A Travellerspoint blog

Belgium

Le Tour - Part Two

Dunkirk to Gent

semi-overcast -17 °C

We woke early on Monday morning and packed up camp. Now it’s important to note here that Jen and I purchased an excellent tent, which is produced by Quecha. It has a permanent frame, which is able to be packed down to a reasonably small size, and weighs only 1.5kg. This means you can, essentially, take it out of its bag … shake it a little… and it sits fully set up needing only to be pegged down. Fantastic! Perfect for someone like me. The instructions state that it can be setup in just 2 seconds… and it can. The instructions also state that it can be packed away in only 20 seconds. Suffice it to say that after a somewhat protracted period of folding, bending, pushing and squashing bits it was in its bag again. This was to be an on-going challenge for us and, as we observed throughout the trip, so too for many other campers following the tour. Anyway more on that later…

We drove down to the port at Dover and, after purchasing and fitting some headlight deflectors, we boarded the ferry and were on our way across the channel to Dunkirk. The previous evening had been a little cloudy however today the bright morning sun was shining on the cliffs and they certainly lived up to their name. We imagined the relief those young soldiers must have had upon spotting them in the distance and knowing they were soon to be back on home soil again. We took the mandatory snaps from the deck before settling in for a coffee at one of the lounge bars. The trip was over in a couple of hours and we were through customs and on the road… in France! Now we felt like the trip had truly commenced. Adam was at the wheel and had no problem in converting to life on the other side. I assume it was due to the time he spent in Sydney. We let out a collective “woooo”, exchanged high fives and we were on the road.

We would only be in France for a short while. From Dunkirk we headed across the northern tip of France to the Belgian border and about 150km further East to a town named Gent.

On route we stopped at Ieper and then walked further along the route to see the race pass at a little town named Boezinge,

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Ieper

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Our spot

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The Peleton passing

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Boezinge Statue

pronounced Boo-zing-err which seemed somehow apt for Australians, then drove to Villiers-Brettoneaux. This is a place of enormous significance for Australians as a great many of our soldiers lay at rest there.

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The area owes a great deal to the young men of the Allied forces who fought to protect the town. We visited the Franco - Australian museum which housed memorabilia including items donated by a Mt Eliza family. It underlined the link between this small town on the other side of the planet and a place so close to those at home.

We travelled a few kilometers to the allied war memorial before continuing to the finish line in Gent. Appropriately, Australian rider Robbie McKeon won the stage. We battled the massive crowd to catch a glimpse, and a few snaps, of him before searching for a place to camp. We eventually found a campsite in emmerang, or something like that, donned the Gilligan style promotional Skoda hats thrown to us from the carnival cars, had dinner and turned in.

Posted by StephenJen 04:16 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Waffles, Beer & Chocolate

Adventures in Belgium

sunny 20 °C
View Our Big Adventure on StephenJen's travel map.

Let us warn you - some images in this blog may be offensive to some readers - the blog contains graphic images and descriptions of ridiculous amounts of chocolate and beer. You have been warned.

So we went to Brussels on good friday - arriving early on a lovely warm day and checking into our awesome hotel. We have come to not expect too much from our hotels that are often included with budget flights (star ratings mean nothing overhere) and we are usually pretty happy. This time we were ecstatic. We got there and were staying in an NH Hotel which is a (real) 4 star place... it was clean, safe and service was awesome!

So after checking in we went for breakfast of Chocolate waffles and sat to adjust to a new country. Stephen prepared himself to again be the French interpreter and as always - did marvellously for the duration of the trip.

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Brussels

We wandered around town for the first day, takiing in sites like the Grand Place, the shopping strip, had more waffles and started our beer tasting... mainly fruit beers which have become our favourites!

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Stephen in Brussels

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Brussels

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Bon Homme

We met this little guy called Bon Homme (good boy) begging in a street in Brussels for money for food. His owner was sitting off to one side and looked suspiciously like Hunter S Thompson (but alive). He was so good, and it worked on us as we popped a few coins in his kick - mainly just an excuse to pat him really... VERY CUTE.

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Kettle collection in a waffle house
One thing we noticed about Belgium was that the place is very good at making things just that little more interesting, like the kettle collection in a waffle house.... things like this are everywhere in Brussels particularly. They are just so good at building and displaying things just a bit more creatively - a stark contrast to London - where everything is the same! There is great art in the streets and the shops are so much cooler and unique...

Another good thing about Belgium is the chocolate. It feels like every second shop is a chocolatier or candy shop. The whole place smells of chocolate and they realy take it very seriously there - i thought i was serious about chocolate but they are just crazy!

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A big easter egg in Brussels. They get bigger - much bigger.

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Like a kid in a candy store....

There are so many beautiful old buildings in Belgium and there are cobblestones everywhere - which look beautiful but do have a tendency to wear the feet out of weary tourists.

The place is like postcard in every direction and really like the romantic image we had of Big European cities... without so much progress and modernisation as Paris has...

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Stephen in Brussels

We headed off to Brugge for a day for the Chocolate Festival and to have a look around. Its only an hour on the train from Brussles. If we thought that Brussels was nice, Brugge was amazing. Brugge still has horses and carts, cobbled streets (of course), lace-makers, people getting everywhere on pushbikes and yet more chocolatiers. Though there were a lot of tourists - its not hard to see why. Sounds corny but it really has managed to keep a kind of "old world charm" about it.

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Stephen just off the train to Brugge
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Streetscape in Brugge

So - we paid 10 Euro to get into the Chocolate Festival - and it was worth every bit. We grabbed a showbag and picked up samples from most of the people displaying their wares. There were chocolates everywhere to taste, displays on people doing chocolate sculpture, painting with chocolate, a guy painting chocolate on nude woman, and HUGE sculptures out of chocolate .... the smell was overpowering but it only made us more hungry for the good stuff.

We watched in awe (and with our mouths watering) as a guy created a chocolate Pinocchio to go with his already completed Giupetto. Amazing. That was just one of many amazing sculptures we saw that day (see the pics of these by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page).

We did actually show some restraint when we purchased a couple of eggs for friends and workmates from the Guilian stall - and our restraint was rewarded with 4 extra huge eggs as a bonus with our purchases. They were doing us no favours - as by this stage we were already wondering how we could possible get so much chocolate through customs at Heathrow on our return!

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Jen with the loot after the chocolate festival

We loved Brugge and took so many photos there as we walked around and took our canal boat tour. It was such a nice place - and i suspect it would be even quieter on a weekday... so can highly recommend if anyone is visiting Europe to add Brugge to the list of places to see.

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Us in Brugge (hiding the chocolate behind us)

We headed back to Brussels and spent some more time exploring the city by foot.

I was very excited to visit the Brussels Beer museum - as i thought that it would be something that i could really get into.... but i was wrong. We paid our 5 euro entry and walked in. We saw a few modern beer making machines with very little explanation of what they are used for, watched a video in french, and looked for the rest of the museum - and realised that there was no more. There were other displays that were not working and others inside looked as confused as we were.... We left feeling very disappointed and then realised that we had not been given a beer like everyone else had - supposed to be included in the price apparently.... ah well....

We headed off and found a great restaurant down a cobbled laneway and spoilt ourselves with a beautiful meal and more fruit beer. Stephen fought the Mussels from Brussels (and won) and i had the best steak i have ever had (not including Dads BBQ steaks which i love). Very tasty. Public transport in Belgium is very affordable - you can buy an all day ticket for about 2.50 euro and use it on trams, trains and buses - and its very smooth compared to the Tube too... a very nice ride!

Anyway - we explored the Brussels flea market and though we did not actually see any fleas, we saw some awesome old jewellery, and kitsch furniture and homewares that would sell for loads at home. We also stumbled across a castle in the middle of the city that was closed and had no sign explaining what it was. After doing some research we found out that it was one of the last standing gates that surrounded the city. Quite random as it was just standing in a neglected part of town surrounded by cheap shops and not much else.

So we headed back to London and successfully got through Customs with our haul of chocolate (it was somewhat depleted for some reason), and were amazed that it actually took us more that twice the time to get through Heathrow as it did to get from Belgium to England on a plane.

Remind us never to go away on a long weekend again! Next time we have decided we will register for the Iris Recognition system - allows you to check yourself through immigration - past the queues of people waiting impatiently with their passports in hand.... (and its a bit James Bond - which we like...)

So as you can see - there are not a great deal of photos on this blog - because our site upload limit has not allowed us to show you more - but if you click here - you will see our full album from this trip - definitely worth the look - but that chocolate warning still stands.....

Posted by StephenJen 02:37 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

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