I set off to Belgium with nothing but my camera bag, wallet and a backpack with soap, a few changes of clothes, a chocolate bar and a bottle of water in it.
I had a couch to surf in Ghent, and my friends wanted to meet up in Brussels.
Other than that, I was free.
I made my plans as I went along, I sat on my bag on the trains I boarded last-minute, and I followed my every whim and whimsy.
Chance took me to Ghent, with the lovely belfry, the old fish market, the canals, the castle, the Cathedral, the brilliant Ghent Altarpiece and, of course, my kind couchsurfing hosts.
It took me to Oostende, with the free bike rental, the dry salty winds, the long beach of light-and-dark sand, the little stalls selling fresh snails and shrimps of all sizes.
It took me to Brugge, twice in three days, with the tiny alleys and enormous squares, the carnival, the towers, the mussels and fries!
It took me to Brussels, with the run-down streets here and the Grand Place there, the to-die-for waffles and the futuristic Atomium — where there happened to be a Spanish festival.
It took me to Mechelen, with the huge bell tower we climbed and climbed through levels of ringing bells, up to a roof with a view.
And it took me to Antwerp, with the impressive train station, panhandlers and street fronts.
In the end, as a penalty for my free-spirited ways, I think I spent about 20 percent more — on an extremely low-budget trip — than I otherwise would have. There were discounts I didn’t learn about until it was too late, there were mistakes made on trains and there were last minute hostel reservations that had to be made. There’s something to be said for a well planned trip, but there’s also a lot of joy in letting the winds of fate — and the train schedules — spirit you away…