I have never been there, despite living pretty close for a while.
“I’ll go to the Netherlands next – probably to Amsterdam. Don’t you want to join me hitting the road?”
She was on the road for about one and a half months already, as we were lying on the couch looking at each other. How couldn’t I fall in love with that certain spirit, this special look only travelers are endowed with.
How could I refuse this temptation, made up by the magic composition of HER and THE ROAD? Letting her just thumb a car going west alone after this tiny dose of magic we shared the bygone weekend was an impossibility so much bigger than the impossibility of abandoning my current research projects, papers and academic-life responsibilities.
So, off we went and started rolling under the stars!! And the sky!
Arriving late evening in Amsterdam, we were accommodated beautifully by Niken, a sweet Indonesian student, living in a pretty fancy dormitory in Amsterdam’s center. For about two days we roamed around in the city but honestly we were more busy talking about everything than indulging the place. Maria played her violin for about 40 minutes in the pedestrian area, earning a small fortune in that time, enough to save dinner and a good bottle of sweet red wine!
Like in those mean TV soaps, the end seemed close right in the middle of another punchline.
“What about Belgium? It is so small, so close. Have you been there before?”
I hadn’t. But I had realized how big the risk has gotten of just giving myself away to the endlessness of all those roads again with that beautiful soul smiling next to me…
“And…it is my birthday upcoming night.”
That did it. And off we went! Getting lost a bit in the tight dutch highway network we ended up in the wrong end of Belgium, as our destination was Brussels. With the sky turning dim already, in Liege a big pick-up full of paella equipment stopped and a huge, tattooed and bearded rocker type waved us to jump in. The heck! What could happen to us happy souls? He turned out to be a major pimp in Belgium, owning a bunch of etablissements along the famed “rue de l’amour”, an inconspicuous Belgian country road with more well…”guesthouses” than Amsterdam’s center. Ghislain told us he became quite famous through a documentary (CLICK!) that showed the dark side…and the brighter side of the dubious business of prostitution. Him being an example for the better side, naturally 🙂 He was right on the way to “his girls” to cook a huge paella dinner tonight.
In Brussels we crashed at Adam’s couch. Which was actually not really his, as that smiling Hungarian guy was house-sitting an apartment in Brussels for a while – and dog-sitting the appendent crazy transylvanian dog. Maria’s birthday we celebrated out in Brussels center owing ourselves a huge piece of cake at midnight. Oh…and Belgian beer for sure!
After Brussels was, where the at least halfway planned part of this journey ended. We started thumbing cars to leave the city with no clear sense of direction. Well, France maybe. As Maria always wanted to go there. To France we went!
At a big resting station, a rented transporter stopped and a guy shouted ‘Get’in!’. In a matter of seconds our packs where loaded in the backside and we where seated next to a french elite airborne soldier, who was airdropped in the first Iraq war, to disable chemical warheads, who was more than once on missions in Afghanistan and now on his way back from his new airbase. Back home…to Strasbourg! France, here we come! Somewhere in Luxembourg we started to figure out what to do at night, having no place to stay, no tent and so on. Having just left Luxembourg, we already were invited to the Master Sergeant Lieutenant Colonel Captains (or whatever..) home! This grunt-like, massive guy named Guy was actually as nice as a human could be! Talking all the time, smiling and laughing, we arrived at his home, where he immediately jumped in the kitchen to prepare awesome fresh pasta and salad, then straight to his piano where he played french songs, singing full of fervor than insisted of driving us into Strasbourg’s beautiful center where we spend the evening until he picked us up again. All hail to the french airborne!
Next day, back at the highway, it didn’t take long and we already left France again after just a day, as we hitched a ride straight into Switzerland. Joyously impressed by all those mountain ranges around us, we we pretty depressed as it started to rain and a thunderstorm came up, just as we decided to spend the night at gorgeous Lake Thun. Not able to find cover, we walked along the shores and…yes, indeed managed to hitchhike a boat! After shouting forth and back for a moment a small vessel picked us up, captained by John from South Africa who dropped us at his village’s shore, bringing us a tent so we could fulfill our wish to sleep at Lake Thun’s shore. The night turned out to be starry, in high altitude the wine felt even sweeter and sleeping in the fresh mountain air was beautiful.
We got used to this thing of just standing at some road after waking up, as this was what we did again. After circling around a while on Swiss highways on a rainy day, a freshly married couple picked us up, on their way to their honeymoon at….Lake Garda! Bella Italia, veniamo!
We ended up in the industrial part of Brescia and after a long time of walking the pretty empty streets, we decided to grant ourselves a train ride to Venice, to spend the night at the Mediterranean shore. Walking around in that ancient city we were amazed by its quietness at nighttime – all the tourist either crashed in their hotel beds already or were dining in fancy restaurants. We encountered a joyful mob of half drunken Italian street musician, jamming on a plaza. Maria joined in with here violin and after a few minutes we were invited to the home of a nice Italian student to spend the night there. We could hardly say no!
Next morning the city’s face changed as drastically as it could be. Hot, humid, the small alleys exploding with masses of people, cruise ships cruising in the bay. We started the run out of there. At late afternoon we had a break in the eastern Italian harbor town Trieste, before we made it to Slovenia’s coastal town of Koper. We indulged the relaxed atmosphere, jammed with some Spanish travelers on the beach, swam in the warm water of the sea but failed to find a sleeping place in this pretty touristy place. Some improvisation skills later we had our bum-style 1000 star hotel ready for the night!
On the 11th day of this mad journey, after some thousand kilometers spent on Europe’s roads we arrived in Ljubljana, where we were hosted via emergency couchrequest by the mysterious half Filipino – half Singaporean Ian, who was working in Slovenia for a while. The joy of meeting this great guy vanished at night time, when we lay down to sleep outside on the balcony knowing, that the very next day our roads were finally to split. Checking emails revealed some severe pressure of getting back to my studies and work…and I already felt the immense gravity of all those incredible places waiting eastwards. I was not prepared for a journey of no return. So I had to return.
The next day we experienced the dark side of uncertainty, after indulging it together for nearly two weeks. Not knowing if we’d ever meet again we hugged one last time closely, before I walked down a gray concrete under bridge and didn’t manage to turn around one more time.
I walked to the highway out of Ljubljana looking at my boots with an empty gaze. My strides felt heavy. Not a single car stopped for me that morning. A train to the border had to do…
Maria played her violin once more in Ljubljana’s center. Not many coins were to be found in here violin case that day…