Monday, June 09, 2008

Reflecting on Travel: Food & Shelter

I am disorganised. Thus one way I could really challange myself was to decide to travel Europe by bicycle. Ensuring mechanicals, getting lost & weather made it impractical to book ahead. And thats how I discovered something.
Janice told me while I was packing to go traveling that I would discover how little I actually needed. It turns out I need as little as shelter, and then maybe some food in that order.
You see the sun was a funny thing while cycling, when it was rising I was care free, eager to jump on my bicycle and soak up some countryside. I don't know really now in hindsight what made me desire so to ride on one particular surface of the earth when I had never really considered riding distance on the surface of the earth right outside my door for most of my life. Sure I was a commuter but I never said things like 'I'm going to ride to sheparton' in Australia.
Then around midday, I would stop the idling to take photos and start checking my map more regularly conscious of my need to get 'there' in time to have plenty of time to sort out accomodation. Sometimes even to decide where 'there' was going to be that night.
As it got darker and darker I stopped wondering whether the shelter I sought would have net connections, breakfast included and so fourth, I simply wondered whether it would be available.
Then if it got really dark or really rainy or so fourth. Then it is amazing how quickly your concept of 'luxurious' shifts. For me I started just dreaming of having some kind of noisy cabin with a rusty squeky camping cot in one corner and a door I could bolt shut to prevent the wind from repeatedly slamming it shut as the snow piled down on the thatched roof.
And sometimes, just sometimes I ended up getting to a sleepy little town and the hostel was booked out or non existent. The hotel receptions shut and the guests locked in for the night, nobody to answer the doorbell. And then I sat in a park under a streetlight, waiting for dawn to come so I could ride on somewhere or book myself into a room where I could just lay down and sleep awhile. Because eventually you need sleep.
Food too, but that can wait at least a day, skipping meals sometimes became practical, or just not even a priority compared to the need to find shelter. Thus I reached a point where you would not believe how joyous I was just to walk into some shitty hostel and find they had a bed available. How luxurious it was to lie on some plastic mattress under a musty old blanket whilst drunken guests walked in and switched the light on at 2am. That to me felt like luxury.
The low point was in Breda Netherlands, where I sensed a storm coming and cut short my plan to cross into Belgium, I pulled into the tourist office to be told they had been searching for vacant accomodation for tourists all day and there was none (on a wednesday) and that if I had a tent I could go to a camping ground.
This I opted for out of necessity. It cost me 6 euros the cheapest accomodation I actually paid for but lacking a sleeping bag, sleeping in a tent in a thunderstorm worked out to be only marginally better than just standing in the rain, and in hindsight probably worse than sleeping in the trainstation under a solid roof wearing every article of clothing I had.
But this I have learned, a roof, a bed of any kind is a luxury straight out.

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