Archive for March, 2010

In Bruges

The Markt

The Markt

If I have to say, “Do you speak English?”, one more time , I might just stop talking altogether!  Nothing highlights the lack of a second language more than a trip to Europe.  Sure, English is the universal language and all of that but only to a point.  It’s still awkward and uncomfortable…  #1 pointing out your own language deficiency while the recipient of your ignorance bounces back and forth between two, three, most likely even more languages.  #2 trying to decipher for yourself what that other person thinks is English!  Maybe we would have more language success here in the U.S. if we started as small babes to learn other tongues, as the Europeans do, instead of trying to catch us as uninterested teenagers who typically end up with little, if any, fluency.  Oh well, it will be my travel cross to bear. In the mean time maybe I will rededicate myself to that lifelong goal, yet unfulfilled, of habla-ing the espanol.

Today my plan was to tour Brussels, two museums and the Grand Place.  I bought a group tour bus ticket for Bruges/Ghent for the next day so the itinerary was all set.  Sitting at breakfast, finishing my tea, it dawned on me that museums are often closed on Mondays.  Sure enough my guidebook confirmed this to be the case. Such a novice traveler’s mistake!  How could I!  At that, I canceled the tour, walked to train station and bought a ticket to Bruges.  I would be my own guide.  Mr. G. was already at the office so I sent him a text about my new solo adventure.  (Someone should know in case I didn’t return!)

Hoping that I was at the correct platform, I boarded what I hoped was the correct train.  I briefly wondered why the crowd surged to the back cars but A Man and His Monkeyfigured they knew where the best seats were.  I was happy just to get a seat, any seat, on the right train.  So far, so good.  We were approaching the first stop when the conductor came by to check our tickets.  I had mine at the ready.  (The less language exchange the better!)  He took one look at my ticket and informed me with disgust that I had a second-class ticket and was sitting in first-class.  Apparently there is a single number on the side of the car indicating the class.  Who knew?  He charged me the upgrade for the trip distance so far but waived the violation fee because of “non-information”, which I think is a thinly veiled code for “idiot.”  As he walked away shaking his head he stated that he did not want to find me sitting there when he came back after the stop.  I was up and out of my seat before we came to a complete halt.  Nothing like feeling five years old again!  The second class car looked just like the first class only with more people.  The train was very nice, clean and comfortable and was a great way to see the countryside when you’re not slouching in your seat of embarrassment.  We arrived at the Bruges train station and I picked up a map of the city from the tourist information desk.  With that and my  guidebook I set off on foot.

The map led me to the heart of this quaint European village complete with Gothic architecture, cobblestone streets and picturesque canals. Brightly colored

I like these guys!

Statues in the Burg

rows of shops display fashion, chocolate, lace and more. I climbed 366 steps to the top of the Belfort Belfry in order to take in the view from above and get some amazing pictures.  Actually, I don’t know if they’ll be amazing it’s just that after 366 stairs they had better be!  At some point after my climb up and down the steps it was time to powder my nose.  I slipped into a door labeled WC.  Luckily, an earlier stop at the ATM allowed me to use the bathroom.  30 cents for a quick pit stop!  I wasn’t sure if I felt sorry for the woman whose job it was to sit in the restroom taking the money or happy for her that she had a job. Anyway, I was relieved to go, literally, and had I known that the next “potty matron” would actually take a tip out of my change without asking, I probably would have felt grateful too.  Do you think pay toilets are the next “change” in America after our new health care system?  I wonder…

Pink Beer

Pink Beer

I did stop for lunch at an outdoor café in the charming square known as  The Markt.  Started out with, “English?” to the server and got a “yes” in reply.  Ok!  I said I’d like a beer, did he have a light beer. (So stupid, just get any beer!)  The fruit beers were the lightest he said.  “Sold, I’ll take it.”  The tiny beer bottle actually had raspberries pictured on it.  It tasted more like a chambord and champagne but I could live with it.  I ordered a goat cheese salad without bacon and sat watching the tourists enjoy the beautiful day at this lovely plaza.  When the server arrived with my salad, covered in bacon, I accidentally blurted out, “sin lardons!”   “Sin lardons?”  Did I just shout something half in Spanish and half in French?  What was I thinking?  Where were my manners?  The taken aback waiter whisked my plate away while the table next to me lowered their eyes.  Ugly American! (Just making friends and influencing people.  Ugh!)  When the recreated salad returned, with a new waiter, I thanked him as he walked up, thanked him as he set it down and thanked him as he walked away.  Did I mention that I thanked him?  I’m not sure if I redeemed myself but when I asked if the tip was included in the bill he said that it was never included.  (Not according to my guidebook, buddy, but I didn’t say that!)  Just another, “thank you” and I left him all of the change.  Traveling alone with an English only handicap can be stressful.

Canals of Bruges

Canals of Bruges

Finished gorgeous day of sightseeing and wound my way back along tree lined canals to the train station. Boarded train, headed directly to steerage and my people!  (Note to self…rewatch movie, In Bruges, to see what I recognize.)  Tomorrow, Brussels!


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