My husband, Adolf, and I used to scoff at organized tours. Seasoned travelers, we had never, in two decades of travel, lost a child or misplaced a suitcase.
That was before Belgium.
As soon as the train stopped at Brussels's Gare Centrale, Adolf, following our usual procedure, unloaded our two large bags onto the plat- form, left me to watch them and reboarded to get our tote bags.
Suddenly, the electric doors slammed shut and the train whizzed off. I was stranded, and Adolf was taking an unscheduled trip to parts unknown.
I sat down on a bench in disbelief. I had no Belgian money, no passport (it was safe in Adolf's pocket) and thus no ID for cashing my traveler's checks. I couldn't even remember the name of our hotel in Brussels.
Suddenly I remembered the movie "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," and the female character who boarded an excursion boat going in one direction while her husband took another going the opposite way. Sure enough, it was Tuesday and I was in Belgium. I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing, as several people on the platform, thinking I was on the verge of tears, patted my shoulders solicitously, murmuring, "Madame, pauvre Madame."
I dug into my emergency stash -- 10 American $1 bills -- and set out to find a place to exchange them. Finally I spotted a man wearing an official-looking cap -- and a sympathetic expression. Using simple English and a bit of high school French, I told him what had happened.
The platform where I was standing would soon be crowded with thousands of subway commuters, he said -- not a good place to wait for Adolf.
Motioning me to follow him, the official hoisted my suitcases up several flights of stairs and into a combination police station and security office. There he translated from the Flemish as I struggled to answer questions. Where were we going? Here, to Gare Centrale. What destination was posted in front of the train? Again, Gare Centrale. Did I have any part of my ticket left? No, my husband had the punched tickets in his pocket.
The official in charge gravely studied a massive schedule about eight inches thick. I glanced at a clock: By now an hour and a half had elapsed. How would I ever get out of this mess?
Just then, Adolf walked calmly into the room carrying our two tote bags. He had ridden the train to its next stop, hopped a return train and found me with the help of a security guard.
Without saying a word to anyone else in the police station, and with a perfectly straight face, he asked me, "What are they holding you for?" Eleanor Gold Hirsch is a freelance writer in North Hollywood, Calif.