PETE RICEPUDDING IN BELGIUM
In the Marollen district at Brussels, people speak such a funny language. Pete wished to hear that with his own ears. But how to get to Brussels from Maastricht? He didn't want to travel via Liege. He thought that if anyone had to travel between two Flemish cities, he should be allowed to go through Flemish country only. Therefore, Pete took the bus to Tongeren. And then he took the bus to Sint Truiden, because he wanted to go to Brussels without making a detour. From there one could get to Brussels all the way by bus, via Tienen and Leuven.
The trip was both beautiful and quiet, but longlasting. To stop the bus, you have to make very explicit stop gestures with your hands; and then the bus drivers make exuberant signs too, to have a laugh. But come on, you have to be able to endure a little joke in Belgium. Meanwhile, Pete had a mind to drink a cool glass Hoegaarden beer. But he had to ask for his change money himself, for Belgian waiters have no time for futile things like that.
As soon as Pete got to Schaerbeek, he stepped out of the bus. He wished to look for a
cheap hotel before he got to the expensive city center. Up to four times, he asked somebody:
"Do you speak Flemish?", and three times the answer was: "Non!", but the fourth one said:
"Of course!" That was a friendly lady, who had to go by bus in the same direction as Pete.
She promised to point at a hotel near the Gare du Nord.
Then in that bus, it happened. When the nice lady pointed through the bus window to the hotel, pickpockets stole his purse. He didn't notice it before he was out of the bus. He was desperate for some minutes, but soon he recovered himself. He had Dutch money enough left in a little purse under his shirt. He entered with resignation in the hotel: it was hotel New Galaxy, which was run by Congolese staff.
The Congolese staff wore neat clothes, and they were extremely correct and thoughtful, this
must be said. For a little bit of money, Pete got a simple but neat room. The black servants
were smiling friendly all the time. The next morning, a nice congo-girl served good coffee
with a tasty continental breakfast.
The first thing that had to be done: change Dutch money for Belgian francs. This wasn't easy. One bank was closed, another didn't give no change whatever, the third refused Dutch money. All morning hours disappeared this way. Then Pete had to go to the police to give notice of the theft of the purse. "You have to be more attentive, sir!", said the merry police woman in the office.
After a walk through the Marollen district, Pete had been sitting in a public inn
between marionettes and crippled Brussels people in shirt-sleeves, talking in that funny Brussels
language. In the end of the afternoon, Pete had a mind to visit the Royal Brabant Archives.
One of his many ancestors had been born at Hoeleden near Tienen in 1711. Perhaps, Pete could
find what the priest had then written in the register of baptisms.
Alas. In the Archives, the officer said that Pete had to go to Leuven, because the Archives were being rebuilt. The rest of the day, Pete was sitting in a park, chatting with a bald Flemish fellow about the Brabant ancestors both of Pete and of this bald fellow. The bald man said that the microfilms of the registers of baptisms were still in Brussels, stored in boxes. So, Pete didn't have to go to Leuven. Nice boys, those Belgians!
Next day was a holiday of Virgin Mary. All public services were closed, or working slowly. Pete could get by train to Bilsen, near Maastricht, but still in Belgium. There was no bus from Bilsen to Maastricht within the next three hours. He could only take a bus to Veldwezelt at the frontier of Belgium and the Netherlands. From there, he walked easily home in less than two hours. East west, home best.