Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011 -- Brussels, Belgium

This is a great city! If I could afford it, I would love to live here.  I'm enthralled!

The train from Lille to Brussels was a half-hour late, quite a bit when one considers that the high-speed train takes only 35 minutes to get here from Lille. When I arrived at the Brussels train station, I had a ticket to pick up that I had bought on the Internet for the next leg of my journey to Luxembourg in five days. I went to one of the ticket areas, where a receptionist with a name tag that read "Inge" (same name as my daughter) asked me in French what I wanted. I stupidly asked, " Parlez-vous anglais ?  She answered, "Of course I speak English!" as if that were one of the stupidest questions I could have asked. Sorry, but I just came from France, and if you can't speak French there, you have a rough time of it. In Brussels, pick your language.

I got my ticket, and everyone I spoke to spoke perfect English, although at times with a slight accent. I knew which bus to take to the hostel, and when I got off at the correct stop, I looked around trying to figure out where the hostel was. It turns out it was on a side street just a few doors away.

The guy at the reception spoke very vernacular English with an American accent tinged with the slightest touch of British. If I didn't know better, I could swear he is a native English speaker, but his native language is actually Dutch. He told me he spoke Spanish, and I thought I had him. Most people in northern and central Europe who claim to speak Spanish know only the few words that they remember from school, and when I speak to them in Spanish, they struggle to reply. However, he replied in perfect Spanish that he had worked in Barcelona, and I'll be damned if his Spanish didn't sound to me like that spoken in that city!

I sprang for the evening meal at the youth hostel, 10.40 euros or about $15, which I considered a bit expensive compared to what I could have thrown together on my own, but the meal was to die for! I have never eaten so well in Europe before, and there was even a bottle of chipotle sauce on the table to spice up my soup. The desert consisted of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, probably the best I have ever eaten, served on top of two Belgian crepes. Even the vegetables, just carrot slices, were so well spiced as to be delicious, and the potatoes were cooked with some sort of exquisitely tasting cheese. I could write an entire blog on the food here.

I took a walk around the neighborhood, and there are many shops specializing in one type of food. One was a biscuiterie or cookie shop, but the cookies looked like nothing I have ever seen before. Those ain't no Oreo! The chocolate shops, and I looked in the windows of several, had incredible creations of chocolate such as chocolate covered strawberries served in a cone made of a waffle. One shop sold only different varieties of macaroons. For about 30 bucks you could buy an assortment of them that looked too good to eat. OK, out of my price range, but window shopping is free.

Brussels is supposedly a French-speaking island in a sea of Dutch-speaking surroundings. The three official languages of Belgium are Dutch, French, and German, although German is spoken natively by a small minority. However, due to the fact that Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, there is a lot of English spoken. For example, many of the shops have signs in English only, and I heard a lot of English in the street spoken by people to whom it was obviously a second language.

By the way, it is quite warm and pleasant here. This is the first really nice weather I have experienced in over a month. Rain is forecast early next week, but lets worry about next week when it gets here. The only problem I'm going to have today is trying not to walk to much on my leg with the sciatic leg injury. There is so much to see here, and it is best seen on foot.

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