The phone on the bedside table along with my mobile rang simultaneously, making me almost jump out of my skin. Morning alarm from the reception desk and my own alarm system! It was time for us toWAKE UP and get ready for the day’s journey.

Photo Credits:
Photo Credits:

Our guide had already informed us that we had to cover hundreds of miles to reach our destination. Boy − that was going to be boring! Just too many journeys through countrysides, for my liking. Overhearing our comments about the bus ride, our coach captain grinned and informed that the initial part would be through congested streets of Paris during “office hours”. Poor fellow! He simply had no idea what we face every day during rush hour in major Indian cities. Compared to that, it was a drive as smooth as a knife through butter.

Just a few hours of sleep and then a real hearty breakfast, naturally half the bus was fast asleep. I too was planning to follow the lot but something suddenly caught my eye. A plane. What’s new? I was already accustomed to seeing planes of various sizes and makes. But still…! Something really unusual. The plane was taxing, but not on a runway. What? How can that be? Well, the jumbo jet, right in front of us, was taxing on a ‘flyover’ and as our coach proceeded, it was there over our heads! Actually, Charles de Gaulle International Airport was clearly in the vicinity, and one of its runways cuts across a highway. Thank God that I had not dozed off like the others.

Photo Credits: Belgium -
Photo Credits: Belgium -

We were on our way to The Hague, the seat of the International Court of Justice, in Holland situated on the shores of the North Sea. But to reach our destination we had to travel through Belgium! Our journey was for about five hours, along the E19 / A4, with two small breaks in between because it’s a rule in Europe that coach captains are not allowed to drive for more than two hours at a stretch.

At lunchtime we stopped at a quiet spot in the Belgian countryside, somewhere near Antwerp. It was a breezy day and there was a nip in the air. As there were no eateries, we were given lunch boxes packed with goodies. Good food and some amount of strolling with new ‘friends’ made me feel better…ready for the next stretch. But, even as we moved towards our bus we noticed a little group extremely excited, looking skywards.

Round, fleshy, green Apples! Hanging in dozens from a tree! They certainly looked JUICY. Could such luscious fruits be left alone? Never. But, how to pluck them? Would someone object? Was it against the law of the land? By the time all these questions crossed my mind, one of the youngest members of our travel group, a six-year-old “gentleman”, perched on the shoulder of his dad started plucking apples with help of another elderly member’s hooked walking stick. Thanks to him, we were able to gather quite a handful for munching during our journey.

All along in Europe, except in Switzerland, crossing borders had been as simple as just driving past signposts reading“Welcome to …”.Nothing more, no stops or police checks. So, most of us, with eyes focused on the new Hindi movie that was being played on the coach’s entertainment system, didn’t even notice that we had left Belgium behind and entered Holland. It was the loud voice of our guide that made us aware of our location. “We are now crossing Rotterdam”, he announced. Wow − the largest port of Europe − another landmark reached! As we drove through, it was more than evident that the place was the home of ships.

The rest of the journey was through the picture-perfect European countryside, something we had all got used to in the last thirteen days. The occasional glimpse of a bunch of windmills was the only welcome break from the monotony.

Photo Credits: Peace Palace -
Photo Credits: City Hall -

“Look sharp folks − you have reached Hague, Den Haag in Dutch”. Both the voice and the accent were different. Naturally, for the announcer was our Italian chauffeur Alfredo! I‘ll never forget my first sight of the International Court of Justice, in short, the ICJ. THIS was then the place where all countries come to find solutions to international problems.

A short bus trip around the city provided a peek-a-boo into this very important Dutch city, a fine mixture of the old and the modern. With eight distinct boroughs or districts, Hague is the third-largest city of Holland with modern high rises alongside traditional Dutch buildings. We drove in front of the Peace Palace, the city hall and the Noordeinde Palace, as well as the centrally located pond Hofvijer.

Photo Credits: Mauritshuis Museum -
Photo Credits: Brussels Midi Train Station -

This city is also the seat of the Government of the Netherlands with its diplomatic enclave housing many foreign embassies. Built around the Benninhof, this city of approx. 1 million people, has a strong cultural aspect. We spent about forty-five minutes for this particular tour, driving around the City Hall, MauritshuisMuseum and other places of tourist interest. However, this was not the highlight of the day’s tour. We were to spend around two and a half hours in Madurodam,a marvel in its own right. And that experience needs to be highlighted separately.

Finally, with a visit to the Scheveningen beach, our guide was to wrap up the tour for the day. Apart from being a second cultural centre of The Hague, this once-a-fishing village had a lot to offer. I had read a lot about this place and so was the first one to jump out of the bus. Boy, wasn’t it cold!It was already October and the day was particularly windy. The freezing, icy winds coming inland from North Sea rattled our group to our very bones. Still that did not discourage us from taking a stroll along the beach and on the famous pier. The beach-side esplanade, along with its cafes, pubs and bustling crowd, was an instant attraction. So, ignoring our chattering teeth, frozen hands and ice-cold cheeks, we stopped to listen to some wonderful live music and peeped into gambling stations.

Gambling is legal in Holland, so I too tried my hand at gambling at a mechanized counter and won one “whole” euro coin after inserting just a 50 cent coin. You should have seen my smile that day- as if I had won the World Cup. Beaming with pride, I safely kept my “trophy” in my wallet, not knowing that it would go away the next day at Brussels Midi railway station for renting a trolley. That is exactly how my first and probably last attempt at gambling turned out!

Just as I was about to turn towards the parking lot, a neat line of jackets caught my eye, in a small shop just beside a noisy café. The owner was from our good, old Punjab! I still remember his smile as he looked at me and asked, “India?”Some members of our touring party had already converted the evening into a shopping extravaganza and seeing us standing in this shop, rushed in. It was his lucky evening as several of his wares got sold like hotcakes and that too within a span of 15- 20 minutes. I too helped myself with a nice and cozy black jacket that has since served me extremely well!

Photo Credits: Antwerp -
Photo Credits: Antwerp -

Once inside the bus, we realized just how exhausted we were. The drive back to Antwerp was a long one and it took us way past ten to have dinner and make it back to the hotel.It has always been a funny sight when a bus loaded with tired travelers reaches a hotel later than expected. Sleepy tourists suddenly shaken out of their dreams by the guide’s loud voice over the PA system, stumble out of the bus unsteadily, as if in a trance. This is followed by a mad hunt for one’s own belongings from the sea of luggage heaped on the pavement. Naturally, Mr. A moves ahead with Miss B’s bag and Mrs. Xpulls Mr. Y’s strolley and a Dr. Zenters the lobby heroically, having succeeded in retrieving his lost suitcase. Frantic cries in different Indian languages fill the air till the guide hands over the cards with each family’s room number. Then comesthe sprint for the lift which can usually accommodate just a few at a time! Personally, I have taken the stairs multiple times, instead of waiting endlessly for my turn!

Quite an eventful day, I told myself before my eyes shut. I had seen planes taxing just over the freeway, ‘stolen’ apples along the highway, set my eyes upon the ICJ, strolled along the shores of the North Sea as well as gambled and won. What’s more, I had been able to set foot in three different countries- France, Belgium and Holland, in much less than ten hours. What more could I ask for?

Photo credits: Banner Left: Antwerp –; Banner Center:; Banner Right: Paris –