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Friday, February 3, 2012

Welcome to the Old World

No traveler was ever as well organized as I. And boy did it pay off. A flawless trip to JFK, a nearly empty plane, an early arrival in Brussels, a quick passage through customs, a pleasant car rental experience. Onto the highway...
A horrific rush-hour traffic jam. Car thermometer registers -7 degrees centigrade.
Hopelessly lost in Gent.
Arrival at the student apartments (Home Heymans) at 10 a.m. only to be told we cannot take residence until 1.
Hopelessly lost in Gent.
Grocery shopping.
Visit to the IT guy, who prepares the computer for Internet access.
Hopelessly lost in Gent.
Back to Home Heymans, where we are given our apartment key and bedding.
Into the apartment, which is freezing cold. No heat, no Internet, no telephone. Almost no furniture. 1 cup, 1 plate, 1 bowl.
Complaints are filed.
Visit from a strange little man from upstairs, who speaks no English but wanders around the apartment with a notebook. Turns out he is comparing our discomfort with his own. Perhaps for a class-action suit?
Attempt to nap; too cold.
Car is ticketed.
Off to Ikea to buy necessities, including blankets. We are very cold.
Return to find a small electric radiator, making sleep possible.
Prepare dinner, go to bed.
Awake to find car has been towed.

Thus Day 1 in Gent.

However, things have improved. Though the groundhog saw his shadow, it is James Joyce's birthday, always a propitious occasion. We now have heat, phone (which we can't figure out), Internet (obviously), some furniture, and a second plate. We took a 3-mile hike to retrieve our car in an industrial wasteland guarded by three of the most gigantic hounds from hell imaginable. On our return, the Home Heymans people were so distressed at our bad luck that they offered us free and legal parking.  Phil lunched with the department chair, and we had a fabulous dinner with our friends the Versluys, who gave us all sorts of furniture and bedding as well as champagne and a gift basket that includes a very large bottle of the local specialty, genever, or flavored gin. Apparently the rule for genever is: you have your first drink at 11, your second at 3, and then after 5 as many more as you want. We may well need it -- the workmen have now begun renovating the apartment next door, and they start early and loud.

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