Journeys without George: Brussels Part I

From the top: Mom dropped me off at the Highland bus station Wednesday afternoon for the journey north to O’Hare. As we were pulling up to the airport, a girl sitting a few rows behind me said, “Nice watch.” It’s amazing how many conversations start because of my silly Mickey Mouse watch. I got to the airport right on time and had no problems with ticketing or security. More times than not that process is really smooth – especially at O’Hare. I jumped on WiFi, called a few people, posted a little blurb about last night’s press conference and boarded our beautiful 777 to Heathrow.

Along the way I found this beautiful site.

or you can watch it here

Thankfully, I changed my seat at the last minute when I checked in and lucked out with an aisle seat and no one sitting next to me. And randomly one of our flight attendants was on the bus from Highland too. Amazing.

The flight was smooth, but I had trouble sleeping. I watched a few episodes of Monk (and have the entire first season on DVD with me as well thanks to Ryan and Becky) and most of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Our plane was running super early – about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Great in theory, but pretty bad when you’re planning to meet a friend at the airport for breakfast. Thirty minutes early means thirty minutes sitting around. Although, sitting in the airport is probably better than sitting on the plane. As it happened, we were so early that Heathrow’s “curfew” had yet to lift, so we had to circle the greater London area before getting landing permission. Turns out my friend, Max, had the same problem, but he ended up landing 30 minutes later than scheduled.

About a week ago I saw a status update from Max Lidster that said he was going to be in Europe around the same time as me. Turned out he was scheduled to land 10 minutes after me and we planned to catch up at a restaurant called Bite in Terminal Three. After going through immigration, getting my bag, and customs, I hung out at Bite. Max pinged me on e-mail – good thing I got online! – and said they had just landed and were en route.

Heathrow is a nice airport. The last and only time I was there was back on a Journey with George in June of last year. While I went through all the normal processes this go around – security, immigration, customs, walking for miles on end to get to each, etc. – last time I walked off the plane and was wisked away to the Cumberland Hotel along with the White House press corps. What a difference nine months can make!

After hanging out with Max and his traveling buddy for about an hour, I jumped on the Heathrow Express to London’s Paddington Station. It’s a 15 minute trip and the train, they say, goes about 180 miles per hour. It didn’t feel like it to me. But who knows. I didn’t exactly have a speedometer handy.

Everything was well and good as I walked through the station towards the Circle Line underground stop when I was stopped by a police officer. He was envoking Section S.44(2) to conduct a random search of my bags. I wasn’t in a rush, and the sniffing dog was a cute cockerspaniel, so how could I say no? The officer was really nice and told me about his recent visit to the States. Said he visited D.C., Philly and NYC just a few weeks ago. I mentioned that the dog was the nicest sniffing dog I’ve ever seen. He said they chose to use this breed because they are more approachable and people are usually ok with the search since it’s not a big, mean looking German shepard. He even directed me to the Cirlce Line and after a few minutes I was on my way.

After a short wait, I was on the Eurostar Chunnel to Brussels. It was about a 2 hour ride. The coach I was in looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since possibly the mid-70s. And the guy sitting next to me more than likely hadn’t showered since then either. I snacked on a rice krispie treat and tried to go to sleep. Before I knew it, we were pulling up to the Brussels station where rain awaited us.

I cabbed to my hotel and checked in. I’m at the Hotel Eurostar Sablon which is really small. Something like 32 rooms. Only one floor is non-smoking. I tried to go to the gym and there was a sign that said “do not disturb.” So I’m thinking it’s only for one person? I even freaked out a bit when I got in because I opened a door to find the bathroom, but no shower/sink. After some investigatory work, I located the mysterious door on the opposite side of the room. Usually it’s adjenct to the bathroom. Talk about crisis averted!

After a quick nap, I headed out to explore the local area and find some food.

or just click here

Don’t worry, I didn’t actually eat at Godiva. But I was definitely tempted.

Tomorrow’s plan is to head out to Grand Place and check out the surrounding area, maybe go to the EU Building and I have a 7pm dinner reservation at a place that was recommended to me by a frequent Brussels traveler. I will also post all the Brussels pictures on Facebook and pass the link on then too.

Until next time, America…