Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Namur - Brugges - London

Recap - Doug, Jim and I found the coolest hostel in Belgium. The staff were totally laid back in stark contrast to the iron rule of the disciplinarian German hostels. We'd planned a bike ride but sat around writing "Let's Go Home", drinking beer, listening to tunes and basically ruling the roost.

Eventually Teri and Diane fucked off somewhere so we could concentrate on everyone else. It was a fair crew who sat around the table genuinely wanting to be involved in our project. They all had stories of being crapped on during their travels or accounts of bad places to visit. We included the lot. It didn't take long for us to devise the format for all contributions; it had to have a nasty cheap dive, a really fucked up host and the worst possible scenery. We spent all day and a lot of the night on the thing and our brilliant host, Dave, kept us supplied with beer and music. Eventually later in evening the beer took hold and we couldn't be fucked writing any more. We stuffed most of the scribblings into a folder and entrusted Doug with its safe conveyance to the publishers. We should have known. At least Jim or I would have actually tried something. When I asked Doug about it a couple of years later he just laughed and said,

"You're not serious. That piece of crap? I trashed it."

If we'd been a rock band that would have caused the Big Split, followed by ever-lessening solo careers, then by guest spots on TV quiz shows and finally, twenty years later, a half-arsed attempt at a comeback tour. But we weren't a rock band and if I'd wanted I could have recreated most of it from memory at the time, having spent a couple of days going over it and basically knowing all the best bits and enough of the rest to wing it. That however would have taken a bit of effort which wasn't really in either of our natures. Would have been fucking funny though.

During the night various people had spent time in the kitchen cooking up tasty dishes so with "Let's Go Home" now secured in Doug's safe hands (cough, cough) we tucked in on a range of pasta, stews and salads. These were accompanied by some reds from France and a couple of Moselle and Riesling varieties. How fucking civilised! I helped Karen clean up in the kitchen and we were joined by a couple of the Brits. We remarked on how the laid-back atmosphere felt so much better than some of the luft stalags we'd previously stayed in. Karen was helping run the place basically for free room and board. She was adamant that the style of the place was down to Dave, the American who ran it;

"He really doesn't give a stuff for rules. He's only had to eject two people and they were basically vagrants. One thing he doesn't accept is school groups. The place is too small and they're too much trouble." My memories of the German troupes we'd seen flooded back,

"Yeah, the Kraut Kinder. I've seen them in action. Nasty business." Karen just nodded.

No Kraut Kinder, no gestapo tactics needed to keep them in check.

When I got back to the lounge everyone was settled in, listening to Doug's description of the events leading up to the encounter with the Crazy Belgian and what happened afterwards. Everyone was enthralled, particularly with Doug's descriptions of CB's scarred face. He made it sound like we'd encountered Freddy.

"Degeulasse. Sounds very degeulasse." Was Dave's comment.

"What the fuck does 'degeulasse' mean? What a great word!" I loved it and wanted to know about it.

"It means gross. Yucky. Very unclassy."

From then on we used it frequently.

Because we'd been running this whole "Let's Go Home" thing Doug, Jim and myself found ourselves fielding a few questions about what we'd been up to. I banged on about the cool vibe of Il de Batz, tooling around in Switzerland with Dave from Preston. Doug had people chuckling at his descriptions of Nijmegen and Jim did a great Werner Klemperer whilst describing the hostel oberfuhrer in Bingen and our impromptu beerfest there. All the while our host Degeulasse Dave made sure the music was pumping and the drinks flowing. He reminded me again that our original intention had been to go cycling that day. I reminded him that even though his margins on the beer weren't great he was doing better business with that than hiring out bicycles which we probably would have returned to him via the agency of a scrap truck. The evening lasted well into the morning with us eventually surrendering to the call of Crash Dance.

At our breakfast we were once again surprised with the culinary skills of a few of our fellow travellers. There was a big stack of beer pancakes and one of the Brits turned out to be handy at French toast. Just what we needed. We bid farewell to the Namur crew with promises to meet up at the Oktoberfest. It was to be opening day in the Hofbrauhaus tent at midday. I hadn't figured out how I'd manage it but I was certainly going to suss it out. Doug, Jim and I got on a train to Brussels where we said goodbye to Jim. He was off RV'ing with some friends while I had a couple of days before I was due back in London. Nice to meet you Jim, it was fun.

We disembarked in Brugges and did a bit of a tour of the city before traipsing out to the hostel. By this stage our hangovers told us we needed to rest so we crashed out on the front lawn decorating it as sozzled, over sized garden gnomes. After checking in we freshened up and headed back into town. Doug had met some people in Brugges before so we went to a couple of bars and caught up with the crew. Dinner was bar food and the drinks were a series of Belgian beers selected by a couple of our new friends. They even got the DJ to play some Aussie standards - INXS, Men at Work, Midnight Oil. After a while I felt the effects of a couple of months travelling, partying and not being settled. I zoned out, just watching the crowd, noticing how it moved, ebbing and flowing with occasional eruptions and then back into its flow again. Sort of reminded me of watching the ocean. In my reverie I was clipped back into the moment via the agency of Doug's hand slapping on my shoulder,

"Sure you have to get back to London? There's still a lot to be done here."

I was hesitant,

"Yeah, I know. A week down in Greece would be fine. If you get there, go to Ios. Lots and lots of drunk Scandinavians. But still, I have some people to see in London."

"Those guys you missed in Basel. Look how much fun you've had because of that."

"Yeah, I know. It's been a blast but I need to catch up with them. Besides, my rail pass runs out soon and I don't think I could afford another one. You gonna go and pick up your bike from Nancy's?" Neither of us really wanted to spin this out with maudlin talk.

"I'm going to do a bit more on the train. Catch up with Jim again in a week. I'm due to fly back pretty soon after the Oktoberfest." He looked around, " I s'pose we'd better split, its getting close to Fruhstuck Express Punkin Time."

"Okay Cap'n Doug. Move 'em out."

We said our goodbyes to the Brugges crew and made it back to the hostel before curfew time. We split beers and a half bottle of schnapps in the lounge room, chatting about future plans and what we'd experienced. I'd already pretty much decided that my next travel destination was North America, so I was going to make Toronto a definite stop just so as I could annoy the crap out of Doug in his home town. Act like one of those guests who you have to have ejected by blokes called Vito or Tui. As we stumbled into our dorm we noticed a row of packs with the German flag on them. Another troop of German teenagers. Great, I wasn't going to miss those guys. I slept with my .303 ready at hand and a grenade clipped to the side of the bunk. I'd seen enough war movies.

We avoided the army camp fruhstuck and headed to the station, finding a cafe which did tasty waffles for breakfast and great coffee. Nice. So it was bye-bye Doug at the station as I headed off to Oostende for a ferry to England. We both did the bottom lip pout as we waved but it looked so stupid that we cracked up. As the train rattled on I thought about what we'd done and how lucky I'd been running into Doug. He was worth it, if only for his Gorilla Hangover Theory. My thoughts went back to Basel. Oh yeah, that's right. I needed to give Jerry and Chris a big serve when I caught up with them in London.

I hit Oostende and lobbed onto a ferry bound for England. It had a bar so I spent some time between that and watching vids of crap movies. The Duty Free store came in handy for cheap booze and smokes. At Dover I made it through UK Customs, lobbed onto a train to Victoria and then a tube to Paddington. When we'd first hit London a few months back we'd stayed in a hotel for a couple of days and then found a cheap dive near Lancaster Gate. It was called Derry Downs and was run by a Portuguese lady, her alcoholic husband, two large dogs and a cat dying of cancer. The husband in desparation one time actually drank the cat's cancer medicine which, as I pointed out to Jerry, subsequently put him in the dog house.

This place was popular with Aussie, Kiwi and Seth Efricken travellers who used it as their London base. You could leave excess luggage there and be confident it would remain untouched. So it was Derry Downs I walked into early one evening with the grime of travel, a Brugges Youth Hostel breakfast ticket in my back pocket and a bag of duty frees in my hand . I cleaned up, went to the London Walkabout Club (22A Craven Terrace, Lancaster Gate) and collected a stack of mail from home. I read through these down in the bar, nursing a pint. After I finished those and caught up with the latest football scores I recognised one of the guys from Derry Downs. I had a beer with him and he told me about a bad taste party back at DD that night. I was impressed and remarked,
"That's nice of you lot to throw me a Welcome Back Party. Didn't know you cared."

"Ha, nice coincidence but it does give us another excuse to go hard."

We headed back there, stopping off to get some beers on the way. I had no party clothes so I simply smeared some coffee onto the crack side of a pair of white jocks, wore them outside my jeans and smeared more coffee onto a strip of toilet paper and hung it out the back of my jocks. Apparently that was good enough. I recognised a few faces and we all hooked into some beers, Scotch and catch up of what we'd been up to. The party lasted until about two when it broke up into a couple of sub-parties. The one in my room lasted about half an hour. I sprawled on my bed, trying to keep my eyes open so they could record any funny bits. It didn't work. In my nearly unconscious state I'm sure I heard someone say,
"Welcome back to London, mate. Have a good sleep, you'll need it."


  1. Poor idea on Gorilla Boy's part. That could have been the Felafel of tour books. Only problem would have been getting your arse sued by disgruntled hosteliers - but I'm sure names could be changed to protect the guilty.

  2. I'm with Doc, still has legs.

  3. Dr Y - that's why you should never entrust anything worthwhile to an engineer.
    Bangman - If I could remember some of the others' contributions it could possibly be done. Still, sounds like hard work to me.
    Nat - am not! I'm a good boy. So there!

  4. This has been a great narrative.

    So are we going to hear about your trip to North America? I seem to remember an affinity for the Toronto Blue Jays so I reckon you've visited America's Hat.

    (I joke, I joke. Canada's a great place to visit!)

  5. YD - I'll finish this trip off. A bit of UK and Oktoberfest to come.
    I'll have to do a bridging bit about going into Russia. A couple of funny incidents there.
    The North America trip later once I find the diary.