Sun. July 6, 2014:
Dublin flying to Brussels, Belgium
At some point the sun had risen again before we even landed in Dublin, I was very confused as to what time it was, given I swear I had watched the sun set recently, I had no idea what was going on. The lights came on and we managed to squeeze in half of the third episode of True Detective before landing. I was thoroughly amused with the views of Ireland from the window. There was a church that had an entire island all to itself! I wanted so badly to go explore Ireland; the airport was amidst green fields! The cars were driving on the left side of the highway (not sure why anyone was awake at this ungodly hour, the pilot said it was 5:20am, apparently it seemed that time was broken). I did not care for the Dublin airport; it was unwelcoming and too industrial for my taste. The food court also sucked. Regardless of how tired I was, I knew enough to avoid Burger King, especially for breakfast. I instead opted for a Wispa chocolate bar (like a stale 3 Musketeers bar) and a fruity Fanta. Thankfully they took credit card, I had no idea if Ireland took Euros or not.
In my tired state Belgium from above looked like trapezoid-shaped Carcassone pieces. As we prepped for landing, I could see animals down below, there were some scarecrows in a field and next door to the airport landing strip there was a horse farm. Somewhere in between noticing the animals and landing I had fallen asleep. I know this because the “we’ve landed” announcement scared me awake. We got off the airplane, walked down a hallway and the automatic door would not open. We stood there while a technician tried to get it open, no-go. He called someone on his radio and somehow disappeared even though apparently the broken door was the only door. Why did the automatic door not have a manual override?? Why was there no handle?? Being trapped in that little hallway with more and more annoying people piling up behind us, a few pushing to the front to try the door and then trudging back to their place was annoying, even more-so given my already exhausted state of mind.
Once we were freed I tried to buy a cup of coffee to drink on the train, alas the lid was too big and it kept spilling everywhere. This only became evident as we were buying train tickets; there was no way I was going all the way back up three floors to get a new lid. In my delirious state I tossed it in a fit of rage. The one thing I needed and loved most had betrayed me: caffeine. I felt a little bit better after changing into fresh clothes in the airport bathroom but I was still irritable. Not helping my cause was the annoying ding that the train door made whenever it closed or open, it was completely unnecessary. The only thing I remember from the train ride is storm clouds off in the distance and seeing the tip of the Atom Building far off in the distance. It was not a very scenic ride and I could not for the life of me keep my eyes open.
The day brightened up slightly when I found a Starbucks in the train station. This goes without saying for the whole trip: thank god they spoke English. It felt painful to pay the same price but in Euros, I knew in the back of my head that I was paying an ungodly amount for my coffee.
It was a bit overwhelming to be in a busy train station, trying desperately to recognize place names on the signs. Eventually we made our way outside and found a street that was on Brent’s map. Our hotel was too far from everything so we took our bags with us and checked them at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts. Even with stopping to look at a park that opened onto a nice view of Brussels we got to the museum for 10:30am. Despite the sheer and utter exhaustion, not to mention the confusion of having no idea what time it was, let alone realizing that hey, we have no eaten in a while… we managed to see all three galleries in the museum, i.e.: everything. We were in the museum until 1pm and it was well worth it. I had no idea what I would be seeing and I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into a room and there was one of my favourite paintings: The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. The runaway winner of the museum however was the Magritte gallery and the Salvador Dali painting with elephants (my tired self did not note which one in particular).
On our way to the Grand Market Square we passed what appeared to be an ad-hoc dog festival (that or 20 something people all just happened to be walking their dogs in the same place at the same time). There was supposed to be a bird market at the Square however the Square was blocked off, making the usual crowd of tourists that much tighter. I could nto believe how many tourists were crammed into that one space. The buildings in the Square were gorgeous; however I kept tripping on cobblestones as I admired them. Cobblestones were something I had to get used to walking on. The City Hall tour we had planned on going at 2pm was sold-out so we bought tickets for the 4pm tour instead.
We went to Chez Leon for lunch because apparently that is where the Belgian frites originated. The thing to eat in Belgium is frites with mussels or eels, which is about as appealing as it sounds. The fries were pretty good, amazingly light and fluffy and not at all greasy. Thankfully we were not served mayonnaise with them, however they did need some ketchup or something to dip in. after a while it started getting mealy and dry. I resorted to dipping my fries in the green sauce that my eels were served in (it tasted a lot better than it sounds or looks). I was mad that there were bones in my eels, which made it hard to eat and therefore made me grumpy (fine, grumpier).
With our heavy luggage in tow, stomachs full of frites we headed off with Brent’s Google maps printout, in search of our hotel. The poorly marked streets combined with the curvy, non-grid layout of the streets was a recipe for getting lost. We ended up adding on at least half an hour of extra walking because we had (somehow) missed a turn. We finally got to the hotel and there was a huge line-up of people checking in. I gave up and went to sit down… and promptly kept falling asleep while sitting, which of course resulted in my head snapping forward and waking me up… and repeat… for what felt like forever…
The hotel was more of a hostel, but thankfully we had a private room to ourselves. It consisted of three single beds and sparse furniture. No phone, no TV, no toiletries (just a soap dispenser on the wall). With getting lost and then there being a giant line-up to check-in we had just enough time to drop our bags and head back to the Market Square (20 minute walk)- so much for my planned nap.
City Hall was gorgeous on the inside; so many distracting things to look at kept me awake for the most part. There were moments when I wanted to punch the people who had managed to get seats. I was so tired. It turns out Belgium is really confusing, having three official languages that no one can decide on- good to know. After the tour we walked around the Square again. More people had gathered for the hand-ball game. Apparently it was a big deal? We could not for the life of us figure it out. The field narrowed towards one end, one team would throw the ball up in the air like a tennis serve and then smack it with their palm. It was very confusing, at some point the guy hit it to the other end and everyone started cheering: was it the equivalent of a home run?
We did not stick around to watch anymore, it was starting to rain and we had been awake for over 24 hours. I had noticed that the hostel had a well-stocked supply of snacks, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (a staple of any vacation). But I was too tired to even think about snacks. It was 7pm and it was time for bed.