Right on the heels of our San Francisco Summit Adventure, we hopped on a nonstop flight to Amsterdam. Here’s us settling into our home for the next 14 hours:
Upon landing, we found that our previously-arranged train journey to Brussels was destined to be interrupted by surly agents at the Thalys counter. It took an hour and two visits to the KLM airline desk (!) to finally arrange for a two-hour train ride to Brussels, with two changes.
At long last, we arrived at our Airbnb lodging — a basement apartment close to the city center. It was slushy and freezing here, a big difference from the sunny-and-70 San Francisco we had just left, and we wore all of our layers whenever we left the apartment.
It was about this time that we started to feel the beginnings of what’s affectionately referred to as the “Summit Plague”, a condition I managed to avoid last time, but which laid us both low for the first half of this trip. We would go out of the house for a late breakfast, only to come back for a two-hour nap.
Still, we managed to find some good places to eat. Belgium is renowned for its food (it’s said that Belgians eat as much as the Germans, but as well as the French), and rightly so. One other thing to know is that tap water isn’t free. We dealt with that situation by just ordering beer with every meal.
Brussels happens to be home to the oldest still-functioning shopping mall (built in 1847). And you thought America invented them!
The city of Brussels has a strange mascot – a peeing baby. There are likenesses of him everywhere, and you can even buy Mannekin Pis jewelery. They dress him up for special occasions.
Belgium also has chocolate. We crawled all the chocolates shops so you don’t have to! Our conclusion: Neuhaus was our favorite.
Inside is a kind of art museum about Belgian industrial designers. You actually travel through the tubes connecting the atoms, and it looks like the Death Star set.
Our flat was very close to the Grand Place, the big city square in old Brussels. This is what their town hall looks like on a nice day:
Nearby is Le Cirio, a well-rated and classic pub, where we got a soggy heat-lamped Croque Monsieur.
In our delirium, we actually convinced ourselves that our transfer to Antwerp for the conference was a day earlier than it actually was. We locked our luggage up at the train station and went for a walk around the upper town (where we spotted this palace), only to be alerted by our host that we weren’t due to check out for another 24 hours. This is us looking embarassed.
The extra time gave us a chance to hit this lovely tea shop down the street.
And make it to the city block where the Delirium Cafe has metastasized into an entire city block.
The next day (the day we were supposed to) we took a train to Antwerp, locked our luggage up, and did the Rick Steves’ walking tour.
It was freezing. We ducked into the maritime museum, not for the exhibits, but for some heated air and a hot cup of coffee.
After all that, we retrieved our luggage from its protective locker at the train station, and hiked 2 miles to our Airbnb lodging. That sounds like a long way, but it’s actually longer when hauling luggage in the freezing cold.
Once settled, I caught a cab to the location of my conference for a rousing and lively speakers’ dinner. The people there were lots of fun, and very welcoming.
The next day was day 1 of the conference, and I gave a 3-hour class on git for beginners. I was crazy nervous, and didn’t sleep well at all.
I was also realizing how much it would cost (in cab fare and time) to have our lodging so far from the conference. We made the tough decision to book a room someplace closer. Here is the view Becky took from our room on arriving there:
I also gave a more advanced presentation on git and GitHub on the second day of the conference. The room was packed, and the audience was great.
The conference organizers gave each of the speakers a set of gifts: Belgian chocolate and beer! Then came the after party, with GitHub providing the drinks, and Microsoft providing a way of making fools of ourselves.
We trundled back to our hotel room in the dark, and packed for a very early flight home the next morning. Four trains, two planes, and a cab ride later, we were welcomed home by our comfortable bed, and slept for 12 hours.