This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere. But I’m pretty sure it’s Rotterdam.
I was amazed at how hassle-free my journey here was. Perhaps I’m actually getting the hang of this travel thing! The train journeys were cheap and fast, I managed to get some work done on the train, I negotiated changes and finding of ticket offices with no difficulties, and getting rid of that monstrous backpack was the best decision I’ve ever made, as it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to take in everything that’s going on around me without feeling like I’m dying under the weight of all my worldly possessions.
There was a small hitch when I arrived at Blaak Station to discover that the phone number I had for my host was incorrect. Thinking the problem was with my phone, I hunted for a payphone and tried that, but no. Finally, feeling a little lost, I started approaching random people on the street and showing them the scrap of paper on which I’d scribbled the name of the street I needed to find. Oh, the joy – everyone I spoke to spoke excellent English. They did not, however, know where the street was. One very lovely girl stayed by my side and looked for people who “looked local”, flagging them down and asking them for directions in Dutch, and then guiding me part of the way. I used to panic horribly at things like this, but now it’s just part of the travelling experience. Local people wherever you go are always eager to help. Excuse me for going a bit philosophical, here, but you’re never really alone, are you? Deep down, we’re all the same, and we all need each other. So even if it’s just taking two minutes to make a lost stranger on the street feel safe and reassured, you’re doing your bit for, erm, humanity. Yes. End of musing.
Exhausted, I planned on an early night, and instead ended up at a funky modern apartment, chatting with two Palestinians and a Dutch guy, smoking a water pipe, and not getting home until 2am. You smoke the water pipe, right? asked my host casually as we left to visit his friends. He sounded like he was asking if I drink coffee, or put shoes on before going outside. Erm… no… I said dubiously. Is that like a bong?
It’s not drugs, as it turns out, it’s natural tobacco that comes in various flavours, like apple, mint, lemon… I’d seen people sitting on cafe terraces smoking them when I was in Tallinn, and been fascinated by the practice. It seems to be a social thing – it’s not bad for you like smoking regular cigarettes (actually tastes really healthy and pleasant), doesn’t have the adverse effects of drink or drugs, and actually makes your clothes smell clean and fragrant rather than stinky and stale. We sat around the table, sharing a bottle of wine, chatting, and passing the pipe around in the same manner as you’d pass around a joint, not that I’ve ever done that… much. It was a very different cultural experience for me!
Sometimes – and with no decrease in frequency – I look around and have a delirious, detached moment where I see myself climbing the Eiffel Tower, walking through Tallinn Old Town, drinking champagne and diving into a pool at midnight at a party in Belgium, exploring traboules in Lyon, smoking a water pipe with really cool, fun strangers in an apartment in Rotterdam, buying a waffle at a cart in Brussels, watching the sun set at Waterloo, or weaving my way through a busy train station while announcements in unfamilar languages boom out all around me. And I think to myself… Wow. Am I really here, doing this?! I don’t think that’ll ever stop. It’s like living in a permanent dream.
Hopefully I can just continue to sleepwalk for quite a long time to come…