I couldn’t believe it. My final morning in Rotterdam.
As I marched down the long road with the magnificent and imposing, diagonally sloped roof of Rotterdam Centraal getting closer and closer, I was smiling as though I had finally reached the finish line of a marathon – I’d done it!
I celebrated this momentous occasion with some porridge from Leon because I was in fact around an hour early for my train. Having done a reccie of where my platform was, triple-checked I still had all my tickets, I visited a few shops and newsagents to have a look around and kill time. With fifteen minutes to go until my train left I was starting to head over to the platform but there was something that was dragging me back. I had been lured in by the temptation of Tony’s again, even though I already had four stuffed in my rucksack. But did I need one more? This one was a particularly tempting flavour (cinnamon, milk chocolate) which I hadn’t seen in the supermarket yesterday. The second hand of the big clock kept ticking, I kept looking left and right between the stairs to my platform and the snake of the queue in the newsagent. I leapt into the shop and opted for a photo finish to the platform, where I boarded my train to Brussels.
As the train pulled out of the station, I missed Rotterdam already. Three days here had felt like a week and I was already feeling nostalgic looking back on all my memories, even the one where I nearly burst into tears in Markthal. Sitting on the train I was honestly quite impressed with myself that I’d managed to orchestrate this and book all the right tickets, given my skills at reading google maps was tragic.
When I arrived into Brussels, that wave come over me again. The one where I realise very quickly that I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing, walking round another city that I’ve never been to before, alone.
Continuing the final lap of my solo trip, I pretty much spent my entire time in Brussels power walking because I was on a timer and only had a handful of hours before it was time to catch the Eurostar back to London – and I had my exact itinerary ready, thanks to some recommendations provided by friends.
My first stop was to get chips from Friterie Tabora which I had been told was the best. I queued for ages, panicking half way through as to whether I had to abandon this item on the agenda, however I’m glad I didn’t give up. My mild increase in heart rate was rewarded with a giant cone of chips topped with a glossy, melting mountain of mayonnaise. Perfect food for on-the-go because as soon as it was handed to me, I had to keep moving. What started as picking out a single chip like I was playing Jenga and daintily dipping it in mayonnaise very quickly resulted in me turning into some kind of monster. I was piling grease into my mouth; my face and fingers were covered in sauce. No chip escaped my ravenous appetite, even the crispy offcuts. I tried to fashion a napkin out of something before disposing of the paper cone and pretending that I wasn’t a chip-demolishing animal.
Chips and mayonnaise, Friterie Tabora
By then, I had reached my next stop; a bar called Monk. It was beautiful inside. It looked like a painting and beyond the bar area at the front there seemed to be the promise of a lovely big restaurant further in, that lots of people were heading into. The patterned tile floor was a combination of mustard-yellow, terracotta-red and murky-white. Behind the marble top bar, flanked by wooden stools, hung charcuterie. The walls, the colour of blue icing, were lined with wooden panels, mirrors and single lamps positioned over each individual table which had a pew-style bench seat on one side and a single wooden chair on the other. I was quite taken aback, it was so picturesque. I sat at one of the tables with my beer and just soaked up my surroundings, occasionally looking at the clock and finding it so surreal that in a couple hours time I would be back at home but right now I was sitting in this dreamy Belgian bar. It felt like living two lives in one day. Things were starting to get a little bit existential again.
My final destination was another bar. I couldn’t come to Brussels and not visit the famous Delirium. I headed downstairs where every surface of the wall and ceiling was covered with beer bottles, neon signs and beer trays and there were beer barrels for tables. Before I got to the bar I emptied out every bit of loose change I had left. The sum total was about €4.20 and flicking through the drinks menu I told myself I would choose the beer that amounted to that, no matter what. After all, Delirium boasts a world-record offering of over 2,000 beers so this would be my decision-making strategy (plus, I wanted to get rid of all my change!) The odds landed on a bottle of Belgian-style ale called Diôle Blonde. Should I be worried that the logo was a devil riding a bicycle, I thought?
It was now time. The moment was here. Operation make it back to the right station and get on the Eurostar. It was certainly a tight job towards the end, as there was one more thing I had to get whilst in Belgium; a waffle. I picked one up on the way which I tipped into my face, getting used to my new skill of eat-walking, and for the final time this trip I got lost and walked around in a circle for about five minutes.
When I got back to London and flopped onto the sofa, I was well and truly exhausted. I wasn’t sure what I’d just went on felt like a holiday; it was testing at times, emotionally and physically (try power walking whilst eating a waffle and being only slightly merry on Belgian beer…) and there was no mistaking that my first ever solo trip had been powered by adrenaline. I was impressed that I had actually managed to do this – and also, that I wasn’t dead.
The trip put things into perspective. There was a moment when I was walking over the Erasmus Bridge and I looked up at the night sky. I imagined a google maps pin drop on my current location in the world and then in my mind, I zoomed out and looked down on the Earth from outer space and made a mental dotted line between my current location and where all my friends and family were, back home in the UK. I was so far away, anything could happen to me right now and who would know? It was scary but at the same time exhilarating. A certain kind of independence I hadn’t experienced before. On foot was often stressful but as soon as I checked into a place I felt tethered back to the rest of the world. It made me feel in tune with one of our most primal instincts as human beings, the fact that no matter what, we are social creatures. It’s in our DNA. As someone who has no qualms with spending time on their own every now and then, I craved people like never before during this trip. When I discovered something, I wanted to tell someone, immediately. I wanted to discuss it in depth; I wanted to laugh together; I wanted to share skyline views; the first sip of beer; the taste of breakfast pastries. And that’s exactly what I did when I got home. I started to recall my trip from start to finish to anyone who would listen.
Friterie Tabora, Monk and Delirium.