travel and the art of mental maintenance: VIII. Broken Down Somewhere in Belgium

This is part of a series I have been working on. The Introduction is here.

I can’t remember how it was I found out that the bus had broken down. What I definitely remember is that it was extremely cold.

The bus breaking down did come several hours into a long bus trip from London. From there, we went across on a ferry from Dover to France and into Belgium. From here, the intent was to pass into Germany and then head all the way down to Munich.

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Tess and the Bullshit Bus

And those several hours came after a morning of scrambling to check out of hostel in London, have my wallet stolen, cancel my credit cards, call home to have them get a new debit card from my bank and have it forwarded to a future hotel, and then get to Victoria Station to meet our bus.

If I recall, we barely made it.

Once on the bus, we got our rundown on the Oktoberfest tour from the over-enthusiastic tour guide. All of it can be summarized by the cheekily declared: “There’s a fifty quid penalty for anyone who chunders on the bus.”

It was in the first hour that we met our (as the kids call it these days) squad for the week, Sally and Tess from Australia. They too were up for binge-drinking and risque behaviour but also appreciated the value of quiet-time and slumber.

Many others on the bus did not. Many brought milk crates of beer on board.

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Here I am, reluctantly enjoying said beer.

 

Look how horribly tired I am.

The day presumably passed on with strained social behaviour and blurred views of cows in fields.

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Blurred Cows. New band name. I call it.

And I must have fallen asleep. And that must have been when the bus broke down somewhere in the middle of Belgium.

We were in the middle of a truck stop and the bus was so utterly fucked that the heating didn’t even work. We dug out our sleeping bags and huddled up inside of them for warmth. It was all very tragic and miserable. In our privileged naivete, we probably thought this was what it was like during the war.

This was the entirety of our Belgian impressions. Aside from the cows, of course.

After a while, dawn broke and the diner above the service station opened.

We ambled into there to try to get some sleep.

I recall a stiff neck from diner booths maladapted to sleeping. As the day outside warmed up, we moved outside, legs stiff and wobbly. The other displaced bus partiers were lingering around, splayed across the narrow patch of grass between bus stalls.

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It was like someone had pulled the fire alarm at a rave. Only in the day.

Eventually a new bus arrived. Whether it came all the way from England, I have no idea. But that might account for the Greek epic-style wait.

All I remember is it was night by the time we got to the camp site and all Bri and I did was climb into a flimsy little tent with all the clothes we had layered up over top of each other like Michelin Men, and shivered.

As it turns out, camping in Munich in late September can be a blissfully chilly experience….

travel and the art of mental maintenance: introduction

This is the introduction of what I hope will become a series / retrospective project / diary-after-the-fact / examination of memory-and-place-and-all-that-jazz. All the links to other posts about specific adventures and places are/will be below.

Whenever you get back from a long bout of travelling, the world always feels different (at least for a little while, until reality sets in again). For me, however, the world really was different. I was gone from August to November 2008. I have always meant to write more meaningfully about this trip. I’ve touched on bits and pieces here and there, but alas… I’ve never put together something huge.

I imagined that one day it would all be complete, as if I was filling in the pieces on a puzzle that would one day reveal the big picture. It seemed so easy, when I thought of it. That I would be able to simply sit and write. I would start at day one and then it would unfurl from there like a pulling the thread on a sweater.

But memory works in funny ways. Events are not always best discussed in sequence. Not when they are connected to ideas. Below is my itinerary, not as it was planned, but how it turned out when all was said and done. I will fill in links when I get around to writing them. And probably not in order. Although, that’s probably how it will start.

My parents bid me farewell...

My parents bid me farewell…

Less than an hour after touching down in Paris, I was sitting in a street café, eating a kebab with a guy from Newport Beach whose name I forgot as soon as I heard it.

It was August 10, 2008, and I would spend the next four months rolling through the epicenters of several western European cultures. At some point, my sister joined me and things got messier. The impact of those four months on the world were enormous and the whole time I was in a bubble lit by my own navel.

One Forrest Gump moment stood out: I happened up the financial district of London on the day of the Lehman Brothers collapse. I recall men in suits carrying boxes of office supplies and dazed looks. In retrospect, it made everything seem so much more important than it did at the time.

In fall 2001, I began university. Everything that followed was easily characterized by the phrase Post-9/11 and a campus perpetually peopled by anti-war protestors. It was here I met the boyfriend I would later break up with and have to run away to Europe to start over.

This was something of a theme for me, I realize now. I went to Europe for the same reasons a lot of people do in movies, if not in reality: I was freshly freed from seven years in university, five years of which were in a just-ended relationship, and I desperately needed to see something beyond my own milieu. It was simple: I needed to escape.

In summer 2002, I’d done something similar. I went to stay with family in England in lieu of summer classes to get over my high school boyfriend and my fear of the real world. The change of scenery provides a perspective easily lost when you’re stuck in the day to day.

Five years later, my husband and I would do the same.

But in 2008, armed with meagre savings, a line-of-credit, and poor financial decisions, I went backpacking. The entire thing reeks of middle-class white privilege.

Which brings me back to that kebab in Paris with a guy from Newport Beach…

I. Paris

the five types of travellers

Versailles

II. Madrid

the arrival

III. La Alberca

IV. Casablanca

V. Marrakech

VI. Some where in the the foothills of the Atlas Mountains

VII. London

VIII. Broken Down Somewhere in Belgium

IX. Oktoberfest

X. Dachau

XI. Kitzbuhl

XII. Munich proper

XIII. Amsterdam

XIV. Maastricht

XV. Paris Again

XVI. Disneyland Paris

XVII. Madrid Again

XVIII. La Alberca Again

XIX. Helsinki

XX. Hameenlina

XXI. Seinajoki

XXII. Huitinen

XXIII. Pori

XXIV. London Again

XXV. Lewes

XXVI. Doncaster, Thurnscoe