Saturday, 22 May 2010
Day 2, Brussels
The blue sky overhead was almost indigo against the near naked branches of the tree. He sat on the jewel bright grass under it, amongst the leaves with his back against the smooth trunk. A guidebook in hand that he flicked through at her insistence. Stretched out, head in his lap she squinted up at him, a satisfied grin on her face.
Around them was the detritus of their impromptu picnic. Half a baguette, the wrapper from the chunk of nutty cheese that she'd insisted on and some ruby apples, bright against the grass. A leaf loosened above them and she watched the gold catch the light as it floated down towards them. The cool Autumn breeze whispering as it caught the leaf and tumbled it, dancing.
Nearby the excited sounds of young children crunching in the leaf piles echoed. The universal joy in picking up leaves and scattering them, watching them rain down. He watched them, putting down his guidebook and reaching for one of the apples while she listened and translated.
Early afternoon in Brussels. Why Belgium neither of them were sure. She'd wanted French and they'd both wanted obscure. Drawn to the idea of being somewhere a bit different for their big trip. On a whim they'd rented a tiny over street apartment in a building that was older than any from home. 17th Century moulding that thrilled her almost as much as the cobblestones below. There was a tiny balcony accessible beyond a billowing sheer curtain that hid a room that housed a bed, a tiny rickety table almost as old as the building and a kitchenette that had been renovated in the 50s with pink formica. She loved it. Had insisted on buying a bunch of assorted flowers from the market with a teapot as a vase even though they only planned on staying one more night.
She waved the guidebook at him and asked what he wanted to do for the afternoon. And he gazed down at her illuminated face, the glowing cheeks and eyes and shrugged. He honestly didn't care. Mock sighing she flicked his thigh with the book before kissing him. Feigning indignation at having to choose yet again before tidying up.
They walked hand in hand towards the market square where they'd bought their lunch arguing good naturedly about the merits of either chocolate or gelato. The tiny boutique chocolatiers cried out to her, while the icecream was always his favourite. It was still quite warm, the sun high, warming the thin air so gelati won. They bought one to share, licking the cream in turns.
They found a Cathedral, not in the guidebook but proud against an open cobbled square. She was drawn to the stained glass that glowed in the early afternoon light and persuaded him in. The empty, echoic chamber dark but for the red tapered candles that could be purchased near the pulpit. She poked some euros into the honesty box and handed him his candle to light. He smiled and shook his head, indulging her before being caught by the sign to their left "Tour Clocher". He turned to nudge her and instead watched her face, transfixed by the light coming through the stained glass rose.
He'd agreed to Brussels when she'd suggested it, not through any burning desire to eat waffles or pommes frites, but to see her when transformed. And his heart ached with it right now. The beauty that she saw and shared. He linked his fingers in hers, kissed the top of her head, and when she broke the trance pulled her towards the winding steps of the belltower. Up and up and up. Winding with open slit windows to show them how high they were climbing. Finally reaching the bells, heavy and ancient, and the narrow, rickety, vertigo inducing walkway around them.
At the third corner she stopped suddenly and sucked in a breath - there in front of them a vista over the peaked red rooves, the sun falling lower in the sky and the bare searching arms of the tree lined streets. He wrapped his arms around her from behind, neither of them speaking as they looked and looked. Tried to find their tiny apartment and failed. Neither of them caring. Not wanting to move. Being transfixed by all of it. By being on a flimsy wooden platform far above the ground in a whole other country looking at a view so quintessentially European that it thrilled her to her toes. It was only the movement behind them and the unexpected clang of the bell reaching the hour that pulled them out of the trance, him even more reluctant to move than her, as she bounced down the winding stairs.
She babbled about what they'd seen, bubbling up with effervescent joy as he watched and remained quiet. The smile in his eyes as he watched her joy. Glad to be here. Glad to be with her.
As they stepped out into the cooler afternoon she flipped open the guidebook and he laughed as she closed her eyes and randomly stabbed at a page. Reading the map at the back they worked out where to find the comic strip trail. Being side tracked by the TinTin trail and reminiscing about comic strips of childhood. It was getting dark and cold as they walked through yet another open aired market and she shivered, underdressed for the sudden chill. He looked around for the inevitable stall of handknits and found a ridiculously long, chunky cable knit scarf in soft grey, and bought it, wrapping it 3 times around her neck until her ears slipped down behind the softness. She grinned up at him, and suggested they abandon the comic trail in search of warmth.
As twilight fell the bright lights of the glass fronted bistros glittered on the old worn street. The hum of the city swam around them and they chose a corner eatery simply because it reminded her of the Deux Moulins in Amelie. Behind the polished bar the elderly patron puffed on a cigar as he wiped a glass and a few regulars sat sipping cognac towards the back in a haze of smoke that sat above them in a pungent cloud, mixed with the aroma of strong coffee and chocolate.
She ordered 2 chocolats chaud and they sat in front of the plate glass watching the people. The warm, slightly bitter, not oversweet chocolate accompanied by seashells which they sucked slowly. They had been here merely 2 days and while it would never seem enough she loved the transience. They had open Eurail tickets and planned to go somewhere new tomorrow, destination undecided. They both wanted mountains though, and as they watched the bustling on the street subside as commuters made their way home they decided on Austria.
Wandering back through the lit lanes they ate from street vendors before reaching their apartment, the cheerful flowers on the table and the white bedlinen still mussed from that morning when they hadn't bothered to make the bed, being too eager to be out and exploring the sunshine. Their single big suitcase on the floor, the 2 small backpacks and his guitar case. He wanted a shower and she listened as the pipes hammered and the ancient plumbing struggled as she opened the door to the balcony and curled up on it, looking for the stars, so different to home with her book on her lap, hands smudged with black as she sketched and wrote. Inspired by everything. The culture in the air. Tingling with the excitement of finally being in Europe, and it being so much more than she'd ever imagined.
He found her there, asleep, joy still lighting her face and carried her to the bed, still wrapped in her scarf and undressed her, sliding the covers up over them. Her head against his heart as he thought about Europe being everything he'd ever imagined. His chest tight at the perfection of the moment, before chuckling under his breath at the tiny snoring noises that he knew would embarrass her tomorrow. Stroking her hair and kissing the smudged fingertips before falling asleep himself, in Brussels.