We interrupt our chronologically ordered blogging for this public service complaint – more adventuring in When Travel Doesn’t Go Smoothly.

Am currently in ultra picturesque Bruges in a historic home that’s been carefully restored to retain the original hand-hewn beams and the [actually kind of creepy] Gothically carved fireplace surround. I do have pictures, but I can’t upload them right now as I am sitting with minimal equipment in a youth hostel lobby using their WiFi, since I discovered when I booted up this morning that I could not get and stay on the internet at the house.

I just thank god I finished drafting everything last night; I would not have had time to actually write today with these unexpected issues, especially since I woke up at the very late hour of 8:30 to Vespas and buses screeching past the bedroom window, echoing at teeth-chattering volume in the narrow cobbled passage. The house has no alarm clock, and without my cell phone (which I did not bring, as it’s not compatible with the European cell system), I [realized belatedly]  have no way to tell time or wake up when intended; a necessity when I have to be up most mornings at about 5am to complete my work. And to say I don’t naturally rise that early is a dramatic understatement – I am probably only getting up without the aid of a crowbar at that hour because it’s 11pm at home, which is when I always inconveniently awaken whenever I attempt to get an early night’s rest.

At about 9pm yesterday evening, while busily typing away at the news, the house was overcome with a sudden sewer stench so profound I immediately ran upstairs to make sure the ‘special toilet’ my erstwhile hosts have, which they describe as a “crushing toilet” and admonished me to only flush down it –you know– things that properly belong in the toilet, had not exploded/backed up/experienced a catastrophic failure.

Oddly, the toilet did not really seem to be the source of the smell – further investigations (well, sniffing around the house like a bipedal bloodhound, really) revealed the bathtub drain to be at least one source offgassing foul aromas. A venting issue perhaps? It had rained torrentially the day before, but surely this can’t be unusual for northern Europe, an area no stranger to dampness.  I shut the tub drain but that does nothing to affect the overflow drain, of course, and it was no better this morning. Once I gave up on the disconnecting-after-60 seconds internet this morning and hastily consulted my Lonely Planet guide for internet access options open at that hour, I was literally gagging from the smell as I tried to hurriedly brush my teeth in the bathroom in preparation to rush out of the house.

I am not pleased paying $100 a night for this; I may have to leave early for Paris and contest the charges, as sweet as the hosts appear to be.

I am also getting homicidally sick of the August tourist crowds; it’s like there’s no ‘there’ there in these smaller towns, they’ve become so corrupted by neon-sign emblazoned chain stores.  Seriously – there’s a Pizza Hut and Subway smack on two of the picturesque squares here in Bruges. Worse, there are people eating there!Auugh! Granted, the fast food signs are stuck onto lovely historic buildings, but the potential charm is sadly diluted by this. These are the proverbial turds floating in my European-travel punch bowl… (Or is my brain just scatacologically oriented from inhaling shit reek for the last 12 hours?)

More worryingly (bad transition here, sorry), I am not relishing the delectables I have been sampling up along the way. Coming from someone who can be transported with enjoyment of a particularly well-timed Jimmy John’s sub, this is disturbing in the extreme. I am beginning to suspect a brain tumor must be squashing my tastebud area, because what else could explain this complete deviation from my typical decadent luxuriating in the warm pool of epicurean delights?  (Cue best Ahnold voice, “It is not a tumah.”)

To wit, the evidence:

1 – I got a lovely assortment of Belgian chocolates from one of the most highly lauded houses here in Bruges, Dumon. I thought to try them and see which were best, perhaps to purchase more as gifts. They were lovely, shiny, glittering works of art, creamy in consistency…. and practically tasteless. I have at least 20 (most of which now have one teensy nibble from a corner) and none have been impressive, and only 3 with any discernible flavor beyond ‘sweet.’

2 – I purchased a piping hot, greasy paper cone filled with the city’s most venerated ‘frites’ in Brussels, topped with mayo as is traditional (and which I like in indecent amounts on sammiches and fries both). They were…. okay.  I forced myself to eat half, then tossed the rest (carefully into a bin, in case one of the many homeless people would like a fairly intact snack.)

3 – Cold, wet, and ravenous and again, plus stuck without many food options due to Sunday shop closures yesterday, I went to one of the places my hosts recommended for what they called ‘no nonsense Belgian food at reasonable prices.’ I got a huge pot of moules cooked in a sauce of the local beer and cream – should have been divine.  It was…. okay.  Was it the 30 Euro price tag that dampened my appetite, paid in low-blood sugar desperation?  Possibly a contributing factor. But frankly – after the delish mussels I DID have in Brussels at the tourist-trap-for-good-reason, Leon’s – I won’t eat another black shelled bivalve for months.  I am mouled out.

The most food enjoyment I have had over here thus far besides Leon’s moules (and several different kinds of luscious berries; they really do have some nice produce available over here) was a bottle of premade gazpacho I purchased on a whim at the supermarket.  (Read that sentence again, and feel the earth shake with promise of imminent Armageddon.)

The fear is growing – too horrible to contemplate – what if this catastrophic underwhelm-ment with food persists once I arrive in Paris??   [insert low choking gasp of mortal terror here]