Road Trip Diaries: Brussels
Last week we drove up to Brussels. That would be a short way of putting what Timoteo had planned for us. But although the trip was short, the excitement was far from. I graduated on a Thursday, bringing an end to my Masters in Cultural and Literary Studies, as well as an end to Timoteo's twenty-one-day business trip in Barcelona. The trip was his graduation gift to me. While he had initially suggested he would attend my final exam which consisted of me presenting my thesis to a third professor before a 50 minute oral exam on topics of gender, reality and humour to name a few, I objected. "It's only a Masters degree. It's nothing special" I argued promising that I'd let him come to my PhD defense session in a few years. Shayda, however, was having none of that. She took her bike in the early autumn rain and cycled to my department, initially getting lost in the Romanisches Seminar, before heading to the quaint Anglistisches Seminar situated in the Altstadt. She picked me up and took me for coffee and a slice of chocolate cheesecake, gobbled down hastily due to Timoteo's text bearing the information that "we still have 5 hours of drive ahead of us" as he drove from Stuttgardt Airport to Heidelberg. I did not know where we were going and he had managed to keep it a secret. All I had been told was to pack a suitcase, and a swimming suit. September was drawing to a close and I was sure that we would be staying in Europe, so I didn't let my imagination run wild in hopes of going somewhere exotic for two days.
We hit the road right before we raided REWE for some road trip snacks, fruit, crisps, chocolate, stuffing them in the cooling box seated in the backseat, a result of Timoteo's splurge on Amazon before the Italy road trip. With the cooling box plugged in keeping our berries fresh, and the tank filled up, he had to punch the destination in the navigation system. I was forbidden to look. And although I was dying to know where we were headed, I enjoyed the mystery and appreciated his dedication to not feed my curiosity with premature information on plans.
When the wheels touched Dutch soil, and before I was convinced we were heading for Amsterdam, (my sister had been under strict orders to keep me out of the loop and distract my guesses to Amsterdam and Paris) he zoomed out the navigation display revealing a little flag pinned on Brussels. And we did it again, went to "Another Country" with the car.
We pulled into Brussels when the sun had set and the city lights were glowing. The city looked like an uptown Tehran. With fancy shops that Heidelbergers are deprived of, offering brands such as Tiffany's, Louis Vitton, Chanel and GUCCI, and wide streets allowing as many as four cars to ride alongside each other, I was convinced I was in a chic, clean Central European city. I later learned I was not very on point with my judgement.
The next morning we woke up to a cloudy sky. Slipping into our swimsuits under our regular clothes, we headed down for a feasty breakfast before hitting the sauna. The wellness centre was deserted, and we enjoyed some exclusive time at the sauna, hot tub and hammam. Timoteo did have to step out for a conference call, while I agreed to stay in the gurgling water and wait for his 30 minute call to be over. Although I adore nothing more than being in the presence of water, preferebally warm, being alone in a large amount of water is unnerving. Back in Tehran, I enjoyed an exclusive indoor swimming pool during the winter in the building I lived in. The colder months didn't pass entirely idly since I would get a good hour of swimming each morning. However, I never felt very peaceful being in the pool alone, worrying that I could slip, bang my head somewhere and fall into the water and drown due to unconsciousness. When Timoteo's 30 minute call turned into 45 minutes I decided I was getting bored and the palms of my hands and my fingers were going "old" and wrinkly. I decided to give him another 5 minutes. I was examining my tanlines from the trip to Italy when the door opened and three middle aged men (in their fifties) entered. With big bellies and hairy bodies covered in tiny trunks that were slightly more modest than speedos. "Bonjour" they exclaimed happily. I smiled and scooched to the side allowing them to descend their overweight bodies in, before climbing out of the tub, skipping a shower and heading up to our room. The thought of being in a hot tub, no matter how big it was, with three hairy strangers smilling at me freaked me out. When the elevator hit the ground floor and the door opened I saw Timoteo pacing back and forth, speaking in his fast German in his wet Tshirt and a towel around his waist. If only it was a video conference call. "I'm sorry" he mouthed before switching back to German. A few minutes later I was freshly showered and dried up in time for Timoteo to be done with work and join me for a stroll in town.
For an orientation handicap like me, it is the biggest blessing to have a partner so comfortable with directions and routes. He didn't even opt for a map. Using the hotel WiFi to check Google Maps on his iPhone upon departure was the only research he needed. We took a long slow walk through the city, surprised by the number of tea houses, sometimes neighbouring one another, where Africans of Arab decent would sit around small tables, cups shaped like hourglasses cut at the top bore tea complimented with milk balanced between their thumbs and forefingers.
The city looked like nothing I had pictured from my impressions of the night prior. It may have been the gloomy weather that dulled the scenery as well as the vitaity of the pedastrians' mood, but Brussels failed to impress me. With stashes of white and blue garbage bags outside every building and beggers in every corner, I was ready to go back to the hotel and enjoy the warm water of the hot tub again.
We did enjoy an outdoor lunch however. We fed ourselves in a restaurant named "Boston Steak House Toison d'Or" stealing from the authenticity of our Belgian experience. I went for the rumsteak with a side of chips and barbeque dressing while Timoteo opted for the cheeseburger carried out of the kitchen along with some substantially delicious baked potatoes to be devoured with a layer of mushroom dressing. And although we were both extremely happy with our dishes we did have a bit of a nibble off of each other's meals.
The evening was spent in the hot tub with several fifteen minute excursions to the sauna and hammam. I have a low tolerence for extensive heat and humidity. The first five minutes is vitalising, relaxing even. I enjoy the feeling of waterdrops on my skin, hoping for some detoxication. But when the hourglass sand is halfway through, I find the environment suffocating, frightening at times. In the hot tub I could float, enjoying the feeling of weightlessness while the warm water gurgled under me, massaging my muscles tense from slouching in front of a computer screen at work and the plays and poems of Oscar Wilde and novels of Virginia Woolf that had been my constant companions in the last few weeks.
The next day we bid farewell to Belgium and headed down to Cologne, where a little family gathering was held and I enjoyed German food, the only time I actually do; at Timoteo's mother's dining table...
Although this weekend we will be packing the cooling box with enough snacks for a short drive to Strasbourg (Timoteo is a fast driver. With 280 km/h being his favourite speed on German highways where speed limits are not defined, he will have us in the French city sooner than what Google Maps is predicting as an hour an a half drive), I doubt I will be posting another blog entry about our road trip anytime soon, in fear of boring my readers with stories of our jaunts. Purple Sessions is starting to look a lot like a travel blog and I am quite happy about that. For I am turning into a verified traveler...