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Published: June 14th 2009
Belgium Farm House
In the countryside north of Bruges
Travelling from the UK to the Continent overland has been a dream of ours since we first arrived in England. European friends in Australia would amaze us with tales of travelling to another country without getting on a plane but until now we hadn’t found an opportunity to do so, well not across the channel anyway.
So when we found bargain Eurostar tickets available for the second May long weekend (which also happened to be a weekend when Ariana’s Mum and Dad would be visiting us), we couldn’t pass it up.
Arriving at London St Pancras after a short bus journey from Nottingham we excitedly make our way through to the Eurostar security area and find our passports being stamped indicating that we have just arrived in France. We knew this trip would be quick, but we haven’t even gotten on the train yet! Thoughts of Rove’s catch phrase ring in our ears, ‘That’s a whole other country, you can’t get there by bus!’
Having already ridden on both the French TGV (world’s fastest train) and the Japanese Shinkansen we’re keen to experience the speed of the Eurostar (Europe’s second fastest train). From St Pancras in London we
Bruges' famous tower
According to the tourist information we were given at our hotel the tower was not in fact built for the movie In Bruges... who would've thought?
sit back to watch the English countryside wiz by before going through a longish tunnel when, with ears popping, we emerge in…France! The landscape and architecture is incredibly…well…French! After passing numerous farmhouses and plump French cattle, we cross over in to Belgium and before long we’re pulling in to Brussels Midi station. Phew- what a way to travel!
The last leg of our journey takes us on another, much shorter (and slower) train ride through beautiful Belgium to the tiny town of Bruges. It’s raining by the time we arrive so we grab a taxi to our budget hotel. We’re given a warm welcome and are pleased to find a fantastic bar next door serving a huge array of Belgium beers so we agree to drop off the bags and meet Brian and Beth there in five minutes.
After a round of fantastic Belgium beer we head out in to the rain in search of the square and clock tower made famous in the film In Bruges. We find it, and then with Lachlan looking for more beer and Ariana keen to find some mussels we lead the way through the pouring rain to what we think looks
like a decent restaurant not far from the main square. Keeping on the Belgium theme of things, we enjoy a fantastic dinner with mains including roast rabbit, Flemish beef stew, and Ariana is happy with her order of mussels and frites (of course).
Luckily by the time that we leave the restaurant the rain has stopped and so we take our time on the walk back to the hotel taking in the views of the streets, which are made atmospheric by hauntingly dark clouds covering the night sky.
Sunday, Lachlan and I get up early, keen to see Bruges in the early morning light and are rewarded with clear blue skies and empty streets- Bruges is ours to explore! We pick up some tasty fresh pastries from a local bakery and we roam about, strolling along the canal side admiring the quaint architecture and looking for great shots to take. I often feel like Lachlan’s camera assistant as he asks me to throw a stone in to the canal in order to create ripples in just the right spot for his shot. In the end a duck swims past making much better ripples and I’m made redundant and
Yep - that part of the world... windmill country
can go back to admiring the scenery.
We make it back to the hotel in time to shower and meet Mum and Dad in the restaurant for our simple breakfast. Fuelled up and keen to make the most of the beautiful weather we head straight to the square to pick up some rental bikes for the day. A tandem for Mum and Dad and two singles for Lachlan and I. We ride through the city, over the cobbled streets and follow the canal. It’s exhilarating to be moving so fast through the streets and we soon reach the outskirts of the city, riding past windmills and boats moored up on the bank as we pedal our way north.
After about 30mins of riding along a canal side so picturesque we think we’ve stepped in to a childhood storybook, we arrive at a quaint village called Damme, which we think should be more appropriately renamed ‘Damme-this-is-a-good-place-to-stop’.
We stop off in the town centre to first browse a little book market before following Mum in to the Information Centre. While Lachlan and I look for a map, because we’re not too sure where exactly where we’re going, Mum finds
the toilet. The lady behind the desk provides us with a map and explains the bike paths to us, which, unsurprisingly, is extremely organised and very easy to follow. Every junction has been given a number so in order to get anywhere you just need to know the numbered junctions to ride towards. The junctions are very clearly marked on signs throughout the bike route, making it nigh on impossible to get lost. The distance between junctions is also marked on our map in kilometres (yes- metric!) to aid the decision making process as to where we go next.
We agree that the small cost of the biking map will be well worth the investment and leave feeling reassured that we now know where we’re going and how long it will take to get there.
Our plan is to continue north-northeast in the hope of making it to … Holland! ‘What?’ I hear you say, ‘I thought you’re riding around Belgium!’ Apparently, it’s not only possible to drive/train between countries in Europe but it’s also possible to travel internationally by pedal power! For unfit non-gym goers like ourselves, this seems like a mean feat but we agree to
Canal side field
Outside of Bruges
continue on as far as we can. Junction after junction flies past and before long we’re too close to the Dutch boarder to turn back. Just after 1:00pm, we cruise in to the Dutch town of Sluis proud as punch for making it to the Netherlands on our bikes. Especially for Mum and Dad who have had to pedal their way here on the less than comfortable tandem. We agree that this will be the perfect place to enjoy a well-earned lunch and tuck in to Dutch sandwiches, omelettes and beer.
Wanting some time to explore Bruges in the afternoon Mum and Dad head back the way we came while Lachlan and I, keen to test our biking skills further, decide to journey south-west towards the Belgium coast. The skies are a perfect blue and we grin happily as we ride side by side along the well paved bike paths, past yet more windmills, short muscly Belgium Blue cattle and rows of cleverly planted trees all the way to the sea. Having not seen a beach in five months we were determined to get here and on arriving we are delighted to not only find a beach lined comically
with change huts, umbrellas and deck chairs but also a number of Belgium bars serving, you guessed it, more Belgium beer! Lachlan pops in to order a round as I settle in to a sun-drenched chair opposite the beachfront. Lachlan soon emerges with two beers, some more water for the journey home and ice cream. If only we had our togs with us!
We’ve got a long return journey ahead of us so we hop back on our bikes and take our time riding back through yet more endlessly beautiful countryside stopping to take a swig of water and some more photos along the way (by this stage the uncomfortable seats are really starting to bruise our backsides - but its still tonnes of fun).
We decide to stop in Damme again on our way back to Bruges and take up some seats at an outdoor café. It’s a beautiful setting - the glow of the afternoon sunshine is lighting up the quaint buildings and the pollen from the nearby fields has blown into town building up in big clumps on the street corner opposite us. The waiter appears and we ask him for ‘Two beers please, a
Start with the well known ones... then on to the obscure.
Duvel and a cherry beer’.
When he returns we’re a little surprised to find that we’re given two (standard) beers and a Duvel and a cherry beer. Oops- we’ll have to take care how we order in future. Oh well. We’re thirsty so the two standard beers disappear quickly but it takes some time to get through the other two. We agree that given the strength of Belgian beers we had better order some simple food to go with our second two or we’ll probably end up in the canal on our way home!
Arriving back at the hotel, tired and extremely happy, we meet Mum and Dad for dinner at the bar/restaurant next door. We’re all clearly exhausted but are very pleased with the day’s adventure. Using the distances listed on our numbered map, Lachlan and I are surprised to realise we’ve just completed a 52km round trip! No wonder we’re hurting!
The next morning after breakfast, we make a quick stop at the nearby supermarket to pick up Belgium supplies to take back to England- chocolate, waffles and beer (of course)! It’s now time to head to the train station, but as it’s a nice
London St Pancras station
morning we dismiss the bus and decide to walk back to the station. After all its not that far, right?
It takes a little longer than estimated and Mum and Dad end up breaking in to a power walk in order to be sure we don’t miss the train back to Brussels. Fortunately we make it in time and find our Eurostar connection back to England from Brussels Midi.
In both our trips to Belgium so far we’ve had a fantastic time! The magical combination of friendly people, great food, great beer and excellent use of English everywhere makes Belgium a great getaway destination (and probably a great place to live if the opportunity ever arose). Oh, and by the way, we’ve also vowed to buy some mountain bikes when we return to Australia…
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