Memories from a ‘European Expedition’ traversing London, Belgium, Amsterdam and Paris in 2015.
The sensation of the brisk, post-sunset breeze on our dust-powdered, sunburnt skin turned our once buoyant smile into a measly simper. Maggie lowered the two pieces of cardboard we had picked up from a recycling bin earlier that day and creatively sellotaped together like the crafty lasses we were. A frenzy of bright coloured, dotted, and striped letters spelt ‘Take us to Amsterdam’ in Dutch.
We had been hitchhiking since the morning, but despite our best efforts at thumbing, we only made it to Eindhoven by the evening. Having to spend the night at a costly hostel would clash with the low budget aspirations of our trip, but we figured it was a fair price to pay for the overwhelming amount of help we had received throughout the day.
Nagging ourselves towards the hostel, a street illuminated with vibrant pub signs caught our attention. As knackered as we were, we couldn’t help but give in to our curiosity, deciding to walk towards the luring sounds of laughter before heading to our accommodation-to-be.
‘Hey, are you guys backpackers?’
a ginger-haired Dutchman tapped on our shoulders.
‘No…?’ we replied sarcastically, squinting at our monstrous packs.
‘Do you want a drink or a place to stay for the night?’ his bluntness stunned us.
We sheepishly stared at each other, highly suspicious of the bloke. If there’s anything I learnt from movies and the media, it is that a proposal like this would shortly escalate into a tale of spiked drinks, kidnap, rape, and/or dismembered limbs. Even though we had spent the day hopping into complete strangers’ cars, this guy’s generous offer seemed too good to be a truly innocent act of kindness.
But before we could even reply, a cheerful girl appeared. She turned out to be the guy’s flatmate, an ex-Parisienne art student, and a frequent couch surfing host. Her warm smile convinced us to join them, and within a few minutes, we found ourselves happily gulping local craft beer at their favourite bar, exchanging heartfelt stories with these strangers-turned-best friends. Next thing I knew, the bar had filled up with students easing their exam stress, and we, in our scruffy trainers and sweaty jumpers, were dancing on tabletops to odd remixes of Dutch folk songs.
We did make it to Amsterdam in the end – following a great night’s sleep at our angelic hosts’ home. However, in spite of the copious amounts of Gouda I got to savour, what I’ll remember most fondly of our trip are the fleeting encounters with people who were bold enough to be kind in a world that roars with distrust and terror.