For a SoCal boy used to warm beaches and colorful sunsets, there was something almost magical about the gloominess of the North Sea. It was easy to tell these were regular everyday clouds and not storm clouds, though the water was roiling and the sea breeze was chilly, the kind of landscape that made imaginations run wild: warships, monsters, even hurricanes.
As had become usual for me whenever I was traveling in a cold place, I longed for ice cream, and found it easily, though the pretty redhead seemed at first surprised and then amused to have a customer in this weather. She’d literally been the bright spot of the day—and I don’t mean just her hair—as she’d been lonely without customers and, like a lot of Europeans, wanted to practice her English. She managed to slip in a remark about her husband early on so there would be no misunderstandings, and considering I was in my early 20s and just arrived in Europe I took it better than I might have otherwise expected, continuing to chat as I passed the time until I could move on to a warmer place.
And yet here I was sitting on the promenade, gazing at the sea. . .
My morning had started in London, more specifically at a hostel in the remains of a castle in Holland Park, just west of Kensington Palace. Waking up at such an early hour was bad enough, made worse because there were a bunch of people sleeping around you who would get riled if you woke them. Every sound as I dressed and packed seemed magnified until I finally lugged my backpacks out into the lobby to call for a taxi from one of those infernal British payphones where you make the call first and, once they’ve answered, make them wait until you put the coins in. Then it turned out the front door was locked and it took me a bit to find the rear entrance, by which time the cabbie was waiting impatiently in the cold gloom.
Though I did not fall asleep on the way to Victoria Station, I didn’t remember any of the ride. Nor did I fall asleep as I sat on the cold floor with my back against a wall, waiting to check in for the train that would take me through the southern part of England to the ferry/jetfoil/hovercraft. Luckily I was wearing my high school choir hoodie, which bore a huge maple leaf in honor of our Vancouver Expo 86 tour, leading an also-yawning couple to approach me and ask if I was a Canuck too. They didn’t seem all that disappointed to find I wasn’t, as we kept each other company through the trip, and I ended up having lunch a few times with them over the years whenever I visited Victoria. (One time Rob took me to his wife’s Bath and Bodyworks-type shop to surprise her—she remembered me too—and then led me a few blocks over to a strip club, but that’s another story.)
With the boat landing in Oostende I first made my way to the Eurail office to get my pass validated, then had my ice cream redhead time. Another hardy soul was womaning a pomme fritte stand despite the cold, but even though French fries are one of my fave eats I resolved to wait until just before heading for the train station to satisfy both my curiosity and my hunger. But that wasn’t for another two hours. This was obviously in a time before cell phones, when we had to lug around 1000-page books called “Let’s Go: Europe,” but I simply couldn’t manage to pull mine out because I was too mesmerized by this pedestrian yet somehow magical view of the North Sea. . .
Almost missed my train. . .