streets. More on them later.

I walked around the city a bit more, marveling at the chaos of it’s skyline, until I came upon a park. I sat in the park for a bit and then decided to head over to the cathedral. The back of the cathedral was just as ugly and mish-mashed as the rest of Brussels. I walked around to the front. Standard cathedral fare. But wait! There’s a string ensemble playing inside for free?I’m on it.

The thing about cathedrals that gets me is the acoustics. I wonder if the ancient designers had that in mind when they made these things or they just happened to work out that way. Well, the acoustics made the ensemble sound amazing. If I ever become a musician, I want to play the Rhodes in a cathedral, just to see how it would sound. Anybody do that already?

After the cathedral, I went and rested in the park for a bit and then checked out the royal palace. It was lame, but on my way I saw an interesting looking arch thing with stuff on it. So I made my way that way.

After about a mile, I walked past the European Commission building, a formidable structure that gives Brussels it’s claim to be called the capital of Europe. Cool!

I kept walking east to the Arc de Triomphe (not the one in Paris, obviously. This one is much larger, actually.) and happened upon another cadre of cops. Turns out that the farmers were pissed about something in French. Well I was standing on the side of the enemy, so I made my way through a side blockade and over to where my homies, the farmers, were hanging out.

As I rounded the corner, the farmers were getting rowdy and throwing eggs. Seriously. I, of course, got closer to see what the ruckus was about. Well, one of the farmers got out of hand or one of the cops got trigger happy and a can of tear gas was shared with the farmers and innocent bystanders, namely, me. I didn’t get the gas during the WTO riots in Seattle because I wasn’t the well-connected revolutionary I am now.i just saw it on TV, in fact. Finally I got my chance!

Well, I let the minor amount of tear gas I got leave my system naturally and headed up to the other end of the park, where the Arc is, to see what was up there. Turns out that it was a bunch more farmers and a big old arch/building. And an ice cream truck! I got some delicious pistache glacé for only 1€ and sat down to watch another round of farmers drive their tractors into the park. After consuming my delicious ice cream treat, I headed back down to the front lines to see what was going down. The TV cameras had arrived and there was a lot of yelling and interviewing, but not much rioting. I got bored and left.

I walked back to the park in search of something called Cinematek, thinking that sitting for two hours would be a fantastic idea. Martin Scorsese said that Cinematek has one of the best film archives in the world, according to the map I got from my hostel. Well the best film archive in the world was playing a French film with Dutch subtitles, so I went to the grocery store instead to purchase a cheap dinner: Gouda sandwich, kiwi, and Coke.

From the store, I walked over to the Grand Place. At some bar here, Karl Marx supposedly wrote his Communist Manifesto. I couldn’t find the bar, so I just hung out on a curb and watched everything. There were acrobats and fire-jugglers and old buildings and lots of tourists. It was quite a spectacle.

I made my way back towards the hostel. On the way, I checked out a little laundry place and deemed it figure-out-able. I got my pack and went and did laundry for the first time. I made a complete cock-up of the cost of it and bought about twice as many tokens as I needed (the dryers don’t take tokens, they take coins!) but in the end all was washed and relatively dry.

I returned to the hostel semi-victorious and washed another day’s worth of sweating off. I then typed out all this information in the common room, surrounded by kids. If I’d have taken this trip about ten years ago, I’d be meeting all kinds of people my age. Instead, I’m sharing a room with two kids from Vancouver who are out partying and slept all day, a kid from I don’t know where who had enough sense to come out of the rain, and a nerdy American kid that was totally winning his attempt to woo a cute little Australian girl but went to bed early and alone instead. What can you do, right kid? We are who we are.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Amsterdam or Berlin. It would be smarter to go to Berlin because of the trains to Rostock and how they work. I’ll see if I can get on a train to Berlin tomorrow or not. So tonight I’m going to sleep without a place to stay lined up for tomorrow. Adventure!

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Keywords: belgium, brussels, europe, riots, travel

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