May 12, Brussels
We checked out of the Siena hotel and went, with most of the other group, to the Florence airport. Our flight departed only a few minutes late, but I heard from others that their planes were grounded due to hail. I had booked exit-row seats, so we had plenty of legroom. Not even water was complimentary on the flight, but I bought a salmon wrap that was quite good, along with a bottle of water.
We collected our luggage and took a taxi-van to our apartments (now with five people we didn't fit into a single apartment.) Leslie and I had the smaller, 2 bedroom/1 bath on the 4th floor, Bud, Gingy and Paul had a larger 2BR/2Bath on the 6th floor. (Curiously, their ceiling was higher too!) Both apartments were well-appointed and comfortable. The apartment manager showed us around and we unpacked.
In the evening, we walked to a nearby restaurant I had found using Yelp, "Restaurant La Plume". It had a broad menu, heavily skewed towards Middle-East/Northern Africa fare such as kebabs. Our server was from Morocco and she smiled when we told her we were headed there later this year. Leslie and I shared a "mixed grill for two" platter with beef, lamb, chicken, kofta, and ribs, along with potato croquettes (essentially Tater Tots). It was all very good, accompanied by a bottle of Bordeaux.
May 13, Brussels
We met up this morning with Dirk and Annie, a couple we had met on our 2015 Greek Islands cruise and who live in the Brussels area. We had seen them twice since, once in Brussels and once in Paris, but returned to Brussels where they offered to show us places we had not seen before. We were accompanied by their friend Irène, an "Energizer bunny" of an older woman, who was to show us around Antwerp the next day.
Dirk showed us the EU headquarters building, which was impressive from the outside. The central courtyard was ringed with enormous posters expressing various sentiments of European solidarity; curiously all text was in English. While most Belgians do speak English, the predominant languages there are French and Flemish (similar to Dutch), with signs in both languages. Several of the EU buildings had tall signs on a corner giving the building name in all the languages of member nations.
He then led us into a neighborhood with stores catering to North Africans, of whom there are a lot in Brussels. We walked through a sort of shopping mall containing hair and nail salons, clothing and accessory stores, all very busy. I felt a bit uncomfortable treating it as sort of an attraction for white tourists, and tried to be respectful.
We then went to an overlook where, off in the distance, we could see the Atomium. This structure was built for a 1958 world exhibition, had fallen into disrepair, and then was rebuilt. We were starting to run out of steam and chose to not trek out there to see it closer. One can go inside, take an elevator to the top and view various exhibits, but it is pricey and Dirk thought not worth paying for. A free elevator took us down to the "lower town", where we looked around briefly.
We passed by a vintage clothing store, which is like a magnet for Leslie, and she went in and purchased several items. Amusingly, this store sold its clothing by weight, €18 per kg; the three items came to €12.31 (less than $13.50).