Hitchhiking through The Netherlands to Beer in Belgium

I arrived in The Netherlands on King's Day, a national holiday and excuse for the masses to party. I marched through the city of Groningen towards my host's house witnessing some of the build up, it was still early in the day.

I'd gotten there via hitchhiking from Germany, the day had began with me trudging through the rainy streets of Hanover towards a good spot to stick my thumb out and get moving. It took five separate rides to get to Groningen, the last coming from a Polish truck driver heading through on his way to Amsterdam, where I'd be heading soon as well.

I spent a couple days there, playing games and drinking with my host as she told me about her China plans. The two mornings I was there started with toast and hagelslag, which are mystical dutch sprinkles that infuse happiness into the start of one's day. On my own I wandered the city, popping in and out of coffee shops (weed dispensaries) and cafe, bopping around in my typical fashion.

I hitched to Leeuwarden next, which was about an hour drive by car, or three rides hitchhiking as it were. My third ride came from an Iranian guy and a Danish guy who was staying with him. Coincidentally, the Danish guy was a traveler and had stayed with the same host I'd just stayed with in Gronigen.

I joined the two of them back at the house for a sandwich and chatting, after that they took me all the way to Leeuwarden and dropped me off in the city.

Later I met up with my host there, I spent just a night at his place talking travel and sipping Belgian beer, the following day I was back on the streets walking through the city heading for Amsterdam.

I got a couple short rides that lead me to the highway on the dike crossing the water, the police stared me down there as I smiled back, their message to me was that I couldn't walk right on the highway. I climbed over the embankment and took the time to chow on the friesian sausage my host had gifted me.

I walked along and hopped back over eventually, traffic had gotten backed up and it was easy to hitch a short ride there from a woman with her kid, they dropped me off at an empty lot near a field of tulips. I walked a ways and soon got the ride I needed, straight to Amsterdam from a truck driver telling me about how 25 years ago he'd spent 2 years traveling around the world.

From the center of the city I hit the ferry across to the north and walked the canal until I found the big wooden boat I was looking for. It was owned by a girl from Couchsurfing, that's where she hosted several travelers at a time. She didn't live on the boat, however, but Victor did, a French guy spending his days working on the boat and hanging with us travelers.

I spent a few days on the boat, doing a bit of sanding and helping out, sipping beers and chatting with the other travelers. One couple had started a hitchhiking race from Poland to Budapest, but when they got in a truck heading for Amsterdam their plans changed. There was also a Czech girl and a couple from Michigan, several others came and went as we drank beers around the fire, worked on the boat, cooked and chatted travel, hitting some of the coffee shops from time to time.

I left Amsterdam in the light rain heading towards the main reason I'd come to the country, that being to see my good friend Walter near The Hague. I hitched one ride out of the city to the south exit of the ring road, then needed only one more ride from a group heading right past the Hague.

Before long I was ringing the bell and seeing Walter's happy face, beers and good times ensue.

After several days of kicking it with Walter, his wife and kid (Akenny, as he's widely known) I had to continue south towards Belgium and my coming Brussels flight to Ireland. It was a good day hitching south, every ride came with less than 5 minutes of waiting.

A Moroccan to Rotterdam, a kiteboarder over the dike who told me to never stop traveling, a short ride in a van and then another short ride from a guy who gave me a beer that I drank down at the roundabout where he dropped me before thumbing the next ride.

My next ride came from a guy working on a rental house where he took me, we hung out for a bit and then he pointed me to a path that lead to the beach. I sauntered down a ways and spent an hour or two meandering along the beach and up a path a ways down back to some roads to keep moving.

A guy made room for me in his car, then dropped me off directly at a brewery to sustain the free rolling day I was having. After the beers I got a ride from a guy who seemed to just want to smoke a joint with me, after him was a ride to a place called Vlissingen where I was dropped off and set to walking, seeking out a bite to eat.

It went dark on me there, but I found a hidden wooded area and set up camp for the night.

Come morning my mind was on Belgium, specifically Bruges. I hitched a couple short rides, then got a ride from a trucker heading to Germany and I tossed out my Bruges plans, instead opting to hop out in Antwerp. I did some wandering there, finding WiFi and consequently a last minute Couchsurfing host as well.

I weaved through the streets to Cafe Kulminator, a legendary beer bar that felt like being in some one's eclectic grandmother's house; the place was "decorated" with candles, Buddha and camel statues, wreaths of hops and the air was filled with classical music. The beer menu resembled an encyclopedia, I was in my zone.

My first beer was a 2006 Rochefort 10 (they had most Trappist beers from vintages going back to 1980). If you just glazed over the previous sentence I envy your ignorance, you have so many more revelations to encounter in your uncultured life.

Another beer and then a third when my host showed up to meet me, a tech student from a town just east of the city. That's where we headed next, to his student housing in Geel for a night of cooking and beer drinking with some of his friends there.

In the morning he dropped me off in town where I was able to hitch another ride to the highway. I had plans of brewery hopping, but when I was picked up by a bee scientist heading to Ghent my plans changed. I had a friend there and we made new plans to meet up.

I wandered around Ghent, eventually meeting him at a beer bar where he offered to let me stay at his place for the night as well. We went back where I met his pregnant wife, but they were quickly out the door for a dinner party in Brussels, so I had the night to wander around on my own a bit.

Brussels was my destination by morning, but first I had to make a detour in the opposite direction for very important business, to visit Westvletern for world class beer, which could only be obtained by visiting the monastery itself (or having a good friend who picked some up from there).

I got a couple rides in that direction, the third ride with a girl in some traffic due to a sort of inflatable cat parade, then a ride directly o the brewery from a guy who's English wasn't great, but just kept saying, "I have an American boy in my car!"

The beer was freaking delicious, well worth the trip for several glasses as I took in every sip. I'd been there once before at the tail end of jaunt through Europe where I'd run out of money almost entirely and had only been able to afford to try two of the three beers they brew. This experience remedied that.

I hitched five more rides after beers to get myself to Brussels before dark, the last ride being from a chill guy who dropped me directly at my host's dorm. I stayed just a night with her, we bounced through the city that night for some cafe relaxing and a loop around some of the streets.

In the morning she swiped me on to the subway back to the city center, I had another host set up for my last night in the city, but wasn't meeting until night. I took the day to first visit Cantillon Brewery, a legendary brewery that more resembles a museum. After getting my fix there, getting some street food, it was on to the well known Delirium Cafe. I'd been before, but enjoyed sipping beers in the basement and paging through a menu similar in size to the one I'd seen at Cafe Kulminator.

A photographer plopped down next to me at the bar, she was sent there by her company to get some shots to accompany a piece they'd written. Lucky for me she wasn't much of a beer drinker, nor was she that hungry, so the beers and food she had to photograph become mine after some mild flirting.

My new host and I met at a cafe, the waterfall of brilliant Belgian beers continued there and back his place as we chatted for a while before sleeping. I savored every sip and my mind started to drift towards Ireland. I'd always wanted to go, soon it would be a reality. It would be everything I thought it would be and so much more... a ridiculous amount of so much more.

April 27, 2015 to May 11, 2015