I did intend on keeping up with my blog when I got back to Scotland – really, I did. I haven’t actually been that busy either, to be perfectly honest, so I don’t actually have an excuse – although that also means I haven’t had a huge amount to write about. My search for a job finally came to fruition when I got a call from Julian Graves, asking me in for an interview, which led to an on-the-spot job offer which I accepted. It’s ten hours a week, £5.80 an hour, and fairly easy-going; but the hours I’ve had to work, predictably, haven’t been great. I had to work my ten hours a week while Grant was visiting, and by giving up a shift I also gave up five hours of my holiday time without knowing I was doing it. It’s money in the bank, though, which is what matters… I guess. When I get my contract I’ll see how much holiday time I get, and then I can decide if it’s worth staying on.
So, Grant’s visit. It’s over now, which of course makes me sad – although we talk every day on Skype, usually for most of the day. Anyway, that’s not what you want to hear. You want to hear about the incredible adventures we went on while he was here.
As I said, I had to work a few shifts during our time together, which was more than inconvenient, but when I wasn’t busy with that we had more than enough to entertain ourselves with. The Fringe wasn’t quite in full swing at the very beginning of August – in fact, just when things started to get interesting, we’d already set off for Brussels – but we saw a couple of street performers and stuff, and I for one enjoyed being a local in a city full of tourists. I think Grant also really enjoyed being more than just a visitor to the city, and knowing that he was in part an Edinburgher, too!
We spent the first several days trying new restaurants, and we went to see Inception and another, independent, film at the Filmhouse – Please Give, which was about a married couple who are hoping to expand their flat by buying the neighbouring apartment from an elderly lady when she dies. The two families’ relationships begin to get complicated, and it’s quite a bleak film, but I really enjoyed it. There was a lot to it, and it was really honest: in the same way that I liked Kramer Vs. Kramer, I liked Please Give because it didn’t try too hard.
There was a lot of stuff that we’d been meaning to fit into Grant’s visit, and by the time we left for Brussels we hadn’t really achieved much of it. Of course, we were both very excited to be visiting the mainland together, especially since we didn’t have to pay for accommodation or transport there. Dad put us up in his flat in the European Quarter and, since he was in Scotland for a football game and was driving back to Belgium, he swung by Edinburgh and picked us up on Tuesday evening and drove through the night so we arrived on the morning of Wednesday the 5th of August.
The car journey was long. Before we’d even left Edinburgh, I made the mistake of mentioning John Cooper Clarke to my father, and Grant asked who this was. Grant can be forgiven – I should have known better. When Dad promptly launched into a recitation of one of the comedian’s poems, in an obnoxious Mancunian accent, I realised just how long the journey would be. However, Grant and I at least had a chance to get a good amount of sleep – even if it wasn’t the most restful of slumbers. We stopped briefly so Dad could recharge on coffee around 3am, at a motorway service station where the boy responsible for serving seemed determined not to reveal his position – he hid in the kitchen until Dad called through “I can see you!”; at which point he reluctantly emerged and got him a grumpy coffee before we headed on our way.
Once we’d made it to Brussels and got our stuff unpacked into our room upstairs, Dad was obviously pretty knackered after having driven all night, and he went to bed immediately. Grant and I took a quick nap not long after, and then headed out for a walk around Parc Cinquantenaire, which is very close to where my dad lives. It’s a really pretty place, with some very impressive buildings and a sort of bowling green for a game called pétanque, which we would later get a chance to try.
Once we’d sufficiently explored the park, we took a stroll through the quaint streets of the European Quarter and took abundant quantities of photographs, before scrutinising the nearby restaurants and eventually realising that we weren’t going to get a meal for less than €25 apiece. We ended up in a nice Italian restaurant, and enjoyed a nice meal and a glass of wine before ducking into the Hairy Canary for a quick drink and then heading back to Dad’s place to get ready for bed. It had been a long first day!
The next day we rose early enough, with a vague idea of what we wanted to do. In my opinion, what makes Brussels such a nice city to visit is precisely that there isn’t a whole lot to do. There are several really cool attractions, but other than two or three things you really can’t miss, you won’t be leaving feeling guilty about having neglected some huge landmark. So I’d suggested visiting the Grand Place, which is a huge square in the middle of the city, filled with ornate buildings, gorgeous architecture, and some pricey cafes. We took our time with this activity, and took a gander at a nearby market on our way past as, probably in common with most girls, I can’t resist a European market. Because the majority of the restaurants around this touristy area were so expensive, and the only cheap outlets sported large, obnoxious pictures of greasy kebabs and less-than-appetising salads in their windows, we ended up just ducking into a Subway for some tried and tested fast, cheap food. After this, we made a trip to a gelateria and broke out the chocolates we’d bought from a genuine Belgian chocolatier.
It was at this point, after we’d sat down at our rickety table in the street and started tucking in to our ice cream (this time I opted for a combination of lemon, mango and “purple”, which tasted like Parma Violets), that we made a few rookie mistakes. We had about €3 of change sitting out on the table, and after a short time a lady in only very slightly raggedy clothes came over to us and held out a leathery hand. She had a small boy cradled to her chest and said to us “Pour que le bébé puisse manger”. This of course immediately put the pressure on me to respond, because Grant could give her a legitimate blank look. At first I was slightly confused as to why she was pointing at our table, but then it dawned on me that we’d left the change out and I didn’t have the heart to send her on her way when the money was sitting right there. Knowing full well I’d get in trouble for it, I relented and handed her €1.50 (apparently I did have the heart to keep the other half of the money, which Grant quickly pocketed). Anyway, she thanked me and went to the next table and I was left to deal with the consequences of my spinelessness – Grant is much better at not being a doormat than I am. After a quick discussion of the matter, I quickly realised that if you’re homeless and have a baby, you just breast-feed. Or sell it…? Anyway, shortly after this, another homeless “mother” wandered in amongst the tables and the waiter had to come and chase her away. And the baby looked strangely familiar… When we left, we saw the first woman, the one I’d given money to, and there was no baby in sight. Wtf.
Anyway, after we’d checked out the Grand Place, eaten lunch and treated ourselves to ice cream and chocolates, it was time to check out the Atomium. It looks as cool as it sounds – it’s a huge metal structure in the shape of an atom (not to scale, of course).
We hopped on a train out there and wandered around outside, munched on some more chocolates and took far too many pictures before venturing inside… and spending the next half an hour or so in a queue. It took forever to get to the lift which took us up to the observation deck, but the views were pretty spectacular once we got there. (I’ve said this before, but my pictures will be on MobileMe if you feel unfulfilled by the ones I have on here).
Aside from this floor, though, there really wasn’t much to the Atomium. It functions as some sort of celebration of diversity, set up for the World’s Fair a while back, and has several rooms with different exhibitions centred around the idea of immigration and ethnicity, etc. etc. etc. Basically, it was there to stop racists from being racists – and, neither of us being racists, Grant and I didn’t really take much away from it. We grabbed some pricey water from the cafe at the top and headed back to the European Quarter, to meet Dad and his friend Colin for pétanque back in Parc Cinquantenaire. Grant and I did surprisingly well considering how new we were to the game, and I believe we won one or two games. Colin had brought a semi-picnic so we pottered around and snacked on peanuts, and Dad said awkward things. After a while, though, Grant and I started to get hungry and the others didn’t seem to be showing any signs of getting dinner soon, so we broke off from the group and wandered around, trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t going to charge us through the nose – again. We gave up and went to an Indian place which did indeed charge us through the nose – and Grant and I bravely took on a full Indian meal without a glass of water, as they refused to serve us tap water and we equally refused to pay for bottled. Despite Dad’s reassurances that restaurants in Brussels were open way late into the night, we were the last in the restaurant by far, and by the time we left we were feeling really quite uncomfortable about it. When we got back, Dad was nowhere to be seen – probably painting the town red with Colin and co. – so we hit the hay, ready to rise bright and early next morning for Bruges.
Bruges is a small, medieval town, also known as “Venice of the North” because of its network of canals. It’s a truly beautiful place, and I was super-excited to show Grant around as he loves medieval places – and also just because Bruges is awesome. I’ll leave the rest of the Europe trip to my next entry, though – I’m conscious of how long this is getting. It’s actually been almost a month since Grant left (!) so I’m still catching up with this stuff, and I’m currently taking a few days’ break back in the borders so I expect I’ll have a fair amount of time to finally bring the blog back up to date. For now, though, I’ll bid you goodbye and go find the thermostat in this place – I think I see the beginnings of frostbite on my fingertips.
Ciao for now!