Friday, April 21, 2006

Brussels Maps and Di

Brussels, like most cities, can be experienced on different levels ...

There's the sight-seeing tourist level and then there's the 'this-map-isn't-very-good-and-I-don't-speak-French' experience. And my Dutch isn't that useful either actually.

Yesterday's adventure began in Brussel's Centraal Station... a location that morphs into Gare Centrale in French, after crossing one of the many internal language borders within Belgium. Suddenly people are giving me directions that involve Gare du Noord previously painstakingly learned as Brussel Nord ... and Bruxelles Midi is Brussel Zuid otherwise known as Brussels South to an speaker of Engels.

I made a good beginning, arriving in Brussels at 10.00am, with half an hour to follow the less than satisfactory map to my first appointment. I exited the station on Putterie, stunned at my own cleverness ... having emerged from the rabbit warren on the correct street. I casually turned the map, trying to locate myself in terms of left or right ... then I noticed the buses. I had a list of bus numbers that gave me 8 chances of finding a bus for Square de Meeus.

Often shameless about the linguistic deficiencies I suffer from; deficiences unimaginable to most Brusselians, I chatted to the bus driver on Number 60 in English. He broke, beginning in French but responding to the blushing flustered foreigner he switched to English, promising to let me know when we reached our destination.

He did. I was there 15 minutes early.

I was picking up documents at the New Zealand Embassy and what a breath of fresh Kiwi air that was. It was all friendliness and efficiency, something I haven't experienced at a bureaucratic level in such a long time. I remember a policeman in Istanbul said such bad things about me that my translator had blushed and refused to translate ... that was the time I was told that my official work permit was fradulent. I envisioned prison but it was just the first round at the bargaining table. Obviously most experiences are better than that however Belgium has some very serious rules for immigrants and my 'you're on candid camera-like' experiences are growing.

I was given another map with new directions to my next destination. There was a predicted difficulty in crossing a mess of roads halfway there and so I left, knowing it was unlikely I would find my way onto Rue Brederode.

Eventually I sent Gert a small yet subtle sms ... 'I'm lost'.

He's a patient man. He phoned immediately and began the process of getting me to believe that he understood where I was and that his directions were good. It's not that I'm ungrateful, it's just that I'm directionally challenged and so when he tells me to turn right and go under the arch then on up the little street ... I doubt him.

He got me back on the map and I wandered on, finding my way to destination two ... it was only 11.30am.

I smsed Shannon, an American expat (and my hairdresser after two or three big glasses of red wine) and we met up for a long lunch at a sidewalk cafe somewhere off the edge of my mapped world.

Clearly I was in her hands at this point, being in unknown territory and having only found our meeting place thanks to a lovely cafe owner who had turned me back towards the Metro meeting place when I stopped for guidance. I had really thought about left or right after leaving Rue des Petits Carmes ... but really thinking about which road to take usually leaves me on the road best not taken.

Later, Shannon introduced me to the underground Metro and I made my way to Bruxelles Midi (previously Brussel Zuid) and I was lost again. It's a nightmare down there ... there are levels and a shopping complex. I tried for an insouciant look while wondering WHERE the ticket office might be.

I asked at the info booth and was told ... I found it eventually and watched my Antwerpen train pull away just as I arrived on the platform.

There's always another train in Belgium and the new one was an old clanker that stopped everywhere between Brussels and Antwerpen. I had checked the timetable tv, I had noted the number of fellow passengers thinking 'Ah yes, this is surely city to city' and we travelled through Centraal Station, on through Brussel Nord. I knew where I was.

However, slowly but surely I was once again off the map and in unknown territory. Soon I recognised nothing but I kind of liked the idea of an adventure someplace else in Belgium. We stopped at places with names I'd never heard spoken.

Just as I was getting tired of the whole 'where in the world is Di' thing, the ticket inspector came round. He may have wondered why he was studied as he read my ticket ... it was a rather intense stare, the kind one does when wondering if they've passed the test of boarding the right train. Of course I'd passed, he clicked it ... a few minutes later we pulled into Berchem.

I was home.


Anonymous said...

Well well well.. I finally hear about your trip home = ) I had a great time at lunch with you, your invite was the perfect surprise to my day, which I assumed would be spent sitting right here,in my office... thanks!

P.S. I can't remember my Blogger password. I'm now the anonymous poster.

woman wandering said...

Lol Shannon ... I can't believe you didn't get your blog up and running!!!

Anyway, it was a nice lunch, wasn't it ... there's something about impulse and sidewalk cafes.