Thursday, September 18th
I got into Maastricht around 3pm and wandered around the city for awhile while I waited for Aaron, a friend from my Birthright trip last spring, to meet me. I would be staying with Aaron for the next two nights and was very excited to see him. A fellow CISVer and an all around great guy, we had really hit it off on Birthright and I was really looking forward to experiencing Europe through his perspective.
Maastricht was larger than I thought it was going to be, but it definitely was no Amsterdam. I liked the small town feel that it had to it and once Aaron came he was able to give me a lot of history and informstion on the place. We sat at a bar by the university where Aaron teaches to catch up over some beers. Aaron was able to recommend what I should try which helped me get a truer (and tastier) local experience. When we got to Aarons, we decided to do a homemade dinner and went to go get the makings for tacos! Here Aaron introduced me to a self checkout process that took it to the extreme. There was no worker checking your bags, you scanned and put your groceries in your own bags in the store so there was no moving of groceries from a cart to a bag, and the entire thing just involved such a high and evolved level of trust it was astounding.
Aaron, a whiskey lover, then treated me to some great whiskey and conversation to end the night. It was a good first night in Maastricht.
Friday, September 19th
Had a wonderfully lazy morning where I was able to take a long shower and eat a big brekky. I had missed fresh muesli and milk.
I headed into town where I was meeting an old friend from high school, Carlene, who had recently moved to Maastricht with her boyfriend. I was pretty nervous to see Carlene. Even though it was only to hang out for a day, I hadnt seen or spoken to her in five years and confess that I had done a poor job of keeping that friendship a priority. Thankfully my worries were without need.
Carlene and I had been close senior year of high school. We had been partners in crime, so to speak. It was incredible how quickly we got back to that ground. It wasnt immediate, I know I personally was unsure how to go about conversation, but eventually we were once again comfortable in each other’s presence. I have had my share of reunions at this point so youd think I would be used to seeing an old friend sitting across a table from me in a random place in Europe, but even then I still couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.
Carlene and I grabbed lunch at one of the many cafes in Maastricht and then went and enjoyed a traditional fry cone. I was advised to get curry ketchup, mayo, and onions on mine so I hesitantly put aside my dislike for mayo and was treated marvelously for the decision. They were delicious and apparently the favorite of the locals. We then walked through the shopping streets and made our way to the riverside where we enjoyed a nice Belgium beer (truly great beer but I do miss my IPA). By then it was time for me to meet back up with Aaron so Carlene and I said goodbye and made some tentative plans to try and go to Oktoberfest together. Unfortunately these plans fell through later but it meant a lot to me that Carlene invited me in the first place.
I returned to the same bar outside Aaron’s university and soon was joined by him and a group of his coworkers. This was the first time that I realized that over the past month I had legitimately lost some of my social skills. I was intimidated and felt out of place in a social setting that I had always flourished in. I got my social feet underneath me soon enough though and it turned into a wonderful evening.
We all went to dinner at a really nice local spot. Halfway through one of Aaron’s coworkers learned he was an uncle so that added some cheer and excitement to the night. Set on making sure I had experienced Belgium beer, Aaron then led the way to another bar where we had a few drinks before calling it a night.
This day was incredible but far and away frol anything I had experienced so far in the trip. Eating out twice, having drinks throughout the day, and being in constant social interaction was not something I was used to. I loved every minute of it, but knew that it wasn’t sustainable with my budget or approach to the trip.
Saturday, September 20th
That morning I finalized my bus ticket to London from Brussels later that night.
I packed up everything from the past two days, which included newly washed laundry, and joined Aaron for a final lunch in Maastricht. It was so good. A heaping chicken sandwich that had me more than satisfied. I was sad to be on the road so quickly, because Maastricht had been really awesome, but my trip to London was quite possibly the most excited I had been for anything the whole time I had been on the road.
My train to Brussels, where I would catch my bus to London, left just past 2pm. I would only be in Brussels for a few hours but I wanted to make the most of it so when I got in just before 5pm I grabbed a map and optimistically set out to find my bus stop and then go explore! If I am being completely honest, I was overwhelmed by Brussels for the sheer reason of trying to locate where I would pick up my bus. I had taken the train to the central station but my bus left from one of the other main city terminals. In an attempt to gain my bearings I approached the ticket counter where I was reluctantly greeted by the douchiest ticket teller of all time. As soon as I uttered the word bus, he interrupted me to let me know that this was the place to get train tickets. I explained that I knew that but was hoping he could point me in the right direction to the station I had to go to. He outright refused, stuck on the fact I had mentioned bus even though I was asking for the location of a train station. So I smiled, told him he was absolutely no help at all, flicked him off, and walked away. I am not proud of it, but in the moment I was so beyond furious with that human being it was the most polite option I had to choose from. I dont know if I would have sped up my car if he had been standing in the road, but I definitely wouldn’t have braked.
Anyways, I found the station on my own and once I was confident I could navigate to it I ventured out into Brussels for a few hours. But I was so out of sorts that I had lost a lot of interest in walking around. I explored the Grand Place which, as its name suggests, is quite grand and impressive. A marching band had been going through the square and the gypsies were peddling their flowers and magazines as a group of Russian tourists followed their guide like baby ducks. It was a wonderful sight. It was dusk so the buildings were all lit up and the side streets were all bustling with the sound of cafes and bars and chocolate stores.
I retreated into the Hard Rock (I really do have a guilty pleasure with these places) and actuallt sat down for a meal. The staff immediately had me feeling better as they all asked where I was from, joked that my pack needed a meal of its own, and informed me of the unknown perk of a free sundae for Eurail pass holders! I left Hard Rock in a complete different frame of mind and headed to the train station where I would catch my bus. Once there Brussels continued to redeem itself as the lady at the car rental office let me chsrge my phone at her desk as I read my book outside. When confronted by security for sitting down in that area, she even came out of her office to tell them I was allowed to stay. It was then that I really began to feel bad about my behavior with the attendant earlier and I told myself to never let something like that get me that frustrated ever again. So far, I have kept thst promise.
I was really anxious about catching this bus. The company didn’t have an office in the station and there was no sign for where the bus would be. All I had was a general sense of where it would be. Thankfully I attached myself to other people waiting for the same bus so that eased my mind a bit.
I boarded the bus just past 11pm and wouldnt see London until 6am. Lets tango, iDBus!
The bus ride was good. I didnt get much sleep and customs was a really weird, drawn out experience but I did get the second passport stamp of my trip which was fun! To cross the Channel, the bus actually drove onto a train that then used the tunnel. I remember the bus driving onto the train, but after that I was out like a light.
I would wake up in England.