I often seem to find myself in service stations early morning en-route somewhere. This one is a familiar stop for us, just a few miles away from the Euro Tunnel terminal. I wasn’t quite awake yet, so a muffin and the largest coffee I could find were the order of the day.
I’m a big fan of the Euro Tunnel, it’s so easy to access mainland Europe from here, drive onto a train carriage and 30 minutes later drive straight off again into France, it’s so much cheaper and quicker than flying. France, Belgium and the Netherlands are all within an hour and a half drive and this time Belgium was to be our destination.
As this was just a short trip we wanted to make the most of our time so we headed straight away from the terminal and in the direction of Brugge. We have been before, but we took my parents over with us and my mum in particular has wanted to go to Brugge for many years.
The best way (if you are driving a car) to get into the city is by picking up the R30 ring road and parking in the car park at Brugge train station. It currently only costs €3.50 to park there for 24 hours and if you show your car parking ticket at the booth directly outside the main entrance to the station, you can get a free return bus into the city centre.
The historic centre of Brugge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and due to the canals weaving through the city it is sometimes referred to as "The Venice of the North". This well preserved gem of a city was once best known as a cloth making centre, nowadays it has become a major tourist destination. Although fairly small, it is stunning city and strolling through the medieval streets full of gothic spires, cobbled pathways, impressive architecture and tempting chocolate shops it’s easy for hours to pass before you realise it.
There are a lot of tourist attractions here, but I prefer to wander around the picturesque streets discovering parts of the city that I haven’t seen before, so once we got to the centre we just headed off on a walk of the canals, alleyways and back streets. We came across a really cute dog during our walk, sleeping on a pillow, hanging out of a window over the canal. He was oblivious to his fame status as we took photos of him – he did feign a slight interest as he lifted his head in our direction once, but quickly returned to his pillow with a long lazy sigh.
Window Displays In Brugge
Part of the fun of being here is soaking up the atmosphere of the squares where there always seems to be something going on with street entertainers, painters and general people watching, so we took a long leisurely lunch sitting outside one of the many restaurants. John and my dad both had river eel for their lunch, my mum and I both tried some of it too – it was a first for all of us and it was completely different to how I expected it to be. For some reason I had visions of more of a tuna steak texture, but instead it was just like flaky white fish.
I’m not big on shopping, it’s not really my thing, but I do love the window displays here, particularly the chocolate shop ones, so I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of some of them.
Early evening we made our way back to the car. We decided to pay a visit to the public toilets before heading into the countryside to our guest house for the night. There was a really fierce old lady taking 50 cents per person to go in and she caused quite a stir as some guy decided he didn’t want to pay and walked straight past her into the gents, he got more than he bargained for though as she marched straight in there and strode right up to him as he was stood at the urinal having a wee and started tapping him on the shoulder demanding the money with menace!! John and my dad came out laughing their heads off at the shocked look from the man involved, very funny!
Coming out of Brugge we got caught in some road works where the road we needed to go down was completely closed off. With a lack of diversion signs we just decided to take a random road and see where we ended up. It turned out to be a good choice of road as it took us down country lanes and through a beautiful wood with huge great trees, it was really lovely and if I could ever find it again it looked a brilliant place for a walk. The lane eventually joined up with a road in the direction we wanted to go.
We made our way to the B&B, it’s not a likely place for a B&B as it is on a quiet residential cul-de-sac but John and I stayed last time we were here. It’s a small B&B with 3 rooms to let out and the owner is just so friendly and welcoming we didn’t even consider staying somewhere else this time. Stacey greeted us with her usual warmth and we felt at home instantly again. After checking in and dropping our bags we went straight out again, into the town of Torhout for the evening.
Torhout is a small Belgian town and upon arrival we quickly settled on a café where we could sit outside, have a chat, some toasties for tea and where my dad could sample another of the local Belgian beers. As we sat talking a guy on the next table eventually leans over and says “can I ask you a question?” “Yes, sure you can” I reply. He went on to say that he knew we were English, but wanted to know what were we doing in Torhout, I told him we were on holiday and he says “Yes, but what are you doing in Torhout!!” It turns out that we are the first English people him and his friends have ever seen/heard in their town. The reasons we were here were twofold – 1. It’s only around 15km south of Brugge, which means it’s easy access to drive into Brugge and accommodation costs are a fraction of the price of the city and 2. We prefer staying in local places rather than in the bigger holiday places. We knew it wasn’t a tourist town, firstly as John and I have been here before and secondly none of the menus are in English – just the way we like it. It turned out to be a great evening as the Belgian guy Nick and his friends wanted to join their table with ours, so we did. Three of the girls in the group were English teachers, so they were keen to use their English skills and we spent the remainder of our evening chatting and laughing with them. Unplanned evenings like this always seem to turn out the best and it was really good fun.
Sunday morning we had breakfast in the garden room at the B&B and then drove out to the coast. We were going back home later today, so we drove out to the seaside and just meandered down the coastline. It’s all fairly built up along here, some lovely stretches of beach with wide expanses of sand, but all backed with a raft of apartments, hotels and shops. We stopped in De Panne, right on the Belgium\France border for some lunch in a beach café and when we got back to Calais we had enough time to go into the port, where the others had crepes and we enjoyed a drink in the sunshine. Eventually we ended up back at the Euro Tunnel terminal late afternoon to catch our train.
Next stop – Portugal for 9 days at the end of this week.