Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Wandering in Brussels

Fear, it is the most important feeling that anyone could have, fear is that thing we feel when we confront a threat, we are in a dangerous situation or we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown.
But it is not stupid to be afraid, the reactions towards it are the stupid ones, some people freeze, some others react quickly but in a stupid manner and some others react to it in the best way possible. I have seen people getting hit by cars because they got scared and they froze in place, but I have seen other people running towards safety when threatened in the same way. It is all about reacting accordingly.

To be franlky, it was my first time travelling alone, it was my first time travelling to other country, it was my first time crossing the Atlantic and most importantly, it was my first time doing all those things together. As soon as I crossed customs and was officialy in Europe, more precisely, Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, the official languages there are Dutch, French and German, but nobody I knew in brussels spoke German, I do not speak Dutch and I am not fluent in French.

My first thought there was: "I have to get to the hostel", it was followed by "where is the hostel?". I had a problem, the information of the reservation was online and I did not have internet on my phone, in fact it was running out of battery, I had just 25% of the capacity of the battery remaining, I knew my current plugs would not fit in european sockets. The first thing I did was to visit a store which fortunately had computer with internet for use, I bought the plug adapter and 20 minutes of internet which was more than I needed, I got the address and reservation number for the hostel I was staying, it was the Hostel Louise in Boulevard Général Jacques number 82. I thought it would be a good idea to take a taxi instead of taking the risk of getting lost in the city.

I went out the airport and the first thing I felt was a cold chilling air. I was wearing waterproof sneakers, denim shoes, a long sleeve t-shirt and a clear brown raincoat and the air was cold and very humid, one of my favourite types of weather. I saw a line formed besides a sign of taxi so I decided to form in the line as well.

As I was aproaching the end of the line, the man behind me asked me if we could share the cab, I told him where I was going and he told me he was going just a couple of blocks ahead so we could share the cab and split the cost. I did not see anything wrong with that. The man had a leather suitcase on his right hand and he was pulling a bigger case with his left hand, he had a deep blue suit, white shirt and red tie, his hair was well groomed and he had a bluetooth headset on his right ear. He appeared to be a a business person that could afford a single cab but that idea would soon be dismissed when I found out by the taxi driver that the fare from the airport to the area we were going was of 90€, so the cost would be splitted in half, reducing my cost to 45€, out of the 200€ I had in cash.

I arived to the hostel with four hours in advance so I was allowed to leave my luggage there. I was very tired from my trip so I decided to reast in the main hall while my cell phone was charging. some twenty minutes later some spanish guy started making a scene because nobody in the hostel spoke spanish and he did not speak any other language besides spanish, he had dyed blond hair with some dashes of black, he had piercings in his left side of the lip and another in the right ear lobe. I decided to help him communicate with the person currently in charge who told him the same as me, we could do the check-in later that day, we could use the facilities and we could leave our luggage there.

He thanked me and invited me to go out and walk the city. I was extremely tired and my first response would have been "no", but then I thought "this will be my only full day here, it would be stupid of me to waste it sleeping" so finally I decided to go out with him.

We wandered off, took a tram and ended up in the historic centre of the city which is a square surrounded by big old buildings with gold decorations all over, it was a beutiful place.
©Amel Hartmann

We then proceeded to look for a place he spent al the way talking about, it was some sort of bar that held the world record for serving the largest amount of beers in the world, he did not have the name of the place and he did not know where it was, he did not spak any useful language, so it was up to me to find a single bar in a whole city in which I had only been for 5 hours. I started asking random people until I could get a clue, someone finally directed us towards an old part of town with narrow streets filled with bars and restaurants at each side of the street. We started asking in each bar and I finally got a name: Delirium Café. I also got an approximate location that was pointed in our map.

 ©Amel Hartmann

We finally got to the bar after two hours of searching, we entered the bar and picked up our place near the bartender, we asked for the menu and he handed us a big book with 3 beers per page with a little description, the amount of beer per bottle and the cost. We started drinking, I tasted some varieties of beers such as the one in the picture below, a beer with banana flavour. Soon enough, and after several beers I ran out of the remaining 155€ and I was left with only 5€ to return to the hostel.
  ©Amel Hartmann

On the way back to the hostel he met a friend of his and we got split, they wanted to go somewhere else that I had no interest in visiting so I returned to the hostel, I was tired, my feet hurt a lot and I was somewhat drunk. I arrived back to the hostel, rested up a bit and then went out to get some cash for the trip to the airport and looked for something to eat for dinner, that last part was somewhat difficult because it was 12:05 in the morning, I could only find a burger joint open and I had that for dinner. When I returned to the hostel I asked the manager for directions to the airport, talked to my girlfriend on the phone and went to sleep for the remaining two hours I had left.

I woke up at 4:00AM, took a shower and then left for the airport, I arrived one hour early, I proceeded to check-in and boarded my airplane without delays, I was heading for Munich with a stop at Copenhagen so I decided to get a rest and I slept the whole flight. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Crossing of the Atlantic - Part II

There was I in the Departures waiting lounge, doing exactly that... waiting, so I decided to open my book and start reading, it was Justine, by Sade. I read a few chapters when a man approached me, he was dressed in a white t-shirt with denim jeans and sandals, he had a cell phone without battery in his hand and a charger in the other, he had only his wallet and his travelling ticket, he had a worried look on his face mixed with a bit of shame. I acted as if I did not know he was going to talk to me and waited for him to make the first move. He took the seat next to me and for a few seconds he sat there in silence looking at his cell phone.

I knew he was going to talk to me and I had no desire to talk to him, he was going to ask me to help him somehow, most probably, some money. I stood up and as I was grabbing my shoulder bag he looked me in the eyes and said "Hello, how are you doing?". I was now obligated to answer so I simply replied with "Good, thank you" trying not to provoke further conversation, but he insisted to carry on with the awkward conversation and asked me if I knew where he could charge his phone, I pointed to a column full of electric socketsand he suddenly started telling me about his situation.

He claimed to be in Cancun on business, and that yesterday has been his last day of work there so he decided to go out and drink, the next day he woke up in his hotel room with nothing but his cell phone and his wallet which had nothing but his ID. He said he did not remember what happened last night and he called his company to see if they could facilitate a plane ticket because he lost his flight the previous night. The company did but he was in serious problems, he had no money and was hungry. He was going to ask me for money to get some food.

I could tell he was not lying about the drinking part, he had a hangover, he clearly had headaches and bright lights caused him more disconfort. While he was taking I put my theory to the test, I took my iPhone and used the screen to reflect some sunlight towards his eyes, when the beam hit his eyes, even through glasses he took a pause from his tale to rub the corner of his eyes.

About the other part of the story, he did not have any money or credit cards in his wallet and he had no carry on luggage. His disgusting smell told me he did not take a bath and he was wearing last night's outfit, but when he showed me his airplane ticket I saw he documented luggage, contrary to what he told me. His story was full of lies but also had some semi truths, luckily for me my flight was announced and I told him I could not help him and then left to my boarding gate.

Inside the next room, just before the boarding walkway there was a military checkpoint asking routine questions, they inspected my carry on luggage, pockets and wallets. after I got through the checkpoint I boarded the plane, a Boeing 767-300ER, I located my seat and got ready for flight.

Next to me there was a mexican couple visiting their daughter and granddaughter in Brussels, the flight was 12 hours long, most of which I spent sleeping, I woke up once when the flight attendants started serving dinner which consisted on spaghetti with meatballs, a lager beer named Jupiler and strawberry jelly.

I looked out the window and I could see the sun going down on my left side and pitch dark on the right side, from this I deduced I was heading north, which was obvious since ICAO forbids any airplane to fly farther than 2 hours from any airport, then I went back to sleep.

Photo courtesy of ©Anthony Jackson

The next time I woke up there was sunlight once again, I stood up to go to the bathroom and I looked out of the right rear door's window and I saw the sun coming up, then I went to the left side and I saw the twilight at the horizon and below I could only see the Atlantic ocean, as far as my eyes could see.

The third time I woke up I went to the rear of the airplane and I could finally see land, I was finally flying over european airspace, I calculated that I was flying over the United Kingdom.

One hour later the captain asked the crew and passengers to take a seat, put the tables and seats to upright position and fasten our seatbelts in order to start the final approach on Brussels Zaventem International Airport.

We landed and unboarded the airplane, I proceeded directly to the baggage claim area, my back pack was the 5th luggage to be delivered, I picked it up and proceeded to the inmigration offices where the officer asked me for my passport and without any questions stamped it with a permit to be in europe for 90 days, I crossed customs and I was officialy in Europe.