As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Follow along as Kent documents their progress.
THURSDAY – DAY 4.
After day three of our race in the Amsterdam area, we were excited to travel to a new location, Brussels. This would be the start of a completely new contest for all the teams, since the slate would be wiped clean, and a second prize awarded to the team that performs best on Thursday and Friday.
We awoke early enough to fit the free breakfast at the Amsterdam Acro hotel into what would be a very busy day. Unfortunately, we discovered that they wouldn’t be open for another 20 minutes, and Linda began to panic about the possibility of missing breakfast in order to catch our train. If it came down to the train or the breakfast, I’m not sure we’d be on the train.
You tend to discover new things about your partner on this race. It’s nearly impossible not to have some differences, but I’ve learned that most issues can be overcome by avoiding contact with my wife during her “Pre Meal State.” Otherwise known as PMS, this time before breakfast can be very dangerous, since she tends to be a little out of character when she’s awake for more than 15 minutes without her warm cup of tea and something to eat.
Especially bad, she says, is being promised food and a warm drink, only to have it delayed by a long search for the right restaurant or an unexpected closure, something rather common along this trip.
Fortunately we managed to take in breakfast and still arrive at the Amsterdam train station in time for our trip to Brussels. Crisis averted.
I think every team has also discovered something about the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their teammates. For example, one of our favorites, Team Swizzle, knew early on that Bill was much better at the computer and video work, while Caroline handled the navigating duties and much of the communicating with the locals. Anytime they strayed from their specialties, they’d run into problems.
Because they knew this, they did rather well and rarely stumbled along the way. For the videos, they created a persona, with Bill “Swizzle” as the lead character. It worked rather well, in fact. I couldn’t stop laughing at this indoor skiing challenge video that Bill produced:
Linda and I once again looked over the challenges while on the morning train heading for our next destination, Brussels. We sat next to Bill and Caroline and enjoyed watching each others’ videos.
Upon arriving in Brussels, we chose to accomplish two 30-point tasks in Gent, a medium-sized beautiful town just outside Brussels.
After buying tickets in the train station for Gent, we raced upstairs to catch the train that was just about to depart.
Once aboard, we relaxed for a moment and talked about the competition so far and how it might change now that it’s fixed at a maximum of 75 points.
Strategically speaking, it was good that no one seemed to be on the train with us, but we would’ve still enjoyed visiting with some of the other teams along the way. Most of them, and one reporter, went to Bruges, which was just a bit further than Gent.
After we arrived, Linda and I looked for a modern/abstract art museum that was a tram ride from where our train dropped us off. These can be risky challenges because the museum or attraction can often be closed in the off season. My heart stopped a bit when the museum told us that it was being renovated, but they explained that we’d still be able to see 15% of the museum at a much lower price of just €1.
This also served to get Linda out of the museum faster. Don’t get me wrong, I like SOME museums, but I preferred to see one when we weren’t trying to make our way to each challenge before they close.
We still managed to hang out there for at least a half hour, (28 minutes too long, I thought) to see the three sparse rooms of exhibits that were still open.
Our task was to comment on a piece of artwork we liked, one that had us perplexed, and one that we disliked. We managed to find all three examples and stealthily film our reactions. Two security guards wandered around the only two rooms that were open to the public but I managed to film a few scenes with Linda when the guards were talking to each other.
We went outside and asked some people for directions to the city square. We preferred to get back on the train, but many of the locals tried to talk us into walking the distance.
“It’s such a nice day, you should just walk it. It’s about a half hour from here.” They’d say.
It was, in fact, a great day. But if they had only known how much walking (and running) we had already done that week, they’d understand the appeal a fast tram had for us.
We worked our way to the city center before running into a gentleman who pointed us in the right direction for us to order a Stropke beer. Stropke means noose in Flemish and there’s a long connection with this symbol in Gent.
We had to learn the reason why from the people in the bar while enjoying a Stropke drink. It was a challenge I had been looking forward to! Thanks to Steve for including so many good beer, wine, champagne and chocolate challenges in the line-up.
Our next challenge was located at an amazing tower in the city center that had an ingenious security system for its day. We needed to learn what made it unique and report on that with our Flip video camera. We asked two different people to get the straight scoop.
Since Competitours will no doubt come back through Belgium again someday, I don’t want to give any of their secrets away. I’ll just say that we heard a few differing stories about the security method, but we managed to ask enough people and the truth finally came out. We taped our findings and moved on to the next task, to find a subtle carving of a serpent in a church.
With that video completed we moved on to the Gravensteen Castle, by far the highlight for us in Gent.
The task said to find new uses for some of the items in this middle-ages era castle. We had to come up with an alternate use for the weapons, armor and torture devices. Linda and I put together a video as if we were a couple considering buying the place as our new home in Gent, taking advantage of the ‘down market.’
Here’s what we came up with:
We came back to Brussels with a potential of 60 points under our belts. We just needed a 15 point challenge to reach our maximum of 75 points possible that day.
We chose to do the Mannekin Pis challenge, where we’d travel to three different statues in Brussels; Mannekin Pis, Jeaneken Pis, and the ‘t Serclaes monument. We needed to come up with some made up explanations for these monuments to share with the judges. Since there were many others who did the same, we can only hope for the maximum 15 points. The top half will get the greater points with the bottom 50% receiving only 5 points for the challenge.
We finished the night with a stop in a crêperie to enjoy a nice dinner crêpe. Just minutes after we sat down, another team, Caitlin and Jennifer, a pair that had never met prior to the trip, joined us for dinner.
We made our way back to the train station in time to retrieve our bags and to board our train to the next city.
And just as I had imagined in the first post of this series, our final city was Paris.
But Steve had a number of challenges planned for Paris in locations that I’d never been to before. The finish line was plainly in sight! But who was leading?
I’ll leave you with a few scenes from Gent and Brussels and a glimpse of the other teams during the Thursday competition.
A scoring update:
I’ve been promising the standings from each of the two parts of the game, Cologne and Amsterdam and then Brussels and Paris for a few days now. It seems some videos haven’t been uploaded to the judges yet and they want to make sure everyone has their videos judged before they finalize the scores. So it may be a day or two before we know for sure. I’m hoping to have the results from both parts available by the next post.
Read about the rest of the week: Pre-departure, departure, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4 and day 5.