December 9 - The Gimp

Justin woke up a little before 08:00, with his right foot feeling a little sore.  He put his foot down on the ground and recoiled in excruciating pain.  He took off his socks, and his lower legs and feet had veins bulging everywhere, and he freaked out.  Crystal woke up somewhere in all of this, and Crystal got him a bunch of water, and he read up on what it might be, and that freaked him out even more, as it all looked fairly serious.  Then he considered all the recent beer drinking, plus his history of gout, and he thought (and actually hoped) it was just gout, as painful and debilitating as that is.  Once his socks had been off for a while, and he got a bunch of water in him, the swelling went down everywhere except his right foot.

Crystal went to a pharmacy around the corner, and all the “good stuff” for treating gout was prescription only, as in the US (e.g., prednisone).  All the pharmacist could give her was some powerful ibuprofen, so she took a package of those.  Beverly was still asleep, but woke up shortly before Crystal got back to the house.  Crystal had problems opening the door, and eventually Beverly had to let her in.  Justin could hear Crystal having problems with the door, but ironically couldn’t do anything to help, as he couldn’t walk at all, let alone go down two flights of stairs.  Once Crystal got in, Justin took some ibuprofen and waited for it to kick in.

Once he could walk (even if gingerly), he and Crystal walked across the street to Lidl to look for cherry juice.  This Lidl made the old Malama Market in Pahoa look both organized and well-stocked.  It seemed like no one had ever been in a store before, and no one had ever worked at a store before.  There was a good selection of meat, vegetables, bread, plus tons of soda, and almost nothing else.  To top things off, a dove flew in and the workers were trying to shoo it out of the store with a broom.  We grabbed some stuff (no cherry juice, sadly), then walked back across the street.  We had breakfast, Crystal and Beverly had some bubbly, and Justin had a ton of water.

As we were having breakfast, we all got calls from the same number, which we didn’t recognize.  We assumed it had something to do with COVID stuff, but the message was in French and Google translate gave us something that wasn’t really decipherable.  Justin was now fairly convinced his issue was gout, and felt bad for Crystal and Beverly because he couldn’t walk well, and he knew he brought it on himself.  We did some testing on the front door, and figured out we needed to pull the door towards us as we did the last turn of the key.  

We got a message from the Airbnb hosts in Vienna, and the message sounded very promising for everything to be open by 22nd, when we were due to arrive.  Since the lockdown had been announced, the chancellor had resigned, and Marcel in Cologne had given us the rumors as to the actual reason why.  As the rumor goes, the Austrian chancellor expected other countries (such as Germany) to quickly follow suit in doing a lockdown, only no other country did.  After that, he supposedly realized he was on an island and in a tenuous political position going forward, and resigned when his former mentor retired from politics - this was supposedly pretext.  

Before leaving the Airbnb, we researched how the Brussels metro worked, got ready, then headed off to the St Catherine’s Metro stop on the northwest side of downtown.  To get on the metro, we walked over to the Trone station, and Justin’s feet felt a little better since they were moving - it was just a pain tolerance issue.  The Metro was arranged like BART in San Francisco, so it was fairly straightforward for us to figure out what to do and where to go.  We bought a day pass since we figured we might use the metro again later in the day, especially with Justin not walking very well.  We went a couple stops north to Kunst-Wet, then changed platforms and went west to St. Catherine’s.

When we came up the stairs, we were right in the middle of a very large Christmas market, basically empty, with tons of chalets.  This wasn’t why we came to this area, but it was certainly a welcome bonus.  We got our wristbands, then walked around a bit.  We then walked over to St Michel (the reason for coming to this metro stop), but it was St Michel square, not St Michel Cathedral.  Oh well.  Then we saw we were near the Pis statue, so we decided to walk to that.  It turns out it was the (not famous) dog pissing statue, not the (famous) kid pissing statue.  Oh well.  We got a good laugh out of that, then decided to check out the Christmas Market in more detail since we knew that it was actually there.  

Crystal and Beverly got beverages, Justin got an empanada, and Beverly got a waffle, which was on her ‘must try’ list for Belgium–waffles, chocolate, and genever.  We looked at St Catherine’s church, both from the outside and inside, then decided to head to a different area of town.  We walked a bit east, to Place de Brouckere.  We passed by Old Tower (an old tower) and a mussels place that looked packed [in hindsight, maybe Grimbergen Cafe?].  We turned south at Place de la Mannaie, where there was another market and a big pedestrian street.  The chalets at the market were very decorative, both inside and out.  From there we walked south towards Grand Place.  Just before we got there we passed a grocery store and went in, and Justin was able to find a large carton of cherry-apple juice, so he bought that and chugged it down in short order.

We saw Grand Place in the light this time, without the crazy light show.  We took in the big square from all the angles, and took a bunch of photos in the process.  Crystal got Starbucks mugs not only for Brussels, but for Bruges as well (hoping this didn’t jinx anything).  From Grand Place, we walked a couple blocks to Manneken Pis, and we were as underwhelmed as we expected to be; perhaps it is better to say that we were “whelmed.”  The statue was dressed as a fireman.  Around that time, it started to rain a bit, but nothing too hard.  We stopped for a bit inside Galerie de la Reine, an indoor mall, to dry off and check for directions to St Michel, the correct one this time.  There were several fancy shops and giant balls made out of origami.

Once outside again, we found St Michel, and it wasn’t raining any more.  In a bit of humorous irony, once we were there, we realized we were less than a 15 minute walk from where we got on the metro this morning, at the Trone station.  But we didn’t feel like walking uphill to go back, and we had the day pass anyway, so we got on at Gare Centrale and went back to Trone.  Right after we got above ground, we all received another call from the Belgium COVID people (this was probably the third or fourth call by now), and Justin answered this time.  Justin told them our info, how we all had received PCR tests, how they’d all been negative, and that we’d be leaving on the seventh day (when we’d normally need a second test). So after the person spoke with both Crystal and Beverly as well, he told us we didn’t need a follow-up test.  This was welcome news, and hopefully our phones would stop ringing.  He told us we were all set, and that he was “closing our file.”

We tried to stop at London Calling for some happy-hour snacks, but it wasn’t open, so we just went home first, since London Calling was just around the corner anyway.  We tried to make a plan for dinner, at the mussels place we’d seen earlier.  But on Google Maps, we couldn’t find the mussels place we’d passed near St Catherine’s.  Instead, Justin found Au Vieux Bruxelles as an alternative, which had tons of choices of mussels (moules-frites being the national dish of Belgium), and was only a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb.  It had been around since 1882, so we figured it had to be pretty good.  Crystal looked at the menu, and it looked good to her.

We tried London Calling again, but despite supposedly opening at 17:00, it was not open.  So we walked over to Au Vieux Bruxelles, and it looked nice on the inside, so we decided to come back at 18:00 (when it was set to open) and hope for a table.  We turned the corner and there was a giant church, St Boniface, right in front of us - we had no idea it was there, as we hadn’t come across it in any of our reading on sites to see.  After some meandering looking for a place for pre-dinner drinks, we found L’Athenee.  Crystal got an Aperol Spritz and Justin and Beverly got gin and tonics (Justin hoped he’d had enough water and cherry juice in the day to “okay” this).

We arrived at the restaurant just after 18:00, and it was completely empty.  After presenting our BESafe apps (which were required at every place we went into in Belgium), we got a table in the corner and checked out the menu.  They had about 10-12 different types of mussel flavor choices.  Crystal got the “Au Vieux” variety, and Beverly decided between bleu cheese and garlic - the waiter recommended the bleu cheese so she got that.  Justin got a duck breast and some cheese croquettes.  Everything was outstanding, and Crystal and Beverly took close to 30 minutes to finish their mussels, which incredibly stayed piping hot the entire time.  We ended up getting dessert as well.  We spoke with Beverly about a variety of topics, and left a little after 20:00.  We dropped off Beverly at the house, then went to London Calling.  Justin got one rum, and Crystal got two glasses of red wine.  We got home before 22:00 tonight.  Back at the Airbnb, Crystal read and had some wine, Justin did Duolingo, looked for African restaurants in the neighborhood, and drank a ton of water.

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