February 2, 2011

Slip n' Slide Ice Ride

Yesterday was the "big" trip to Brussels to visit my mom's college roommate and her husband. Yes, I already knew real people who were already real family friends before I got here. If my placement in Belgium isn't God taking care of me, I don't know what is.

I was so excited to use my 8-voyage pass, and when I got on the bus, I went to slide it into the puncher, and the driver said, "No!" After a few exchanges of my confused facial expressions and his "No's," he finally said "Gratis - it's free!" Can't argue with that, so I thanked him and found my seat.

Some of the "Urban Art" on my bus route.

I got to the train station in time for an earlier train, and arrived in Brussels an hour before my friends were to arrive. This gave me the necessary time to browse the train station, which is really more like a mall. There were shops for everything, and it was not hard to find things to do until they picked me up! In Brussels it is much different from Charleroi because the tourist draw has more people speaking English. 

My friends came right on time, and they had a special Belgian day planned for me! We had an authentic Belgian waffle (has pearl sugar, fancy, ay?), then took the tram to the main city square. The buildings were so ornate and beautiful! There are chocolate shops and lace stores on every corner. We went to a non-tourist restaurant for lunch and I had my first Hawaiian panini - yes, there was pineapple in my sandwich! We saw so many things, I don't remember many of their names, but after we got to the outskirts of the city, we went to two very cool places. First, we took a picture at the Atomium. It looks like a huge atom made of mirrors, and was built for the World's Fair back in the day. Then we went to an Asian attraction! Yes, Leopold II decided he "needed" the Far Orient in his backyard, so he had a Japanese Tower and Chinese Pavilion built in the Royal Park. Both were fascinating to walk around in, and the art inside was even more incredible. The Chinese Pavilion had a different color and theme for each room, but my favorite was the Dutch room. There were blue and white porcelain vases from the size of my thumb to 3-4 gallons! They were all mounted beautifully on the walls and in glass cases. 

But my favorite part of the Asian exhibits was in the war room. Normally I don't care for war artifacts, but the first room we went in had small packets for...something. Anyway, I started laughing because it looked like a glass-encased room full of Asian-printed cell phone covers. The second entertainment factor was in the main hall where they had the full armor outfits. All I know is they were exactly how I remembered them...from the 3rd Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Good times.

At my friends' apartment, the lady let me look at her college scrapbook, which includes a lot of things with my mom, her roommate. It was HILARIOUS!!! Apparently my mom had an "Out of My Life" board where she pinned people's names if they were driving her crazy. Their college experience was so much like mine and my friends, it was a great laugh and fun to travel back to the 70s. It was also great to eat MEXICAN food for the first time in 2011, with real refried beans from the foreign food section and everything! It was an amazing day in Brussels, especially with my personal tour guide friends.

The next 12 hours proved to be...interesting. I made the train back to Charleroi just fine, and was waiting for my bus with some people, and it didn't come. Another bus driver came by and explained everything in French, and thank God the guy he talked to spoke enough English to tell me, "No bus." Um, cool. There was another bus/line leaving for generally the same area, so I hopped on, hoping I'd be able to figure out how to get home. In the rain. In the dark. Without a map.

I kept straining my eyes to read the ever-so-random street signs on sides of buildings, finally saw the road I was looking for, and hit the "Stop" button. We pulled over literally in 10 more seconds, so I almost missed it. I got off the bus and hoped I was heading in the right direction (story of my life?). But there ended up being a twist...since the rain had been falling for a good two hours, darkness had fallen, dropping the temperature and FREEZING THE WATER THAT WAS ON THE SIDEWALKS AND ROADS. It was like broom hockey all over again, except it was dark, there were uphills, downhills, sidehills, you name it, and I had to hold onto an umbrella the whole time. So I shuffled to the intersection and behold! There was the billboard for our grocery store! It should have been a 10-minute walk, but when you add ice, double the time. This is advice I could have used again, but had already forgotten by the time I got home. I didn't fall once! I was so impressed.

This morning I woke up, gathered the necessary tools, and headed out to the car to pick-up Martina at the airport. The car was frozen. And not like, oh, there's some frost, it'll slide right off. More like a 1/4 inch layer of actual ice on every window. So much for being on time (ice, double time, see?). It took 15 minutes to warm-up the car and make it drive-able. Then the adventure began.

The worst weather I'd driven in to this point was really bad rainstorms and the dust storm south of Bakersfield last month. I did not process that if I was slipping and sliding on the roads while walking, that there was a good chance the car would slip and slide on the roads while driving. So I boot up the car, get it going (thinking I've made all the progress in the world), and start going down the hill to the main road. The road curves to the left, so I turn the wheel left and brake...AND OMG WHY IS THE CAR TURNING RIGHT AND NOT STOPPING!!!!! The small curb stopped me from crashing, and I was going to slow to cause damage, thankfully. First thoughts? The car is broken, I cannot pick-up Martina. Second thoughts? I probably just did something wrong, let's try again. I reverse back again and start down the hill the right direction...and start skidding INTO THE INTERSECTION. Oh, good morning, LIFE, apparently I don't care to see you anymore. My left leg is pushing the clutch so hard it's shaking, and when the e-brake doesn't work, you know something is more wrong than just your car. Finally it dawns on me - ICE - I'm going to die.

But alas, we were greater than the ice, and even survived a stop-and-go left turn on a hill to miraculously arrive at the airport. The ice did not have me beat until we parked back at home (Martina got to enjoy that portion of driving). I stepped out of the car, and SWOOP! I was sitting on the icy sidewalk. Okay, Ice, we'll call it even. But don't bet on me challenging you to a rematch anytime soon. I'll stick with volleyball and card games.