Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When I Was in Belgium

The recent terror attacks in Brussels and the subsequent manhunt for terrorists made me think back to the weekend my wife and I spent in the Belgian capital last September. Security considerations were the last thing on our minds, even when we spent an entire, unplanned day at Brussels Airport.

“How would you like to attend a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert?” my wife surprised me one day. “Where are they playing?” “They are staging a concert tour in Europe. Let’s go!”

We are not groupies of the band yet we had grown up on CSN music. “Our house is a very fine house,” we would sing, especially due to the fact that for many years we had “two cats in the yard.”

“Where and when are they playing?” we wondered. We checked the schedule and considered going to hear them in Rome. The dates weren’t good for us. How about Dublin? Or Copenhagen? Or anywhere? Brussels fit in perfectly. On the spur of the moment we booked tickets for the end of September between the Jewish holidays, a time when our jobs would not tie us down.

The Grand Place in Brussels

Our Brussels hotel - Novotel Brussels off Grand Place – was easy to find and in a perfect location. We were just a short walk from Grand Place, the city’s central square. We visited Grand Place a number of times during our four-day stay in Belgium. The opulent buildings surrounding the square were lit up in gold and purple at night and were just as colorful during the day. We found our way through the side streets to see the miniature Mannekin Pis, the statue of a little boy peeing that we had seen on a previous stopover in Brussels many years before. We also had an opportunity to go to Atomium but we were not impressed at all by the iconic symbol of Brussels.

The Mannekin Pis statue is actually quite small.

Our day trips to Ghent and Bruges were wonderful. You can read about some of our experiences in the two Flemish cities in my previous article, “When in Belgium, Drink the Beer”.

Beautiful Ghent, Belgium

The Crosby, Stills & Nash concert was amazing. The band sang all of their greatest hits, including “Marrakesh Express,” “Teach Your Children,” “Wooden Ships,” and “Cathedral”. As expected, most of the sell-out crowd was in our age range. Everyone enjoyed the concert and wanted more.

Unfortunately, that was the last time we will ever hear Crosby, Stills & Nash live. According to the latest news and gossip reports, the band will never perform again due to the animosity between Graham Nash and David Crosby. We are grateful that we had the chance to see them in Brussels.

As for our long, unplanned day in Brussels Airport, this was due to a small mistake on my part. Apparently, El Al had notified me that our return flight to Israel would take off at six in the morning, but somehow, I did not pay attention to that email - the email which was still in my Inbox.

Upon arrival at the airport, the El Al check-in desk was nowhere to be seen. It was difficult to determine why the flight was not listed on the Departures board. No one could help us and it was impossible to call the El Al support center in Israel – we kept getting routed through the airline’s annoying switchboard without ever reaching a human. Only after speaking to our son-in-law did we realize that the flight had taken off without us. Luckily we were able to book another flight home later in the day, but the extra cost, as well as the long hours spent roaming a boring airport, were not enjoyed at all. And of course I was sulking due to my failing to relate to the changed departure time.

We were not impressed by Atomium, the iconic symbol of Brussels.

While at the airport we didn’t pay attention to security details, if any were in place. Even so, I doubt that Brussels Airport is the worst airport in Europe with regards to security.

The images of the suicide bombings at the airport and in the Metro were shown over and over in the newscasts. They were very painful to watch. Seeing the police on high alert in the places we had visited was very troubling.

We enjoyed our time in Belgium and we saw an amazing concert. Will that kind of spur-of-the-moment experience still be possible in the future? I certainly hope so, but in the meantime, one has to be extra careful.

Related article:

When in Belgium, Drink the Beer

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