It’s the last few days of May 2016, I am leaving Britain and beginning my trip around Europe but I’m filled with a strange panic, although outside I seem calm. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? I was taking an utterly crazy step to give up everything, get on a motorcycle and drive off with only a vague plan of what’s next. I was seriously questioning what I was doing at this point. What will the roads be like? Have I prepared enough? I have to drive on the right. I have many miles ahead. What I am really doing? I should just stop it all, forget all this, it’s not too late to drive back and do the sensible thing.
I know many journeys start with these doubts, that voice in your head that says you can’t or you shouldn’t or it’ll never work out. I was taking a long time to load up the bike — the apprehension was distracting. It was now afternoon. I was in Surrey, having had a farewell meal the night before with friends†, when finally, and after one last cup of tea, I say bye with a head so full of thoughts I wondered if I could concentrate.
Once on the road, a motorcycle has a way of making you tune in and forget your worries. Sure enough, my mood changed. The grey clouds that clung over southern England that day changed to clear blue, and the bright sunshine felt like a sign. I was quickly at the EuroTunnel terminal. Adventure.
Taking the EuroTunnel rather than the ferry meant no waving white cliffs Au Revoir on the way and no sea trip but the EuroTunnel is very easy for a motorbike; I’m on the train within 20 mins. No need for any tie-downs or rope, I park at 45 degrees to the carriage wall and in gear as a precaution. The train is smooth I likely didn’t need to worry; the Harley rider next to me grabs his bike when there’s a slight jolt but then he has more chrome and polish to worry about. The trip is hassle free and quick at just over half an hour. I start the bike, drive out of the carriage. I’m surprised, it’s a quick few meters until I’m on the Autoroute. I’m in France.
It’s busy on the A16, and a little breezy. I have a tentative moment on a traffic roundabout; anti-clockwise is really unnatural initially, but I’m now settled into the ride and speeding towards Belgium.
First stop in Bruges, and a beautiful first stop it is too. Bruges looks picture postcard perfect, golden evening sunlight streaming across stone cobbled streets. I stop and take a seat and think back to the morning’s stresses; I’m here, the trip had begun and it feels good.
I stay at Snuffel Backpackers, a short walk from the Markt. Snuffel is hardly roughing it; it’s modern and amongst the best hostels I have stayed in. There’s a bar with a great vibe, it hosts live music; terrible Wi-Fi at the time is the only thing I could fault it on. Staff are super helpful and let me park the motorbike in the courtyard.
Bruges with its cobbled streets, medieval buildings, canals, squares it’s a stunning city. I take a walk, I feel a world away from busy London. I’m able to grab a bite to eat but on a weekday evening there’s not so much open other than a noisy bar around the Markt. I’m enjoying strolling the empty streets and the sights but I’m thinking it’s a sort of romantic getaway sort of place, pretty to see but quiet if you are travelling solo. Lovely, but there’s something missing for me. All the same, an evening stroll while the twilight turns to night is a must see.
At the backpackers there’s a quote on the gate:
“Live. Love. Dance. Get lost in a city with a name you cannot pronounce and where your name is pronounced differently, in an alphabet you can not read, a country with a different way of saying hello, laughing, eating, in a different time zone, on the other side of the equator. Live. Love. Dance. Get lost, sleep under different constellations, dance with different songs to celebrate life, where the sun travels in a different direction and get lost. Love. Live the life you do not even dare to imagine at home, do something you will never forget and never talk about with anyone, get lost till you don’t know anymore who or where you are to become who you are.”
I read — I don’t know where the quote is from, but I like it. I sit outdoors and have a last sip of beer.
It was a good day. Next, onward to Antwerp.
† With huge thanks to my friends Iain & Aimee who helped me at the start of this trip. And yes, a cup of tea did help.