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BrusselsSeptember 25, 2006

Where do I start describing the European tour? I guess I start at the beginning. I have so many things I want to write about, but I think I’m just going to lay them out here, as they come to mind. I’ll do up to Venice today, and more tomorrow. How’s that? For the love of vino, go pour yourself a coffee and put on your favorite song.

Music is so important on trips, isn’t it? Especially when you’re by yourself, which I was for two days. If anyone’s interested, I made an iTunes iMix of what was hot on my iPod this trip. They’re not really so much traveling tunes, and for the most part they’re not Euro-styled tunes, either. They’re just what my brain wanted to hear while looking out train windows. (If you download anything from that list, get “I Hear Them All” by the Old Crow Medicine Show – those kids can write songs. This song, I swear, they will be known by this song in thirty, forty years. They might be our Woody Guthrie, or at least this song might be. I love it.)

So, let me start by saying, traveling with a banjo is a bitch. It is not, I repeat, NOT like traveling with a guitar which weighs about as much as a butterfly’s wing in comparison to that behemoth, the banjo (I know this because later I picked up Emily’s guitar, and it almost flew out of my hands). And Lala was so worried about traveling with it, since dude, if it were tossed around and damaged by baggage handlers, where would she have gotten a quick-like replacement banjo? And she lurves her banjo, natch. So there was stress around carrying it. Luckily, American Airlines let her gate-check it for the first two flights, from San Francisco to New York, and then to Brussels.

Also, she had to bring her lap-steel guitar, so it made sense to bring a suitcase big enough to pack it into, so she was only carrying three things, a suitcase, her banjo and her carryon backpack. It really did make sense, although I wanted to hurl the gigantor suitcase over ever bridge we crossed. That sumbitch was HUGE. We took turns carrying either the banjo or dragging the suitcase that ate Oakland. I am a saintly wife for that, I’ll tell you.

In Brussels, a good 15 hours after we started traveling, we got on a train and headed for Brussels Central Station. You can see Lala is starting to get tired. Our bodies said it was night, but it was  suddenly seven in the morning.


We had a whole twelve hours to kill in Brussels before our flight out that night to Venice, so we wandered. Y’all know that’s what I do, so we started early.

First, smile for the camera! This is also what I do.


Immediately, we wandered into Grand Place, through the grand square and out the back side into the – could it be? – the gay district.


Why, yes, it was. Of course, it was early in the morning, but we could see that such an area existed, which greatly cheered us.

This also cheered us:



Folk dancers from somewhere or another. In Grand Place, they were having a folk festival, and all countries appeared to be represented by someone. These were girls, maybe twelve and thirteen years old, wearing these heads. They were on their way to dance in the square a block away, but running across them in the streets as they WENT to dance was more alarming than the dance turned out to be. I found them grotesquely and eerily beautiful.

Of course, seeing that kind of thing in the morning leads to harder things. The coffee we’d had really wasn’t working that well for us, so by 11am or so, we were seated in the square with this in front of us:


Yes, a beer sampler (with a watch that you can’t read to prove the time of day). And friends, the beer really IS better in Belgium. That second one from the left is ten percent beer. Dude. And the cherry beer was insanely good, and I generally hate flavored beers, and all things cherry in particular.

We had lunch.


Lala had lamb, because she hates sheep (it was GOOD), and I had the Brussels Mussels:


Note the sweater! Came in handy, y’all were right.

This was my view from where I sat, looking at the window in the building in front of me:


Lala, looking at the pedestrian street behind me, had a different view: we noticed as we sat there, having our early lunch, that a certain type of male did a certain thing as he walked by. The males of about forty to fifty years old, with families trailing behind or next to them, all did the exact same thing: looked over at us, gaped, and then looked wistful.

This fellow did the same, and then sat down. He spoke French, so I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but I could imagine. We were great pals.


So we puttered around Brussels. We’d walk, and then sit and drink more beer or coffee. We were setting the tone for the rest of the trip. I don’t think we really saw anything of Artistic Merit. We were going to go to the Beer Museum, but really. Did we need to? I thought not.

From the journal:
I’m sitting at our third café this morning (we keep moving around the square), with Lala, who is sketching. We’re tired but happy. A brass band is playing while a streetcleaner drones by. The cleaning truck is a lurid green with red stripes, and the workers wear the same color green shirts, bright orange pants, and amazingly tall green and orange striped boots. It’s wet and cool. The brass band just played a rousing rendition of YMCA. I was the only one in the square doing the arm motions.

Following this entry is a little sketch of the view in the square. Which I won’t show you, because I’m a writer, not an artist.

Can we please jump out of Europe for a moment? I just want to tell you where I am. I’m listening to the Kings of Convenience in our living room. It’s damp and foggy out, still early morning, the sun coming up over the eucalyptus trees down the culdesac. The dogs don’t understand jet lag and have no idea why I’m up this early. Harriet is snoring on the couch to my left hand, Miss Idaho is sleeping on a pillow to my right, and Clara is curled up like a tiny little puppy on the other sofa. She actually got up on the sofa, got off, went and found her blanket, pulled it up with her, arranged it, and then fell asleep on top of it. Clara makes her own bed. Border collies, damn. All are snoozing, and fall is coming, and there’s knitting later today while I watch the Amazing Race. I miss Lala like hell (I don’t like having her SO far away – it’s worse than if she were just in Idaho, say). But this is a mighty fine place to be.

I adore you, you know. The big You, the readers you, the ones I know from commenting or from blogs, and the ones I don’t know, the faithful lurkers. I thought about y’all while I was gone. I wanted to tell you about it. Those of you who read all the time, who will read all these silly words, this is for you.

Sappy me. It’s that damn Old Crow song, it’s playing now. I’m really trying to get you to listen to it, can you tell?

Okay, back to Brussels. We collected our luggage from the train station, and trained an hour south to Charleoi, where the small airport that serviced RyanAir was. We struggled off the train and onto the bus that took us to the airport.

By now we’d been up for 24 hours. We were tired. What to do? More beer!


Lala likes the Belgians.

People, this is my blog. Therefore, you generally see the photos that are flattering, because I get to choose. That’s just the way it goes. However, you have to see this. I was very tired. I went like this:


And then a second later, apparently, I went like this:


I was out for at least half-an-hour. I don’t know how Lala stayed awake to watch the bags, but she did, and that 30 minute nap got me through the next eight hours of awakeness on our trip to Venice, which shall be the next chapter.


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First you get me all teary eyed with sappiness then you hit me with napping photos -- not fair -- well I will be heading out to my sweater class with a huge smile on my face. :D

So enjoying the travel stories and photos

Am alternately drawn to and repelled by the folk dancers photo. May make it my desktop image, but I worry that it may drive me to drink, too.

What a great start to the trip! You two are so dang cute [I think I write that everytime I comment]. All that beer looks so yummy and it was great to see the sweater in action. That pic of you sleeping is a great shot - really sums up how tired you were!

Priceless ending to this first installment! And damn, I'd like to travel with you two!

I still want that sweater. I went to the store to get that magazine, and they were all gone. Must look harder. I tried to convince myself another sweater would be just as good, but now that I see yours again, it's all over.

Glad you had such a fabulous trip!

love the pics and hearing about everything. the gorgeous sweater, the folk dancers, the beer, the fact that you listen to and enjoy kings of convenience all makes me happy. thanks for starting off my monday right.

Hey--I see Lala is also wearing a Rachael sweater in the Brussels pics! Welcome back--looking forward to the next installment.

I'm living vicariously, but I don't envy that kind of tired. A two hour drive can wipe me out, especially after a long day. But what a place to be exhausted in!

It's a gorgeous morning here isn't it? I almost got a few minutes to sit by myself (knitting?), but G got up too early and then it really started to be Monday morning. A good one though! Thanks for the travel notes.

Love, love, love Old Crow Medicine Show.

After seeing your post about that sweater, I feel madly in love and knew I HAD to have one. Seeing these pics confirm that my sweater envy was completely legitimate.

Thank you so much for sharing your travel pics and stories. I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip.

Do you suppose those 40-50 year olds were envying you the beer or the company? What a lovely way to spend a free day. Thnx for the update!

Man, you guys are GOOD travelers!

I know this sudden napping thing well. Mr. Celia, unfortunately, had a glass of red wine in his hand and was sitting on a white couch in London after we'd be up for 24+ hours. The obvious happened. It's funny now, but at the time I was quite irritated, being sleep deprived myself. The trip sounds fantastic so far. I trust it was delicious the whole time.

Hey! Welcome home! (Now I want to go to Europe...)

I've been meaning to buy an OCMS album or two. You and I seem to have the same taste in music, or at least a significant overlap, because when I went to hear the Ditty Bops in Fort Collins this weekend, I kept thinking of you! (And then I was thinking of knitting them little fingerless mits, because Abigail kept blowing on her fingers between songs. It was really freakin' cold.) I got a really cute tee shirt, a CD, and a stiker, with the thought of sending the latter to you.

I may have a chance to go to Europe next year and your post makes me really, really hope I get to go to Brussels. Can't wait to read the rest of your travelogue.

One of your faithful lurkers,

If I didn't love you guys so much I'd be hating you right now...

Some day, when my kids are older, I am going to instill in them a deep love of traveling and take them on the Grand Tour.

( Considering they are all of 2 and 6 weeks, I'm glad I have plenty of time to plan and save. )

In the meantime, please allow me to live vicariously thru you.

So glad you had a wonderful time, but I admit I'm glad you're back so I can finally hear about it !!

Haha! that last picture was great! I cracked up. Thanks for sharing so I can travel vicariously! What a fabulous trip. Now I'm curious about cherry beer...

The beer sampler looks SO GOOD. Now I wants me a beer!

And you sleeping...so cute. You and Lala...even cuter.

We love you too, dear blogger!

I seem to remember that La is a fun person to travel with.

So jealous that you were in Venice! I wanna go but credit card debt keeps me here.

Part 2 please. . .


I wish you'd consider a detour to Sweden to meet one of your true fans, devoted readers and friend of your wedding witness - the brilliant Mandy. I'm talking about ME! I hate that you're sooooooo close... yet so disturbingly far away. For how long are you on the right continent again??

i am loving this travel journal... thank you for sharing it with us! the idea of the passerby staring at the beer tasting (you know they were jealous!) is too funny.
there is a picture of me from every international trip i've been on with the boy, of the "punchy time"... about 4:00pm, no coffee yet, tired out and giddy and giggly and cross-eyed. very unflattering, but pretty damn funny.

The sweater only gets better! And, now with all the evidence of the beer tasting & the abundance of beer, & the beer in the morning - I may convince my husband that a trip to Europe is totally in order!
Welcome Home

Oh! I got a good long belly laugh out of that last pair of photos - man, do I know that feeling!!! (Even without jet lag, having two small children leaves me feeling that way more often than I would like!)
I am enjoying the tale of your trip so much, it is so nice to see you two having such a good time.

You too look so happy!! Last year my husband and I spent three weeks in the UK and Ireland and these pictures look like that felt.

Travelling together is awesome!!! So is European Beer!!!

Having just come off the 24+ hours traveling, I know exactly how you felt! Nothing wrong with a little plein air catnap... love the photo, love that you posted it!

Can't wait to hear about Venice!! One European city that I haven't been to but have always wanted to...

I adore you too.

That last picture is PRICELESS!

Rachael, you write crazy goodness. Thanks for the travelogue and all the pictures, if I can't have beer in Brussels in the morning the next best thing is hearing about you enjoying it with Lala.

Ha! I like your impromptu french friend--and that someone's apparently taking a piccie in the background of you all, you exotic luscious ladies, you.


My parents have travelled all over Europe the last few years, and they agree that Belgium is the tops for beer. Hmmm, I need to go just for that!

(Oh, and of COURSE the older mens were gazing--they could not believe the adorability they perceived!)

Your posts always make me smile. Sappily.

Those Belgian beers look sooo yummy! The Belgians definitely know how to make a beer...no wimpy tasteless "lite" beers for them! It sounds like the first part of your trip was good and I can't wait to read about Venice!

okay, I hate to say this but two words just made me swoooon...
lap steel!
Must know all about the lap steel...
do TELL!

My husband and I are still laughing about your before and after shots! We DROVE to West Virginia for our honeymoon, and our pictures (if either of us had been awake enough to take them) would have been identical! Brussels is beautiful! You are inspiring me to make my first out of country vacation!

Um, yeah. Also, while hubby was watching the "foosball" game, I checked out OCMS on Napster. Yeah. I totally bought the album and burned it to a CD. You are my favorite person today.

Welcome back, sleepy girl!!

I love vicarious travel! Thanks for taking all of us along.

I just love the way you write...for a moment there I thought I was there with you. Scary-headed girls, beer sampler, and all. What a fantastic Part1. Can't wait for the rest!

these posts are great. really enjoying traveling with you! :)

Doing my semi-annual delurk to say we all love you, too. Thanks for sharing your trip just as the gloom descends on Seattle for the winter.

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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