After a one-year lapse of flying in the “wrong direction” it’s time again for some old fashioned European social democracy this summer. The past few times I’ve gone to Europe I’ve taken Iceland Express, which is as low-budge as trans continental flights get. Sure their fleet included Motley Crue’s former touring plane and sometimes their planes dropped hundreds of feet in the sky for no reason—prompting nearly everyone on the Warsaw-bound flight to break into Polish Hail Mary’s— but you get to layover at Keflavik, ranked the best airport in Europe, and the flights were dirt cheap. Sadly, Iceland Express has cut the U.S. from their destinations and now I’m forced to find other ways of cheaply getting to the continent.
“Exploretrip.com” found a $700 round trip to Berlin, and I’d be taking Lufthansa which, unlike Iceland Express, is a proper airline with free booze and everything. Still, the email confirmation I got was shady, so shady that I called the airline to double check I was actually booked on the flight; so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I got to the Lufthansa desk on Wednesday and they turned me away. “We don’t fly to Brussels.” “But it’s just a layover, I’m going to Berlin.” “But you’re going to Brussels first and we don’t go there.” I was pretty much ready to catch a train to Long Island at that point, the North Shore is lovely in June, DAMN YOU EXPLORE TRIP. But then I pulled up the email confirmation on my iPhone. I had so resisted getting a smart phone so I’m pissed, naturally, that it sort of saved the day there. Apparently I was supposed to be flying United Airlines to Brussels, damn you again explore trip.
Now, a few days before my flight I was helping Luke’s roommate carry an air conditioner up three flights of stairs. The kid is basically veal. He sits around at a desk all day, and watches movies all night. His diet consists of burgers, stinky French cheese, orange juice, and cookies— we’re pretty sure he’d taste delicious if we had to eat him. Anyway, veal boy is lacking in the upper body strength department and so “helping” him carry the a.c. was more like dragging the a.c. up three flights of stairs with a 24-year-old baby cow attached to it. I sprained a ligament in my right shoulder, which meant that on Wednesday I was standing at the Lufthansa desk with a giant backpack plus a small backpack, one arm in a sling, and a very surly Lufthansa employee who wouldn’t say anything but “You gotta go to Terminal C.” Eventually I made it over to the correct airline and for the second year in a row I got to skip the line at security. This time I didn’t need to bawl my eyes out, just flash a sad puppy dog-face and wiggle my sling-ed arm a little. I also got to skip the line for boarding and they didn’t even x-ray me, I’m never going to the airport without my sling ever again.
Since I was flying United and not Lufthansa there was no free booze on the plane. They did have “Girls,” however, so I decided to see what all the fuss is about. The show is completely mundane, the most fanciful thing is that a twenty-something can afford to live near the Bedford L stop ALONE. Towards the end of the episode the plane slowed down considerably and a few people with window seats looked outside. Panic time in Sara’s brain. ‘Great, I’m going to die and the last thing I did with my life is watch an episode of Girls.’ I switched to the map view on the TV screen so I could see approximately where my body would land, the Long Island Sound, appropriate at least. Apparently on United Airlines when you look at the map view you’re also privilege to the conversation the pilot is having with ground control. It sounds like recordings of 911 calls and it’s extremely unnerving, dangerous for my compulsive nature. I could hear them communicating for one plane to slow down and another to go past, which was pretty cool and at least made the tightened knot in my stomach loosen up a bit. It’s a shame that someone who loves traveling so much also completely hates flying.
I arrived in Brussels at about 1am NY time but work-rush hour Belgian time. The customs officials were not as easy to win over as Newark security, so I had to kick my bag through a line for fifty minutes so that I could be asked what I liked about Berlin and what my dissertation was about. So essentially, a lame OkCupid date with a Belgian customs official.
I had 12 hours to kill in Brussels and the day before I had checked the New York Times “36 Hours in Brussels” which recommended sampling expensive chocolates and referred to the restaurant choices as “a veritable galaxy of Michelin stars,” all the news that’s fit to print. Since this guide was probably written for people who do have an income for the next four months, whereas I do not, it was completely useless.
Nearly every café offered a “petit déjeuner” (how does ‘breakfast’ sound so obnoxious in French?) consisting of a croissant, a chocolate croissant, and a coffee. And they’re so fucking skinny because…? Anyway, I had spent the day’s budget on train fare to and from the airport, so it was straight to the supermarket for me where I bought a petit déjeuner of my own- wonderful, tiny little strawberries, glorious European yogurt, and water (under 3 euro, baby.) It’s sad that at this point one of the most exciting aspects of European travel is the superior produce and dairy products, but seriously this shit is amazing.
So it was time for, Sara’s 12 Hours in Brussels:
9am: Take your delicious supermarket finds to Grote Markt for some people watching and a –slightly pathetic— picnic (being poor and bumming it was so much cuter at 21). Victor Hugo called this the most beautiful square in Europe, but you’ll spend much less time gazing at the elaborate architecture than you will laughing at all manner of ridiculous tourists. There are young Australian men who have probably not yet been to bed and are trying to convince any woman under the age of 60 to come back to a grimy hostel with them. Then there’s the old Japanese man who literally ran into the center of the square, snapped two photos with his enormous camera, and ran back out. It’s A Small World After All levels of stereotypes in this square.
11am: Join an anti-capitalist, pro-worker rally. ‘Cause like, what else are you gonna do? You’re already wearing red like the rest of the commies and they’re playing Dylan off a huge red truck so why the hell not. Walk with them for about an hour as they chant, march, and shoot off really loud cap-gun thingys while the cops stand there and just watch. Recount the extreme unnecessary violence of the NYPD to young Belgian protestors who are totally impressed that you were at the actual, original Occupy. Do not mention that you stopped showing up once it got too cold.
12:30pm: Head to Parc Royal for alternate napping/sunburning. You’ll notice that this is where all the Wall Street types are having lunchtime picnics while the rest of the city is marching for basic rights and less regulation by the bodies of government that are appointed rather than elected. Typical.
2pm: Sit on the steps of an office building eating your sandwich and leftover strawberries, the juice of which has dripped all over your bag and stained your fingers. Have a euro offered to you by someone who clearly thinks you’re homeless. Take it.
2:30pm: One last stroll around ‘Le Quartier Touristique’. If you don’t drink beer and are too jet-lagged for fries or waffles (why body, why!?) it’s really high time to leave Brussels.
3pm: Take the 20 minute train to the airport for a 6:30pm flight because you are, and will probably always be, extremely neurotic when it comes to flying.