Landing in Paris wasn’t as exciting as I would have hoped since it was pitch black outside and clouds prevented us from really seeing too much of the night skyline. Whatever the case, I was down and ready to head to Brussels. Grabbing my luggage was horrible since my baggage check ticket had a “#34” on it, and there also was a belt #34 for “oversized baggage”. Of course, the first thing I did was make the assumption that my bag would be there. I showed one of the handlers my baggage claim tag and he also pointed me to the belt. But after sitting there for 20 minutes watching 1 bag come through the chute every 5 minutes, I decided to ask someone in the help office. Within 15 seconds, they were able to look up the flight and the correct baggage collection area for me. With my bag, I was off to the connecting high speed rail to Brussels.
The rail station at Charles de Gaulle was a lot like Union Station in Toronto; except cleaner, brighter, and better in general. The trains were very clean, comfortable and sold food and drinks in the dining cars. And the important thing - they were fast. But like all good things, something had to screw it up. In this case, it was in the form of some Englishmen. After getting on, I walked through a few of the cars and didn’t quite understand how the seat numbers worked (as in I didn’t even see numbers on seats). I ask a gaggle of English chaps (This is how I will address their grouping) about the seats. One of them luckily gave me a quick and good answer. Apparently. you can sit anywhere as long as there’s space since stops were infrequent. Then one of his lads suggests that if I’m travelling alone, I should find the biggest and fattest girls to hang around, and I’ll be set for my entire trip. Then he spouted some other senseless crap which I ignore and sat back down in my seat. After that, he just starts calling me “Jackie” from afar and throwing the usual asian stereotypes at me. I would have said something, but I didn’t want my ass handed to me by 4 very large and hulking men who probably had a couple pints worth of drinks before I got on. I just moved to another car and everything was back to normal.
I arrived at Brussels Midi just before 1 p.m. The next step was to meet my Airbnb hosts, and for that I would need to use the metro transit. The problem was that the hosts gave me fairly poor directions to get to the place. The “line” that I was to take didn’t even exist. After some random asking, I found were I was to go and was on my way. The subway trains in Brussels felt very rustic and similar to those older wooden TTC trains with the orange/brown seats. All-in-all a pleasant experience.
Once I arrive, I am greeted by my hosts’ mother who seems to be running this building. She was very kind. The only issue is that she spoke little English. It was time to break out that up to grade 10 Ontario school system French. And as I predicted, I was bad at it. But she took it in good spirit and went with it. So for the next 30 minutes, she gave me the tour and showed me on a map where/how to get to some interesting places. It was a flurry of English, French, hand gestures and drawings! After I got settled, I took a quick walk around the nearby neighbourhood since it would get dark quickly and I didn’t want to be lost in the city at night while jetlagged. Instead I ran around a couple nearby parks and the University. In North America, we have the squeegee guys at intersections. Over here in Brussels, we have acrobats. So when stopped at a red light, I saw a man juggling bowling pins, in the middle of the road. And on a nearby corner, and I shit you not, there was a guy juggling flaming batons.
To close out my day, I found a nearby grocery store, Carrefour, and bought some ingredients to make dinner. Groceries were more expensive than back home, but definitely a steal compared to the prices I saw when I was in London. So drumroll please … my first real meal made in Europe was … lettuce wraps using ground pork, tomatoes and peppers and cheese. Hey not bad for being in a foreign country using a foreign kitchen, and being watched with a microscope by a foreign mom. She was pretty impressed, but then again she mentioned she loves Chinese food and then showed me a bottle of instant Thai lemon grass sauce.
It was only just after 8pm when I finished eating and cleaning up. I decided to turn in really early since I’d had a long day and wanted an early start the next day. 7 a.m. early start! This time I’m going to explore the downtown core, which is about a 30-40 min walk.