Wednesday 7 August
Woke to lovely, steady rain … and it’s cool! The farmers are trying to harvest wheat so aren’t too happy, but it’s a nice change for us. A great day for cemeteries and war memorials.
On the way to Belgium we stopped at the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge – sort of the Canadian equivalent of our Gallipoli – where there are still many, many craters and the remains of the Canadian & German trenches. The observation trenches have been recreated and it’s striking how close they were to each other. Sadly not enough time to do the 50 minute tour of the tunnels. Fantastically helpful and well informed staff. One of them printed us some maps and directions for some of the other spots we planned to visit.
Well, thank goodness we had those maps. Considering how lost we got with them, I hate to think what it would have been like without them. Once over the border, Thomasina Tom Tom ran out of roads. I thought we’d manage OK in Belgium. Big mistake … Huge! Next time I’ll pay the extra for the small country.
Next stop, once we found it, was Hill 60. Left much as it was, there are once again may craters. As we walked around it, it’s hard to understand why this small mound was worth so many lives. The weather was no good for picnics so we had lunch in the cafe over the road where there were visitors from all over the world, so it’s not just Australians visiting.
On to the 5th Australian Division Memorial and the Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood. Another beautiful spot where you can’t imagine the horrors it has seen. And, as always, I shed a few tears each time I saw a gravestone that read “A Soldier of the Great War – Known Unto God”. I really must stop looking for them.
Then to Tyne Cot Cemetery. Bus loads at this large and well known memorial. There is an excellent visitor centre which we spent quite a while in. We didn’t stay long in the actual cemetery, just paid our respects and said “Thanks”.
Off to our final destination for the day – friends in Gent (or Ghent). Knowing that Thomasina Tom Tom was going to reject us, I’d printed maps and was confident of finding out way. I’d done this before without too many dramas. But I hadn’t counted on the Belgian inability to provide street signs that matched the map or to identify major landmarks. Or my complete inability to provide correct directions. When I finally had a vague idea of where we were in the city, I directed Stu to turn right. When of course I meant left. And naturally there was nowhere convenient to turn round in the peak hour traffic. We managed not to kill each other, though a few words were spoken, and we arrived about an hour later than expected. It’s no consolation, but even if we’d had the GPS, it probably wouldn’t have found the exact spot, though I guess it would have put us in the vicinity.
Parked the car and intend to leave it there until we leave.
Marc & Simona’s place is in a cute little lane. Very small and we slept in the bathroom. Yep, we did. But we were comfy. These are the friends I picked up when they were hitchhiking at home. Also not axe murderers.
Thursday 8 August
Marc walked into town with us, taking us along the canals and the river. A really lovely, attractive city with lots of green space. Heaps of pushbikes and not so many cars. Give way to the bikes!
We visited one of the churches and the Belfry for great views of the city. They have sensibly installed a lift which you catch to the top then see each level as you work your way down.
Simona and her Mum met us for pizza lunch.
Then we ventured off on our own to the Castle. The movie guide here was really different. Rather than giving a detailed description of each room, it tells the story Philip and Mathilde as you move through the rooms. It’s quite different to other audio or multimedia guides and I really enjoyed it. Apparently some don’t.
I admitted defeat in the navigation stakes and bought a sim with data so I can use my phone to navigate for the rest of Belgium.
Back home there was a mini street party underway and we chatted for a few hours before heading to “Plan B” (a bar) about 10pm and home at midnight. No wonder no one emerges till 10am.
Friday 9 August
Stu and I spent the morning in the city and enjoyed the Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass windows. It was raining a little, but not too much, so I didn’t take my camera. Bugger. Also the crypt – I always love them. Dined on Belgian waffles with hot cherries and cream before heading back to pack up, extract the car from its parking spot and go to Brugge.
Thanks to the GPS on the phone we found the railway station, caught the free bus to town and met Pissant when he finished work. Yes, OK, Pissant isn’t’ his real name. Stu met him when he (Pissant, not Stu) was travelling in Oz and his parents invited us to stay.
We all went out to dinner – somewhere. We were led through a maze of back streets and had no idea where we were, but the Greek restaurant was really nice. Pity we’d never be able to find it again. Once again we weren’t allowed to pay for dinner, despite our best efforts.
More maze walking for ice cream then home for a nightcap.
Saturday 10 August
In Brugge (or “In Bruges”). Snigger. I giggle every time I say it. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand why. If you haven’t then do (unless you’re offended by everything that’s politically incorrect).
And yet again we’ve failed to be killed in our sleep by people we didn’t know.
Nothing happens early in Europe! Eventually Stu, Pissant and I headed into town where we played sightseers. Bought some chocolates – as you do in Belgium. Too many, but I couldn’t let them melt so just had to eat them.
We enjoyed the canal boat ride (we didn’t do this in Gent because of the rain). It would probably better on a quieter day with fewer boats going up and down.
Lunch on the run in the square then tried for the Belfry but there was already a queue for the last entry so we went for A drink off the square and the opportunity to sign a penis. Well, at least the penis costume being worn by the groom at his buck’s party.
Then to the Historium where Pissant works. A different way of presenting the city’s history, this is a series of rooms depicting different aspects of Medieval life in Brugge, using one boy’s life to link them.
A drink at Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Brugge, built in 1515. There was a hen’s party there, but not from the same party as the buck’s party. Pity, that would have been funny.
After and early dinner, Stu and I did the horse & carriage ride (also something we missed in Gent) and, would you believe it, ran into the same hen’s party.
Sunday 11 August
We headed of to town while everyone else was still asleep. Hooray! We found bacon and eggs – our first in a month. Love baguettes and croissants, but not every day please.
We climbed the Belfry, which looks higher in real life than it did in the movie. The 366 steps made it seem higher, too.
Headed back and picked up Pissant who was taking us to the Atlantic Wall. We’d never heard of it. Unfortunately, Pissant’s GPS didn’t seem to have heard of it either and we ended up walking for about an hour after we parked.
When we finally got there, it was really worth the trip. The Wall ran from Belgium to the Spanish border and part of the German defences in both World Wars. When they left they were supposed to destroy everything, but didn’t. A lot of original material has been included in the excellent mock ups in the bunkers. It took us nearly 2 hours to walk around it all. Fascinating to see some of this from “the other side”.
Well, we didn’t really feel like walking back to the car, so waited for a tram. Pissant insisted we’d get away without paying. And he was right.