Its 10am in London and 5am in New York and I have just landed in Gatwick. Groggy but excited I make my way out of the plane, through the terminal, through customs and out to change my money to euros. Cash in hand and its time to find Enterprise for our getaway. From the North terminal to the South I finally find it at 11am.
For 200 pounds we were going to have a rental car for a week which was such a deal. As she is about to run my card she asks what our plans are. I casually mention we are driving to Germany. She looks up at me “oh our cars don’t have coverage to leave the country. You can’t take this”. I stare; shit, now what.
After a quick conversation with Europcar I get a pretty fair deal for the last automatic car they have; a 9 day old Mercedes she excitedly says. My friend arrives and after a fast update we decide to do it. Cost was now 500 pounds but what is a girl to do.
Now its 12pm and our reservation for the Channel Tunnel was at 2pm. It takes an hour to get there and you are supposed to arrive an hour before. Double shit, we grab the keys and scoot. The wheel is on the right side as is the driving, with 4 hours of sleep on a plane I whisper to myself “you got this”.
The Chunnel costs 100 pounds each way and it works like a subway for cars. It only takes 45 minutes. We make it there in time; check in and then get in line for customs from England to France. The fog sets in on us when we exit into France. For the rest of the trip we can drive on the left side but the wheel is still on the right side. Definitely odd experience.
With the change in time it is 4pm and we still have a 2 hour drive to Belgium.
We arrive around 6pm exhausted and starving. Tessa’s friend Freddie and his sister have allowed us to stay with them. They live in a gorgeous redesigned 4 floor apartment along the canal. Heated floors and 15 ft high windows. We change quickly and run out to explore the foggy land. Having a local with you changes everything. We don’t have to stress about where to go and if they will speak English. Freddie leads us to a local spot and I order a wheat beer and a beef dish. His friend Lisa joins us and we discuss European politics and how some African countries have been handling dictators. Conversations I have never had with my American friends. Welcome to Europe.
After dinner we explore the local downtown area in Ghent. All of the buildings are older than my country. The fog lays on the towers and adds a mysterious element. Its freezing so we jump into a local bar for a traditional Belgium shot. They don’t really know how to explain it; its like gin but flavored. We choose coconut and cheers to the new year. It was delicious.
It’s Friday night so we head to a popular bar to continue. We try different beers and talk into the night. As it approaches midnight Lisa says she’s going to bike home. So very European. We want a taxi. So very American. When we jump into the cab he asks if he friend can ride shot gun, his an apprentice he explains in Dutch, Freddie translates. Didn’t know taxi driving was a trade…
As we pass out on the top floor with a view of the canal I smile. It is impressive how much you can truly fit into a day if you are aggressive enough.