It was a gray day when we arrived in Brussels, Belgium. The sky was an ominous mixture of dark clouds interspersed with subtle bits of light. Having just made it off the plane though, this was of no concern. We happily took the bus into town and wandered about for a long while. We had made it through several small parks and shops when the sky opened up and rain poured over every cobbled piece of sidewalk. Being from Seattle, I am used to the rain but this was more of a downpour. Everyone else had abandoned the streets and we were left just in our travel clothes, our backpacks getting worryingly soaked in about a two minutes. Thankfully, the rain subsided just in time for us to make it into the cozy indoors of our first hostel.
Interestingly, after 15+ hours of flying and a 9 hour time difference, I was not jet-lagged in the slightest. We had arrived technically at around 2am Seattle time but I was strangely energetic and ready to go. I decided to put on my hiking shoes and use up my energy on an exploration run through the city. Looking back, this was a weird thing to do. To easily run about in a completely foreign place without getting lost was a strange ability to imagine I had had. Nevertheless, with nothing but a small city map from the airport, I ventured out onto the drying streets of Brussels and decided to test my luck.
The first thirty or forty minutes were great! I ran through a bunch of long narrow streets flanked by relatively tiny parked cars, through a couple of parks and streets lined with various trees, and near a few produce and meat stands right next to apartments and other tall dwellings. Having yet to thoroughly consult the map, I decided to figure out where I was and walk back to the hostel using a different route.
Map-reading seems like such a straightforward task, or at least that’s what I had previously thought. You just find where you are on the map and follow the labeled streets toward wherever you want to go. It’s so simple, and I was decent at it in the states. Be that as it may, I still took over an hour to find my way back.
To be fair, I did want to get somewhat lost so I wasn’t too fazed by the extent to which I was adrift. Though, the amount of remaining daylight and a reappearing of dark grey cumulus clouds in the distance were becoming a bit of a concern.
Wandering aimlessly, map in hand, I asked a few locals first if they knew where we were on the map, and second, if they could help me find a route back to the general area of the hostel. Mind you, this was of course all in broken primitive French. Somehow they understood and very kindly explained possible routes. I gratefully took their advice and pursued in their direction of choice. It seemed to make sense on the map, but with great skill I still managed to end up lost. This happened about four more times until I finally made it back to the hostel.
And that’s when I confirmed my sense of direction really is horrible and that I am apparently equally horrible at foreign maps. Back home, I had had the novel idea of going for at least a mini run in every country I visited; however, with good reason, that was quickly dismissed. Instead, I decided to walk from then on and get lost at a slower, hopefully more understandable pace.