Well, finally! I’ve been here two days and it has taken me forever to figure out how to get on the Internet using my laptop in this hotel – Brussels Metropole. I mean to tell you, this has been the most difficult to access ever!
So, people, I’m here! Got here the morning of December 30, and I’m just now starting to acclimate to the time change. My body sure has taken its time to do that this time. Harder as one gets older, I suppose.
Today I woke up at 1 p.m., yesterday (New Year’s Eve) at 5 p.m. just in time for the festivities. However, I came back from the Grand Place (square) early (10 p.m.) after having a nice supper at the Roy (Roi de Espagne), and went back to bed. There wasn’t much going on in the Grand Place, and not many people milling around. I was surprised. But then I found out later that the festivities were in another square, Mont des Artes, near the Place de Royal and palace. However, it was an enteresting evening, I enjoyed it. It just wasn’t what I had envisioned. I had imagined meeting my Belgian prince charming while sipping my champagne … I’m such a dreamer! I know I am. Must be why I write romance novels. All I saw were couples out for the evening, groups of wild students, and the occasional overweight, paunchy loner who was either a traveling salesman or a government type – since the EU headquarters are in Brussels and the Metropole Hotel and area is a favorite among them. I was hit upon by a stray Frenchman, however, at the Metropole Cafe. Short-lived, but still a complimentary, curious conversation over Brandy, although no prince charming.
The fireworks woke me up at midnight and the night sky was ablaze with the most exotic combinations of pyrotechnics. I could see it from my multi-paned hotel room window. No one could have slept through the celebration noises, and much of it was going on in the streets below. I definitely returned to my room too early.
Right now it’s New Year’s Day and I’m getting ready to go out and buy a new coat. I find I am not a cape person, brought along my new Irish wool, black cape with a built-in scarf/hood, but it’s way too cumbersome. I keep getting tangled up in it … not good … makes me look and feel like a Klutz. And I’m not happy with the damn plastic coat I brought with me, either. Plastic? What the hell is that all about? It might have been a light pack, but it’s atrocious looking! I need a tailored wool pea coat like the one I left on the train that broke down and we had to change trains in the UK on my last trip there. Darn, I miss that coat!
It is colder than the North Pole could ever think of being here in Brussels. I even bought a sock cap and am wearing it. Can you imagine me in a hat, much less a sock cap? Not a pleasant sight. My full length white mink would have been perfect for this weather, so many women are wearing furs here. But I would have felt conspicuous, so that wouldn’t have worked either. Damn! When am I ever going to get to wear that fur coat? Haven’t yet.
I couldn’t resist a beautiful lace tablecloth on my walk through the shopping lanes my first day here, have wanted one since last time I was in Belgium. It is gorgeous. Handmade in Bruges, Belgium. I’ll be serving some nice quaint dinners on it when I get home, you can bet on that. Can’t wait.
I suspect I’ll have to purchase another suitcase for the stuff I’m accumulating, and will check the largest of the two on the airline, maybe both, I don’t know. I don’t like carrying around a bunch of stuff in the airports, and I still haven’t learned. One carryon bag and one large purse – still too much. I couldn’t lift the leather bag to the overhead, had to have help with it. So I’ll just go ahead and check it all when I return to the U.S., will only carry my purse, the larger one OR A NEW ONE! You never know.
Not going to Paris this time as planned (planned to take the train down for a night). I’ll just stay put here in Brussels. At present I’m not in the mood to venture out to other towns in Belgium either (Ghent, Lueven, Antwerp, Bruges), etc. Maybe tomorrow (Jan 2) I’ll start doing the day trips. I spent a week in Bruges last time, so I could skip that one if I have to.
It’s 4 p.m. in Brussels right now on New Year’s Day. Now I’m going for a walk and shop for a coat while I formulate and deepen my Amanda character in my mind.
January 3, Saturday, 10 p.m. in Brussels. Well, I’m still on U.S. time. Can’t for the life of me acclimate to the time. I’m awake all night, go to sleep around 6 a.m., wake up again around 4 or 5 p.m. Craziness! But I’m certainly having some creative, farout dreams during the daytime sleeping hours. Am using two of the dreams for part of the “Midnight in Brussels” plot. Works for me. There’s inspiration all around, even while I’m sleeping. Hooray!
Today I found a restaurant across the street from the Metropole that has food I recognize and has fruit and veggies. Thank God! I’ve missed them from my diet. It’s been mostly cheese, cheese, and more cheese since I’ve been here. And of course ice cream. Great diet. They have the best ice cream at the Metropole … homemade. Yum yum. And of course the hot melted chocolate goes well over it. Oboy … cheese and ice cream and chocolate. Fabulous eating. But I’m walking, so maybe that’ll offset the fats. So far, all I’ve been doing are sleeping, eating fats, walking, and shopping.
Also today I was scheduled to take a day trip to Ghent and Bruges but just couldn’t wake up long enough to catch the tour bus. I could do it tomorrow at 8 a.m. I suppose I could just stay up 2 hours longer (6 to 8 a.m.) and make myself stay awake for the tour. That’s a possibility. But you know what? I thoroughly investigated Bruges when I was there for a week on my previous trip, and Ghent isn’t really reaching out to me. But Antwerpt is. So I’m going to Antwerpt on Monday, a five-hour excursion. Antwerpt is the diamond capital of Europe – raw diamonds as well as polished, so that works to my benefit, will use that information and send two of my main characters there to buy a diamond ring … perfect. YES! I’m interested in diamonds anyway. Love rocks. Any kind of rocks. I’m a latent rock-hound, collect rocks. So that’s on Monday.
Then on Tuesday I’ll finish up Brussels – take some photos, finish my shopping – ’cause I’m leaving Wednesday morning for home. So tomorrow (Sunday) I’ll just take it easy when I finally wake up, and do some more writing. Been writing up a storm, people! Very inspiring here. You’ll have to read my book when it’s finished to get all the local color and see what plot I came up with this time.
Didn’t take the tour today (Sunday) either. Woke up at 4 p.m. this afternoon, didn’t go to sleep till 6:00 a.m. this morning. It’s alright, I’m okay with it. I have all the info I need of Bruges for my book in my previous notes and embedded in my memory.
But tomorrow I’m getting up at 9 a.m, no matter what time I go to sleep this time, to take the train to Antwerp … not taking a tour, am going by myself on the train. Found out it’s even better that way. Quicker. That way I can go at my leisure. Perfect. Much easier and on my own schedule. Antwerp is important to my book, so I must go there. And then on Tuesday I’ll do the churches here near Old Town, need to pick one for a wedding site, for Amanda possibly? I’m not telling. There’s a neat church in Antwerp, too – the largest gothic church in Europe. I’ll decide which one is best after I see them all.
So the trip is winding down, just two more days. Antwerp tomorrow (Monday), tying up loose ends in Brussels on Tuesday, home on Wednesday. I’m ready. Time to go home. It’s been great, though, just being free from the phone and the usual daily goings on at home and office … it’s been a fabulous vacation as well as a productive research trip. Loved it.
I also have new boots, coat, gloves, 4 hats, lace tablecloth, and a Brussels plate for my plate collection wall. So there. I’m all set for cold winters, dinners, and travel stories. And I purchased a few gifts. Yes, yes, I do have to buy a travel bag for it all to transport home. No doubt about it. I’ll be checking all my luggage this time.
You know, Brussels would be the perfect spot to make and sell hats. I mean everyone wears hats to cover their ears in winter. All sorts of them. And the people shop in droves. I’m not the only shopaholic. Today, Sunday, it was like Black Friday in the U.S., amazing. You couldn’t walk a straight line down the shopping lanes and corridors, had to weave your way through. Everyone wears black, of course. I fit right in. Hardly anyone wears color, no one. So it looked like a black river of people flooding the meandering streets and alleys. I was glad the shops were open, in Switzerland they’re closed on Sundays … when I was in Zurich I didn’t know what to do with myself on Sunday. Nothing. I was bored that day.
Went to sleep around 3 or 4 a.m. this morning, woke up at 8:30 a.m. The first early wake up I’ve had since I’ve been here. For some reason, I woke up thinking I ought to look for my passport because yesterday it wasn’t in the purse that I usually carry, where I thought I had put it. I noticed its absence while I was shopping. So, I looked and looked and looked and looked. I searched everywhere. No passport. Not in any of my bags, not in any of the drawers, nowhere. Not in any pockets: coats, pants, purses, suitcases. It was missing – lost or stolen.
Oh boy! What to do? I called the front desk and asked what the procedure was to get a replacement passport, that mine was missing and I would be leaving tomorrow morning. They said go to the American Embassy. Great!
So by the time I quickly dressed and went downstairs it was 10 a.m. They showed me on the map how to get to the Embassy. I’d have to take a cab, which was fine, no problem. I went outside where the cabs were waiting on the street … saw the line of them, went to the first one in line, opened his front passenger door and started to get in (I like sitting in front with cabbies). It wasn’t a cab. It was a regular person waiting to pick up someone. Jeez! I was halfway in his car getting ready to sit. How embarrassing. I apologized and went to the next car which was a real taxi.
It was about a 10-minute ride to the embassy.
Oh, by the way, it’s been snowing here for 2 days. Hard to walk, sidewalks and streets covered with snow.
So the taxi stopped about a block from the embassy and pointed to where I was to go in, the third American flag up the street. Said he couldn’t go any further because of security and he couldn’t stop in front of it. I paid him and got out in the snow. Wearing my new coat and my sock cap and gloves, with a bit of care walking on the slippery ice and snow, I made it to the embassy without mishap. They did the usual airline security check plus a test to see if I’d handled explosives recently. That was different. They wouldn’t let me take my purse in, but let me take what I needed out of the purse – drivers’ license w/pic, wallet, reading glasses. Police all over the place.
I waited about 20 minutes inside till I was called to the window. The gal asked for the police report stating that my passport was either lost or stolen. I said, “What police report?” She said, “You need to report it and bring the signed report to us, before we can do anything.” She told me where the nearest police station was – about a half mile away, around the park.
Okay, there are no cabs outside the embassy or anywhere in that area. I trekked through the lovely snow and ice a half mile to the police station. Once inside, I waited 15 minutes. Then the policeman said, “Where’s the form from the embassy? We need the form.” I didn’t have a form. YIKES!
So, I had to walk back to the embassy and get a form. And while I was there this time, the gal went ahead and had me fill out everything and she took my photo sans my cap (I look like death warmed over after wearing a cap for several days, never fixing my hair, Lordy!). Then she told me to take the form, go back to the police station and bring back another signed form from them.
Off I went like a good little girl to the police station again. Another walk in the freezing cold, the snow and the ice. Now mind you, I hadn’t eaten, hadn’t had a cup of coffee, no water, nothing. I didn’t think about any of that because I wanted to hurry and get the passport since I’m leaving in the morning. So I saw a water receptacle at the PD and drank a cup while I was there this time. After about 30 minutes with the police, I had the form and off I went again. (I’ll never again forget to take a photocopy of my passport with me when I travel.)
The security guards must have thought I was nuts going back and forth through the gates and alleyways. I got pretty good on following that route, retracing my footsteps. I’ll never forget how to get from the embassy to the police station, you can bet on that. Oh, by the way, I was walking in my new Italian boots with high heels, definitely not made for walking in the snow, made for riding in taxis and sitting in cafe lounges.
When I arrived back at the embassy this time, it was closed for the day. I pounded on the door, a guard answered. I told him my dilemma and gave him a card they’d given me to show when I returned. He let me in. I went through the security check again, etc etc., then waited in the reception room alone for about 30 minutes, finally the gal came out and called me over to sign my new temporary passport which is good for one year. Success!
But wait! There still weren’t any taxis around the place when I left. The guard told me to walk to Central Square across the park, there would be taxis there. Nope, he lied. No taxies there, either. That square had to have been at least a mile’s walk from the embassy. Then I saw a sign that pointed to Place De Brockere … which was near the Metropole Hotel. So, I decided to walk to the hotel. And even though I wound ’round and ’round the crooked streets, I couldn’t find Brockere. I did finally end up on a street I recognized near the Grand Place where I walk every day. So I got back at the hotel at 5:30 p.m. What a long, long day! 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. What a walk! How to spend a day in Brussels! Exasperating!
Anyway, it was an adventure, I took it as it came as always, it didn’t upset me, I was cool, laughed at myself, and I saw a lovely snow-covered park I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, had to walk through it to get to Central Place. The frightening part was I was afraid I’d slip and break a leg or an arm or hip … that would’ve been the end, wouldn’t it? But, I’m a lucky soul, we all know that.
So when I got back to the hotel, I changed my soggy, thin-soled boots (ruined) and went back out for something to eat, I was starving. Then I did my final shopping. Bought a second suitcase to cart all the loot home. Needless to say, I was so tired when I got back to the room at 7 p.m.
Now I’ve had my hot bath and am in bed watching the news and writing this last email of the trip. Heading home in the morning! Bye bye, Brussels! Thanks for all the neat information for my book!
ADDITIONAL NOTE: By the way, I found my lost passport two months later (March 2009), it was in a hidden pocket in my purse. DAMN!