Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bruxelles, Deuxième. [The First Five Days]

The air is still, except for sudden gusts of wind that blow snowflakes into my face.  My toes are numb, I can barely feel my nose, and all I want to do is stop shivering.  I'm standing in a graveyard, unable to hear anyone else.  The sky is gray, the land is white, and there is an eerie silence everywhere.

It's been a whirlwind couple of days, five days to be exact.

Friday, 11 January

Arrival.  My plane is ten minutes early, despite the fact that I landed at my last connection in London 30 minutes late and then had to run to make it to my gate.  I got there just as they call out all passengers, final boarding.

The cab driver, Morvan, is very nice.  He and I talk: he is Belgium, speaks no Dutch, has lived in Brussels all his life.  He talks about the weather, how people can't drive in the snow and how accidents pile up on the street.  He tells me about the NATO construction, how the area around BRU airport is all business building and no suburbs.

When I arrive, Madame Dufrasne is there.  And so is my housemate, Rach, a sophomore girl from Los Angeles who could pass for a Swedish model, maybe Swiss.  We chat a bit, eat a bit, and then exhaustion hits me.

I lay in bed, looking out of my window until I fall asleep.


Saturday, 12 January


The morning terrifies me.  I woke up at 3am, fell back asleep for a bit and then laid awake until 7am.  I fall back asleep, only to bolt upright at 9:16am and realize that I NEED to pack.  The schedule is to meet the rest of the group at the Central Station, in less than an hour.  I speed through it and Rach comes with me.

We take a city bus tour of Brussels, passing the Atomium, several churches, botanical gardens and the Royal Palace.

We meander through the Grote Markt, watch a boy pee while dressed in festive red (also known as a statue called Mannekin Pis), and stop at Delirium Tremens pub.  Right across the street is Jannekin Pis (Mannekin's sister).

The pub is infamous for the world record of over 2500 beers. 

Our lunch is another Belgian classic: mussels, fries and beer.  The place is Chez Leone, which we're told is a tourist institution (one MUST eat there as a tourist, otherwise, people ask what you've been doing with your time).

For dessert, I enjoy a Belgian waffle with speculos, a type of cookie based spread (think Biscoff spread).  We have a talk about safety and then, well, we vanish.

Brussels gets tossed into the distance as we head to Ypres, Ieper, Vypers.  The French spell it Ypres; the Dutch say Ieper; and when the Brits fought there, it became Vypers.

The first snowfall of the year starts on our drive north, and it continues well into the night.

Ieper at night, with snow against bright lights.

Sunday, 13 January

The hotel we're staying at is unique.  Everything is based on World Wars I and II, from the trunk holding army blankets to the posters of war, and somehow, that makes it even more unsettling when we head to our tour.

We went to the Last Post at 8pm the night before, a very intense five minutes involving the dedication of a wreath and a moment of silence for those who fought in the wars.

And now, we're off to visit different sites.  Salient Tours Ypres is well thought out, but a bit intense on a cold, dreary morning.  For four hours, we think of war, talk of war, and take pictures of war.  I tear up when I'm asked to read In Flanders Fields, because of the line "Short days ago/we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/loved and were loved, and now we lie/in Flanders Fields."

Taken at Essex Farm: Their name liveth for evermore.
Once the four hours are up, we demand to be fed.  We're taken to the Ramparts Museum for croques (ham-and-cheese sandwiches) with violently hot mustard.

We decide to walk the ramparts, the one that's left, all the way back to the Menin Gate.  The sunshine takes the sting out of a morbid past.

Once the snow settled, a sculptor got busy.
Monday, 14 January

I am in love.  We've left Ypres to head even further north, to visit Newport.  The beach town is different, but still so beautiful.  

The six of us gather around to make lunch: spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and put up our feet for a few hours of relaxation.

We even try to take a walk around the beach, but more snow and wind makes it difficult to even stay at the beach for five minutes.

We head back to our host families for dinner.  Madame Dufrasne spoils Rach and me: soup that tastes creamy and divine, a dish with endives and salmon covered in cheese, a thick cake-like chocolate mousse.

Louie, the fat-black-and-white cat that reminds me of Sylvester, is very much content to let me come to him and pet him.

Tuesday, 15 January

I am so very tempted to laze about.  Oh, I try to get registered at my commune, try to go buy a monthly transportation pass, try to withdraw money.  The operative word is "TRY" as I end up spending a day just relaxing with everyone.  

We meet a few new people, who are housemates but will also attend Vesalius.  We take them around, feeling oh so proud of the few hours that we spent in Brussels before we left.

In the evening, we head to a scheduled event: a dinner and movie showing at a home.  The home is five stories of beautiful, historic property, across from a lake, in an area that reminds me of Manhattan or maybe Greenwich Village.  Between quiche, thick chocolate cake and red wine, we talk.  We also sit down to watch War Horse.  I cry (even though I've seen this movie before).


Tomorrow, I go to orientation for Vesalius.  Tomorrow, I cross my fingers, hoping that my boots won't continue to leak and let water in.  Tomorrow, I'll have to get over jet lag.

No comments:

Post a Comment