Only a couple of days before my flight back to Montreal from Brussels, and lots of weed left to smoke before the flight and nowhere to go after various plans fell thru. The days in the Netherlands were feeling heavy on my shoulders, I realized the party had to end at some point, it can’t be the weekend everyday. A friend of a friend contacted me on Facebook and told me I could stay at their place in Maastricht. Not wanting to be late, I payed for the train.
My host were two Canadians from New Brunswick who graciously made me supper and pancakes and gave me a key to their apartment. Maastricht is very different from the rest of the Netherlands. International students make the city pretty much Anglophone, the canals are replaced with the Maas River, and the architecture is much more of the medieval brown of Walloon.
I stayed for one night, walked around the small city blissfully high, walked along the old medieval city walls, went out for a few beers and spoke some Canadian French with my hosts. Highway construction, and lack of gas stations made it impossible to hitch out to Liège. I crossed another hitch hiker. She was from Prague, and cleary high as hell on acid or something. We had a beer together on the side of the high way on ramp before she suddenly had some kind of change of heart and ran off into the bushes never to be seen again. I walked back into town and payed for the train.
Liège is just across the border in Belgium, is another student city, and the number of fixed gear bikes almost outnumbered the number of Dutch cruiser bikes. The city sits in a valley cut by the Maas River, the core has tall apartment buildings, with medieval cobblestone streets at their feet, and a citadel overlooking it all. I stayed at a nice hostel, but was unable to socialize, so I walked from park to park, burning up the last of my weed, playing ukulele for a rabbit, wandering into churches, and taking photos of nature.
As happens with every end of trip, I found myself somewhere remote, this time up top surrounded by the citadel walls, reflecting upon my trip, tearing up, and stoked on life. I had one final Belgian beer and some Belgian fries and payed for the last train to Brussels airport.
I had been convinced to try and hitch hike from Amsterdam to Prague to see Jena and Bec by the last person who picked me up. I set off at 8am, but couldn’t get a ride at all out of Amsterdam heading anywhere to Germany so I flew a sign for Utrecht, which is only about a half hour drive. I went with the intention to keep on hitching out the next day, but ended up staying.
I got a ride quickly, and got to Utrecht in the evening. I went to see Sonic Youth singer’s new project Chelsea Light Moving and had the shroom truffles I had left over from Amsterdam. I was still very high after the show, and wandered around the canal parks, the narrow cobble stone streets filled with roses, the endless hidden parks, and then made my way back to the hostel. The hostel was pretty dodgey, but had some really fun people and free food all day long.
The second night I went to a punk show at a local radical type venue/restaurent/bar with two fun Americans and a bro-ey guy from Calgary who tagged along even after I said pretty explicitly he probably wouldn’t fit the crowd. The two Americans seem to find his kind entertaining to have around, I wasn’t so stoked but he insisted on coming. We got fairly tipsy and went back to the hostel.
The next day was Roze Zaterdag, the yearly Dutch Gay Pride Festival held in a different city each year. Myself and my two American buddies, Lauren and Megan walked around the city then went to the electronic music stage to have a truffle induced hallucinigenic dance off. Calgary-bro tagged along again, not on shrooms. Lauren and Megan felt the need to soak in their truffles high in the park, I had too much energy for such a thing so we parted ways.
I ran into some Austrialians at the electronic stage who I’d been spending the entire time at the hostel smoking weed with, and later saw Calgary-bro in the crowd, he had made some Dutch friends, and as the festival came to a close, we jumped in a cab with them, having no idea were they would take us. The truffles were still running thru my veins, I hadn’t eaten anything so as to not limit the truffle high, and was feeling slightly delirious.
We ended up somewhere in a suburban looking area, at an after hours club in the basement of an apartment complex. We danced some more, and hung out on the couches until the early hours of the morning and the sun started to peak over the horizon, we left Calgary-bro behind as he was nowhere to be found.
The next morning I saw that Calgary-bro made it back and was asleep in his hostel bed. I said farewell to all the lovely people at the hostel and grabbed a train to Maastrict.
Lots of walking had to happen, but I made it to Texel Island from Amsterdam after two hitched rides, a ferry, and a bus. Summer had not yet decided to settle upon the Dutch island, a cold wind was coming in from the North Sea and a light rain was falling. Nowhere to sleep, no real plans, I had only found out about Texel Island when looking up surf spots in Holland.
De Koog is the small beach side town on Texel Island with a few dozen restaurants and bars. I walked around on the beach, scouting for some shelter. THundreds of beach sheds form a line down beach so people can lock up their beach gear. Shed number 15 had its door wide open, and some very welcoming beach chairs inside, perfect spot to spend the night!
The next day I walked to the surf school, rented a board and wetsuit, and hit some one meter waves as my toes went numb. I had to cut the surf time short due to the insanely expensive surf rental and explored the Dunes of Texel National Park with a couple of joints and my ukulele.
There are a lot of rabbits in the dunes, and after seeing all the rotting rabbit corpses realized that something was killing them. Walking back from surfing I saw a young rabbit, weak, immobile right on the side of the path, its eyes swollen and bleeding. It seemed to have been run over by a bicycle. I couldn’t stand just walking away, I pulled out my rather dull knife, and with tears streaming down my face killed the poor thing. It was one of the most morbid things I’ve ever seen or done, and the image still loops in my brain. After some research, found out that the rabbits were dieing of myxomatosis, a human made disease for rabbit population control.
I left the scene feeling really shitty and on top of that, someone had found my stash of dumpstered chips, apples and cheese I hid in the forest for the day, and went off with it. I decided against taking the mushroom truffles I had brought along for a hallucinogenic night on the beach, and instead dumpstered some more food, watched the sunset over the ocean, played ukulele, and then drank beer in beach shed number 15.
I woke up in the middle of the night, the waves crashing onto the beach, and a few seconds later the door to the beach shed opened and a flash light blinded me. I wasn’t able to see the person, and after a few seconds, the door closed and my intruder walked away. I got up and looked outside, and saw the dark figure down the row of beach sheds suddenly popped into one of the shed and shut the door behind them.
I didn’t have much of a reason to stay longer, so the next day I got the bus and ferry back to the mainland and hitched a ride back to Amsterdam from a very eccentric military guy whose car interior was fuzzy zebra and had some great hitch hiking stories.
When I got back to Amsterdam I spent the night over at Michele and Sarah’s place, we went out for drinks with her school mates and had a lovely jam session until the Indica set in and we fell asleep.
Within about 15 minutes I got a ride from a middle aged, classy lady driving a fancy car. She drove me right to my hostel door. I spent the first few days mostly by myself going to every free exhibit and museum I could find, going to free jazz shows, free movie screening and queer dance party at the squats, and checking out the street art in North Amesterdam, all usually pleasantly high on cannabis.
I had to make moves from hostel to hostel because of free market and price fluctuations. At my second hostel, an Australian with straight dark hair and summer dress to match started talking to me in the common room. This is the start of when my memory gets mashed up and it starts becoming increasingly hard to tell the days apart.
My new friend invited me to smoke weed and later along with a Swedish kid, to do truffles in Vondel park. We were joined by Jena’s lovely Brit travel friend Gabby, and some Finish guy named Andy, who none of us could really figure out, but had been in Amsterdam for the past four months hanging out with tourists, and probably doing a lot of drugs. He showed us around the park and had some pretty unbelievable stories. I kept on thinking when he was gonna rob us, but that might have just been the weed paranoia setting in, he was actually harmless and a pretty nice guy, and an actor.
In the 60’s and 70’s Vondel Park was pretty famous for hippies to do their hippie things. It’s a pretty magical place, and filled with interesting nooks and English Gardens, still a great place to do hippie things. It was Summer Solstice, a fog blanketed the park, it was still light out at 11pm and everyone except for Andy was pretty high on mushroom truffles, especially Swedish kid who seemed to be having some fun visuals, and was seriously lacking mobility. Jena looked like she came out of Fear and Loathing completed by aviator glasses, and Gabby was being very philosophical.
Near midnight we were all coming down and went back to the city to go put out feet in the water of the pool at the Museum Park, and watch the reflection of the glittery sculptures and castle-type museum thing, play some ukulele, and burn up some more until the morning sun started to rise.
At some point, Jena and I had a night out in the red light district. We checked out a peep show and got tipsy in the bars along the canals, although I can’t really remember which day this was, but I’m pretty certain it happened.
Jena, her other travel buddy Bec and I tried to meet up with my friend from Montreal, Andrea, who we had a beer with on one of the previous nights, and got lost trying to meet up at Dam Square. We instead found some MDMA from a guy dressed entirely in some warm camo outfit, and fisherman’s hat in the summer sun, why not. We spent the first part of the night with these two American gay guys who wanted to check out the gay bars. The pills were settling in very slowly, too slowly as the night went on and the clubs and bars closed their door ridiculously early on a Sunday night, leaving us to finish off the pills in the hostel stair case and cuddle puddle until the sun was way up.
I hadn’t eaten much in the past few days other than food in the wall (deep fried, meat, cheese, and other unidentified substances in vending machines) and the shitty hostel breakfast which consisted of bread, jam, peanut butter, and the worst coffee I’ve ever had. None of us had gathered much sleep and had stayed in Amsterdam longer than we expected. I felt on the edge of and Amsterdam vortex, being sucked in by the looping canals, parks, bikes, shitty food, drugs, squats, and transient foreigners trying to have a good time. I saw myself easily falling into it, never to return.
We all decided it was time to leave and made some vague plans to meet in Prague. I left my big bag over to Michele’s place, a friend of a friend who was studying in Amsterdam, and walked about 8km to the highway and wrote a hitch hiking sign for Texel Island, with enough drugs to last me a few days on the beach.
I packed up and closed up the cabin on a sunny Friday. Some co-workers stopped by, others I saw later that day for some after work beers, I hadn’t really made much friends here so it wasn’t a very hard goodbye. Had to get out of there as soon as I could, jumped on a train to Rotterdam to meet up with Julian and spend the next few weeks in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was bombed during the war so the city is very modern with skyscrapers, and the largest port in Europe.
The first night I got there we rode bikes around downtown and I went to my first Coffee Shop, the place where you can legally buy weed. Expecting some hippie lounge with incents, exotic music, dim light, but I was met with a turnstile and a counter that resembled a cold currency exchange bureau. Joints were then burnt up by the river with some of Julian’s friends.
The next day we hoped onto dutch bikes and 15 or so uni-kids and myself played Flaggyball, drank beer, grilled meat, and smoked weed in the park next to a lake, pretty typical scene as I looked around at all the other groups of university kids playing Flaggyball, drinking beer, grilling meat, and smoking weed around the park. I didn’t sleep that night on account of some Saturday all-night, pill induced kitchen dance party. By 7am, myself and two wonderful people were still awake, and set out to watch the early morning sun from the swing sets in the park nearby, and play in the tall grass and flowers.
The day before we saw Manu Chau at a free outdoor festival, which was a mistake, but the second day we went to see Skip & Die, a band from South Africa that I really liked, especially for the fact that some pill residue was likely still rolling thru my bones.
Julian’s flatmate Ashton somehow managed to feed a dozen hungry uni-kids with oven chicken and vegetables, mostly by herself in the tiniest, disorderly of kitchens. I spent the next day following three Boatswains around as Ashton showed her little brother and friend around the city.
Julian was moving out and hitch hiking to Germany for the summer, we said farewell, and I also made my way to the highway and flew a sign for Amsterdam.
I’m still trying to make sense of this all, the past few weeks, the indistinguishable hostel dorms, the canals, the late nights, no sleep, the weed, food in the wall, pills, kitchen dance parties, the hours waiting for a ride, fungi, Vondel park, swing sets, cold nights on the beach, Australians, British, Americans, Germans, ukuleles, hostel hallways, coffee shops, rabbits, the moments I wish could last and others I’ve already forgotten in a Haze and daze, all mashed together like an over cooked stew in my brain.
Still another weekend and then I might muster enough thoughts into a straight line enough to type something up…
Ghent is similar to Bruges but bigger, younger, and with less tourists. At the train station I met up with Jana, a friend of a friend who was going to show me around for the day and found me a place to crash. We walk around a bit around the center, went for some beers and food and soaked up the late spring sun along the canal.
That evening we went to Jana’s house with some of her friends still recovering from the late night before and we ate all kinds of animals in varions forms cooked over a grill by Jana’s dad and where Trappist beers, wine and pils were plenty.
The beers kept flowing that night and we bar hopped around the center. The dance floors became stickier and sticker with spilled drinks and broken glass as the evening went on. Bars close late in Ghent, or early I guess, the sun was well up when I left the bar behind and walked to my designated crashing area.
Surprisingly I had a very mild hang over for the amount of strong Trappist beers I had, probably thanks to all those animals I ate and water I drank. I was up and walking around town at noon. Ghent has a lot amazing graffiti, street art, and lots of legal walls. I went to this strange museum with all kinds of objects from 19th and 20th century Ghent, with a really interesting section with home movies from the 50’s to the 80’s.
I walked around some more, played ukulele by the castle along the canal, saw a fashion exhibit inside a church were the pieces were actually pretty critical of Catholicism, it was hilarious to see the faces on some of the tourists and church goers as they wandered jaw-dropped, scrunch faced, then walked away in disapproval. I had time to quickly check out the S.W.A.K museum for an exhibit by Koen Theys before jumping on the train back for my last week of work.
I’m pretty sick of working here actually, although its super pretty in the spring time, and the people I work with are generally friendly, they’ve got some pretty racist, sexist, and homophobic views and conversations that I’ve been trying to ignore for the past two months and a half. From next weekend on, I’ll be hitting the road thumbs up thru Holland with not much of a plan other than seeing friends, trying some legal hallucinogens and attempting to catch some surf up North.
The “Venice of the North” as its called here, Bruges is a pretty little tourist town with the price to match. The city is sits on top of medieval canals and filled with endless little parks, narrow cobble stone streets, over priced souvenir shops and high fashion stores.
The “hostel” I was staying at was basically a vintage rock n roll, kitsch American bar with a few rooms for rent upstairs. It wasn’t all that bad, but I felt no shame stuffing my bag full of food at the overpriced and very lame breakfast buffet, which also had horrible coffee.
I walked around the outside of the city at first, saw a park with sheep, an art squat, played some ukulele, found a good coffee shop (they are hard to come by in this country), and made my way to the market to look for edible trash, unfortunately no consumables as there where mostly clothing and souvenir vendors. The city center was packed with slow moving, inconsiderate tourists, and crying children, so I quickly left the center squares.
I heard of an open mic at another hostel and me and my Australian hostel-mate, Nikki, went to check it out. No luck, no open mic, but plenty of tasty Belgian beer, and other solo travelers. After a few drinks our numbers rose to 6 or 7 people and the beer kept flowing while we exchanged travel stories and talked about our home towns. Nikki and I went out for a lovely joint, and then we all went off for Belgian fries before retreating off to our respected hostels.
The next day I found the cheapest bike rental in the city and followed the canal out to the English Channel, passing thru the flat Flemish country side, stopping in a tiny medieval town, and passing by groups of windmills and cows.
Knokke is a ridiculously overpriced ocean side town where a city by-law exists against Friteries (Belgian fries shop) to discourage poor people from visiting, and there is not a speck of graffiti, street art, or any kind of deviant behavior. Regardless, it was nice to soak my feet in the salty water and sand while playing ukulele and drinking a beer; a very over priced beer, almost three times the price for a regular can at a corner store.
I stumbled onto a very good photo journalism exhibit at the community center before riding back thru the country side back to Bruges for a veggie burger and a delicious kaaskrocket (deep fried battered cheese!) A very sleepy train ride home followed.
A year ago I hosted a couch surfer in Montreal and we got along well so decided to make the trip to Cologne to go see her. While waiting for my train in Jemelle I found some sort of abandoned train warehouse that needed exploring, thankfully the door was wide open, luck!
In Cologne, Mariella made some delicious food which she claimed was “burnt”, her room mate and I claimed it was delicious. That night rode bikes to a music show with a good band called Bikahara Trio, then danced our pants off to the DJ set that followed.
It was a pretty lazy morning with some delicious breakfast, and we rode bikes around all day in Cologne. The city is fairly busy, and has very narrow streets, lots of traffic, a pretty complicated bike path system, and not too many tall building or landmarks to orient oneself. I followed behind as we went to thrift stores, the 800 year old cathedral, and the Ludwig Museum with a great exhibition with work from Saul Steinberg .
That night we went to the “hipster” part of town for the Saturday flee market in some warehouse in a industrial looking neighborhood. The market had bands playing, we got some free ice cream, and
I found some pants for 3 euros, which was good because the state of the crotch of my current pants resembled the thickness of toilet paper, and no amount of patches would have prevented my whole crotch from eventually being exposed.
Later that night we biked in the rain to the other side of the Rhine river to a re-purposed industrial building turned into a radical community center housing all kinds of events, groups, workshops, art, anarchists, feminist, and a bar in the basement. I’m pretty sure every surface, inside and out was covered in stickers, tags, art, posters, slogans, beer, vomit, or other wonderful things.
The next day another great lazy breakfast followed and I jumped on the train back. I had a bit of time to visit Aachen, and walked around in the rain visiting a very pretty church where almost every surface was covered in glass mosaic and a giant park were I found a wonderfully overgrown frame of an old greenhouse.
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.
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.
I had two awful days of shoveling about 3 tons of dirt last week. My back felt like shit, I decided to go to a student party town for the weekend as I was in desperate need of some good human interaction after a fairly lonesome time last weekend in Luxembourg and spending all week in my cabin.
Leuven is a Flemish city near Brussels, and has been a university town since the 17th century. And now its a city that boasts having Europe’s longest bar, which is really a square with a couple dozen bars. It’s also home of the Stella Artois Brewery. Seemed like a good place to go!
I found a couch surfing host, a couple living close to the city center, they seemed pretty rad. They picked me up at the train station, and we pretty instantly felt comfortable around each other. We spent the days walking around Leuven, hanging out on their balcony, smoking shisha, drinking way too much coffee, playing music, eating fucking orgasmic carrot and pineapple burgers and at night we sampled all kinds of tasty Belgian beers at their flat and at a local jazz and blues bar. Hang overs were actually surprisingly mild.
Lana and I went to a Hospital Museum with all kinds of freaky early 20th century medical tools and rooms, and Ivo who is a music producer recorded and edited a song of mine.
I walked around Leuven alone Sunday afternoon leaving Ivo to recover from late night drinking and Lana had to go to work. I went straight for the first grocery store dumpster I could find as the weekend had been pretty expensive for my usual travel budget. I found a bunch of cheese and yogurt and walked up to eat my prize with some fries at the top of this secret dirt mound with a view of the city.
I crossed a squat on my walk, it was the first squat I’ve ever seen, a nice big house behind some student housing, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Leuven is surprisingly clean and lacking in street art and slogans, so it was nice to see some deviance!
Down the street I found an abandoned church! A really big gothic one. The door was wide open and inside there was all kinds of art installed. The place looked like it was barely holding together, and there were all these metal beams put there to make sure it didn’t fall. I was able to climb up all the way to the bell towers and look out at the city. The wooden, bird shit covered floors and ladders up there were pretty sketchy but luckily I didn’t fall thru. I rang one of the giant bells when I got to the top and it made a really huge sounds, much louder then I thought so I hurried my back down the bird shit.
On my way to the train station I tried to busk for the last hour I had but my ukulele playing only managed to make a few Euros, and got on the train back home.
I spent pretty much the whole week working in the greenhouse and medicinal plant and vegetable garden, next to the horse stables and apple orchard. yahoo! Much more my type of work, and the people there are much more friendly and actually nice to the autistic intern who is also here for three months.
One of the gardeners showed me around some more secret parts of the park, and abandoned trout farm, abandoned lodge, and where I could see wild boar and deer! At dusk, I broke into the 18th century castle that is being renovated. Its was freaky as shit and there were 20 foot high mirrors everywhere.
I took a train to Luxembourg this weekend. Being there is like being inside World or Warcraft. The whole city is has gothic architecture and much of the walls and casemates are still around, with a huge gorge that wiggles its way thru the city. It’s also a fiscal paradise and probably the cleanest city I’ve ever seen.
I got there Saturday, market day, and my first stop was the garbage. I didn’t get much, a mushroom and a potato, but this guy from the market gave me a Greek yogurt in this clay pot! We chatted a bit and later I ate it with starfruit and it was pretty damn tasty.
Later I also dumpstered an entire thing stick of cotton candy, I happened to be in the city when there was this carnival thing going on right next to the Royal Palace or whatever.
I couldn’t find a couch surfing host so I stayed at the hostel, which wasn’t very lively, most people there were people from France, Belgium or Germany, not there to travel but to find housing and work. I did get to stuff my bag with bread, sliced meat, and cheese during the all you can eat breakfast.
It was kind of hard to find cheap/free and fun things to do, much of the people who live in the city work for high end private banks, or European Union type things so things are pretty pricey. The city itself was pretty dead at night, even on Saturday, but for a few bucks the Municipal Cinema was playing Jabberwalk, a crazy American documentary from the 70’s about everything from drive in churches and funeral homes, to brothels and dildo factories.
There is a Cultural and Community center called Abbaye de Neumünster which used to be an Abbey and prison, but now houses free exhibitions, workshops and the like. I was walking the halls and walked into a buffet of half eaten coffee, juice, cookies, and croissants abviously I stuffed my face and pockets. There was also the Am Tunnel Gallery, a free art gallery in the basement of one of the private banks.
The rest of the time I biked around a lot, aimlessly on the municipal rent a bikes (Velohs, 1 Euro for a week! Best deal!) Walked down into the gorge to the Basse Ville which is like a giant medival garden from some children’s book, and played a lot of ukulele there. There isn’t much sreet art, but the stuff that I did see was pretty good. Lots of political stickers and small stencils.
Before I took the train back I got myself some cheap beer (very low sales tax and duties in this place) and then I took the train back towards Brussels with all the University students heading back from the smaller cities to school for the week. I got off at Ciney and back to the park for another week of work.
My first week of work was spent in the rain, but the last day was pretty awesome, I got to be a garbage man! I have kind of a fascination with dumpsters, things people throw away, and adrenaline, this combined all three. I hung on to the back of that garbage truck as if I was wind surfing thru a hurricane as the driver speed thru the park and around corners. Then when we got to dumpsters I got to operate the machine that lifts up the dumpsters and crushes the garbage. I was kind of sad to see all kinds of useful things get crushed, a mattress, crock pot, perfectly good furniture and brand new clothing. My morals wanted me to go in there and find all that stuff a good home but not really realistic for the moment.
I went to Namur for the weekend which is like an tiny adorable version of Brussels and the closest “big” city to where I am working. As the train pulled in I saw graffiti and anarchist slogans in the train yard. Art and critical thinking is always a good sign in a city in my opinion. Also, seeing others wearing skinny jeans again was pretty exciting.
I found a couch surfing host who just happened to work at the tourist kiosk so she was super helpful in thinking of things I could do and handed me a stack of flyers and brochures about Belguim. When we got to her place she made some fucking delicious pasta with this bacon like stuff and veggies. She was super nice and charming!
There was a lot of panhandling going on for such a small city so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to busk cause I didn’t want to take the local street peoples’s potential change. My couch surfing host showed me around town and we went out for drinks. Saw some good but pretty forgettable art in a gallery and I went to the Rops art museum, paid the student fair, and saw an exhibition on surrealism, hysteria and eroticism.
Namur is pretty small and hard to get lost even when I rented a bike and tried. The bike sharing service in this city is called Libia Velo, which at the same time made me think of vaginas and the African country. 1 euro to get around for 24 hours, pretty good deal!
On my second night I went a show up top the citadel. It was a 20 minute super steep incline thru mud and forest cause I kind of got lost. Think of going to the top on Mont Royal to see a show, I thought it was pretty strange but apparently the 30 or so other people who showed up didn’t think so. Black Manila, pretty good UK garage rock, the others, forgettable.
Belgian chocolates, beer, coffee, waffles, left over leeks, oranges, and starfruits from the Saturday market garbage. I’m not too familiar with star fruit and ended up devouring an entire one, later the Internet told me I ate an unripe one. It,was pretty tasty but really sour and tarty.
Train back to Chevetonge, drinking a local Trappist (beer made by monks) sitting on the patio of my cabin as the stars come out and the bells from the monastery ring 9pm in the distance through the forest.
At the train station in Ciney someone from the Park greets me to bring me to cabin. He tells me that the other Quebecker who was also supposed to be working here and living with me bailed a few days ago and that I would be spending the three months alone in the cabin. In the day, the park will be full of people, but at night, once all the maintenance and workers are gone, I’m alone in this 600 hectar forest/park. Part of me is excited to be alone, be able to walk around naked, play my own music, not have to deal with someone else’s dishes, jerk off somewhere other than the shower and all kinds of things you can do in solitude. Then another part of me is a little afraid about being lonely, and maybe go a little nuts.
I get dropped off at my cabin, and the person accompanying me shows me around and we have a few glasses of Maistrank, (locally made wine stuff with apples.) If you saw the photos, my cabin is pretty fucking adorable. Its an A-frame cabin, kitchen, bathroom, and dining room on the first floor, with basically a ladder going to the second floor which is a big open bedroom with a door to a patio. The front view isn’t so great. It’s the view of the cabins and the building that houses the activities and cafeteria for the kids who come mostly on weekends. The back view goes down into the forest to a creek. To cross the creek i can either shimmy across these two ropes tied on trees on either ends, or take a sketchy little wooden bridge, or get shin deep in water.
The park has 12 gardens and a couple half dozen leisure areas with jungle gyms, sport courts, an animal farm and a castle. There are a few small human-made lakes, three small bar/restaurants, a 6km long thing strip of “camping” (mobile homes) and a dozen or so cabins. There is a ridiculous amount of grass to be cut, which is fucking dumb, but the majority of the park is rolling hills of forest and small creeks with deer, wild boars, foxes, and other small critters.
The cook at the cafeteria gave me the WiFi password but unfortunately it doesn’t reach my cabin unless I hold my laptop over the edge of the second floor balcony. They also throw out a LOT of food. Which means I might be able to dumpster dive some grub about 50 meters away from my home!
I started work the day after I got there, which honestly isn’t too exciting and I won’t talk about it too much, all I will say is that I pretty much do shitty landscaping with a bunch of misogynist dudes, who don’t seem to give a shit about me. At least I’m living rent free and getting payed. I get weekends off so I will be taking trains or maybe I will try to hitch hike around this part of Europe, and maybe see some friends in Rotterdam, Berlin and Cologne!
I didn’t sleep at all on the flight, I was too pre-occupied playing Space Invaders and watching this Swiss movie called L’Enfant d’en haut about a kid who steal skiis to feed himself and his “self abusing” sister. That said, I got to Brussels feeling pretty jet lagged.
At first I walked around kind of aimlessly trying to get lost, Africtown, Ixelles, Euro town, La Grand Place. I’ll admit that I looked for the Manneken Pis and the Jeaneke Pis, the first is one of Brussel’s most famous tourist attractions, a tiny statue of a little boy peeing, the other is the lesser known, little girl peeing, where coins dropped in the fountain actually go to some charity. Jeaneke Pis is also at the end of this small alley where I found Le Delirium, a bar with a couple thousand beer choices. I got the cheap Campus Pilsner at just under 3 Euros. I did have a one Euro waffle, and fries with sauce, went to giant Palais de justice and the Arche de triomphe, what can I say I’m a tourist.
After my first day I rented the 1.5 Euro a day bikes, was much easier to get around. I also went to a solidarity protest for migrants without papers after climbing up two floors into what I thought was an abandoned building but once inside heard the sound of construction thru the walls and had to make a quick escape down the gutter shoot! I stumbled onto two vernisages, one with comic artists from South Africa, and went to an artist presentation, both at Recylart which is a row of spaces for artists, shows and events under this train over pass covered in amazing street art and next to two skate parks.
That space was right next to my hostel, which was a little boring, but I met this rad person from Berlin. Free breakfast at the hostel was a great opportunity to stuff my bag full of bread, and individual packages of jam, and this delicious peanuty Nutella-like spread which I still can’t get enough of! There are a bunch of little markets that pop up usually on weekends and by 2pm they all pack up and leave the squares, leaving behind sometimes food and all kinds of stuff! I showed up at 2pm at the Flagey Square, and was able to dumpster a bunch of veggies before the clean up crews got to all the trash.
I spent a day visiting some of the free museums listed online. One with giant paintings! Like 30 or 40 feet high, another one of this socialist artist Meunier who I’ve seen a painting of before, it shows three women picking up the left over individual grains of wheat after a harvest, old time dumpster divers! The last one was the Zoology museum at the University libre de Bruxelles, it was so amazing! All kinds of creatures soaking in formaldehyde and really old taxedermied things with skin cracking of age or mishandling.
Time to take the train to Ciney! This is the reason for my trip, I’ll be working as a gardener in a provincial park and staying rent free in this cabin in the woods, getting $395 bucks a week! Not sure what to expect, but the next three months should be interesting!
Moncton was a pretty big contrast from Sackville. Sackville is a tiny town of mostly students, rad people, many of them in bands or play music and some great graffiti and street art. Moncton is a big city, with bad grafitti, little to no art and music scene, with a tiny but growing bike community that is comprised of mostly burly heavy metal dudes, or straight edge kids who ride fixed gear bikes and low riders. Cory found me a place to stay at his friend JD’s place, and a few days later, I was back on the road with a new frame, actually, the exact same frame and size as my pink Norco, but green and branded Fiori!
My days in Moncton I spent collecting more McDonald’s free coffee, watching the tidal bore come up the muddy Pedicodiac River, getting paid rounds of beer by a burly fixed gear riding metal head, heading BACK to Sackville for an Astral Gunk show, going to the pretty unimpressive Magnetic Hill, and stuffing my face with bagels and donuts, once getting caught INSIDE Tim Horton’s dumpster, mouth full of donuts (I was pretty much ignored by the employee, the slight comment and the look of disgust on his face was pretty dehumanizing, dumpster divers are people too!)
I had a few days to kill before my Moncton to Montreal train so I biked down to the Hopewell Rocks, and snuck in for free (don’t judge, I had 5$ left in my pocket, which isn’t even enough to get in the park, let alone feed myself) Although there where a lot of tourists the park is beautiful. I walked around the flower pot rocks at low tide, and at high tide hung out at the beach picking up pretty rocks, and saw a giant flock of migrating birds on the beach, fattening themselves up for the flight down south.
Again, everywhere I turned the wind seem to blow in my face, even later that day when I back tracked back up to Hillsborough, the wind had reversed direction. Seb told me about some old silos out there, and on my way down I had stopped to record some tunes inside of them. I was coming back to camp out there! It was a beautiful night, made a big fire, had some beer (nickles and dimes left), made some food on the fire, sang my heart out slamming on my ukulele under the stars. An unexpected but welcome little drizzle started pouring down and I retreated to my tent, falling asleep watching the fire slowly burn out.
The following day I headed back to Moncton for my train, grabbing one last free coffee, watching the tidal bore one last time and grabbing one last Picaroon’s beer (running on my student line of credit by now, yikes, I’m not even a student anymore!) I was invited to the basement of a church for a free meal, which I gladly accepted, then jumped on my train, with 4 apples, a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread from the mission, and 3 dumpsered Tim Hortons bagels for the 17 hours train ride. I gawked in envy at the passengers around me with their bags full of tasty snacks and big bricks of cheese as I ate peanut butter apple sandwhiches for lunch, supper, and breakfast.
The Halifax Montreal train, “The Ocean Limited” as its called follows up the east coast of New Brunswick and then down the St Laurence to Montreal. Its a beautiful ride, going thru marshes, over rivers, along the Bay Des Chaleur, thru the Appalaicians, down the sea way. The overly chatty lonely middle aged man quickly went from novelty to annoying, and the single teenaged mother and two constantly crying kids also lost their charm fast. I spent most of my time walking up and down the train and trying to sleep on one of the tiny couches in the service car, the big one was already taken.
I didn’t get much sleep, and was up early, but just in time to watch the sunrise as the train went through the Monteregie and my home town, over the train bridge we used to walk across as teenagers and by my high school. It feels good to be back and see familiar streets, the good old aggressive Montreal drivers, the Lachine Canal, and Charline who is letting me stay at her house for a while, but coming back also means I need to find a place to live, get a job, paybills… boo! Responsibilities!
My body is tired, my bank acount is empty, I’m feelin in dire need of human interaction with loved ones, circumstances grounding my feet in the cement of Montreal. Ideas for more vagabond, fox-trotting, travels have been brewing long before I got off the train, long before I even left in the first place, and coming home is just more of a reason to make plans to hit the road again for more adventures.