There was silence. My travel companion, Osman, a Kortijk resident had gone silent on me and even the Sahra Ahmad’s smooth, dulcet voice had gone silent on the radio. The only noise that constantly reverberated in my ears was that of the roaring wind battered against the windshield, and the rubber eating away the asphalt road surface. The disturbingly pleasant grunting created by the friction between the thick rubber tyre and the road was something you had to get used to. It’s the sort of buzzing noise that you’d still hear resonating in your ears even long after you have stopped driving. I was on way to Gent, a distance of about 50km from Kortrijk and then Antwerp – the world’s diamond trading centre – about 100km.
The long stretch of road that connects Kortrijk to the rest of Belgium is one that is quite familiar to me. The farm houses now became visible once again. Large houses, some tin-roofed, others built of red bricks, with acres and acres of greenery surrounded by tall trees sat on either sides of the road. Freshly ploughed fields, countless small cottages, streams that slowly and tranquilly meandered into reservoirs, grazing cattle and galloping horses gave this otherwise austere landscape a picturesque stroke. This is the sort of place I would love to spend my evenings, and take a breather from the stifling pollution and denseness of the city. Having spent my early life in the mountainous region of Cal Madow – a fertile landscape abound with streams and greenery – and its surrounding areas, this place sort of made me conjure up images of the past.
It was nearing six in the evening and the sun was still oppressive, dazzlingly reflecting off the wing mirrors. By now I was familiar with the left-handed driving of the Europeans, though at first I had countless near-accidents resulting from my driving on the wrong side of the road and looking at my right side at roundabouts instead of the left. The amount of cyclists and pedestrians who scuttled away for their dear lives swearing indiscernible Belgique jargon at me is incalculable. I turned a deaf ear to all, but now I have figured out the system and drive comfortably. The car they gave me was tediously slow too and though the maximum the car can go is 200km (120miles) it was locked on 160km/hour. But eventually we did reach there, after about an hour and half later.
On entering Antwerp, large willows planted on the sides of the dual carriageway cordially greeted us, welcoming us to the city with their extended drooping branches. There isn’t much I can say about Antwerp, but here are a few of the pictures I got from there…
Rotterdam, Zwijndrecht and Eindhoven
After briefly exploring the city of Antwerp, we made our way back to the motorway once again towards Breda, which then leads us to Rotterdam. The sun that had earlier oppressed us was now retreating back to its sanctuary and gradually losing its glow. And it did so with great magnificence; it had expelled its blinding outer brightness and was now flaunting its less bright, but more vivid colours just before twilight. A few multi-coloured rays started to blossom from the dwindling light and shaped themselves into colonies of arrows shooting down the horizon, leaving behind trails of magnificent shades of orange and grey in the sky. The few remaining clouds, too, have now scattered, forming silky discarded layers of wool, darkening from red and orange to grey the further they descended down the behind the trees. The land became spacious as soon as we left Antwerp. Open fields, some ploughed into corn rows, and some, though left unattended, yet managed to stay green and pleasant, took their place on both sides of the motorway.
The multitude of incandescent lamps that stood silent and stationery throughout the day had now become animated and alive, firstly unfolding a slightly red light adding brilliance to the sky’s resplendent orange glow, then emerging fully into bright amber/yellow to illuminate the road. It was fun driving at such an hour – enjoyable I should say, with the vast open road that lay ahead. It gave one a sense of freedom to go at full throttle, thought that was, for me, restricted to 160km.
The distance from Antwerp to Rotterdam is roughly 110km, but soon the numbers lessened and we found ourselves in the brightly lit city. Tall building stood on the banks of a river and bright fluorescent lights glittered in the dark. Surrounding the Central Station of the city were even taller buildings and apartments, some covered with floor-to-ceiling glass panels. The city was teeming with cyclists, and every so often you’d see what resembles a small torch moving towards you at great speed with bells chiming and it’s not until they came close that you’d figure out that it was a bicycle. Everyone is on their bikes, from the young chap to the ageing aunt. After that, we then set off for Zwijndrechtm, about 30km from Rotterdam and rested there for a while.
As soon as I stepped into the Netherlandian territory, an old female friend, A, came to my mind. Having lived there since her childhood, she was forever extolling the splendour of this land and its peaceful landscapes. We met an acquaintance of Osman in Zwijndrecht, and rested at his house. As I stood at the balcony of his apartment, a scene A described to me almost three years ago had now manifested itself right in front of me: beside the carriageway, tall chestnut trees with thick swaying branches that gently wafted with the breeze stood at the sloping banks of a large lake. The grass on the slope trailed down to touch the tip of the water, and beside each tree was a luminous lamp whose light shimmered and danced in the lake. The full moon that flamboyantly smiled on us from above, as well as the glowing red, green and yellow neon lights from the nearby shops were also reflected on the lake creating a mélange of all different colours. It would have been very still and calm, had the wind not rustled the branches every so often.
The next trip is to Verviers, Spa and Liège, see you there…