Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Hitchhiking (in Belgium)!

The morning of Wednesday October 17, 2007 proved to be one of the most chaotic of my life. I woke up in Leuven, Belgium at 5:13 and my flight back to London was scheduled to depart at 9:15. It should have been simple, but here's why it wasn't:

5:13 AM: Wake up in Siegel's room. Get dressed. Apply copious amounts of deodorant. Brush teeth. Check CNN to make sure nothing crazy has happened in the world. Say goodbye.

5:47 AM: Depart for Leuven, Belgium train station on foot.

5:55 AM: Arrive at Leuven train station, and order an egg and tomato sandwich from Panos.

6:04 AM: Catch a train to Brussels. Try to read Bill Bryson on the train, but really stare blankly at the pages.

6:31 AM: Arrive in Brussels. (Note - everything to this point is quite normal)

6:41 AM: Depart Brussels by train for Charleroi, home of Charleroi airport.

7:24 AM: Arrive at Charleroi Train station. Walk to Charleroi Bus Station one minute away.

7:37 AM: Along with two Belgians I met, embark with about 50 other people on the bus specifically marked AIRPORT presumably headed toward Charleroi Airport.

8:10 AM: Note that many people have departed the bus, and though we have come within the vicinity of an airport, we never actually came close to anythign resembling a terminal. In general, we drove by many warehouses, factories, offices, etc.

8:15 AM: Realize that the Belgians and I who need to catch actual flights are the only people left on the bus, except for some ignorant woman who worked for the bus company, as well as the driver. The Belgians ask in Dutch when we are stopping at the airport. The driver responds that we already came close to the airport, and are now nowhere near there. This is a problem, we see the control tower of the airport in the distance. We tell him that we never went anywhere near a damn airport and that he's nuts, but can he please drive us to the airport, where the bus is supposed to go. He says no, and tells us to get off the bus, and walk along the road, and eventually it will hit the airport.

We get off the bus, and then realize that this driver really screwed us, because he was driving in the direction of the airport. And now we are running, as we are afraid we will miss our flights. Our run is somewhat aimless though, as we see some runways, but there is clearly no terminal for a few miles.

I try to flag down every damn car possible, but this is a French speaking area of the country, not Flanders where they are multilingual, and NONE of the drivers stop for us - even though we are well-dressed, respectable looking young adults.

I wave my arms like a wild man, and stand in the middle of the road, but the French are just unresponsive. I could have been having a heart attack but nobody would have cared.

I wave money in the air, but apparently people don't want ten euros and many more pounds.

So we continue to run toward the airport, flailing our arms trying to stop each car/truck/van that passes by to no avail. We are sweaty and running at full speed toward where we think the airport should be along fairly barren roads.

Yes I am bitter, but I keep it inside, and I don't give up hope that there is one goddamn good samaritan in this area of the world.

8:33 AM: Eventually, we come across an intersection, and I find a man in a BMW station wagon and he speaks English to me when he stops the car. He says we are about a ten-minute drive from the terminal and gladly takes the two Belgians and I to the terminal. he won't accept my money, and I appreciate this. I tell him that he will surely have good Karma and thank him again and again and again.

8:45 AM: I arrive at the terminal, only to be told by the Ryanair staff that my flight has closed. I beg a manager to let me on, explaining what horrors I've just lived through due to the incompetence/negligency/ill-will of one of her fellow countrymen. She makes a phone call, and given that I have no luggage, I am permitted through. In fact, the flight doesn't even board for another fifteen minutes, and I even have time to eat a tuna sandwich in the terminal.

9:20 AM (British time): Arrive at London Stansted Airport, and with luck on my side, run through customs to catch the 9:26 train back to Norwich!

This was nearly one of the grandest debacles of all time, as if I'd missed my flight I would have been stuck in the godforsaken hell hole of Charleroi, Belgium for at least ten more hours, and I likely would have had to pay an arm and a leg to get back to England, missing my class and really screwing up my day.

Moral of the story: If you throw enough wet toilet paper at the wall, eventually one will stick - as said to me by a drunk American businessman in Dublin during one of the most wacky nights of my life during the Summer of 2004.

I would not stop flailing my arms when my Belgian friends had long given up and were convinced that running a few miles in the unknown direction of the terminal was the only option.

And one day, I too will pick up hitchhikers, knowing that one saved me from great peril!

1 comment:

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