Day 10 - 05/07/2002 - London, Brussels Belgium [Day 1 of Contiki Tour]
Got up at 5am to get a taxi to the Contiki tour bus departure lounge. Turns out that they were really strict about the weight of luggage (which is fair enough because the bus probably would not move if everyone tried to take as much luggage as me). If you had more than 20KG, they would make you empty your bag and leave stuff behind! Lucky I repacked the night before and got from 31KG to 21 KG. I was 1KG over, so I took out my jacket to check the weight (Greg thought it was over 1KG when I took it in his luggage for me on one plane trip, but I did not believe him) - reweighed my bag and got under 20KG without the jacket, which I could have just put back in the bag, but took as hand luggage for now, which was a good choice since it was a very cold day (especially for summer) - I can not believe that sucker weighed more than 1KG.
Saw the white cliffs of Dover ... they were whitish and they were cliffs - not much else to say about them. Caught the ferry across to France - no sea sickness (luckily), but I did have a sickness of a different kind ... I think my tolerance for younger kids is diminishing - there were hundreds of little kids running all over the ferry and causing havoc and pushing people (including me) out of the way - I think it is the first time that I have been annoyed at kids for years.
On the Ferry, Susan (whom I had exchanged many emails with before the trip) came up and said hello - she recognised me from my picture on this web page! It was nice to meet some of the people I have been emailing before the trip (Contiki has a message board on their web page that allows you to contact people on your tour before you leave)
Stopped in Brussels (Belgium). Saw the city landmark - the pissing boy (apparently, there is a story that the city was on fire and a boy pissed on it and put out the fire - I am a little confused about how he did this, but people seem to believe it) - the whole town is full of souvenirs of the pissing boy, including a cork-screw (which my dad once owned) with the cork screw being in an obvious place ... eventually the cork-screw broke (I felt sorry for the boy, it must have been painful).
MOVIE: Grand Square [MPG 630KB]
Got a beautiful waffle with hot chocolate sauce - delicious at under AU$3. We saw one waffle place with the slogan "probably the best since 1950" (they were obviously trying to avoid any future court cases from competitors).
For the first time in my life, I had to pay to go to the toilet. In Europe, it is common to "Pay for the Privilege to Pee". I would not have minded so much, except for the fact that the toilets were filthy.
It was great that some friends that I met in Australia (when I travelled around Oz in 98) were able to meet up with me for the short time that we were in the city. Greet, Dominique (and their daughter Alexandra) are great people and I am so glad to have met them. Greet scared me as Greg and I were waiting in the Grand Place (city square) - she came up behind me and said "hello darling" really close into my ear - I screamed - afterwards, I asked her how she knew it was me from behind? She said that she did not, so I wonder what would have happened if she did that to a complete stranger? They took us to a local pub and we got to try some interesting beers (Brussels is famous for beer and chocolate). We shared different types of beer that had an array of tastes, including fruit beer (which I really liked, but Greg did not). It is great to see people on the other side of the world (especially after not seeing them for a long time). Greet, Dominique and Alexandra are graciously going to travel to London at the end of my tour, so that we can spend some more time together - I am looking forward to it.
Stayed at the Four Points Sheriton hotel which is meant to be a 4+ star hotel (an exception for Contiki tours) - our Tour manager told us that it was all downhill from here and not to expect it to be this good ever again - supposedly some of the hotels will be small. Went and used there spa and sauna before dinner. Arrived at the sauna and found a French woman totally naked - I checked to see if there was a men's and a woman's area, but I was in the right place. She stayed naked, which was awkward - more so for me than for her (it seemed). I avoided her and used the different facilities, but she kept walking around in all her nakedness - I guess this is the European way. She eventually started talking to me and kept talking to me and stood there naked - which was very different from Australia. Even more different from Australia was the fact that I think she was trying to pick me up?!?
The whole nakedness and saunas reminds me of another story (not from this trip) - a summary of the story is in the next paragraph ...
[I went to a sauna and three men were naked inside. I thought I would join the trend and reluctantly took my clothes off. Eventually, the men left and I was by myself (naked) in the Sauna. Some other guys walked in (clothed), saw me naked, and ran out of the sauna. Here I was, trying to do the right thing and I got persecuted ... such is life]
Dinner was provided at the hotel. Dinner was a good chance to get to know some of the people on our tour. Everyone was really nice to each other and we had fun (and funny) conversations) - we seem to have a good group of people on our tour. Dinner was soup, followed by salmon and vegetables with some cream cake for desert.
Went into the city @ night to see the light show that did not happen, however, the buildings in the Grand Place were beautifully lit. The "Grand Place" is a square with a whole lot of big important buildings - it is meant to be one of the most significant "squares" in Europe, but Greg was not impressed. Got to try some more Belgian beer before being harassed by some guys who were on a Bucks Night. They "Buck" was sort of dressed as a woman and did a strip show dance. He wanted to weigh people on his scale. He needed over 1000KG of female virgins to be weighed before his friend would let him move on ... I was a bit offended when he asked me to step on the scale (especially considering that he was looking for female virgins).
MOVIE: Stripper [MPG 990KB]
Got back to the hotel and eventually was ready for bed before 2am, then realised that there was no sheets on my bed! Call reception to get some but had to wait until after 2am! I got a bit frustrated since we had to get up around 6:30am - was tired and managed to sleep (despite the snoring).