Belgium, We Have a Problem: About This Blog Entry
It’s hard for even me to believe that there was a time in my life when travel didn’t excite me. But there was.
There was actually a period of my life, when I would travel–mostly cruises, with my family–that I didn’t have that travel “bug;” that unquenchable thirst for exploration, to see it all, as much as I could. I didn’t dislike traveling, but I think I didn’t carry even ten percent of the enthusiasm I have today, because the travel was simply too organized. Piling off a cruise ship with 1,000 other American tourists and getting on a bus to see the main square for three hours never really did it for me. Of course, I’d soon discover my true passion for travel: going solo to off-the-beaten-track places to see things most have never even dreamed of…and well, you know the rest of the story.
Anyway, my trip to Belgium in 2008 was one of those “hop off the cruise ship and take a tour” visits. I had a lovely time because I was with my dear mother, and I certainly didn’t dislike my stop here…but this was well before my real passion for travel was conceived, hence the reason I don’t have much of a “story.” I did take a few photographs though, so I hope you enjoy.
Belgium was neat. I enjoyed my quick day tour, albeit it was with a group of American senior citizens from the cruise ship. I was happy to spend some quality time with Mom, eat a waffle, drink some beer.
15 Years Later
And here I am, back in Belgium. And it only took 15 years! It’s downright frightening how fast time is going.
My first morning in Brussels included being physically removed from NATO headquarters. If you’re not familiar with my alter-ego, get ready to a take a trip down the rabbit hole that is The Republic of Slowjamastan. You see, I just happen to be “The Sultan” of said country. You may wanna take a break right now and Google “Slowjamastan.” If you choose to accept this mission, I’ll see you in a few hours. Enjoy.
Aaaaaand, we’re back. Assuming you Googled Slowjamastan, chances are, it’s hours (or days) later. I apologize that you’ll never get that time back, but hey, now you know all about Slowjamastan, right? It’s actually the sole reason I traveled to Belgium this time: to attend MicroCon 2023 EU, a conference where dozens of other “world leaders” like me get together to hob-knob with each other, make presentations and learn about other micronations.
It was this first morning, before leaving for Ypres, that I attempted to breach NATO security. I would have never been able to muster this much confidence without the uniform, FYI. It works wonders.
I probably could’ve negotiated a formal tour had I done the proper planning, but truth is, I completely forgot NATO was located in Brussels until I arrived the night before. It would be trial by fire as I pulled up to the gates in my rental car and Sultan uniform. I was lucky I didn’t end up in jail.
“Yes, I have an appointment with Jens Stoltenberg,” I confidently informed the security guard at the gate, in full “Sultan” accent.
The first pass didn’t work, as the guard explained my contact would have to come out and bring me in. Not one to give up, I drove down the block, parked and called NATO. I don’t know what I thought would happen, but I was going to try and plead my way in. After being on hold for 20 minutes, I ended the call and drove back to the gates. This time, there was a different security guard up front – a younger female – and for some reason, she let me right in, the arm to the parking lot raising as I pulled in like I owned the place. I tried to contain myself as a I drove in and parked. Did I really just make it into NATO?
In the front lobby, I handed over all of my metallics and prepared to walk through the metal detector. But before I could stroll through and collect my things, I was spotted. A very serious and stern tall man in a blazer appeared out of nowhere and informed me “I couldn’t be here,” and swiftly escorted me out of the building and back to my car.
I refused to break character, asking him “what was the issue,” and why would he “treat a world leader with such disrespect?” While I couldn’t get him to crack, I could tell that his companion, a younger, darker security guard, was enjoying the entertainment. The no-nonsense security officer then informed me he needed to take a photo of me and my car – obviously to make a report – but I invited him in for a “selfie with The Sultan,” pretending to believe that he was a fan. He still refused to smile. Not wanting to push my luck, I ended the unwelcome comedy routine and drove off, waiting to leave earshot before I let out a giant howl. I only wish I’d gotten this on video. A pure Borat moment for sure. So much fun!
After my adventure at NATO, it was a quick stroll for some breakfast, and then on to Ypres, for Microcon.
The Walled City
Ypres was one of the most beautiful towns I’d ever visited. The walled city was almost completely destroyed after WWI, but rebuilt and restored after. The town comes complete with a moat, tall walls and cobblestone streets. There is a daily “Last Post” ceremony, with soldiers blowing their bugles to honor those lost in the war. I’d only have a few minutes, before, during and after the conference to explore the streets of Ypres, but what little I saw, I loved! The day’s schedule was tight. I had just one day in Ypres, and it would be occupied primarily by the conference.
MicroCon 2023 EU
This was my third MicroCon. 2022 was in Las Vegas and 2023 was held in the thrilling and romantic town of Joliet, Illinois. This was the European counterpart to the American conference and was held in downtown Ypres. The full day of presentations unfurled in a relatively small room on the second floor, the size of a small high-school classroom, accessible only from a spiral flight of wooden stairs. Leaders each gave their 15-minute presentation with accompanying PowerPoints.
We broke for lunch downstairs before resuming for the afternoon sessions. I gave my presentation at 4PM, completely in-character. In fact, I stayed playing “The Sultan” from the beginning to the end of that day, including during my walk around town in-between sessions. Curious diners at sidewalk cafes stared as I posed as a world leader taking a walking tour of a foreign territory. The most brave of them asked who I was and where I was from.
I enjoyed dinner with fellow world leaders before heading out. I actually hated leaving that night and wished I’d booked a hotel inside the walled-city. In my quest to retain Platinum status at Marriott, I often book lodging at less convenient locations, including this time – staying 40 minutes away and over the border, in Lille, France.