There’s more to Belgium than just biscuits
By Jim Davis
After canal boating and touring in a motorhome around the UK, Jim and Karen have arrived on the continent! Their adventures continue in Belgium …
You guessed it – we are now on the continent and we’ve stopped in Brugge for a couple of days. The last 4-5 days in the UK had us attending the Silverstone Classic race meet at Silverstone. If you are a car racing fan and into classic cars then Silverstone is a must in my opinion. It was a great weekend, well run with plenty to see and do. Cars come from all over the continent, and in a huge variety of shapes and sizes to suit everyone’s taste.
Scandinavia in sight
With the race weekend finished we had an appointment to cross the ditch to Calais so we are now starting off on the Scandinavia part of our trip.
The visit to Scandinavia has always been a focal point for our travels. Having never been there before we are both keen to have a good look at this part of the world. The plan in a nutshell is to travel via Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia then take a ferry to Helsinki, Finland. Once there we will drive up Finland and back down through Norway and Sweden, before eventually crossing over to Denmark and then back to the UK. However, we have a bit of the continent to get through first before we hit those countries.
But first, Belgium
First cab off the ranks after the ferry crossing is Belgium. I must say it’s a country that probably hasn’t previously rated hugely high on the average person’s list of countries. However, it is in my opinion much underrated by the average tourist. On this trip we especially wanted to visit the city of Brugge/Bruges. This is one pretty city and well worth visiting.
The centre was a big trading port in past years with a number of canals in and through its centre. It’s reminiscent of Amsterdam or Venice only a little smaller, but still complete with all the cycling action as well. Ringed by waterways, it offers a myriad of bridges and cobbled streets for you to walk around. Everything is beautifully presented, clean and tidy; it is only us tourists who are cluttering and mucking this wee gem up.
As the heading of this article indicates, Belgium is known for a lot more than the ubiquitous Kiwi belgium biscuit! There is the beer, the chocolate, the food, and the stunning and well-preserved history. Take note, however, nothing is especially cheap. But if you are travelling in Europe, I think we all know that everything costs a bit more so make the best of it and just enjoy.
Brews in Bruges
When it was first suggested to us that we stop in Brugge for a day or so, the first attraction point mentioned to me was a local establishment called “The Beer Wall”. It’s located down a wee ally in Brugge and this spot has gained notoriety for the supposed 1,915 beers it has on display, with most being local brews. There’s no doubt it is a tourist hotspot, but despite this it is quite cool. The main beer sellers are located on lists that hang from the ceiling so as you queue to buy you can peruse the menu. This is just one of the many pubs, cafes and beer halls you can visit in the city.
Drinks and dining
Because our visit to Brugge coincided with Karen’s birthday we shouted ourselves a night out. Having spent the day strolling around the city we were ready for a nice meal. Belgian specialties include: Mussels and frites (that’s fries to you uninitiated), seafood stew, rabbit, everything you can think of stewed in beer, waffles and beer. By now I think you are getting the picture.
We found a nice-looking cafe on a quietish street away from the maddening crowds and settled down to a pavement table along with a bit of people watching.
First off the drinks menu came out. I kid you not – they had over 400 beers available in this wee cafe. They ranged up to 12% plus in some instances, with most around 7% and a few light beers around 4%. These guys know their beer and it tastes wonderful, but choosing from so many is a pain. There were no known name brands present, so it was a bit of a pick and a poke selection, but happy to say all worked out well.
Dinner was delicious. Karen had the full 1kg of mussels while I had the fish stew. I tell you – you can’t go wrong. After a few hours, a few beers and a full tummy we started wandering back through town again towards our bus stop, but not before stopping in one of the very many chocolate shops located throughout the city.
Belgian chocolate is a treat all of its own, and between this, the waffles and the beer I can’t understand why every Belgian person isn’t as round as their biscuits.
It’s a small world after all
For years now the world has talked about how we are all only a couple of degrees of separation away from each other. But when you are travelling on the other side of the globe that comment really hits home. On our wanders earlier in the day we stopped for a coffee. As we were sitting outside on the sidewalk a young couple sat down beside us and the young guy heard us talking. Straight away he asked what part of New Zealand we were from. Turns out he was from Morrinsville and asked me if by chance I knew such and such in Christchurch. You guessed it I did! It’s a small world after all. We almost all need to start humming the song … you can’t get it out of your mind now can you … it’s a small world after all, it’s a …
In a nutshell Brugge is well worth a visit. Easy to get around, it offers all the expected sights, sounds and tastes with the added attraction of delicious Belgian beer.
Navigating the German roads
What’s next from here? We have a few long days of driving across Germany towards Poland and Warsaw. What can we expect? Great road and fast driving. The traffic flows very quickly here in Germany and you either keep up or keep out of the way. The problem is that with so many roads entering and leaving the motorways, traffic is continually changing lanes. I don’t think they know what the two second gap rule is, because as soon as there is a gap someone shifts lanes to fill it and go a little faster. The other really notable feature are the large numbers of huge 18-wheeler trucks everywhere. Literally the slow lane of any road is just chocker with large trucks. When they pass you or you pass them the wind share they create is especially noticeable in a motorhome so we just have to drive faster as well.
Driving on the roads is great but also a wee bit stressful at times. You cannot drift off or lose concentration around here that’s for sure. Anyway, onwards towards Warsaw then we head more northerly as we make our way to Estonia and a waiting ferry.