Three days, four countries, and one very happy Margaret!!
Wednesday: I. Hate. Traveling. Alone. I cannot reiterate this enough. I’m fine with just one person with me; it doesn’t even matter if they aren’t good navigators either, it’s just their presence that’s a comfort. I’ll travel by myself but there’s zero enjoyment in it. So I spent the morning going from my hotel to the metro, the metro to the Paris train station, the train ride, and then the Brussels train station in a completely uncomfortable anxious state. But as soon as I found the American family I was staying with, all the stress disappeared. I stayed with some close friends of my uncle and aunt (and they happened to have a Labradoodle from us). The mom and the two kids met me at the station and then immediately we went into downtown Brussels! We went to the Grand Plaza which had lovely architecture and a very cool urban feel. There were cobbled stone streets, street musicians, and chocolate shops and brasseries galore! We got lunch at a lovely little hole-in-the-wall and then got macaroons at Pierre Marcolini, a famous sweets shop. We got back in the car and they drove me around the beautiful, huge historic buildings like the Bibliotheque Royale and near the Queen’s Palace. I also found out that there are huge forests all over the city which gives it a very open, clean feel. We stopped by the kids’ international school’s campus (what school has classes outside in the forest and a tennis bubble??). We drove down the street with all the embassies, NATO, and EU bases, which was lovely and very reminiscent of DC. We went to their house which is in a “suburb” called Hoeilaart. It was a charming home and had a very American feel. I got to see a Labradoodle again which was extra fun (begrudgingly I will admit that I was really missing those fur balls). Everything seemed very familiar and they even left candy corn out for me for Halloween!! I rested, played games with the daughter (who was around Emma’s age, so it was quite nice), and watched some Pixaresque movie. We had dinner, skyped with Ang and Sophie (my aunt and cousin), and then got to watch “The Middle”, which was my first American TV I’ve seen yet while over here. It was very fitting because it’s set in Indiana and I think we were all feeling a little Indy-sick. By the time bed rolled around, I was happy, nostalgic, and homesick all together in a very sweet way.
Thursday/ HALLOWEEN: If I was stressed at all yesterday, today was like relief heaven! We did nothing and it was utterly perfect! I slept in and had breakfast very late (pumpkin bread!! Guys, I got to have pumpkin!) The kids had friends over; their parents work at the embassy so they had been living in Belgium for awhile. It was funny because at lunch, they were just nonchalantly chatting about their Italian vacation or how they spent the day in France. They are so well-travelled and don’t really even understand how cool it is yet. We watched some more of “The Middle” and talked in the living room most of the afternoon, while the kids planned a haunted house and did Halloween crafts. They had gotten a package of American candy, like candy corn and chocolate pumpkins, so even though Europe really doesn’t do Halloween, I still got to experience it! For dinner we had TACOS with guacamole and Tostitos!! It was so perfectly American! Who knew I would get so excited over El Paso seasoning?! We even got trick-or-treaters!! Three brave Dutch kids and their freezing dad were walking around the neighborhood so that was a lovely surprise! I got to call my mom and then the girls decided to turn me into a zombie for Halloween, which was essentially just them taking an eyeliner pencil and coloring my face, but hey, how could I say no?
Friday: Happy All-Saints Day!! Heather was generous enough to take me on a multi-country tour today, so we left pretty early in the morning. Our first stop was back in Brussels at an outdoor market for Liege waffles from a famous food truck. Fun fact: Belgian waffles are so well-known for being the best but it’s really the Liege waffles that are a culinary masterpiece! They’re made out of crystallized sugar that caramelizes as it gets hot. It’s easily the best, most rich thing I’ve ever eaten! From there we drove half an hour away to Germany!! We went to Aachen, which had a very charming center with a really lovely cathedral. Outside it looked gray and drab, but inside it was golden and ornate with hand-placed tiles of blues, greens, and reds and the heavy scent of incense in the air. It was certainly one of the most unique “doms” (German for cathedral) I’ve ever seen. We looked around the town but because Germany celebrates All-Saints Day, everything was closed. We got schnitzel and German beer at a homey little restaurant and while looking at the incomprehensible menu, I realized that it was the first time in Europe that I had no idea what was going on with the language, which oddly enough made me more confident in my French. We got Starbucks pumpkin lattes, which was so fitting for a chilly fall day. From there we hit the road to Holland. The ride was lovely; there were ancient châteaux as common as cows that you could spot from the highway. Maastrict, Holland, was a very cool city that mixes modern and traditional. The shopping was unbelievable! Little boutiques, chic brands, indie clothing, retro vintage, free trade. It was very cool with all the people out and about roaming the streets. We headed back to Belgium and had chicken and frites for dinner. They let me sample some Belgian beer made from local monks! I actually got pretty sad thinking about leaving the next day; it became very comfortable at their home and was like a little “America” in Europe. But the price of three countries in one day was so worth it!!
The next day I caught a five hour train and a bus ride to get back to Aix but I’m so happy that I did it all! It was the first time I feel that I can say that I did something completely all on my own and a cross-country trip seems like a wonderful start! How blessed I’ve been with my experiences and it’s all been because of the generosity I’ve received. Thanks again to the Moss family who really opened up their home to me and made me feel so comfortable! I can’t even go into how awesome it was to feel like I was home in America even for a short while; it very much rejuvenated me and now I feel like I can stave off the homesickness for the rest of my stay!