Belgium Had Hills
Unlike most of the lowlands, this small place called Trois Ponts actually had hills. I could see a hilltop covered by trees and stones afar. After half an hour, two cars passed. One of them did stop and a grandpa and a grandma with grey hair greeted me happily and said they were going to the opposite direction.
It would get dark in a less than an hour. I could possibly camp in the middle of the road, as there was so little traffic. Nope, I did not do that. Instead, I messaged my friend Kalianne who lived in Malmedy and she drove half an hour from home to pick me up in her cute little car.
Kalianne totally looked like a kid, but nope, she was not a kid anymore. She lived with her boyfriend and they were starting a project of growing organic vegetables. Therefore, her boyfriend, who was a chef, had prepared a dinner made of their own vegetables for me. Yes, I was essentially hungry.
The lowlands, essentially the Netherlands and Belgium are known for being flat, flat and very flat. The highest point of the whole Netherlands is 322 meters above sea level and it is at the border with Belgium and Germany. Every time when we see a mound of half a meter height we would shout: ‘Look! That’s the second highest point in the whole Netherlands!’
The breakfast was delicious and the bed was as comfy as clouds. I felt that I could really settle down for a while. I was not tired of traveling. I would never be tired of traveling and exploring. However, the more I travel, the clearer it becomes to me that to really let the traveling experiences sink in your heart and contribute to your personal growth one has to stop traveling for a while. Only when you settle down, will those experiences crystallize into something solid to contribute to your spiritual growth. In other words, one has to stop traveling for a while to complete the travel experience.
You see, I had been traveling alone for quite a while. It gave me much freedom but as a sociable animal, from time to time it would be great to team up, especially considering the fact that hitchhiking for me became much easier when I did it with a girl. Therefore, I asked around in Nomads group and got into contact with Vicky, a Bulgarian girl studying in Maastricht. Although I had no idea how she looked like, I agreed to meet her up and see how things would develop.
Now, to be totally honest with you, I had had bad experiences with hitchhiking partners. There was this one girl who turned out to be an ungrateful and arrogant …… (thinking of a word other than bitch…… thinking hard…… really hard) person! It was very unpleasant to encounter such a person in daily life, even worse when you were stuck with her on the road. Therefore, while maintaining an open mind I had learned to be a bit more cautious. I asked Vicky to tell me something about herself. Her replied ‘Let’s meet in Maastricht and we shall see how it goes’.
Therefore, the next morning when I woke up, had breakfast and enjoyed the lovely view on the terrace, I headed for Maastricht, by hitchhiking of course.
Kalianne dropped me at a gas station on her way to work. It was early morning. The air was fresh and chilly. Many people were driving to work.
The Most Difficult Language in Europe
8 minutes later a middle-aged French man picked me up. That was indeed a perfect spot for hitchhiking. 🙂
I: So I heard that this is the German speaking part of Belgium!
He: Yes! In my town we speak German, French and…… well, Arabic. You speak good French!
I: Not really. I try. I learned French for two weeks when I was in southern France in 2013. I took a private course. I spent all these two weeks learning French. I spoke as much French as possible. I even moved into the house of a retired French professor. Their family did not speak English so we were communicating only in French all the time. We were discussing literature, arts and history all the time. After 10 days my level reached intermediate. Then I traveled in France for 2 weeks, speaking only French. It worked out well. I have a passion for languages.
He: Impressive! You are going to Maastricht?
I: Yes! I am going to meet up a friend there, I lived in the Netherlands for 6 years.
He: Do you also speak Dutch?
I: Yes. once I cross the border, I would change my mindset from French to Dutch.
He: Oh la la! All together how many languages do you speak?
I: Seven I would say. Chinese as a native, English as a second language, Dutch of course as I lived in the Netherlands, then intermediate French, Spanish, German and Italian.
He: Oh la la la vache! (A French expression which basically means ‘Holy Cow’)
I: It’s really no big deal. I have many traveler friends who speak even more languages. They speak even Farsi (the language of Iran), Dari (Afghanistan), Pashto (Afghanistan), Urdu (Pakistan) and Kurdish. I speak some Farsi but I would not say that I really speak it. It would take more than two weeks to learn it. However, The most difficult language I ever tried to learn is definitely POLISH! WOWO! I took a two weeks course and it was like nothing……
He: Seriously? What makes it so difficult?
I: Two things, the grammar and the vocabulary. Some people would say the pronunciation is also hard, but for me it’s quite easy as in Chinese we also have many different kinds of ‘s’ and ‘z’. However, the grammar almost killed me…… You know, in German there are 4 cases and it is already a headache. I even heard that in German primary schools kids would get depressed simply because the grammar of their own language was so hard. Guess what? In Polish there are even more cases! The vocabulary is not similar with any other language I know of. For example, the word ‘hello’ is ‘hallo’ in Dutch, ‘hallo’ in German and ‘hola’ in Spanish. However, in Polish it is …… CZESC! Yes, a five-letter word with only one vowel. WOWO! What a language shock! 😀
He: Oh la la! But I think Russian is more difficult than Polish, isn’t it?
I: No. According to different rankings I saw on internet, the most difficult language is either Polish or Hungarian. Polish is more difficult than Russian, although Polish uses roman alphabet.
As we were chatting along, he missed his turn and started looking through his map. Yes, that was an old car and there was no navigation system and he kept a map made of paper. After 15 minutes of research, he decided he could go a bit further and take me to a better spot.
The spot was indeed better as it was not far from a local train station and yet it was at the entrance of the highway. In case hitchhiking failed, I could always take the train, eh…… or blackride it.
Yes, I was shameless bastard….
It was a very peculiar phenomenon. Very often good spots do not work out while bad spots can work miracles. I stayed at this perfect spot for 1 hour and nothing happened. I pinched myself just to check if I had become thin air or invisible.
Nope, it hurt. Good news was that I was still visible and solid. Bad news was that I got stuck. I walked away from the highway and found a small gas station.
For those of you who are not familiar with hitchhiking, gas stations are the best spots for hitchhiking as one could ask the drivers face to face. You can imagine, I was more than happy to find this small gas station.
I walked around and waited for cars to stop there.
Half an hour passed and only one car came there for gas…… It was not a deserted place but not far from it…… and this only car just came back from the Netherlands and was heading for the opposite direction. Nice going……
Trains passed one after another, alluring me to take them and abandon hitchhiking…… That was a tempting idea. However, I touched my pocket where I kept my cash and decided to continue hitchhiking.
Also, it would be simply boring to take public transport when one could hitchhike and meet interesting people.
A black car with Dutch license board drove into the gas station. Out came a grandpa who was slowly adding gas to his car.
I went up and asked him in Dutch: sir, are you going to the Netherlands?
He was astounded a bit but soon smiled: Yes yes! Where are you going?
He had a look at me and said: OK! Come on in!
Another train passed again, with screeching noise.
To be continued