M&D, Part 1
May marked our 1-year anniversary of living in Brussels and brought us our first visitors of the year (well, late April, actually, but who's quibbling?). My parents were doing a London-Brussels-Paris tour, and we met them at the train station after they took the Chunnel across.
Our first order of business was to get them checked in at their hotel. Although it was one of the few reasonably-priced places close to our house, I had looked it up on the web prior to their arrival and some of the comments made me a bit nervous, indicating that the owner was hostile and unaccommodating. We got there, rung the bell and were let in by the proprietor. She showed my parents how to use all the keys and told them not to let anyone in, because gypsies would try to give them a sob story about having lost their keys and then gain entrance and rob the place blind. She then declared that she wouldn't show us up to the room or help us with the bags, on account of the fact that she had just had knee surgery recently. She sat on a bench in the passage, pulled up her hem and showed us an old scar that wormed its way down her knee as evidence. I'm not sure why she thought we needed help, able bodied as we were, so we weren't inconvenienced.
The stairwell was full of stained glass and knickknacks, very quaint. Their room was tiny, with not much space for anything other than the bed, but sleep is sleep. Their window overlooked a tiny garden below. I was heartened to see they had a fan in their room, as the weather had been quite warm and might be unpleasant if you didn't have a cross breeze. Before they had even unlocked the door, the phone was ringing. It was the owner, two flights below, making sure everything was to their liking. Customer service at its best.
After a light lunch we commenced wandering, visiting the Sablon, the in-town palace, and an outdoor exhibit of aerial photos taken around the world. Before we knew it, it was dinnertime so we took them to our favorite moules-frites place. I had mine in diable sauce, which was good but difficult to sop up with just mussels and fries. Jack offered me €5 to drink out of the pot, so I did. I didn't need monetary persuasion, though, so I graciously turned down the cash (which anyone in their right mind should realize is legally mine, anyway).
The next day was Sunday, and they had asked us to take us to an interesting church service. Not being well-versed in the religious offerings of the area, I picked out the Notre Dame du Sablon, definitely one of the favorites for us and visitors, since there's a lot to look at. Much to our chagrin, the entire back of the church was closed for renovation, so everyone was crammed in the front, where a few rows of chairs had been set up. I had been looking forward to sitting in the waaay back, staring at some creepy gravestone entombed in the wall or some such while the priest's sonorous and unintelligible French ricocheted off the ceiling, columns, windows from every angle. After we were seated, the priest asked everyone to move closer, so he probably would've done the same if the whole church was open. The best part was the mini pipe organ they were using, which had these perfectly-formed doors to close over the pipes to muffle the sound. The organist periodically opened and closed them during the service, the hinges whining in protest.
We headed out for the Grand Place, which was overrun with scouts celebrating some kind of scouting anniversary. Having had enough of that, we took in the Mannekin and then visited a bar across the street. We strongly encouraged my mom to get the Kwak beer, which is something every tourist should be talked into, but somehow it managed to elude us in the past. Jack visited the restroom and reported back that the way there was filled with puppets. And scouts.
After lunch, we went to see some Art Nouveau stuff down by the Ixelles ponds (where I took a great spy photo of an amorous couple on the other side using my dad's huge telephoto lens) and then on to the Abbaye de la Cambre, which has some old buildings and gardens. There were more scouts. I had wandered down there by myself on a warm spring night not too long before, and was astonished to find a jazz band jamming in a courtyard. Jack was somewhat incredulous that I had witnessed this random bit of culture, but the selfsame band (who I suspect are students at the art school housed in one of the Abbaye's buildings) was playing when we went there with my parents. Vindication! We listened for a while, and as it was getting on towards dinnertime, I decided to make a foray into the Bois to visit the cafe there that I had attempted to go to several times previously (initially I couldn't find it, and then it was closed for the season). Happily, we found ourselves a nice table, enjoyed a beer, and then went out for Thai.
Every morning my parents reiterated what wonderful coffee they'd had at the hotel. The great croissants and yogurt and on and on...I was quite impressed by the spread they were offered, given that simple rolls and coffee seem to be the norm. Monday, after failing to send them off to the art museum due to its normal Monday closure, we went to the cathedral, much of which was off-limits as well because a service was starting. We visited the Galeries St. Hubert (like Parkington except nice) and then took in the Grand Place again, this time mercifully free of throngs of kids, and after a look at some of the original city walls and a too long sojourn for food, we lunched in the middle of a dust storm brought on by the drought, complete with little green bugs dropping out of the trees into everything. Monday wasn't getting a lot of popularity points. What was next? A general transit strike??