In which I write a paper, find a spider in my bed and attempt to flee from the heat.
Summer weather in Belgium is, overall, pretty nice. I am not a fan of hot weather or the sun, most likely as a result of growing up in oppressive Texas heat with lily white skin that burns like tinder. To be quite honest, one of the big draws of the Brussels program was the promise of a cool, rainy summer, or at the very least, temperatures that would max out in the low 80s. And for the most part, Brussels has kept that promise, minus the rain (which I am mad about). But what no one told me about Belgian summers was that for one week out of the year, just one, temperatures spike and the sun breaks through the clouds and brings with it some bona fide Texas heat. Now no one has air conditioning, of course, because for the other 51 weeks of the year they don’t need it. There are no industrial cooling fans, or public swimming pools or heavy duty air conditioners to crank up to full-blast on the train. For one week, all of Brussels is in hell. And Hannah with it.
Okay, that was a little dramatic. But remember what I said about being dramatic? So I’m going to say that this week was just shy of miserable. Not because of work, work was good, as per usual. Not because of school, even though I had to write a 2000 word essay about Belgian identity, which barely exists, let alone has a concrete definition. No, I was miserable because I was hot. And the heat and I, we do not get along. In fact, it was kind of out to get me this week (I’m allowed to be dramatic).
First, in an effort to combat the stagnant heat of our apartment, Mary and I had been leaving our window open at all hours. Now, for background, in addition to lacking A/C, Belgian apartments also lack window screens. So picture this: it’s about midnight on a Monday, and I’m setting my alarm on my phone when I see a dark shape out of the corner of my eye, right at the edge of the glow from my phone’s screen. At first, I think little of it. Dark shapes are everywhere, especially in the darkness. But then the dark shape moves. Dark shapes aren’t supposed to move, right? No, no they are not. My brain screams at me, GET UP, SCREAM, FLAIL YOUR ARMS WILDLY, FRIGHTEN THE DARK SHAPE INTO SUBMISSION, but my level headed side kicks in, stops me from making a noisy spectacle of myself, especially at an hour when most of my housemates are trying to get to sleep. Instead I turn on my phone’s flashlight and discover a spider, a big one, dark brown and bigger than probably most of the spiders I’ve ever seen, camping out on my pillow. Seriously, make a fist and look at it from the side. That’s how big it was, legs and all. Sensing it’s been had, the spider tries to escape, darting across the mattress, hopping onto the wall, scurrying down to the floor. Mary, stirred by the flashlight, makes a clutch assist with a sandal and bam, the spider is dispatched just as quickly as it had appeared. Though the threat has been neutralized, Mary and I agree that the window should never be opened again for as long as the building’s walls are still standing probably, just to be safe. I will break this rule not 5 days later, desperate for a breeze, before I figure out that propped in the corner of the room on the radiator is not the most effective spot for the fan. Mary and I both awake drenched in sweat until then. The heat is a son of a bitch.
I buy a fan the next day, unwilling to live in my apartment for another minute without some sort of breeze going through the place and since windows and more specifically open windows are dead to me, a fan is the only other option. I don’t think twice before spending 30 euro on a tiny little blue fan that I’ll have to throw in the garbage before I fly back to the US. What have you done to me, Brussels. Tiny Fan works hard, but I still spend the week fanning myself with literally anything I can get my hands on, including client brochures. Yeah, my office isn’t air conditioned either.
The weekend temperatures are the hottest of the forecast, so a few of us plan a trip to the coast on July 4th, Ostend, where the temperature will be just under 80 as opposed to just under 100. We will, clearly, take what we can get at this point. Not once did it occur to us that practically everyone else in the city of Brussels will have the same plan and will want to take the same train. Later, I learn that it’s a national tradition of sorts, this mass exodus to the sea during Hell Week. Where was that when I needed it for my Belgian identity paper. So the train to Ostend is crowded beyond all imagination, and since the feeble air conditioning only works in the main cabin, and I have been squished – literally squished, I am shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-back with strangers at this point – into the connecting carriage, I am back in the stagnant heat, only now with the added bonus of having every breath I take be about 50% body odor and 10% cigarette smoke. A bit of background information: when I get migraines, they’re always triggered by sitting in a hot car. Some brand new information: this apparently extends to hot trains. So I get a migraine standing in the stuffy train carriage for an hour and a half and my two friends, bless them, sit with me at the Ostend station while I wait for the nausea to pass. We eventually make it out of the station and to a square by the coast. We find a nice Cathedral and a nice outdoor cafe where I promptly fall asleep with my head in my hands before eating anything. And after probably 3 hours in Ostend, I throw in the towel. I am so tired I think I will fall asleep on the walk back to the station. The train back to Brussels is disgustingly crowded too, but we do get to talk to a nice American couple with a sleeping baby in the connecting carriage. Shoutout to my friends here – sorry I ruined your day trip guys. Thanks for letting me sleep while you ate lunch.
So yes, the hottest week of the summer got the best of me, but joke’s on it, because now I sleep with a fan in my face, which is my favorite way to sleep. Mom knows, she’s always turning my ceiling fan off to save electricity (sorry Mom, you’re the best). Seriously though, I think Hell Week made me more patriotic, and just in time for Independence Day. Land of the free and home of the air conditioned, God bless America. And if this week is by far the worst week of my whole trip, that could be considered a rousing success.
Things I saw:
Inside Out (with Dutch & French subtitles) – a beautiful movie, inside and out (HA) | ★★★★★
Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Belgian shoreline through half-closed eyes
Things I tried:
Dr. Pepper Zero – sweeter than Diet Dr. Pepper | ★★★
Living without AC | ★
Sleeping with a fan literally inches from my face | ★★★★★