Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brussels and Bruges

After arriving at my relatives' house along the outskirts of Brussels, I had a quick breakfast of toast and pate and dropped off my pack in my room my uncle converted from a garage. Having enough time to catch my breath, my aunt, my cousin, and I took tram 4 back past the main station to see the city sites. We immediately heard music coming from the city square stepping out of the station and it turns out that the president of Congo was in the city that day. And I was too, but it wasn't as if I made a big deal out of it.

We took a break for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant before visiting a comic book museum. I would've been geeked out of my mind except the museum covered more European and less American. We visited a few more sites, I drooled over the artisan chocolate, waffle, and beer shops, and arrived home. My uncle and younger cousin had come home from work and I caught up with them for a bit before we left to visit my great-aunt a few blocks down. In short, I was told to be good. Dinner that night was mussels and fries. Amazingly delicious mussels and fries in amazingly copious amounts. Now when I talk to myself, I can reminisce and wax poetic about that dinner.

While I was getting ready for bed that night, I was reminded that growing up without a big Vietnamese family around really sucked. But all the way out here in Brussels was an island of comfort and warmth I was able to call home, if even for a pinch of time. I was fed entirely too well, my clothes still smell of their laundry detergent as I write this in Berlin, and the conversations we shared were especially meaningful for all that distance that lays between us.

The next day was Bruges, a small town an hour's drive away. I already know that I'll spend a lot of time talking about this town when I get home, so look out for pictures when I can get them in. We did a lot of walking, had frikandele and fries for lunch and waffle for desert. I picked up a box of chocolates from one of those artisan chocolatiers and a kickass scarf since my Southern California ass didn't pack the winter clothes. I mean, what the heck are winter clothes anyway? Drove home, picked up some groceries from a Carrefour, had super-yummy chicken au gratin for dinner, and passed out.

The next day was spent with my cousins. I said goodbye to my aunt and uncle that morning and we rolled out. First stop was Waterloo and the 226-step hill overlooking the battle site where Napoleon was pwned. Second stop was the Atomium and Mini-Europe. In between was lunch at Quick, the Belgian fast food of choice. I took a tour of my older cousin's house, rested up a bit, and went to watch my younger cousin play indoor soccer. Dinner of crepes, drop-off and goodbye at the train station on the sleeper train, and I was on my to Berlin.

When I first arrived, I only thought I would be there for a day since Belgium was such a small country and I didn't know much about it. But the knee-jerk reaction I received when I first told my aunt how long I would be staying led to an immediate change of plans mid-sentence. As a result, I ended up staying three days. With every day I travel, though, I'm finding that I'm really glad I didn't plan this trip. I miss out on ridiculously good deals, but I'm earnestly spending my time. I realize I won't see everything I want, but I know I'll be back. But with warmer clothes and possibly a blow dryer to heat up toilet seats in the morning.

Next up: my stay in Berlin, including thoughts on traveling alone, wurst, and beer of course.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Getting to Brussels...

So instead of going to sleep after dinner like I planned, I ended up going to a pub with a new set of international superfriends. Fast forward to an army regiment of Stella Artois and Corona bottles and you can see why I missed my train. What I had to do instead was take an adjacent train out followed by a cab ride for the rest of the way while slightly buzzed. Surprisingly enough, I was on time for this train. The ride itself, like the movie "Crash", wasn't anything special. At the train station, I decided to share the cab with a pair of young English drunks. The stories they shared were of the typical "I was so drunk..." variety, but they were peppered with enough English colloquailisms and accent to make them hilarious.

I arrived at the airport at around midnight and saw all these people lounging around. And by lounging around, I mean sleeping in the most uncomfortable of positions. Except for this one couple who somehow had been hit by the preparedness stick and had the foresight to bring an air mattress. They wouldn't share so I picked a spot between the check-in counter and the restroom. I know, my real estate skills are unsurpassed. Surprisingly enough though, I passed out. But let me tell you, it wasn't as glamorous as I make it sound.

Three hours of sleep later, I woke up, bought a cup of coffee to shake off the chills of sleeping on tile, checked in, flew out out of London, and landed near Brussels. I hopped on a bus to the main train station in the heart of the city. I then picked up a map and realize that (a) I can't read French, (b) I don't know where I am to begin with, and (c) that I'm a bit delirious from the whole not sleeping bit so it would be best to try neither (a) nor (b).

Lucky for me though, I call up my family here in Brussels and they tell me what I need to do. I bought a metro ticket, got confused as hell deciphering the metro map, called my aunt again, went "ohh", got on tram 4 towards Stalle, and got off at the Wagon stop to a warm greeting from an aunt and cousin I hadn't seen in 12 years.

Next up, my stay in Brussels, another moment of personal profundity, sitting on the coldest toilet seat I've ever sat on, and eating too many mussels... Waaaaaay too many mussels...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On my time in London...

Today would be my fourth day in London and it's definitely been an entirely worthwhile launching point for my first tour through Europe. I've picked up a lot of tips and recommendations from all the people I've met and done most of the main tourist attractions. I better recap before I forget all the things I've done:

Friday/Saturday: Flew first class after missing my flight. Arrived at Heathrow Saturday afternoon local time. Took a 45 minute trip to the Swiss Cottage stop along the Jubilee Line and promptly got lost looking for my hostel. Found said hostel a little while later, dropped off my things, and started wandering. Ended up at a local supermarket, witheld a strong desire to whip out the camera, but was still amazed at everything on the shelves. Right along the road was a small shopping mall. I have a very strong interest on how locals go about their days and what more of a microcosm of local society than markets. Ate Indian, headed back, and passed out.

Sunday: Woke up, had breakfast and met my first of many Aussies. Studied the Underground and made my way to Brick Lane, a popular flea market, and then to the British Museum. I was also lucky enough to be close enough to the Gherkin and Lloyd's Building so I had a great time drooling between the two spots. Was still suffering through jetlag so the British Museum was much too rushed. Found an awesome comic book store on the way home so I had to make the detour. Crashed and then befriended Michael, a French Vietnamese, after waking up. He had just come in from Paris and he was in town to look for a job as a waiter. We ended up going to the Soho district in a quest for Vietnamese restaurants in the Chinatown area and I ordered a bowl of chow fun noodles in beef broth passed off as pho. Oh well. Had a few drinks, played pool with an Italian brother-in-arms comp sci student, Marco, and met Constantine, a super-energetic and jovial German, and Talib, a San Franciscoan studying in Amsterdam.

Monday: Breakfast and befriended another Aussie, David, who was 4.5 months into his 6 month vacation. Lucky bastard. Got plenty of travel advice and we ended up heading out to Tate Modern to meet up with his friends he met while touring Asia. Walked along the River Thames, spotted the Globe Theatre, the Millenium Bridge, and then Tate Modern itself. We went in, went out for lunch, then I met Patti and Ben. Had tea at a cafe overlooking the London skyline, rode the London Eye, and walked past Parliament and Big Ben. I parted ways with them and headed back to the hostel while they went to watch Spamalot. Met up with Michael again and he had a good lead on a job at another Vietnamese restaurant. We headed northwest to a rather dodgy part of town, but ended up at a great dining spot. The food was amazing and I was seriously surprised. I had no idea there were even Vietnamese people in London. There was, however, a slight glitch with Michael's opportunity, but we were told to go to a sister restaurant a few blocks away. We sat down and talked with the restaurant owner who ended up giving Michael a shot at a waitering gig and even offered him a place to crash until he could find a place of his own. Showered, passed out.

Tuesday: Checkout day. Had breakfast, packed up my things, said goodbye and good luck to Michael, and headed to the station where I met Jin, a Chinese girl from Beijing who had finished studying international business in Scotland, published romance novels, and had just come from Palmer's Lodge. We ended up spending a majority of the day together and had a lot of fun walking around since she was much more familiar with town than I. First stop, though, was my second hostel, Ace Hotel. Got lost on the way, found it, dropped off my things, and headed out. Took a gander at St. Paul's Cathedral, walked the Millenium Bridge, took my second trip through Tate Modern, bought a kickass messenger bag, ate the best tuna and cheddar sandwich ever at Eat., toured through the Tower of London, walked across the Tower Bridge, posed in front of Platform 9 3/4, went inside the British Library, got locked out of the Underground, and walked a disgusting amount to the next-nearest tube station. We parted ways as she went to see a classical music concert and I headed back to my hostel. Met a Spanish girl named Joanna, had dinner, and you guessed it: passed out.

Today will be my last day in London, and I've pretty much done all I can do for now since I've run into a slight complication with my flight out to Brussels. More to that in a bit. Today, I had a failed venture to find Wimbledon before going to the Design Museum. I checked out some awesome pieces of architecture done by Zaha Adid ( and there was also an exhibit here of anti-consumerism and design with a greater purpose other than catering to big business. After that, what did I do but end up in a shopping quarter. One of the stores I really, really loved was Muji, an English/Japanese design company (

Anyway, I booked my flight to Brussels for 6:10 AM to save about fifty bucks, I also found out that I should be leaving for the airport at around 2:00 AM to catch the train. Problem is, the underground closes at 12:30 AM and I have to somehow learn the bus system. So what I'm going to do instead is go grab some dinner, pass out, check out at around 11:30 AM, take the tube and train to the airport and bum it until I'm on the other side of the English Channel. In the worst case, Ryanair will create a first class and thereafter upgrade me if I miss my flight.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On missing my flight...

I missed my flight and was really bummed while waiting on standby for the next flight. But apparently if you miss your flight, you get bumped up to first class on the next flight out. Google search for images of Virgin Atlantic upper class, and picture me in one of the seats and that's how it went.

Flight was amazingly comfortable. Met a few people in line, watched Ocean's 13, had a 4-course dinner with a Heineken, converted my seat into a bed to sleep for a few hours, watched The Namesake during breakfast, and checked out of Heathrow under VIP classification. Pictures will come up as soon as I can upload, my friends.

It took me about 45 minutes to get to my hostel through the tube system, but I'm alive, jet-lagged, and ready to explore. More than that though, I think I've already found what I set out to look for: getting past the fear and anxiety of not knowing what to expect and where to go at each transition.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On clearing the static...

Dear Europe,

I sold my family's house of 10 years. I bought a smaller house. I quit my job. I invested. And now, I'm free.

At least for the moment, so I'm making it count.

I'm leaving in less than two days on my own and I'll be gone for a month or more depending on what your local lawmen have to say. I have no plan and don't plan on making one. All I know is that I'll be under a different slice of sky and that I'm going to find something with your help. Not sure what it is yet, but I'll know it when I see it.

Funny thing, though, is that I'm not feeling that this is really happening yet. I was nervous for a while because I didn't have a plan, excited for a different while for the same reasons, and now... I'm just hungry.

Oh well. I'll see you soon and thanks in advance.


P.S.: Stop being so damned expensive. I know the conversion rate really isn't your fault, but give a brotha a break.