August 10 – 11, 2017
Thursday was another grey rainy day in France but I was unphased for once. I was headed for a train that Alex had pre-booked my bike on and it turned out to be as easy as I hoped SQ only has a couple platforms and when I asked the conductor (all of whom wear these super cute little caps) which was the one to Lille he not only showed me but used his whistle to walk me across the tracks so I would not have to drag the loaded bike down and back up some steep stairs. There were 2 other cycle tourists on my train who did not make use of this service and they looked like it was quite a struggle.
The train was modern and comfortable with places to hang the bikes then sit nearby and plug in my phone and watch the countryside go by. When I arrived in Lille it was fairly easy to get another train to Ghent, where I had a queer couple waiting for me. I didn’t know anyone in Lille so the 4 hours or so I had to kill seemed perfect. I found a place that would store my luggage and lock up my bike. It was a little confusing because I had to go to the neighboring Lille-Europe station across the way from Lille-Flanders and I accidentally walked my bike through a mall but all in all it was fine and I had plenty of time to explore the mall and get lunch. There was also a modern art museum right there called Tri-Postal that I kept trying to find the entrance to but I think it was closed. According to some TripAdvisor users it keeps really odd hours.
The train to Belgium was also fairly nice although I had thought the bike facilities would be better than the French trains. Turns out they just kind of just put them in the front. But that was also fine except I left my snacks up there. But then they let us cyclists sit in first class, which really isn’t much different than regular 2nd but it’s closer to the bikes. These 2 teenage French girls in slippers kept spraying aerosol hairspray but they got off soon and it was an otherwise pretty good trip.
When I got to Ghent it was raining again and although my hosts’ apartment was fairly near the station I managed to slip and fall on some tram tracks due to the slick roads and uneven bags I had packed more for the train than riding. So now I have an embarrassing leg bruise but both me and my bike were fine.
When I got to Amanda and Sarah’s I was so pleasantly surprised to find a very nice apartment inhabited by 2 true stupendous women. Both were PhD graduates, great conversationalists, and very knowledgeable about both Belgian beer an LGBT issues. Perfect combo for me. Amanda is Brazilian and met Sarah, a local, while attending university. We walked around rainy nighttime Ghent and ate an drank until late.
The next day Amanda took me all around town telling me the history of the very old, mostly 16th century, buildings and touring the canals. We had a shot of jenever, mine infused with delicious cherries, at a super old school watering hole called Dreupelkot, full of stone and wood and a million kinds of bottled and shot glasses. It was so good I wish I could have had more but decided multiple shots before lunch wasn’t a good idea. We had a beer on another nice terrace at a bar that used to be LGBT focused but I guess not so much anymore and then had a late lunch of mussels and frites.
After returning home to rest and talk to Vanessa on the phone (which was really nice; I’ve been missing her) Sarah and I went out to an outdoor space called Bar Bricolage. Amanda wasn’t feeling well unfortunately. It was “far” enough out of town that we had to ride our bikes and I have to admit to some PTSD from the track incident and they were everywhere. But it was dry out and outside of town in this context means a 15 min ride so it was actually quite nice.
The space was incredible. Mostly outdoor there are 3 DJ booths and patrons could rent headphones that could tune into any of them. It then lit up with the color of that particular “channel.” Normally these “silent discos” then really are silent outside of them but what was nice here was that even without you could hear one set of music, though it played softly enough to chat. There was a. See bar and a tropical cocktail bar, the latter of which had a bartender who played it up like that old 80s Tom Cruise movie and was quite hilarious. The entertainment came with the drink she said.
There was also a restaurant, a fire pit, more than one stage for performances and, next to the regular bathrooms, an experimental women’s urinal. Sarah tells me it was partially in response to a festival that had happened in Ghent where all the women’s bathrooms had terrible long lines and cost 50 cents while urinals for men were free and plentiful and the lawsuit that followed. We never did get drunk enough to try it though. But after a bit and old friend of V’s from A Camp, Christina, joined us and we had a great time drinking Belgian. Were and wandering around the chilly space watching people try to dance together while listening to different music.
The next day I was off to Antwerp but got a late start due to the late night. Sarah and Amanda also got up late and I wanted to make sure I said goodbye, thanked them for their hospitality, and got a picture of the three of us together. Despite feeling like I’m taking pictures all the time I find I have forgotten some things as well. But the timing worked with my lazy morning and it all came together.
The weather was quite unpredictable so I couldn’t decide whether to bike or take the train but eventually I settled on a combination. I’m writing this from Antwerp now, so I made it, but I’ll stop here and relate the rest of my Belgian tale in time.