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The Bicycle Story

Belgium – part 1

Posted on November 20th, 2012 by Robert

Guinness and JamesonYou know what seems like a really great idea on paper? A 10 hour layover in Dublin so you can drink whiskey right before 2 weeks of beer drinking in Belgium. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good idea, it just hurt.

We had multiple stops en-route to our final destination. A super early 4 hour flight to Chicago (with a 5 hour layover) that led to an 8 hour flight to Dublin. A 10 hour layover there preempted a final 2’ish hour flight in to Brussels, Belgium. The first thing we had to do though, is get our bikes on the damn plane.

“Super storm” Sandy delayed Ken and Mandi’s initial flight (they had the one before me) to Chicago. That meant that we were all going to be on the same flight together. As an extra bonus, they got bumped into first class. I was destined to sit in economy like a sucker. Mandi felt bad for me (and must have been delusional from it being so early), because she gave up her luxury seat to come sit back with me. Gross.

Before we even boarded, the theme of the trip (at least for me) was set. The bike was going to be nothing but trouble. I had booked my flight through the Aer Lingus website and pre-checked my bike ahead of time with their recommendation. According to the website, it was free to get over to Dublin and 40 euro to fly it from there to Brussels. That seemed very reasonable to me, so I was happy to check it. Apparently my flight from Seattle to Chicago went through United Airlines though. The lady at the ticket counter was insistent that we were subject to their dues. They happen to charge a whopping $200 each way to handle bicycles. Ken and I were both forced to pony up with the hopes that we could fight it down the line.

Local OptionOnce we got in to Chicago, we decided to catch a cab into town. Ken knew of a fancy beer bar that he wanted to check out. 11am seemed like a legitimate time for a beer. The cab (which cost a small fortune) brought us to a joint called Local Option. It was a great spot and it was nice to get a small taste of a very large city.

A second expensive cab brought us back to the airport with just enough time to realize that the international terminal at O’Hare is one of the more depressing places on Earth. No windows, no food, no hope.

The flight from Chicago to Dublin took us through a flurry of time zones and really seemed to disorient me. We got into town at what was basically morning in Ireland. One of the nicest cab drivers of the whole trip chatted us up on our way into town about everything from bike racing to breakfast options.

Once in town, we walked around aimlessly. Apparently even in Dublin, 9-10am is fairly early to be looking for Guinness and Jameson. We settled into a little cafe for some much needed coffee (and wifi!). The TVs were playing non-stop coverage of the storm’s effects on the East Coast back in the states. Coupled with our general fatigue, everything seemed sort of surreal at the time.

Brussels squareEconolineEventually we made our way to a fairly famous pub called Mulligan’s in the Temple Bar district. They’ve been serving up pints since 1782. We spent a whole lot of time there.

We were really getting burned out though. I had barely slept at all in well over a day and all of the downers weren’t exactly helping. We grabbed a bite and made our way back to the airport, perhaps a bit too early. The wait for our plane felt crushing. I just wanted to get into a hotel for some sleep already.

At some point, we finally got into the airport near Brussels. We had rented a van for the Trappist tour but weren’t quite sure what we might end up with. After some haggling at the front desk, we saw the Ford Econoline in all of it’s glory. Mandi was pretty excited to get behind the wheel.

I was given the general directions from Google and the shotgun seat in order to help dispense the guidance. It was a role I would soon regret. Navigating a car in Brussels is equivalent to going blindfolded through a corn maze. You might get through it, but you’re going to end up cut and dirty.

We got lost… hard… on our trip to the hotel. Directions were asked. Answers were given in French. We spent well over an hour circling the city trying to figure out where the hell we were. Street signs seem to be generally optional in the older cities. Finally, the receptionist at “The Hotel” (not our hotel) helped guide us in the correct general direction. This wasn’t the last time we would be hopelessly lost.

We were in bed by 12pm (without being able to find dinner) and slept until about 3pm the next day.

There was little time to pull everything together before hitting the road on our bikes. I still needed to get my bike out of the box and put it together. The plan was to spend a bit of time exploring Brussels, but everything was shut down on holiday outside of the tourist spots. Everything is always shut down in Belgium. We grabbed a train and went in towards what was essentially a Belgian Cheesecake Factory. Even the worst restaurants have cheap and amazing beer.

We vowed to get a proper Brussels experience (if there was one) on our return from the bicycling tour.

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