Sunday, June 28, 2015


Bruges is filled with beautiful canals.
We spent five nights in Belgium. The Eurostar took us quickly, smoothly, and quietly from London to Brussels, where we changed trains for Bruges. Through Pasporta Servo, we stayed with Bart, an Esperanto speaker, and his 16-year-old son. Bart hosts people several times a year. And to be sure that his son has contact with other denaskuloj (native Esperanto speakers), over the years they've visited about 40 families in 20 countries, including Canada, Siberia, and Tanzania. They also go to many family get-togethers in Europe; actually, we met Bart and his son two years ago at a family gathering in Xanten, Germany.

These colorful rooflines reminded us of Amsterdam.
Bart, who has lived most of his life in Bruges, spent two days giving us a most thorough tour of his beloved city, sometimes on foot, but mostly by bike. (Bart has 9 bikes!) We felt like natives riding around behind Bart, because Bruges is crowded with bikes. Maybe even more than in Amsterdam, every street has a bike lane, and the rules protect bikes from cars at crossings. Bart had our heads spinning with information about the history, architecture, economy, customs, etc. of the beautiful town. For example, why the citizens take such good care of their swans, and why a certain house has a garage that's camouflaged to hide its purpose.

Bart and me—we biked until my fanny was sore!
Part of the technique Bart used was to lead us through a "murder mystery" that he devised for visiting Esperanto groups. Using about a hundred numbered photos, Les and I had to find a path that passed each one in turn, collecting clues along the way. I'm embarrassed that I could eliminate only two of the four murder suspects, but the hours on the game were very worthwhile for noticing many local details. We visited several hidden-away god house communities, which are actually houses built ever since the 14th century for poor families; they're so attractive and peaceful that Les and I would like to be poor in Bruges and live in one.

Artists were invited to respond to the question, "What if the 5 million annual visitors to Bruges all decided to live there?" We liked all the creative installations, but these tree houses were my favorite.
We took a train back to Brussels, where we stayed with another Pasporta Servo family. This was Sauro, his wife Annalisa, and two sons aged 11 and 13. Sauro and Annalisa are both from Italy, and both work for the EU. The boys speak Italian, French, some Dutch and English and Esperanto, and are learning Latin. I was interested to find out about the several schools in Brussels geared for children of EU workers who might be stationed there for a few years; they have "sections" for various languages, where the curriculum is similar to what it would be in their home country, so that when they move back there, they're at a similar level with their classmates. For instance, Sauro's older son is in an Italian section, where he learns math and history and some other subjects from Italian textbooks.

Annalisa was the ultimate Italian cook. We felt like we were in culinary heaven: marvelous soups, pastas, semolina gnocchi, etc., and jams and pesto made from the produce of their small back garden. Even delicious apple juice that the boys had made from apples as part of a school project. And wonderful cheeses, including a huge wedge of Parmesan made by a friend in Italy from her own cows. We're certainly going to miss those marvelous smells, sights, and tastes in the coming days.

Our hosts in Brussels own this 5-story house, and our room was on the very top floor—69 steps up (our window was above the eaves). It felt special!
As if their wonderful hospitality weren't enough, Sauro is trying to arrange for us to stay with his parents (also Esperanto speakers) in Bologna after our Italian conference in September. (And Les has recently made a new Esperanto friend in Copenhagen, who's invited us there in September, so our "unplanned" final three weeks are beginning to flesh out.) About Brussels itself, we took lots of trams and walked a lot. The weather got about as hot as its been on our trip so far: 75°F.

The Atomium in Brussels was made for the 1958 World's Fair, similar to the way the Space Needle was the centerpiece of Seattle's World's Fair in 1962.
Next we took a train to Hanover. As always, Les liked to clock the train's speed, and we watched it reach 150 mph—a completely smooth ride, as always. What a civilized way to travel! Except that the train suddenly had a failure (the explanation was that part of the train broke, so after failing to fix it, the working part was used to tow the defective part), causing us to arrive in Hanover an hour late—not a problem because we didn't need to make a connection. There were periodic announcements giving status updates, but they were all in German. A Lebanese passenger sitting next to us translated them to English for us. We learned how to say "thank you" in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic.

Hanover is just a way station to catch up on things; we chose it because it didn't seem to have a lot of attractions. We've found we need to allow one day a week of "down time" just to get caught up, work on future plans, and decompress. We're in a nice hotel, but since leaving Britain we miss the ubiquitous hotel teakettles.

By the way, one of our hosts gave us the nicest compliment. He said, "You appear elderly, but you act youthful." My translation sounds a bit stilted, but in Esperanto it came across as spontaneous and natural.