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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Home at Last

We made it!

But before we got home, we had some last small adventures. Phil being Phil, we had to see one more sight on the way to Zadar -- an enormous 18th century palace on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary. Called the Festetics Palace, it has 101 rooms and is the kind of place where you have to wear funny slippers to protect (and polish) the floors as you go through.

There was, of course, a beautiful bride cavorting on the palace grounds.

The palace interior had miles of over-the-top furnishings and beautifully preserved wallpaper, with many statues and paintings of horses and dogs. They loved their dachshunds...

But the highlight for us was the library. You want it too, don't you? Phil asked the guide if anything had been harmed in WWII, and he told us that the whole palace was taken over as a Soviet military hospital, and the commandant was a Russian university professor. The professor was so astounded by the library that he walled it up and put a big sign on the wall saying "Highly infectious patients!" So nothing inside was touched during the war. The professor, in fact, returned in the 1990s at the age of 80 to see it again.

We stopped briefly at the lake (the largest in central Europe), then realized we had an hour less than we thought to get to Zadar, 450 kilometers away. Phil drove really really fast, in the rain and through many long mountain tunnels. We made it to the airport on time, though the car rental return was a little fraught (let's just say I'm really glad I opted for the no-deductible insurance). Croatian security is much nicer than Belgian, though one young woman, peering through our dirty laundry, asked accusingly, "Do you know what I am looking for?" We didn't, and she never told us. Spent the whole flight chatting with a charming Belgian army officer just graduated from the Royal Academy who lamented the cheapness of a nation that won't send its military anywhere interesting. Got in early, to triumphal music and clapping, made an early bus, but discovered that we still had to wait for the last train in Brussels.

I noticed a strange-looking bar across the street, so we staggered over to discover it was a large nightclub having a "Swing Saturday" celebration. Scores of attractive, nicely-dressed young people swing dancing to "Sing Sing Sing" and "Stompin' at the Savoy." We joined them for a dance and a welcome-back Belgian beer.

What a trip. And now we're back in Gent, back on the waffle-chocolate-and-beer diet, and back to work. Oh well. Everyday life in Belgium is pretty much a vacation anyway.

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