Backpack Benji

Rescued!…by an enchanting cafe’ in Belgium.

From Liechtenstein, I went back to Zurich, Switzerland and decided to head northward to the country of Luxembourg. The next days train ride was again filled with spectacular beauty as I travelled through the Swiss Alps, along forest-lined shores and drank in mile after mile of immeasurable beauty.

My train stopped in Basel, Switzerland where I had to catch a connecting train for the rest of the journey. Basel is a small city on the Rhine River and is situated right where Switzerland, France, and Germany intersect.  If you are taking trains to Germany or Switzerland from Basel, simply stay on the platforms toward the right side of the station.  If you are taking a train to France, then you conveniently walk through the doors and into the country of France, where you can then make your French connection.

And behind door #1...France!

And behind door #1…France!

After a few hundred more miles spent zooming past chiseled landscapes and incomparable scenery, I arrived in Luxembourg in the late afternoon with no plan and no reservations. I stepped out and witnessed the ancient towering edifices hanging just at the edge of steep cliffs and marveled at the medieval designs and construction.  I began my search for lodging and quickly realized that some sort of international conference or European symposium was happening and there were almost no rooms to be found.  The two vacancies I found were each over €500 for just one night.  I decided to leave Luxembourg and continue heading northward.  I clambered aboard another train and exited at Gouvy, Belgium, just across Luxembourg’s northernmost border.

As the locomotive left the station, I realized that I was in a very small town. It was misting so I had to break out my raincoat and the protective cover for my backpack.  As I swung out the doors of the tiny train station, the nearly empty street laid out before me like a void; similar to the one at the pit of my stomach as I found myself in a place where I knew no one, darkness was gathering, and nothing was like back home.  I saw what appeared to be a bed and breakfast and headed up Rue de la Gare, through the mist as the street lights came on, and walked toward L‘Epicure, a small Belgian café, where a sign for lodging hung above the simple eatery.  The lights were all off and a woman was just leaving, and had turned around to lock the old wooden front door behind her.  I called out to her and quickened my step as I approached and inquired about a room.  She looked at me with a confused stare and spoke in what sounded like French with a strong Dutch accent.  We did not understand each other at all.  I folded my hands as if in prayer, placed them on my cheek and tilted my head, and then pointed at myself, sign language for “I need a place to sleep!”  The widening of her eyes indicated that she understood and she quickly unlocked the door and I followed her inside.  We walked across old wooden floors and up the stairs where there were a few rooms with fluffy spindle beds, handmade comforters, and antique furniture.  She handed me a skeleton key and bid me goodnight as I thought about my day: two new countries, amazing scenery, and the freedom and simple beauty of travel that is inexplicable.  There was no television or wifi to distract me and I was the sole occupant of this antique Belgian guesthouse.  I closed my eyes and dropped into the cozy bed like an anchor into the sea.

The next morning I heard French radio drifting through the air from down below as I remade the bed and got ready to go. I creaked down the timeworn stairs and was amazed at the sight that greeted me.  I had been sleeping above a tiny bakery café where three women had been busy baking a huge assortment of delicacies.  Business folks along with blue-collar workers were lined up to get their daily goodies to go, as locals were quietly seated for what appeared to be their morning constitutional – a cup of Belgian coffee and a slice of strudel baked before dawn and served piping hot.  Besides the strudel, there were raisin croques, various tourtes, many breads, fresh baguettes, and lots of fromage (fine French cheeses).  The ladies of the café greeted me with a cheery “Bonjour” and beckoned me to come behind the café where they had prepared a table just for me.  I tucked into my breakfast which consisted of coffee, fresh breads, yogurt, juice, meats and cheese, along with homemade jams and jellies – bon appetit!  I was starting yet another excellent day, with no idea of who I would meet or what I would find along today’s path.  After I had my fill, I tossed on my backpack, settled up with the owner, and was off again to explore our world.

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