…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 10
[Saturday] 9/3/88—Didn’t get up today until 11 AM! I slept for about 10 hours and I could have slept longer but I made myself get up so I didn’t waste the whole day. Today was the most relaxed day of the whole trip and it was very enjoyable. We just kind of sat around this morning listening to albums [yes, albums—those big, round, plastic discs that you set a needle on!], eating that wonderful bread that he buys, and drinking coffee. We finally got going around 1:30 PM, we decided to hang out downtown and do some petty shopping. And of course, hit the cafés. We started out at this one café where the passing women had been especially beautiful last time and had coffee. Then we wandered down to the Grand Place and experimented with some more Belgian 12% beer. This time we had Duval. By now, I have really developed a taste for the European beers (biers, I mean) and the coffee. Both are much stronger, bolder taste, it’s going to be interesting going back to the American styles. Not to mention how good the 12% makes you feel. We both bought some Leonidas chocolates for gifts and ordered some pita gyros at one of the many Greek pita stands, it was great (especially for only 100 fr.). By then it started raining so we used that as an excuse to duck into another café and try still another Belgian beer, this time Kwak. It was similar to the others, a little darker and only 8.5%. I never thought I would actually enjoy dark beer.
Eventually it stopped raining and we headed home after buying train tickets for the airport for tomorrow. We played some more albums, drank some more coffee, and continued our diverse conversations. I was really having fun with Bill today, he’s such a good friend and I had really missed being able to hang out with him like we did before he moved to Brussells. [Bill and I hung out almost every weekend for the seven years we were in St. Louis together after finishing college. He called to tell me he was moving to Brussels a few days after my wife and I split but before I had told anybody—even him. I think that hurt almost as much as the split with my wife. I know he felt horrible about it later when he learned what had happened.] I wanted to go to dinner at Prince d’Orange, but we were afraid it was a suit & tie dress code. We walked there anyway (it turned out to be about 2 miles) and our fears were confirmed. Also, I had only about 1300 fr. left total cash so we decided to go to a little French restaurant near his house that he likes to go to.
Inexplicably, the journal ends there. I vaguely recall intending to finish up during the plane ride the next day but just never getting around to it, and by the time I got back and resumed my familiar routine the details began to fade quickly. I do remember having roasted duck at the restaurant (my first experience with duck) and thinking it tasted a little “gamey” but still enjoying it. I also remember the next morning being quite hectic—to avoid paying another $50 to hire a truck to bring my bike to the airport, Bill actually rode my bike to the airport while I lugged my bags there on the train (probably should’ve been the other way around!). From that point on it was the unmemorable vagaries of travel, although I still remember the shocked look on the airport security officer’s face when he asked me if I had any weapons and I replied “Knives!” The Henkel set was in my checked luggage, and he was eventually satisfied with my explanation that they were fine cooking cutlery purchased as my souvenir for the trip.
This may conclude my 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip series, but for me the trip really marks the beginning of what I consider my adult life. It was the first time I had done something so adventurous, so challenging. It required a lot of self confidence—something that I had lacked for most of my life up until that point. Shortly afterwards I would find the courage to leave the safe but unsatisfying security of state employment and pursue a more challenging but also more stimulating career path in industry, move to California (if only temporarily), and marry my current wife (of 22 years now!). With her and on my own, I’ve pursued dreams that I would have been too afraid to pursue before—traveling to many other parts of the world (both professionally and on my own), adopting two beautiful Russian princesses, and pursuing jobs I previously thought beyond reach. Not to mention the cycling, eventually taking it on as a lifestyle choice with an eight-year stint as a racer and twice completing the Etape du Tour!
For those of you who have read all the way through to this point, I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into one of the watershed periods of my life. It’s been an enjoyable, almost cathartic, exercise for me to relive these moments after having set this journal aside for 25 years! If you’re interested in more of my trip journalism, I highly recommend my 2007 l’Etape du Tour experience—not only is it richly augmented with photographs, but I promise the writing is also much more polished!