The kindness of strangers
Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
As I was approaching Aachen, I noticed a sign for the ´Dreilandespunkt´, where the borders of Holland, Germany and Belgium meet
The detour having taken longer than expected, I arrived in Aachen after the tourist information office had closed. There were internet cafes all over the place, so I let google be my guide. This, it transpired, was both serendipitous and a mistake. The internet told me, in all good faith I´m sure, that the nearest campsite was 25km away, and that there were only three hotels in the town and that they were fully booked. I happened to have arrived in the middle of the world equestrian games, so the town was heaving with horsey people.
I set off following a cycle route which, in daylight, leads through open countryside, farmland, quaint little hamlets and traffic-free footpaths. At night it was a treacherous, pot-holed, unpredictable death-trap and at irregular intervals the devilish, iridescent gaze of satan´s bovine sentinals would flash from the dark and a flap of bats rush past my face. When, after about an hour, I saw a small local pub with it´s front door open and heard chatter and laughter from within, there was no way I could just ride on.
As much for conversation as anything else, I asked for directions to the nearest campsite. Never has such a simple question produced such an energetic reponse. The bar was horseshoe-shaped, and barely fitted in the front part of the pub, so when people were sat around it, as now, its a squeeze to move around
While I´m talking to the people in my corner of the bar, in the background the problem of where I´m going to stay, my problem, has become the property of a conference of locals. Someone phones a more local campsite, but they´re full of horsey people
Feeling thoroughly adopted into the fold of Chez Alito, I begin to hope, maybe someone will let me pitch my tent in their field. (We´re in the middle of the countryside, everyone has a field). Maybe they could see this in my eyes, maybe it was a current, an irresistable mental eddy around that horseshoe bar, but almost immediately the landlady turns to me and asks ´would staying in someone´s garden be o.k?´
She indicates the someones who have made this kind offer, a middle-aged couple with whom I´ve exchanged a few words but little conversation. I didn´t waste any time protesting, they could change their minds. I was, of course, the very picture of surprise and gratitude, introduced myself, bought a round. The husband had a strange looking drink, a red liquor with squirty creme on top in a shot glass with a long stem. I ask what it is, and while the rest of the bar try and explain ´its like strawberries, but smaller´, "do you know ´redberries?" the landlady wanders off and returns with one for me to try. On the house.
We stay a little longer and then the wife says "come, you do not make your tent tonight". So I collected what I needed for the night, parked the bike behind the bar. They lived two streets away, in Germany. A beautiful small house with an orchard in the garden. They made their sofa-bed for me, told me breakfast would be at nine in the morning and then they´d take me back to the pub.
Not only did they give me the best breakfast I´ve had so far on the continent, scrambled egg with spek and brötchen (rolls) they also gave me some rolls, tomatoes, apples from the orchard, and (forgive me for slipping into the culinary jargon) a ´wodge´ of Austrian salami for my lunch. I rode back to Aachen the way I had come, appreciating the change that comes over it during the day.