Vimy to Brussels in Belgium; Reunited with Seb; Karaoke and (not coincidentally) too much alcohol; The consequences thereof; Karaoke again, minus the alcohol; Brussels look just like Toronto

After Vimy we took the train back to Lille, collected our packs and jumped back on another train. We were heading to Brussels in Belgium to visit our friend Seb - we’d met him in Valencia, in Spain, early in our trip. We’d heard he’d had some misfortune afterward and we were anxious to catch up with him and see how he was doing. The train from Lille to Brussels was only an hour - barely time to catch our breath before getting on the metro in Brussels for the (very hot) twenty-minute ride to Seb’s place. Despite a very clear map, we somehow managed to get lost on the way from the subway to his apartment - it was late and dark, that’s my defense.

Seb was looking well. We hung out for a while in his swanky apartment and traded stories, and then he swept us off to - of all things - a karaoke bar. It was one of his favourite hangouts and his regular place on weeknights. I know I always swore I’d rather die than go to a karaoke bar, but we’d been drinking and it would have been rude to refuse. We had a good time. Karaoke is just as absurd as I’d always thought it would be, but it’s all in good fun. We met a lot of fun people and it was cool watching Seb sing. I didn’t sing myself - I’d rather have a live weasel up my ass than sing in public. Anyway, to be honest, even though the songbook was dauntingly thick, I couldn’t really see many songs I’d want to sing. All the songs I’d ever sing are probably too downbeat for karaoke.

What with the drinking before the bar, the couple of drinks we ordered at the bar, and all the people buying drinks for us, I felt as sick as a dog the next morning. Some of it was the beginnings of a cold, some was the effect of a bar chokingly full of cigarette smoke (Belgium still allows smoking in bars) but mostly it was the alcohol. It’s my own fault - we haven’t really been drinking for a couple of months, and when we have it’s been one or two bottles of weak local beer from Italy or Slovenia or somewhere that doesn’t really understand beer. Belgium understands beer, and it’s as strong here as it is at home. I know that, but had forgotten it completely until my head and stomach reminded me the next morning. I was useless all day - it took me until 4 in the afternoon to start feeling human again (not quite as bad as it sounds, we didn’t get to sleep until 4am). I made my usual vow never to drink again, so I should be okay from now on.

That night Seb had a birthday party to go to at the same karaoke bar, and invited us along. We were both feeling a bit flat and used-up after a week of fast travelling and the night before, and we probably should have declined, but we didn’t want to be rude and we’d had fun the last time, so we went along. Listening to karaoke turns out to be much more fun when you’re drunk. We made one drink last the night and chatted to a couple of people. My hearing was really bad after the night before (I have some hearing loss and bad tinnitus that loud noise aggravates) so I couldn’t hear anything anyone said and mostly sat there smiling pleasantly and vacantly. Probably a few of the people think I’m a snob now, but I couldn’t really join the conversation. Still, I’ve never been to a bar that was as welcoming as this one - after two visits we were regulars. It’s quite the tight-knit community. Seb seemed a bit down too, so we left a bit early (only 2am).

Our last day in Brussels Seb took us out wandering aimlessly. We took in all the tourist sites and did the usual tourist things (buying chocolate, admiring Manikin Pis’ new costume, etc.). Brussels is a pretty town. I felt instantly at home there, and it wasn’t until midday that I realized why - Brussels is exactly like Toronto. Except for the historical quarter the architecture is the same, the streets look the same, and there are maple trees everywhere. It’s very diverse ethnically too - the first place in Europe we’ve found to be so, in fact - and that only heightened the spooky similarity. Even the out-of-the-way area that Seb took us to, with streets filled with an eclectic mix of galleries and vintage shops - it could have been Queen Street between Bathurst and Bellwood Park. I half expected a red streetcar to go by. Seriously - it was spooky. When we were walking to Seb’s apartment we came across a building that looks exactly like Toronto Police headquarters. And there was another building that has a chunky spire with horizontal neon that looks like the Canada Life building’s weather beacon, which shows the weather forecast via the patterns in the neon on the spire. The major differences are the old buildings, of course, and the tunnels that crisscross Brussels underground, for traffic. I’d say Toronto could do with some of those, but it’s built on a swamp so it probably won’t happen. Anyway, between all the Canadiana two days before at Vimy and this strange clone of Toronto, we were both cured of any creeping homesickness that might have been developing.

We’d have loved to spend more time in Brussels and in Belgium, but our train pass was running out and we were due in the Netherlands that evening to meet up with some other friends, so we bade a fond farewell to Seb, Brussels and Belgium and boarded the Rotterdam-bound train.


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One Comment on this Dispatch:

October 16th, 2008

Hee hee hee ^^

First of all, my flat ain’t swanky, you sizzling squirrel on a steek.

Sorry ’bout the karaoke crap (twice!) but for obvious reasons I had to be there. Next time we’ll do something different… I promise!

Anyways, it was really good to meet you again, I sure hope we’ll catch up again someday.

See you!

¬ Seb
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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