Day Nine Some More: To Dakar and Toubacouta

We’re in the air to Dakar. I’m in the window seat beside two black fellows who don’t speak English. The guy next door is massive. He appears to have muscles on his muscles, and he’s totally wedged into his seat. I’d give him mine so he could stretch out but then I’d be wedged – into the overhead bin.

My goodness … what awaits me in Africa? I’ve seen photos of smiling kids and adults. There are a few haunting ones of small children with huge eyes peering into the camera.

I’m looking forward to meeting a fellow aftectionately called Iced Tea. He’s been a leader in the village in making sure the kids get an education. Jo and Lydia are thanking him by raising money in Belgium to build a house for him and his family. It’s under construction.

I’ve been tutoring a kid in Belmont. I asked the family to donate my fees to a charity that he thinks is important. The young man decided to split the money between a local mission that feeds people who are down-and-out, and something for the kids in Senegal. I’ve decided to contribute his funds to the building of Iced Tea’s house. I’ll have a few photos of me on the site so the student can see the impact of his generosity.

We’re here. Actually it’s hours later now but I was too exhausted to write then. At the Dakar Airport (about 1:00 am), two friends of Lydia and Jo were loading our luggage into two vans. In the space of five minutes, four Senegalese men approached me for money. I’ve often used the word “no” in my life and it got a good workout last night. Jo coached me that these folks are trying to survive, trying to take care of their families, and some of them will push to get what they want. So different from what I’m used to. And that’s fine.

My head kept dropping in the van on our four hour ride to Toubacouta but I was conscious enough to see a world so beyond my life.

The land was spotted with the silhouettes of trees that I’d seen in photos. Deciduous ones that sit wide and close to the ground. My blurry eyes joined with shadows of moonlight and I was lost in something so astonishingly new.

We passed many villages and they were full of what appeared to be mud buildings. What I couldn’t get my head around was that people were sitting together in front of their homes, or gas stations at 2:00 am, 3:00, 4:00 and even 5:00. Jo said that many of them sleep during the hottest hours of the day.

The trip was surreal. Towards 6:00 am, we reached Toubacouta. We reached our bed and breakfast. My bed. My closing eyes.

Day Nine: We’re Off!

More human beings to enjoy on my travels, and they’re all coming to Senegal with us. Last night, at The Wizard of Oz, I remet Anja and Curd, the friends of Lydia and Jo who were with them on that hiking trail in Alberta. They didn’t seem to speak English so I didn’t get to know them back then. I wonder if they were surprised to hear that Lydia had invited me to go to Senegal, and that I had said yes.

Along with their parents, Olivia and Camille were also enjoying Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. We said hi and gave each other cheek kisses right away, as they do in Belgium. So different from how we greet each other in Canada. I like it.

This morning at the airport, I said hello to Sabrine and Lieselotte, both friends of Anja and Lydia. Simpatico. So we are eleven, now flying from Brussels to Lisbon, Portugal.

How many times have I said this? I feel so included, that I deeply belong. Some of the new folks have very limited English, and that’s okay because I have very limited everything else! We make funny faces, we laugh a lot, and already, I believe, we see each other. We’re each part of the tapestry that is the human family.

As we waited in the Brussels Airport this morning, four soldiers walked by in camouflage uniforms, toting machine guns. Oh my. Someone in our group told me that maybe three years ago, just down the concourse from us, terrorists ignited a bomb that was hidden in luggage, killing many people. I walked over to the approximate area where it happened. I stood. I mourned. And then I went back to my family.

I’ll write some more in the Lisbon Airport and then send it to you. I figure that’ll be it for today. There’s a long road ahead to tomorrow morning and I don’t expect to have any internet access. Ciao!

***

I’m so proud of myself! On arrival in Lisbon, we were channelled into a narrow passage which soon opened onto a grand vista – behind a left to right railing stood perhaps one hundred folks waiting to greet their loved ones. I found my right arm rising naturally and a smile curling my lips. I waved to them all. In return were a good many stares and perhaps ten hands raised in response. Perfect.

Lydia lent me her hat for the day. I consider myself very pretty. Folks strolling through the airport seem to have a different opinion. It’s all fun.

Until the next time, dear friends …

Day Eight: The Day Before

Tomorrow we fly to Dakar, Senegal. We leave the house at 8:30 am for the Brussels Airport. After a short flight to Lisbon, Portugal, we wait for hours before flying to Dakar. We get there at 1:00 am and then five hours overland to our village. So I’ll be laying my head on the pillow around 7:00 am on Monday. Oh boy … an adventure for the tired body and astonished mind.

Today I went with Jo on a series of last minute errands. Our final stop was to his funeral services business. The company inscribes headstones and sells products such as urns for the ashes. As Jo hurried around, I looked around.

There was a plaque on the wall showing photographs of people who had died, all enclosed in small oval frames. They go on the headstone. I looked into the eyes of the departed. A few were old, as you’d expect. A couple were middle-aged. Most of the souls, however, were kids. How sad to think that the children facing me had their lives end so soon. It teaches me to cherish my longtime and just met loved ones because we don’t know when we’ll be saying goodbye.

In Jo’s office, I spied a pile of small books. They were dictionaries. The tongues were Dutch (very close to Flemish), German, English, French and Italian. It was such a symbol of diversity, and of connection. Jo and Lydia speak four or five languages and Baziel and Lore aren’t far behind. The peoples coming together in Europe remind me of all the ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. We’re apparently so different … but actually not. Behind your eyes are the same glories and agonies that rest behind mine. And early Monday morning, Senegalese souls will say hello to Belgians and a Canadian. It is as it should be.

When in Belgium, play basketball. That’s certainly Baziel’s approach to life. As Jo and I pulled into the driveway, I saw Baziel grooving his jump shot. I just had to join him – some NBA force was propelling me forward. We took turns shooting … he of the graceful flourish and me of the rather stiff non-jump shot, but we were the same. We grimaced as the ball hit iron and threw our arms in the air when it was nothing but net. He’s 14 and I’m 69. I pretended I was grandpa. Just hanging loose with each other.

Later in the afternoon, Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule came to visit. Lydia had told me all about her and suggested that it would be good for me to marry her and whisk her off to Canada. We were even the same age.

I received coaching on the line I wanted to use with Marie-Paule as soon as I met her – “Voulez-vous me marier?” (Will you marry me?) So I gave it a go, giving her a gigantic hug in the first moment. Clearly, Lydia had also coached Marie-Paule, because she was ready with a smile. Initially we laughed a lot but we also shared our histories – Jody died four years ago and Marie-Paule’s husband ten years ago. We shared a few moments of missing our life partner. It was sweet.

Tonight we went to a play in Flemish – The Wizard of Oz. I loved the crows surrounding the scarecrow. I loved hearing Dorothy sing. But I’m just too tired to wax poetic about it all.

So to bed. Africa around the next bend.

Day Seven: Des Gens Extraordinaires

The family Nachtergaele has a cat. We leave for Senegal in two days. Last night, Poopi curled up on top of a piece of luggage lying in the living room. Lydia knows that Poopi knows we’re leaving and she doesn’t want us to go.

We need to be in each other’s presence. We need to love even more than we need to be loved. Both are blessings.

This morning, the family’s housekeeper Karin was cleaning up. She only speaks French, exactly the situation I’ll face in Senegal. I said “Bonjour, Karin.” She returned the favour. I saw her stare at the piece of luggage. Perhaps Poopi left a little poopy – I didn’t look closely. What I did do was furrow my brow in potential translation. I so much wanted to communicate with Karin.

“Le chat dormit au bagage.” That was my best attempt at “The cat slept on the piece of luggage,” although I couldn’t remember how to do the past tense, or the word “on”.

Quite proud of myself, I wasn’t ready for the barrage of words that came back. And memories returned from Jody’s and my vacation in old Quebec City in 2008. The Francophone no doubt thinks I understand a fair bit of French and blasts out a sentence or two at supersonic speed, leaving me in the linguistic dust. But really, who cares? I will love my new Senegalese friends, with or without our mutual understanding of words. Our eyes will make meaning.

Now it’s later in the morning and Pil and I have been talking at the dining room table. I still have happy memories of the 12% (!) beer we shared in Bruges yesterday. We look out over the back field and watch flocks of pigeons fly. Pil is so happy to teach me about local things. These pigeons will hang around some more, as long as the weather stays warm (5 degrees Celsius) but when winter sets in, they’re off to Spain.

Down by the pond, the orange leaves of a weeping willow are waving in the breeze. The two Shetland ponies are searching for the best grass. Mom is about thirty and son around ten. They have each other. An orange-headed woodpecker has just stopped for a visit near the window. Peace is here.

Away up on the horizon, vehicles move left and right. Who are those people? Where are they going? Do they have the same joys and sorrows that I do? Of course.

***

This evening two families enjoyed food at a Chinese restaurant. Liesbet is Lydia’s best friend and the two of them sat side by side, joking in Flemish most of the evening. The love between was as clear as a moonlit night.

Both Lydia and Liesbet had gifts for all of us. Liesbet and Lode gave me two jars of mustard created in Oudenaard. Lydia presented me with a quill pen – a fine white feather inscribed with “Dream On.” It’s so sweet to be included.

The meal and the wine were delicious but eating was just a convenient excuse to be together. The four kids gabbed away, and so did we five adults. My goodness, I’m part of a family after being alone for four years.

I said silly things to the servers and at one point started eating a decorative onion. Anything to get a laugh out of people. I threatened to approach the table next door to see if they were as nice as us but Lydia held me back. I enjoyed myself so much.

I’m in Belgium. Sure the streets wind so exquisitely and are often cobblestoned. Sure the buildings are ancient and the old brick shines in the sun. Sure the beer is strong and the wine sublime. But give me people any day.

We were together
I don’t remember the rest

Walt Whitman

Day Six: Bruges

Pil, my pheasant-feeding friend from two days ago, asked me if I’d like to visit Bruges, known as “The Venice of Belgium”. Of course I said yes. “Carpe diem” … Seize the day.

Our first stop was to visit Pil’s longtime friend in downtown Bruges. Lucas is an optician whom my dear amiga Lydia calls “crazy”. Crazy strange and perfectly wonderful.

We walked through the door of his shop and approached a grey-haired man dressed in black. Pil had alerted Lucas that a wayward Canadian was going to show up today. After an initial moment of eye contact, Lucas extended his hand and said:

“Jesus ____ Christ. You look just like Jesus.” I laughed. No one had ever seen that epitome of holiness in me before. This was a character all right, but then again so am I. On the way to Bruges, Pil told me a story about Lucas. Seems that he once entered a party and announced “Is anyone up for an orgasm?” After a beat of silence among the partygoers, he added “Even a little one?”

Lucas had to get back to work and his wife Ann offered us a coffee. Yum … very strong stuff. We were invited to check out their home a few blocks away, and it was a marvel. Part of a long string of ancient brick houses, inside it was a wonder of African art. One tapestry seemed to have animal teeth embedded in it and there were many statues of tribesmen. The place was somehow both fierce and serene.

The city was as advertised – brick buildings hundreds of years old, often with the fronts of rooves rising in a step pattern. There were two or three main canals with countless narrow ones branching off. Tiny grassed backyards gave right onto the water.

Cyclists were everywhere, even after a heavy rain. On one downhill stretch of cobblestones, I was astonished at the ease with which these folks navigated the slippery surface. A pair of riders would be looking to each other while deep in conversation, with cars squeezing by on the left. Truly a wow.

Pil wanted me to experience a genuine Belgian libation so he ushered me into a pub. He ordered a huge bottle of 12% Benedictus beer for us to share. A couple at a nearby table were staring at the bottle and Pil called out to them for a conversation, the same thing I’m known for doing. Kindred spirits, these Belgian and Canadian guys.

Back at Lucas’ shop, I told him “Lydia thinks you’re crazy … and she loves you.” Lucas grabbed me in a powerful hug, laughed like a fanatic, and said “Tell Lydia that I love her too.” An hour or two later, I did.

My new world is full of big personalities, and what a blessing that is. Together we drink deep from life, laugh from the bottom of our bellies, and smile a lot. Good for us.

Day Five: Friends From Away

Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel are officially my Belgian family. They care about me, want me to thoroughly enjoy their country, and laugh with me. Having lived alone for four years, I feel blessed that they want to spend time with me.

Lore’s name is so difficult for me to pronounce. I won’t even try to explain it to you. But I’m determined. It’s been three days and I’m getting a little better. I know at home I feel the same way – people, such as “Johanna” (Yo-haw’-na), deserve to have their name pronounced correctly. It’s a huge part of who they are.

Lore invited me to go walking with her and her horse Jackson this morning. She’s 16 and a most kind human being. We set off on the main road and then narrow country lanes and then muddy paths through fields. All three of us were having a grand time. Lore absolutely loves horses and Jackson is the prime example. She can see herself owning a riding stable someday, and both massaging and shoeing her four-legged friends. I just know she’ll do it.

We came upon a fellow named Didier on a country road and stopped to chat. What a great smiling guy, and he knew English so I could fully participate. He and Lore talked some in Flemish and I was happy to stand back and listen to the cadence of the language.

Further on, we stopped at the home of one of Lore’s friends. The girl was still sleeping but no worries – her mom came bouncing out of the house to say hello. She only spoke Flemish but I thanked her with my English for the yummy cookies she had made for me and the rest of the crew. What she understood was my eyes.

Our third stop was at Lore’s old elementary school. Young kids were out for recess and crowded the fence to get close to Jackson. All those bright eyes. The Canadian couldn’t compete with the horse, and that was fine.

Lore, Jackson and I talked so easily together. It didn’t matter at all that our ages were 16, 3 and 69. We were simpatico.

***

This afternoon, Lydia, Lore and I took the train to Ghent, to be joined later by Jo and Baziel for dinner. The trip was a flow of green fields and red slate grooves, but then there was our arrival! Ancient murals adorned the walls of the train station, and as we exited the building a panorama of classic European architecture sank into me. I stopped and stared, again and again. Canals and bridges welcomed us here and there … and everywhere.

Happy people rode by on their bikes (with nary a helmet to be seen!) Couples strolled arm in arm. Little kids zoomed between the tall folks. Trams flowed along. Sirens occasionally wailed, and had me realize that I’d never heard this authentic European sound except in movies.

There’s an energy in Ghent that’s palpable, fueled in part, I believe, by the large university population … it seems to be simple happiness. And I fell into it almost immediately.

I sang O Canada twice today – once to the two hostesses in a jewelry shop and once to Baziel as our family (!) meandered through the curvy streets after dark. The lights of Christmas animated the old buildings, casting shadows over the brick. “C’est magique!”

I am loved in Belmont. I do believe I am loved in Belgium. And I give it right back in both places. Salut, mes amis!

Day Four: In the Woods

“Who will show up in my life today?”

It was a good morning question. The answer came in the form of Pil, a well-bearded family friend who waltzed into Jo and Lydia’s kitchen shortly after noon. As we sat in the dining room over lunch, I learned that he was a retired surgeon who was in hospital last week as a patient, with an arterial thrombosis. We had a good conversation about blood clots and then he and Lydia started talking about something.

My plan was to head off to the shower but before I could make a move in that direction, here was Pil again, inviting me to spend the afternoon with him in the woods. I went small inside my head, wondering if my injured knee could handle a lot of rough ground. Seconds later, though, I smiled a “yes” at him.

“Do you have rubber boots?”

Oops. What was I getting myself into? Soon Pil was helping me get into a pair that Jo had. I didn’t know that the idea was to roll your socks down under the soles of your feet, wrap the cuffs of your pants around your ankles and pull the socks over them. Then shove your feet into the boots. The things you learn from a Belgian outdoorsman.

Next, Pil helped me get into coverings for my legs. He was so patient. I was just wondering how wet we were going to get! No matter … it was time for an adventure.

We stopped at Pil’s house in Roonse to pick up an important addition – his dog Chip, a black lab. He came right up to me in the hall and let me pet him. So cool. Soon the three of us were off to a world of narrow, twisting streets and long views across farm fields to tall stands of trees. Pil pointed out the hospital where he used to work and got me close to a stunning 1000-year-old church which just last week was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After a couple of gate openings, we were rolling through groves of trees, some ancient and some planted within the last four years. Then it was a transfer to a 4×4 for some rough trail riding. Yee haw! Pil’s first job was to refill about fifteen seed containers with corn for the pheasants. And we saw lots of them – scurrying along the paths with their red-ringed necks, and taking flight if Chip got too close, which he was good at.

Mr. Chip is a hunting dog and Pil came fully equipped with a squeaky orange ball. Many, many times I threw it in the air and watched as Chip leapt up to catch it in his mouth, usually on the first bounce. Once I tossed the ball into the bush and saw Chip dive in after it. He kept emerging without the ball, and when I investigated, I saw that the target was a thick bramble of raspberry bushes, armed effectively with thorns. Not to be deterred, Pil whipped out a machete and started whacking away. Maybe three minutes later, an orange globe revealed itself on the ground.

Pil loves his land and the beings who inhabit it. The pigeons overhead, the roe deer, the young deciduous trees, the pheasants, the ducks – but probably not the rats. He is a steward of at least 100 acres and he wants life to thrive there. For part of our time, he wrapped saplings with plastic shields that prevents animals from damaging the young ones.

At one point, we stopped beside a small pond. I launched the orange missile again and again, and each time Chip burst into the water and swam like an Olympian towards the floating ball. Back onshore, he shook for all he was worth and ran to me for some roughhousing. Hence the protective wear over my pants.

Almost two months ago, I was bitten by a tiny dog in Cincinnati, Ohio. And here I was today, virtually pummeling Chip and being well pummeled back, and reaching in to get the ball out of his mouth. I smiled at my rediscovered courage.

Pil, Chip and me: what a happy threesome. The generous man asked the adventurous man to join him and his bouncing dog for an afternoon of fun and frolic. And it happened. Yay! Thank you, dear universe.

Day Three: ‘Sploring

Ten hours of sleep … good for a jet-lagged Canadian. I awoke to the sun. Jo and Lydia’s dining room was bathed in light. As Julie Andrews was found of saying, the hills were alive.

Lore had an oral exam at school this morning and Lydia drove her, with me in tow. The sloping fields here are green and the tall trees cast magnificent shadows.

Lore was nervous and mom was reassuring her, in Flemish, so I didn’t know what she was saying. I told daughter that we’d be thinking about her from 10:15 to 11:00, and I followed through with that, sending her good wishes.

Then it was off to Lydia’s work. She and Jo are managers at a funeral wholesaler, carving inscriptions on headstones, and selling products such as urns. Lydia wanted me to meet her colleagues and I wanted to say hi to them. After a round of Flemish hellos and smiles, I decided to do the natural thing – sing them O Canada. They laughed.

I followed Jo around, first through the shop to see how the inscriptions are created, and later out and about in town. First stop was the bakery, the home of freshly-baked smells, Then it was on to a huge home improvement store to get plumbing and electrical supplies for Senegal. While there, I picked up a can of insulating foam. Like at home, the words were in two languages. Unlike what I know, the languages were Flemish and French. Welcome to the rest of the world, Bruce.

Baziel and I went for a walk in the afternoon. Across a muddy field to see a 300-hundred-year-old windmill. I wondered what stories were hidden between those walls.

We walked on a lovely paved path between emerald fields. Such peace in the country. Turns out that the path was a road and we had to move onto the field a little to let cars pass. Soon a Mcdonalds cup appeared and then seven cans thrown out at intervals, each labelled as a gin and tonic drink. We picked them all up and later recycled them at home.

Baziel described a conflict or two with his mom – no big deal from his end but mom sometimes builds it up in his opinion. As for fights with his sister, Baziel shrugged and said they make up within five minutes. Usual family stuff but I sense an unusual love among them.

Later in the Monday agenda, Lydia, Lore and I headed to a grocery store. As the women picked up cool items from a variety of displays, I tagged along, often falling behind the purchases. At one point, I passed an old couple. The woman and I held gazes for a few seconds and then started chatting, she in Flemish and I in English. Neither of us knew what the other one was saying and it didn’t matter. We just kept looking and smiling. It was fun.

Yesterday Lydia asked me what my favourite food was. My response? Pesto pasta. So three guesses what the meal was tonight. I was in heaven and generously allowed myself to have seconds.

I am being treated like a king near Oudenaard, Belgium. The simple events of the day, as long as they’re experienced with family, are a joy.

Day Two: Family

“Je sens déjà une partie de ta famille.” Lydia and Jo, the friends I met on a hiking trail in Alberta, are sitting with their children Lore and Baziel (and me) as we shared a meal. I had been in their home for only an hour or two but I knew what was true: “I already feel a part of your family.”

I picked up my luggage at the Brussels airport and there was Lydia greeting me at the gate with a big hug. On our serpentine way home, we laughed a lot and actually giggled about me being here. Lydia’s friends had said “You mean that Canadian guy is really coming?” Yes, indeed he is.

Lydia is so in love with life. Enthousiasme! Tonight we walked down a dark street on the way to watching Lore and her horse doing jumping training. We bounced along walking arm in arm. I made animal sounds and Lydia smiled lots.

Jo started almost two months ago turning a dusty attic into a sanctuary for me. His home is a marvel of his own making and my bedroom fits right in. Right now I’m sitting in his designed living room with a wall of windows facing a horse meadow sloping down to a pond. There’s such a feeling of space. Thanks, Jo.

Last night, Baziel stayed up to 11:30 to do the finishing touches in the room – and this with exams looming on Monday. Such dedication to someone he’d never met.

Baziel’s passion is basketball. I saw him shooting hoops in the farm’s courtyard … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And tomorrow evening, I’m going to watch him practice with his team. That should be fun. I think I’ll be the proud uncle.

I walked into the muddy yard to greet Lore’s two Shetland ponies: the 24-year-old mom and her son. What a wonder to run my hand through that long hair. And then there was the star of the show – Jackson, truly Lore’s horse. I watched the two of them together, and the love between animal and human flowed freely.

Tonight Lore and Jackson had a jumping session at a nearby horse barn. Poles were set up in various configurations for Jackson to float over … and mostly he did! I stood nearby to watch the grace and power.

Lore was the main chooser of objects to display in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was Jody’s book standing proudly on a cupboard. Across the way was a small statue of the Buddha – perfect for me. Her attention to detail was a perfect expression of love for, again, someone she’d never met.

I’m home here. The old sharp-sloped rooves, the shale tiles and the red brick are a factor, but essentially the people in this home are the beauty. Thank you, dear loved ones.

Day One Some More: All Aboard

I’ve just finished a three-course meal, with wine. And exactly what universe am I in? Clearly not the world of Air Canada. The entrée was an Indian dish – chick peas blended with some saucy spice, yellow rice that suspiciously tasted like that expensive stuff called saffron, and creamed spinach. Yum!

Earlier, there was a salad featuring some exquisite white seeds, bathed in a sweet cream sauce. (Woh. Maybe I should start writing for some gourmet magazine.) Later it was a scrumptious chocolate cake, plumb full of semi-sweet chips. (That does it … I’m officially moving to Switzerland to scribe for Epicure.)

I’m sitting beside a friendly Japanese couple. They live in Orillia, Ontario and have a getaway condo in Toronto. Alrighty then. Despite their probable wealth, they’re the nicest folks. The gentleman has been helping me figure out the entertainment system. They’re heading to Rome. Actually, I bet I have world travellers all around me. (That does make sense, Bruce. After all, you’re going to Europe.)

I just switched the screen to “Flight Tracking”. We’re a bit past Newfoundland so I’m the furthest east I’ve ever been. More to come.

I’ve paused the movie A Wrinkle In Time for dinner and now it’s time to get back to it. So far the story is delicious. The scientist father of a 12-year-old girl named Meg and her younger brother has disappeared during an experiment about realities beyond time and space. Celestial beings come visiting to coach the kids about finding dad. The girl is très dubious about all this but I can feel her starting to come around, in a stretching sort of way.

Now the film is over. Brother and sister enter another universe in search of dad, and assorted creatures of light and darkness come their way. Meg becomes a girl of faith and at one point leaps back from the alternate world into the void, trusting that she will be deposited back on dear old planet Earth. And there’s a blessed reunion with her father. “I’m sorry, Meg, that I left you. I wanted to shake hands with the universe and instead I should have been holding yours.” Oh my … love abounds.

It’s two hours later. I slept like a baby … crying all night. After the cabin lights went out, I took off my shoes, wedged the two blankets between the edge of my headrest and the window, plunked the pillow on top, and longed for my teddy bear. Sleep? I don’t know. Maybe an hour. Now the lights are on again (5:30 am Brussels time) and we are being plied with breakfast. Bring on the coffee. Conventional wisdom says to adjust to the new time right away. So if I go to bed at 10:00 pm tonight (Sunday), that means I have sixteen-and-a-half hours to go. (Sigh) “I can do it,” he said unconvincingly.

Forty minutes to Amsterdam. Speed 967 kph. Outside temperature -52 degrees Celsius. I knew I should have brought a winter coat.

Breakfast was similar to dinner … delicious. There was a soft ciabatta bun layered with a big slice of mushroom, red peppers, onions and something unknown, all pulled together with a sweet sauce. Then there was raspberry yogurt, not to mention orange juice and two coffees. Guess I’ll just stay awake from now on.

I spared a thought for the human hands who created and displayed the airborne food I consumed. Artistically done. And it’s possible that those hands will never hold such a ciabatta at 39,000 feet.

Amsterdam Airport at 8:30 am local. It’s such a huge place. People look like Torontonians to me, with such a wide range of cultures. What I find really strange is that all the signs are in English. I want Dutch!

Thirteen-and-a-half hours of wakefulness to go. I can do this.

That’s enough for Day One, since I’ve already leaked into Day Two. I’ll see you today, my friends.