I have become such a lazy traveler.
Being with Gerda and family, all I want to do it stay in their pretty home and spend hours talking at the table and enjoying homecooked meals and munching on chocolate which is kind of what I am doing. I have realized that "home" has now become a destination for me. It doesn't feel commonplace anymore and so I am lapping it up like a dog drinking water.
I almost did not want to do anything yesterday--which is silly since I am in Brussels--but Gerda suggested that we go to the Atomium, which is a sight that would be new for both the family and me. The Atomium, which is a huge structure in the shape of the iron molecule, was built during the World Fair in 1958, and is Belgium's version of the Eiffel Tower. People go visit it to check out the views from the top.
Katrine, who had heard about it at school, was so excited that she skipped and jumped and ran around in circles as we walked towards it. However, the excitment waned quickly as the inside was nowhere as cool as the outside. For 9 euros each, we paid to wait in line to go to the top, which was a cramped, hot and smelly room, only to wait in line to go back down. For some reason, they did not let anyone use the stairs and so we spent the whole time waiting for the elevator. It would have made all the difference.
Gerda and Morten, being the gracious hosts, paid for everything, even buying me and Katrine and Anna Belgian waffles just so I can taste them. Gerdan and Morten are not that much older than me, but suddenly I felt like I could be one of their daughters.
"If my family dies and I am all alone, will you take me in?" I asked Gerda.
She said sure. I really meant it. I love these people.
First there is Katrine, the youngest. I cannot understand a word she says, but her facial expressions are filled with love, hate, rage, and silliness and she is fun to watch. Even though it is probably annoying for her parents, it is hilarious seeing her get mad over the littlest thing and yell things like "you don't understand me!" and stomp around, only to be in a perfectly normal disposition two minutes later. We finally bonded playing pirate swordfights and punching games. She then showed me her toys and the metal she won, and even said Good night to me in English. (It took her five minutes of standing there, and when she finally said the words, she scampered up the stairs in embarassment).
Anna is your typical teenager--it appears they are the same whether you are in the States or Europe. She takes hours getting ready and changes her outfit a few times a day. She thinks Americans are cool: She went to a Rhianna concert, watches One Tree Hill, speaks English well. Watching her reminds you all over what being a teenager was like.
And then there is Gerda and Morten. I really liked Gerda when I met her in Poland. She was so friendly and could get on with everyone, whether they were a flamboyant gay Spanish man or a Polish-American girl from New York City. But here, watching her in her real life, I am so impressed by her and the life she has created for herself.
She and Morten really work together as a team to manage their household. He cooks, she cooks. He cleans, she cleans. He takes care of the kids, she takes care of the kids. They have a warm, cozy home. Their kids are well-behaved and fun to be around. They have good jobs. They have a big car (that all their Euro friends turn up their noses at since it is not good for the environment) and yet they ride their bikes to work everyday (while their Euro friends drive). They take their kids to restaurants, they enjoy good food and good wine, they collect art and antiques, they vacation (looks like a trip to New York City is in the works). And while I know their lives are not perfect, it dawned on me that my last post was a bit naive. I wrote that I wanted to be a traveler and have the home and family, but I wasn't sure if I could have it all. But here, right in front of me, are Gerda and Morten, living both of my dreams at the same time and making it work. It finally clicked: It is not an either or situation. I can live the life the way I want.
When I have told people that I was visiting Brussels, I have gotten the following reactions:
"Brussels is my least favorite place in Europe!"
"It is dirty and dangerous there!"
"Belgium is like a third world country."
I did not have high expectations. I have checked out the city sights, and while it is not my favorite city, it is not so bad as what people say. However, what has made it phenomenal and has made it one of the highlights of my trip, is spending time and literally being inspired by these wonderful people.
Gerda, Morten, Anna and Katrine: Mange tak! You guys are the best!