Embrace The Unexpected

July 02, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

In the night train heading north to exit Morocco, I met Ben Kempfe, who I had seen earlier that day in the middle of Morocco at one of our last rest stops returning from the Sahara. We instantly recognized each other and started chatting. Turns out we have a lot in common. We were so busy talking on the boat crossing the Straight of Gibraltar we missed our chance to safely get off the boat! We asked several crew members how to get off, but they shrugged and said we were out of luck. We finally looked around long enough and found that the car ramp had not been pulled up yet, so we walked off the boat there. The only problem was that we had not got our passport stamped when we exited. We had to walk through the vehicle area of the Spanish boarder control. Talk about suspicious! The officers weren't pleased with our humorous situation. We kept each other company all the way until Madrid where we had to split paths. From there, I took another night train to Barcelona as I kept my heading set toward northern Europe and Scandinavia. In Barcelona, my next train was supposed to take me to the first French boarded town called Cerbere in order to catch one last night train to Paris, but in stead, it only went to the Spanish boarded town of Port Bou. Though the two towns are only two linear kilometers away from each other, the Mediterranean Sea boarders the eastern side of the towns while tall, mountainous cliffs do the majority of the separating. This means it would have been a seven kilometer hike or taxi drive as the sun was quickly setting, neither of which I was willing to do. Luckily, on the previous train, I met Phoebe and George from England, who were in the same situation as me. Though they were not supposed to catch a train in Cerbere, they were planning on camping on the mountainside over night as they began their camping journey through the Mediterranean coast. They offered a place in their tent and some company for the evening, so of course I accepted. There were several trains throughout the next day to Paris which I intended to catch. We hiked around the mountainside for almost an hour near Port Bou in an attempt to find a decent, hidden location for our tent. The trouble was that the topography was rugged and cacti filled nearly every clear spot we could find. Darkness fell upon us, we found a decent location in which to camp for the night. We prepared a meal of rice and sauteed vegetables; not bad for a camp stove on in the middle-of-no-where Spain! We played guitar and conversed for a bit before piling into the small tent for the night.   Looking back at the road and hillside where we hiked down from. 
Our campsite on the hillside by morning light.  
View of the Port Bou harbor from the campsite.  Cacti. Everywhere.  George and Phoebe as we hiked down to the water for a day of swimming.  The water was extremely clear and deep blue. 
Another view of the bay.  The good 'ole guitar. I need a name for it. Ideas?  Some good jumping rocks.  The town of Port Bou.
After swimming, I set up my hammock for some Mediterranean relaxation.  Because I wanted to swim and relax more than get on a train bound for Paris during the day, I missed all but one northern bound train. I packed my things, said goodbye to Phoebe and George and caught a train to Cerbere to catch the Paris train. When I arrived at the station in Cerbere, the ticket agent informed me that the train inspectors were on strike and the night train had been cancelled. I looked around for hotels, but all were closed or too expensive. So, I explored the town and found a secluded ledge where I could hang my hammock for the night. I waited until the sun set to put it up, and then got set up for the evening. My view out to the sea was great.  I have to wake up super early in order to catch the train that was actually going to show up and take me to Paris. I had a beautiful sunrise to wake up to. 


I finally made it to Bruges, Belgium, my next destination. I came here upon recommendations from many travelers I met in the weeks past. It turns out they were right, this Bruges is quite the wonderful little city! It's nick named the "Venice of the North" for all of it's canals running through the downtown area. Though the city sits fifteen kilometers from the coast of the North Sea, it has been a major center for imports and exports. I met James, from New Zealand, in the hostel the night arrived and decided to explore the city together the following day. We began with te windmills near our hostel. There were four of them, all in a row. You can barely see the next one in the trees near the base of this one. 

You can see the main belfry in the middle as well as two of the other large steeples on either side. 
Some interesting trees in the neighborhood.  Such a quaint, little town. Everyone was very kind.  One of the canals. 
Some crooked architecture.  The Town Hall of Bruge.  The belfry, again, which we were about to asend.  There were chocolate stores everywhere! It was incredibly difficult to not enter each shop to see their sweets.  Courtyard at the belfry. The belfry was a neat museum too, with plenty of history about Bruge and the tower. Near the top, this drum rotates and plays the carillon one floor above. 
The pulley chords.  Looking north toward the North Sea. If you look really hard on the right side, you can see the port cranes situated on the coast. 
Inscribed on the ledge was the names and directions of cities in Europe.  The large, primary bell.  Looking up at the other bells and the systems used to play them. Very cool! 

The staircase was large enough for an elf, so two way traffic was nearly impossible. Pretty houses on the canals. We could have taken a canal boat tour, but decided against it.  The city is filled with beautiful buildings. 

Not sure what the meaning of the plane is!  That's a whale's tail made of chocolate! 
The weather was incredibly bi-polar the day we were exploring. Within thirty minutes, it could go from pouring rain to sunshine with no clouds. It did this many  times throughout the day.  I tried a block of chocolate marzipan.  A nunnery with a large wooded courtyard.  We visited the Half Moon Brewery for some local Belgium beer.  More canals. They're all so pretty!  My next stop was Amsterdam. Many stories have been told about Amsterdam, Holland (The Netherlands), and most are true. This is a unique and interesting city. Hoards of tourist, everywhere.  Amsterdam is also a city with many canals. 
Even at 2 p.m. the Red Light district was alive. The "Coffee Shop" where you can purchase marijuana, in addition to many other substances illegal in other areas of the world. 
All the coffee shops are registered with the city, and have many signs of legitimacy. 
The rest of the city was quite nice. This guy was showing off his talents on his motorized wheel chair. He attracted quite the crowd.  Some family fun away from the Red Light District.  The Nieuwe Kerk Church. A talented didgeridoo and djembe street artist.  It was expensive to stay the night in Amsterdam, so I headed only to Rotterdam to stay the night. 
The next I went to Cologne, Germany to see the Cologne Cathedral. I spent a semester studying this building for an architecture class and I couldn't wait to see it in person. It is massive. It's two spires peer high above any building nearby.  The ornateness is incredible.  Inside, the scale is as grand as the exterior. 
This cathedral was built with such grandeur because it houses this, the Shrine of the Magi. This shrine holds remains of the Three Kings.  I wish I got to hear the organ playing. 
But I did get to hear a choir perform. The reverberations were long. 
An interesting, pixelated, stained glass window.  All of the figures inside the church were capped with one of the spired from the roof.  I took the journey all the way to the top. The belfry was along the way. This one even larger than the last in Bruge.  A workshop on the floor below the belfry.  The bell rang while I was next to it. Scare the bejeberes out of me!  Structural.  This is the third tower, which rises from the center of the "cross" shaped building.  I can't even imagine the masonry that goes into building a structure like this.  There was a lot of reconstruction going on.  This is about half way up the right tower, where a crane sat, unused, for hundreds of years. The funding and interest was lost when building the church, so things stayed as they were.  A photo as the uncompleted building looked in 1824, though construction began in 1248.Looking up towards the hollow area of the spire. The tall, hollow area of the highest region of the spire.  Signs of disintegration were everywhere. Here, a copper band had been places around a section to keep it from falling off.  There were not stairs beyond this point, though the spire reached far above this point. 
Looking down, zoomed in all the way at 105mm. 
New, replaced sections. There were many places where you could see missing decorations. I don't know if they were removed for cleaning, replacement, or fell off and were destroyed.  Several cities in the span of a few days. Next up, Scandinavia! I have a lot of time on trains in my future. 
Until next time,


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