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Merry Christmas… from Brussels International Airport

December 24, 2010

Lost luggage, as far as the eye can see, and not one of them belongs to us...

Merry Christmas Eve… from snowy Brussels!

So, our 1.5 day trip home from Kinshasa (which is a long trip as it is) has turned into a 5 day trip, minimum, thanks to rain, snow, and European labor laws.

Our original itinerary had us leaving on Tuesday evening from Kinshasa to Brussels, then Brussels to Chicago, and finally Chicago to San Francisco on Wednesday night. 

But alas, like thousands of other holiday travelers right now, we are stuck mid-voyage.  It’s been insane, everything that you would expect from a corny holiday travel movie where everything goes wrong.

Long story short, our first flight from Kinshasa on Tuesday was cancelled, due to the weather in Kinshasa of all things (it was raining).  It was rescheduled for the next day, and eventually it did take off and we arrived in Brussels mid-day on Thursday.  Of course, by the time we got to Brussels 30 hours late, we had missed our connecting flight to Chicago.  By the time we finished our wild-goose chase around the Brussels airport and waited in 3 different lines for about 4 hours, we learned that the next flight that we could possibly get on wasn’t until Saturday and that no one knew where our checked bags were. 

Chic Belgian airport hotel

Snowy Brussels!

Sooo, here we are, at an airport hotel in Brussels on Christmas Eve, living out of our carry-on bags and wearing the same clothes that we left our house in on Tuesday afternoon. 

We do have tickets for a flight tomorrow from here to Geneva, Geneva to DC, and then DC to San Francisco, arriving on Christmas night.  However, Europe and DC are expecting more snow tonight, and the flight this morning between Brussels and Geneva was cancelled, so we’ll see how far we actually get tomorrow.

But, until then, we’d like to present some highlights of our Christmas voyage so far, which has certainly been eventful, to say the least…

  • The Kinshasa airport lived up to its reputation the two nights that we were there.  There were two fights, like actual physical altercations, while we waited for our plane.  One was definitely between a passenger and an airport employee over something that the airport employee took (tried to steal??) from the passenger’s carry-on bag at the security check point.  Between the two of us, Jamie and I were asked for money by no less than 4 airport employees as we made our way through security checks. 

One guy got right to the point with Jamie.  “Mettez votre choses ici, et donnez moi un cadeaux,” he said.  Put your things here, and give me a gift. 

The lady checking my bag was a little more subtle.  I had packed 4 passion fruits to take back so that our families could taste them (they are so good!), along with some banana cookies as a snack for us.  First, she took out the cookies, looked at them, and put them back.  She then pulled out the passion fruits, looked at them, and set them aside.  She told me that I wasn’t allowed to take them on the plane.

“Really?” I asked.  “Why?” 

“You’re just not allowed,” she told me. 

“Well, I brought these to eat as I wait for the plane,” I told her. 

“Fine,” she said, handing me 2 of the passion fruits, “but you must eat them before you get on the plane.” 

“I can’t have all 4?”

She looked at me skeptically (or was it disappointedly?).  “You are going to eat all 4 of them?”

“Yes, I’m with my husband and he’s hungry.”

“Which one is your husband?”

I point Jamie out behind me in the line.

“Fine,” she said reluctantly, relinquishing the 2 remaining passion fruits.

  • The traffic back to the Kinshasa airport the second time was like nothing either of us have ever seen before.  And I have been on the 405 during rush hour, my friends.  It’s difficult to describe the way pouring rain washes away what’s left of a road under constant construction, or the way sheer volume of bodies and vehicles blurs the boundaries between road, side walk and empty field, without even the pretense of individual lanes.  It was so bad, most people literally got out of their cars, locked the doors, and just walked home.

    Flip flops in the snow

  • It would be nice if we could get out and enjoy our unintentional mini-vacation in Brussels- the blanket of snow is probably really beautiful on the historic buildings in town.  Unfortunately, being the true California girl that I apparently am, the only shoes I have with me are flip flops, of course.  Another consequence of living out of our carry-on bags, Jamie has been using my deodorant because that’s all we have on us, so he smells like fruity baby powder.  He is also using my toothbrush. 
  • Since I can’t really leave the hotel without proper footwear, we’ve spent a good portion of the day today snuggled up in bed, watching Christmas movies that are dubbed either in French or Flemish
  • The keg at the little bar near the conference rooms, although it seems like it was functioning yesterday when we pulled the tap, is now empty.  However, dinner at the hotel was a food and drink buffet, with plenty of wine.
  • French fries and mayonnaise.  When in Rome…
  • Last night, we decided to go for a dip in the indoor Jacuzzi in our underwear, both for the joy of watching the snow fall outside while relaxing in bubbly hot water and also as a means of washing our underwear, which we have been wearing since Tuesday…

Jacuzzi, aka washing machine

For both of us, this is the first time that we are not spending Christmas with our families, and it does feel a bit sad.  We are missing our friends and families tonight, along with all the holiday traditions and festivities. 

But, in spite of everything, at least we are stranded in Brussels together.  And, as we realized last night, Jamie and I are our own family now, which makes us both feel very lucky and grateful.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    December 24, 2010 11:27 pm

    Merry Christmas Katie and Jamie! You are right, you are a family now, and you are starting your own traditions. This will be a fantastic story to tell your kids. We miss you, and hope this bump in the road won’t cut your time with us too short! Can’t wait to see you both, Love, Aunt Melodee

    • Katie R permalink*
      December 28, 2010 4:14 am

      Thanks, Aunt Melodee! We’ll be down to SoCal on Wednesday, so we’ll have (late) Christmas with you guys then!

  2. Holly permalink
    December 26, 2010 12:01 am

    Merry Christmas!! Sorry to hear that your stuck mid-travel, but at least you guys didnt get seperated. I hope you guys get a chance to see your fam, even if its just for an hour before you have to board your plane back to the DRC…..

    • Katie R permalink*
      December 28, 2010 4:15 am

      Ha, thanks Holly- yeah, we’re going to make it the most productive hour ever! Merry Christmas, you too. Hope you’re doing well!

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