Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Waffles, Chocolate, Fries, and Techno, Techno, TECHNO

So we started our journey well, and made it to Belgium with no problems. Once we got off the plane, we were greeted by a wind that was determined to blow Belgium off the planet. And it was doing a good job. So we struggled our way to the bus stop and boarded the bus to the train station, glad to be sheltered from the tornado raging outside. At the train station, we were unsure which train to board, and got on what we thought was the correct train as the final whistle was blowing and the doors were sliding shut. We figured out that we had to change trains in Brussels, and we watched out for the stop. However, there's something you should know about Belgium. There are three official languages: French, Dutch, and German, and of course, most people also speak English. So all the signs are posted in at least four different languages and the signs are posted in whichever language they felt like using at the time, meaning all the signs in one area could be in two or more languages, but they don't all necessarily say the same thing. So when we got to our stop, we were looking for the French name, but it was listed in German, so we stayed on the train. At the next stop, we realized our error, and decided to get off and go back. But because we hesitated, we were getting off literally as the train was pulling off. Danielle had to jump off a (slowly) moving train. It was quite an exhilarating experience. We took a train back to the correct stop and then found that we had an hour before the next (and last) train could take us to our final destination. We were starving, but being nearly 2 in the morning, there were no restaurants or markets open. So we found the station vending machines. To our chagrin, they only took coins, and we had just withdrawn money for the weekend, so none of us had small change. We desperately pooled our coins together to make enough change to buy three bags of chips. I purchased a bag of Lays "Salt and Pepper" that tasted very much like beef jerky. It was delicious, but strange.

We finally were able to board our train and then we took a taxi to our hostel. The hostel directed us to a food stand so that we could save our stomachs from eating themselves. We walked there, in the rain and wind and miserable cold. The stand, however, is a famous site in Bruges (where we stayed). It and the stand immediately to its left have an ongoing "Battle of the Fries," which is basically where the two stands both claim they have the best fries, and it's up to the customers to decide which is better. One stand is cheaper, the other serves faster, and they battle every night. We only ate from one of the stands, because at the time we didn't know that we were eating at such a dramatic location. but the one we went to (the one on the left) was delicious.

Did you know that Belgium invented french fries? Well, consider yourself thusly educated, and if you ever find yourself in Belgium, be sure to try them. They are more like steak fries, and they are served with a sweet ketchup and/or garlic mayonnaise and they are both delicious (and you know how much I despise ketchup and mayo).

After stuffing ourselves with hot, fatty (Belgian fries are cooked in pork fat, not vegetable oil), tasty fries and Bicky burgers (toasted meat (I didn't quite understand this one) and vegetables on a bun), we retired to our hostel and went to bed. It was 3:30 AM by the time we crawled into our uncomfortable and cold beds.

At 9, our roommates loudly woke us up by carrying an urgently inane conversation in Spanish. We dragged ourselves out of bed, because checkout was at 10, and walked to the hostel we were staying in for the remainder of our stay. It was not raining, but it was still frigid and the sky dared us to put away our umbrellas. We walked through most of the city center, which was beautiful and full of signs of autumn, and arrived at our hostel.

We checked in and went to find breakfast. It started raining again. We walked around for a while in search of something healthy and not ridiculously expensive, but ended up settling for chocolate croissants at a bakery and then going to a cafe and ordering chocolate waffles (because you can't go to Belgium and not eat waffles) and hot chocolate. The waffles were, without a doubt, the best waffles I've ever eaten.

Then we stopped at a chocolatier and I have decided that indeed, Belgian chocolate is FAR superior to Swiss chocolate. There really isn't a comparison. After eating Belgian chocolate, the stuff I had consumed in Switzerland seemed like a Hershey's kiss after it's been in your pocket and is now all squishy and smeared all over the wrapper and now tastes a little metallic-y from the bits of wrapper that you couldn't manage to pick off the chocolate itself. Yeah. It's that much of a difference.

For lunch, we got weird Belgian sausages and beef stew (cooked in local beer) and of course, more fries with mayo. Then we went to find alcohol for the night, but it wasn't at the supermarket by our hostel, so I went back to dry off and warm up while the other two made their way into the city to find their poison.

When they returned, they drank quite a bit and then we all took a short nap before THE EVENT. We dressed and they mixed their drinks to take with them, and we walked to the train station. The rain had let up, which was good, since we were able to make it to the station dry and didn't have to worry about hauling around umbrellas. When we arrived in Ghent, we asked around for directions to the Flanders Expo Center, where I Love Techno was hosted. Everyone just looked disdainfully at us and said "Just follow everyone." We exited the platform into the main station and saw the endless stream of people all headed in one direction. It was clear that the directions we had received were quite sufficient. We followed everyone outside. There was a tram waiting to shuttle people to the event, and a huge LED sign that said I LOVE TECHNO 2010.

We arrived at the Expo Center and there were security guards, but they were ineffective against the horde of people clamoring for entrance into the event. We checked our coats at the door, and saw a huge room dedicated to coat storage, and it was half full by the time we arrived. Coat check was 2 Euro, and since everyone brought a coat (because Belgium is REALLY COLD IN NOVEMBER), they made well over a million euros in coat check alone. We walked into the main hall and stopped. The venue was huge. There were six giant rooms, each hosting seven or eight DJs, and the main section, where the food and drinks and bathrooms (50 cents per usage) were. We made our way into a room, and it took nearly 15 minutes to get in, because there were so many people bottlenecking at the door. But we got in and were blown away by the music. We danced and raved all night.

While going between rooms to see various DJs, we saw quite a few guys relieving themselves against the back wall. And quite a few more people, drunk or stoned, resting in the puddles on the floor, along the back wall. It was quite disgusting. I was grateful for the darkness and the smokiness, if only because I couldn't see the floor. When we left the event, we all had black shoes, even though Danielle and Nikki started out with red shoes, and our legs, up to our mid-thighs, were coated in God-knows-what.

Around 2:30, we were dying of dehydration and hunger, so we got some water and food. You had to purchase tickets, so that the food and drink handlers wouldn't have to deal with money exchange, and you could only buy tickets in 8 ticket blocks, costing 10 euros, and the food was 4 tickets an item. But we had no choice but to cough up the money or starve, so we jumped through all their hoops and bled euros for them and received our sustenance. We found a spot on a bench and inhaled our food. Danielle and I felt something dripping on our feet, and we looked around to locate the source of the spray. Under the table, Danielle located the offender: some guy sitting across from us had his jibbly bits hanging free. We were being peed on. I also had quite a bit of alcohol spilled on me throughout the night, cigarette embers tapped out on my arm, smoke blown in my face, and my hair, 5 days after the event and as many deep conditionings, still smells like cigarettes.

Around 5, we were lagging a bit, and decided to leave. We weren't able to last the full 12 hours, but we came pretty close. We went back to the train station, only to find that the first train to Bruges didn't leave until 6:39. We watched hundreds of people pile into trains going to Brussels (the opposite direction), and could do nothing but watch and freeze.

Around 6:30, we were doing nothing more than shivering with our eyes fixated upon the clock, counting down the seconds. And then our train was delayed for 3 minutes.

And then 5.

And then 8.

And then 10.

And more trains kept leaving for Brussels.

But finally, our train arrived at 6:54 and we somehow made it onto the train, into warmth and safety. We fitfully slept on the train, not wanting to miss our stop, and what should have been a 20 minute ride took almost 45 minutes due to unexplained stops along the way (and not even at stations). When we arrived in Bruges, it was raining torrentially, and we did not want to walk back, unprotected and still defrosting. So we got a taxi and stumbled into our hostel just as they were serving breakfast. We ate and showered and collapsed into our beds around 9 AM.

Then we woke up a mere 5 hours later and at 4:30, decided to go to dinner, because there was literally nothing to do in Bruges on a Sunday afternoon/evening. We wanted to go to the Dali museum, but we wouldn't have made it by closing. So we had more fries and mayo and then stopped at a Chinese restaurant. I had the best hot and sour soup there. We walked back to the hostel and Danielle taught us how to play mini bridge. I won both times. Then we packed and went back to bed around 1 AM.

We woke up early and walked to the train station. We got on the first train to Brussels, which turned out to be a fast train, and we had to pay more. But the train was very nice, and the seats were extremely comfortable and it was the first thing that was actually WARM in Belgium (besides the food we ate). We arrived in Brussels and found out that our connecting train was leaving in two minutes, on the other side of the station. Not wanting to wait for the next train, we sprinted to the platform, and made it just as the train was pulling into the station. That train was jerky and cold and the lights flickered and the seats were not as nice. But it got us to our destination. We had to wait forever for our bus to the airport, but we got there just fine. We ate some pastries in the airport and then boarded our plane. We made it back to Florence with no further issues.

We raved more than we slept, the healthiest thing we ate all weekend was Chinese food, and it was AWESOME.

If you are interested in details on the actual rave itself, let me know. I'd be more than happy to go on and on about the artists at the event, the music, the best and the worst, what impressed me, what failed to move me, etc. But just know that asking about it requires a commitment on your part. A commitment to smile and nod and pretend not to let your eyes glaze over when I don't cease geeking out. You're welcome.

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