The Brussels Gare Midi was one of the nicest train stations I have been in. It is not cavernous but clean, efficient, easy to get around, and they have clean bathrooms for only .5 Euro. Everything is priced fairly. If you have spent so long in Italy and France, anything seems cheap. I bought a Metro pass for two days and took the subway (the right one, the wrong direction) to the hotel Opera. It was a shabby but clean hotel that had an excellent location near the Grand Place in the center. My room was not air-conditioned and was hot. I called Gene, my Couchsurfing contact, to confirm she would pick me up in front of the hotel at 10:30 to show me Belgium. I was about to back down as I didn’t feel she was enthusiastic about taking the day off and driving all over. I thought of excuses but had gone to far to turn back.
I had dinner at a nice Chinese sidewalk Café on the Rue du Restaurants. This street wound its way around the alley in back of the Grand Place and was famous for all kinds of good restaurants with excellent food. The Belgium dish…Moules and Frites was advertised everywhere. I had Chicken stuffed Egg Rolls, Beef with Mushroom sauce and rice, with coffee and a half liter of wine. It was very good and costs $26. I walked around the crowded streets, took a few photos, and settled in for the night. I was high enough up that I could open the window and get some cool air without the noise.
The Opera, served a good Continental Breakfast plus I had free internet access to catch up on emails.
Gene showed up at 10:30 sharp and we were off for Gent. This was to be our first stop. Gene was very pleasant and spoke good English though I had a little difficulty understanding her with my bad hearing and her accent. She had working at a University doing Laboratory scientific research most of her life. She traveled with her work to Hong Kong, Denver, Vancouver, Europe, Philadelphia, etc. She liked Scuba Diving for wrecks in the North Sea as well as just for the beauty of it. She had participated in Car Rallies with her friends in France for a day and some for a week. She was born in Belgium and was from an Old family with a fallen down castle and a family crest. The crest was emblazoned on a ring she wore. Her son went to an exchange program in Denver. They both met there and went skiing. Her daughter I think was in school in British Columbia. She divorced some time ago and lived in a very nice home in the country about a half hour from Brussels. I never did get invited to stay there so I put my bags in storage at the Opera with the option of staying another night. She had nice tastes and was a very classy, yet open and down to earth person. I met her through Couchsurfing and was pleasantly surprised to be treated like I was with a SERVAS member. SERVAS is the organization that I have been a Host and Traveler for over 15 years. This is my first travel experience with Couchsurfing. She had packed a picnic for us later that afternoon. We arrived in Gent, parked and walked around the lovely city taking pictures and seeing the sights. We stopped at an outdoor Café for coffee and she showed me a beautiful book she had brought that showed photos of the different regions of Belgium in all four seasons.
I had emailed the two friends I made from Gent while in San Zoilo Spain. They had decided ,at a college class reunion, to do the pilgrimage trail in Spain and I met them at the Monastery where we were teaching. I invited them to our dance one night and they met some of the group. We exchanged photos and I invited them to meet in Gent but really wasn’t sure Gene was going to take me there.
The weather was great and Gene was determined to show me as much of Belgium as possible in a day. She had planned an itinerary and laid it out in a folder. It was over 20 pages of internet places to see in Gent, maps of our route, interesting points not to miss and all in plastic protectors like a book. I’m glad I didn’t back down from this.
We drove mostly back roads and it was breathtaking. We actually entered into Holland and stopped in a village close to the sea where the Dutch were vacationing with there families or retired people spent a few weeks each year.
Everyone was on bicycles and riding around the countryside and along the canals. We stopped in a quaint village that was out of a picture book and bought some bread for the picnic. After spotting a nice bench in a quiet little park we parked and had our picnic of salad with sandwiches of turkey and cheese accompanied by Belgium Beer, water and of course…Belgium Chocolate! A walk on the beach nearby was a perfect end to our excursion. The beach, on the North Sea was crowded with sunbathers and well to do people strutting their stuff.
I wanted to be back by 6pm to a monthly get together of Belgium SERVAS people at a bar near the hotel. I imagined a friendly group I could introduce myself and Gene to for a nice Happy Hour.
She drove directly back and I napped. Le Circ was an old pub that Gene knew so we had no problem finding it but I think we missed the get together by a week. It was my turn to treat and a nice Vietnamese dinner in a nearby sidewalk Café was the perfect end to a wonderful day. I bid her goodbye and walked back to get settled back in for the evening.
Gene had to work Wednesday but had an invitation after to attend another picnic with friends and invited me. I was to call her the next day but after getting back I decided I really wanted to move on and get to Holland. Guido, one of the men from Gent had emailed me to meet by the Cathedral in Gent the next day and I sent him our photos of Gent and declined. I emailed Gene, rather than spend $5 to call her from the hotel, to also decline and thank her. That night I went out for a beer then went to bed early.
The morning was cold and rainy so the cancelled plans turned out for the best. It is a great day for travel and I am now on my way to Haarlem to spend a relaxing evening in a Dutch Coffee shop! I’ll be in Amsterdam tomorrow and already wrote Jeannette to let her know I would be early a day. This gives me a chance to say hello and spend a little time catching up before Larry arrives on Friday. I might even greet him at the train station. The conductor has been trying to get my attention for the last few minutes to punch my ticket but I’m so absorbed in telling my tale I didn’t hear him.