We arrived today by train in Brussels Belgium and were greeted by Bryony Ulyett who we have not seen for 26 years! She will be our companion for the next two days, sharing the sights and culture of a country at the western crossroads of Europe. She and Christine appear below in front of the birthplace of actress Audrey Hepburn.
Belgium is officially bilingual (Dutch and French), and Brussels City is not only the nation’s capital and location of Belgium’s Royal Palace, but also the de facto capital of the European Union. It is believed that there are more ambassadors and journalists in this city of 1.2 million than in Washington DC.
We began savoring the local cuisine and exceptional beer with her this evening. The real tour begins tomorrow.
Travel of a significant duration will inevitably include times of problem solving. As detailed in an earlier post, we were caught in a rainstorm while in the Netherlands. Christine’s iPad became “toast”. She has coverage to replace it, but only with the same model. The Apple Store in Amsterdam did not have one in stock and it could take up to two weeks for one to arrive if ordered. Of course, we have left Amsterdam and are now in Brussels Belgium.
As luck would have it, the Apple Store in Brussels was a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Christine left me at a street side restaurant with permission to caress a Belgian Blond or two (it’s a style of beer) and continued on to Apple to tell them her tale of woe.
I understand the importance of the iPad to Chris. It contains her books, puzzles, provides email and video contact for her with the “little people”, and most of all provides her with a reprieve from the uninterrupted version of me. I get it. The Brussels store had ONE in stock!
While Christine was engaged for nearly two hours at the store with the task of transferring data and functionality to the new device one might imagine that I would have become either bored, inebriated, or both. Instead, It turned into one of the most pleasant and insightful 2 hours of this journey.
I sat solo under an umbrellaed sidewalk table. It had rained earlier in the day so the pavement was wet and there was a lingering mist in the air. This was a busy upscale urban shopping district so there was a constant flow of traffic and people. A stream of life passed me from left to right and right to left… male, female, caucasian, black, oriental, young, old, fit, disabled… those characteristics stood out, but what was impossible to discern was nationality.
I was “invisible” to those who passed my table. I had become part of the wallpaper of that street scene. When I sought to make eye contact folks appeared to look right through me. The rare exceptions were a very old woman who met my gaze with a broad smile, and a few youngsters who looked at me with a mixture of wonder and curiosity. It was an extraordinary experience.
I found myself wondering. My literacy is limited to English and stands in stark contrast to the common command of at least two, or three languages by these pedestrians. Christine was availing herself of services in a “foreign country” with the same seamless ease that she would expect in Kansas City. Our sojourn will tally visits to 17 countries yet involves only 6 different currencies. Our Eurail Pass is a magic carpet of travel recognized by 28 countries. Our T-Mobile phone plan allows us virtually the same telephone and data access that we enjoy stateside, but extended to over 140 countries. We see familiar products and brands in virtually every store. I could go on…
What could any thinking nation ever expect to gain by succumbing to the siren song of xenophobia and isolationism. What insecurity drives those voices. Certainly, the forces of innovation that have conferred stardom upon a nation on the world stage sing an entirely different song.
Peace Everyone. Pete