Monday, August 23, 2010

European Trip Day 1 - Leeds to Bruges

Yes I know, here we go again....another holiday blog series. I know I've not finished the Italy one but if I don't get this latest one down on 'paper' so to speak, my few memories of it will go the way of a politician's promises.

I need to make one point first; I used 3 cameras on this trip (a Canon Dslr, a Nikon compact and my HTC Desire phone camera) so any photos on these trip blogs will be a mixture - the phone ones will stand out as they have a date stamp on them.

So with that in mind, sit back with a cool drink and lets go.......

7am on Wednesday 4th August 2010 and the intrepid trio (Daphne, Stephen and my good self) set off from Leeds for the 280 mile drive to the southern English ferry port of Dover. We stopped at Leicester Forest East (100 miles) for a break and a quick snack as I for one had only had a cup of tea before we set off.

We arrived in Dover after no real traffic issues and with time to spare for the 2pm crossing. We were going with Norfolkline and we had no problems finding our way to their terminal.

Once we were in the line to board, Stephen had time to attach the car lights deflectors to comply with regulations for driving a British car on the Continent. Without them, we'd blind oncoming drivers with our main beams as, of course, they drive on the wrong side of the road over there. Pah !!

It was a dull old day so not great for photography and once on the open sea, there wasn't much to photograph anyway. For the world's busiest shipping lane, The Channel seemed remarkably empty to me !

We did have one hitch hiker though as this one footed seagull stayed with us the whole way across and given the blustery winds, I don't blame him for letting the ferry take the strain. We christened him 'Stumpy' of course but I wonder how he lost his foot ? Suggestions in the comments section please.

Crossing The Channel only took 2 hrs but due to crossing a time zone, we had to put our watches forward an hour........and so it was 5:15pm before we reached Dunkirk. Then we were off and on the road to Belgium in double quick time as there were no customs or border controls at all. I'd only ever flown to Paris before and so this was my first time in the French countryside and how lovely it was. I didn't have long to enjoy it as after 20 miles, we were in Belgium ! I totally missed the sign saying "Belgie" and so never knew I was in Belgium for some miles.

It was less than 60 miles from Dunkirk to Bruges and so we arrived at our b&b around 6:15pm and I'd picked it mostly because it was in the town centre and had off road parking. The plan was to park the car and not use it again till we left.

It was a picture postcard sort of place and although fairly basic, our host, Stefaan, was kindness and helpfulness personified. Once we'd dumped our cases in the room, we were off and walking the short distance into the centre of Bruges and despite the overcast skies and occasional light rain showers, what a wonderful place it was. Everything I'd hoped for and more. It's probably the best preserved medieval town in Europe and it's so charming that you sometimes think you're in a Disneyesque location as opposed to a real life town.

From the cobbled streets to the high rise colourful houses, from the picturesque canals to the delightful goods in the shops, Bruges enchanted me from the start. It seemed that every other shop sold chocolates and as I've already courted controversy in my previous post with my photos of those 'anatomically correct chocolate shapes' I'll say no more about chocolate !

By now we were hungry again so we found a little restaurant and Daphne chose the local favourite, mussels and chips (fries to my US readers) and what a lot she got !

As you can see from the menu, it wasn't hard to order food in Bruges as it was very much geared up for us Brits who pop over on day trips in our thousands thanks to that short ferry crossing. In both Belgium and The Netherlands we found menus were usually in different languages with English being second favourite after the local one. This suited me as like most Brits, I've been very lazy learning a foreign language although I could just about get by with my school French.

After the meal we walked to the town's main square, the Markt. On one side is the Belfort, the belfry of Bruges, built in 1240. The 83 metre tower was heavily featured in the 2008 movie, In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleesson.

Excellent movie btw.

Being late and wet, we decided not to go up the tower that night. Of course being closed was a better reason. So more of that next time.

By now we were flagging and after a scenic walk back to the b&b, we called it a day, or a night, and went to bed.

The trip was off and running and what a start we'd had. Belgium and its inhabitants may be generally regarded as getting nil points in the excitement stakes but even on a dull, overcast and wet evening in early August, Bruges got a full douze from me.


Daphne said...

Ahhhh a lovely reminder of a lovely day in a beautiful place. Everyone kept saying to me "you'll love Bruges" before I went - - and oh, yes, they were right!

Ruth said...

I am so glad Bruges is as beautiful as I would have hoped. As a huge fan of 'In Bruges' I am not surprised it was picture postcard stuff.
BTW I clicked on the 'photo' of Daphne's mussels as, at first, it was just a black square in the body of the blog. What appeared scared me - I don't do mussels and it is indeed a lot!

Richard said...

I think you should have complained, that just appears to be a plate of empty mussel shells!

Silverback said...

Well spotted, Rich. Sadly I couldn't get close enough to the bowl of mussels BEFORE Daphne started eating them. Her fork was a blur !

rhymeswithplague said...

A full douze to you for returning to blogging in such an engaging, well-photographed, well-written fashion. Welcome back!

I just know I'm going to have the Italy trip all mixed up in my mind with this one.

Debby said...

Just gorgeous! I'll skip the mussels, but you are SO taking me there!

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