En route to Grote Market, Brussels

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pulling into Brussels, I was excited to see Christie and introduce her to Joe, and I was also looking forward to meeting Mathieu, her new husband.  But any feelings of excitement and anticipation were largely overshadowed by our sheer exhaustion from the hellish bus/ferry experience.

We stepped off the coach and headed inside the train station where we waited at a table just outside the Starbucks -- our designated meeting point -- until Christie made her way out of the metro, greeting us with a friendly smile and a hug.  It was 8:00 AM at that point, and she was on her way to work, so she handed us the key to her home, wrote down the name of our metro stop and quick directions to her apartment, and then we parted ways.  We told her that our plan was to take a tiny power-nap and then walk into the city, where we'd meander and sight-see until she got off work.  Then we'd meet her at Grote Markt at 5:30 that evening for dinner with her and Mathieu.  

We found her and Mathieu's apartment with no trouble and collapsed onto our bed as soon as we made it inside.  Joe had slept 2 hours the night before (on the coach ride from the ferry port to Brussels), whereas I had slept for a few more, so I did not expect to partake in any sort of power-napping (for the life of me, I cannot take mid-day naps unless I'm sick or in a moving vehicle/train/airplane; otherwise, once I'm awake, I'm awake until bedtime).  So I laid next to Joe, playing the Spades app on my phone, thinking, "I'll let him sleep for an hour or two and then wake him up to walk into the city with me."  

Five hours later, Joe and I both woke up, completely disoriented, albeit well-rested.  My first thought was: Great, just after we'd beaten our jet lag.  My second thought: I might die if I don't eat something.  I immediately scoured Christie's kitchen for snacks.  Cut to ten minutes later and we'd devoured a previously-unopened bag of chips and an entire pack of cookies.  I then sat on the couch and caught up on some emails while Joe showered and got ready.  As I finished my emails and began to get ready myself, Joe and I had a small disagreement about why my makeup was nowhere to be found (I swore I had handed it to Joe to pack before we left Oxford -- as he is the official packing coordinator -- whereas he had no recollection of my doing so) until I realized: what a great excuse to not wear makeup for 3 days!  Disagreement over.

Around 4:00, we finally left the house and started walking toward the city center to meet up with Christie.  We had 90 minutes to get there, and Google maps had predicted it would take us 63 minutes to access the city center on foot (we always walk everywhere to avoid paying for public transportation and, bonus!, you also really see the city that way).

Well, we saw a lot more of Brussels than we'd planned; it took us way longer to get to the city center than "63 minutes."  We still don't understand what happened, really.  We weren't at all lost, but we  (or rather, Google Maps) mistimed the journey very badly.   For example, when 5:30 rolled around, we were still 15-20 minutes away from Grote Markt.  We were near a bus stop, so I advised Joe that we board the bus and take it 2 stops to Grote Markt.  He suggested we just continuing walk and succumb to our lateness, but I persisted.  "It'll cost us 5 euro, but then we'll be 5 minutes late as opposed to 20."  Joe nodded, and we boarded the first bus that came by.

I knew that Belgium's 3 official languages are Dutch, French, and German.  So when we stepped aboard the bus, I asked the driver, in German, for 2 one-way tickets.  He stared at me, blankly, so I repeated myself.  He then asked me in English how many tickets I needed and when I told him 2 (in English), he asked for 5 euro (in English).  I was crushed.  Did I forget how to speak German?  I wondered.  Also, I'm pretty sure when Eleanor Roosevelt said that famous inspirational thing about not letting people make you feel inferior without your permission, she was talking about Belgian bus drivers.

Joe and I took our seats and I watched the stops flash on the screen as the bus made its route, and after 10 minutes, it occurred to me that we should have reached Grote Markt well before then -- it had only been 2 stops away from our starting point.  As I wondered this, Joe turned to me and said, "Hey, we've already been here before -- we drove by this place earlier."  To my horror, I realized he was right.  I couldn't believe we'd missed our stop, as I had been staring at the screen the whole time and 'Grote Markt' had never appeared on it.  Convinced I was losing my mind (and my ability to speak German, apparently), we stepped off at the next stop and realized we had inadvertently backtracked, like, one million steps.  This was incredibly frustrating.  To make matters worse, it was almost 6:00, which meant we were half an hour late and even further away from our destination than before.

"We have to find a place with wifi", I announced.  "I have to text Christie that we're running late."

The thought of Christie sitting in Grote Markt for half an hour wondering where we were caused me so much anxiety that I began to sweat.  We wandered around aimlessly, looking for a cafe or restaurant to lean against and casually steal wifi from.  After realizing that there seemed to be no such place in sight, Joe did the thing I swore we would never do (again): turned his phone off of airplane mode.  He surrendered his phone to me and solemnly said, "Text her."

As I scrolled through my phone to find her number so that I could type it into Joe's phone, I came to the sobering realization that her phone number was saved in iMessages on my computer, as opposed to the contacts in my phone.  Thus, I had no way of texting her.  I resorted to logging into Facebook and sending her a message there that said something along the lines of: "I'M SORRY! WE'RE COMING! DON'T HATE US! WE'LL BE THERE ASAP! WE'RE COMING, I PROMISE!  WE'RE GETTING ON THE BUS TO GROTE MARKT RIGHT NOW."

Spoiler alert No. 1: she never even saw the Facebook message.

Spoiler alert No. 1.5: I think sending that Facebook message cost us $800 in roaming charges.

As we boarded our second bus of the day, I begrudgingly ordered our tickets in English, delivering the request "Two tickets, please" in a melancholy tone that would give Ross Gellar's "Hi" voice a run for its money.

We set off in direction of the city center, this time determined to step off at the right stop.  "We can't miss Grote Markt this time, Joe!  We can't miss it again!"  

Spoiler alert No. 2: we missed it again.

But!  It wasn't our fault.  As we stepped off the bus -- this time at 6:15, anxiety reaching new heights -- I noticed a sign with a construction symbol on it.  It was written in French and in Dutch.  I used my one semester's college-level French to piece together a rough understanding of the French text and relied on my German to work my way through the Dutch text (weirdly similar languages) before successfully deducing one important message: no busses will be stopping at Grote Markt this weekend.  I interpreted this news as both good and bad; the former because it meant I haven't forgotten how to ride a bus and the latter because it meant that we had just spent the last half hour or so riding around on buses for no reason whatsoever.  A stupid waste of time and money if there ever was one.

Joe kept saying, "There's nothing we can do about it.  It's not our fault; it's not like we tried to be an hour late."  Nevertheless, the people-pleaser within me was cringing at the thought of Christie sitting in Grote Markt for an hour awaiting out arrival, and the cringing continued as we walked (power-walked) from the bus stop to Grote Markt.  Would she even be there?, I wondered.  Has she given up and just gone home?

Spoiler alert No. 3:  She was there!  She hadn't given up and gone home!

As soon as we saw her, sitting patiently in the Markt, I apologized a dozen times.  Unsurprisingly, she was completely understanding and cool about it, so much so that during my thirteenth apology, she cut me off and insisted I stop feeling bad about it.  After all, we had a night out in Brussels to enjoy.

And enjoy we did.  We started the evening off with some truffles (I picked 4 tiny truffles out from a little chocolate shop and split each of them with Joe, because the law of splitting dictates that sugar is only bad for you when consumed in wholes, not halves), checked out the house where Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto, caught up on all pieces of gossip pertaining to the Bachelor franchise, and ate dinner not once but twice!  Although, truth be told, Joe and I had walked so many miles in our pilgrimage to Grote Markt that we could have eaten a third dinner and been totally fine with it.

The dinners (and truffles) were great (falafel for our first dinner, Thai noodles for our second) and spending time with Christie and her husband was so refreshing and restorative and relaxing (accidental alliteration, I swear), but perhaps the highlight of the evening occurred when I shamefully recounted to Christie my failed attempts to speak German with the bus driver.  "We don't speak German in Brussels," Christie explained.  "In fact, no one really speaks it in Belgium.  They say it's an official language or whatever, but no one really knows it."

I sighed an enormous sigh of relief; so I hadn't lost all knowledge of the language I spoke exclusively for 3 years!  Suddenly, I no longer felt inferior to the Belgian bus driver.  Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud.  

On that celebratory note, we go to Bruges tomorrow!  I have never been.  And I've never even seen In Bruges.  So it'll be a real treat for me.  Can't wait.

Jan said...

Such a pretty city. The truffles looked yummy. And Christie looked great!!

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