“Are you okay?” Asks the nearest tourist in English with the heaviest accent I’ve ever heard.
Brushing my butt off and cringing, I say of course and rush off, trying to loose myself in the crowd that’s swirling around. Not five steps later, I find myself on the ground again, another stranger’s hand pulling me up and checking for broken bones.
Whoever told me that it doesn’t snow in Western Europe was wrong. While it does not snow often, Brussels, Belgium turns into an ice skating rink the mornings when the world wakes up to a winter “wonderland.” Cobblestones become boulders, ready to catch your skate and make it impossible to escape the embarrassment of smacking your nose on the pavement.
Ooft, three steps out the door and I was already on the ground.
I could have escaped it. I could have listened to the lovely family I was staying with who informed me that it was slippery and that I should be careful. With my too-cool-for-school attitude, however, I stuck on my fanciest city-living black booties and headed out to explore my new surroundings at 9 am, less than an hour after the most recent snow had fallen.
Ooft, three steps out the door and I was already on the ground. I could have turned back. Changed shoes. Drunk some coffee and waited a few hours. Put on an extra layer.
But, the stubborn child within me said no, I am all powerful, I can do this. And I continued.
I got a mouth-full of wool every time I tried to taste potato.
Through the Grand Place, slipping into the panoramic elevator by the Palais de Justice, up to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, sitting on the steps of the Mont des Arts because there was no way I was walking down those. My boots became skates, shuffling instead of walking, turning me into a penguin. As the snow melted, it made the smooth cobblestones slicker, then freezing again, as my fingers and toes turn into ice blocks that made smooth movement impossible.
In an attempt to warm up and to experience Belgian culture (I had just arrived after all, might as well jump right in), I ordered a cone of fries, then remembered that finger foods and gloves are incompatible. Without gloves, my ice-block fingers couldn’t grip the food, but with gloves, I got a mouth-full of wool every time I tried to taste potato.
Almost in tears, I found a café with free wifi and found the easiest, warm-public-transportation using, way home, where I jumped in a hot bath and ditched my cute, now frozen, shoes.
Now, three months later, as the crocuses are just peeking out of the once-frozen ground, I walk my friend around my adopted city and give the tour that is tainted by memories of the snowy day that I fucked up. “Here’s the square where a tourist from Bulgaria helped me up, really” I say, or “Watch out, the white tiles set into the road are slipperier than the cobblestones.” Honestly, I’m surprised the fall I took on those steps right there didn’t permanently dent either my butt or the pavement itself.
I pluck a bluebell from the ground outside the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and tuck it behind my ear. “It matches your eyes,” mentions my friend, the one lucky enough to not know the extreme toll these pavements took on me back in January, “but, next time, you should just wear better shoes.”