Before the big trip, I went on a long-weekend trip within Belgium with some English and American internet-buddies from the Backpacker Bulletin Board. It got me in the travel-mode, despite still having to go to work for 7 days afterwards (only a week today !) I realized that one of the reasons I like to travel is that it frees me of the voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me everything I should still do before officially being allowed to have fun. OK, there are minor things like buying food before the shops close or calling the next hostel to confirm reservations, but the to-do list rarely becomes so long that I decide it�s hopeless anyway and do nothing instead (not that there�s anything wrong with doing nothing every once in a while).
And there are many things I still had to do at home (most of them to do with trip-preperation at the moment, getting visas and sorting out financial matters and all that), but I couldn�t do any of them in the Ardennes anyway so the voice went silent. Thus I was fully able to enjoy playing cards for hours in a row, hiking, speculating what it would be like to live in the middle ages, having a picnic in a fire tower, drinking beer, wine and tequilla and visiting castles and museums.
The � Fest � started when I met Peter � uktrail � Wright (the only one of the internet bunch I had met � irl � before) at the local train station on Friday evening. We had dinner at my place and then took a train to Brussels where we met � Lost Sheep � Sarah and her boyfriend Steven.
This was on the eve of the first of May, the day on which 10 new countries joint the European Union, and there was Polish music on the Grote Markt to celebrate, which was a welcome change from the usual �they are coming take away or jobs and rob us � propaganda one gets here from politics and media alike. Unfortunately we had to return to Antwerp
on the last train before midnight, so we could not join in the real party. We got a small version of it at the train station though. At midnight we were still waiting for the train which should�ve been there 10 minutes earlier. At that time a group of young Poles got out their Polish flag and their camera, and started singing the Polish and European anthems. There was clapping and cheering from all on the platform.
I sincerely hope the Polish and other Eastern European nationals will not regret giving up the freedom they only just got so easily, and that all these countries which I love travelling to will be able to hold on to their own identity, but the party mood made me willing to be optimistic, and the next morning I woke up with the feeling that perhaps in the long run a united Europe could also be a better Europe.
We were joined by � Stage Rat � Annette, met Steve and Sarah again at Brussel Noord train station, and made our way to Bouillon, a lovely little village in the Ardennes near the French border, where we would stay until tuesday. Naturally it is a touristy place (half the cars we saw had a Dutch licence plate), but not so much so that it becomes annoying � we rarely met anyone on our hikes outside the town.
We stayed at the HI hostel
, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It�s quite a climb, even from the bus terminus which is higher up than the main streets of Bouillon allready, but you will be rewarded by a splendid view of the castle (especially at night when it�s all lit up) and the town from the terrace, stay in comfortable and clean rooms (since there were 5 of us, we got a 6-bed dorm to ourselves), and if you are lucky the wonderful friendly multi-lingual receptionist who made phone calls to hostels in Namur
and Brussels for us, and even gave us free olive oil (which we had forgotten to buy) and cheese (which the butcher had forgotten to put in the bag) will be on duty. In the evenings we played cards in the bar, and Steve soon earned the title of world�s most annoying card player (there are nooo cards here) :p In the daytime we looked around the town, went hiking in the hills (up to the firetower on Sunday and along the river Semois on Monday), and visited the castle, Bouillon�s claim to fame. It was once the home of Godfried (or Godefroid) of Bouillon, but he sold it in order to go on the first crusade, kill a lot of Jews and Muslims, be crowned the King of Jerusalem by his buddies and finally be killed himself a year after that. We in turn crowned Sarah � Lady Sarah of something-or-other Kent village of the year � and speculated on how to conquer the castle. To be honest I think the hostel is a more comfortable place to live.
Sarah and Steve have magical bags: they were the same size as my daypack, yet they could fit in everything they needed. I need one of those! Or I should take a class in tactical packing, and learn not to throw a whole bunch of stuff into my large backpack until it is full and then start thinking what I forgot. Any tips are welcome.