Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nec Plus Ultra

The title meaning, "For further beyond" or "to the utmost"; working backward to put my sabbatical journey to conclusion.

After my day in Bruges, I awoke back in Ghent.  I had some breakfast, then caught the tram to the train station and hopped a train back to Antwerp.  I arrived on a quiet sunday back to the city and caught a tram to Bar Buenos Aires.  I knew it was closed but figured that was my best starting point.  I pulled out a chair and sat on the patio poaching wi-fi to see where I stood.

I had been staying with my friend Philippe's business partner Alejandro, on his couch. But Alejandro was leaving the next day to Spain, and needed a little QT with his daughter, so I headed over to a cheap hostel called Boomerang not too far away (Philippe lives outside the city).  I checked in and hung out in the living room with high ceilings until Philippe got back from a futbol match in the evening.  We headed over to Bar BsAs to work on the place a bit- I had been tinkering with ideas to decorate the place, like a giant mural of Che with an empanada across the white wall.

Night fell, and we walked in the soft drizzle to find some proper Belgian food for dinner.  We found a small place filled with locals.  We sat out, drinking Tripels (for 3 euros, man I miss Belgium) and chatting in Spanish.  Alejandro got the famous carbonade- Belgian beer beef stew; Philippe got a fine cut of steak, beautifully medium rare; I had a white Belgian chicken stew with some kind of flaky philo pastry square holding it all together; we all split a big bowl of fried potato croquettes.  It was all delicious, and really local.  Alejandro and I were the only two foreigners to be found in this place.  We ate our delicious meal as the rains started to drop down on the canopy above us.  We sat under the canopy, drinking Westmalle Tripel, waiting for the rain to pass.

We walked back through Antwerp's red light district as girls behind glass tapped on their windows to passers-by, as I came up with ideas of free empanada give-aways to the putas.

Philippe drove me back to the hostel, and we split a final sour geuze to part company.

The next morning, I arose and packed up.  I walked down to the bus station, just a few kilometers away in the center of town.  Bus station, not exactly.  Just a street where various buses pulled up.  The bus came and we sped on to Amsterdam.  I napped for a bit, and woke up just in time to cross the border from Belgium to Holland, not that there was much to indicate such invisible lines.

I stared out the window at the old red windmills and giant three-armed metal variety that littered the path to Amsterdam.  The rains came as we passed through Rotterdam.  I finished The Last Temptation as we pulled out of Rotterdam.

We arrived to Amsterdam's bus station that was south of the city center, and not far from my hostel.  The last stop of the adventure.  I walked down the tree-lined boulevard, as bicycles slowly passed me.  I turned up the main road, and walked north until I reached the hostel.  I thought it was far from the city center, but I quickly realized it was really far.  That's what I get for 10 euros a night.  I usually just book for one day and figure it out after, but since I was at the end of my trip and it was a short time, I had booked in for the last few days.  It was about a 45 minute walk to the city center, or 20 minute tram.  Not great, but not too bad.

I hopped the tram into the familiar city, and wandered my way along the canals over to the GroteMarket, sitting out wrapped in a red blanket left on the chair by the cafe.  I spent the evening sipping white oolong tea and lavender in a rainy evening.

The next day I hopped the tram in and wandered about.  The weather was not cooperating, so I ducked into Rembrandthuis, the house and studio of said painter.  It was an interesting look at his life and the things Rembrandt collected.

Also on display at the museum was an interesting exhibit by Peter Vos called "Metamorfosen."  The exhibit was an interesting series of sketches and drawings that mixed fantasy and banality.  The weather got no better, and the rains came down like a Dutch hurricane.  I spent the night keeping warm, and playing iconoclast.  First to the Chechen.  Then I took the tram back, and stopped at the bar outside my hostel for a last drink.  I got to chatting with some of the fellows in the bar.  They invited me back to their pad to play darts and have another beer.  They said they had never met an American like me.  Generally true.  I hopped on one of their bikes, and they rode in tandem on the other, and we biked through the empty roads, and through a tunnel to the apartment.  We tossed darts and chatted until I decided it was getting late and meandered my back from my random encounter to the hostel.

My last day in Europa was a beauty.  The sun was shining and it was perfect.  It was a perfect day to end my trip.  I meandered from the hostel to Oosterpark, sitting out in the sun and watching the leaves shimmer in the wind.  I passed by the zoo, with pink flamingos reflected in the pools as they stood gracefully.  A flock of birds passed swooped left, then right and on, and I thought of Borges' infinite count:

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer--not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc.--is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.

I wandered down along the canals to the GroteMarket and stood out on the canal, admiring a statue by Bredero of coy lovers.

From the canals, I wandered up to the Central Station 

And back down to Damrak Square to sit out in the sun with other revelers to Helios.

I made my way to Abraxas to sip mint tea as the sun set on the glorious last day.  I headed over to meet my friend Pauline, a German fraulein I had met last time in Amsterdam.  We sat out chatting philosophy, and her adventures trying to take a VW bus from Berlin to Tehran with no map and no money (they didn't make it past Paris...).  She gave me a lil tour of her university area, and we sipped tea and armagnac in a tiny little cavernous bar.  We parted company at the witching hour to catch our respective trams home, and thus my European adventure ended. 

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