It is 6:30 a.m. as the flight attendant finishes up his hurried collection of breakfast trays, and the plane begins what the captain has predicted will be a very long descent into Amsterdam.
I raise my window shade to a surreal sky: dawn has not yet broken, and a brilliant line of orange light separates the still-black sky below the plane from a wide cushion of smoke-colored, puffy clouds above.
Suddenly the city appears as an endless, completely flat stretch of lights that, moments later, abruptly changes in the light of day, to a verdant landscape laced with canals. Windmills are everywhere.
Dazed and back on terra firma, we hurry to make our short connecting flight to Brussels, Belgium. The pilot speaks from the cockpit in Flemish, a language akin to nothing we have ever heard, and then again, in hesitant English. As the flight attendant quickly delivers little bags containing chilled orange juice and a scrambled egg sandwich, we hear her speak to other passengers in perfect English, French and German.
My husband, the travel sleuth, had suggested making Brussels our destination after reading that it has the most beautiful main square in all of Europe.
Months earlier in planning the trip, he had read aloud to me the past and present history of the “Grand-Place,” referencing the “Flower Carpet,” an event that had taken place biannually in the city’s square since 1971. A photo showed the square with 700,000 cut flowers arranged to form a 250-foot long Oriental rug . But we’d be visiting in an off-year. There was certainly much else to enjoy in the huge, architecturally elegant Grand-Place and its environs.
We pushed through crowds to get a glimpse of the “Manneken Pis,” the most-visited and photographed piece of art in the city. It’s a charming, 1619 bronze statue by Jerome Duquesnoy (a copy of its 1377 stone counterpart), depicting a plump little 2-year-old boy peeing into a fountain.