We had a rough first night in Belgium after a lovely dinner right by our hotel at Pasta Devina, where the owner of the restaurant proudly took us through the entire menu and bragged on his wife’s pasta making skills. The Madeleine Hotel that Rick Steves had recommended was undergoing renovations and there was no air conditioning on a very hot night.
The room from Hell and the blanket that gave me nightmares- but also provided a bit of comedy.
Each time I awoke from a fitful bit of sleep I was drenched in sweat and the sheets felt like an oven. Normally I love when Dan rolls toward me during the night in his sleep, but with the infernal heat wherever we made contact caused us to just stick together and made things even more uncomfortable. It’s okay- all a part of the travel experience. However, I was thrilled when Dan cancelled our reservation at the Madeleine that he’d made for our last night before flying out of Brussels and reserved a lovely room just across the street instead.
We enjoyed a tasty breakfast sitting outside a nearby cafe and watched the city coming to life; professionals heading to work, shopkeepers cleaning their patios and setting up for the day, and the ever-present tourists, coming and going. It is fascinating to see the wonderful mix of people, especially the young people sporting travel backpacks (oh, how wise they are). What an amazing life experience for them! I like the idea of being a citizen of the world, comfortable traveling and visiting any city with ease.
We made the short walk uphill to the Brussels Centrale Train Station, what would be probably be the most stressful the part of our trip so far. Neither Dan nor I are easy travelers. We are rooted in our routine and change rocks us; while we intentionally seek out experiences that hopefully stretch us, it is draining. I have to laugh; Dan says we are the same person, just as the opposite sex, and boy is he right. We get stressed out when we feel out of control…and you are never totally in control while traveling. Thankfully we balance each other out really well, with one of us just about always in a place to be able to calm down and reassure the other when stressful stuff rears it’s ugly head.
Our big stressor today was getting on the correct train to Ostend. I’ve been through Grand Central Station many times, and while it is chaotic, it makes sense because Of familiarity and announcements and signs are in English. In Brussels Centrale, the chaos is compounded by announcements being given in three languages, all difficult to hear in the tumult. We had bought our tickets in advance, but didn’t quite understand how to find out where that train was. Each time we travel we will get better at it all.
We finally identified the correct train and hurried to board with the crowds and our suitcases and backpacks. I was the last person in and as I tried to wrangle my suitcase, clarinet case, and backpack, I somehow wedged my size ten right foot and suitcase together in the stairwell as the door shut. Dan didn’t know and was down the hall finding our seats. I panicked, thinking my foot was in the door as the train began taking off. Thankfully, a kind woman came to my rescue and helped me escape my self- made trap. Only me…I am truly my mother’s daughter. Just for the record, Rick Steves- you were right. I vow to bring much less on my next trip to Europe, conference or no.
The train made stops in Ghent and Bruges before it’s final stop at our destination, Ostend, the site of ClarinetFest 2018. Ostend is on the coast of the North Sea and is an absolutely beautiful resort town. While I will be busy in meetings and attending the conference (and performing myself on Saturday), I am looking forward to enjoying some time walking the beach and the boardwalk with Dan and experiencing more of the food and the culture of this history-filled and lovely city over the coming days. How grateful and humbled I am to be here with the love of my life, preparing to be inspired by the top clarinetists from all over the world.