Brussels

Monday morning I woke up at 4am to fly to Chicago, and 11 hours after my arrival, to fly on to Brussels. Waking up was a lot easier than I expected – I guess I was ready to get on the road!

The day pass for the Admiral’s Club at O’Hare was definitely worth it. $50 for the day includes

  • free drinks (juice, coffee, soda, etc) and a small selection of snacks
  • free internet
  • plenty of power outlets
  • news channels that are audible, but not disruptive
  • chairs that are not terribly uncomfortable
  • relative quiet – no announcements about security every three minutes
  • showers

So except for maybe the last one, it’s all kind of things that make you actually feel like a human while flying, instead of just a sardine feeding the corporate airline. That feeling disappeared somewhat when I tried to sleep on the plane and failed completely due to the cramped circumstances.

I also have to mention that the fire alarm in the club went off for about half an hour in the morning, and once it was determined it was a false alarm, the alarm didn’t bother me much. ^.^; Guess I have so much practice with the shrieking noise and flashing lights due to my neighbors at RIT smoking pot or burning their burgers at 2am, or one of the various other causes we had.


Landing in Brussels was pretty cool because there was fog or drizzle that got caught in all the wind from the landing gear touching down – visible air dynamics! I lugged my stuff to the hostel and then went in search of the bus tour that highlighted the sights in Brussels.

In some ways, a hop-on hop-off bus was a good plan, but by midafternoon, I was nodding off in the back of the bus. Had I been more conscious I could have made better use of the ticket to see the sights, rather than as something that would get me out of the hostel and help overcome jetlag. In the evening I had a nice chat getting to know the Austrian guy who was also in the hostel room.

Wednesday morning I decided to go to the Magritte Museum, and since my bus ticket was valid for twenty-four hours, I got back on for my free transportation. Only I had read the directions wrong and the museum was almost the full circuit around. My timing was off and when I got to the EU Commission, it was during the long break between tours, so I missed out on that. I remembered my camera this time though, and took some pictures. According to my tourist map’s comments, Brussels is a really ugly city. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it certainly was difficult to take nice photos. And being a pedestrian in traffic was absolutely terrifying. Here’s one of the Art Nouveau style that many of the buildings are in:

Eventually I got to the art museum, which was interesting and informative.

Unfortunately once I got there, I realized that I don’t actually like Magritte very much. I can’t stand the Dada movement, which was important to his work, and his famous paintings (which are not half bad) are all in other, more famous museums. (Dada is the movement with the urinal sold to a museum as art, basically to find out what the 20th century art critics would swallow. Although I have trouble defining what art is, I think the whole concept of Dada is a waste of time and finding random objects to sell to museums as art does not count as art.)

the Empire of Light by René Magritte

Wandering through the Magritte Museum in Brussels, I really had to wonder, “how on earth did anybody see this as ‘witty and thought-provoking’?” Okay, I did like “the Empire of Light,” but really, “Treachery of Images”? An image of a pipe, with the caption “this is not a pipe” underneath it? Maybe it was really groundbreaking at the time, but it strikes me as being similar to elevating lolcats to grand works of art. And a lot of the images were just hideous and random. I found most of the pieces in the museum lacking technical talent – though the application of paint was good, perspectives, lighting, and modeling (especially of people) seemed like the level of a skilled middle school student. Say what you like about what Picasso actually did with his skills, but at least he was technically proficient.

Magritte’s ideas were creative, but when each theme was repeated so much, they got tired out. Things floating in front of faces for canvas after canvas? Vast numbers of men in suits and bowler hats? Always the same perfect blue sky and puffy clouds? Frames giving bizarre views into assorted mismatched patterns? This guy kept getting stuck in the same track over and over again.

From some of the more distorted pieces, I felt rather like this guy belonged in an HP Lovecraft story, not on the syllabus for my art history class.

"On the Threshold of Liberty" by René Magritte

Still, it was an informative afternoon. And there you have my critique of René Magritte.


Finally I came home at the end of the day, exhausted from jetlag and ready to settle in with some design work for my client and maybe catching up with my friends at home. Ten minutes after I got back to the hostel and settled down with my laptop, a man came and knocked on my door. The hostel had had a lot of people asking for rooms even though they were all booked up, and I thought a) he was a hopeful guest, trying to verify if the hostel was actually as booked as they said, b) one of the guests for the empty beds in the room c) a workman or hostel employee – basically, someone who had a reason to be going around knocking on doors upstairs. I was tired and jetlagged and confused. He said some stuff in French that went over my head and went back out when I didn’t understand.

And then I was a moron.

I pulled out my iPod and when neither it nor my laptop would connect to the internet, I left them on my bed and went to go ask the reception desk about a new wireless password. The guy was still standing around in the hallway, and he said something more and gestured at my door. I had no idea what he wanted in there, but I wanted my internet, I figured I would be gone five minutes, and I assumed he had a legitimate reason to be going in. Huge mistake.

The security tapes show he was in the building for seven minutes, during which he managed to steal both means of connecting to the internet and slip out of the building again with no opposition.

So, I was out two rather expensive pieces of equipment. Thankfully, he didn’t swipe anything else – my wallet was barely out of sight and my expensive camera was stashed under the bed, where my other electronics really should have been too. On the positive side, the laptop was almost three years old and the iPod was similarly out of date, and I brought a full backup of both, so after a week of internet withdrawal I have a brand new 13″ MacBook Pro. An expensive learning experience but it could have been much much worse.

THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO ANYONE TRAVELING ABROAD and something I wish I had thought a little harder about. I try to be aware of pickpockets, dark empty streets, and other normal risky situations. I should have thought about this more, since last year one of my friends had his car key stolen from his hostel room, his car crashed, and then the key returned to its proper place with no one the wiser. NEVER LEAVE ANYTHING EVEN POTENTIALLY VALUABLE IN THE OPEN! You may think the people around are fine people, but it only takes one person, out of everyone who walks in the door, less than five minutes to grab your treasures, and once they’re gone, no one will be able to fix it.

Thursday I spent reviewing the security tape to ID the guy, then going to the police station and filing a report, which I’m pretty sure they promptly stuck in a drawer where it will never see the light of day again. In the afternoon I went to Bruges, which is beautiful and quaint.

 

I hope I can live in a cute little town like that when I’m old. I love the red tile roofs and white stucco (or whatever) walls and the streets that are nice for walking.

Friday morning I rose early and proceeded to Germany!

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