I didn’t get much sleep during the week on account of over a hundred university students occupying the cabins in the park for the week as part of their studies and who partied every night until sun rise. Thursday in particular my night with them was pretty long and I got 30 min of sleep, went off to work, and then took a train in the evening to Antwerp.
The lowest rated hostel, turned out to be amazingly cozy and reminded me of the flat I share with my wonderful room mates in Montreal. Mismatched furniture, posters and art covering walls, hundreds of books, and always interesting transient folks hanging out at the kitchen table. The 2.50 Euro breakfast felt more like having lazy Sunday breakfast at a friend’s house with candle lights chill out music playing.
The city rent-a-bikes here look like vintage choppers, I rode them around the city the whole weekend. Antwerp is a port city, and is particularly more gritty than other Belgian cities, and also much more multi-cultural. I was staying in the Hasidic Jewish part of town, just like my neighborhood in Montreal. In other words this whole weekend seems like a parallel universe of my life in Canada.
I biked around the first day, stumbling into some open galleries, beautiful botanical gardens, stuffing my face with the free samples at the market, then dumpstering more food than I could carry, and riding my bike across the nearly 1 km underground pedestrian tunnel under the river.
The next day I made about 20 Euros busking, hung out with a very chatty and interesting homeless man and his cuddly dog, and looked up some abandoned buildings I had researched earlier. Said buildings were never found, but I did find these two underground cement silo bunker thing and some kind of yard with lots of graffiti and some abandoned cars.
That night I met up with two great Dutch guys I had met at the hostel who had promises of Dutch greenery and hang outs in the city. We added a Spanish guy from the hostel to our team and went out for fries. I skipped out on the movie they offered, preferring to bike around the city high, it was pretty wonderful. Met up with them later that night for more shrubs, a walk thru the red light district, and a Kapsalon, this crazy Dutch meal that has fries, cheese, meat, and salad on top. (Very reminiscent of poutine, parallel universe!) We stumbled back to the hostel laughing until our sides and cheeks hurt mostly on account of the younger Dutch kid’s bowel troubles.
The night was late, I missed the early bus to Mechelen, making it there in the afternoon. It was a holiday so much of the city was closed. A large group of tourists mistook me for a statue, which made for a good laugh by all. I found a 6 story parking lot with a great view of the city for lunch. My pack felt very heavy, but I walked around as much as I could; the small medieval cobble stone streets, along a very pretty boardwalk that follows the river and ducks under the bridges, two very nice gardens, and to the train station were a very dozy train ride back home followed.
I had a four day weekend ahead of me, and a vague plan to somehow get to London and crash at a friend’s place I haven’t seen in 6 years. In Brussels I met up with Julian, a friend I met 4 years ago in Tofino, living in Rotterdam. We drank some beers and smoked some weed on top of a 10 story parking lot, filling each other in on the years past and reminiscing about our time on the west coast and in Montreal.
The next day we hitched our first ride within 15 minutes from a gas station to “somewhere close to the ferry” to the UK. This Romania guy did not like the weekend highway traffic and was eager to get some fishing done on the coast so he drove thru the small Belgian town streets at 120km barely avoiding the parked cars.
Second ride we found within 10 minutes, and said he would take us to the ferry, but not across, explaining to us the complete rip off that is the English channel ferry. Not buying a ticket in advance will make the price jump up about 100 euros per car. We chatted with this Lithuanian fellow in the ticket line and jumped into his car to cross the ferry, so we could all save some cash.
The UK boarder guard was not so amused at our plan and did not find our story “credible”, she scolded us like an angry mother making me shrink into my 8 year old self. 30 min later, 4 more boarder checks and we made it onto the ferry, Julian had some words of wisdom, “If the boarder guard says your story is not credible, than you know you are having fun and traveling right,” I shared the sentiment.
Lithuanian guy had a hard time driving his car on the left, which made for some scary moments but also great laughs. We got to London too late however, every hostel, B&B, hotel, or inn around King’s Cross was booked, but a nice cleaning lady at the train station told us we could sleep on the station benches without getting kicked out.
The plan was to take a bus back for Sunday, I had work, Julian had a presentation at university. No chance, every bus booked, and the bus company’s website gives no indication of availability unless you go thru the entire check out process. Lots of walking and searching for Wifi and power outlets followed as we searched for a way back home in our budget. After 5 hours we finally found a ride share and we were able to enjoy some fish & chips and beer along the Thames.
I hadn’t seen Oli in 6 years but he was exactly like I remembered, humble, no nonsense, chatty fellow, with a great sense of British humour, and a great person to have beers with, and it was great to reminisce about our time at the Skiboard World Cup in Romania. He is getting married and moving to America, so he had a farewell party with his swing and blues dance class mates. It started off with some grilled animal meat, and swing dancing, followed by many shots of things I can not remember, and blues dancing until the sun got up and cuddle puddles spread out over the dance floor.
The next morning Oli cooked up some deliciously heavy breakfast as we all soaked in our hangovers. Julian, Oli and I managed to drag ourselves out of the house after 3pm and made our way to the free Science Museum. I’m pretty sure all our feet felt like they had bricks, especially Julian, who left us to have a nap as we went to a pub for some drinks and food.
That night Oli had to make it out to his folk’s place, so his flatmate Jeff, Julian and I went to another blue dance party in a flat in Mile End, (coincidentally the name of my Montreal neighborhood.) This one had live music, was much more crowded, but lots of interesting people to chat with. We had to catch the last tube which is at around 12:15am in London. I’m not sure if Jeff ever made it back from the party, but at 7:30am we got up to get our ride share. The French boarder guard waved us through behind his glass box and we rode the Euro Tunnel.
I got dropped off in Gent and Julian went on a little further to hitch hike up home (he ended up getting picked up by some guy who gave him free weed!), I then shared some bread, butter and honey with some Spanish transients and their three dogs, and walked around for a few hours before catching a train back home.
First 5 from Dinant, last 5 Brussels
Holy hangover, and no poutine to heal it with.
Friday I took the train back to Brussels to meet up with some Germans I met last time I was there. They hitched to Amsterdam and then down to Brussels for the weekend and said they might know someone who might have a place for us to crash, maybe. That’s a lot of maybes, I was fully prepared to possibly have to sleep in a park.
But fortunately the time and place we had decided last time we spoke earlier in the week worked out, so did the mysterious place to crash, a guy from Spain living in Brussels who they met at a bar.
I suggested noise punk show in a divey bar. I enjoyed it, the others didn’t as much. The rest of the first night was spent drinking beer in public places and smoking weed at the Flemish university, finished off by sneaking into our host’s bed room to crash as he had not told his room mates he was having 3 random people over. No sign of the room mate the whole weekend.
The next day we abused free samples of Belgian chocolates, went to see a photo exhibition for Pride week called Queer Kids In America, and looked for some derelict places to explore, one was a brewery that looked like it was being converted into a hotel or condos, and the other place we found reeked too much of urine to even step thru the front door. That night we went to some bars of which I’m having a hard time remembering the order of and I think we had fries, or maybe that was the night before…
We spent the whole time skipping the fair on public transit, and eating assortments of whatever food we found at the bottom of our bags. They hitched back Sunday morning leaving me to walk the street alone which was a nice change cause I much rather explore on foot or bike. I killed time until my train home by drinking caffeine in hopes of drowning down the weekend hangover, and playing a bunch of ukulele, but when I tried to busk, was told by some cops a license is needed to play music in this city.
I had the day off for Workers Day and decided to take my child sized mountain bike 25km to the city of Dinant, home of Leffe beer and the saxophone! There are barely any street signs outside cities here to the directions I wrote down became totally useless the first street corner I got to. I managed to make my way thru the valleys to the city tho. Its tucked into a deep valley on the Meuse river with at times only enough room for a single street between the two.
I went to the free Saxophone museum, drank a Leffe, joined some tourists for a visit in one of the nicest caves in Belgium (I stayed far back away from the tour group), checked out some castle ruins, and ate some dumpstered cheese on the edge of the river.
On my way back I tried to avoid the huge hill so I followed the Leffe river out of the valley. It was actually super pretty and you could see traces of medieval stuff here and there in the tiny narrow valley. I got lost on my way back, the road i took in the general direction of home turned to gravel, then dirt, then tracker path, then no path at all and I found myself biking thru basically a field.
I followed the sounds of the highway, found my way back, and by the time I got home my crotch felt like it had been pummeled by brass knuckles for the past few hours on the account of the seat being made for a 14 year old.
Namur, original ukulele and kazoo song in an abandoned church in Leuven, Belgium.
Ukulele cover of Tallest Man On Earth’s Bluebird in Luxembourg.