And so ended the warm half of the trip.  The cold half, which sort of started in chilly Barcelona, commenced in earnest when we exited the night train in Bern, Switzerland.  When we pulled up to the station at eight in the morning, the sky was grey and all the locals were wearing winter coats and scarves.  That was August 10th.  

To be honest, I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans since that morning.  With several Febreezings, they’ve managed quite nicely – a blessing, since they’re my only pair of long pants.  I’m also blessed with one long-sleeved shirt and one thin sweater, plus a pretty little pashmina the thickness of cheesecloth.  Brr!

So, bundled up in my jeans and sweater, I walked around the city of Bern with Mandi.  We found this statue atop a fountain: an ogre consuming helpless babes.  Yum?   

Ogre

An elephant act had been planned as part of a street festival that afternoon, but the weather was too cold for the elephants to handle.  Later that evening, dozens street performers ignored the chill as part of Buskers Bern, a three-day street festival.  We stopped awhile and listened to a hammered dulcimer player.  (I had an unusual interest in dulcimers as a child, so there was some nostalgia.)  We ended the night watching a group of three truly creepy acrobats.  Mandi deemed it one of the best poi shows she’s ever seen, but the performers’ bizarre costumes and eerie background music (plus the unseasonably cold weather) made it feel like Halloween. 

The next morning we took a train to Brussels, one of my favorite cities of the trip.  After some unexpectedly large expenditures during the first half of the trip (i.e., a first-class night train), we had been keeping our wallets very, very closed.  No restaurants, no alcohol, few museums, eating only enough to live.  In Brussels we finally chilled out, spending the extra few euros to try the famed waffles, chocolate, french fries and beer.  Check out this greasy, greasy wrapper from the waffle.  Eww.

Belgaufra

Between our gastronomic delights we perused the town, finding some fantastically quirky shops and a bar called L’Homo Erectus (“the erect homo”).  We also found this little guy, Mannekin Pis.  He’s possibly the main tourist attraction in Brussels.

Mannekin Pis

The best thing we found in Brussels was the company in the hostel.  Two great Scottish girls, two friendly Swedes, a group of peppy Britons, a Slovenian gal, and a super-nice graphic designer from New York.  We paired up with the designer, Nikki, the next day, since we were both headed for Amsterdam.  Together we toured the last brewery in Brussels that uses wild yeast and doesn’t micromanage the fermentation process.  Their unique style gives the beer a sour, acidic, but enjoyable taste.  We also found a great flea market, where I found a two-euro little white clutch purse.  (Compact and cheap.  The best travel purchase ever.)  Then we found the train station and took train to A-dam. 

Amsterdam, as many will attest, is a magical place – and not just because of its mushrooms.  I left Brussels having forgotten to get the e-mail addresses of the Swedes and the Scottish girls.  What are the odds, then, that I ran into one of the Swedes two days later outside of the Van Gogh museum?  Even weirder: the two Scottish girls booked the same room in the same hostel as we did.  Even weirder: the hostel is an hour outside of Amsterdam. 

Amsterdam was so weird that it actually deserves its own post.  So I’ll end this one here, with the side-note that Amsterdam is indeed cold enough (and windy, and rainy, and windy) to merit inclusion on the list of unexpectedly cold cities we visited during the second half of the trip.  (It’s also on the much-too-long list of places where I wore the same pair of pants.  Don’t judge.)

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