Tournament Time, Leuven, and the Terrifying Drive Home

With 575 student athletes from 12 schools competing, though co-hosted by ISB and St. John’s, the T&F events were held outside of Brussels at an athletic club. Driving out to the club on Monday morning we stared at the Moscow-style traffic heading into Brussels—easily 15km in length. A number of police escorts for the EC MPs and other self-appointed important people added to the jumble, and we both decided we would hate to live in Brussels.

Day 1 of the tournament was spectacular. The sun shone; the temperatures were mild; and the athletic club canteen allowed parents to run a tab.How awesome is that?

Not knowing what to expect, we packed a picnic; as it turned out, the two schools had several grills in operation, though with the number of hungry students there was always a lengthy queue.  Anna Grace placed 1stin her two field events, Triple Jump and High Jump, and set a new school record with the former!

Mother Nature was not so kind on Day 2, dropping the morning temperature by 10 degrees and periodically dispensing sheets of rain, sunshine, and everything but locusts. Needless to write, no records were broken.  With a gap of time between Anna Grace’s running events, and on the suggestion of a parent, we went to Leuven for a little sightseeing and some lunch.

Leuven was a delightful town, and easy to tour in the time we had. The Gothic town hall is nothing short of impressive with its 236 statues!

Equally worth the time was St. Peter’s Church; though the corresponding museum is closed for renovation works, their Flemish Primitive “Last Supper” was on display. We are not up on Flemish Primitive art, so we took it as gospel (pun intended) that the painting was a masterpiece.


A downside to our visit was the lack of open restaurants for lunch; for a university town we found this surprising. The upside was that the restaurant we did discover had Moule et Frites on offer! Yay! We settled in with an order and a couple of drafts, happy to be out of the current dampness.

“If a parking space seems too good to be true…” We returned to the vehicle to discover a parking violation notice on the windscreen; in fact, the very first parking ticket we have ever received. Over our two decades of travel we have navigated ZTLs like a local; at self-parks we always buy more time than we need; and I have walked the length of a street to check the parking regs. On this day I walked the entire little park where we had parked (alongside a row of Belgian-tagged vehicles) looking for the rules and saw nothing. No self-park machines. Nothing. A quick Internet search identified certain “Shop & Go” spaces (45 minutes) and longer term, blue-colored spaces. This street had neither.

A Google translation of the card informed us that we had exceeded our parking time in the space; and that we would be sent the fine in the mail. Whatever.

We arrived back at the athletic club to see a Ticket Officer slapping fines on nearly every car in the lot! What in the heck is going on?, we wondered. Apparently the lot has a four-hour parking limit; we (and all the other parents) had been told the parking was free. That information was only partially true: half of the lot was free parking.  Now, still steaming off our own parking ticket, our thinking was thus: judging by 1) the hundreds of athletes sporting jerseys reading “Munich,” “Paris,” “London,” “Vienna,” “Hague” and so forth; and 2) the number of out-of-country license plates in the parking lot, would not a kinder approach have been for the Ticket Officer to 1) realize the situation was not “ordinary;” and 2) perhaps ask the manager of the club to make an announcement? Even one of the Belgian coaches received a ticket!

Back in the stadium I asked if one of the persons in the canteen could translate the ticket; the kind staffer even went so far as to call the police for us but was not able to determine what the fine might be. We’ll just have to be kept in suspense until the next Visa statement.

In the waning hours of the final tournament day we cheered on our team in the last relays. Anna Grace’s 4×100 eeked out 3rd by 0.09 seconds!  The closing ceremony followed, and then, after settling our tab, to the airport we went. I must write that Brussels airport does not impress with its dining options, so we were left buying two “Tapas” boxes on the flight and calling it dinner.

In retrospect it was good that we had not eaten a full meal. We arrived into Vienna in the dark and with rain; and for some reason our usual car service was overbooked (on a Tuesday evening, and even though we had a reservation); so instead of a dapper driver with a clean Benz we got a dude in jeans whose ding-ed up ride smelled like cheap Patchouli (or is that an oxymoron?) He terrified us. He drove 100 in the narrow 60 construction zone on the Autobahn from the airport. Tony, in the front seat asked him repeatedly to drive at the proper tempo. Anna Grace and I were in the back, silently staring at one another in fear. Once within the city limits, the jerk continued to dangerously exceed the tempo (doing 80 in the 30 and 50 zones) and even missed a major exit into our neighborhood, adding a few extra minutes of terror while he backtracked. At one point I literally shouted at him to “DRIVE THE TEMPO, PLEASE!”  and he actually responded with, “SHUT UP.” That was it. We were close enough to home that Tony demanded he drop us off immediately. The following day I contacted our service and explained everything; they were hugely apologetic and assured me that they would take appropriate action. It was quite the wild ride!