Back in Belgium

I woke at a reasonable hour and made sure I was all packed up. I had time to do a quick email check and get breakfast before I had to walk over the road to the hauptbahnhof for my coach to Brussels. Hans was already there doing the tourist thing and we’d agreed to meet up for a drink in the pub with 2004 beers.

At 10:30, I was on time for check-in on the coach. Here’s a warning… Eurolines are OK. But despite booking through them, I was on a “Euro Buses” (I think) coach instead. As a result, I had to pay an extra Euro for my rucksack. When I complained, the driver got out a battered A4 sheet stapled to some card with the details of the luggage charge in three languages – none of them English.

Bizarre thing is that I swear this has happened to me before. Something similar happened when Hans and I were ripped off by a taxi driver and his mate in Mumbai (at least they’d laminated their sheet which they used to fleece us). But I have a niggly memory of being charged for luggage carriage in Europe before. Yeah, it was only a Euro but it’s the principle.

Anyhow, the journey was pleasant enough with some nice weather and scenery. I watched another Dead Zone on my PSP and read some more of my book (Elephant Song by Wilbur Smith – rather good). We passed through a couple of other cities on the way in, including a drop-off in Liége. Which I can tell you is definitely not designed for coaches. Brussels hove into view later than planned due to traffic, but it didn’t feel like I was late.

I walked down to the 2Go4 hostel where I’d stayed last time. In fact, almost exactly a year ago when Marina and I attended last year’s Graspop. As ever, the welcome was warm and the place was clean and busy. I had been lucky to get a bed as Hans had been kind enough to keep badgering them until they assured me a spot due to a cancellation. A very busy hostel and justifiably so.

After dropping my stuff we headed straight out for some food (kebab was quick and easy) and a walk around. We took in the usual touristy stuff like the town hall and the Mannequin Pis. Bizarrely when we got to the little fella having a wee, few people were looking at him. Instead, eyes were focussed on a woman trying to rescue her kitten from a window ledge.

Lowering a basket with food in only succeeded in having the cat tip the basket over, pinch the food and eat it on the ledge. D’oh. Eventually he found another open window and – I hope – would have been found by office staff the next day.

Walking back towards the town hall, Hans dropped a few cents into the hat of a human statue. “Have a photo!” he shouted, so we did. One each. Cool. Then “Give me two Euros!” resulted in a firm “no” and us walking off.

A word for anyone planning on doing the whole statue thing. If you want money for photos – ask first. Not after. It’s far more polite.

We located the Delirium Bar which serves over 2000 beers and enjoyed a cheeky one each followed by ice cream from an nearby stand. Hans was exhausted as he’d had a couple of early mornings and I wanted to catch the footie so we walked back to the hostel where I got online while he had a snooze. Spain beat Russia to go through to the final, which entailed the entire Spanish population of Brussels driving arond town beeping their damn car horns till the silly hours. Who’d have thought Brussels had so many Spaniards?

Our plans to go out again kind of tailed off when we both realised we were still tired later on. We’d need our strength the next couple of days so had a moderately early night after chatting to our roomies for a while. Tomorrow, Graspop beckoned.

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Germany 3 – 2 Turkey

An interesting day to stay in Frankfurt with it’s large immigrant ex-Turk population, with the two countries facing each other in the Euro 2008 semi-final. A huge screen was erected in the town centre and no segregation of fans was made (or required), beer on sale all day and very nice weather.

I was actually awoken around 10am by my mother ringing me to tell me a credit card had arrived. No huge deal aside from the fact that I didn’t get to bed until after 6am. Grr. So I spent the day online, popping downstairs for a rather nice chicken and chips lunch.

Evening came around, and one of the lads in the hostel – from Mexico – volunteered to walk into town with me to watch the first half on the big screen. You’d have been hard pushed to miss coverage. Every food or drink establishment had at least one screen available, with chairs outside and waitress service so you didn’t miss a moment. Those that didn’t normally have a screen had borrowed or rented one and fitted it in somehow.

As I said, Frankfurt has a large Turkish ex-pat population as can be easily told by the number of kebab shops around the station area. Great places to eat, by the way – cheap and large portions. This mix resulted in a fantastic atmosphere around the large screen area. Flags, face paint, chants, singing, all variety of shirts, hooters, horns, whistles… Just great.

There was limited room in the area immediately in front of the screen which was enclosed. Entry seemed to be free, but we opted to stand outside on the street from where we could see more of the crowd as well as having a decent view of the screen.

Turkey scored first and half of the crowd went wild. The Germans tutted and looked at their feet, the Turks waved those flags and blew those horns, dancing and cheering. Early days though, as Germany equalised before the end of the half. This time the flags waving were of three colours and Teutonic voices were in song.

As the whistle blew to end the first 45 minutes, we walked back towards the hostel where the game was being shown in the communal area. On the way, I picked up a McD’s – and hopefully wouldn’t end up in the same condition from it as the guy who was slumped unconscious over one of the tables with his head in a burger box. Strange as he was actually still upright, being in a little booth thing. See the photo around here somewhere for an illustration.

Back at the hostel, the atmosphere was buzzing as Germany took the lead and were pegged back again by Turkey. Obviously the hostel owners were home supporters and going mad with each German attack.

Then, seconds from the end of normal time, Germany popped in what was to be the winner. Despite an injury-time free kick, Turkey just couldn’t pull back again and the Germans went through.

During the second half, the picture kept vanishing which caused a lot of frustration to the home fans. It turns out it was something to do with a huge thunderstorm over Vienna which was killing the signal. It certainly made things tense when you had no idea what was going on for a couple of minutes!

With the game over, I headed upstairs to bed. After virtually no sleep the night before, I had to get some shuteye. I’m glad I had earplugs as the winning fans were speeding around the city in their cars, horns blaring, until after 3am.

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Frankfurt again

Frankfurt was hot. Damn hot. So hot and muggy that sleep wasn’t easy. The snoozes I’d had on various coaches probably didn’t help either.

I woke around 9-ish as Hans had told me his flight from Darfur was landing at 7:30. I’d checked the buses from the airport and that would mean he’d get here at 9:30. Time for some breakfast before he got to the hostel. As I was spooning cereal into a bowl, I heard a familar voice call out “What the hell are you doing here?”

Hans’ flight landed at 6:30 – he’d given me the times based in Darfur – so he’d caught an earlier bus and already walked into town, realised that most people were still asleep and come back to the hostel. There’s not a whole lot to do in Frankfurt, so he was pretty glad to have someone to hang out with while he tried to stay awake after the long flight.

We chilled for a while and caught up before walking into town for the briefest of looks around. My sunglasses broke but as luck would have it, I was right by a street-seller selling cheapies at €4 a pop. Big, tight-fitting, passed the head-bang test and mirrored. Spot on. Hans picked out a film to watch later, we grabbed some food from one of the market stalls put out for the day (sausage and fried potato – really good and only €3) and walked back to the hostel.

There was a free football game being organised that afternoon and people were just gearing up to head off for it. I’d been pretty ill the last couple of days (nothing too bad, but let’s just say I was very careful as regards passing wind… as it wasn’t always wind), but felt up to a bit of exercise and counted myself in. Hans went off for a lie down while the staff organised drinking water and underground tickets for us (all paid for!).

I got chatting to a few people on the walk and during the game. As you’d expect from a cheap hostel near a major transport hub, the mix was quite impressive: Mexican, Australian, Kiwi, Brit, American, Canadian, German, Italian… The game was good, but hard work in the baking heat and humidity. After an hour or so, a bunch of locals asked if they could join in and we ended up with something approaching 15-a-side, though this varied as people dropped out periodically to top up on water.

One of the hostel staff video’d things occasionally and it should pop up on YouTube at some point. At time of writing, it’s not there yet, though the user account to check out is HostelFrankfurt.

Update: here ’tis…

When we got back, a cold crate of beer was placed on a table for the footballers – again, all free! There was enough for two bottles each and they were welcomed, believe me. Hans resurfaced and hadn’t gone to see a film after all. He’d misread the timetable and the film he wanted to catch wasn’t showing on a Tuesday. Instead, we walked out and picked up dinner from a Turkish take-out nearby. There are lots of these – Turkey seems to send all it’s emigrants to Frankfurt! Good for us as the food’s pretty cheap and filling.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting to a load of other residents, and a short wander round the city at night and through the red light district (always a laugh). Hans’ bus was booked for 5:30am so he went to bed and I stayed up with an American and two Aussies chewing the cud and drinking Wild Turkey and Coke.

My sleep pattern was obviously skewed badly as I was still chatting away when Hans woke up for his bus! I eventually had “breakfast” at 06:00 and went to bed. Then struggled to sleep in the heat.

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