From Cologne, Germany I was headed toward the UK via Belgium and France. I decided to go back to a little town and the only place I had already visited prior. I was off to Gent, Belgium.
One of the cool things about Belgium is they have three official languages: Dutch, French and German. On top of that most all of them speak English. So there are actually three or maybe four names in different languages for this little town.
I ended up taking four different trains to get there. When I finally arrived I was quite happy to be in a place I recognized. My phone was dead and I needed to find wifi to get a hold of my new host. Luckily, both were very easy to find in this country unlike some other countries.
My new host arrived just three minutes after I called. He and a friend scooped me up in their car. We went for a fine Belgian beer at this cool litte pub with this quaint, woodsy, fairy/troll home feel. It was really cool. I was so jazzed to be there!!!
After this place and one other I was showed to my room. It was on the top floor which meant it was in the pitch of a roof. My absolute favorite!!! I had a cozy place to sleep with cute flannel sheep sheets and a ceiling with a bright blue sky and clouds painted on it. I felt like a little child finally getting a good night sleep. On top of all that my host was super cool, calm, collected and amazing to be around.
|Waking up with pink, sheep and bear flannel sheets!|
|the street from my bedroom window|
|The view out the window from by bed. How cool is this chimney?|
That afternoon my host went out and bought some amazing rolls unlike any I had seen yet. They were flaky but not made with butter like a croissant. We added brei and some dry sausage to complete our "continental" breakfast of champions. Fresh oranges and waffel cookies dipped in chocolate were for dessert! My gosh were those cookies delicious!
That evening we went out to a free concert in town. These guys were quite amazing, actually. They did mention they were going to play Pitchfork festival in Paris just after Belgium. :p
|"Francois and the Atlas Mountains" live|
The following evening was a Saturday. I found a CS meeting in town and decided to join them in town since I would be on my own that night. There were about nine of us when all was said and done.
|In order to get this gigantic, tasty beverage you must give them your shoe as collateral.|
They then put your shoe in a basket and pull the basket into the rafters.
Needless to say it was a fun, interesting night. I ended up finding out that one of the CSers was in a fencing club. I was feeling a bit spicy by that point so I asked if I could join. With no hesitation I was invited! The next meet was on Monday!
If there is one thing that makes Belgium unique it's their stairs! I went down stairs from my little loft earlier that morning with my socks on. I guess I was a bit excited and lost my grip. Down the stairs I sledded on my derrière. Luckily they were so steep that I didn't get hurt. I was very shocked though!
|These are the stairs you must maneuver in order to get up to the bathroom at the pub we were at.|
Try doing that while missing one shoe to the basket!
Later that night I decided to go grab some food. I had no idea what I was ordering so I went for this:
|This is what you get when you order a "taco" in Belgium.|
The following night I was off to switch hosts. The two hosts joined me for dinner then it was a relaxing night in.
The following night I was off to switch hosts yet again, have some spectacular home made pasta and then go to the historic Belfry for some fencing action!
|That's right! I was going inside this building to watch people play with swords!|
How cool, right?!?!
|Here's the evidence!|
|The view from inside toward St. Nicholas' Church!|
I couldn't believe that I had the opportunity to take part of such a cool, traditional, cultural thing in the five days I was there! My first host joined me. He was telling me that he was at an arching meeting the week before. Apparently there are four guilds in the area!
He, the CouchSurfer who invited me and I went across the street to chat a bit. Then, I headed back to my new home. The host there was this amazingly, kind, trusting, adventurous guy who had traveled quite a bit. Unfortunately he was feeling under the weather and couldn't join us that night!
The next day I was trying to figure out my escape route to the UK. Just then I saw that my new host who had ordered all of these special ingredients to make me mexican food was already cooking!!!! We didn't have confirmed plans so I was under the impression he was expecting me the next day! The bus tickets were sold out for the next couple days and the train to London was 200 euro!
This was an affirmation that I should hitchhike! It was already becoming dark! I quickly packed up my things and found my way to a bus stop close to the highway! I HAD to get a Belgium waffle before I left. I still hadn't had one and I was hungry.
|It was every amount of heaven it was supposed to be.|
Even though I was eating it and walking!
I walked a couple small blocks and found the freeway entrance. I set Walley down. Before I could even hold my sign up I had a ride! I was dumbfounded! This guy took me about 30 kilometers in the right direction. It had started raining and the sun went down just after he picked me up.
He dropped me off at a petrol station which appeared to have NO TRAFFIC and NO LIGHTS! I was about to panic. I reminded myself it wasn't a big deal and it would all work out. Just then, I walked around the store and it was well lit and there were cars! Thank goodness!!!!
Now, the part I hate! To ask people for rides! I much prefer thumbing. I was already pretty close to the French border so there were license plates from France. If there is one thing I learned about communicating with people in other countries, its that they will respond much more pleasantly if you at least try to speak their language. Good thing I took ONE semester in French! :P Vous allez a Calais? Non? Merci beaucoup!
I think the fourth person I asked was actually heading to Calais which is where the ferry goes to London. They were two cool cats who had a meeting there. Luckily their meeting was right down the street from the ferry loading place. They dropped me off at a petrol station. It was still raining and this was a small petrol station with poor lighting all around. I decided I would get a lift sooner if I was standing in the slight rain with my sign to London. Boom! Two minutes later I had a lift.
This was from a cute little Polish lady who didn't speak much English. She offered me an apple crumble (which is kind of like a little apple pie) and took me to the ferry area. She went on to explain that her ferry wasn't for another two hours and maybe I could get a lift sooner. I went in the lobby to see how much the tickets cost. They were 33 euro for a pedestrian. I decided I wanted to save the money and try thumbing outside the entrance of the ferry. It was still slightly raining and not many cars were coming. Plus, I was a hitchhiker and we were about to cross customs. No one stopped. I kept my hopes high, no one stopped. I kept telling myself, "all I need is one lucky car". I decided that I was going to walk back to the ticket lobby. Still I told my self, "one lucky car". Boom!!! A car stopped on the way to the lobby! It was the same lady! She was SO UPSET that no one picked me up! She kept saying something in Polish that sounded like "that's not normal"..no norrmmalllla. Who knows what she was really saying. Anyway, we passed customs just fine and I got my free ride. She was so sweet!
|We were just pushing away from the harbor. |
I was now leaving the Schengen union and I wouldn't be allowed back for 3 months.
It was a very bitter sweet feeling.
Now it was time to find a ride to London. There were no cars on this ferry. It was all truck drivers. I found my way into the truck driver's lounge. I think it was supposed to be just for them but I snuck in. Golly gee! Now I was going to have approach truck drivers sleeping for a ride. Great! I was trying to build up the courage to do so. Man, I can be so shy!!
I went on the deck for a bit to get some fresh air. Then I went back inside, sat down, stood up, walked around and sat down. I then decided if I wanted a ride I was GOING to HAVE to do this. I put my backpack on and went to the far side of the room. Just then an Englishman who worked on the ship approached me. He said, "Where are you off to" or something like that. I didn't understand him because I was still in the mode of no one speaking English around me. I looked at him a bit funny. Then he said, "You're on holiday, right? Where are you off to?" I said, "London." Just then he shouted across the room to all the truck drivers, "Anyone going to Lon-don?". Long story short, he scored me a ride with two awesome, young Romanian truck drivers!
These guys were the coolest!! They were all full of laughs and work seemed to be just another day the two of them enjoyed with each other on the road. They offered me some bread with this home made eggplant spread much like the one the Armenians do. It was so tasty! They also offered me beverages and played some awesome tunes. It was more like riding in some one's living room or in a limo then being in a truck. It was a full blown awesome time!
|These two guys really made my evening!|
They ended up dropping me off in Hayes which is on the outskirts of London. I knew from here I could take public transportation to get where ever I needed to be. Now I had three things to figure out with no one around at 1:00 am. A) Which way was toward town? B) Which bus would take me there? C) How am I going to pay for it without any British Pounds?
I jumped on the first bus I saw that I thought was heading the right direction. I was still a bit in shock as if I didn't speak the same language as everyone else. I hadn't been able to communicate with a bus driver in 3 months!!! I must've had my mouth wide open and was a bit speechless. I just said, "hi" and sort of walked in the bus. Boom! Free!
I then asked a couple people to try to figure out how to get to town. My instinct had told me to get off at this one stop but I didn't. It turns out that was the stop I needed. Now, I had to go back about four stops and score another free bus! The next bus came. I tried asking the bus driver if they took credit card. He looked at me as if I was a complete moron. I then explained that I had just arrived to the UK and didn't have any British pounds but I would gladly give him the 5 euro I had. I even told him, "well I guess I can walk". He was upset but let me on the bus. Boom! Two!
At the third bus stop I asked a girl if she knew if that bus went to town. She said it did. Then I asked her about how they regulate the buses and told her I didn't have any pounds. She said there was no way they would let me on without paying. So, my plan was to hide and sneak into the back of the bus like I did in Germany all the time. This time this didn't work because no one exited the bus. I came running to the front with my big backpack. The doors were just about to shut but she stopped them for me. I said thank you and smiled at the bus driver then jumped in! Boom! Three!
The girl and I sat together. She had just moved to town and was just getting off work. We figured out that this bus would in fact take me to central London. From there I could get a hold of my friend and figure out where to go.
|Central London from the top of a double decker! Notice the Christmas decorations?|
I got off the bus and grabbed some British pounds out of the ATM. I figured it wasn't fair to get four free rides when I could easily use the ATM and pay. I then found out the underground was closed. This meant another bus all the way to the other side of town.
I found my way around London and to the next bus stop.
I was sad because it was already 3 am and I wanted to make it for dinner. I was happy too. Long story short, I made it from Belgium to London outskirts on £2.60 for the last bus.
I was so exhausted but I had made it!!! Mission accomplished!!
|Here is a map of the three and a half hour night bus journey I took across London.|
Stories from the UK coming soon! Stay tuned!