Brussels, Quentin and An Old Photo
Years ago, when I was still young and innocent (OK, just 3 years ago actually……). I wanted to attend a wedding in Europe, so I asked around and one of the people who replied was Quentin. He said he could arrange for me to go to a wedding of his friend in Belgium. However, at that time I was in the Balkans, somewhere in Romania I recall, so that did not work out. However, we stayed in touch and as I approached Brussels, I contacted him again and I was invited to stay in his place.
At the same time with me, there were 3 teenager French girls staying there also. They were all in the 1st year of their university and was using summer holiday doing an Interrail trip. They were looking for a host in Amsterdam as that was their next destination.
You have no idea how difficult it is to find a couchsurfing host in Amsterdam. WOWO! (yes, I start to WOWO again. I know you have missed it.) Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris are among the cities most difficult to find a couchsurfing host in the whooooole world. WOWO! For me, a solo male it would be almost impossible to find a host in Amsterdam. OK, to be exact, maybe I would need to send 70 requests to really find a host…… However, for those young girls, after sending 7 requests they already found a host! WWWWWhat? All right, in my next life I would like to be a female, a pretty one please.
Just kidding. 😀
I was having dinner with Quentin and we were talking about our travels. When he was traveling in Patagonia with friends, they hiked from the Chilean side to the Argentinian side. Days before it had snowed terribly and the day before the hike the sun came out, so all the snow suddenly melted. Now when they arrived at the foot of the mountain, they found that although there were shaky stairs, the surface of the stairs was all frozen with thick ice…… I know you would ask ‘why on earth did they want to hike a mountain in such cold weather?’ Well, Patagonia was really in the south of the American continent and the mountain was already pretty near Antarctica, so most of the time it was cold and Patagonia was stunningly beautiful!
Since they had come such a long way to reach the mountain, they decided to move on! However, to hike up was easy. They could do it with the icy stairs and hiking sticks. The difficulty was to hike down with such slippery ice. Therefore, they had to chop off every piece of ice on the stairs. It was a painful and slow process. When they finally reached the peak, it was already noon. The sun came out and was shinning with sarcastic smile. When they hiked down, they found that all the ice already melted……
What waste of effort to chop off all the ice! 🙂
The next day, I visited the royal palace, which was free for all visitors during summer. I also went to the EU headquarters, which had high security around. As this was already my 4th or 5th time in Brussels, I had seen most popular sites. I spent most time trying to find the location where this photo was taken. This photo was taken in 1927 at the 5th Solvay Conference. This photo has been said to be the ‘smartest photo of mankind’ as it had all the most famous scientists at that time, Einstein, Schrödinger, Marie Curie, Born, Bohr, Lorentz and many other Nobel Prize laureates.
After online research and local exploration, I found that the building in the background of the photo was in Leopold Park of Brussels. There were now a middle school, a private exhibition center and a museum in that park. I rang the exhibition center. The reception girl was nice enough to come down and explain to me where the most probable location was, which I confirmed with the museum employees nearby. The building in the background now belonged to the middle school.
Hours later, after visiting Brussels for the 4th or 5th time, I left for Malmedy, which was essentially in the German speaking part of Belgium. I know I know, you have heard of the French and Dutch/Flemish speaking part of Belgium, but near its border with Germany, there is also a small German speaking part, with a population of about 77 000. It was in the far eastern part of Belgium. I had a Belgian friend who then lived there. Since we only talked online, it would be great to finally meet her in real life. Eh… no, it was not romantic. She was living with her boyfriend.
It was about to rain. It was essentially cloudy. Suddenly I had the feeling of back in the lowlands, which was famous for its ugly climate in Europe.
It rained…… ‘Great weather for hitchhiking!’ I thought, ‘Guess that is welcome to Belgium.’
The Forced Sperm Donors
According to hitchwiki, I took public transport to the best spot, which was a parking lot at the edge of Brussels and put up my umbrella.
The rain stopped after 5 minutes.
A car stopped after another 5 minutes. The driver was a young girl with sunglasses. She looked relaxed and in a good mood, so I got in the car.
From her cool appearance I surmised that she had hitchhiked herself, so I started the conversation.
I: Did you hitchhike yourself?
She: Yes! I hitchhiked in New Zealand.
I: Me too! Isn’t it just the best country for hitchhiking? WOWO!
She laughed: Yes, I had never seen so many hitchhikers in my whole life!
I: That is exactly what I always say! I had never seen so many hitchhikers and wild rabbits until I arrived in New Zealand.
She laughed again: Have you hitchhiked in other parts of the world?
I: Yes, basically every continent except Antarctica, but no worries, it is already in my plan. I am planning to hitchhike from here to Finland and in Finland I am gonna hitchhike one of those reindeer carts of Santa Claus. I am sure I will become a great pal of him. Then I will drive the reindeer cart to circle around the globe until I reach Antarctica.
She laughed again.
Yes, basically the story was that I was bullshitting and she was laughing.
I accidentally mentioned that I was hitchhiking in Africa. She was a bit shocked and asked me: ‘Was it as dangerous as many people think?’
I: Nope! 99.9% people who say hitchhiking is dangerous has never done hitchhiking. Their opinions are mainly based on the media and their fear for everything they do not know. Statistics is on the hitchhikers’ side.
When I first attempted the idea of hitchhiking, I intentionally asked people around me and their answers were mainly ‘They will kill you!’ ‘They will rob you!’ and ‘They will rape you!’ Then I would ask them ‘You seem to know so much about hitchhiking. So have you ever hitchhiked yourself?’ NONE of them had done it themselves. They simply gave those answers because they THOUGHT or GUESSED that it should be dangerous…… Seriously?
Then I asked my only friend who had done it himself. He was silent for 5 seconds and then said the following words —- ‘Do it! It will probably be the best experience of your life! You will finally get to see the world first-handed! If you only believe in the media and stay in your own comfortable but narrow cave, you will never really get to know the beauty of the world and its people!’ Now after 4 years of hitchhiking, after hundreds of vehicles, here I am, totally intact, never been killed, raped or robbed by the drivers. Instead, I have met the BEST people in our world through hitchhiking. Even in the most dangerous situation, there are people willing to help me out. Even in the poorest countries, there are people with the richest souls! Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that worth every bit of the risk?
She: but seriously, I have heard scary stories about hitchhiking in Africa.
I: Me too! My most admired traveler, a Polish girl, Kinga Freespirit died of malaria while hitchhiking in Africa in 2006. I also got malaria while in Africa, but I survived.
She: Eh… I have heard of male hitchhikers who were forced to donate sperms by local women while hitchhiking in Africa.
2 minutes of shocked silence.
I: What? You are kidding right?
She stopped laughing: No, it’s on the news. You can search it. It’s true. It happened more than once. They were sexually assaulted and you know… those women took their sperm.
She dropped me in Liege/Luik. The sky was gathering clouds again and this time I really thought a good heavy rain was coming, so I told my friend probably I would not arrive today.
I was wrong…… The clouds dispersed after 3 drops of rain. I was on the road again.
I was still in the aftershock of the ‘forced sperm donation’ story, but the sun came out and basically I had hardly ever been scared while on the road, so I went on as usual.
A young man took me. He was at work and had to take a detour to deliver a document. I went with him and eventually arrived in a ‘good location for hitchhiking’ according to him.
I had a look around. It was a seemingly deserted train station in the middle of the forest. There was a sign on the station ‘Trois-Ponts’. There was a road in front of the locked door of the station. However, I did not see a single car.
‘Best location he?’ I thought.
To be continued