Belgium!

May 30th, 2019, 05:29 AM
  #1  
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Belgium!

Spoiler: No Brussels or Bruges (been there). Instead, Dinant, Ghent, and Leuven.

The Occasion (not that one is needed to travel…)
DD’s final T&F tournament, co-hosted by the two big international schools in Brussels/Waterloo. DH and I added two days at the front end for sightseeing.

Airlines and Lodging
Brussels Airlines. The flag carrier is among the ranks of those who even charge for water on board. My sickness bag had several pieces of used chewing gum inside. Ewww. That DH had a little more legroom than usual is the only extraordinary note. Our outbound was a quick 1:25. The wait at the baggage carousel was 1:00.

DD flew out a day later. The team’s 0925 flight was canceled (naturally after the team arrived bright and early at VIE). They were rebooked on two puddle jumpers from VIE to FRA to BRU. The team had to wait for their baggage, as well.

Overall we give Brussels Airlines a solid, meh.

Citadines Saint Catherine. What you get when you start planning the trip three days beforehand. A perfectly acceptable one-bedroom in an odd combination of lime green and grey colors. Wonderfully clean, but with a sensitive bathroom switch that required (up to 10) gentle pushes to function.

The story begins…
With a little time before takeoff we sat for breakfast at the Jamie Oliver restaurant at VIE. DH ordered the “Higher Welfare Bacon & Eggs” (whatever that means) and I ordered a dish lacking “higher welfare.” We clinked our Prosecco flutes to one last European getaway.*

Upon arrival into Brussels, DH proceeded to the car rental while I waited and waited, and waited for our bag, the empty conveyor taunting everyone as it went around and around. At one point the conveyor stopped moving altogether, and the gasp of defeat from me and my fellow passengers was audible.

Eventually DH rang to inform me that because the rental was in my name (damn you, Expedia and your autofill), the clerk would neither change the name nor talk to me on the phone to move the reservation along. I finally caught up with DH, explained to the clerk that I would not be the driver, and asked again if could we just change the name on the reservation.

That’s when the situation went flat-out strange.

The clerk (15? 22? Hard to tell beneath the heavy layer of face spackle): “I am not going to rent to you” with her sass-infused French accent.

“Excuse me?”

“You are not going to be the driver, so I can not rent the car to you.”

DH: “Can I be added as the driver?”

Ms. Sass: “No.”

DH: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

Ms. Sass: “No.”

(Now, it is legend that DH has lost his temper exactly once in his five decades on the planet. Apparently it was witnessed by DH’s brother in the taxi on the day before our wedding, when the two were stuck in a Friday afternoon Chicago traffic jam that caused DH to miss all but the last couple of minutes of our wedding rehearsal.)

Make that twice. DH calmly and firmly (though I could spy little tufts of steam rising from his head) explained to Ms. Sass that she should simply add his name and proceed with the reservation.

Ms. Sass replied, “I am going to cancel your reservation. You are treating me like a dog.”

At this point we both stared at her, dumbfounded and speechless. A full minute or two later she said, “Fine. I will add your name to the reservation.” (At a cost of €10/day, naturally.)

Again, naturally, the class of vehicle we had reserved was not available, so we ended up with some for-the-masses Crossover with way too many sensors. Thirty minutes later at least we had a car. Thanks to friendly Fodorites suggestions, “the plan” was to have lunch and sightsee in Namur, then head to Dinant for the balance of the day. The GPS in the car lacked the ability to detect traffic or construction detours, a “feature” we learned upon arriving in Namur and not being able to access a parking garage of interest.

We also learned that Belgian drivers are impatient. Tres impatient. Routinely we were flashed, and occasionally horned, for driving at the posted tempo in the middle or right lane. Quelle horror. The abuse was worse (think finger and hand gestures) when we drove the reduced tempo in construction zones.

Pronouncing our effort to park in Namur a bust, we routed to the N92 along the River Meuse toward Dinant. Calmer than the Belgian autobahn, but not lacking for impatient drivers. The route is terribly scenic, so numerous photo stops were added. By this time, though, we were nearing the confluence of the Hangries and the Mittagspause. Charming roadside restaurant after charming roadside restaurant was either closed, or soon to be closed.

Then, saved by the Wépion Maxi-Frites! With its cases of various Frikadellen (and Filipino Lumpia?) a little overwhelming for we first-timers, I approached the Order Taker with, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and was met with, in English, “Are you lost?”

After DH and I stopped chuckling, I explained that we were on holiday and heading to Dinant. The OT went on for several minutes about how his father (a petrochemical engineer) often travels to America, and how it was his dream to go to America one day. And, that is was not common to see Americans “in these parts.” Explains the question.

The OT described the ordering process at length to us; we chose to leave the Frikadellen (and Frites sauces) decisions in his capable hand and before long had a plastic tray brimming with deep fried tubes of meat; something flat that looked like a SPAM McRib; five little tubs of sauce (Tartare, mayo, “Andalouse” curry, and “Bicky Hot Sauce,” the latter two being my preferred) and enough Frites to blow our annual carb budget. Oh, and a Hoegaarden for me, Maredsous for DH. Interesting, mostly tasty food (the SPAM McRib must be an acquired taste), and great beers.



With a carefully-wrapped bundle of leftover Frites, and two cartons of roadside Wèpion strawberries (Belgium’s Best Berries!), it was on to Dinant.

Last edited by fourfortravel; May 30th, 2019 at 05:43 AM.
fourfortravel is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 07:12 AM
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Funny, Fourfortravel. And a pretty accurate description of driving in Belgium, unfortunately.
The chance that you get a speeding ticket is pretty slim, so everyone drives too fast. Then they go over the border to the Netherlands or France and are SHOCKED at the number of traffic violations they manage to collect on a single trip...

Getting hungry looking at these frites and snacks. We try not to eat to much of that stuff.
Tulips is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 10:57 AM
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Autofill is a browser setting, not an Expedia one. The rental agent isn't allowed to rent a car to a driver not named on the reservation.
Odin is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 01:31 PM
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You have a wonderful way with words....

“By this time, though, we were nearing the confluence of the Hangries and the Mittagspause.”

.....love this and can relate!
Adelaidean is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 01:49 PM
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Hi Fourfortravel, enjoying your TR, keep it coming!

About Belgian traffic: It was not that many years ago - maybe 30 - 35 years ago - that there were no drivers' licences in Belgium, so a certain driving culture developed, and that is typical of the driving experience now - a wild ride! But worse in big cities!

Lavandula
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May 30th, 2019, 01:54 PM
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Does the 'higher welfare' perhaps relate to how free-range the eggs and pork are?

Lavandula
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May 30th, 2019, 02:39 PM
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Welfare and food standards, as well as sustainability and waste, happy chickens and pigs in clean living conditions. I can't eat most meat in the US, just horrible conditions and all the roundup and chemicals freak me out. I look for pasta from Italy even. Ballymaloe farm made my heart sing.
Macross is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 09:42 PM
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Thank you, everyone for your comments.

Odin. I think something flubbed in Expedia's system. I listed DH as the driver; the credit card used to pay for the rental was mine, so somehow I became the driver.

Lavandula. There were no drivers licenses in Belgium once upon a time? That explains so, so much.

Macross: I hear you. When we lived in the U.S. we were selective with our meat consumption, as well.

It appears my attempt at snark (re: "higher welfare") fell flat. Apologies. I know to what the phrase refers; I had intended to gripe about the fact that in our current time one must have the "Positionality" to be "Woke" to that "everything" has to be "something:" "Socially Conscious;" "Fair Trade;" "Sustainable;" and so forth to the point of over saturation and perhaps even bordering on propaganda.
fourfortravel is offline  
May 30th, 2019, 10:33 PM
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>"everything" has to be "something:" "Socially Conscious;" "Fair Trade;" "Sustainable;" and so forth to the point of over saturation and perhaps even bordering on propaganda.

No, you are right, everything has a label, and it's expected for certain items or they don't have cred without it. But interesting that they don't just say, 'free range', if that is what they mean to impute. 'Higher welfare' implies to me that it may be one rung off cage eggs but not as good as 20,000 chickens per hectare. Worth paying for?

Lavandula
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May 30th, 2019, 10:51 PM
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Well, dipping in here to confess to more confusion --

What in the world is a "for the masses" crossover? I mean, I know what a crossover auto is, but the "for the masses" is a blank.

s
swandav2000 is online now  
May 31st, 2019, 01:16 AM
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Originally Posted by swandav2000 View Post
Well, dipping in here to confess to more confusion --

What in the world is a "for the masses" crossover? I mean, I know what a crossover auto is, but the "for the masses" is a blank.

s
swandav, haha. "For the masses" is my term for myriad of vehicles (in this case, Crossovers) that are indistinguishable to me by make and model. Certain vehicles catch my attention; for example, the parent at DD's school who drives a Bentley SUV. For the most part, though, all the rest of the vehicles I drive amongst, my own included, are "for the masses."
fourfortravel is offline  
May 31st, 2019, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by lavandula View Post
>"everything" has to be "something:" "Socially Conscious;" "Fair Trade;" "Sustainable;" and so forth to the point of over saturation and perhaps even bordering on propaganda.

No, you are right, everything has a label, and it's expected for certain items or they don't have cred without it. But interesting that they don't just say, 'free range', if that is what they mean to impute. 'Higher welfare' implies to me that it may be one rung off cage eggs but not as good as 20,000 chickens per hectare. Worth paying for?

Lavandula
Exactly. The word salad surrounding "conscious" consumption is mind boggling. "Higher Welfare" slips right into the boggling.
fourfortravel is offline  
May 31st, 2019, 02:09 AM
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Dinant

A charmer. After a cloudy start to the afternoon, the sunshine made the town sparkle. We easily secured a parking space, grabbed two cones (chocolate and raspberry), and wandered about. Obnoxious selfie-takers had commandeered much of the Charles de Gaulle bridge, though I was able to slide in between for photos. We did not take the gondola to the Citadel; bird's-eye views are not really our thing.



The “Dinant Footprints” along the streets in theory honor music legends and lead to the giant saxophone of Adolph Sax, the inventor of...I’m sure you can guess. All well and good; except some of the footprints were the size of a small child. Something to ponder.

Leaving Dinant we followed the same route in return to our lodging, the late afternoon light making me and my camera quite happy. Crossing into the Brussels city limits we had our first experience with urban driving maniacs. By comparison Viennese drivers are equally as impatient; however, when they determine that you have stopped traffic flow for a reason (for example, DH stopping at the lodging for me to alight, as the street was narrow and there was no place to turn in) they wait. With patience. Not so the Belgians. Not only were we horned and flashed, but someone a couple of cars behind actually rolled down his window and shouted something not-very-nice at me in French!

Across the street from our lodging a large festival was taking place in the square; we spied trucks and smelled the grill goodness. Dinner! Um, No. The clerk informed us that the festival was a celebration of vegan foods. Thank goodness we had picked up a Poulet Roti on the way into Brussels. With a bottle of wine from the nearby Carrefour and the Frites, we enjoyed a simple supper before calling it a night.
fourfortravel is offline  
May 31st, 2019, 02:31 AM
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s
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May 31st, 2019, 04:58 AM
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We had heard about the infamous Belgian drivers before our trip a few years back. We must have been lucky as we didn't find them out of the ordinary, maybe driving in NYC for years made us immune, ha! But the rule of drivers from the right have the right of way in towns was hard, and nervewracking, to get used to.

We had planned to spend our final day visiting Namur and Dinant but a full day of rain made us change our plans. I wish we could have gone.
lolfn is offline  
May 31st, 2019, 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by lavandula View Post
About Belgian traffic: It was not that many years ago - maybe 30 - 35 years ago - that there were no drivers' licences in Belgium
The Belgian driving license was introduced in 1968 (51 yrs ago). In the beginning - I have my license since 1973 - driving lessons and a theory test was all there was to do. The road test came into force in 1978.
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May 31st, 2019, 01:58 PM
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Thank you for the correction!

Lavandula
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May 31st, 2019, 02:07 PM
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Enjoying your TR! Thanks!
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Jun 1st, 2019, 06:50 AM
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Ghent

Even more charming! Over supper on the previous evening we decided on the Flanders city rather than attempting a combo of perhaps Tournai and Mons, or Tournai and Lille. Driving in Belgium was not quite the Fahrvergnügen it is in Austria, so if we could park the Crossover and be done with it for the day, so much the better.

The Ghent tourism page spoke of a Sunday Flea Market. I am always up for a wander through household leftovers in search of something whimsical that I did not know I needed. The flea market was a little oversold, though and I came away with nothing. Our next destination, the Castle of the Counts, however, was the opposite. We absolutely loved touring the castle and taking in the views.





Continuing, we picked up a small package of “Ghent Noses,” or Cuberdon for DD on our way to lunch. We found Brasserie Bridge and a table outside on this warm but breezy day, the Ghent Belfry and St. Bavo’s our scenery. DH ordered a Steak Bearnaise, much to his liking; and I, the Flemish Beef Stew, equally as tasty and with a lovely presentation. The breeze on this day was quite something—several of the lighter salad pieces on our plates blew away!

Following our lunch, St. Bavo’s. WOW! The church’s interior is eye-candy for the conventional tourist and an architectural splendor for others, though the interior space was surprisingly empty of visitors. And as is our luck, the famed, “Lamb of God” altarpiece was not available for viewing. DH and I laughed: it is not a holiday for us if something important is not either under scaffolding or otherwise unavailable for viewing.

We departed Ghent in the late afternoon in search of a nearby American cemetery in “Flanders Fields.” A “Family Bike Ride” event in our town of choice had blocked access to the cemetery road, alas. Though we did see plenty of cows (and a few poppies), we were unable to reach the cemetery proper. Admitting defeat, we slogged through a miserable drive back to our lodging, and foraged amongst the offerings at the nearby Carrefour for something we could name as, “supper.”

fourfortravel is offline  
Jun 1st, 2019, 08:36 AM
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Your trip report is always fun to read!

“We clinked our Prosecco flutes to one last European getaway.*

You are leaving Europe?


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