We had an open week in our agenda, just after Paris. John’s dad was going to come out and join him for a river cruise through Normandy, and the girls and I planned to stay in Paris. Sarah, the daughter of close friends (a niece we are not related to…) made plans to stay with us for a week and a half while we were there. Unfortunately, health issues kept John’s dad at home, and plans were adjusted with Marlie joining John on the river cruise, and the older girls staying behind with me.
On the back end of the open week was the looming deadline to get out of Schengen. Our carefully calculated “bucket” of days allotted to us to stay in this collective zone is running out. This time our ditch out of Schengen will take us to the UK for a month. When we return, we will be into a new tourist visa period, with a new “bucket” of days we’re allowed to stay.We looked at both Holland and Belgium for this open week. Although we’ve heard much more about the Netherlands and Amsterdam, I kept coming back to Belgium in my mind. Although I could not really explain why to my family, we made plans for our remaining Schengen days in Brussels. What we’ve found are some of the most remarkable buildings we’ve seen in Europe, great food, the chocolate we expected, and a strange fascination with a small fountain of a little boy peeing.
After gaping at the buildings surrounding the Grand Place, we wandered back into some of the surrounding streets, looking for a cafe to watch people and enjoy a glass of wine. We came across a crowd gathered around a fountain we’d been seeing in photos and copies made of chocolate and plastic in souvenir shop windows: Manneken Pis. Having arrived in Brussels with little idea of what was here, we had even less about the peeing boy. Or, why such a crowd gathered around it to take a photo. Across the street we found the perfect crowd watching, vantage point café.
We talked for a while about “me too.” Our first day back in Paris, after Sarah joined us, I took the girls to the Louvre. We walked though the streams of people, clumped here and there to look at something that caught their collective eye. As we were about to leave, I realized we were close to the Monalisa. I detoured the girls to see, not the painting, but the crowd. Standing, pressed into the space in front of this face were easily a hundred people, all trying to add their own photo to the global collection of shots of probably the most famous painting in the world. I have to admit, I’ve never understood the appeal. There are so many other paintings I like better. Yet, here, cameras raised above their heads, stood the crowd of “me too,” hoping to capture a memory.It’s interesting to think about it in travels, too. We have certainly done our share of “me too,” heading to places and sights that are famous, places our friends have seen. Pisa. Cinque Terre. The Eiffel Tower. And we’ve taken photos there, just like everyone else. I’ve even posted several, knowing people have seen these places. And I wonder sometimes, how many gigabytes of digital storage does the Monalisa or the leaning tower of Pisa occupy, worldwide? And how much are we, as we travel, looking for unique experiences and how much is following the crowd?
And we sat in the café, watching a throng jostle their way to the front, to take a photo of a fountain they had come to see; one their friends had taken photo of and shown them. Curious to us, because we had never heard of Manneken Pis.