With a stopover in Antwerpen, we are headed to Rotterdam from Brussels. We missed the first train because someone went to bed too late—drank coffee later that he should have and couldn’t sleep. But that’s okay, I love him anyway.
It’s now 11am.
We’re bringing along a little money (i.e., a bothersome jumble of coins stuffed at the bottom of my jacket pocket), and, as usual, our steadfast partner, who happens to be a world traveler, aka our radical dog companion, aka Mr. Pickles, who is now sniffing at my feet. Whenever things begin getting dull, Pickles comes in, and in a pinch, relieves us from the potential of all ensuing monotony. We can depend on him.
The Antwerpen train station is magnificent. If you set your gaze in observance of what’s around, you’ll notice the eclectic mix of old alongside the new—clever lighting illuminates the person-packed escalators ascending you from the abyss; up through the underground, I have a feeling of rebirth. As I look above, I see a stunning, fundamental scaffold of iron and glass; largely domed. Sometimes, you see people up there climbing, under the dome, inside the station, with ropes and helmets, and a sense of adventure that one-day, I’d like to feel.
But, today, we’re going to Rotterdam. We can’t sleep in the Antwerpen station; it’s only noon. So, we jump on the train to genuine Dutch country, and something smells like vomit. Pickles is intrigued, he’s always hungry. Nevertheless, he falls asleep on the floor, under my chair, silent. This medium-sized pup is just small enough to get away with me not having to pay the conductor-prompted, fee for pets—as long as he goes undetected. His occasional barks sparked by that douche bag talking loudly on his cell phone behind me two rows, freaks me out. He’s going to get us caught.
An hour goes by. The guy behind me begins to tell the guy on the other end to calm down, that they’ll speak again soon, that everything is going to be okay. His voice has become soothing; it is tender. He is no longer screaming into the telephone. He has lowered his head, he repeats as in trance.
I wonder if he’s now speaking with a child, a young one lost in the shuffle, growing up, changing, trying to figure it all out.
The train slows and now it’s nestled among all the others at Rotterdam Central, under a glass ceiling, which is evidently, open and luminous. Pickles is excited to stretch his legs, he pulls me off the train, and I have a sense that this place is going to be chill.
Bikes are everywhere. I see tattoos and piercings on striking and elegant men dressed to the nines, imperturbable, kind of like my godfather when he’s sporting his paisley smoking coat. I notice spunky women wearing heels—or stairways to heaven (haha…)—and teetering along uneven curbs, plywood paths and other makeshift conduits, interweaving the construction zone, which permeates the area around the station, or so I remember.
There is a neat juxtaposition of funny looking buildings and skyscrapers here. Serf spots a bridge in the distance, which, in a second, we are seduced to cross. It shimmers silver on the horizon, compelling us to trace its angles.
We are forced to make a couple detours along the way, like a trip to purchase energy drinks and cheese curls, but our true intentions lie stagnant and we are incessantly lulled towards the suspension bridge, and so, we walk and walk and walk and walk with Pickles, who is now prancing a step or two behind us, a camera—with its lens-cap off—and jackets that are equipped with large hoods. It’s very windy and today, it’s cold—earlier, the cashier told us that this year’s winter would be alarming. But we’ve got energy and we’ve got a sense of wonder when it comes to abandoned warehouses and industrial-size factories, and seagulls—no matter, whether white or speckled–and little, fluffy doggies and their tiny retractable leashes, and their masters, who come in all different shapes and sizes.
And now, wavering like a drunkard (due to the wind) in the middle of that bridge, we can see clearly, glad to have made it this far. An older man (who’s bald headed but happens to be fortunate enough to have long hair as well) is pushing towards us, chopping out pieces of wind on a cruiser bike. You can see the strain in his face, his cheeks are certainly very pink, his hair is blowing with the breeze… through the wind, the tension piles on, up the first part, then a Rocky-esque success—relieved and happy, gliding down the second half, they are everywhere, these people on bicycles.
We see more warehouses, while pickles chases some port birds, aiming for their breadcrumbs, almost dragging me into the sea.
We see a coffee shop. We sit in a park and watch some kids play football. They ask us, first in Dutch then in English without a hitch, what time it is. We answer simultaneously, almost 7:30pm. It’s getting dark; we’re eating slices of white cheddar on a bench with a brittle, seeded bread roll. Our Polish pilsners are decent, and we can tell that one of the kids is actually pretty good at football. The smallest, however, is worthless. He continues to kick his shoe over the gate. He thinks this is hilarious.
We’re back on our feet. The neighborhoods amidst change at a glance. It’s too dark for pictures; my camera has been stashed. But here is a solo bunny rabbit! Right before me is a hefty bunny that has stopped hopping and is staring at me with its eyes wide open. In the dark, in anticipation, Pickles doesn’t notice. Sadly, instead of into my arms, Thumper hops away.
We pass a fenced-in dog park, a nursery school, some big guys rapping on a stoop.
We’ve walked for so long now, our legs hurt. My back feels twenty years older than I do. We’re now far from the bridge that we came in on, and there’s no turning back. We’re plugging away, we got good rhythm, our pace is quick, and we go unspoken. The dog has ceased sniffing for chicken under parked cars, getting the tips of his ears soiled. Instead, he keeps up. Serf and I have a smooth pace of nighttime walking—with a cigarette, a can of beer and a lover in hand.
We don’t care where the other bridge lies. We keep walking, it’s actually really gusty, and my eyes are tearing. I wish to be nowhere but here, right now.
We then notice a TUNNEL. You see, tremendously far from the one bridge, there’s an underwater (as in, under the sea…) tunnel for cars. As luck and a little curiosity would have it, there’s another level (~1 floor deeper) for bikes and then, a level (even deeper and even creepier) for pedestrians.
We decide to make our way down there.
Alone for what feels like miles, under the sea, the tunnel emits an indelible nectarine light; it has since stained a hue onto the surface of my mind.
I will never forget that shady orange light hovering like sorbet in a glass, so thick that without my glasses on, I feel like I’m not really real. Like I’m in the middle of something, expecting someone, waiting for ambush, or a prize, or something like that.
The tunnel isn’t endless as I wish it were. We approach the light and rise up from the sea.
It’s even later than before and we’re thirsty. We enter Vermeulen Bar. Thumbs up to the decorously behaved, loud mouthed, fucking cool bartender who is giving me shit for being American but who’s also impressed that I know my beer.
TO BE CONTINUED…