|Posted on March 31, 2020 at 9:40 PM|
Nearly a year after my first trip overseas, I’m finally writing about the journey. And you, my dear subscribers, get first crack.
My husband and I met in 1999, making 2019 our twentieth year of woo. And, if we timed it right (we did), we’d celebrate our fiftieth and fortieth birthdays in a big way.
Our spreadsheet of desired locales grew by the day. Thanks to many travel guides and PBS specials, one place kept poking its way to the top: Belgium.
It wasn’t just the chocolate calling me, honest. That comprised only a vast percentage of our decision–making. The unknown aspect called loudest. No one we knew had traveled to Belgium (or the Netherlands; more on that later), and outside its chocolatey reputation, I knew very little about it. Huzzah! Adventure!
My first flight was in 2003 to NYC, a mere 90 minutes from Chicago. Stepping into the massive aerobeast from the jet bridge amplified my fear of flying tenfold. Too late to turn back. We’d be locked into a metal deathtrap and shot across the ocean at 800mph with nothing beneath us but hopes and prayers. Happy birthday!
Our aisle fit three abreast, and not only did we have zero legroom (my heart goes out to anyone over six feet tall) but the seat was as wide a standard movie theater’s. The high back prevented me from seeing more than one row ahead. Acceptable for a two-hour flick, claustrophobic for an eight-hour flight. Shortly after takeoff, I noticed water dripping from the ceiling. Water?! All manner of nightmare scenarios ran through my head, including the gremlin on the wing. (What proof did I have that was only fiction?)
Despite my panic, I did not drink every adult beverage available (though they came by with the cart multiple times, the loves). That’s when I noticed how much flying is like living in a zoo: you’re cramped in tight quarters, you have an undeniable urge to pace, and the keepers continuously ply you with food, sometimes even waking you up for feeding times. And I did nothing to protest; yes I was napping, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pass up the free meal of pasta and bread and oo! is that gelato? Give it here, dear.
Eventually, the fear dissipated. Once you’re up in the air a minute, you discover how uneventful flying is. You settle in for a snooze, or a good read, or write notes for so-far-nonexistent newsletters. I even relaxed enough to press my face against the window while waiting in line for the john. The moon bounced off the tip of the wing as we floated on a sea of clouds: surreal and soothing and exciting all at once. Then I imagined myself losing my balance, grabbing the door handle, and getting sucked out like a marble into a vacuum, and I hauled ass back to my seat.
Once we checked in to our tiny hotel, we wandered around Brussels to stave off jet lag. We wandered down cobblestone streets, teased by the faint sound of horns. A free jazz concert was in full swing outside St. Catherine’s Cathedral, in a town square tucked (everything is “tucked” in Belgium, it’s the snuggletown of Europe) a short walk from our accommodations. We chilled with French jazz and mussels and wine until moonrise.