Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oktoberfest 2011

When the opportunity arose for me to experience Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany last fall the obvious answer was "hell yes!" What follows is a recount of what I can remember from that insane weekend and the moments that made riding 600 miles in a minivan with 6 other people worth every minute.

My trip to Oktoberfest hadn't started well. My mind the week leading up to the trip was steeped in confusion brought about by demands made upon me to learn a new language, culture and school system essentially on the fly, while my friends and peers appeared to be completely content and mentally and emotionally adapted and frequently bragging about it. To them I must have looked haggard and stripped, unable to comprehend exactly what they had already, and what they deemed old hat. So there I was on Thursday night, unpacked and unprepared for a trip that was fast approaching. I decided to, that night, throw what minimal clothes I had into a bag, as well as a Ziploc full of toiletries. I also decided that I would have exactly two hours after class and before departure where I could 1. eat dinner 2. shop for food and 3. Finish packing.

5pm rolled around the next day and I was already drained from my exhaustive French class. I caught the metro back to my apartment, sweating and coughing the whole way, (I was just getting over a cold, a result of late nights and stress). I got home, threw down my school bag, and threw the rest of my dry t-shirts into my half-packed backpack. I left promptly for the supermarket where I bought croissants, water and wine for the road in case the others would be so inclined to get a buzz going on our cross-boarder redeye burn to Munich.

I arrived just in time to find the others waiting for me. I introduced myself to the others who I hadn't met yet. In order of height, ranging from shortest to tallest, there were 1. Allison 2. Chelsea 3. Me 4. Greg 5. Peter 6. Bryan A. 7. Laura. We piled in the van and set course for the highway. Getting on the freeway incited a sense of expectation and buzzing excitement that carried us towards Germany and didn't die down until the last leg of our return trip home.

We drove all night, or should I say Peter drove and we tried to sleep. We stopped about 3 times, most of which were results of bogus directions from our temperamental Tom Tom. We got lost, drove on the wrong side of the road, and thought at one point, while on an all-but-abandoned side street, we were to be the victims in a low-budget teen horror movie plot. Long story short we got out of that cliché plotline and arrived in Munich during the twilight hour of dawn, when everything is cast in a purple light that makes some people sleepy and other charged with sheer possibility. We checked into "The Tent," a 150-person tent with bunk beds that was to be our temporary home. Price of admission was thin mattress, a rusty locker and three shabby blankets that held a dank mustiness inherent in all ancient camping equipment. We all visited the bathroom to wash our faces, brush our teeth, and prepare for the day. Greg and Peter couldn't be bothered to make their beds, and so they fell asleep in the car. We left them behind and at 6am started off for Oktoberfest.

We stopped briefly at a discothèque coffeeshop, where dancing baristas made us Americanos before taking our money and shoving us back onto the street towards beer and tents. We knew we were on the right course when we started seeing men in Lederhosen and women in those tantalizing traditional dresses. We joined the river of people that ran towards the arches of the fairgrounds where we snapped 100's of pictures of ourselves. We're American, what'd they expect? We entered with the rest and stepped into another mob waiting at the entrance of one of the drinking tents, the name of which has since slipped my mind because of its length and Germanness. After 2 hours of waiting they opened the doors and let us in, everyone but me I should say. I was turned away because I had a backpack and backpacks weren't allowed. I ducked out of line and went to find a locker. All the lockers in the metro station were occupied, and the event locker booth wasn't open until 11. So I milled about the grounds and snapped pictures of people. I ate for a waffle at 10:30 and listened to people speaking German. The booth was open when I returned so I paid 2 euro and the woman gave me a little slip of pink paper.

I went back to the tent where they let me waltz inside to look for my friends. I was immediately hit with the noise of the place. 10,000 people all singing and cheering and talking at once, incredible. I found my friends who had conveniently placed themselves at the end of a long table shared by a group of lederhosen 30-year-olds. I introduced myself and they taught us the prost! and Einse! Fie! Drie! Soufa! cheers for drinking German beer.

There began a big scene with a band and flags and drumming and all the Germans at our table stood and started clapping with excited for the beer that was sure to come. After the brewmeister and his wife made a quick speech there was a chorus of a traditional German drinking song. Everyone joined in and I mouthed the words and with the final clash of the cymbal the buzz of excitement went from a general rumbling to a full fledged earthquake and the tent exploded with voices and yelling and genuine German cheer.

Thanks to the wizened knowledge of our German counterparts we were the first table to receive beer. In a few short minutes each of us had a pitcher of cold, fresh-from-the-tap Paulaner sitting before us. The smell alone was enough to set our taste buds humming and the first gulp was as refreshing as the first rain after a Savanna dry season. We all made quick work of the first liter, and the Germans were nice enough to buy the second round. I had already started to feel the effects of the first when another pitcher was placed in front of me. My bladder was full to bursting so I made to leave, but was stopped by one of the Germans who said I had to wait till I was finished with my second to go, otherwise I'd be peeing all afternoon. I looked at the stein in front of me and considered my bladder and said it was simply impossible. He replied saying I should at least drink till the level was below the first handle. He didn't have to tell me twice. I chugged till the first handle and stood up to go. Jumping down from the bench I felt my bladder like a 10 lbs. weight. I walked like a pregnant woman to the bathroom where like the lifting of the floodgates of Hoover Dam I relieved myself for an uninterrupted 5 minutes.

After the second stein it was time to order food. We were all pretty sloshed by this point, and negotiating prices with our German waitress was an impossibility I couldn't begin to understand. Luckily our German counterparts saved the day again, we pointed to the dishes we wanted and they translated it to the waitress. After 20 minutes a plate of homemade turkey and fries was before me, must love German food.

The food did little to sober me up and after the second pitcher a well-to-do German gentleman from the table next to us bought another round. At this point we were well past the point of intoxicated, but it would have been rude to refuse, and so my companions and I started and finished with hardly a recollection of how or why.

All too soon it was time to go. We had been in the tent for 8 hours, steadily drinking beer for 6. We bid our new German friends farewell, but before I knew it my friends were gone. Poof! Just like that, they disappeared. The following series of events are tilted and blurred, but I remember I shook the hand of the man who bought the beer, he asked me a question which I must have answered affirmatively because he smiled and patted me on the back. I then stumbled in and out of the tent looking for my friends for 10 minutes, but not finding them I decided the next place I should look was under the Ferris wheel. So I walked the half mile to the Ferris wheel, very drunk and stumbling, in essence looking very German. To my surprise they weren't there. Shocking! The wheels of my mind started turning slowly, as if they were stuck in mud, and I decided to walk back to the entrance of the fairgrounds. I found my group there waiting for me and asking what had happened, and I tried unsuccessfully to explain to them I had gotten lost and went to look for them in the "most logical" spot I could think of. They laughed at me, and we hitched a train back to "The Tent."

Back at "The Tent" I hardly felt any better, and I was crashing from the Red Bull I drank before going into the tent 8 hours earlier. So with a pre-hangover hangover coupled with the caffeine crash, I felt like lying down for a minute or two. When I got to my bed, however, I found it occupied by kid who was dozing away using one of my blankets as a pillow. With as much articulation and cordiality I could muster given my situation I woke him up and said, "Hey man, that's like my bed." He stumbled off no doubt in search for someone else's bed he could momentarily slumber in. I crashed on my "pillow" and within 5 minutes was dozing from pure mental and physical exhaustion.

Thus concludes the first day, which was a whirlwind. A magically blurred dream that I most likely wouldn't be convinced had occurred had I not my camera and the hundreds of photos I took while hammered with German hospitality. All in all the weekend boils down to a handful of specific moment. The few and fleeting minutes where I was absolutely spellbound and enchanted by something so alien and enthusiastic.

One of these moments came after coming out of the bathroom after my 5-minute piss. The band had started playing traditional German songs, the beer was working its charm and it hit me that I was in Munich at Oktoberfest with a handful of friends, 1000's of miles away from home with nothing but a stein and a hat to my name. I watched the German conductor wield his hands like an air traffic controller, and I listened as the orchestra belted out German classics. I returned to the table where the Germans had stood up and were signing without hesitation, while the heads of various animals lined the walls of the tent. I looked at the tables full of cheerful people simple there to drink and be merry and back in the gloriousness of being German and drinking German beer.

The spell of Oktoberfest with its heavy foods and sugar treats, with its crazy costumes and Bavarian warmth fell upon me like the first glows of a sunrise. I felt as though a massive German mistress was holding open her arms to receive me, and momentarily comfort me. And I folded myself into those arms and into the loud, boisterous, fattened, lubricated atmosphere of an Oktoberfest drinking tent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lyon update

Hi all, first and foremost I would like to appologize, I certainly haven't been keeping up to date on my promise of posting while here in France, which changes now. For those who don't know, I've been in France since Aug 27 2011. I lived with a French woman named Francoise and her two cats, (one of which has a twitter: @TheCatNoah). She cooked for me and cleaned, and her apartment was cozy and warm and I certainly do miss it. During my stay a Corsican girl came to live with us, her name was Christelle. She was 27, and studying to become a card dealer in a casino. I have since moved into a shared duplex apartment with a fellow student. Places I've visited so far have been Beaujolais, France; Oktoberfest, Munich, German; Paris; Barcelona, Spain; Zermatt, Switzerland; Monoco; Nice; Avignon. I was studying business at ESDES, a French management school, whose IBP program was an excellent way to meet people from across the globe including: France, Germany, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Canada, the UK, The Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, Ireland, China and South Korea. To make sure we mixed, they would have parties every weekend, and what I lacked in learning I gained in scar tissue on my liver. That's a joke, but we did thoroughly experience the Lyon nightlife. For those of you who have been wondering, I have not found a French girlfriend, as they tend to be difficult to approach and the language barrier is sometimes too great. Those are my excuses so far, and if you think of more I'd greatly appreciate hearing them. I'm not fluent, as I thought I would be by now, but have improved greatly. The school I went to was English speaking with a class in French, but staying with Francoise made it easier for me to practice as she would correct me on my many mistakes. I have not been writing as much as I thought I would, the evidence is the lack of blogposts since my arrival. I have instead begun focusing on a pragmatic approach to life that can be synonomous with that age-old adage "growing up." I do feel older since I've been here. I've been faced with many problems and much diversity, of which I had to overcome on my own, thus developing character faster than ever before. I have been reading an awful lot, even though the subjects have varied from those of a little less than a year ago. I'm reading the King James Bible right now to understand the religious mind, but I'm halfway through it and a solution hasn't presented itself yet. I haven't been writing as much as I thought I was going to, evidence of which is the lack of blogposts. I have taken a much different course with my studies, reserving writing as a Sunday passion similar to that of a Baseball player or a filmbuff. I realize I can use my well-developed gifts to benefit the greater good while also ensuring financial stability. If you're are wondering what this is please contact me personally, I don't want to bore the greater good by writing anything more than what is necessary in this blogpost. That being said I will continue posting the backlog of memories I've dogeared for their entertaining value and importance of insight into my experience so far. I'd like to begin with a poem that explains my first impressions of Lyon:

Heavy and Succulent,
Luminous and Proper,
The Fourviere sits like icing.
Brilliant and Absurd,
At citycenter a nougat,
Washed away by bridled rivers.

Indifferent and Traditional,
Interested and Modern,
Speak of topics more and less trivial.
Exclusive and Conditional,
They are cast in a strange iron,
Flabby yet firm.

Feminine and Conceited,
Receptive and Distant,
Ringing wolves with learned competence.
Soleful and Slighting,
Their act finds rest in
Dirty nightclubs and moonlight.

Pristine and Innocent,
Dutiful and Innovative,
Live in reflection and proportion.
Aware and Aloof,
Revelations of banality,
Leave them passionately blase.

We look at it and see ourselves,
Small physical tolls are,
Grand emotional scissors,
Cut ribbons inside.

Perpetually misunderstood,
Wish-washed preconceptions,
They ask questions,
Out of bad taste.

Watching silverly and stern,
Loose at the mouth,
But cunning eyes,
Deceive the honest.

Momentary marriages,
Rushes of desire,
They pass by and by,
and leave me in bliss.

Check back regularly for more posts.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Final Days in Europe

I'd just like to take a moment and relay my bittersweet feelings concerning this post. Sure it is the last of a very long project I have been working on since returning from my trip. There were times when I would go weeks without posting anything, and you must be wondering why. Well, writing a blog everyday isn't as easy as it sounds. When I was in Europe with my sister, I tried to write a journal entry everyday, this strained my attempted style of the journal as I was trying to maintain the integrity of each post but was finding it hard not to resort to cliches. The result was a hurried and oftentimes bland recount of the events I have recounted here. I chock it up to being young and without a unified vision behind the writing, which I responded to by rewriting some of the things in my journal before posting as I am a perfectionist and the drivel I had written was only the mere mentions of much more fantastic and magnificent memories I still hold. I would also like to mention a new project that will make an appearance here on Notes of a Dirty Young Traveler in the coming weeks and months. Since I am now living in Lyon, France I would love to share with you all a piece of my experiences here as well as my trips abroad. I arrived in France at the end of August 2011, and plan on living here until June 2012, during which I will be studying business, philosophy, history and the French language. I will periodically write posts updating you about my current situation as well as delving into the mindset of a American student abroad. So for now enjoy the final post of the Eurotrip 2009, and expect new posts from France soon.

Bittersweet feelings on this July day. My heart hangs in the balance between wanting to stay here in Europe, where things are beautiful and strange, and returning home, where I will once again be surrounded by my familiar culture. Leaving will put to rest the sense of anxiety one experiences when abroad in new and foreign lands, but I can't help but think how much this trip has changed me, not in the desperate cliched way of an innocent abroad, but in the way a ceramic bowl becomes hardened and solid in the crucible of an oven. That's how Europe has been for me, a series of tests and the resulting moments of bliss when the hard work has paid off and I was allowed to indulge in the secret pleasures allotted to me.

Today was spent seeing the things we had missed the previous days, but mostly we sat in reflection of our time abroad so far. We pondered the minute and immense things that make Europe so enchanting to Americans and we hit upon a single strain that seems to pervade and inspire this feeling, and that is the sense of nostalgia. Many people come to Europe, and they (hopefully) know that it is certainly older than the United States. However, even knowing of the general history surrounding this continent won't prepare you for the reaffirmation of the human existence. Seeing the massive churches and experience the culture of centuries past remind us of our persistent link to history. It is both inspiring and reminiscent of those fleeting days of self-discovery when we become aware of the surroundings in which we inhabit. It is quiet the experience, one I would recommend to anyone.

After a few drinks at Murphy's Pub, (where a group of well-wishers met and talked with us about Amsterdam life, and we in turn divulged secrets about the very different and sometimes disgusting American life), we went to another Italian restaurant where we ate pizza and pasta. We decided to walk a bit further after dinner and came to the place we had eaten the other night. We decided to sit and have a drink. We had almost finished a bottle of Rose when one of the patrons recognized us from the night before. He came over and we talked for a bit. When he left I smiled to myself, my sister and I had become bar-rats in Amsterdam. By this time it was late, so we went looking for a club. Finding one, we pushed our way inside and ordered two beers at the packed bar. We passed the time soaking up the atmosphere and drinking our beer. I danced with a few girls to music that was would have found home on the Billboard 100 from 2003. We were about to leave, so my sister went to the bathroom. She had hardly unbuttoned her pants when a massive barbarian woman kicked in the door yelling, "you can't pee here, this is the men's room, you pay 50 cents and wait your turn!" She grabbed my sisters arm and started dragging her out of the stall. My sister quickly broke her hold and after flipping her off tossed the contents of her beer at her feet. She then tapped my should saying, "Bryan, we've got to go," as she bolted for the door. I finished my beer and ran after her. I got as far as the first step when three bulbous bouncers caught hold of my arms and lifted me in the air saying, "you pay for toilet now!" As my feet kicked helplessly as air I responded, "I didn't use your fucking toilet! Let me go!" Thankfully the barbarian women showed up and said, "it wasn't him, it was her!" She pointed to my sister who had already ran several blocks and was by this time a fading shadow among the neon signs.

They let me go, and I met up with my sister at another Irish pub, where we laughed about the whole thing. Soon though she retired to bed, and I was obliged to go with her. She went to sleep but I stayed up and went out onto the balcony to talk with David and Adrienne who were finishing the last of their weed. I told about the night's events in detail, and they seemed to understand. I was putting off the inevitable by talking to Adrienne after David went to sleep. I was prolonging my stay here in Europe as long as I could as I knew our flight tomorrow would come early and with a vengeance. But when I finally said goodnight I rested on my pillow and sighed a contented sigh that summed up my three week journey in Europe.

Our early morning flight left at 10 am. I say early because I didn't want to get up for it. I felt woozy again as I had so many other days throughout the trip. Fearing I would again throw up I grabbed the extra plastic garbage bag from our room and we went to check out. We took a train to the airport and I was successful in suppressing my urge to puke. Once we arrived at the airport we took an escalader to the second floor and that's when I lost it. I hurled into the plastic garbage bag everything I had eaten since Tuesday. I found my sister looking at the flight schedule, she sneered and asked if I felt better, and I have to say I did. We got to the check-in line which was a quarter of a mile long. It was easily the longest airport line I've ever seen and one that almost made us miss our flight. When we finally made it to the front the attendant told us we actually didn't have seats. She said to take our receipt and go to the gate anyways and see if they had anything available. We did, but were stopped en route by a tall, gangly man who asked us if we were carrying anything illegal in our bags. We said no, but he persisted in asking us specific questions ultimately trying to get us to slip up and admit we were drug traffickers for Tony Ramone. We got past him and approached the United desk. The attendant typed furiously for five minutes and told us cheerfully she had found us two seats on the next plane. My sister and I breathed a collective sigh and soon we were on our way to Portland.

We touched down at 12:30 pm, our dad picked us up and asked hundreds of questions. When we arrived at home our mom asked us hundreds of questions. I went downstairs to my room, which was strange because I realized I was home in Oregon with nothing to show of my endeavor but a bag full of stinky clothes and a handful of souvenirs. "And thus," I thought, "ends my three week escapade in Europe," as I went upstairs and outside to play basketball.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Walk (or the second-to-last-day)

Today Erica and I walked all over Amsterdam. To begin with, as is ceremony in all lowland countries, we ate big helpings of Belgian Waffles smothered in hot maple syrup and powdered sugar. Not the healthiest breakfast, but one that was sure to keep us going through the morning. First stop was Vincent Van Gogh's museum. Twelve euros, but worth every cent. His entire life work had been preserved and put on display for the world, and it was absolutely interesting. Everything from his early work, the drab still-lifes painted with all the hues of brown and black, to his colorful and vibrant portraits and flower paintings were there in chronological order. It was a sight to see, and definitely a recommendation to anyone stopping into Amsterdam for a day or two.

We then strolled to Ann Frank's house, which was... how should I say this?... boring. We didn't go in because the line stretched out the door and around the block. I found myself looking at my sister and asking: do you want to see this? And her yawning: no, not particularly. I know that sounds terrible because what she did was incredible and heroic, but we had other things to do and time was running out, so we skipped it, that's all, we skipped it. I don't have any regret, and your judgement is worthless because I don't care what you think. It's a museum for God's sake, not a funeral. Instead we strolled through Old Town and the Red Light District, (which for you innocent readers among us is the area in the city where well-to-do gentlemen can partake in the age old activity of prostitution... Sorry, but it had to come out at some point... (that's what she said.)) This, as you can see, was our more pressing priority and one of the reasons we didn't see the Ann Frank museum, but again your judgement falls on deaf ears. It was during the day, so there weren't any women in the windows, but boy could I imagine them. There also were an unnatural amount of sex toy shops. I caught myself asking, "what sort of city needs all of these sex shops?" Apparently Amsterdam does.

After, we walked to Rembrandts house, which was as disappointing as Ann Franks house. I guess I'm not one for looking at the outside of a building where someone lived who did some really cool thing a hundred years ago. I blame the American in me for that one. We followed our noses to a Coffeeshop and stuck our heads in. The walls were lined with every strand you could imagine, and even I, a non-smoker, could appreciate the selection. We followed our noses again to the infamous Flowermarket where rows and rows of venders lined the streets and sold their precious tulips. They had every color, some I never thought possibile to infuse into a flower. I mean black? How do you make a black flower? Water it with oil?

We then went to a smartshop, which isn't what it sounds like. A smartshop in Amsterdam, don't be fooled, is a place where marijuana growers can buy new seeds for their pots and also equipment to streamline their operation. They also sell mushrooms, pipes, bongs and various smoker culture memorabilia. My sister bought a ring to replace the one I had broken in Berlin, but surprisingly held off on any major illicit purchases. We then left and rested near Rembrandts statue, where a guy got ticketed for public urination, (what! you can't pee in public in this city?!? Gah, how lame!) We then had lunch at a place called Wok to Walk, which was nothing to write home about.

After the rest of our tour, which was too boring to recount here, it was time to wash up at the hostel and grab some dinner. We ate at an Irish Pub, but left before drinking too much. We were both exhausted from the day's marching, and nothing sounded better than our pillows and blankets. So for the second night we konked out before 12am, and I've got to say it was some of the best sleep I've ever gotten.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Off to Amsterdam

Our train was leaving for Amsterdam at 12:30pm, so my sister and I had time to take a leisurely lunch and get to the train station with time to spare. We borded the train, and I settled into my seat with a book. We were halfway through the Netherlands when the attendant started her ticket check. When she got to our seats we handed our Eurail passes up, and after checking them she said to us, "that will be 12 euros please." Naturally, my sister and I were confused, we'd already bought a $280 Eurail pass, which meant any trainride we took within a 2 month period was in a sense prepaid. We asked why, and she told us it was because we were sitting in 1st class. We tried to reason with her, but she said that because we were too close to Amsterdam it would not be possible to "just switch cars." Her attitude was hauty and I could tell she enjoyed every minute as we scrounged around for 24 Euros. Before she moved on she told us that differentiating between 1st class and 2nd class was as easy as reading the giant signs on the side of the cars. "There's a big 1 for first class and a 2 for second class written on the side." If this seems condescending that's because it was, and we were left with even less drinking money as before. Damn!

We pulled into the station, and pulled out the address to our hostel. We walked for two hours looking for it, finally giving up and spending money on a taxi. By this time we were simply on our last leg mentally, spiritually and emotionally, we were missing home, but also determined to squeeze every experience out of our time. But even that can be taxing on the mind and body. After the train and taxi debaucle we were please to have a bed to rest on. The attendant gave us our keys and told us she had a surprise in store. Not knowing what this meant, and fearing the worst, we backed away slowly from the desk and mounted the steps to our room. Opening the door revealed a single room with two beds. I thought there had been some mistake as we had booked a communal room for eight people. I rushed downstairs and told the clerk, but she simply smiled and told me that they had run out of beds in the eight person rooms, and that we could have the single room for the same price. I guess all energy does flow according to the whims of the great magnet.

We left promptly and made for the Leidstraat, or the big commercial street with shops and restaurants. We ate at a well-lit restaurant/pub on Italienne street, and after my sister went in a few shops and I checked out a bookstore. We were drained and so finding out hostel again, this time without a taxi, we decided to crash and relax.

My sister took a nap, and I sat on the balcony reading. Suddenly a the window to the room next to us opened and out popped a guy about my age holding two beers. He was my height with brown hair and a French nose and a weak chin. He asked me if I wanted a beer and I said yes. He said his name was Adrien, and we started talking and I learned he and his friend David were on vacation from Belgium. Soon David popped his head out and said hello, and I told them both about our trip so far. After a few more beers and many stories and jokes, they asked if I smoked weed. I said I had in the past. And they asked if I wanted to smoke with them, and I said sure. David pulled out his stash that he had just bought, which included 3-4 new brands he picked up from a coffeeshop and had never tried before. It was nice to talk to them, even though it was difficult at times due to the language barrier. David hardly spoke english and Adrien's accent was so thick that I couldn't understand half of what he said. It became harder when the weed kicked in, and soon I was marginally catatonic. They invited me to a discoteque, and I told them I wanted to go but was too tired. In reality the beer mixed with weed had caught hold of my stomach and spun my head around making me dizzy and sick. They left, and I promply entered into the room and stood holding the bedpost. My sister said something like, "you look pale." I said something like "Damn right I look pale!" Before rushing to the bathroom and throwing up my dinner. I learned the hard way that alcohol and weed do not mix, and that the Belgian stomach is much more impervious to the effects of drink and smoke than Americans are. Well, some at least.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fascination and Disappointment in Brussels

We awoke again early in the morning, but seeing as there was free coffee I didn't mind. We packed our backpacks with food and water for our all-day trek through Brussels to get the feel of the city that would be our home for the next 3 days. Grandplatz, Royalplatz, the Manneken Pis, and the comic book museum, a long day even for this seasoned traveler.

The comic book museum was by far the most interesting. Comic creators from the beginnings of the craft to now had relics of their masterpieces next to biographies on the walls, and I found out exactly how they put a comic book together. Artists, inkers and scriptwriters all have their special place in creating one of these moralistic and oftentimes archetypical renditions of fantasy lands and talents. The scriptwriter was the most fascinating since he/she writes the story the others simply illustrate. The concept has to be good for the finished product to be good, because no matter how many explosions or creative images of sexy ladies you have there's still an absolute need for a coherent story, and without one the future of the comic will be bleak and uninteresting. This is the charge of the scriptwriter. If he writes a compelling story that is honest and truthful, then the illustrators take it to the next level by depicting the action on paper with help of crayons, colored pencils and markers.

The Mannequin Pis was wholly disappointing, mainly because our expectations had been lifted each time we passed a picture of it on the street. In all honesty we tried to find it last night after one bar visit and before the next, but to no avail. Today we found out why the thing was so hard to find, and that's because of its size. The thing is two feet tall and is hardly anything to get excited about. Sure it's a kid peeing, but really? Why not a twenty-foot kid peeing? Then people'd have a waterfall to videotape instead of just a tiny trickle. We ended up taking a picture of the chocolate rendition across the street because it was more impressive than the real thing.

We went to dinner where I ordered wine pizza and chicken wings in broken French. We talked about the petty arguments people get in and laughed at ourselves for having one earlier when a gum-smacking contest deteriorated to shouting and name-calling and door-slamming. Too long with the same company and it's bound to happen - we were no exception. But the wonderful thing about my relationship with my sister is that we can laugh about it later, both knowing what we said was a result of blood-red anger and a situational causality.

Then we walked and walked and walked some more before finding a suitable bar to drink at. We sat down and not two minutes after we ordered our first drink a man came out from inside the bar. He was dressed as someone of reasonable resource would: silk shirt, fitted jeans, and patent leather shoes. He walked up to me, and without speaking took my hand and shook it. I asked him if I could help him and he held out a piece of paper. The message was written in French, and said something about being hungry and poor, all the while he's motioning to his mouth in the universal sign of hunger. I said I don't speak French in French, and he walked away scowling at me. We decided to leave right then, after finishing our drinks, to find a new place where our luck was better and the atmosphere welcomed us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brussels and the Way of the Waffel

The morning came, and my sister and I had to find breakfast. We stowed the bags after checking out, and caught the "5" into city center. We came to a coffee place called "Bagels and Beans," and while we sat drinking coffee and eating, I read a newspaper and reconnected to reality for a short time.

Afterwards we went to the annual flea market, where my sister looked for dresses. I looked around and saw a book stand so, naturally, I made my way to one of the bins doubting there'd be any books in English. I came to a bin and picked up a book, Milan Kundera's 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', which was surprisingly in English, and more surprisingly had been recommended to me by Constantine before we parted ways in Berlin. I got goosebumps as I looked in every other bin and found zero books in English. Kundera's book had been the only one in the entire stand in English, and it was the first book I picked up. Throughly weirded out, and thinking it a sign from God, I bought the book and we left.

An hour later we boarded the train to Brussels. On the way we saw pastures and cows, and tulips and corn; and I decided it was a countryside full of rich heritage and hearty people.

About two and a half hours later we pulled into Brussels, and after a short walk had arrived at out "Budget Hotel" which, compared to the hostels we'd been staying in, looked like Buckingham Palace. I took a shower and we left to eat steak and fries at a French restaurant.

Afterwards, we went in search of a good bar. We found many, some better than others. One we found was a smoke joint on a street corner, where there were a few locals and cheap whiskey and beer. The next place was a sports bar, where the men sipped beer and watched the game, and were totally oblivious to me and my sister.

Having come to Brussels for one thing, we went in search of Waffels. We were both pretty sloshed, so the search was not easy. Finally, we came to a stand where women with tired faces served us Waffels with tired strawberries and chocolate sauce. And in no way was that depressing. The Waffels were terrific. We sat eating them on the curb watching the night pass and made fun of each other when we got chocolate on our faces.

After, we stumbled into a bar called Delirium. My sister had read about it and they were playing good music, so we went inside. The place was an absolute zoo of younger people dressed for the night, and sitting in what looked like hollowed out beer kegs. The walls were plastered with old beer signs, and it felt both worn and welcoming while having the commercialism of a CheeseCake Factory. But we bought beer and sat watching the madness around us, and getting slightly more drunk. After a while the signs on the wall lost their color, and the people seemed to turn grey. We were tired, so we paid our bill and slipped out of the organized madness.