November 7, 2002
My weekend trip to Belgium and the Netherlands marked the two-month point in our semester abroad, as well as my first overnight train of the trip. I heard from other Centre students how great it was to hop onto an overnight car, crawl into bed, and wake up refreshed, hundreds of kilometers away in new country. I could not wait to try this for myself during my Benelux vacation.
The information my friends failed to pass along was that if one did not reserve one of these magical beds, he could not just show up and demand one. And he would not be surprised or enchanted by the new environment the next day, because he saw every bit of the transition from his upright seat, meticulously engineered to induce good posture over sleep at all costs.
Although I arrived in Bruges, Belgium, less rested than I would have liked, this pleasant gothic city was relaxing enough for even the most frazzled tourist. Bruges is a classic example of how a city becomes great by losing its greatness. This canal-ringed city had been on par with London and Paris in the 14th century, but neighboring Antwerp soon offered an improved trading route that left Bruges too poor to replace its
beautiful old buildings in favor of the less attractive, more functional ones now found in Antwerp. A strange creature, progress.
We knew beforehand that this trip would be different from most. The point would be to experience new cultures, not to photograph famous sites we learned of from other photographs in travel guides. The redundancy can become quite repetitive. This new cultural experience for Belgium, of course, is a culinary one. It was all we could do to squeeze in a tour between waffles and chocolates.
Once our teeth were too rotten to chew any more, our group embarked for the next destination, Holland. Before we could take off, literally hours were needed to track down a place to