Monday, July 9, 2012


Travelers and tourists are advised to ask locals for insight on what restaurants to go to and what to see or do in a particular city. I’ve done this often, usually with mixed response. Sometimes the locals guide me to hidden gems that I might not have otherwise discovered. Sometimes I’m steered toward activities I already know about. And sometimes, I get the impression that the locals don’t really know much about their own cities at all.

Such was the case in Brussels. I was there for work and collaborated with a group of Belgian colleagues. We headed out one night on a city scavenger hunt, which I was all-too-eager to do. I thought surely, here was my chance to learn more about the city than I’d done on my own. I put on my walking shoes and got ready to roam.

The organizers of the event were an outside company who specialize in team-building activities such as the game we were about to play. They gave us our instructions: figure out the clues and use the handheld GPS to find the items pictured or described. We were to go to those spots, take a picture of the team and answer some questions. It sounded like fun. I was ready to start.

And that’s when I learned that I knew more about the city than any of my colleagues who worked there. They read off questions that only I could answer since I’d poured through guidebooks before traveling the Belgium. I’d already covered miles, walking around the city sight-seeing. In fact, we cheated a little and skipped some spots because I already had pictures of them on my camera. It seemed that I was the authority on our team; the only American, and the most knowledgeable about the sights to see in Brussels.

Then, as we walked, we passed the Museum of Musical Instruments (Mim).

“Have you gone there?” one of the women asked me.

I hadn’t. I’d read about it, but hadn’t given it much consideration. We have something similar in Cincinnati.

“You should go,” she continued. “There’s a nice café on the top floor where you can have a meal or a drink and it has beautiful views of the city.”

The next day it rained, and I followed her advice.

I paid my 7 Euro admission and the woman at the counter gave me a headset. “When you get to an instrument you want to hear, just plug this into the jack. There is only music, no commentary.” Which is perfect, is it not?

I headed into the museum and began with the woodwinds. Since I play the flute I was immediately drawn to them. I plugged my headset into the jack and heard the beautiful lilting sound that I expected. And I thought – this is the perfect museum for a person traveling alone. With your headset on, you are isolated anyway, and have no option other than to enjoy the music on your own. It was one of the few places where I didn’t miss having a companion. I was content to listen to some instruments for a few seconds; others until the recording had completely come to an end. I only wished that there were benches to sit on. I might never have left.

What surprised me was the instrument the pleased me the most. It was one I would not have expected: the accordions! Crazy, I know. I circled back to that display a few times.

I did also venture to the top floor café. It was still raining, but the views were no less stunning through the rain-spattered windows. If the weather had been nicer, I would have enjoyed my Kriek on the terrace. I made do sitting at a table by the floor-to-ceiling window.

I’m not sure I would have gone to the museum if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by my colleague. I am often too restless to see things that I could see elsewhere in the world when I visit a city. I can see musical instruments at home. But it was a perfect diversion on a rainy day and a quiet place to wander. It seems odd to call a musical museum ‘quiet,’ doesn’t it? But it was just me alone with my thoughts and the music in my ears. The accordion music and me.

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