Bruges (Belgium) was chilling at 4 degree Celsius. The clock had just struck midnight. The roads were empty. There was a slight drizzle in the air. We managed to find a kebab joint (open late) to have a bite of shawarma, gather some warmth inside and wait for the car to screech. The big vehicle did arrive soon. We all rushed out, leaving our half eaten food on the plates. Back to the chill, the drizzle, the empty street. To hug and welcome Dilip. He had just finished a hectic day at London, ferried himself and his car to mainland Europe and drove a few hours more to finally join us. Initially, he was to arrive the following day. But looking at our excitement, planning and scheduling, he decided to waste no time.
The car was soon parked in an underground garage. Dilip then got down from the vehicle and opened a packet of jalebis to do ‘muh meetha’ – a traditional Indian culture act of feeding sweets to each other in moments of happiness. And extreme joy. It was one such occasion. It was a day we had started from Paris, traveller by bus to Lille, shopped there and took another bus to Bruges. A day, I stood leaning against a street light post at 5 degrees centigrade, peeping through the window of an expensive restaurant, watching Manchester City lose to Liverpool on TV. A hectic day had now been lighted up. Our second half of the #PAJAMAParty trip had just begun. We slept around 3am that day!
It is amazing how friends and passions make memories stronger than exotic locations, luxurious meals or expensive attractions. The following four days passed by like magic, in a state of trance, a heavenly ride … as we hit the road visiting Ghent (highly recommended), Koln, wineries of Germany, dancing on the farms at Netherlands border, en route to reaching Amsterdam.
In between, four amazing human encounters happened. Adarsh joined us (driving all the way from breathtaking Traben-Trarbach) to Koln and spent 24 hrs with us… out of which he was awake for 21hrs! His first words to us at the breakfast table was “You guys don’t need television. Each of you’ll individually are conducting Kapil Sharma (famous Indian Comedian) shows”.. in reference to the loud non-stop laughter we were all indulged in.
Secondly, our meeting with Neo (Nagender Jee became Neo the day he landed in Europe 😝) at Ghent, was pure destiny. Despite hogging at the Bruges breakfast buffet – interestingly, no matter your bank balance, nationality and designation, everyone hogs in hotel breakfast buffets! – some of us still felt hungry on reaching mesmerising Ghent. A point to note, our Bruges hotel – Golden Tree hotel, is a recommended place to stay, less expensive compared to pricey Bruges hotels, walking distance to the centre, to the bus and train stations. However, given a choice, you rather stay at Ghent than at Bruges or Brussels.
While browsing the beautiful cobbled streets of Ghent, we chanced upon Royal India Restaurant. Turned out to be the guys had the best and freshest Indian food you can find in and around that part of the world. Rice came free with every dish, food was very tasty and non-greasy. However, the memories started after the meal. Since it was 3pm (post-lunchtime), owner Neo (Nagendra Jee) said he would walk us around the area en route to returning home. It was extremely kind of him to guide us to shops where we could buy ladies accessories, inexpensive ladies bags, wait for us outside the stores for us to complete shopping and even detailed us about a couple of tourist attractions in Koln! We gelled well and talked a fair bit. I still recall standing outside his house and watching his son running around the house in red full sleeve sweater, waiting for his dad to return home.
Dilip on his return journey from Amsterdam to London specifically took the route via Ghent to have another meal at Neo’s place. Neo refused to take any money for that meal or for future meals from us! He has openly mentioned in social media that in our next bachelor trip he wants to join us. That’s a big compliment to what ‘we’ all were. How human connect gives impressionable memories.
After Ghent we moved to Koln. We checked into Mercury Hotel Koln (strongly recommended, great value for money, just a bit away from centre – so use own car or public transport). Our hostess Denisa (who looked a lot like Bollywood actress Elli Avram) was extremely kind and hospitable to us. During check-in process despite her limited Romanian English skills, she ensured we were comfortable, got all doubts and instructions clear and overall satisfied. Day two was easier to communicate as Adarsh and she could talk German fluently. She was so wonderful that on day three checkout, I insisted to do the checkout process only through her.
While a bachelor trip gives the perception of guys on a romping spree, our tour party’s thinking process had got much beyond. We spent a day in Koln borders trekking in a jungle, alcohol consumption was down to a couple of beer cans a day at most and while some of us walked across Amsterdam’s famous ‘De Wallen’ district, none of us thought it a priority to use the services. The joke all around, that day, was about the ‘Dark Room’.
The previous night while roaming on the streets of Koln we chanced across a closed door labelled ‘Dark Room’. It was a room meant for oral nature of pleasure for 20€. It took us some time to figure that out. Because, even while we were reading the details, the door opened. And out came a loving lady – a bit dark in skin, a bit thick lips, a bit large body, a bit fat in weight and a bit tall too. Now replace the ‘a bit’ with ‘more than a bit’. She walked out with complete royalty and caught Neeraj (closest to the door) instantly. Then hugging him tightly, she said ‘Come to me, Baby’!
Neeraj somehow wriggled past her thick semi-muscular arms, broke free and ran some distance. We kept laughing on the episode … till today! Back at Koln, I swore, if we had stayed a day more I would have done the kanyadaan (Indian ceremony to hand the bride to the groom) and offered Neeraj to that lady for marriage!
I could recount a few more instances. The two models who came by the Rhine river and clicked over a thousand pics of each other in various poses. The Dutch couple who chatted with us at the border. Or Billy jumping up and non stop licking me while greeting at Paris Nicolo Hotel. Or Frederico Rodrigues gelling with us at Lisbon, or the hotel staff of Hotel Catalonia Atocha going out of the way to ease us at Madrid. The common denominator in all these instances was … human connect and unconditional liking.
The smile, the humility, the effort, the grace and the nicety one provides to make another unknown person smile, laugh and satisfied is never forgotten. When God made the earth, that must have been his vision of humans.
Six of us feature in the pictures above. We had a dream bachelor trip with many more to come.
P = Pungliya Dilip
A = Avinash Nayak
J = Jhunjhunwala Neeraj
A = Avijit Das Patnaik
M = Manoj Burad
A = Adarsh Kansal
Credits for guidance to Ghent, Bruges: Nishant Daruka
Avijit Das Patnaik is a Singapore resident NRI for close to a decade. He is a banker (DBS Bank Ltd) by profession, sports fanatic by religion(!), big time foodie by diet, global traveller by nature, part time emcee by hobby, music buff by mood and movie maniac by passion! He blogs on each of these topics in his own site www.emojisarebald.com . His latest movie reviews and food/travel blogs are often found in the popular ‘Singapore NRI Buzz’ Facebook page.