May 26th, 2010
First off, I’d just like to give a big hell yes to the Flyers for making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals! It’s been a long time coming, and what this young team has accomplished is nothing short of amazing! You can bet your ass I’ll be finding the only hockey bars in Paris and Barcelona to watch our boys!
So where did I leave off? Ah yes, the delicious moules fraiches dans vin blanc avec un Tangelo et frites/mayo! I sauntered back to my hostel with a full belly, grabbed a shower, and met two really cool Canadian girls at the hostel bar, Steph and Vi. I told them that I was intent on catching the hockey game, and wouldn’t you know it, they were Montreal fans. So we posted up at the bar, but for whatever reason, it was totally dead and the bartender was closing up at 11! Now we needed to find another bar in town. And of course, with my awesome luck, it was a Belgian national holiday and most were closed. We met a nice guy named Luc in the street that directed us to a small bar, and decided to grab a drink with us. I begged the bar owner for the password to his Wi-Fi so I could steam the game, as he did not have it on cable.
As we watched the game intently, I got to talking to Luc. He introduced himself as an electrician, but I soon learned he studied quantum physics in school. This segued into some of the best conversation of my trip; everything from science, renewable energy sources, mythology (we agree to disagree on the location of Atlantis, I’m certain it is Santorini!), existentialism, and Belgian politics. He further elaborated on what Liezy had told me about the collapsed government. It isn’t so much the differences in languages, but the fact that the French speaking people in the rural areas apparently contribute less to the GDP than the German/Dutch speaking people, which has led to political division. He also explained how the euro currency really screwed over a lot of people in its inception. He moved from Spain to Belgium several years ago, but explained that when the currency was introduced, countries that held less powerful money had massive devaluation of the cash in their pockets. Overnight, their 400-euro apartment skyrocketed to 800 euros, gas and food doubled, and so forth. It was hard times for a lot of Europeans, and no one ever had a say in the matter sans a handful of powerful officials. It really put things into perspective.
Vi had already left the bar, so after the Flyers won the game, I pounded a celebratory shot, and we headed back to the hostel with Steph. However, we quickly realized we were frightfully lost! Bruges is hard enough to navigate by day, let alone in the dead of night. Another thing we noticed: if you stand still and don’t talk, it is literally SILENT. Not a single, solitary sound. No people, cars, birds, crickets… nothing. It really adds to the spooky factor of walking down dark medieval alleys! We eventually found the hostel and arrived only to find a roomful of people snoring. Lovely.
The next day was my first fairly shitty day. I woke up hung over again (anyone noticing a pattern here), and went to shower and change. Only one problem: I had meticulously hand-washed my clothes in Amsterdam, and thought I was a pro backpacker hanging them on my badass travel clothesline. Well shit… this old school method of clothes washing takes forever to dry! Since my stuff was still damp when I packed, my clothes now reeked! No choice but to clean them at a laundromat.
Once I located one, I attempted to understand the archaic machine in front of me; a beast from the cold war era, with instructions in Russian and Dutch. As I fumbled with the buttons and set it to whatever setting “Вставьте монеты и постирайте” was, some old woman sat idly by laughing at the ignorant American. I was not amused.
After the laundry fiasco, I decided to rent a bike and ride it to the Belgian beach/coast. I heard it was a pleasant ride and the bikes only cost 6 euro. Wow, was this a bad idea. They give you a map and it looks fairly close. I set out following the trails detailed on the map, and after about 30 minutes, I arrived in a small medieval town called Damme. I decided to leave the trail and explore this tiny town. First thing that I noticed was how amazingly clean it was; no graffiti, no trash, and potted flowers everywhere you turned. In fact, these were traits I found evident all over Belgium. The residents truly take pride in their towns and cities and it certainly shows. Those potted plants wouldn’t last more than 20 minutes in the states before some hooligan pushed them into the river.
The second thing I noticed was a guy reading a book at a café on the side of the street. He was wearing a blue hoodie, with the word “ill” written in red. Unreal; I fly halfway around the world, take a train to Bruges, ride a bike to the middle of the countryside, and here sits a freaking Phillies fan! I rode up to him, pointed to my Phillies hat, and screamed “Go Phils!” He laughed his ass off and we chatted for a few. I was the lucky person to inform him that the Flyers had won the night before, to which he gleefully chugged his beer. I bid him adieu and headed off. I stopped at a small grocery store and packed a delicious picnic: antipasto, baguettes, Belgian chocolates, a peach, a banana, and a Juliper beer.
The next 5 hours of my life were hell. No one bothers to mention that this damn beach is literally 20 miles away. So even though the scenery is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the ride is indescribably peaceful, it’s still 20 miles away! And as I got closer and closer to the coast, it got colder and colder. I am without a doubt the most under-dressed person in Europe right now. Every guide book and online source advised packing for warm weather! It was around 40 degrees and blowing 30 mph! I finally arrived at the beach (which looks like the Jersey shore), and found some dunes to hide in to eat since the wind was blasting my face with sand.
As I opened my pack… horror! The antipasto exploded open during the ride and got olive oil on everything! I was super bummed, and then I realized I still had 20 miles to bike back! I hopped on and tried to find a shorter route using the map they gave me. Bad idea. Whereas the leg to the beach was on beautiful biking roads along canals, the route I choose brought me through swamps and cow pastures that smelled so bad I almost fell off my bike. Every joint in my body was hurting, and I hadn’t seen another living person in over two hours. Was I truly the only idiotic tourist to attempt this ride? Apparently so.
Alas, I returned home to the hostel and passed out into a 2-hour coma. I had to wake up to send out more couchsurfing requests, as I had still not found a host in Paris. And of course, the night that I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open, the hostel bar gets slammed with tons of cool people that I now have no desire to meet. Oh well, I could use the sleep and sobriety for a change.
I awoke this morning late, grabbed a slice of bread, checked out, and sprinted two miles in under 15 minutes with 40 lbs. on my back in the pouring rain to catch my train. Yea that sucked. But I made it. And I’m on the train to Paris! Bonjour France!