It has been forever since I’ve posted and I apologize. Hopefully it won’t take much to recall all the good times I’ve had. At the end of the last post we had just taken Ed and Patrick up on a road trip to the infamous Amsterdam. Not quite a 3 hour drive, but with 5 people in a small car we were glad to get there. We spent a bit of time walking around town, finding near Scandinavian prices for beers at a pub. That was before we learned that the Dirk supermarket was selling it’s Heinekens, dressed in the colors of the national football team, for super-cheap (the team was kicked out of the Euro-Cup long before they expected). Anyway, we were just killing time before meeting up with Sascha and Meike.
For those of you who don’t know the legend, Sascha and Meike are two amazing Dutch ladies that John, Karl and I crossed paths with multiple times in South America. We met them on the coast of Chile, saw them again in Arequipa, Peru, then in Cusco, Peru, and finally said goodbye to them the night before they flew out of La Paz, Bolivia. I’d told them I’d see them someday in The Netherlands, then there I was ringing the bell at Sascha’s flat. It was a wonderful reunion with multiple group hugs to be had. It was also an honor to introduce them to my current travel buddies: Keith, Kate, Patrick and Ed. We spent the evening in the park in front of Sascha’s where the conversations flowed with ease before Pat and Ed had to head back to Germany.
We stayed for a few days with the ladies, happy they were able to take some time out of their busy schedules to show us some of The Netherlands. We rented a paddle boat to explore some of the canals, and bikes to explore the city like the locals- Amsterdam is another city which understands the beauty and freedom of biking incredibly well. Of course the bikes we rented were clunkers, but they were an affordable and very fun way the see the sights of the city. We biked around for a while, making it out to the port at the top of town, along and over canals, to a couple of the city’s many coffee shops and to a park where we enjoyed a picnic on some nice grass in the sun.
In the following days we took a day trip out to Volendam- a little fishing village on the coast north of Amsterdam, we spent a great evening eating a giant stack of proper Dutch pancakes (deliciously made by Meike’s boyfriend Tijs- a true keeper), watched a few Euro-Cup games, and explored the infamous red-light district of the city late at night- all very entertaining. Then, unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to Kate. She had places to go and people to see, so we said our goodbyes.
Unfortunately for Kate the day after she left was perhaps the greatest day ever as Keith and I hung out on a sunny Dutch beach with a large group of gorgeous Dutch ladies, met a couple Dutch celebrities, and were fed and paid well to do it. See, a good friend of Sascha and Meike was in charge of casting extras for a music video of The Netherlands’ top pop stars Nick and Simon (popular among 13-year-old girls, I’m almost certain, but popular nonetheless). So the group of us (Keith, Sascha, Mieke, Tijs, Jonas, and myself) made a trip out to the fine coast, wore what the costume lady saw fit (me in my black jeans and grey tank top- ha!), and put on our best smiles for the camera. I actually performed a few skateboarding stunts (riding down a steep, uneven, concrete hill, barefoot)- all those skateboarding injuries finally paid off mom!
Keith, the gang, and I were convinced that we were the best things caught on tape that day (we even shaved for our roles…), but despite that the final editing only shows tiny bits of us here and there. You can see the movie here– you have to pay close attention, but we’re all definitely there, leaving our mark on Dutch culture.
So we ended in The Netherlands on a high note. The next day we said our goodbyes to our wonderful hostesses, this time until they visit us in California, and we took a bus to Gent, Belgium. To be honest I would never have thought to visit Gent on my own- we went there because I had local friends.
The story goes like this: back in 2010 I spent a night in the Addis Ababa airport before flying from Ethiopia to Egypt and was desperate to make friends. I was lucky that Laetitia and Ruben, born and raised in Gent, were in the same boat on their way back from an Ethiopian holiday. We spent our last Birr on beers for each other before boarding the same plane. We split ways when I stayed in Cairo, but I told them I’d be coming to Europe someday and they were beyond awesome enough to go well out of the way to visit. Two years later I got in touch with them, saying that I was coming to Europe and asking if they still remembered me. The response went something like this:
Hi, of course we remember you. Say the word and we’ll try to be perfect guides. You can crash at our place in Gent if you don’t mind sleeping on our daybed/couch.
So Gent it was, and we were damn glad for it too- it’s the perfect size (we found Laetitia by chance after getting into town late with no phone), filled with medieval culture, and interesting things to do. We were lucky to be around for the Copacabana festival, for which our hosts found us some bikes and we all rode out to the edge of town to enjoy some great, free, live music. We were also around to take another bike ride all through the surrounding countryside, to tour the many medieval sites in the old center of town, and to watch the Euro-Cup come to an end. Our visit in Gent was rather short but quite sweet because it was with more international friends we hope to see someday in the States.
From Gent we moved to Brussels, hoping to get a bus to Paris. As it turned out, the only bus with space was at 7pm, so we spent a day in Brussels. We didn’t have hardly enough time there, but what we did experience just felt like another big city with little charm. It made me especially glad that our time in Belgium had been spent with such great people in such a charming place.
The adventures of France are to come. Again, a huge thank you to all our hosts. Sascha, Meike, Laetitia and Ruben- I hope we never lose touch and that our paths cross many more times. Know that you have good friends in California- thank you so much for everything!
Again, I apologize for my lack of posting. I hope to get caught up soon.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.