My first solo travel experience was part of my 2 month backpacking adventure to Europe! It happened to me by chance. A friend who was supposed to take a sabbatical to join me couldn’t. On the other hand, I had already quit my job, so I decided to stick to the plan and just go. I had another friend accompany me for the first 2 weeks and after bidding adieu to her and to France I made my way into Belgium. I sat in the train, staring in awe at the stunning countryside and biting into my sandwich. The feeling was unnerving but that is perhaps exactly what made it so intoxicating. Into an unfamiliar land, amidst unfamiliar people, all by myself, for the first time! The possibilities were endless and I had absolutely no fixed plans!
I found my way to my hostel in Bruges (a fairy-tale medieval town in Belgium) in the evening, hit the bar at night, made some friends and some plans for the next day. It was a great evening but little did I know that the next day was going to offer one of the most wonderful adventures of my life.
As the sun rose on Bruges, sticking to our plans from the previous night, Roberto, Camilo, Juan and I got 4 bikes from our hostel and took off. The plan was to ride about 5 kms along the canal from Brugge to Damme, a pretty medieval village, explore, eat and ride back, just in time for the walking tour our hostel had organized that afternoon. But well, the best days often happen when you steer away from plans.
After the stunning ride to Damme, along the soaring poplars that reflected in the glass still waters of the canal, we decided to pick a random spot away from the tourist crowds, to just sit and admire the magic all around us. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful town. But it was going to be time to head back soon. Camillo looked at his map for an alternative route back and said “The first town on the Netherlands border is just a little over 20 kms away, wanna go?” It was a unanimous and instant, YES! And I was so glad to have found these wandermates who chose spontaneous exploration over a routine tour.
So off we went through charming villages, the lush countryside, endless windmills, a national park, a thick forest, a ground with wooly llamas, the countryside with ravishing horses running along. Every turn came with an exciting surprise. The experience was simply delightful!
We then made our way across the Belgium Netherlands border and to a charming little coffee shop in the town of Sluis. We were all having the day of our lives. Out Camillo pulled his map again! We all looked at each other and smiled… The coast! Knokke-Heist was gonna be our next destination. I just couldn’t wait to get there and cycle on the beach. So off we went, singing aloud, romancing the countryside.
It was a delight to hit the beach. We threw off our shoes and ran around. Then as we enjoyed our pizzas on the beach, it started raining. That didn’t dampen our spirits one bit, in fact just sparked the adventurous spirit. We rode back the final 20 kms, stopping every now and then, literally dancing in the rain.
It had been an incredible day. 76kms. 13 hours. Happy souls. We made our way back to that bar in the hostel and celebrated life and its adventures with the over 40 varieties of beer available.
As I finally stumbled to my dorm and lay down on my bed, I thought about the day and my first solo travel experience! With a beautiful bunch of people who were complete strangers just a night before. The wonderful feeling of having no yesterdays or tomorrows on the road, of just going with the flow. Belgium had given me a brilliant start and had me craving a lot more!