An Ode to Brussels:
So this is the story from A to Z of how Kathryn and I missed our first train, you see.
I’d love to keep this poem going, but this is a little difficult, just like disc throwing.
Ok, definitely time to stop now!
The trip to Brussels was eventful to say the least. I learned the importance of checking tickets thoroughly, packing warm clothes, carefully reading station names, oh, and yeah, stayed at a stranger’s apartment (never fear, I’ll explain later!).
After enjoying a leisurely lunch after our first train ride, Kathryn and I go to the station to find where our train to Brussels departs. The train leaves at 11:36, I am sure. I pull out the ticket. The train leaves at 11:17. I look at my watch. It reads 11:15. We look at the confusing signs and take off running. We stand there just as our train chugs away.
Finally, oh finally, after a series of sprints to buses and trains trying to navigate our way around Germany’s confusing transportation system (for example, we thought we had train tickets, but really it was train and bus tickets), we see the beautiful sign of Bruxelles.
Kathryn and I eagerly hop off the train into magical the land of waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer.
Hmm….Brussels is a little more ethnic than I was expecting. The streets are crowded and dirty. Doner Kebab places line the road. Where is the chocolate and waffles? Kathryn and I head in the general direction of a cathedral knowing that our train station is close to the Grand Place-the heart of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We turn a corner and look up at a store window. There is a scantily clad, voluptuous woman sitting there illuminated. I look at the other side and down the street and window after window contains a live woman displayed for all to see. I grab Kathryn’s arm, “Oh my gosh, Kat, we’re in the red light district!”
It was shocking, it was sickening, and it was incredibly saddening. I was not prepared for it.
We panic and try to get out of the area as quickly as possible.
We go to a hotel and ask the man working to show us where we are on the map. He points to a spot. “You’re here, next to Brussels Nord Station.”
Uhh, oops! Everything clicks together. In (mainly mine) zealousness to not miss another stop, we had gotten off our train to soon. We head back to the train station, wander around like the lost tourist that we are, and eventually make it to the right stop.
The day was not nearly over though. We still had to meet Sarah and go to our hotel-which happened to be a stranger’s apartment.
Now I should probably explain before dear family and friends begin to question my sanity. For this trip, I thought it would be fun to check out couchsurfing. It is basically a network for travelers to host and be hosted by others, typically on their couch. Couchsurfers create a profile about themselves and people can provide positive, neutral, or negative references of them as a guest or host. Couchsurfing is not limited to only sleeping on somebody’s couch, but there are also many events for couchsurfers in the area.
Since there were three of us, I felt pretty confident about trying it, created a profile, and sent out my request. Singapore raised, unicycling, juggling, UNO playing, swing dancing, Erbin responded and said that he could host Kathryn, Sarah, and me. Better yet, he said that this was his girlfriend’s first time to ever host. I messaged my couchsurfing expert friend, Kelly, for protocol tips, and accepted his couch.
Erbin and his German girlfriend, Andrea, were so incredibly kind to us and such talented, unique individuals. Both nights Andrea made us tea and served as homemade German cookies as we talked and laughed and learned. Erbin has a Ph.D. in computer science, for a hobby he has created an app for electronic sports (didn’t even know such a thing existed), is very involved in the dancing community (he showed us a video of somebody boogieing which made him decide that he wanted to play and dance like that), regularly plays the piano at a local bar, juggles, and can speak several languages. Andrea discovered a passion for learning languages as a teenager and is fluent in many. She met Erbin at a couchsurfing event where she asked to ride his unicycle and crashed. Talk about a unique “this is how me met” story! They dance together and Erbin even spent time looking up swing dancing places near me as they shared their love of dancing.
How enriching life is to meet and talk with different people and to learn about their passions! I am reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White and Merlyn’s words to the future King Arthur struck me when he says, “You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn….That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
The experience reminded me of how much I love traveling, not so much for the places, although they are incredible, but for the people. In Brussels, my favorite chocolate shop was one that sold the smallest pieces of chocolate because I could try an assortment of different flavors. In Spain, I always hunted for tapas bars to try a variety of samples of local cuisine. I realized that I love the little tastes of life that comes from brief encounters. In one of my college English classes, we talked about the “catalog technique.” F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson use this in their writing, and it is when an author gives a list to create a whole picture instead of deeply looking at one subject. That is my love-snapshots of life.
Last year at this time, I realized a deep appreciation for the constant change and beauty that comes from backpacking. This year I discovered an interest in couchsurfing. There is something about briefly sharing life with a person that satisfies the wandering writer within me.
As for the rest of Brussels, it was a successful trip! Kathryn and I were able to meet Sarah at her station with relatively little difficulty, and it was delightful to explore a culturally and architecturally rich city like Brussels. Also, I’ll never forget walking down the road to Erbin and Andrea’s apartment the first night in Brussels and hearing Anna yelled from above. Erbin happened to look out the window just as we walked past his place. And the food, oh heavens! At every street corner, you are assaulted by delicious smells (if you are in the right part of Brussles, that is).