Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Roundabouts and one way streets

Day 2 in Belgium and I have yet to take any photos. Sorry. There's lots to take pictures of, but the weather + my work schedule are not being cooperative. Maybe this weekend I'll get out and be a tourist for a few hours.

OK, in yesterday's entry, I promised to write about my experience driving here. Those of you who have flown across continents are aware of this little thing called jet lag. I'm fortunate that I don't get it nearly as bad as some people. But picture this: upon my arrival in Brussels yesterday, I had to rent a car, navigate myself to the city of Namur (about an hour from the airport), and find my hotel, which happens to be in the Namur city center. I'm happy to report that I did two of these three things all on my own with no assistance whatsoever . . . and in a country where, depending on where you are, the language is either Flemish (Dutch) or French, neither of which I have any sort of grasp. And no, I did not have a GPS. [Editorial comment: GPS is for wussies! With one exception, noted below.]

The one thing I was unable to do was find my friggin hotel. It should have been easy enough: there were signs everywhere pointing to it. I'd follow the signs, but instead of finding my hotel, I'd find myself driving down a one-way cobblestone street so narrow, I felt like I needed to coat the car in petroleum jelly. Once, I went the wrong way, and had to back out. (Thankfully that was after I figured out the Reverse gear. See below.) Suddenly the street would end on a boulevard, which would feed into a roundabout. Those of you who live in Indianapolis are keenly aware of the roundabout controversy in Carmel? Well, in theory, a roundabout actually works quite well, as it doesn't slow down traffic the way a four-way stop does. I said in theory. I should have put a bumper sticker on my car that said STUPID AMERICAN DRIVER WHO IS NOT USED TO ROUNDABOUTS, PLEASE DON'T BLOW YOUR HORN AT ME. But, I don't know how to write that in Flemish or French.

Oh. About the Reverse gear. So I pulled the car over in order to check the directions to the hotel. My car, a really cool Volkswagen Golf, has a manual transmission (which is what I drive at home) - no big deal, right? Only when I was ready to drive away, I needed to back up a bit to gain some clearance between my car and the car parked in the space ahead of me, and I couldn't figure out how to get the Reverse gear to work. I studied the diagram on the gear stick, and the only thing different from my Toyota back home was that Reverse was on the left instead of the right. But it would not work! So I had to call Sophie (my coworker who lives here) to tell her that I was in trouble. Fortunately, she asked what type of car I was driving, and suggested that I give the gear stick a little push when trying to shift. Of course, when I did this (clutch, push, shift), Reverse kicked in and all was well . . . except maybe my pride. :-)

Thank God for Sophie, because when I called her the next time (some 10 minutes later) to report that I could not find the hotel, she came to my rescue and led me through those narrow cobblestone streets to my destination. [Editorial comment: OK, in this case GPS was not for wussies, because it's how she found the hotel. So, perhaps I am somewhat vindicated. This place is hidden.]

By the time I checked into the hotel, had lunch, and got my internet connection going, the jet lag had set in. I slept just over 12 hours last night, but when I woke up this morning I was on Belgium time and feeling pretty good. 

I've got a city map now, and I know how to get to the places I need to go. By the way, "map" in French is "plan." Therefore, you could say that I now have a plan. Look out, Belgian roundabouts! Here I come! 

Next entry--> My encounter with some really cool Belgian kids. Come back again tomorrow.