Tuesday, August 10, 2010

April 17th, 2010

Brussels Grand Place at dusk

Leaving the motherland behind, Randall and Lori boarded the Eurostar train bound for the capitol of the European Union, Brussels.  They raced along at 186 km per hour (about 115 mph) through the English Channel's famed chunnel and to the mainland of Belgium.  The speed of their trip was matched only by the speed of the Belgian pickpocket that was waiting for them at the Midi Station.  Their backpack was stolen within minutes of arriving at the train station, along with their passports, credit cards, driver's license and Ipod.  Ironically, Lori had owned an Ipod for the last five years but this was her first time to actually use it, bringing an audiobook along for the plane ride.

Mom and dad in London, taking their first of many European train rides this trip

They filed the credit cards stolen and did a police report, and then hopped onto the metro to find their hotel.  Once again, disaster struck. The hotel they had reserved already had people in it, and was overbooked with no other rooms available. Luckily, the hotel was able to find them a room in another hotel, and paid for their taxi to take them there.  Unfortunately, the taxi driver took them to the wrong hotel, but eventually they were able to find the right one.  They eventually got a nicer room than they originally had booked, and it even had a couch for me to sleep on!

Meanwhile, I was on my massive exodus across France.  I started in Agen, France, in the South and had to go to Bordeaux, then Paris, then Brussels (a trip of more than 500 miles). This would have been hard enough, but I was carrying everything I owned in Europe (two massive suitcases, a bulging backpack, and a very large bag).  I had less than an hour to change stations in Paris, lumbering through the crowded Parisian metro with more weight than I could physically carry.  I barely made it to my connecting train, with only minutes to spare, and had to ride in the baggage compartment since I had so much stuff.

Let's just say that I was really happy to see my mom and dad waiting for me at the Brussels Midi station, and not just because I hadn't seen them in 8 months.  Having someone to help me carry that luggage to the hotel was a huge relief.

After we exchanged horror stories, we dropped my stuff off at the hotel and then made our way to my favorite part of Brussels, the Grand Place.  This is the heart of the city, a huge city square with amazing architecture (for Dad) and a lot of restaurants (for Mom).  We ate at Mykonos, a Greek pita shop that I used to frequent as a missionary (they'd give elders free frites!).

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

Brussels Grand Place

Breakfast?? Try dessert!

We then walked around eating Belgian gauffres (waffles) with chocolate syrup and we saw the Manneken-Pis, which is kind of like the Belgian Eiffel Tower, except that its only 2 feet tall and instead of a tower its a sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain.

Belgium's Most Beloved Landmark

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous  is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven.  IN 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek).  The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them.  From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

He's a lot smaller than you'd expect..
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power.  The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls.  A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing.  He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.

The legend I heard when I was a missionary is that the boy was awoken by a fire, and, borrowing a page from Rabelais, extinguished the fire by urinating on it, thus saving the king's palace from burning down and earning his spot as Belgium's most beloved landmark.

We also stopped and rubbed a statue commemorating Everard t'Serclaes.  Legend has it that rubbing it brings good luck, and that if you touch it you will return to Brussels within the next year or so.  I've touched it every time I've been through the city square, and so far its worked!

Feeling full of history, culture, and waffles, we returned to the hotel and called it a night.
A man possessed

We arrived near dusk.