Through Simon the Second we learned that hitchhiking in the Netherlands is illegal. There are apparently places where the police won’t bother you, and probably they would only tell you to move on rather than arresting you. But because of this we decided to buy the six and change train ticket to Utrecht to visit Christy’s friend Ruthie. Go us, for making the non-illegal decision. Though honestly, I was beginning to wonder whether we would ever actually hitch in mainland Europe.
Our stay with Ruthie was just lovely. From her teal and purple flat, to a phenomenal dinner, to the introduction to stroopwafels. She took us biking through town to a cafe. I was especially excited about this, because above everything else (yes, even more than windmills – of which I did see several within half an hour of arriving in Holland) the cycling culture here stands out to me. Walking through Amsterdam and seeing the vast span of bicycles whether parked in their very own bicycle parking garage, or biking down their very own bike lanes, or stopping at their very own traffic signals completely astounded me. We rode two to a bike – Ruthie and I pedaling, and Christy and Valerie sidesaddle on the back. Perhaps it was the company and the experience, but I definitely preferred Utrecht to Amsterdam.
We did get up and set out to hitchhike the following day. Despite illegalities. What can I say? I’ve acquired a taste for breaking the law. Not. But apparently it’s becoming a pretty common part of my life. Anyways, despite some flicking off, and general rudeness (the Irish still win for best hitchhiking culture) we did get a ride – and not by the police. The rest of the journey to Brussels we used the more direct route of asking for rides at petrol stations, rather than just thumbing. This worked quite well for us. I’m personally not as much a fan of that particular method, but it got us where we needed, so I won’t complain. Our last ride made a stop at a beer shop. It was pretty impressive. There were so many different types. If I liked beer it would have been like a candy shop. Actually, since I like neither beer nor candy, it was exactly like a candy shop. Ah, well, I was glad to have seen it.
Our host, Gregory (hailing from France), met us in the city centre. We were joined by two other resident (also French) couchsurfers. We visited a few bars before retiring to Gregory’s studio apartment. Between the three of us and our backpacks, all of the floor space was taken.
Waffles were on the agenda for our first day in Belgium. That and Manneken-Pis, aka ‘Little Man Pee’. This is the sort of national symbol of Belgium. A tiny statue of a peeing boy, which is routinely and ceremoniously dressed in elaborate costumes, occasionally pees beer instead of water, and has been stolen seven times. I was a little bit excited about seeing it, but then, it was a bit disappointing. Perhaps if he had been wearing a costume…Well anyways, the waffles were superb. I had some sort of chocolatey ice cream on mine. Besides that, we mainly just meandered about. For dinner we made pasta in a creamy smoked salmon sauce. It cost us under €3 each. Who said you can’t eat deliciously and cheaply while traveling?
After dinner we spent the evening at the home of Sophie, one of the other CSers we had met the previous evening. It was a nice, calm socialization in the midst of all of our travels. Sometimes It seems strange to be spending so much of my time in Europe in people’s flats or houses, but I am personally for it. I am of the opinion that traveling is about more than seeing landmarks or changing one’s geographical location. It is really refreshing to escape tourist cluttered areas in favor of a real home and people living their everyday lives.
We left on Sunday for Bruges. A city which I was particularly excited to visit. Dark comedies, anyone? In Bruges is probably in my top ten…fifteen, or twenty (well, as my dear Cassiopeia would say, it’s top ten worthy) films. We arrived fairly early, but had no place to stay. Following much waiting and discussion, we decided to camp. Illegally. Of course. Fortunately for us, Bruges boasts a lot of greenery. We walked towards the green blob on the map and found ourselves in a park of sorts. Following a sidewalk, every now and again upon seeing a particularly thick cluster of trees we would nonchalantly make our way in to deduce whether or not we could remain decently hidden. We made note of two places, and settled upon the second. To the right was a fair place, but to the left was a large enough spot that remained completely invisible from the path which lay mere feet in front of it. The con: in the center was a large glob of dog poop. And panties. But, better to deal with the above, than set up somewhere we would potentially be seen and bothered. Right? Eh. We set up in a smaller space just beside the aforementioned grossnesses. Come to find that it was actually human excrement. And the panties actually a handkerchief turned toilet paper. Sadly not an improvement. Anyways, we were very impressed with ourselves. Look at us roughing it illegally. Not to mention we finally put the semi-cumbersome tent to good use. I carved a mashup of our names, celebrity couple style, into a nearby tree to forever mark our presence.
We snuggled into our tent, had a group journaling session, played cards, then distinguished the lights. Relative solitude never felt so good. And sleep would be great! Until the rain came. Again. Really, first Amsterdam, now Bruges?! Rain is the bane of outside sleeping. I actually slept really well, but in the morning we found the floor of our tent to be mostly soaked. Well, at least where Valerie was sleeping. Throughout the day it became steadily more and more wet. Our solution was to buy trash bags and cover the floor. Which, may have been effective, but God decided not to curse us with another wet night. I think I’ve never thanked God so much in my life, as I have on this trip.
So we took Bruges in shifts. Christy and I went up the tower to see the view of Bruges. It was lovely, and well worth our €4. Also, the bells play a tune every quarter of an hour. We were at the mechanical level when it began, but we climbed to the actual bells before it finished, and it was just lovely. Bruges is my favorite city that we’ve visited so far. Partially because of the gorgeous medieval architecture, and partially something about the atmosphere. I just find it thoroughly charming. I am surprisingly fond of Belgium in general. That was quite unexpected. Though I definitely recommend skipping Brussels and going to Bruges and Gent instead. Gent being our next destination.