We slept well that night and awoke to another tasty buffet breakfast. The now familiar walk up to the St. Catherine Metro stop, transfer to the train to Antwerp, and handling tickets all seemed to go more smoothly. We arrived at Antwerp Central in less than an hour and found ourselves in one of those European train stations that dwarfs anything an American would expect of such a building. A classic design, with a glass-domed ceiling, it was actually fairly modern inside with at least three levels of train tracks running in and out.
We flagged a taxi and took off for the shipping agents, about a twenty-minute ride away. Our driver was talkative and kept us entertained as he scared us out of our wits merging onto a section of freeway. He dropped us off at the agent’s office, asked if we needed him to stay and more confidently than we might have felt, sent him on his way, believing it would all go smoothly. And indeed it did. We signed the final invoice, made our payment in cash (it turned out to be twice what we were quoted, owing to Schumacher’s misunderstanding that it was a roll on roll off), and expressed our appreciation for them navigating the rocky shoals of customs so as not to tag us with paying any kind of duty, which would have run about 20% of the value of the car.
Directed across the street to the warehouse, we entered its dark environs to be greeted by row upon row of classic American cars, including Mustangs, a 1960’s Chevrolet step-side Pick-up truck, a 1970’s Buick Rivera and a teardrop trailer with California plates. And there was the Highlander, in a back row, ready for us to take it away. The warehouse guy, Glen, introduced himself, got our key, moved a car blocking ours and brought it around. It was quite a nice feeling getting into the driver’s seat and pulling out of the building (this is called an understatement, it lifted a big weight off of our shoulders).
We brought a new Garmin GPS with us (the onboard Toyota Navigation won’t work in Europe) and we were relieved when it fired up, located satellites, and directed us to our first location, Sint Ursula Institute. A former nunnery, it is now a private school full of the stained glass that we’d first seen at the Maison Noble in Brussels in the breakfast room. On the way we stopped at a McDonalds to grab a quick bite, always fun to see how different or similar these operations are abroad. I got a Thai Chicken McWrap like I do in the states, but the only option was the fried chicken bits, no grilled being available. And while there encountered for the second time an inability to link up with the Wi-Fi provided by McDonalds (one other failure in Brussels).
This has become a common frustration as we’ve traveled this first week. Wi-Fi, when available, does not always connect to our devices, or can be frustratingly inconsistent. In fact, we had troubles with it at Maison Noble and I suffered a corrupted download of a Mac OS update that I hope to get fixed when we get to Paris later this week and I can make it to an Apple Store.
Being a private school, the Institute was closed to visitors, offering only one tour on the third Sunday of each month. We then plugged in directions to AS Adventures, an outdoor store along the lines of REI Coop where we hopped to buy fuel for our small MSR Stoves (Whisperlite Superfly and Universal) and a larger stove that could run on cheaper butane available here in Europe. Located in a multistory mini-mall, we parked on the roof and made our way down to the first floor, after making a brief stop at the toilet aka WC (Water Closet). Almost all public toilets here, at least those that are indoors and clean, charge for entrance, ranging anywhere from .3 to .7 Euros (roughly 40 cents to a dollar). Be sure to always have some small change in your pocket.
We hit the sales floor of AS Adventure, checked out some of the clothing for sale, much of it brands we’re familiar with like North Face and Royal Robbins. At the stove section we didn’t see the model we wanted, so asked a clerk who found another clerk who spoke better English who soon brought us the stove, a Campingaz Camp Kitchen two burner model with a removal grill unit that can be used to cook like a BBQ. The total cost was a bit more than an equivalent stove would have cost us in the U.S., but our options were limited. We could have brought our stove from home, but the fittings it uses to match up to gas canisters would have been very difficult to work out.
It was a short distance back to Maison Noble and given the difficulty of parking at their location, we went a few blocks over to Parking 58 to leave the car for about 14 Euros a day. We’d decided in advance to make a picnic in the room for dinner and made our way to the Carrefour Express to pick up ingredients, some salami, cheese from the Chimay brewery, a baguette, cucumber, tomato, and a carrot based salad to accompany it all. Oh, and a few more bottles of beer.
After some time relaxing in the room, we felt the urge to explore some more. We took off in the direction of the St. Catherine Cathedral in search of a pub named The Monk. In doing so we discovered a part of the area that had gone unnoticed before, full of far more restaurants and bars than we’d realized. We sat down at the bar at The Monk and were engaged by our young bartender.
Our story draws a certain amount of interest, one that invites conversation. We discussed the craft-brewing scene in Belgium and he recounted that much as we’ve observed world wide, the large brewing conglomerates are gobbling up the smaller breweries. He bought us a bottle of Dark Sister, brown ale brewed locally in Brussels and found it to be better than the at least one of the ones we’d ordered from the draft menu.
Our original plan for the next day, Saturday, was to go back to the Magritte Museum and then take in the Gay Pride Parade, but that plan feel apart early. The parade was scheduled to start at 2:00pm and we arrived at the Bourse (the starting point) around 12:30, on our way to the Magritte.
Even this early, the festivities had started, the streets in the adjoining neighborhoods alive with celebrants of every conceivable gender and identification. Multiple side streets featured numerous booths selling food, alcohol, and souvenirs.
Serious followers of this blog will by now have guessed that we didn’t make it to the museum. Indeed, six hours later (the parade started late and ran for nearly three hours) and after purchasing a number of beers from local markets, we wandered the streets some more, even making a stop at the Delirum Café again for a couple more including our favorite, the Chouffle IPA .
By this time, we were quite hungry and working our way back to the parade area, we migrated to some stands we’d noticed earlier; the highlight being adjoining Chinese and Thai stands for delicious and healthy Asian offerings.
We worked our way back to Maison Noble, but wanting to take some pictures of a section of the original wall much like that we’d found at Angle we walked back over to St. Catherine, which led us back to The Monk for one more bottle apiece of Dark Sister. Brussels is a city that comes alive at night, and the area around the Monk, the restaurants, bars, and the park in front of the Cathedral, were crowded with folks out enjoying a weekend night and the mild spring weather. A reminder to folks at home is that it doesn’t get dark here until well after 9:00 pm, so activities seem to go later.
It was still early and we knew we didn’t need to arise early, as breakfast on Sunday isn’t served until after 8:30am, so we sat up in bed, propped Joanna’s iPad up against some pillows, set the Bose Soundlink Mini-Bluetooth speaker on the pillows (many know of my long time affiliation with all things Bose) and set about watching Dallas Buyers Club which we had down loaded prior to leaving the states. It was a very nice way to end the day, our first few days in Europe with a delightful introduction to Brussels, and importantly, the very first leg of our big adventure.
Sint Ursula Institute: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sint-katelijne-waver/sets/72157594292489764/
MSR Whisperlight Stoves: http://www.cascadedesigns.com/msr/stoves/simple-cooking/category
Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth: http://www.bose.com/controller?url=/shop_online/digital_music_systems/bluetooth_speakers/index.jsp
The Monk: http://www.monk.be/