The crossing over - Belgium here we come!

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July 17th 2009
Published: August 1st 2009
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Day 23
Thursday 2nd July
Crossing the English Channel, into France and up to Brugge in Belgium

After a lovely last breakfast of scrambled eggs thanks to chef Carolyn, we were off and away by 9.30am, leaving a poor heartbroken dog behind us (Bodhi knew something was up and I have never before seen a dog sulk with such a sad sad face before...)

From Bedfordshire, we drove straight across to Dover and began the looong process of boarding the ferry across to mainland Europe - lots of queues and waiting - but we had plenty of snacks that Carolyn had baked for us so we didn’t starve. We finally got on board the ferry and set off at 2pm, saying goodbye to England for a few months.

The actual ferry was really nice, a far cry from the diesel-smelling rig that I was expecting. It even had a really comfortable lounge area and cafe, and so we sat there for the 2 hour trip over the English Channel, playing cards and admiring the views of the White Cliffs as they faded into the distance.

We arrived into Dunkerque at about 5pm local time, with France being 1 hour ahead of the UK. Lucretia was the lucky one to take the first leg of driving, having to quickly acclimatise to both driving on the right (although wrong) side of the road, and also the added difficulty of doing this from the right-hand side of the car (makes overtaking a tad more thrilling...)

From Dunkerque, we headed north, quickly leaving France behind us and crossing into Belgium, arriving at the campsite in Brugge in the early evening hours. We pitched our tent in the cramped, smelly campsite and headed to the shower block, very much looking forward to the refreshing relief of a cold shower after a blistering hot day... Unfortunately, the showers were only set for one temperature - hot... It absolutely drives me crazy the lack of control over water they give you here in the northern hemisphere, especially in campsites. So often the temperature is set for you and even the time of water flow, especially in hand basins, is all decided on your behalf - like I don’t have the ability to control my own shower temperature or use less water to wash my hands - and such a waste of water. Who knew being able to turn you own taps was so liberating! The things you learn about yourself when travelling!

So still feeling hot and bothered, we decided to walk the two and a half kilometres into the township of Brugge, heading in at about 7pm. What a fantastic time to be wandering the streets - the heat of the day had all but gone, leaving us with only moderately warm temperatures, quite streets and that lovely soft light that comes in the hours before dusk. It all made for a lovely evening in Brugge, a very picturesque town with the heart of the city being found within a glassy-watered moat, and canals and bridges criss-crossing the city every few blocks.

After wandering around town for a few hours, we decided to get some dinner, not realising that it was after 10pm by then and so our menu choices were somewhat limited. We finally decided on takeaway burgers from one of the few places still serving food, and sat down by the canal to eat them, the lights reflecting off the glassy water and providing us with quite a pleasant view.

Back at camp, we sat outside for a while, enjoying the cool temperatures before we called it a night.

Day 24
Friday 3rd July
Leaving Brugge, drive-through Brussels, down to the Ardennes National Park

The hot sun beating down on the tent was alarm enough in the morning, making a sleep-in all but impossible. After packing up, we had a quick drive around Brugge to make sure we didn’t miss anything from the night before, and then headed back to the highway and towards Brussels. Brussels is a massive city, especially compared to quaint Brugge, with sprawled out concrete highrises. We drove into town to what was meant to be a campground (Flo* gets a little confused with campgrounds sometimes...), but decided that we didn’t really want to stay there anyway, so instead kept on driving.

* Flo is our satnav for those who don’t remember from previous blog entries. It is the nickname for our little companion - as in ‘go with the Flo’

We headed towards Namur, the ‘gateway’ town to the Ardennes, a wooded national park in the south of Belgium. Namur itself was nothing much, and so after a quick lunch in the outskirts of town (literally, parked in the front of someone’s house in the suburbs), I took to the wheel as we continued on into the national park. As it was my first time driving on the right-hand side of the road, I was a little nervous but I actually found it to be relatively easy, although I was concentrating like crazy, continually reminding myself - right, right, right...

We made it into La Roche-en-Ardenne by 4pm, via the information centre to a fantastic camping ground right on the river. After setting up camp, we took a well deserved dip in the cool waters after yet another stinking hot day in the car. A lovely dinner, followed by some cards, and then bed - lovely to be surrounded by greenery again, and there is nothing quite like being lulled to sleep by the sounds of a babbling brook nearby.

Day 25
Saturday 4th July

We all slept into about 8am before the little buggers next door (three brothers aged about 7 to 12 years) woke us up - they obviously have no concept of noise control and their parents are clearly deafened to them now after so many years raising three rowdy noisy boys!

After breakfast we headed into town to check out our kayaking options for the day. We settled on one company that dropped you 10km upstream and then you can then kayak back into town at your own pace. It left a midday, and so after a quick slip, slop, slap, we jumped into the bus with the other 50-odd other tourists and were taken out of town to our starting point.

After finding our kayaks, we drifted for a while, letting most of the other people go ahead so as to avoid the dodgem-kayaks from continuing all the way down stream. The day was beautiful and perfect for kayaking, with gorgeous blue skies and warm temperatures - meaning a few stops along the way for a cooling dip in the chilly waters. The scenery was very lush and the journey very relaxing, the flow of the river meaning paddling was not really necessary for a lot of the way, instead being able to lay back and let the waters push us down stream.

The water was pretty shallow for a lot of the way, with heaps of huge rocks continually scraping the bottom of the boats - they must be very well reinforced to handle that onslaught day after day. We did have a one little thrilling rapid, which looked massive from our angle but disappointingly small on the footage Lucretia filmed of us coming down them... must be an illusion of the camera!

We finally arrived back in town at about 3.30pm and made our way back to the car for a late lunch - we were understandably starving by this time. After a stroll around the township, including an obligatory ice-cream just in case Belgium ice-cream tastes different, we went for a short drive to check out the surrounding area a little more (and to recharge the second battery as it keeps switching off, and hence cutting power to the fridge... not good). The area was pretty cool, the highlight being a red fox which cut across in front of the car, then stopped for a while to have a good look at us below.

Back at the campground we were still full from the late lunch, instead skipping dinner and heading straight to bed, very tired after our day in the sun.

Battery update... Back in the UK, we decided not to keep the microwave as it was drawing too much power from the battery, causing it to cut out, which was a real problem with the fridge. So, we thought our problem was solved by no longer having the microwave, and using the battery only for the fridge and laptop and various chargers - phones, camera, etc. However, this didn’t appear to be the solution we had thought it would be, with the battery still cutting out as mentioned above. So, Craig rang his electrician friend who helped us install it and the outcome is that we pretty much drained the battery in the UK with the microwave and so it is not charging enough during the day to then sustain the fridge overnight, especially when we are also using it while driving for the laptop, etc. So, on to plan C...

- Day 23 -
now we will look into getting a battery recharger that we can use every week or so at powered sites, which should be enough to keep it going... Stay tuned for the next dramatic update...

Reflections on Belgium...
We only stayed a short time but got to see a charming little city in Brugge and then the scenic countryside in the Ardennes - a perfect combination for such a short time period. It obviously didn’t allow us much of a look into the culture or people of Belgium, instead just having a superficial flying view of the scenery, but with which I wasn’t disappointed.

Additional photos below
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Leaving BruggeLeaving Brugge
Leaving Brugge

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