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Belgium

I feel like I need to catch up on things, which sort of ruins the whole point/fun of keeping a journal, but then again, I should try to write these things down while they’re fresh in my mind.

Yuri is starting to get on my nerves. It is, in turns, like traveling with a teenager, a small child, and a woman. Frequently we will decide on a course of action and get started – walking to a location, waiting for a train, etc. – and then he will decide it’s time to consider alternatives. Of course it’s impossible to travel completely on instinct, but I certainly don’t feel I over-plan things. For example, we spent Saturday night in the train station in Brussels, for lack of anywhere better to sleep. With a sleeping bag, as it turns out, this is no big deal unless you get kicked out. In Brussels, though, the security guard took pity on us and let us sleep until 7:00, the result being that we got into the city proper at about 8:00. Yuri was excited about the prospect of getting waffles, but had left his guidebook (with the location of the “cheap waffle place” at the station. So we walked about for two hours trying to find it. That was actually OK, because we saw all the usual tourist spots, sans tourists. At 10:00, though, I had had enough, and bought a delicious waffle for 3€ instead of 2€. Yuri went without. I’m beginning to learn, so I decided not to question his judgment.

If you didn’t know better, Brussels would make you think Belgium was a third-world country. The population of homeless and/or unemployed, sitting around on the streets drinking beer and begging, was massive. In most large cities, I feel sympathetic to beggars, and don’t avoid eye contact or any of that shit, although I don’t give them money. In Brussels, though, I switched from being polite, to pretending not to speak French, to ignoring people completely, in the span of two hours. I think most of the problem is that we were the only targets so early in the morning, and the ratio is probably not as out of control as I’ve made it sound. The fact remains, though, that the city is dirty and crowded and generally not my bag. The saving graces for me were a huge open-air market near the train station where people, mostly African and Middle Eastern immigrants by the look of things, sold everything, and the music museum. It was unlike any museum I’ve ever seen: as you walked around samples of the instruments being played were piped into your IR headphones. It made walking about quickly an interesting experience, but was probably about the only way to properly appreciate the huge collection.

Brussels and Bruges are probably as different as it’s possible for two cities 50 km apart to be. Yuri called Bruges “Disneyland Belgium”, which is not too far off. It’s one of those places that got cut off from the world (in this case, by the silting of its canal) and didn’t recover economically until tourism came along. So the town center is a relatively intact medieval city, complete with some original walls and gates, but the huge tourist population makes it impossible to sort out just what the authentic local culture even is. The hostel set us up with a (free!) walking tour given by a colorful local, which was probably more interesting, and certainly more irreverent, than the usual tourist tours. And the beer! We were in the corner market three times in one day picking up cold bottles and augmenting my cap colleciton. This morning we took one of the better brewery tours I’ve been on, and now we’re en route to Amsterdam, something I think we’re both looking forward to, as much for the opportunity to spend a few days in the same place as for the, er, lifestyle.

Funny moment: Yuri somehow got it into his head that Belgium had an open container law. As the shop keeper was opening our beers, he asked, “Will this be a problem with the police?”
“Why?” the man replied. “You paid for them.”

Pervert

Pervert

 
Brussels pre-tourists

Brussels pre-tourists

 
Sackbutt!

Sackbutt!

 
In Bruges

In Bruges

 
Puts my cap collection to shame

Puts my cap collection to shame

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