Sunday, July 22, 2007


I meant to go from Delft to Paris in the afternoon, but got stuck about halfway. I got to Brussels easily, identified the next train to Paris, and went to get some lunch before boarding. I thought I still had a couple minutes left when I went to get some Belgian chocolate for "dessert", but I didn't. I missed the train for chocolate. The next one was in an hour. I missed it too, but for a different reason: as I tried to board I found out it was a high speed train and needed reservations. Options:

  • Stay in Brussels for the night
  • Go to and stay in Brugges
  • Take the long way from Brussels to Lille then to Paris
  • Go to and stay in Lille

I took option 1, since it was already four or five in the afternoon. I'm glad I stayed, Brussels is one of the best surprises yet.

I followed a group of backpackers getting off the train — they were going generally in the direction of the hostel and looked like they knew what they were doing. Everything turned out well; I got a bed and went to a nearby grocery store for some food. I meant to go to this restaurant a dorm mate recommended (an architecture student from Berkeley), but the grocery store is actually a funny story. Once you enter you can't leave unless you walk by one of the checkout lines, so my desire to get food elsewhere was subdued by my desire to not get caught up in a confusion of French and Dutch when they noticed I was leaving with a water bottle that I bought somewhere else. Of course, it drew confusion anyway. Brussels is a wonderful Bermuda triangle for expectations. Oh, and it's worth noting one of the things I bought was the Belgian equivalent of Pocky sticks.

Some memorable incidents from Brussels:

  • At the end of the day there is a ton of cardboard out on all the streets, presumably boxes from the stores. A recylcing truck comes around to collect it, and this truck makes some of the loudest metallic screeching sounds I've ever heard. Imagine an elephant blowing a cornet.
  • There are a number of narrow entrances to the "Grand Place", the center of Brussels. Sitting by any one of them you can hear that every tourist has the same reaction: "Ah, que bueno!", "C'est magnifique!", "Wow!", etc.
  • A bit before sunset a Chinese student came up to me and asked for me to fill out a survey about the city. I did, and was struck by how strange some of the questions were, while others seemed to have obvious responses. I think a variation on this would make a wonderful performance art piece: handing out surveys with no intent of collecting opinions but simply of forcing people to reflect on strange and difficult questions.

I finally did my laundry that evening. This is worth noting because it's when I ran into Cherry and Trent. They're an Australian couple who spent the last nine months in Southeast Asia and are just now starting a few months in Europe. We talked about travel a bit and had some Belgian beer.

Apparently a very specific type of bacteria that grows only in Brussels in used in some Belgian beer. It's collected from a river that used to run down the center of the city but has since been paved over since it stank terribly due to sewage problems. I simultaneously do and don't hope this is true.

The dryer wasn't working, which we later learned was due to our incompetence, but this required us to sit around for a very long time. Eventually a Mexican guy named Ricardo joined us, and the conversation turned to a sort of "travel activism", and how we could unite people in need with people who want to help, but with a focus on international relationships rather than just local ones. Ricardo does business and Trent has experience and ideas. I just fueled the fire. We exchanged emails, and we'll see what happens.

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