Let me first start off with a point. I didn't know that much about Belgium other than it's place on the map and apparently an important battle for WWII happened there in December 1944 in Bastogne (thank you Boy Scouts of America). My mind was ready for information, facts, culture, and language. The first thing we learned is that there are three languages spoken in Belgium. Dutch in the north, French in the south, and German in the east. The second thing we learned is Belgians obey the speed limit on their highways. In fact, they go under the speed limit by as much as 10 kmh. Makes for very slow going. And then third, that these same speed-limit-on-the-highway-obeying Belgians drive like complete a-holes on the streets (excuse my French). We were almost killed no less than three times trying to cross these streets. They speed, they race around corners, they drive on the sidewalk. I was shocked! Here in Germany everyone is pretty considerate when they drive. Rules and laws are almost always followed. Turn signals abound, people let you merge, speed limits are followed. I thought that was the case for all of Europe. That, however, is not the case. There are even worse drivers in Italy, if you can believe it, but that is for another post.
I drove up with my daughter and our dog, Minkie. Dear husband and sons were already up there (go Boy Scouts!) hiking in the rain. We rented an adorable cottage on the border of Belgium and The Netherlands. And when I say "it was on the border," I mean it was really on the border.
I am standing in Boekhoute, Belgium and the cottage is in Philippine, Holland. Because the cottage was on the border the owner said it was hard to find on a GPS, or navi here in Europe, and that he would email us directions. Great! I drove off toward Belgium, followed the instructions to a T and hit a huge problem about 5 km away from the cottage. There was construction in a cute little Belgian town called Assende and I had to go another way. Of course I got lost. After driving around for about an hour, calling the owners caretaker who spoke rudimentary English with a heavy Dutch accent for instructions, calling Matt who was hiking in the rain, I finally found it. Posthoorn 8. Knocked on the door. The elderly man who answered had no idea what I was talking about, mostly because he didn't speak English. But thank heavens, his daughter spoke English and she was there helping him clean. They then explained that the two neighboring towns had identical addresses through out and I was in the wrong country. I was at Posthoorn 8 in Belgium. I needed to be at Posthoorn 8 in The Netherlands. Ahhh... wrong country. Gotcha. After nearly crying with relief because I was so close to crying in desperation they directed us on our way. We finally arrived.
Isn't it cute?
This is the view to the west. Every morning the fog would creep slowly across this field. In those trees to the left there was a dirt road that we road bicycles on.
After Matt and the boys arrived we planned out our cities. Bruges first. Bruges is pronounced Brooj. The g makes a sound like the ge at the end of garage and the s is silent. One problem I am having is that cities all over Europe are spelled differently in their native language than the map I grew up studying. Bruges is actually Brugge in Dutch. Makes it hard to find something on your GPS. Bruges is a beautiful, small village in north-eastern Belgium. It has been called the "Venice of the North" due to its many canals that ring and cross through the city. Bruges had a golden age from the 12th to 15th century. It is a great location for trade and many people located here and built homes and businesses. However, during the 16th century the main canal that fed Bruges started to silt up making it difficult for the larger ships carrying the all important goods to access the city. With the goods in decline, the money and people declined soon after leaving Bruges all but a ghost town by the 17th century. Since then Bruges has practically stood still in time. All the architecture is original because the town never had the money to rebuild. It has been since declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a great town to visit. Easy to get into, tourist friendly. The problem is that everyone knows it. It can get pretty crowded. Luckily we traveled in the off-season. Okay, history lesson over. Our first order of business was getting Belgian waffles. Here they were called Brussels waffles but they tasted just as great.
After a delicious lunch of waffles we began to walk around beautiful Bruges. Here is a photo from the market square of the Provinciaal Hof palace. It is very imposing.
After about an hour of walking we decided that a canal cruise would offer the best views of the city. Here are some photos from that.
One interesting factoid is that the line of the roof looking like steps is called Flemmish architecture. It was fun to ride around the canals looking at all the different styles of homes and businesses. And it was also fun to capture the left shoulder of the person in front of me in the bottom right hand corner of my pictures. Didn't want to lean to far out of the boat. Didn't want the cruise to turn into a swim.
I just loved the canals and little buildings built all around them. It was like being in a fairy tale land almost.
A fairy tale land complete with swans.
All in all I would say Bruges is worth the trip if you are in the neighborhood. Next, Ghent.
The Saint Bavo Cathedral in the historical center of Ghent.
The Old Post Office.
Here you are presented with one of the major problems in traveling in Northern Europe in the winter. Lack of daylight. It is 5:15 pm in this picture and it is basically dark. You can't see anything. Cold we can deal with. Dark, not so much. So after only spending about an hour in Ghent, we drove back to the Belgium/Netherlands cottage.
We spent the next day in Brussels. Brussels is bi-lingual. You have French and Dutch street signs everywhere. NATO and the European Union have their main institutions in Brussels.
Belgian parliament building.
Alexander and Ashlenne in the city center of Brussels.
After doing some sightseeing we went for lunch. We ate at a hip trendy lunch spot where everybody spoke French but us, and then we went for some chocolate. I have been hearing about Belgian chocolate since we got here so we were very excited to pick some up. After wandering around the nearest chocolate store for 15 minutes we finally decided to pick up an assortment of bags. I saw no price tag on them but figured they couldn't be too much so I grabbed four. At the cash register the snooty French/Belgian lady began to ring them up. They were 15 Euro each! That's 60 Euro for all of them. That's around $85.00 for chocolate, and here is the best part. It was horrible. I don't know if I went to the wrong shop or bought the wrong kind but we were disgusted. I choked down a couple of pieces from each bag just out of principle. But after everyone had their second piece and couldn't take any more, we stuck it in the back of the car, and when we got home we threw it away. Goodbye $85.00.
It was getting late and cold so we decided to say Tot ziens (Dutch for goodbye) to Belgium. Here is our goodbye photo.
We were freezing our bums off here. Except for Minkie Dog. She wanted to stay and chase Belgians. We thought about it. Maybe they would give us our 60 Euro back that we wasted on crappy chocolate.