Monday, September 25, 2006

Adieu Brussels

Grand-Place Guild Halls, Brussels
Originally uploaded by suzipaw.
More pictures here.

Written on the 23rd...

I'm contemplating my last view of Belgium, from the end of the Brussels Airport terminal. It's raining a bit, so maybe it's a good day to leave--sightseeing in the rain is not as much fun, though there are certainly plenty of museums to do here. A wing of geese flew by, and I wondered if there was anyway they could've been the same once flying over my deck a few weeks ago…and then I remembered that whole other continent thing…

The rest of the conference was uneventful, though the days were long. We had a big group dinner out at one of the touristy restaurants just off one of the quaint narrow streets that had been turned into a seafood restaurant row, all yellow signs with the same menu and hawkers trying to bring in diners. Like New York's cheek-by-jowl Indian joints on East 6th Street, I'm suspicious that there's one enormous shared kitchen under the pavement with an elaborate conveyor belt system that send dishes zinging from one end to the other.
Street of restaurants
After the conference ended and before the dinner began I decided to take one last look at Brussels and took a long walk through a business district to Jubilee Park and back again. It was a longer walk than I thought it would be, marching along a busy street as bicycles zipped past on the sidewalk (it was a wide sidewalk and they had their own lane). It was very warm and there were no tourists, just locals going about their business. I sat for a bit in Jubilee Park, admiring the Arc de Triomphe, watching the dogs at play, and writing postcards. I charted a different route back to the hotel for the dinner rendezvous, this time through a more residential area, but upscale--it reminded me a bit of the homes off Fifth Avenue in New York.

I had intended to stay at the same hotel for the extra night, but the room rate reflected every one of the five stars Le Plaza deserves, so I decided to check into the hotel across the street and saved quite a bit. The mere three stars of Hotel President made my day trip to Bruges and my tab at Pierre Marcolini a bit more bearable.

Last night, walking the streets near the Grand Place that had become familiar, I had the same sense that I did at the end of my Amsterdam trip--I could be at home here.

…continued from home on the 25th:

Home now, I notice the dryness, the dust, and wish for rain. The house is dusty again. The last days of summer seem drawn out, overstaying their welcome. It was downright hot today, but the smell of blackberries boiling in their tight little skins on our work walk this afternoon was a pleasant consolation.

I had taken the green of the Belgian countryside for granted, that's for sure. It reminded me of home, in a different season. On my last full day in Europe, a colleague (the same one I traveled to Florence with last year) and I took the train to Bruges for a medieval walkabout. The trip was a pleasant hour of gazing at tile roofs gathered in small herds, sleek livestock grazing by neat farms.

Bruges is one damn picturesque town, I'll say that. From the moment we left the train station, the camera shutters were clicking. What must the denizens think of us tourists, documenting their homes, cobblestones, walls, canals? We wandered to the main marketplace, eyeing the souvenir shop windows. We drank overpriced water at an outdoor restaurant. I fought class after class of field tripping students trying to get to the top of the carrillion by noon to watch the bells tolling while they descended, but their youth vanquished my step-classed preparation to mount all 366 steps in one effort. Lunch of frites and beer by a canal, preceded by a chocolate-strewn waffle by another. Avoided carriages of horse-drawn tourists and bicycling locals on the narrow, cobblestoned streets. Admired ancient cathedrals, inside and out. Met up with other work friends and took in the lace museum and watched a lace making demonstration. These women don't charge enough for their pieces that's for sure. Their fingers played the bobbins so quickly, their motion seemed almost random, and the clicking of the wood was so soothing.
Back in big city Brussels that evening, I decided to try to find a truly pleasant place for dinner. I was worried that it would be difficult to find a table on a Friday evening, but the little street of restaurants I had my heart set on was nearly empty. There was only one gentleman sitting at an outdoor table of the restaurant I had in mind, and he said that indeed, it was a good place when I asked, though he immediately confessed to being the owner and so therefore biased. He brought my half-liter of red wine which I sipped while watching the band of gray clouds grow luminous, unearthly orange, then fade to black. The faint sound of pins striking the walls of lanes in the nearby Super Bowl was a quiet soundtrack. The owner and his wife and I conversed a bit in English and French, then they left me alone with my penne and gorgonzola. I ate as slowly as I could, but still the time passed too quickly.
Toscana 21 street
I had a hard time falling asleep that last night, but made it to the airport a bit early. Twenty more hours of waiting and the vague sense of humiliation upon being searched and questioned and xrayed repeatedly. It was a sea, or desert, of luminous clouds all the way home, the opposite perspective of what I had watched so hard the night before at dinner. They gave up at the Rocky Mountains and it was clear sailing home.

Sunday was a day of pleasant tiredness, happy to be home with M and the furry creatures again, though I felt a bit like Rex, clinging to M and wanting to just trot around after him all day.

And now it's today.


M started his new job today. He looked so handsome in his suit and tie, I wanted to take a picture, like his first day of school.

I'm very tired. There are so many more details I want to write/remember about my trip, but it's going to be a hard day at work tomorrow, so I think bed is the better part of valor.


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