December 30, 2007
Days 1 and 2
I love to sleep for hours and hours at a time in a row, however this is not possible for me on an airplane. So I faked it for a few hours between Chicago and Brussels. Fake sleep is not a substitute for the real thing. The sun was out when we landed and the air temperatures several degrees below freezing (freezing in both ºC and ºF). Gary and Betty Noe from NorCal met me at the airport, and the sultry voice of Mandy the GPS voice guided away from the metropolis towards our more rural destination, and my home for a few weeks.
I'm staying near Brugge this year, at the Cycling Center. The place looks great, and with the sun out, I was anxious to go for a ride. With the flying and time change, it felt like I've been doing nothing but sitting for ages. The ride was really, really cold. I'm talking chin numbed into oblivion, eyes watering behind glasses, the hairs inside my nose freezing and the bronchioli in my lungs frosting over kind of cold. However, the accommodations are nice: the garage is heated for bike work, the heat in the house works great, there is a wall of washers and dryers and it's right around the corner from a bakery.
Wendy [Simms] and I have had an adventure today. After a positively frigid ride, we returned her rental car in nearby Brugge. The drive is about fifteen minutes and we knew we were close but we couldn't find the rental place. We pulled into an industrial centre and saw a place called In-Ski. This looks too good to pass up, so we go in hoping for a friendly person who knows where the car rental place is located.
It was an indoor ski slope made of Astroturf where people can learn to ski and snowboard. A cosy chalet with hot chocolate drinking patrons completes the idyllic ski mountain atmosphere. The owner was very friendly and gave us directions to the car rental office.
The lady at the car rental office was unable to deal with a car being returned without a full tank of gas. So we embarked upon the next leg of the journey: a trip to the gas station that due to traffic, road construction and an accident makes a five-minute trip last thirty minutes. When in sight of the car rental place the police route us onto a highway, there is no way into the parking lot from the highway and our chances of finding the rental place before they close in four minutes from the next exist are slim to none. Turn Wendy!!!
Wendy cut the car across a frozen lawn belonging to Freety, the local frite shop and into the car rental parking lot. We finally get the car returned and then walk to the train station. Did I mention that it's really cold here? After buying tickets we have a quick snack at the train station, got free hugs (or gratis knuffel) from some Belgian ladies and hop onto the train. We have one connection on the train to make, and the first train arrives late.
A quick sprint down the steps and up the next steps gets us onto the next train with seconds to spare. I follow Wendy in to the car and sit down. The conductor man with a dapper hat found fault in us, and after a good tongue-lashing in Flemish we asked him to repeat in English. Turns out we are sitting in first class and have second-class tickets. I ask how we are to know the difference between the two. He made it obvious we are of inferior intelligence as the first class seats are upholstered in burlap while second-class seats are upholstered in vinyl. How did we miss this?
He was very nice about it all, and as our stop is next we get up and hang out by the door. We had arranged with our housemates to meet us at the train station in Tielt and drive us back to the house. Wendy and I felt terrible as they have probably waited for us since six in the evening, and it's going on eight. No one is at the station waiting for us; I tried to call the house to see if they went back but the phone only takes a calling card, no coins.
Wendy went into the station to ask and use their phone; the ticket man had a note for us. Our ride will be back after eight. The station closes at eight – we were now waiting outside and it was cold. Our wonderful and awesome housemates show up from adventures of their own, and we only get lost once on the way home. What a day.