So, Why?

So why did I come to Europe? Why is my blog name kraezfernweh? Why am I not liking it or having as much fun as I thought? Why is traveling and all these new amazing experiences so difficult for me?Well, let’s start with the easy question. My blog name is two different words. Kraez is a nickname I got in college after I got a little crazy on a sugar high from eating a chocolate treat and a chocolate shake. It’s a play on my first and middle names, Kelly Rae. Fernweh is a German word for homesick, a longing for a place you’ve never been, at least according to Pinterest. I thought the two sounded good together and WordPress said all my other ideas were taken already. 

I came to Europe to try to get rid of anxiety. I had hiked the Appalachian trail and through hiking, God had healed me of depression. I wanted the same thing for anxiety. I struggled with depression for much of my high school, college and adult life, at times pretty severe. I resisted getting professional help, thinking that counseling was silly and refusing to experiment with antidepressants which could have all sorts of side effects, most of which I didn’t want to mess around with. I do not think antidepressants are wrong to take; I just knew that they weren’t for me. 

Then, some bad stuff happened to me in college in Texas, parts of it from within the Christian community I’d become a part of. I remained calm, determined, and fearless, enough to finish my degree. I still struggled with my health and a cough that wouldn’t go away. I went to the ER when I couldn’t breathe and was dismissed with a diagnosis of panic attack. I laughed at that, thinking how wrong they were, that it must be allergies or something. Oh how wrong I was. Fast forward a bit, to when a guy at a church event complimented me. I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating and my hands were shaking so hard I could hardly hold onto my plate of food. I would later realize this was my first panic attack. As time went by, normal things got hard. Grocery shopping became incredibly difficult. I couldn’t decide between vanilla or strawberry yogurt. My brain would freeze and just not make a decision. I would usually end up not deciding and just walking out. As I tried to find a job, moved back home to where I had no community, things got worse. I had trouble sleeping at night and could only sleep as the sun broke across the horizon. It was difficult to make any decision in a reasonable amount of time, what to wear, to eat, how to compose emails, whether to go left at that green light, etc. I found two churches that I liked and tried to get involved but I was too weak to do anything but sit there. I bought a dog and she quickly became my best friend, needing me to get out of bed in the morning to feed her and walk her. 

I decided to thruhike the Appalachian trail and it was the second most greatest decision of my life. The first being to follow Jesus. I believe I was healed of depression the instant I set foot on that Trail. I had one goal, to reach Mt Katahdin. This was easy to focus on and while it required great physical and mental strength, it was also quite simple to walk north through the wooded mountains. I finished feeling quite accomplished but knew life after trail would be difficult. It didn’t take long for the endorphins to wear off and for my troubles to come back tenfold. I had trouble getting used to society and civilization and my anxiety made it worse. I got a part time job doing cashiering and packaging at a UPS store. Trying to work more than 28hours a week absolutely exhausted me, to the point where I couldn’t even chew the food my mom had cooked for me. My arms and legs would feel like lead, too heavy to move. My neck would feel like it could no longer support my head. Going to church every Sunday made me shake so much I couldn’t breathe. Going to small group bible studies made me shake so hard I couldn’t speak. The place where I should’ve felt safest I felt terrified of. It got worse, I would shake so hard and have trouble breathing, I didn’t feel safe driving, making myself late to social events, making the anxiety even worse. I would try to be me, but would be unable to speak, leaving people bewildered. 

I refuse to live like this anymore. I refuse to be silent. I struggle with (social) anxiety and PTSD like symptoms. When I get a panic attack, I shake (unnoticeable to most unless you are touching me), I can’t speak or have trouble forming sentences, I can’t make decisions, and I have trouble catching my breath. Please don’t tell me to just breathe or calm down. It’s not that easy. I don’t know what I want you to do. I don’t always have panic attacks but I do still feel anxious most of the time. I feel like I’m fighting with my body, against my body and mind most of the time. I know I should learn to work with my body in harmony, but that still looks like a fight. I know it’s irrational. It doesn’t make sense. 

Traveling helps. It forces me to live in the uncomfort every minute. I must make a choice or risk losing much more. I have no choice but to meet people, in hostels, tours, and restaurants. I meet some amazing wonderful people, some friends for life. There are times when it’s just too much and I stand on the street corner and tears flood my cheeks. I back up into the walk of the nearest building and pray. God, fight this for me! I have no idea where I am or how to get to food, shelter or smiles. Traveling solo is difficult. Traveling solo dealing with anxiety is insane. I’m glad I came across the oceans, trust without borders. 

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

Hug me.

Pray with me. 

Cry with me. 

Walk with me. 

Do messy with me.

Eat with me.

Laugh with me.

Be alone with me. 

Fight with me. 

Be still with me. 

This doesn’t quite articulate all that I want or need to say but it comes close. I write this at 4am as I’m about to get on a plane to home after almost 3months of traveling so it might be more rambling word vomit than inspiring or thought provoking but that’s all I got. 

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Enjoyable Echternach

Tuesday July 28I hadn’t set an alarm because I wanted to sleep in and enjoy waking up on my tent. The morning sun didn’t quite hit me as I hoped but it was close. It was pretty chilly so it was a little stretch to get up and out. I boiled up some hot water for my oatmeal to go and took my time getting ready. The tourist office didn’t open until 10 anyway. I went down to reception and went ahead and paid for two nights. I headed to the city center just past 10 and found it much easier to navigate when I wasn’t frustrated and hungry. The office lady gave me a small map of the town and paths but only pointed out one 12km loop trail. She said it was the best day hike in the region. I wandered into the cathedral next door before setting out to find the beginning of this trail. 

The beginning of this trail was also the beginning of many other paths, including a camino with the yellow shell marker. I started up the trail and immediately climbed straight up for half an hour. I stopped and looked back and there was quite a view! I could look out over the town and the surrounding hillsides because I’d climbed up so quickly. I spotted a wooden structure at the very top and hiked just a few more minutes. It was a large gazebo, complete with benches inside. I’d only been hiking for maybe 45minutes but it was around noon/lunchtime and this place just demanded a break. I pulled out a granola bar and began munching away as more people hiked up. No one seemed as interested in the gazebo as I was. I hiked on after eating a bit and wandered through amazingly beautiful forests. There were cliffs next to me and the trees were just perfectly placed all around. I rounded the corner and started descending very steeply into a gorge with high rock faces on either side. I came to an intersection where the trail went straight but it looked like there were trails up to lookouts on either side. I took the one to the left first, climbing many uneven slippery rock stairs before reaching the top. I could look down into the gorge and out across the surrounding areas. There were benches and many worn areas where it looked like people had camped. There was a mother and father chasing their two little boys around on the top. They climbed up here for lunch and the kids looked like they were having a blast. The cliffs were well fenced in all along the top. I could walk on top the cliff looking down at the trail I came in on. I clambered slowly back down the steep stairs I came up and climbed the stairs going to the right. This lookout was much smaller but had a bridge to another cliff island that was pretty cool. There was a troop of young adults that passed by, all grumbling and not very happy, each carrying large heavy packs. None of them stopped to look at either view, just bypassing it without even a picture from the center of the gorge. I was sad they didn’t stop. It really was quite fantastic up here and nothing is meant to be hiked through fast without looking around. I continued on a few minutes after they had passed, walking through some amazing rock formations, all covered in ferns and hanging vines. The rocks had been worn by the wind and rain and had pretty neat textures. It looked like a magical place with the ferns and vines combining to create an incredible aura. I stopped every so often just to stand still, in awe of my surroundings, slowly spinning around in circle. Everywhere my eyes landed was God’s perfect beauty. I passed a picnic shelter with a group of older people. They were all laughing and having a great time. I figured they’d get up and walk on but they all walked to the bus that was parked within eyesight. Well at least they were enjoying nature somewhat. I hiked on, not coming upon anyone for quite awhile. Then I could hear voices and laughter. I couldn’t see them but I could see where they would be. There was a giant rock face looming out over the trail and below it was a cave. This cave had a piece of rock all the way to the ground so you could walk under and around it. The group was sitting in the cave, their now joyful voices mingling and echoing throughout. I felt like this whole area was an incredible secret that Luxembourg kept for the special few. I came upon a sign to go to Berdorf or to continue on my trail. I’d heard that Berdorf was a cute little Swiss town with many shops and restaurants. I could go for an ice cream and it was only 2km there. I headed that way, making sure I remembered which way my correct path went. Soon I left the forest and started walking through fields of wheat and corn, with the occasional colorful poppy. I entered the town and was still able to follow the trail signs but I saw no shops or restaurants, just houses. I kept going but the houses got fewer and fewer. There’d been a turn off but I could easily see that was a highway through more fields. There was a gazebo where the young adult group was gathering. I saw a bar/pub but it only served drinks. Aha! I spotted an ice cream cone on that gate. My pace quickened and soon I was at the door, thinking about what flavors they would be. I pulled and pushed the door but it was locked. It was 2pm on a Tuesday and they were closed. Wow, I’d had such high hopes for this town and the picture of the smiley happy ice cream cone. I sighed and started walking back through the baking hot corn fields, back into the woods. I found my sign and began the way back. This wasn’t through the cliffs or gorge but at least it was beautiful forest with a gently sloping dirt path. 

I got back to town and still wanted a small something to eat so I found a bakery an ordered a cream filled glazed donut. Or what I thought was a cream filled donut. I sat down to eat and was given a fork and knife so I cut into it and took a bite. Mm yummy. I could just barely see the custard now so I cut into that and took another bite. Bleck!! What was that?! It tasted like hard boiled egg. I cut into the donut and tasted more. Yepp, that was egg filling my donut. I stared at it in wonder and disgust. It was glazed with a pretty chocolate drizzle on top. Fluffy. Round. Donut looking. But it was not a donut. I ate the outside, the sweet bread that had glaze but no egg with it. I walked away wanting more, completely unsatisfied with my little (mis)treat. I remembered seeing an ice cream shop but had trouble finding it so I went back to the tourism office to ask. They pointed me in the right direction, probably wondering how anybody could get lost in a town that had maybe 5 roads. Finally, I held in my hand an ice cream cone with hazelnut and caramel flavors. I sat on the steps in the square to polish off my cold deliciousness and just sat there watching people.

I meandered back to my campsite, this time looking in all the shops. I entered one an I thought it was just purses and magnets but at the back I spotted shelves and shelves of puzzles. It started with 100 piece puzzles and went all the way up to 5000! They were all Ravensburger brand. I picked one up and it said authentically made in Ravensburg, Germany. Oh wow, I must go research where that is! I would love to go to the home of the worlds best puzzles! I’d happened upon the Black Forest in Germany as being the home of the cuckoo clock. 

I got back to my tent, set my stuff down and began researching this puzzle city. Turns out it is directly between the Black Forest and Munich. Hmm, my mind started to race ahead of me. I’d like to go but I don’t know if I could fit it in. I’d had to sign up for a specific date to start the European Peace Walk from Vienna and then made reservations for two nights in the hostel in Vienna beginning August 2. It was the first time I’d had a set deadline for time and I was struggling with it. My moms friends friend in the Black Forest area was proving hard to get in contact with. I’d emailed my moms friend and received the contact info for the lady but wasn’t able to call, text, or email. The wifi at the campground was spotty so I tried using my data but that didn’t work. I should’ve been able to make a phone call or text by that wasn’t working either. I tried for several hours, getting more frustrated each minute. I was hoping to leave Echternach on the early bus out to Luxembourg city then down to the Black Forest. From Lux I could go either to Strasbourg, France then across to Freiburg which took pretty much all day or to a city in Germany north of Freiburg but that was way more expensive. I didn’t want to spend the whole day on a train/bus but also didn’t want to shell out big bucks to move a few hundred kilometers. And if course this all depended on if I was able to get in touch with the lady and stay with her or not. I wanted to hike a day and go to Triberg, home of the cuckoo clocks and this lady was right in the middle. I went back up to my tent and started to make dinner. I just wanted to see just a few things while I was in Germany because I only had a couple days to spend. I ate my pasta and thought hard but came up with nothing. I hunkered down in the lounge room as it got cold out and continued to plan. Nothing was coming together and my phone service I’d bought wasn’t working. I couldn’t leave the wifi with no plans if my service didn’t work. I starting shaking, partly from the cold, partly from the anxiety. I was trying not to fret, knowing that it would all come together but this was maddening. I just needed three more days then I’d be in Vienna and on my way down a long distance trail. I finally got the email out but it was past 9pm asking if I could stay there the next day so it probably wouldn’t work out. I wasn’t able to see a whole lot of timetables for trains and buses so I didn’t know how to from here to there. Eventually I went out into the cold and got into my sleeping bag just before midnight, not having a clue as to what I was doing the next day. 

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Lux Luxembourg

Monday July 27I got up early to catch the bus to Luxembourg. I had to ask reception to open the kitchen back up so I could cook some eggs. I left for the station, again walking past some unsavory shops. I was taking flexibus and had a hard time finding out where it was or where to wait for it. I finally just joined another girl standing on the street who had been dropped off there a few days before. It was really windy making us all cold. The time for the bus came and went. Many more people had gathered on the street but no one knew if this was the right spot or where our bus was. Finally, 30minutes past time, a flexibus pulls up and just passed us. It was true there probably wasn’t enough space for a bus to safely parallel park but he didn’t even wave us forward. We all ran a block chasing the bus and caught it, pretty much having to board in the middle of the street. I put my pack in the luggage area and climbed aboard. Most everyone had gone to the second level of the bus for some reason, leaving me almost alone on the first level, with two mothers and their kids. This was alright by me, as long as the kids continued to behave. I was glad I had my M&M blanket to snuggle up under.

We arrived in Luxembourg and luckily one of the ladies overheard me ask the driver where was the tourist office. The bus had dropped us off again just near the stations so I was a little lost. The lady told me to follow her into the train station where the tourist office was. I thanked her and walked into the tourist office. 

This was an adventure. I’d bought a ticket to Luxembourg not having any idea whatsoever of what to do, see or where to go. I knew I was going to Echternach later that day but I had roughly 5 hours to spend. The lady handed me a map and circled the city center and pointed out some monuments and paths around the city. It was warming up outside but was threatening to rain. I headed over the bridge to the city center, passing several nice gardens and views along the way. There were several deep valleys and cliffs within the city making for some aesthetically pleasing vistas. I wanted a bite to eat and I wanted to find phone service and a charger. I was able to find a phone store called Orange and they set me up with a new SIM card. I was expecting them to have some good international rates because Luxembourg was so small but no, it would just have to cost me more to call, text or use data outside of Lux. I was okay with that, figuring I’d use mostly wifi unless I needed the service. Many of the shops were fancy and I didn’t want to eat in them especially with my large now dripping pack. I found a store that sold pizza pretzels and got one to go. I stood outside under the umbrellas eating my snack. I wasn’t quite sure what to do in the rain as what I wanted to do was hike the path to the top of the cliffs for he views. I wandered the city center, looking in a few of the stores. A concert band started gathering in the gazebo in the plaza. I tried to watch them as they played but the store owners wouldn’t let me stand out of the rain under their umbrellas, even though there were hardly any customers even inside, let alone outside.

I left for the path to the view and as I climbed up and down, the sun came out. I hoped it was here to stay. I got to the top and looked out across the city and river below. It was a nice view but I preferred to look out over wilderness. I saw a few people on a level below me and wondered how they got there. I kept walking and there were more and more people. I saw signs saying entrance for 4 euros so I went down to take a look. There were caves and paths down inside among the cliffs. I paid the fee and the clerk let me store my large pack inside his office, saying it’d be hard to go below with it. I sure wasn’t going to argue with that and quickly dropped it on the floor. It’d be safe within his office. I entered the caves and was stuck behind a school group for a little bit. I wouldn’t have minded except that I couldn’t understand the language their teacher was talking in. I crept past and entered the main cave. I figured it be worth a few minutes exploring but I had no idea how extensive the caves actually were. At first there was one large main path with a few equally wide shoots off it to over looks and where cannons would’ve pointed out. It was darker but there were a few lights on the floor lighting the path. I had a small guide map with me but it didn’t tell me much. I just kept going down, making turns and descending steep, skinny, spiral stairs. These new paths would be one person wide an led even deeper into the cliff, eventually coming to a tiny hole where you could peer out. This was so much fun! I kept wandering deeper and deeper, having no idea where I was but knowing that I wasn’t going to be lost. Several times the stairs got pretty tight and I’m not normally claustrophobic but it got a little hairy in there. I followed one path and a family turned back after thinking it was a dead end. I saw a small space and climbed up in it. It was just my height so I kept walking. It got smaller and smaller, but I kept going, crouching down so I could continue. It wasn’t til I was almost on my hands and knees and scraping my hips and daypack on the sides that I figured I should turn back. I certainly couldn’t turn around but I just walked backwards. I have no idea where it ended up but I was glad to have crawled down it as much as I could. Finally when I felt like I was going in circles and loops and up and down the same stairs, I looked for an exit sign. I’d seen them when I’d come in but now they were sparse. I found one and reentered the bright blinding sunlight. Yay pure blue skies!! I got my large pack back and sat on the bench overlooking the valley and ate some of my Cadbury chocolate caramel bar. Mmm, what a cool random adventure I’d found in Luxembourg! 

I headed back toward the station, intent on finding a charger for my phone before leaving for Echternach. I asked the tourist office lady and she had no idea. I sputtered and finally asked for an electronics store. She could answer that question with that there was one just 5minutes away. I headed into Saturn but the security guard motioned for me to put my pack in their lockers and storage. It wasn’t even close to fitting in the little locker so I set it in front of it in front of the window, hoping he’d make sure no one took the bulkiest pack. I wandered around inside, looking for anything remotely like a charger. I asked customer service but they just pointed me to the adapters. I just need the European outlet plug for an Apple device, not any cords or adapters. Eventually I found a clerk that understood what I was trying to get and led me to the Apple plugs section. Yikes, the plug was 20 euro!! I was expecting not to pay over 10. Oh well, I didn’t really have a choice, I really needed this charger. I got it and remembered I also needed Chapstick. The pharmacy nor any quick mart type stores had it. I went into Yves Rocher makeup store and asked for lip balm, showing them my Chapstick stick. The lady pointed me to the right section but none had over SPF 5 and all had slight coloring too. But at least it was only one euro. Finally, I was ready to head towards Echternach. The ride was an hour and a half long and I got off one stop too early. There were no signs, announcements or indications which stop we were on. Luckily I’d just bought service so I could make sure it was only a 15 extra minute walk to the city center. I’d looked at campsites and had picked one out and was hoping they had a site available for me and my little tent. I got to the city center but was a little turned around so I headed for the tourist office but it had just closed. I remembered the campground was pretty close to the river and I didn’t want to use all the data I’d just bought so I made my way to the river and just followed it. I’m pretty sure there was a quicker way through town but this was easiest for now. The town looked quite quaint with many old buildings and little shops. Still not a whole lot was in English. I found the campground but reception was closed. It said to go see the night guard and pointed up the hill. I kept walking and walking but saw nothing of the sort. I came upon a hotel and went in, hoping they could point to the night reception. The guy just pointed back to the campground and said up. Well I was hiking up and up. I’d expected to have been cooking dinner by now, with my tent and bed all set up. I was getting pretty frustrated and hangry. Finally I found the night guards building but it too had closed. I stood there, pondering what to do. Just then a car drove up and a lady got out. Her English was terrible but I was able to understand that she worked there. She tried to give me directions to the backpackers tent sites but eventually just drove me and told me I could pay in the morning. 

It was a real nice set up, with campers along the front when you come in and the more primitive sites on flat grass roads up above. There was potable water and sinks every 50 or so feet. I set up my tent in between two couples and we were all fairly well spaced apart. I tried to set my tent up to catch the morning rays but the ground wasn’t quite flat the correct direction. I got my bed set up and started cooking dinner. I set up my stove on the cement steps hoping to not melt anything or catch anything on fire. I was on the top level so I could watch all the other campers. Many of the other tenters had gas stoves and portable chairs, picnic tables and other car camping equipment. My stove and tent were definitely tinier than all the rest. I just sat there, enjoying the last rays of sunlight waiting for my pasta to cool so I could eat it. The reception was next to a lounge room that had couches, books, games, tables, chairs, outlets and wifi! I went down there after dinner so I could try to plan what I was doing tomorrow. There were many day hikes in addition to the long distance Echternach loop trails. I wanted to hike the whole trail but didn’t quite have time for it. This area was called little Switzerland because it has many of the same geological features as Switzerland, gorges, caves, cliffs, and expansive mountain areas. After an hour I still hadn’t quite found any map or listing of where these day hiked began or ended so I went off to bed. It’d gotten quite chilly out once the sun went down and I’d been in the lounge room. I was pretty excited to be sleeping in my tent once again. There could be snoring from the other campers or suburban noise but mostly just the sounds of the night. 

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Buying all the Chocolate

Sunday July 26I got up after an okay sleep and headed downstairs for the free breakfast. There was the typical bread, jam, cereal and thin slices of meat and cheese. The food quality wasn’t great but I had enough to get full. I took a shower which had pretty good water pressure before heading out into town. I remembered which way I’d come past the church and was able to find that shortcut again. This time the church was open and it was a Sunday so there was mass. I slipped quietly into the back, in awe of the massive insides of the building. Everything was so decorated, so ornate. The main aisle was closed to the public because after all, the people were having a church service. It felt odd taking pictures as people were quietly lining up in the pews. They all stood and started singing. Wow, that organ certainly filled the air with amazing notes. I walked out feeling refreshed and inspired on this lovely Sunday morning. I had a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do but was in no hurry. 

I wandered my way through the city center, passing a few random pockets of little markets. I was heading towards the mannekin pis, which is the famous statue of a peeing boy. I don’t know why a peeing boy is so famous but he’s certainly on all of the tour guides must see list, as well as his sister, and his dog. I was going to find all three even though the other two were supposedly pretty difficult to find. I turned the corner and there he was! Peeing out a water fountain. There was a crowd of people taking selfies in front of him which I thought was super weird. Why would you want a picture of yourself in front of a peeing child? I took a snapshot of the statue and turned onto the road he was on. This street looked like it had tons of waffle shops, chocolate shops and a few others scattered within. I made a note of the waffle shops and headed down chocolate lane.

At first I was just going to look at all the different kinds of chocolate, admiring the designs of each chocolatier. But of course I had to buy some from each shop! I tried to only buy 2 bars from each shop. I wanted to try different flavors too. One of the ones I chose was flavored white cinnamon cookie. Others were caramel, orange or dark chocolate. Each shop had an intensely sweet scent that hit you instantly when you pushed the door open. I don’t know how the shop keepers stayed trim with all that sugar laying around. After I’d bought at least 6 bars of chocolate, I found a souvenir shop. I bought a tshirt that had a peace symbol out of many flags. I thought it was a pretty neat shirt design. It was nearing 3 so I figured I’d better get to the music museum because it closed at 5.

The museum was up the Main Street, at the top of all the stairs. I was pretty excited for this museum of musical instruments. I’d never been to such a specific exhibit and this was finally a museum that piqued my interest. 

I entered and received an audio guide and was ushered in. I followed others through a thick wooden door and was met with the dark ambient light that museums often have. There were glass cases of instruments grouped together by culture and place or by type of instrument. There were logos on the floor where you would stand near to and the music would start playing from your guide based on the type of instruments you were standing in front of. This was so neat! I was looking at very old instruments from different cultures and hearing what each sounded like, in a style from that culture. I moved through the exhibits slowly, letting each song play to it’s 2-3 minute length. I got to a machinist and the music wouldn’t start so I pressed a button on the guide. I guess I messed it up because it wouldn’t play anything anymore. I went back to the entrance and got a new audio guide, this one in Spanish and grabbed a set of headphones as well. I found my place again and happily swayed along to each song. This was the best museum ever! I couldn’t quite capture the essence just in pictures so I videoed the instruments with my phone up against the earphones. They were plenty of instruments I’d never heard of and some that I couldn’t even figure out how you would play it. Some looked complicated and tough to learn while others looked like a toddler could play it. There were many types of drums, each with their own unique sound. 

I wandered to another room, up a giant staircase and through another heavy wooden door. This room still had the instruments and songs but was all about who would play it and where. Many more well off peasants, or middle class, would learn to play instruments and the rich would pay to have them entertain them and their guests. Other cultures simply played music for the fun of it or tradition, as a means of worship or reflection. Th next room had decorated and painted instruments, some of which were just placed in rich peoples homes for the looks. There were a few that were made to be playable and reserved for only the very wealthy. The next room had more modern music, electronic sounds, radios, clock chimes and bell tower music. There was a gift shop, complete with very expensive gifts, and a restaurant on top. The entrance was immediately into the cooks and waitstaff area and a waiter tried to seat me. I stared back confused, until I stuttered out, English, and just pointed to the deck. I just wanted to see the rooftop view. I wouldn’t have minded eating there with a view but it was way too pricey for me. I took a few rooftop pictures as it began to rain. I was glad I’d come now because the museum had taken me almost 2 hours. I’d enjoyed every inch of it, reveling in the sounds of everywhere. Music is the only universal language and I was overjoyed at being able to experience some of it. 

It was a little past 5 and raining so I knew by the time I got back up to the military museum it would be closed. So I set off in search of the peeing dog and the peeing girl. It was full out raining so I’d walk a street and duck into a shop for a minute, look around, and figure out my next turn. I was just about done with trying to find the dog when I turned the corner and there he was! A statue of a male dog lifting it’s leg onto a pole. Well, wasn’t gat just something. I went to go find the girl and she was easier to find as there was a gaggle of people crowding around her as well. She was crouching down, locked behind a gate to protect her from vandals, water coming out her bottom a she peered into the distance. Brussels had some strange famous statues. I never did quite catch the story to these peeing figures. I was a little turned around but I made my way back to the boy who was next to all the waffle shops. I bought a waffle with strawberries and cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup. I stood in the shop, savoring each bite of this sweet treat. All the waffle shops were packed, with people trying to get out of the rain, and ordering deluxe waffles or chocolate packages. I walked back to the hostel, still without phone service or a way to charge my phone. I tried to sit downstairs in the lounge near the bar but the music was so loud and someone kept opening the doors even though it was cold. I needed to plan the next few days before getting to Vienna on august 2. My mom had a hiking friend who’s best friends daughter was located near the Black Forest area which I wanted to go through. Another friend had a girlfriend in Munich so those were two of my stops. But I’d heard about Echternach, Luxembourg being called the little Switzerland so that was also on my list. I left my phone at the desk again while I got ready to cook dinner. The kitchen was super tiny with one table and 8 chairs for well over 100 beds. There were very few pots and pans, dishes or silverware. I made do and ate my pasta dinner alone in the kitchen before heading up to bed.

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Sat July 25I woke up to another breakfast of toast and cereal. It was raining and I was on no hurry to walk through it. Checkout was 10am so Miya, Amanda and I all checked out but just sat in the lobby. Miya was going to explore Bruges more before going to Brussels in the evening. We exchanged contact information, for maybe getting together again in Brussels. Amanda and I were contemplating when we wanted to brave the rain to walk to the train station to go to Brussels. She was going to Brussels to catch a train to Paris. I booked a hostel near the city center and was going to spend two nights there. Amanda didn’t need to be there until the afternoon but decided to accompany me on the earlier train. We procrastinated on leaving, not wanting to trudge through the rain. It would rain hard for a bit and then slow to a drizzle. We’d get ready to go but then see the downpour an sit back down. We did this a few times before finally going for it. 

We were definitely more than just damp by the time we got to the station. The trip would take about 2 hours so we had plenty of time to chat. I finally got a chance to ask Amanda about her necklace, “I’ve noticed your cross necklace. Are you a Christian?” I just point blank asked her. She replied yes and we got to talk about our faith. Neither of us had run into many Christians on our travels. It was wonderful to talk about the ways God came though for us on our adventures. She had studied or had an internship for a month in Barcelona before traveling a bit across Europe. She caught a cold a few days ago and just wanted to be home. We arrived in Brussels and parted ways in the station. It wasn’t difficult at all to say goodbye; it almost felt normal to meet a good friend but only for a little bit. 

I found my way out of the station and started walking towards the hostel. I felt uneasy passing so many adult stores, tobacco shops and liqueur stores. I had to remind myself that bus and train stations were typically in dirty downtown areas and not representative of the city. I prayed my hostel was much farther away than the 15minute directions I was following. I started trudging up a hill as the shops shifted to small grocery stores and cafés. I relaxed as I realized that section of town had ended and I would be staying a different part of town. I tried to check in to the hostel but they had trouble finding my reservation. I showed them the email confirmation on my phone and they informed me that it was it was in fact for the previous day. I’d finally made a travel blunder and had booked the wrong day. They’d charged me the no show fee and full price for the room. Lucky they had a bed available for tonight. I sighed as I went ahead and paid for another night. 

The room wasn’t ready so I stayed downstairs planning what I’d do for the next few hours. It was 3pm and raining off and on. The hostel offered a ticket coupon for several different places so I bought one. I was really interested in the Musical Instruments Museum and a few others. I put my pack in the locked luggage storage and headed for the Auto World museum. It was between the Arc de Triumphe and the military museum. I successfully navigated my way to the grand entrance as I approached l’Arc de Triumphe. I’d learned about the one in France and was excited to see one in Belgium. It was super cool walking closer and closer. It got larger and larger until I was standing almost right underneath. There weren’t many people around in the drizzle so there was no one to take my picture.

I was a little hungry so I bought a caramel drizzled waffle before entering auto world. I’m not hugely into cars but I could certainly check out European car history. As I made my way through the rows of cars, a guy approached me and started talking about cars. He worked in restoring old cars and renting them out to people for special events so he’d come to the museum to see the final product. He told me a lot more information about all the vehicles than was presented in the museum, which just listed the year, model, and country of origin, which I appreciated. His English was fairly good, but his accent was difficult at times and I’m not sure he caught every word I’d say. He asked if I wanted a drink from the museum cafe and I said sure. He disappeared while I waited my turn to take a picture from the auto world photo booth. He reappeared afterwards, with the fact that the cafe was now closed. I had to use the restroom so he spoke in Belgian to the waiter who was closing up if I could come in. The cafe was a fancy one, with wine and pretty linens. After I exited the auto museum, he offered to show me around the military museum. It was free and they had a cafe too. I countered with that it was probably closed by now. He checked and indeed it was.

I started walking back down the main st, towards the city center. He said his car was in the parking lot behind the museum and he could drive me. I declined and he just continued walking with me. We chatted a bit about why I was in Belgium and he offered to show me around the city. The street that went down from the museums went straight for a very long time, straight into the heart of the city. It was an actual down town, with the center being downhill, with everything on all sides going up out of town. We stopped at the steps and looked out over the city and it conveniently happened to be nearing sunset early from the storm so the sky was getting pretty. He asked if I was still thirsty and before I could verbally answer him, my stomach answered for me. My tummy said with a growl,”I’m huuuungry!” He laughed and said I guess we’ll grab something to eat. 

We headed down, passing through a small grove of painted white trees. I inquired as to why they were painted white from the limbs to the ground and he replied that it was for bug protection. I’m not too sure about white paint deterring bugs but it’s interesting. We made it to the shops and there were mobs of people milling about. He picked almost the first restaurant he saw, saying they served great food. We sat down and I looked at the menu, horrified at the prices. I stuttered out that I couldn’t afford to eat here and he replied he’d pay for all of it and that I should buy a proper waffle dessert too. Well, I guess this had become more or less a date. 

I chose a chicken platter that came with fries and a salad. He said he wasn’t going to eat because he had a real bad toothache that couldn’t get fixed until the dentist opened on Monday. It was a little awkward beginning to eat in front of him but soon my stomach took over and I was digging in. He excused himself for a smoke break and went outside, assuring me he wouldn’t leave. 

Somehow when I had mentioned meeting up with Miya the next day, he took it as she had a house and husband here in the city so I went with it. I was glad for the little language barrier as it was just safer to have him think I wasn’t here in the city alone with no one expecting me. I finished as much of the chicken and fries as I could but it was a lot of food. 

A dessert menu was put in front of me with many different choices of waffles and toppings. I chose a waffle with strawberries, bananas and whip cream with chocolate shavings and chocolate syrup on the side. I was pretty excited for this deluxe waffle. It was rectangular with loads of cream on top. I was amazed at myself for being able to finish all of it but it sure was delicious! 

We chatted about my trip around Europe and my previous hike on the Appalachian trail. He told me about his plans for restoring more cars for more events, and where he wanted to live so people could drive on his property. I figured he was maybe in his mid 30s. I finished my Belgian waffle and he paid the bill. 

He asked if I wanted to see more of the city but I said I was tired from the train ride and the large meal and just wanted to go back to my hostel for an early nights rest. He started walking me back closer to the hostel, still showing me the central plaza and telling me about the different buildings. I hadn’t told him exactly where I was staying but just the general area. As the sun started to set, he said we were probably at least a 30minute if not more walk from where I was staying but that his car was also back at the museum. As we walked, we chatted more and he asked more and more questions about my friend Miya who I was meeting the next day. He’d asked enough questions to poke holes in my story so I wasn’t sure if he still believed me or not. He asked again if we should walk back to his car or get a taxi. I told him I was okay with walking. He suddenly pointed out that we were at a newish art studio that had up and coming artists and music with chill seating. We entered the building and it was definitely a chill place to hangout. We walked once around the building briefly looking at the art. There were different types of seating and a group of students or young people playing a game. It looked like jenga but they had many many blocks and were creating a bridge with them. I sat down across the room and intently watched them until one movement made it fall. He gave me his address saying he wanted a postcard from Virginia. We left and walked back to the corner of the city center. Again he asked if we could walk back to his car or get a taxi. I stared at him and said I wanted to walk straight back to my hostel. I was surrounded by people and he hadn’t really said or done anything to hurt me or make me scared yet I was starting to get a bit apprehensive. I stood there, just looking at my map, unsure of what to do or say next. I wanted to walk towards my hostel but he kept walking beside me. I stood at the street corner staring at the paper map and the one on my phone before turning to him and expressing my gratitude for the guided tour, dinner and dessert. I then turned back to my map and waited. He finally said goodbye and that he was glad to have met me and then walked away. I stood there a bit longer then made my way back 20minutes to the hostel. As soon as I got there, I got a little shaky. That whole dinner and tour had been nice but could’ve ended horribly. I’m not sure why he kept asking me to get in a taxi or his car but I really wanted to believe in the good. 

I left my phone at the reception because I still hadn’t bought a European charger. I got my stuff and found a bed upstairs. My phone only charged to maybe 50% by the time I took it back upstairs with me and went to bed. I checked my email but Miya hadn’t responded to my email. 

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Grand Ghent

Friday July 24 I planned on waking up early to have plenty of time to explore but ended up still sleeping in a bit. I wandered down to the cafeteria and got a bowl of cereal and some toast with jam. I picked up 2 slices of bread and several packets each of Nutella and peanut butter. I made a sandwich for myself for lunch later. I found Amanda and Miya to sit with and was surprised that they too had slept in.

I left for the city center alone just past 9, heading straight for the belfry. It was a little drizzley out but not enough to keep people away. There was a small line for the tower but I soon got in, paid my student ticket price and headed up. There were many many stairs, all tight spirals. There were several rooms with historical facts about the bell tower. I spotted the narrow opening leading up to the bell. These stairs were much tighter and were for up and down. Two people could not pass and there was a lot of going up and back down a few steps to let people pass. The stairs were hardly big enough for my foot to fit sideways on and there were no handrails nor a rope down the center. I made it to the room with the workings of the clock. All of the clock parts were massive but still worked the same. I continued up to the bell room and got to see out across the city. It was foggy but I could still see pretty far. Each window had a list of the cities that were that direction. Eventually I knew I’d have to go down those stairs. I waited until more people were up in the room before I headed down. It took some intense concentration not to fall all the way down the stairs. I was sweaty and my legs were quivering by the time I got all the way down. Woo, what a morning workout! 

It was sprinkling which kept some people out of the main squares so I didn’t have to weave through all the traffic. I wandered down to the streets with all the shops. 

Now was the time to search out each and every chocolate shop, to see their beautiful creations and for free samples. There were also lace/fabric shops and souvenir shops. The lace stores had really pretty doilies, runners, tapestries, and more. I looked at the prices and whoa, I shouldn’t even be touching it! I scurried out of there, afraid my wet jacket may drip on the expensive handiwork. I spotted a waffle shop and ordered a waffle with caramel sauce. I stood in a doorway and ate my Belgian waffle. I didn’t care that it wasn’t really a Belgian thing, it was delicious! Almost every chocolate shop I walked into gave me samples. The instant I walked in, it was, “Here, would you like a sample?” Um yes please! I ate many a praline, truffle, or chocolate covered nuts. Before I even finished chewing and swallowing, I’d walk further into the store and be jumped on by another sales person. “Would you like to try a chocolate spread?” They had milk, dark, or hazelnut. Yes I’ll eat more chocolate! After I got my fill but didn’t buy any more bars, I slowly made my way back to the hostel. 

I passed through a market of some sort. I’d seen them setting up on my way on and now it was packed. There were a few tables with handmade jewelry but most of the other tables were antiques and random odds and ends. I spotted a small wooden leather topped jewelry box with an old map etched in the leather. Ooh I wonder how much it is. I looked around for a person to ask but saw none that claimed that table. I wandered on, eventually coming back to that piece. I picked it up and hoped someone would come see me. I figured maybe 10 euro and I could haggle it down a bit. The lady told me it was 28 euro. What?! I couldn’t haggle it down more than 50%. 

I went back to the hostel and Miya and I left for the train station. We got our tickets with no problem and a little while later were in Ghent. We weren’t quite sure which way to go but we kind of followed the other people until we got to a main road. We found where we were and sat down on a roundabout amongst many street vendors. I wanted to go visit the free botanical gardens but it was probably a 20 minute walk, probably 30 with likely wrong turns. We decided to go for it but after 15minutes we were still fairly unsure of where we actually were but we spotted a tourist information sign and headed for that. We then couldn’t find the tourist information center. We figured we were still 20 minutes from the gardens and it closed in an hour so we gave up on that idea. 

We wandered without talking, just taking in all the sights and sounds. People watching was so intriguing in any direction I looked. We found street buskers, guys were playing with what looked like balloons but were more durable. They made a bopping sound each time they hit each other. We walked in on the end of that and they picked up their drums and started banging away. They’d gathered quite a crowd, one that was dancing and moving right along with the beats. I ate my peanut butter and Nutella sandwich as we wandered every which a way. We looked up and aw the old tower looming in front of us. Aha! Something we could go and do. 

We entered through very large castle gates and paid a small entrance fee. There were exhibits on weapons, torture methods, and those that were tortured. I had no idea this would be in here and didn’t really want to read about it but couldn’t pull away. There were some horrendous methods used not just on criminals but on mentally ill, thinkers and anyone different than the norm. We made it to the top which had a wonderful view over Ghent. By the 10th exhibit or so, one of the workers told us go with a shooing motion. We guessed that the place closed at 6, but wondered why we weren’t told that when we entered just past 5. We continued on, maybe reading the information a bit quicker. There were steps down into a darkroom that had an eerie blue light. Miya and I expected something to jump out at us from any side. From what we could see from the blue glow, it looked like a 3 sided theater. Suddenly, music blared out from somewhere. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be some sort of act or if it was closing too. We finished looking at everything and headed towards the exit but stopped at the bathroom first. When we stepped back out, the main gates were closed. We’re locked inside the tower! We went back and found someone to let us back out. 

We wandered towards some music sound, stopping to get a cup of fruit for a snack. We sat at a concert for a little while, more interested in people watching than listening to songs in a language neither of us could understand. It looked like most people were locals. We got up and made sure we explored all the streets. After we did, we weren’t too sure what to do. I spotted a canal boat tour and suggested that. It was fairly cheap and a way to see the whole city. We paid and waited for a new boat. As we boarded, the guide offers us a free ice cream. Yes please! We hadn’t known the ticket came with a free treat. Our tour guide was kind of cute but with a very flat bored voice. I guess he gave the same tours over and over and was tired of it. He took us back and forth on the canal, telling us the history of all the buildings and pointing out different eccentricities of the city. It was beautiful seeing the city from the water. The tour ended and we meandered around, looking for food. 

We finally found the food truck festival arena and tried to get in. It was practically wall to wall people. We looked at each food trucks offerings and decided on burgers and nachos. The place was operating on a ticket system so we bought 10 tickets each, 7 for burgers and 3 to split nachos. My burger was pretty good but it was difficult to really enjoy due to the masses of people surrounding us. We were able to fin a seat on the picnic tables but were squashed in with people jostling around us. As soon as Miya got to the front of the line for chili nachos, they ran out of chili. I suggested maybe they could put chicken on instead. They obliged and cut up some chicken for our chips. It’s interesting that a food truck would run out of something so early at a well attended festival. As we munched on our chips, we discovered an interesting new ingredient: pomegranate seeds! They were actually quite delicious! We finished eating and quickly left the crowd, searching for the concert area again. On our way, we discussed taking the first train back at 9pm vs the very last train for the night at 10pm. I wanted to go back on the earlier train so I wouldn’t be up so late but the festival was just now getting started. Then we spotted what I was most interested in coming for, artists tents. There was handmade jewelry, carvings, paintings, photographs and a few other odds and ends. I searched for earrings for my mom and for myself. I was hoping to find something unique and pretty cheap. I found a cool colored pair for my mom from one vendor and a silver and copper leaf pair for myself. It was now too late for the 9pm train but I was happy I’d found cool earrings. We found the concert area and listened to a few songs before heading back to the train station. We figured it’d take 20minutes to get there and we wanted to get there about 20minutes early so we left in plenty of time. There were now throngs of people in the streets, shoulder to shoulder. We slowly pushed through, only coming to a standstill when we came upon more street performers. I followed Miya as she tried to push through all the people. I looked down at my eat hand realized it was now 9:45pm, 15minutes until the train came. We were still pretty far from the station. We’d taken a wrong turn due to the crowd and had to weave our way back. We got to an empty road and started running. We had to make this train! This was the last one until 6am the next day. It was incredibly difficult to run in my sandals. I prayed there’s no way I’m going to trip and hurt myself doing this. We slowed to a walk and I laughed as Miya and I had the same thought that we better get our flirt on if we missed the train. We ran again, only stopping once we were going up the stairs to the platform. It was 9:58, 2minutes to takeoff. Whew!

The train ride felt quick and it was a short 15minute walk back to the hostel. We sat in the lounge for just a few minutes to double check plans for the next day before heading to bed. 

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Brilliant Bruges

Thurs July 23I woke up at first light, sweating in bed. It was incredibly hot and stuffy in the room for some reason. I got up and got breakfast consisting of 2 slices of bread, one with jam, one with Nutella, and cereal. I went back to my room and tried to figure out where to go first. I was just so tired that I just sat there before deciding a shower might wake me up. 

My European charger again just worked for my camera but not for my iPhone. I needed to find an apple plug. I went back to my room and one of the girls was still there. We started chatting and she let me borrow her charger for a bit. Miya was from Canada and also on a solo tour of Europe. She’d started in Amsterdam this trip but had traveled before. We set off for town together, having the same general plan, chocolate museum, free walking tour, and the belfry tower. We got a little lost getting to the chocolate museum but we made it. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to buy the ticket that got her into a few museums or just pay for them individually. So back we went to the tourist office to get more information. The combo ticket didn’t actually include the chocolate museum so we just retraced our steps to the lovely museum. 

Finally, we were entering the world of chocolate! It was very historical at first, telling about the Mayans and how they started eating chocolate. There were chocolate cups and information about the chocolate craze, which royalty drank it and how, and the whole place smelled like chocolate. We’d received a chocolate bar upon entry and we sat down at a video to eat our bars. I ate the whole thing in one sitting. It was delicious, smooth melt in your mouth cocoa goodness. The next room we ventured into was statues of chocolate. There were chocolate people, toys, purses and a few other random cocoa items. I wondered how long the chocolate lasted or if it ever melted over time and if they had to ever redo them. We caught the tail end of the demonstration and waited for a new one to begin. The lady presented in 2 languages. She was demonstrating how to make pralines. She poured melted chocolate into a tray similar to an ice cube tray, waited a little bit and then poured some out. A little bit had hardened in that time and left a shell. Next she poured in a creamy hazelnut filling and scraped it flat. She finished up with pouring more chocolate, waited a minute then scraped it flat. She’d have to put those in the fridge to set up but she got a tray that was done earlier and gave us samples. Mmm, so incredible!!

We walked back through the gift shop, staring longingly at all the chocolates. There were gift mugs and tons of truffles. There were colorful cacoa pods also which looked like they’d be pretty cool decor. But even though I wanted it now, I knew it’d just become stuff or clutter in my future house later. I left with just a milk and dark chocolate bar like I’d already eaten. 

We wandered through the city center to the hostel that was offering the free walking tour, looking for a place for lunch. We found a small shop and I ordered a turkey and cheese panini. We ate our sandwiches leaning against the wall to the canal. After we finished eating, we made our way to the hostel. There was no group there and they told us it was starting from the other hostel today. We quickly ran back down the street to the other hostel but there was no group there either. Today was the Spanish language tour but no one had come for it. 

The lady that was supposed to lead it led us to the other hostel where the English tour was from. Luckily they hadn’t left yet and we were able to join them. We’d gone to each of the hostels and were already tired of walking. The tour guide was pretty energetic and showed us all around the city. He pointed out important buildings and shared a bit of the history. The most important thing to me that he mentioned was that the Belgian chocolate Belgians eat is just in the grocery store, Côte d’Or. He gave us coupons to get a real Belgian meal for 15 euro vs the normal price of 28 euro. He told a few places not to go and that Belgian waffles weren’t really Belgian. He has no idea how Belgium got stuck with the waffle but it was now a popular tourist thing so Belgium obliged and made waffles everywhere. There were plenty of waffle shops, offering toppings of chocolate, vanilla, or caramel sauce with whipped cream and strawberries, kiwi, bananas, white and dark chocolate shavings. Our tour guide took us to a bar that served a certain type of really strong beer. He told us the bar would cut everyone off after 3 beers because even one would get you wasted. It was a tiny bar down a tiny alleyway, up even tinier spiral stairs. I didn’t order one but Miya did. She said it tasted okay. I could see across the table that not everyone liked it. Only a few actually finished the whole drink.

The tour group went though several of the plazas looking at the different architectures and styles of each plaza. There’d be an architect overseeing the design of the whole plaza making sure all the buildings fit together to create a certain atmosphere. There was a girl on the group that I started chatting with about how our tour guide may have been paid to suggest certain places to eat. Her name was Amanda from California. The tour ended after almost 3 hours and Miya, Amanda and I went straight to the grocery store to get some real Belgium chocolates. We debated on what to do next as we were all pretty tired from the tour but wanted to explore more. We decided to treat ourselves to some real Belgian food and take advantage of our coupons. The restaurant was fancy inside, with white linen tablecloths and candles. I ordered the beef stew in beer sauce. It came with a small salad, fries and red wine. It was all delicious and filling. We finished up and wandered back to the hostel. 

We sat together in the lounge checking our phones and making plans. I was pretty excited to have made 2 friends in one day. My theory about like languaged people sticking together was correct. In the English speaking countries I’d been to, it was hard to engage the people who had English as a second language. Here I was immediately drawn to those that spoke my language. 

The Spanish language tour guide had told us about a 10 day music and arts festival in Ghent, an hours train ride south. I hadn’t been able to go up the belfry or take a canal boat ride so I wasn’t ready to leave Bruges yet completely. Miya and I planned on exploring more of Bruges separately before meeting up and going to Ghent. Amanda had just got to Bruges right before the tour so she was going to spend the whole day in Bruges. I went to bed and there was only me, Miya and one other girl in the dorm so it was nice and quiet. It was a much more restful sleep than the previous night. 

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Bus to Bruges

Wed July 22I got up early and had a slice of toast before saying my goodbyes and having David drive me to the station. He helped make sure I was on the right train and I was off! A huge thank you to them for hosting me for a few days, even as I’d only been able to give them a coupe days notice of my arrival and as we hadn’t really kept in contact much since attending the same church years prior. I know I didn’t really do or say much but resting and being in just one place was vital to being able continue on in my travels. 

The 7am train ride into London was packed full of people, so much so that people could hardly get on. I was a little worried about being able to make it off on time with my larger pack but I successfully switched lines and made it all the way to the correct bus station. I stood in line for an hour to check in for my international destination and got my ticket. It was only 20more minutes until we all boarded the bus. It was a mad dash to put luggage under the bus and get in line to board. When I handed my ticket to the driver he said no and told me I had to check in. I assured him I’d just stood in line for an hour and that’s what I was handed. He told me I needed a boarding pass with a w. I processed what he was saying and raced out of the bus, shoving my way back through the line with a quick “Scuse me!” not really caring if I accidentally pushed people, running through the station back to the check in desk. There were two people in front of me but I got the attention of another clerk and breathlessly told him the bus driver wouldn’t accept my ticket without a w. He pointed me to the other guy who was now finished with his customer. He looked at my ticket and told me it was his fault, he’d printed the wrong thing. I didn’t care who was at fault as long as I was able to get back on that bus. He printed me a boarding pass with a w and I raced back to my bus, snagging the last seat right behind the driver. 

The driver counted us but then looked confused. He eventually told us he couldn’t leave because he counted 53 people but had 52 tickets listed on his sheet. He said Customs would get involved, thinking he was smuggling humans and fine or arrest him and search all of us and our stuff in a very lengthy process. He talked to his boss and they tried to sort stuff out. A guy had opened the door after everyone had boarded and said one last goodbye to his girlfriend which upset the driver and staff. The boyfriend got a bit riled up saying they were profiling him, which was kind of true. The dad, daughter and boyfriend were Arab in traditional dress. The entire bus was watching as this played out in English at the front of the bus before the staff took it away from our eyes and ears. 

Finally the driver boarded the bus looking exasperated and drove out of the station 30 minutes past the scheduled time. 

He informed us we may have to wait a bit for the next ferry because we’d probably miss ours. He called his company to see if he could go through the tunnel or catch a different ferry company. After several minutes of frustrating sounding phone calls, he let us know we would be delayed 3 hours because the next ferry wouldn’t be until 3pm. My 5 hour bus ride had just turned into 8. I had planned on eating a few snacks on board and getting lunch/dinner in town after checking into my hostel but now I wouldn’t get in until 6pm. We weaved our way through London traffic and got in line for the ferry. The French border control called out the 5 of us traveling with non-European passports and quickly checked us through. But then all of us had to disembark and go through a border check again. The bus driver got a little fussy, questioning why we had to go again. We finally got back in line only to park and wait for the next available ferry. We were allowed to get off the bus and go to the stores. There was a Burger King, Starbucks type store and a general mart. I should probably get a big lunch so I waited in line at Burger King but the line wasn’t moving and I had to be back on the bus real soon so I grabbed a sandwich to go, with chips and a drink from the mart. I boarded the bus again and chowed down on my pulled pork BBQ sandwich. It started dripping down my hands and I realized maybe this type wasn’t the best idea for a meal to go. My hands were sticky but at least I got to eat. We started up again and pulled onto the ferry. Everyone had to leave the car port and go upstairs to the pedestrian access. There was a food court, bar, lounge, family & kids area, shops, pool hall and just general seating. My pen had died so I thought about buying a pen from the shops but it was just too expensive. I wandered around, searching for a seat next to an outlet so I could journal in my phone. Eventually I found one and settled down for the next hour, pulling out my M&M blanket because it was chilly. 

We all got back on the bus and drove out on the correct side of the road into Calais, France. I got to say hello to France briefly before entering into Belgium. The bus pulled into Bruges and only 4 of us got out, got our stuff and watched the bus pull away. They all wandered off and I just stood there. I couldn’t read any of the signs at all and had no data plan for my phone. I’d looked at where the hostel was but I wasn’t too sure where I was, which direction I was facing. I figured the train tracks were behind me so I’d head to the right. I crossed over a tall bridge, looking out over a slow flowing river lined with trees. Belgium was already pretty. I guessed at the next street and after maybe 15minutes, arrived at the hostel. I checked in and paid 21euros which included breakfast. I grabbed 2sheets and a pillowcase and found my room. The only bunk available was on the top so I went ahead and made my bed. The mattresses were covered in a rubbery casing which I hoped wouldn’t interfere with a good nights rest. I used the wifi in the lounge to communicate with family that I’d made it to Belgium and then I made plans. Around 8pm my stomach screamed at me so I headed to town. I was just going to grab a quick bite to eat and maybe walk a block or two before coming back. I walked straight into the city center and went into the first cafe shop I saw. I couldn’t understand any of the menu except for cheeseburger so that’s what I ordered. I wanted to try local foods but would have to look that up before accidentally ordering something strange. I ate my burger as I continued walking through the town. I made sure to stay in a perfect square so I wouldn’t get lost. 

There were lovely gorgeous canals running through the town. The bridges over them were perfectly romantic with flowering vines cascading down the sides of the buildings. Apparently this was one of the most romantic cities with little kissing spots throughout the center, marked with hearts. A lot of Europe that I’ve seen is fairly romantic which normally wouldn’t bother me but for some reason this trip has made me more aware of my singleness. This everywhere romance is the primary reason I changed plans from seeing the Eiffel Tower and exploring Paris. Besides, what else could be better than a whole country famous for chocolate and waffles?! 

The tower starting playing lovely tunes every 5minutes or so for a few minutes. It was wonderful strolling through the cobbled streets, over little bridges and through alleyways, accompanied by the powerful chimes. As the notes would come in and out as I walked, I heard faint music elsewhere. I got closer and closer and instantly recognized the song. What else would I hear strolling through the streets of Bruge than,” Country roads, take me home to the place I belong…?” I’m sure my smile stretched all the way across my face as I shouldered my way through the growing crowd to get closer to the front. I stopped before the beer station with a small view toward the band. I joined the crowd in belting out the chorus. Belgium sure was making a good impression. The next song the band played was Wild Colonial Boy, an old Irish song. I’ve listened to Celtic music since I was little so I knew the words by heart. The next song I didn’t know but a lot of the crowd still sang along so I turned my attention to people watching. There was a beer station selling a cup of beer for 2 euro. Many in the crowd seemed to have had plenty to drink. In front of me several rows was a guy dancing with his dog. I wanted to jut in but didn’t want to push past the thicker rows of people. That was the last song the band played so people dissipated pretty quickly. It was nearing sunset so I headed back to the hostel. I made a tentative schedule for tomorrow, of what to see and do and what opened when. It was very stuffy in my room so it took me awhile to actually fall asleep. 

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Monday July 20I woke up but dozed in bed until almost 9. The bed was soft and I didn’t have to checkout and pack up. The boys had already left for school and they’d left for work. I ate jam and bread for breakfast, showered, put some stuff in the wash, and tried to journal. David had picked up a few flyers about some hikes around Chesham but I knew I needed to just rest. So mostly I just laid there doing nothing which felt absolutely glorious! By 11 I was bored so I started to try to make plans. I knew I needed to send my boots and a few gifts home so I’d have to find the post office. I also needed a few groceries before leaving stores I could actually read what I was buying. I still hadn’t moved from my room by lunchtime so I fixed myself a peanut butter Nutella banana sandwich. Nom nom! Finally I was ready to go to town. 

It was a pleasant 15minute walk down to the town center. I noticed plenty of funeral homes lining the street which I thought was odd for a fairly small town. I made it to the city center and just wandered around. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular to buy but would’ve liked to find more mementos to send home. I walked into an outdoor store and made a beeline for their shoes. They had a nice pair of Solomons on sale but they only had a half size too small. I tried it on but knew it’d cause blisters especially if my feet swelled a little bit while hiking. I found a bakery that had a gigantic double chocolate cookie and those chocolate caramel shortbread desserts for super cheap. I bought one of each, wishing I could send treats home but it’s the thought that counts right? I know I’ve mentioned it before but these chocolate caramel shortbread squares are superb! Each one is unique, baked by various shops using slightly different recipes, resulting in an extraordinary culinary combination. I happily munched away as I explored a health and body store, looking at their protein powder supplements. They required milk but I didn’t think I’d be able to find powdered milk anywhere. 

I shipped my boots, various magnets, the glass from the scotch whisky experience, and a few other trinkets back to the USA for only 22pounds. I previously worked for the UPS store so I knew how to pack glass so it wouldn’t break but all I had was a tiny piece of bubble wrap and tissues. I wasn’t sure what customs would do if it got there with loose glass shards. I went to grocery store, picking up pasta, granola bars, yogurt bars, and a few oats to go cups. 

I’d passed a crepe place on the way in but it was now closed so I settled for a strawberry banana smoothie. I walked back to the Wilson’s, happy that I’d done all my chores. I tried to catch up on my journal some more but it seems the more time I have to write, the more I write. They all didn’t get home until maybe almost 8 and the boys read and went to bed. David, Annalisa and I chatted a bit before all heading to bed. It was the boys last day of school the next day and there was some kind of field day with games and sports so they’d be back a little earlier. I hadn’t made any headway on planning so I’d be there Tuesday night as well. I went to sleep, happy to lay in the same bed for more than one night. 

Tuesday July 21

I had the same thing for breakfast and this time used the Bluetooth keyboard to type up some blog entires. I journaled outside in the bouts of sunshine. It’d be sunny and warm for a moment then clouds would pass over, making me want to put my shirt back on. I eventually got out my mat and laid out on the grass. I’m not sure if I fell asleep or not but I think I did at some point. I booked a bus to Bruge Belgium for Wednesday morning and then a hostel. 

Woo! I had clean laundry, was well rested and was all set to head towards the mainland! The Wilson’s got home and the boys played in the yard while Annalisa prepared dinner. It was such a nice evening so we sat outside to eat. It was so refreshing to be with a family. I tried not to miss my own as I listened to the boys interact with their parents. We finished off a delicious meal with Rice Krispie treats. I packed up some of my stuff before going to sleep, ready for an early start to my traveling day. 

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Lost in London

The light was slowly spreading across the earth as I tried to tell it to hold on. I was still so sleepy as we tumbled through the streets of London. We pulled into the bus station at 6am. We both thought it was supposed to be 7am but maybe the bus was fast. We’d talked about maybe touring london together but I knew she was tired and just wanted to go home. She had to go to Victoria underground to go back home so we walked there together. I was so glad she was there to help me navigate the streets of London after just waking up from no sleep. I found the left luggage place and hugged her goodbye. I knew God had sent her to help me not be anxious about traveling to this big city. She disappeared into the station as I sat down to eat my now cold pizza as I waited for the place to open. It was still delicious but I wondered how yummy it would’ve been hot.

I left my large pack there for 10 euro for all day and wandered out onto the streets. The tourist office didn’t open for anther 2hours so I was on my own. Museums weren’t open nor was a whole lot else. I slowly made my way to Hyde park, getting lost a few times. I finally found all the trees and starting walking to the grass. I wasn’t sure if there was anything super special I should see in the park so I just wandered. I was still incredibly tired and had no idea what I was doing. I ran into a small park map and decided to walk around the lake. The sunshine hit me as I walked close to the shoreline. There were benches that I could just take a nap on. There were ton of birds, swans, pigeons and ducks. After I’d taken an hour to walk around the lake l figured I should head to the London eye.

Meandering through the city was exciting. I passed several monuments and then I came to the buckingham palace. The gates were closed but there were still tons if people waiting around, taking photos using selfie sticks. Those sticks were everywhere!! I’m not sure what’s wrong with people’s arms or mouths to ask strangers to take their photo. The gates themselves looked fancy with lots of details. I took a few pictures of the palace among the selfie people and headed on. I came to the parliament square where I could see Big Ben! It’s a pretty big clock tower looming above everything else. I was told I should be back beside it for its noon chimes so I had enough time. 

I’d tried to buy a ticket online for the London eye but kept getting an error message. The clerk told me it’s been like that for a few days but that they were trying to fix it. She looked annoyed as I deliberated on paying 25% more than I was hoping, for a total of 32euro. I eventually agreed and gave her lots of my little hard earned euros. They had a “free” 3d experience with the ticket so I was ushered into a room and given a pair of 3d glasses. The 15min show was about a dad and a little girl going to the London eye and all that they saw and experienced. It was a long ad, for something everyone in the room had already purchased. I got into the long line for the eye and began people watching. There were many Asians in line and lots of families. There was a fast track lane with people who’d paid 10ish extra euros to cut in line. I boarded a pod with maybe 15 other people and we started up. I got as close to the glass on the far side as possible so I’d have a good view. The river was pretty muddy but it still looked cool from above. Soon we were above Big Ben seeing out far into London. I could see the wembley stadium and I heard others point out significant buildings. Once we were on the very top we were pretty high up. I hadn’t realized it went that high but was glad because I love heights. We started coming down back toward the river and I still had time to get to Big Ben before noon. 

I weaved my way through the throngs of people. I guess the London tourists are all awake now. I situated myself in the shade of the tower at 11:58 and waited for 12 noon. People kept pushing me just because there were hordes of them trying to get down the sidewalks. I stood my ground and got to hear the noon bells. I only heard 6 ring out but it was hard to hear over the people and street noise. I decided it was time to check out the British museum. I’m not a huge fan of art, history or general museum stuff but so many had recommended that I at least check it out. I stopped and had a few pizza slices on the way over towards it. I went through a pedestrian area with even more people. It was hard to cross streets especially if you weren’t first next to the street. The green pedestrian light wasn’t long enough for all the people to cross. Around the corner I saw a huge M&M sign. 

What in the world was an M&M world doing in England? M&Ms were Hershey from USA. But of course I went in. The store had 3levels of all things M&M. There were plenty of tshirts in all the colors, mugs, plates, and stuffed toys. They had long cylinders of a rainbow of colors lined up for people to get however much candy try wanted. There was a whole section for Star Wars themed M&Ms, including a blanket with the “M”pire for 3euro with any purchase. The blanket appealed to me as a star Wars fan but everything else was way too expensive. I wanted a stuffed M&M for my nieces and nephews but even the small ones had a big price tag. I found measuring cups and a teaspoon/tablespoon set but figured M&Ms aren’t my favorite candy so that want too important. I finally found some stickers and got in line with the blanket. I was glad to finally have a blanket. Most of the bus and train rides had been cold. Or I could use it as a picnic blanket. I left the vast colorful world of M&Ms and walked back onto the bleak streets. 

Just a few more minutes around the streets failing at not getting lost and I arrived at the gates to the museum. It was free so I just got in line and meandered in. I was swept up into the slow moving mass into the building and around the exhibits. I went by jade pottery and statues before arriving at the Rosetta Stone. I took a picture and the mass of people pushed me forward. This was not how I wanted to see a museum. If I was going to look at art, history and other interesting things I wanted to do it on my own time. I wasn’t sure how to go against the flow so I just kept going forward. There were a few interesting pieces about old manuscripts and chocolate drinking cups. We all poured out into the museum center containing a circular gift shop and cafe. I circled the shops and came back to my starting place and sat down. I was done. My sleeplessness hit me and I had no more get up and go. I wanted to see the American, African and other rooms but I couldn’t get up. I ate another slice of pizza and guzzled some water before deciding to walk back to the station. Halfway back I just was hot and tired. I looked around for an ice cream or gelato place. They’d been on every street corner coming here but where’d they all go when I wanted one? I found a gelato place tucked into a skinny storefront. I ordered a scoop of chocolate and Nutella and sat out on the street to eat it. Ahh, that hit the spot!

I had enough energy to get back to the station. I retrieved my luggage and stood there, trying to figure out the underground. I asked the information guy and he sold me a ticket, giving me a map and telling me exactly where to change lines. I texted Annalisa that I was coming and they’d be able to pick me up from the Chesham station at some point. I successfully navigated the underground lines, getting off when I needed to and finding the next platform going the correct direction. Since I’d needed my phone so much in the city center, the battery died just as I’d gotten on the train. 

I only waited a few minutes before Annalisa came with her two boys. It was just a few more minutes then we arrived at their lovely little home in Chesham. I fixed myself a ham and cheese sandwich before settling in. David Annalisa and I chatted just a bit before all going to bed. They’d had a busy day and were going to tomorrow as well. I hadn’t thought much about future plans from here so I would work on that and journal. I was excited to be with other Christians in a safe place were I knew I could rest. 

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