The Occasion (not that one is needed to travel…)
Anna Grace’s final T&F tournament, co-hosted by the two big international schools in Brussels/Waterloo. Tony and I added two days at the front end for sightseeing.
Brussels Airlines. The flag carrier is among the ranks of those who even charge for water on board. My sickness bag had several pieces of used chewing gum inside. That Tony had a little more legroom than usual is the only extraordinary note. Our outbound was a quick 1:25. The wait at the baggage carousel was 1:00.
Anna Grace flew out a day later. The team’s 0925 flight was canceled (naturally after the team arrived bright and early at VIE). They were rebooked on two puddle jumpers from VIE to FRA to BRU. The team had to wait for their baggage, as well. Overall, a solid, Meh for Brussels Airlines.
With a little time before takeoff we sat at the Jamie Oliver restaurant at VIE for breakfast. Tony ordered the “Higher Welfare Bacon & Eggs” (whatever that means) and I ordered a dish lacking “higher welfare.” We clinked our Prosecco flutes to this one last European getaway.
My “lower welfare” breakfast.
Upon arrival into Brussels Tony proceeded to the car rental while I waited and waited, and waited for our bag, the empty conveyor taunting us as it went around and around. At one point the conveyor stopped moving altogether, and the gasp of defeat from me and my fellow passengers was audible.
Eventually Tony rang to inform me that because the rental was in my name (damn you, Expedia), the clerk would neither change the name nor talk to me on the phone to move the reservation along. I finally caught up with Tony, explained that I would not be the driver, and asked again if we could just change the name on the reservation.
That’s when the situation turned weird:
The clerk (15? Hard to tell beneath the face spackle): “I am not going to rent to you” in a sass-infused French accent.
“You are not going to be the driver, so I can not rent the car to you.”
Tony: “Can I be added as the driver?”
Ms. Sass: “No.”
Tony: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”
Ms. Sass: “No.”
(Now, it is legend that Tony has lost his temper exactly once in his five decades on the planet. Apparently it was witnessed by his brother in the taxi on the day before our wedding, when the two were stuck in a Friday afternoon Chicago traffic jam that caused Tony to miss all but the last couple of minutes of our wedding rehearsal.)
Make that twice. Tony calmly and firmly (though I could spy little tufts of steam rising from his head), explained to Ms. Sass that she should simply add his name and proceed with the reservation.
Ms. Sass replied, “I am going to cancel your reservation. You are treating me like a dog.”
At this point we both stared at her, dumbfounded and speechless. A full minute or two later she said, “Fine. I will add your name to the reservation.” (At a cost of €10/day, naturally.)
Again, naturally, the class of vehicle we had reserved was not available, so we ended up with some for-the-masses Crossover with way too many sensors and a terrible GPS. Thirty minutes later at least we had a car.
Thanks to suggestions on a travel forum, “the plan” was to have lunch and sightsee in Namur, then head to Dinant for the balance of the day. The GPS in the car lacked the ability to detect traffic delays or construction detours, a “feature” we discovered upon arriving in Namur and not being able to access a parking garage of interest.
We also learned that Belgian drivers are impatient. Tres impatient. Routinely we were flashed, and occasionally horned, for driving at the posted tempo in the middle or right lane. Quelle horror. The abuse was worse (think finger and hand gestures) when we drove the reduced tempo in construction zones.
Pronouncing our effort to park in Namur a bust, we routed to the N92 along the River Meuse toward Dinant. Calmer than the Belgian autobahn, but not lacking for impatient drivers. The route is terribly scenic, so numerous photo stops were added.
By this time we had reached the confluence of the Hangries and the Mittagspause.Charming roadside restaurant after charming roadside restaurant was either closed, or soon closing. Then, saved by the Wépion Maxi-Frites! With its cases of various Frikadellen (and Filipino Lumpia?) a little overwhelming for we first-timers, I asked the Order Taker, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and was met with, in English, “Are you lost?”
After Tony and I stopped chuckling, I explained that we were on holiday and heading to Dinant. The OT went on for several minutes about how his father (a petrochemical engineer) often travels to America, and how it was the OT’s dream to go to America one day. And, that is was not common to see Americans “in these parts.” Explains the question.
The OT described the ordering process at length to us; we chose to leave the Frikadellen (and Frites sauces) decisions in his capable hand and before long had a plastic tray brimming with deep fried tubes of meat; something flat that looked like a SPAM McRib; five little tubs of sauce (Tartare, mayo, “Andalouse,” curry, and “Bicky Hot Sauce,” the latter two being my preferred) and enough Frites to blow our annual carb budget. Oh, and a Hoegaarden for me, Maredsous for Tony. In frosted glasses.
With a carefully-wrapped bundle of leftover Frites, and two cartons of roadside Wépion strawberries (Belgium’s Best Berries!), it was on to Dinant.