I first encountered Belgium through Art History and Gudrun chocolates. We never dreamed I would go to Belgium, let alone go every year since 2000.
Going to Belgium was a huge undertaking since our first trip was to Brussels, which is a large and expensive city. I was afraid of getting lost in a foreign city with little money and no one to help us.
A couple in Alaska heard about our plans from friends. They took a free flight from Alaska to Florida and gave us their savings to help us go to Belgium.
I found that in Belgium taxis, buses, rental cars and the train serve the airport, a half hour drive from Brussels. I thought we’d need to take a taxi since we didn’t know how the train operated. But we met a man in the Amsterdam Airport who guided us onto the train from the Brussels Airport. He bought our tickets and found a taxi for us in Brussels. He directed the taxi to our hotel then disappeared before I could thank him. I’d recognized that he was the same man who helped us through customs on our previous trip from Italy.
We met a luggage handler in the Brussels airport to report my missing suitcase. He told us about the dispute between the French speaking, Southern Belgian Wallonies and the Flemish speaking, Northern Belgian Flemings. I was glad we spoke English.
We stayed at the Sofitel Hotel in the Louise District, which is similar to Rodeo Drive with expensive hotels and shops. Our travel agent said we got a bargain. I thought it was steep at $119 a night until I discovered the original price was $585 a night.
The church we were to visit was behind our hotel and we found it easily. At the church we met a woman who invited us to her home and to her church on our third and fourth trips to Belgium. Through her we met a man who introduced us to his friend, who introduced us to his friends. We keep meeting more friends through them.
Brussels’s two ring roads circle the city. One is miles from the city center and the inner road surrounds the old city. It was originally the city walls. We walked that entire road, which is over nine miles long, through the Louise, embassy, business, shopping and Moroccan districts. There are huge “You are here” billboard map-signs posted around the route. We didn’t get lost because we avoided walking through the inner city streets which have no signs.
We also talked to a friendly Moroccan shop keeper who said he would have to kill us when his imam came. We bought a knife and scarf in his shop which we still have.
We found that the guidebooks were wrong about Belgian drivers driving over pedestrians. Although they drive like maniacs they do immediately stop if a pedestrian steps in front of them even when they have the right-of-way.