Why do you like the beach? Cause it’s a place where you go to relax, exert energy, cry and laugh. Stare beyond the horizon and breathe fresh air. It’s your happy space, just as much as your loved one or those over there you don’t know and may never know. You know your beach in and out or so it seems. From how the sand moves and waves break, you might even pick up litter or collect a few shells and rocks along the way. Over the years you do this without even realising. That’s until you are stopped and asked how the beach makes you feel. Well this is the exact feeling I got when I started a wonderful journey at the Hague beach last month. Netherlands and Belgium was a planned affair to a certain extent but not fully. My all time favourite travel buddies, Mahesh and Praveen accompanied me again this time. Company matters as mentioned before too. We are the power trio. Netherlands and Belgium, two adjoining countries which are windy and pleasant, at the same time very kind people and helpful souls all around. So it all started with a beach at den Hague. I reached this place via Dusseldorf from Germany at around mid day, took some rest, pulled up my socks and got going to explore. Travelling in from Stuttgart can be really tiring at times but the spirit and sarcasm of Mahesh, and yes the tiny, funny little Praveen kept up my spirits. Mahesh is a perfect organiser. I worry less when he is there but the most irritating friend I can ever conjure from any where in the world. Praveen is a toned down type. Obedient boy I call him. Well this description of friends will prove really beneficial for understanding the further events that unfolded in our trip. So coming back to the trip and the beach, beer bottles were loaded, food wishes were thought of, and the exciting walk to the most calmest beach in Netherlands began. It was the English Channel that engulfed this beach and sea gulls made way to their abode. That rustic smell when the water and sand mix together. The silent gushing of the water, that breeze flowing gently through my cascade and making me fly on the ground, chilled beer for company, cocktails after a power trio walk, the evening aquamarine sky and orangish clouds over the horizon, fruit overload with ice cream, squids to relish, that was the BEACH!!
We came back to our beds, cold and hugging each other, pinching each other, and cracking the lamest of jokes. Can you imagine talking about babies and how the father feels about his child in the realm of romantic weather. Well it was all hilarious. Since it was cold we three caught hands, tightened our zippers and left to put ourselves to sleep.Next day was Rotterdam day. Rotterdam, a symbol of modern architecture. It was completely destroyed in the World War and the way this city was rebuilt with such amazing structures is truly commendable. Creativity at its best. Each structure and building has a story. They speak of hard work and how the various shapes and colours were used to create mind blowing masterpieces. A perfect heaven for all the students studying architecture. Rotterdam is around less than two hours drive from den Hague and is one of the flourishing cities in South Holland and Netherlands naturally. Rotterdam is the most multicultural city in Netherlands, hosting inhabitants of over 160 different nationalities. The only city in Netherlands with a skyline. A very beautiful skyline, I must say. When crossing the Erasmus bridge, Willems bridge or any other bridge over the Maas in Rotterdam, you will see what I am talking about. The reason why the other cities do not have a real skyline is that they have no skyscrapers around a river or harbour. My most favourite was of course the Markthalle with lots of food, gourmet and continental, exotic fruits and fresh fish catch. The Markthalle, which is the first covered market in the Netherlands, is a place where good food and unique housing are harmoniously combined in a spectacular arch. This iconic fresh market opened for business on 1 October 2014, after five years of construction. The unusual shape of the building has certainly caught the public’s imagination, but the interior is also a delight. This is where is artist Arno Coenen created the Horn of Plenty, the biggest work of art in the world. It´s bright colours cover an area of 11,000 m2, resulting in this creation now being known as Rotterdam’s very own Sistine Chapel. Another interesting catch are the Cubic Houses. They are a curious and magnificent architectural wonder located in the centre of Rotterdam. They were conceived and constructed by architect Piet Blom in the 1970s. Structurally, the cubes sit tilted on a hexagonal pole. They are made up of concrete floors, concrete pillars and wooden framing. Inside, the houses are divided into three levels accessed via a narrow staircase. The lower level is a triangular area used as the living room. The middle level houses the sleeping and bathing area, and the highest level is a spare area used either as a second bedroom or another living area. Well we had lots of delicacies in Rotterdam, it was rainy and windy but certainly worth it. And there we rushed back again to Hague for a good night sleep since we were staying there and yes to mention that we cooked delicious medu wadas on this night, cooking gets a new turn once you come to Europe.
Next day we woke up early for a fresh start to Belgium. Everything was booked but nothing in the city was planned, we were just going to go there and hit the roads to see what we could see and do during the day, we did not even book a place to stay, just searched for some, thought this little risk was worth taking, and that too with two Bangaloreans to protect me, hehe!.. So we went off to Ghent, Belgium as the first stop. What an ancient and quiet city. There was such less local activity, everything started in the city after 11.00, we even lost our way twice on the bus, but guess that is fine, you go here and there, and then you feel ohh, I could have done this, but in the end, these silly things will make the journey more exciting, because you went to some part, you never would have otherwise gone. As we reached the market place, we were making our way through like Noddy at Oude Vismijn, the old fish market, which dates back to 1689. It has a beautiful gateway, with King Neptune and his golden trident. Below the statue there are the two rivers upon which Gent was founded Mrs Leie and Mr Scheldt. St. Michael’s Bridge over the River Leie, the statue of St. Michael, the canal that flows across the St. Michael are some of the other attractions worth visiting. Ghent is traditionally also known as the dragon city, as in the middle of the city, there is a famous tower, where the dragon sits and is said to have protected the city, the university building is also so marvellous. Ghent took me back into the times of knights with shining armours. We left late evening from Ghent for Antwerp. As soon as we reached we rushed into a Malaysian food outlet for hogging on the food, as the day was so tiring with only walking, walking, walking that I badly wanted to eat something spicy and filling. Later on luckily we found such a comfy youth hostel called Boomerang where I met a Brazilian guy who had left his job in Brazil and travelled to India to learn Yoga so that he could be at peace, how interesting, he even recited all the Sanskrit shlokas by heart and that is truly incredible.
Antwerp is a one of the bigger cities of Belgium and yes very elegant, rich and fashionable too.The people here are dressed impeccably at all times of the day. Mostly many Jewish settlements have made their permanent residence here and this community is really very helpful, classy and well behaved with everyone. Antwerpen Central is the first monument that steals away your heart. This “railway cathedral” offers a breathtaking mix of modern and classical architectural styles, and is close to the famous diamond district. It is Europe´s most epic central station according to me. The areas around Grote Market are the places to buy authentic, local souvenirs. If diamonds and high fashion are too rich for your blood, make sure to at least take some famous Belgian chocolates home with you. As we walked we also visited a man-made harbour where we passed a navy ship with lots of radars, and then the castle in Antwerpen. Hands down Antwerpen is the fashion capital of Belgium. Elegance oozes out and yes it is the place to try Belgian beer too. It is better than German beer at any stage with almost 8% alcohol so careful!
I returned to Hague the same day and relaxed for the rest of my time in the Netherlands, cooking, singing, making merry, interacting with the girl roomies I got and of course getting tortured and pampered in the company of best friends. Anna and Rebecca were such a cute bunch of girlies. I found a very good debater and like minded person in Morgan, who studied Developmental Studies and worked for the children in Bulgaria. She was a Human Rights Supporter in these areas. The point to mention here is that people on the other end of the world study and engage themselves in such interesting and worthy causes. One of my favourite trips of all times, it will always be special.
Until another time without doubt because travel makes you learn faster.
Rucha Sudhir Khot