Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Brussels (part I)

I am starting to write this post on Friday afternoon, about 4:00pm local time in Brussels, Belgium. I am sitting on the grass, leaning against a pole, right in front of (what I think is) the famous cathedral.

Yesterday, my last day in London, I took everything very slowly. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even get outside my hotel before 11:00am and even that was only because I starved. The night before, I was so tired that I nearly collapsed as I arrived at the hotel; I decided to do almost nothing during the day today, so my best friend and I can have some fun coming the evening when he returns from work.

So other than meeting him for lunch, around the Old Street tube station, I can say that I spent the entire day (until 7:30pm, when Ran came by to pick me up) in bed. Yes, I was that tired; and yes, I was that lazy. Really needed to recharge.

The Russell Square tube station, located very close to my hotel, has lifts (that’s what they call “elevators” in England) that take you from the main street to the tube level – some good distance into the earth. In addition, there’s a 175 steps staircase – spiralling, of course, to make it more fun – as an alternative in the case the lift is broken (or any other sort of emergency). There’s even a sign next to the staircase, asking people to take it only if there’s an emergency. Hell, it’s 175 steps.

Too bad Ran has chosen to completely ignore (or, in his words: “not see”) the sign and took the stairs up, which resulted in another 20 minutes or so of delay and a really tired dude appearing at my doorstep.

We stepped out and started exploring the city together. After buying some toys and clothes for his toddler and wife, respectively, we went for dinner, then coffee and started walking. We walked a lot. All the way from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square, then the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and then Knightsbridge station (near Hyde Park) where we took the tube back to my hotel. What I have just described in a few sentences actually took about five hours, including stopping for coffee along the way. We walked, talked, laughed… great time.

Returning to Russell Square, we decided to end the evening with a drink at the pub that belongs to the Imperial Hotel, also in Russell Square. We sat outside on the patio, didn’t drink much but took our conversations to a whole new level of fun.

Went back to my room so he could get the backpack he left there when he first arrived. Hug, handshake and off to his way he went. Neither of us really wanted to say goodbye after such two days. As soon as he left, I got the feeling I get every time I bid my family goodbye after a visit back home… that perhaps I shouldn’t really be going anywhere.

Train ride to Brussels was an easy one, much easier than the train ride I took a couple of days before to the opposite direction, even though the train was full. I simply wasn’t as tired as before however the crowdedness of the place wasn’t the best thing in the world. Mental note, then, for the Get Lucky journey next year: buy a first-class train pass. There you go, Mr. Robin Stagg; I am slowly becoming you.

Once in Brussels, I went out of the station and decided to make my way to the hotel by walking. Something, however, didn’t seem right. Google Maps showed me incorrect street names and I couldn’t even get 100 meters away from the station without getting completely confused. Also, the map showed my hotel twice – once with the street name written in French, and once in English – and the two “locations” were a mile apart!

After tinkering with it for a few minutes I decided – the hell with it, I’m becoming tired already, I’m hungry. Took a taxi cab; 20 minutes and 13 Euros later, I was in the Queen Anne Hotel.

Mind you, I still didn’t know a damn thing about Brussels – I didn’t even have time to research into hotels – I relied solely on Expedia’s customer reviews which gave this hotel a surprisingly high rating comparing to its price.

I entered the hotel. It wasn’t a “standalone” hotel, in the sense that it was in the same building as other restaurants and shops in what appeared to be a decent – nice, yet not magnificently upscale – part of town. I really didn’t know what to expect; when I entered the hotel, some dance music was playing at the radio which didn’t blend well with the contemporary, somewhat elegant design of the interior.

“Let me see if your room is ready” said the receptionist and went upstairs. After a minute or so, he came back, escorted by a very important-looking lady. He said something to me which I didn’t quite understand, but I’m pretty sure it had the word “apartment” in it.

“Follow me”.

We exited the hotel, and I became a bit worried. He led me through a door adjacent to that of the hotel, which looked like an entrance to an extremely old (yet well maintained) apartment building.

One short flight of stairs and we’re at the door of what seemed to be an apartment. We entered.

“This is the living room” he said, and my mind went “oh no”. I quickly came to the conclusion that what I paid for was something like a room in an apartment. Millions of thoughts went rushing through my mind at the time he told me that “this is the TV” and “this is a sofa”.

OK, time to face reality.

- “And where is my room?” I asked.

He looked at me in much the same way as if he was talking to a chimpanzee that simply can’t understand advanced topics in quantum physics.

- “This is your living room, your bedroom is over there”, he said.

“Holy crap” I said to myself. I have no idea why, but apparently I was given an entire apartment. Quite a big one, too; spacious living room with nice contemporary decor, kitchen as big as the one I have in my house in Waterloo, 3-piece bathroom, toilets and a huge bedroom with a queen-sized bed.

One thing I for sure inherited from my mother, though, is the attention to details and the constant search for pitfalls. I was thinking maybe I did a wrong type of booking.

- “How much did I pay for this?” I asked.

If before I had any doubt he thought I am stupid, all doubts have been removed by now. He looked at me in a really merciful look.

- “I believe it was 60 Euros”, he said, reaffirming my thoughts. I made the right booking; I have no idea what have I done to deserve this.

Quickly unpacked the essentials, threw some cold water on my face, small backpack, netbook inside and off I went to explore the city. I was still rather bummed due to all bunch of reasons (here’s a list… basically just a mental bookmark for myself, so I can look back later and remember the sheer level of emotional BLAH I went through):

  • Farewell from Ran Liebermann, the night before
  • Farewell from Jeroen Gerrits, a few days ago
  • The fact that the new year is being celebrated in Israel right now and my family is so far away
  • Some other personal topic that this is not the place to discuss

- so I knew I wasn’t going to hang out for long.

(Continued at the next post)

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