Half term struck again and this time we decided to do things cheap: the plan was to backpack the perimeter of the Isle of Wight and then to ship off to France and Belgium for the second half of the week. For the Isle of Wight, I am going to copy Jimmie Massie’s written version because I think he did a fine job describing the trip plain and simple:
“To start, I joined Harrison and one of his fellow teachers in the harbor town of Portsmouth. From there we rode a ferry over to Isle of Wight with plans to hike around as much of the perimeter as we could in three days. After a hearty dinner of fish-n-chips we left our car in Luccombe at set off on into the night.
The next day we woke up to realize that we had mistakenly pitched our tent in someone’s back yard. We scrambled to get back on the trail and set off across the southern coast of the Isle of Wight. This first day turned out to be our most adventurous as we followed the coastal trail alongside the sea, up high cliffs, through sleepy villages, and over long fields. At one point we lost the trail and ended up wading through what can best be described as quick sand. On the other side we found that we were lodged between 150 foot mud cliffs on one side and the freezing Atlantic on the other. For over an hour we walked down the orange beach until we found a cliff face that we could climb back up to the path.
In the end we hiked about 35 of the nearly 70 mile coastal path. We used buses and hitchhiking to make up the difference. On the morning of day four we finished the last stretch of coastline and piled back into the car to head home. We spent that day gathering ourselves and driving in Harrison’s new (old) car “The Hulk” back up to Haileybury.”
There are a few details that should be added to this memoir, and first is that fish and chips is not that great of a dish as it is overfried and greasy and often sprayed down with vinegar which can sometimes come from a windex bottle at participating restraunts. The second is that the southern coast of the Isle of Wight has quite a collection of dinosaur bone excavation, including a recent dig just weeks ago outside the town of freshwater where new fossils were discovered, indicating a new breed of marine dinosaur. The third is that Jimmie was convinced he would find his own dinosaur bone in the Jurassic beaches of the south shore, with a frying pan he picked up no less. The fourth is that he did not. The fifth is that Croft was assured that we would get smashed up against the side of the mud hills when the tide came surging in suddenly and that helicopters would have to rescue us. The sixth is that this did not happen. The seventh is that Bear Grylls was an inspiration for this trip as he actually spent a large part of his childhood and later his army training on the isle of wight. We watched his Patagonia dvd in Croft’s lexus before and after the hike and were influenced to eat the moss straight off of trees, look for dangerous crevasses, and say things like “this is not a place you want to hang around” at most places we went. The eigth is that we got lost on day two and had a nice bonding moment getting over our frustration of wasting an hour; so we read the bible and all was right with the world. The ninth was that we hitchiked for six miles with some nice middle aged women who told us about the amazing rave festivals in the summer. The tenth is that you don’t ever want to live in the harbor town of Cowes. The eleventh is that I walk like C3P0 and Croft looks like Mr. Tumnis. The twelth is that we drank stellas on the coastline of Ryde and then had the best British Mexican you could ask for on a hike. The thirteenth is that the waiter said “jellapanos.” The fourteenth is that for the second time we slept in someone’s garden by mistake, this time when we woke up surrounded by wind chimes in the trees and a trampoline close behind us. And that will do.
Belgium and Paris:
Thursday after sleeping in Hertford at Jimmie’s house and abandoning Croft, we picked up a new British team member named Tooks who would prove to be a great replacement for Croft in many ways. We began the euro-trip by driving an hour away and realizing I had left my passport in Hertford because I forgot to do an idiot-check. I owned up to it and admitted I was that guy, much to the courtesy and grace of the other team members. It lent us to an interesting dicsussion of personalities, anxiety, control and laidback lifestyles while we raced backwards hoping to still make our 10:00 tunnel train across to Callais. At times, if I were more laid back I would be horizontal, but this can be a problem when I don’t focus on the important details. Likewise, there can be those whose anxiety comes at bad moments and for poor reasons. All the more reason to point ourselves to Christ.
Driving through France and Belgium was difficult without a map and without a Dutch dictionary. Somehow we made it to Brugge anyway which, yes, is the setting of the movie In Bruges. We saw the sights and ate two Belgian Waffles a piece, as well as beginning the tasting of Belgian Beer. We knew of a few Belgian beers before we went, but we learned quite a bit more through the weekend. Our favorites were the classic Duval, the popular Leffe, trappist Ales made by monks, Hoeggardens of all varieties, and a few more obscure titles which I can’t remember. The comparison that I gathered was that Belgians treat their beer like the French treat their wine and the Scots treat their whiskey. You might hear great things about German beer or British Ales, but the Belgians take it one step further by creating a certain shape glass for every brand they sell. To pour a Delirium into a Leffe glass would be a social crime. But beer and waffles are not the only things the Belgians take seriously. Belgian chocolate is also world class and many of the shops windows are set up with intricate chocolate animals interacting in a Walt Disney sort of way. We walked around, chased some swans, and when our buzzes had worn down we headed to Brussels.
In Brussels we found Virginie and Max’s cosmopolitan appartment four floors up in dark stone complex. While on the outside the buidling looked dirty with old world charm, the inside was filled with glittering new world luxury. Virginie and Max are friends of the Massies’ from an exchange program years back and were an amazing contact for seeing more of Belgium. Taking us to a 400 year old Italian restraunt for dinner was a great way to start the evening, and ending at a Trappist Ale Bar next to the Mannequin de Pis was a great way to end it. The best part of the evening for me was the reaction Tooks received when he asked if he could sleep on the modern-art white couch in their living room once we returned. To this request he received, “Well, as long as it looks the same in the morning.”
The next day was some sight seeing, including the 1958 World Expo showpiece, The Atomium, and riding the trains around to see more of the city. We hunted down some more waffles and generally agreed that the Belgians were very cultured and welcoming people, even if their cities do speak four different languages. On the drive to Paris we past all sorts of tiny French villages complete with the church steeple and the occasional wind generator behind it. To kill time I read out loud from Bear Grylls‘ “Facing the Frozen Ocean” and we discussed life and spirituality. Also fearing loss of Gas, we coasted into a small town on fumes and talked about how to temper anxiety over situations not in our control. Back on the motorway, Paris traffic was soon upon us and we were at a loss for words; nearly at a loss of life. We tried our best to keep cool heads while we navigated roads we couldn’t pronounce, and Tooks performed a stellar job weaving through enormous 300 car round-a-bouts. This led to a brief stress attack and high tempers, but we still discovered that we could laugh it off as soon as we were out of harm’s way. Eventually we parked, had a celebration juice in a bar, and found Cory, our Phi-delt ex-pat up-and-coming international chef, and his appartment.
Then there was the party. Cory had extra tickets to his culinary school’s private party in a raging twenty-something district of Paris. I would choose not to write too much about this if this was a normal sort of party, but I thought the evening was very telling of the sparkling hundreds chasing after the twenty-something dream. The bar was full of the young, the brash, the fabulous and the reckless, of all sorts of nationalities. We met a Chicagoan, a South Carolinian, a Virginian, as well as English from Manchester and York, and all sorts of interesting Parisians. I felt in the midst of a culture war when I realized I shared few of the French revelers values and decided the best place for me was next to the fries and vegetables. Many pints later, our group became larger and we hailed a people-mover cab driven by a very generous man from China. It was one of those gray nights where the currency of words begins to tip, then takes a sharp nosedive and soon loses its meaning altogether; many of the girls from the back began yelling to stop the cab and not pay the driver, while the others yelled obscenities in return and spilled the beers they were hiding under their seat. Somehow, the poor man knew to keep going. While the drunk stumbled out of the cab at our club destination, those clearheaded of us realized that the people who hailed the cabbie did not have enough cash to pay him in the first place. Onwards to the club where the girls were allowed in first, and the guys not thanks to the man in our group who tried to smuggle a beer behind the bouncers. All were soon turned away, wreaking of frustration and mixed drinks and clawing at the night for something to fill the pressure spot. We walked away in a stupor and tripped our way home. I felt like I was in a French Great Gatsby.
The next day we spent seeing the sights with two American girls from London: Kim and Emily. Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, la Bastille, and my favorite, Montmarte, which was the location from the scavenger hunt scene from Amelie. My camera unfortunately died so there are no pictures here, but needless to say there was a lot to see. Getting on the road later that night, we drove on listening to more Bear Grylls and talking more life, God, relationships, stopping for a French Services Buffet (where I said nothing because my french is horrible), and then on to Callais for our channel train just in the nick of time. I was wearing a headlamp as we went through customs, he might have had a hard time believing Jimmie and I teach in British boarding schools, but we do!
Belgium and France in a whirlwind.