Hello, Brussels, You Old Sailor

The flight to Brussels was as good as I could want, other than putting a wrinkle on the earth and jumping from one continent to another. I had an entire row to myself from Newark to Belgium. The hack I put together worked. Moving up from United’s Economy to Economy Plus gave me a few precious inches of leg room, feeling like an emergency row on Southwest. There was a strategy behind the seat I chose. Instead of picking and aisle seat, my favorite and most expensive option on the hop, I opted for the cheaper middle seat. There were a few rows still uninhabited around me. I reasoned that if a couple were to book, one of them would ask me to move so they could sit together and I could get a better seat for less. Secondly, I figured that people booking would likely skip the row all together to not bother with the fool in the middle seat. Admittedly, there was no guarantee either would work…but it did. Full row for 6.5 hours. I was so happy I nearly shed a tear – but I hadn’t planned on crying in front of others that day, so I refrained. I ate, watched 21 Jump Street and slept – all with a goofy smile bolted to my face.

Welcome to Brussels, Dummy

My sister is training for a new job in Brussels for a month. She’s been updating her Facebook page with her ridiculous experiences. Thankfully, I was warned to enter the bus from the front and exit from the back or expect a tongue slapping in French, Dutch or some Biblical tongue in an update. What I didn’t know was how to read Dutch or French on the stupid ticketing machine. Also, I wasn’t bright enough the first three times to hit the blue button that had flags on it to change languages, but I was out of buttons to press and knobs to turn. English! Well, Engrish – mostly English. Ticket challenge, complete! On the bus, I repeated “In through the front, out through the back, in through the front, out through the back.” Don’t worry, I wasn’t rocking back and forth like Rainman.

Death to Paper

Paper maps are archaic. I would rather avoid paper cuts and the frustration of folds. Who am I, Magellan? Handsome beard? Yes. Able to navigate by the stars? Wear a ‘coon skin hat? Not so much.

Before this trip, my homeboy, Bobby and I did some magic to unlock my iPhone. The tough part was not knowing if the unlocking worked stateside. I ordered a pre-paid SIM from Mobile Vikings in Belgium to use during my adventure. I prayed as I pushed the plastic and metal card into my phone and magic happened – it worked! I looked around…*tiny dance in the apartment” Though the new iOS maps are designed by super heroes that can jump over buildings and bodies of water, with nonsensical instructions to walk through walls and levitate over water, it’s better than becoming a luddite cartographer.

I’m geared up in the streets of Brussels. Data on the iPhone, new camera ready to capture Brussel’s beauty and a small Patagonia bag strapped to my back (It’s not a man purse, dammit!). Oh and thanks to Vid, I’ve got a fitbit to track my steps and distance. I really think he’s monitoring me, but that’s a different story for a different day.

The day’s walk took me through Grand Place. Don’t pronounce it Place, like I did. It’s embarrassing for you to sound like a hayseed and it’s disheartening for the person that has to correct you. Say it like “PLAZZZZ.” Now everyone knows how classy and educated you are. Part of the fun of having a smartphone working while your traveling is using Wikitude, an app that lays Wikipedia and Flickr information where you’re standing. You know what you’re looking at and you can steal photo ideas from better photographers.

All this walking had taken it out of me, it was time for coffee. There was this industrial coffee roaster at the entrance of Corica that drew me in. I’d buy a coffee then shoot a photo. I got much more. Sipping on my Costa Rican Lungo, I chatted up the guy behind the counter, Harold. Harold is a bro in his late 20’s or early 30’s who owned the shop with his mom. In his younger years, Harold was a smoker, spending days hanging out in the grass. His dad told Harold he was flying him to Canada, because he was a bum, so he could be one in Canada. Harold protested and asked how much money his dad was giving him before his trip. “Not much.” Away he went to Canada and lived as “a hobo.” Hobo sounds classier when you say it with a Dutch and French accent. Harold slept in a car and in the woods. It was “easier” that way as long as he didn’t run into a bear. There were no obvious chunks missing, so I think he made out alright. Harold met a girl who took him in and he worked odd jobs around Canada, gardening and such. He returned to Brussels and opened Corica. Corica reminds me of Olmos Perk in San Antonio. It’s a hip little place run by people who care about the coffee they brew. Harold isn’t looking to expand right now, there are other passions he’d like to pursue without franchising and getting gray hair. We pause the conversation. It’s his girlfriend asking if he’d be okay with carrot soup for dinner. He was kind on the phone, then he hangs up and laughs “Hhhhhell no, carrot soup is not okay. I WANT MEAT.” He asks about my political affiliations and we talk about the differing freedoms between the US and Belgium. He looks at our country as one with many personal freedoms to think as you want but more laws limiting what you do, Belgium being one of thoughts being limited but the latitude to do as you please physically.

I shot a few photos, we exchanged business cards and I zipped off. Like Pizzesco in Munich, visit Harold’s Corica when stopping in Brussels and ask about being a hobo.

Author: Nan Palmero, MBA

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