You know in those sad, tearjerker movies where the girl, who’s dying of some terrible, terminal disease, makes up a bucket list of things she wants to do before dying and one of them involves being in two places at the same time?
Well, we went to three.
We hadn’t intended to, actually. All our little jokes of getting on an international train and missing our stop and finding ourselves in Germany or Belgium or Switzerland sort of actually came true — except that we weren’t in an international train. We were with my awesome buddy Jolijn and her equally awesome boyfriend Joost. We met up with them in Amersfoort and began our two-hour journey to the south of the Netherlands by car.
A roadtrip, it definitely was. I slept for a good bit on the way there, and when I woke up the houses looked very, very different. None of the high houses that characterized the Amsterdam skyline; the houses were lower, more modern, more modest. I’ve read that Maastricht was influenced by Belgian and German designs, since it was so close to the borders of the two countries. I don’t really know much about design and architecture, but even in my eyes they really did look different.
We got to our intended stop and registered for our cavebiking adventure. I started doubting my capability to cycle on for 70 kilometers in the dark, under the earth, when I saw how far down we had to descend to get to our starting point. It looked like an abyss, really! Fortunately we were with a group of German (I think) tourists who were making jokes about the entire thing. They were really great company.
It was cold down below, after a hundred or so steps leading to the underground cavern. It looked well kept actually; strategically placed lights on the floor provided just the right illumination for us. It actually felt like we were inside an Egyptian pyramid. We also found a Pepsi vending machine, something that one of the Germans noted was probably the coolest vending machine in the world.
We were given hairnets and instructed to choose a bike appropriate for our height. Because I was short (relative to European standards, if I may add), I got a bike with a lamp that is only on as long as I kept pedaling. Which means, if I stop cycling, the light goes out. Which is something I never, ever wanted to experience in a cold and dark cave, all alone.
To make sure no one gets lost (and never found), a person was assigned to be at the rear of the group. A guy from the other group, named Will, was picked. Our guide would shout out his name from time to time, and we’d shout them until he hears it and shouts back “Complete!” We’d pass this along to the front as well.
It didn’t turn out exactly right the first time we tried. Our guide shouted “Will!” and we shouted along, but we never heard a “Complete!” back from him. First try and he had already lagged behind. Moments like these made the entire adventure funny.
People got lost, of course. Thrice our guide made us stop so he could go back and fetch the others. Sometimes we shouted “sharp right!” or “low!” whenever we had to. We whizzed through entire corridors; my favorite parts were when we were going downhill, and the ceiling was low, so we’d just lean forward on our bikes and maintain our hold on the brakes. Our bikes were light but scarily fast; I had to half-brake it most of the time, just in case I veer wildly off course and fall off or something.
We stopped at a quarry and saw faint outlines of animal skeletons on the cave roofs. We switched off all lights and for the first time I experienced complete and utter darkness; I stretched my arm out, thinking my imagination would supply the rest, but apparently my imagination sucked because I did not see anything at all.
In a matter of minutes we were back. 70 kilometers in one and a half hours — and for the first time since I got to Europe, I was sweating. I had almost forgotten what sweat feels like.
After our adventure under the earth, it was time for our cross-country ‘tour’. Earlier that day Jolijn and Joost casually asked us if we’d like to eat in Belgium or Germany afterwards. Belgium or Germany! In my head I was thinking, those are entirely different countries you’re talking about, and you speak of them as if they were just nearby cities! Landlocked Europe is such a wonder. Anyway, they took us first to the three-country point and the labyrinth nearby. First time in a real and proper labyrinth! For a while we imagined being in the Triwizard Tournament. We even had faux British accents to go with the whole thing.
And finally, we got to a circle with three flags erected on it — the three-country point. I was in the Netherlands one minute, and in Belgium the next. We even got to explore a German forest! Talk about awesome. What added to the experience was getting two successive text messages from T-Mobile, our Dutch SIM provider. Welcome to Deutschland, it said. Then, Welcome to Belgium! We were there, we really were there. Dear Sir Sev…we aren’t kidding this time.
The choice of whether to go to Germany or Belgium was decided on whether we’d rather go for German sausages or Belgian fries.
The fries won.
Meanwhile, Belgian scenery was classic “Sound of Music” landscapes. If we had more time, I would’ve wanted to go running off in the fields and sing (off-key). But for now, the sights would do.
While looking for a friterie, we instead stumbled onto this church. Real Belgian church, yo.
Obviously this is not a photo of a church. But it is a photo of the candles that were present in said church.
Once we finally found our friterie, we got to use what little knowledge we had of French! In some parts of Belgium Dutch was spoken, and in other parts French was the language of choice. We had arrived on the French side, so we were able to use our “Excusez moi” and “merci beacoup” and “sac un papier” (when we had to take some of the fries for home). We probably overused it, so we looked more and more like tourists every time we tried speaking in French.
What a beautiful summer day it was in Belgium. The sun was shining fiercely but the wind was cool when we were outside on picnic benches, eating our fries. The neighborhood was nice and quiet. Everything looked cinema-worthy. And there we were, four girls and two amused Dutch, reveling in the fact that we were in Belgium, and that the trip was unplanned, spontaneous. I love surprise trips like these. One minute we were in the Netherlands, and the next thing we knew — “Would you like to go to Belgium?”
We had to go early though, because it was a two-hour ride back to the Netherlands. Since we were roadtripping anyway, we put on our roadtrip songs! We wanted to put on our Europe playlist, but instead “Party in the USA” came on first. We sang along anyway. We went on Eraserheads mode afterwards.
We bid goodbye to Joost and Jolijn at -’s Hertogenbosch and went back to Hans Brinker. Surprisingly, we got there quite early. We were just about to knock on Sir Sev’s room to tell him we were home, but they must’ve heard our voices, because the door opened even before we could knock. And immediately we were all smiles and simultaneously said “Sir Seeeeev!” and told him of our adventures that afternoon. We were grinning from ear to ear. We couldn’t help it.
What a day, really. It’s really hard not to love our lives here — something new and awesome happens everyday. It can get overwhelming sometimes — if I don’t write it down, the days would all just mesh together — but I don’t mind, I don’t mind. Nowhere have I felt that life is an adventure than in this moment, right here, right now.