I think Sunday in Belgium was my favorite time in Europe thus far. After breakfast, with just a map and exactly three words of French, I struck out on my own. While the others went to Church, I went for my spiritual experience—finding my head in Brussels. It was the first time I was so completely and utterly alone. With nobody to follow and nobody to talk to, not speaking the language or knowing the town, it was just me and my own head—a liberating experience.
I set out to find the flea market. I wandered for a long time, loosely following the map. I inadvertently came across the Mannikin Pis statue (“Mannequin piss” as Katie calls it) and was severely disappointed. I didn’t even take any pictures; it’s smaller than most of the replicas that are littered about town. I also passed an antique shop that I was too scared to go into because there was so much glass in it, yet there was a customer walking around it with her dog. Europeans treat their dogs much more seriously like humans than Americans do.
I walked for a long time, thinking I was following the map, but like usual, not exactly confident. I was a little scared as the streets became more run-down and it became more crowded. My cell phone battery was red and I was hugging my purse as I recalled every story I’d ever heard of theft abroad. And then I came out upon a huge open square packed with people and tables and junk.
The very first table I walked up to had a bunch of rings. As I was looking at them, I noticed a familiar little statue next to the bowl of rings. It was a tiny billiken! A lot of the sellers didn’t speak English; I think they were mostly speaking Arabic. There were tons of tables and tents, but mostly blankets on the ground with things littered about them. Jewelry, clothes, shoes, old video game systems, furniture. It reminded me a lot of the Gypsy Caravan at home, but with a lot more multi-lingual haggling.
I finally approached a little old man about one of the rings he was selling. I picked up the ring and said, “Do you speak English?” He said, “Uh-oh.” He laughed and said something that I had him repeat several times. I never understood him and he gave up. Hours later I realized he had been saying, “Graceland,” his desperate attempt to relate to a young American. I bought the ring for 3 euro, and he proudly told me the ring was Mexican. I just laughed. Of course my Belgian souvenir (which is from the French “for memory”) would be from Mexico.
Afterward, I met the others and we got a train to Leuven, where Doug was staying in the seminary with Donny. It’s a gorgeous little college town. We stopped at a pub and had some beer and cheese. There were some interesting diners there:
Leuven claims the longest bar in Europe, but it’s a bit of a joke. It’s a street with a row of bars on each side. But there’s a Pizza Hut in the middle of one side—I think that breaks up the “bar” concept. When Doug went back to get his stuff from the seminary (he had been staying with Donny), we waited in the front hall. It was a gorgeous building and really interesting. It made me homesick for some reason. Not for home exactly, but for childhood. It smelled like Church, and you could hear singing. Donny said they were at evening prayer. Eventually we said good-bye to Donny and got the train back to Brussels.
Back in Brussels, we cleaned up and went out. We started out at Delirium. It’s a huge tourist bar because they have 25 beers on tap upstairs and over 2,004 beers downstairs. Then Dan and Spencer went next door to the Absinthe bar to try the green fairy and before long everyone had followed. I figured if the mono couldn’t take beer, Absinthe was probably out of the question.
When the others were done being tourists, we made our way to another bar. Celtica, of course, was an Irish pub. The only reason we went there was because it was going to play the Superbowl. Celtica was a very cool place. We had some cheap beer and sat around and talked until 2 a.m., when we thought the game started. We went upstairs and it was already well into it. We met a guy named something akin to “Euro.” When I asked him to repeat that several times, he said, “Only Dutch people can say it. Just say ‘euro.’ It’s close enough.”
Monday kind of sucked. We had breakfast, but suddenly, there was a guard perched over the bread and jam section. We like to think we had something to do with that. We checked out, then donned our backpacks and wandered around the city. It was freezing, our backpacks were heavy, and we were all exhausted. We went to the chocolate place that sells only the best 10 chocolatiers in Belgium (they held a contest in which entrants had to use real ingredients). There is also a giant chocolate baby there.
We met an American named Louis who had been trying out for a soccer team in Germany and was on his way back home. He walked around with us a bit. We went to the Royal Palace and got waffles out of a van. We asked, “Do you speak English?” And the man said, “Italiano.” The only waffle I had in Belgium was one with a bunch of toppings (chocolate, whipped cream, and strawberries) which is a surefire way to be marked as a tourist. So this time around, the others got plain waffles with just powdered sugar. Here are Spencer, Louis, and Katie:
Once we got down to the European Union part of town, it looked like Chicago and the buildings were new and boring. Eventually we set off for the airport. Security was crazy there! Five people in a row set off the metal detector, including myself. So then you had to be pat down. That was awkward. The woman said something to me, and I replied, “I can only speak English.” And she said, “I control you.” Well that was terrifying, and then she proceeded to pat me down, then go over my entire body with the metal detector. Megan had the same treatment and she had to have her shoes scanned, too (there’s a special machine for that). I think these were the worst English speakers we encountered in Belgium. One of them asked Katie if they could “control her bag.” Hopefully, they are under the impression that “control” means “search.”
The whole trip Dan and Doug had been saying, “Outverkoop” to each other to mean something akin to “awesome.” They’d seen it on signs all over Belgium and we took it up. When we finally asked somebody what it meant, it was a little disappointing (something like “sold out”). Not quite so cool. But we use it to mean “awesome” anyway. Back in Dublin we got the bus to Galway and then made the trek to Corrib. Home sweet twenty-five-minute-walk home. Then I conked out. I was knackered.
But all in all, Belgium was outverkoop!