Friday, July 15, 2011
Central Wallonia, Belgium
I'm realizing that a huge benefit of couch surfing is having access to someone who speaks English. We are on our second day in southeastern Belgium and no one speaks a lick of English. Right now I'm hanging out at a laundry mat in Rochefort while Jacob and Vaughn play basketball at a park - both of which were found through lots of gesturing to locals.
Today we went and toured the caves at Grottes de Han, the primary reason we came to the area. It was kind of sad to me that such a national treasure got turned into such a private racket. It cost us $60 just to tour the caves and then parakeet wielding staff boarded the tram as we were waiting to depart to force us all to take pictures with the bird (conveniently available for purchase after exiting the caves). In addition to the books, candy and rocks and minerals, the gift shop was full of cheap, carnival-quality stuffed Smurfs (although we think of them as a product of the '80's, Smurfs were actually created by the Belgian artist Peyo in the 1950's) for $15.
The formations in the caves date back half a million years and are amazing to behold. We walked in between the French and Dutch speaking tours reading our English language tour pamphlet they provided. My favorite excerpt from the pamphlet being an enthusiastic suggestion to visit the cafe at the exit of the caves where we'd be sure to find "prices that are very democratic."
Jacob and I had just sworn to stop saying that things in Europe reminded us of Disneyland when all of a sudden we heard the lulling voice of Enya being piped through the speakers 80 meters underground. We were lead up to a semi-circle of benches where a light show started up on the cave walls. At the end of the tour they set off a cannon so that you could marvel at the acoustics in the cave and by that point we were pretty ready to be out of there.
We're trying to hook up a couch surfing arrangement for our last night in Belgium in Brussels. The hotel in Anhee we are staying at currently wasn't able to get our room open so they put us across the street in the "new hotel"that appears to have no other inhabitants and quite honestly seems to only be half completed. It also has to be the worst construction job I've ever seen - like the owners bought a "Build Your Own Hotel" kit at Home Depot or something. Jacob keeps saying that he feels like he is in Barton Fink.
I'm also hoping that a larger city might offer us more food options. Last night we paid $50 to split two plates of terrible spaghetti ($10 of the bill was just water since, for whatever reason, you can't get tap water) and we are tired of living off of peanut butter and jelly. I'm not going to lie- the last 48 hours have been a little touch and go with a bit of bickering (not totally surprising if you consider we are not usually together 24/7). Jacob does a good job of reminding us that sometimes traveling is hard and that we knew that it would be. I keep myself sane by working with my budgeting spreadsheet to remind myself that we are on track and doing just fine. Like any good Program Manager, I can tell you that we are 49.62% through our July food budget but I might be willing to go over a bit for a decent vegan meal in Brussels.