The last hurrah.
Our last week and a half. Wow it just flew by. We spent 5 days in Holland and it was such a great end to the trip!
After a couple days of hanging at the house (and Derek's terrible haircut experience), we took the bus and train an hour and a half to Nijmegen to meet up with an old friend of mine and her boyfriend who are in the Canadian navy and were doing the annual 4 day 'march'. It's quite an event actually! There are thousands who participate in the march and vary from military groups from all over the world to groups of people who do the march for fun. Ok so here's how it works, the walkers get up at 3-4am each day for 4 days and walk 40kms which takes about 12 hours and results in lots of bandaged feet and people who look like they're in horrible pain walking afterwards. It's insane! You can opt not to do the walk, you can just come afterwards each and party! They have tents, food stands, festival tents - it was so much fun! I love Europe and their festivals, it's so relaxed, laid back and just different than North America. Maybe it's because you can have a drink in public and that's just normal. People don't seem to get 'fall down drunk' but it's more of a relaxed atmosphere. After grabbing some dinner at a very busy restaurant, Derek and I headed back to Oosterhout. The next day we got ready to go by train to Utrecht to meet up with our friends who we had met in Indonesia. They had a baby 5 months ago so we were so excited to see their new family! Maurice picked us up at the train station and we walked to their house (townhouse style) in this great area near some green space! We BBQ'd and sat around drinking wine and beer on their patio, catching up and realizing how lucky we were to meet them. They are just such great people. We were supposed to catch the train back in order to get the last bus to Oosterhout but we ended up staying the night at their house so we could have more time together. Such a great decision as our talks continued until after midnight. The next morning we met their 5 month old son, who is just adorable, and Maurice drove us home to Oosterhout in time for us to meet up with Jurgen, Iris and Bjorn and head to an amusement park about 30 minutes away. Oh my goodness. I hand it to parents... children take a lot of energy and I only spent 9 hours at an amusement park with kids who are fairly grown (11 and 13). We were exhausted coming home but the kids definitely were not ready to pack it in on a Saturday night. They wanted to go to the nearby exhibition. No thank you - I stayed home. Derek and Jurgen went though... troopers. They were out until after midnight and Derek said it was the biggest exhibition he's ever been to. The rides were apparently beyond anything we could imagine and tens of thousands of people were there. Derek said it was over a kilometre long!
The next day Derek and I got ready to pack up and head out on the train to Brussels for our last few days before making our way back to Canada. Jurgen and the kids drove us to the train station and we took one of our last train rides of this amazing adventure. We arrived in Brussels and walked to my sister and her boyfriend's pal's place (his name is Marcus) where we were greeted so warmly! The 3 of us caught up and then he took us to a nearby stand that has amazing fries and mayonnaise (a Belgium classic) and you can choose from a list of about 15 different types of dipping sauces. The great thing is, we could take our food to go and eat at a nearby restaurant while having a drink! I love that you can take food from somewhere else to other restaurants - why not? We sat, talked about life and reflected on our trip and then Marcus took us for a walk through the city where we saw tons of pedestrian areas, monuments, parliament buildings, parks and then stopped into the 'Hipster area' for another drink - this time a Belgium favourite of mint grenadine type of syrup with club soda and ice. Yum. So refreshing! As it was the equivalent to 'Canada day' in Belgium and also the ringing in of a new king who had taken the throne, we headed to the incredible square to hang out until the fireworks started. There's a main building in the square that if you look at it, you notice the huge doorway is not symmetrical with the rest of the building. Marcus says that legend has it, the man who designed the building didn't notice the mistake until after it was completed and ended up hanging himself because of it. Eep. Anyway, we sat on the ground of the square with a couple hundred other people who were sitting around in small groups with Belgium flags and people singing. Then it was fireworks time - honestly a bit disappointing because they weren't high enough to get over the historic buildings so we only saw some of them but it was pretty cool to be in a city with 1-2 million people who have gathered just for this day. I just hate the crowds afterwards when everyone wants to leave and it takes forever. Thank goodness we were within walking distance because we saw the line up for the metro came up onto the street - yikes.
The next day Marcus was working so I made Derek have his haircut redone (it was seriously awful before) and then we met Marcus for a quick lunch and then back to his office to meet some colleagues who work in the same building but for different companies. We met a friend of his who is planning on moving to Canada (Quebec) with his girlfriend, they have never been to Canada before but were so hopeful things would work out for them. We heard that because of the dire financial situation in Europe, people are moving to other countries in the hopes of securing work... people from France and Belgium are flocking to Canada to work. It's a sad situation but hopefully their economy turns around. We were reading that 60% of Spain's youth are unemployed due to lack of jobs... it's just terrible. Marcus was telling us it's more difficult for them because most people there cannot speak another language so moving to another country to work is not really an option. How can they ever get back into the work force when it does turn around? How can they survive without a job? I am so lucky to be able to choose to quit my job... but sometimes it feels ridiculous that I even chose that when I hear about other people who would never contemplate that luxury...
That afternoon, Derek and I ended up walking around the city center and may or may not have done a 'chocolate crawl'. Oh. My. This is what I've wanted to do the entire trip. We jumped from chocolate shop to chocolate shop (there must be hundreds in this city) and trialed chocolate until our stomach hurt. Which really didn't take long. Our favorite store was called 'Mary' and it was the most delicious chocolate I've ever had. Afterwards we grabbed some sushi for dinner and headed back to Marcus' apartment for the evening as he was working late so gave us a chance to get packed up to leave in two days. The next day we met Marcus for lunch again but this time stopped at a local sandwich place for a quick bite and Derek and I headed off to the Chocolate Museum which was really cool and ended with a chocolate demonstration by a chocolate chef (or whatever the proper name is) who told us all about the properties of chocolate and how you can use it in different ways. We saw in one of the display cases there was chocolate tea so we were encouraged by the museum staff to go to this local shop that sells all types of tea. It was so neat - tons of large red tin cans lining the entire wall of this store. The chocolate tea smells amazing and has the cocoa pod instead of actual chocolate so it smells a little spicy but sweet. Cannot wait to try it! Afterwards we stopped in at a cafe for a couple of hours and just talked about the past 5 months and how crazy it is that it's basically over. It's bittersweet... we have been wanting to do a trip like this for a long time now and it's over. But no regrets and we really couldn't be happier that we actually did it.
My advice to anyone who is able to make a change in their lives in order to take that risk to improve their happiness - do it. If you have a good support system around you, have some financial security, have the passion/desire/confidence. Do it. What is stopping you from living your life the way you deserve to? Ask yourself what is it you want to get out of a certain new experience? People say they want to travel all the time but many don't know why... take the time to figure out the why and what part of your life feels unfulfilled. A big thing with me as well is managing money effectively; I don't buy 'stuff' that a) I obviously don't need and b) will get in the way of me achieving my goals.
After our few hours of reflection we met up with Marcus and got some pizza before meeting three of his work friends at a bar called 'Delerium' which has over 1000 different beers on tap. It's crazy! The bar is two stories and is packed with tubes/kegs/taps and a big folder of all the beers. I don't know how the staff keep it all straight! If you go to Brussels, it's pretty cool to see. Too bad I don't drink beer... hah. I had a cherry beer which I had hoped was like a cooler but it tasted like cough medicine... oh well! When in Brussels! So that was our last night... we were up early the next morning to catch our last and final train to the airport where we boarded and took off for Montreal and then bused it to Ottawa for three days to find an apartment.
Looks like we are all set for the fall! Are now on PEI for a month and so excited for the next chapter in our lives. Thank you to everyone who spent the time reading my entries and following us on this journey. Your support has meant so much.
Now, I leave you all with my favourite travel quote - it doesn't just apply to travel but to new experiences that broaden your mind i.e. reading, school, meeting new people, etc:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Until next adventure,