Everything is around the corner here

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
@ Diederik's
What I did

Flag of Belgium  ,
Sunday, July 10, 2011

Traveling via www.mitfahrgelegenheiten.de I take a chaotic ride from Hamburg to Belgium with a very nice, young punk-rock couple. The other co-traveler is a guy from Guinea in West Africa, not to be confused with Guinea (region), Equatorial GuineaGuinea-BissauNew GuineaPapua New GuineaGuyanaFrench Guiana, or Ghana. Also referred to as  Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea-Bissau. His name escapes me, but he travels on a Spanish passport, speaks fairly fluent German as well as Spanish. It is him that makes sure we find the train station in Brussels, applying his fluent French to ask for directions.

At the train station I am picked up by Diederick, who I met in Laos. I feel a split second of personal culture shock, when he arrives, decked out in slim pants, boots, buttoned shirt and jacket, stylish with a hint of 'gino'. Cleans up nice from the backpacker I recalled ;). Sadly, I am still wearing the same stuff myself.

He is also collecting his friend Marieke that lives in Slowenia and her Ljubljana friend Sima, who are both in Belgium on vacation. We drive to Ghent, where Diederik lives. Belgian highways look just like the Autobahn, except there are no distances marked on most signs. When I ask why, I am told that there is no point, because everything is so close in Belgium. And indeed it is. In three days, I manage to see quite a bit. On one day, I start the day in Ghent, spend the afternoon in Brugge and the evening in Antwerp.

Ghent immediately strikes me as a cute, charming town. I am later told, it was voted 'most authentic town'. Diederik cooks dinner while I shower. Lucky me, he used be a chef and jobs at a fish market to finance his studies :) While we eat, he gets a phone invite to come to a friend’s house where someone he knows is filming a party scene for a short film. They need more extras. We go to have free drinks, dance and ‘act’ to have fun at a party. Tough life it is!

I notice how tall all the men are. Diederik is 1.91m or so, but he doesn’t stick out at all. The others are right up there. A handful of them are dancing around the living room lamp. Or rather with it, at times literally standing with their heads inside the lamp shade. After months in Asia and years in Canada, I am finding this scene fascinating.

It’s an artsy crowd and everyone is very touchy feely with each other. There seems to be a very close vibe. I realize how I miss that in North American culture.

By the time the post party shots are wrapped up, we have plenty of ‘pretend’ drinks intus and leave for one last night cap around 3am. It is Sunday night (or rather Monday morning), but there are still people out in Ghent.

In Antwerp I meet Pieter and Elke. Both are couch surfers I met in Beirut. Manu and I then stayed at Pieter’s in Damascus/Syria where he was working up until a couple weeks ago (http://bit.ly/p4mEvd). Now he is back home in Belgium before embarking on his next assignment in Chad. Of course it is interesting to get his insider’s view on happenings in Syria these days. He tells us about a couple of tense moments with Kalashnikov-armed check points. But generally confirms what I suspected and noticed myself in Asia, being in some countries, at times when the media made it sound like all hell broke loose. Yes, there is a revolution happening in Syria and yes, you have to be smart about how you travel. But if you know when to travel and where to stay away, it really isn’t as dangerous as one might think following the media. I.e. Friday evenings after prayers is when all the bad stuff happens, so it’s best to stay home then and travel later in the weekend. It will be fascinating to hear his stories from Chad, though I wouldn’t be quite as comfortable visiting there as I was in Syria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chad). Hopefully, Pieter will stay safe.
On my last day, I accompany Diederik to go shoe shopping in Brussels. Shoe shopping - What a drag, phhhttttt ;) The weather is not very agreeable, but I still see a good bit of Brussels, albeit grey.

My time in Belgium is too short to have much of an opinion about it. It surely is very pretty, with medieval buildings everywhere you turn. On a human level, I got the sense that it felt a bit cliquey, which Diederik confirmed to be the case. In summary, another country to be added to the list of places I’d like to return :)
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