Day 17, bienvenue en France, Dutch beer and when in Rome...


You must believe in spring
The Low Countries, or Les Pays-Bas, there can't be a name more suitable and it must be of French origin. The moment I cross the border from Begium to France the land rises. I walk fourhundred metres and turn around; Belgium has disappeared behind a hill.

A flower bed on the side of the road seperates me from a corn field. The smell of spring comes up te great me: Bienvenue en France! I take pictures of everything colourfull enough to contrast the dark green and brown that will soon be the only colours, together with the grey of the autumn skies. I try not to think of the wind and rain that will surely come. I have been fortunate with the weather up till now.

Today I will walk fifteen kilometres from Lauwe in Belgium to Bondues in France. A short walk and I am glad. It gives me time to update my website in the morning and I don't have too much time contemplating the transition to a new country. I found that the mind needs some time to adjust to new suroundings, different architecture and cultural differences. When I crossed the border from the Netherlands to Belgium I didn't feel quite at ease with the change of environment. The backside of Belgian houses are in fact facing the street and that doesn't seem very enviting.

Tonight I will be hosted by a Dutch couple living in Bondues. Maarten works for Heineken in Lille and he moved to France with his wife Esther a year ago. It is conforting to start my stay in France with a Dutch couple. They might inform me on some of the cultural differences and have some insights on approaching the French.


When in Rome...
I arrive at Maarten and Esther's house at 1830 hours as agreed. II am getting better at estimating how much time I need to reach my destination. They haven't hosted complete strangers before and admit to have been excited about the prospect. Maarten knows my brother though, since they worked together in the Netherlands, so complete stranger might be overstating it a bit.

Esther is already preparing dinner when I come in and we start making our acquentances in the kitchen, with a can of Heineken of course. She is making an aubergine lasagna and it smells great. We hit it off and spend the rest of the evening at the dinner table. They explain that they just moved to Bondues from the outskirts of Lille. The house they lived in before was situated in a criminal neighbourhood. Like me they didn't like the closed shutters everywhere but after Esther was threatened one night while being home alone, they adjusted perfectly to the French (and Belgian) custom. Untill they moved to Bondues that is. Now they live in an appartment on the third floor of a new and well protected building in a better neighbourhood.

Since I'll be walking through France for two months or so I plan to learn French. Esther assures me the French can be very helpfull when you are having trouble explaining yourself and will even vollunteer speaking English, as long as you make the effort of trying to speak French first. I can say 'bonjour' and 'ca va' in French, so I guess I'll be fine...

Wijnand Boon