Sleeping in a car park isn’t so bad you know. Ok, so it’s really called an “aire”, but essentially it was just a car park by a lake. I do like the safety in numbers aspect though and there were about five motorhomes in this aire, and another eight in the one just round the corner. Now that was just a car park – at least our aire had a lake.
If I thought I could manage it these days it would have been easy to hire a bike at the aire and cycle round Ostend. As it was, we caught the park and ride bus the very short distance into town, getting off at the Albert I Promenade to look at the 1953 casino built on the sea-front which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an old Eastern Bloc town square.
The Casino and the marina
Ostend is another pleasant sea-side town with a marina packed with expensive looking yachts. How many times will we be saying that?
We bought our first provisions– brawn slices and black pudding – in a traiteur; this is one of the reasons we travel, to taste the full range of foods on offer.
From Ostend we moved on to de Haan. Guess what? It was a pleasant sea-side town, no marina though. It was Cromer with a large tidy-up and a dose of elegance, and lots of bathing huts – you certainly need them with the windy conditions on this stretch of coast (similar to the stretch the opposite side of the North Sea actually). De Haan clearly thought itself a notch above de Panne along the coast, and unlike the latter had kept all its Edwardian buildings and style, and was dotted with large villas in half grand town-house, half mock Norman cottage styles.
De Haan's seafront and "Normandy" style villas
From the coast we headed to Brugge, or Bruges to give it its French name, via some pretty tree-lined avenues running alongside canals. We had a brief look at Damme, which has a very impressive town hall and old buildings – enough to place it firmly on the coach party trail. It is now little more than a picturesque crossroads on a canal, but in its heyday was a rich town. Looking down the 8km length of canal from Damme we could see the church spires in Brugge. Unfortunately we lost the road that ran alongside the canal, but found another canal (there are plenty to choose from), by a tree lined avenue, and stopped there to have a bit of a picnic, while several different groups of cyclists, including a party of OAPs, rode past.
You're never too old...
The sat nav is turning out to be more useful than Rob expected. It got us painlessly to the aire in Brugge, and we walked into town with Charlie via the Minnewater Park. Our first impressions of the city were that it is every bit as lovely as the guide books describe it. As the sun began to dip below the Flemish gables we sat outside a cafe and had Belgian beer – very tasty indeed.
Brugge made a strong impression on me from the moment we crossed the ring-road to enter the historic centre. The historic core has survived almost unspoilt, a maze of mediaeval streets lined with ancient houses and religious buildings with barely a hint of the 20th or 21st centuries in its architectural styles. The tourist crowds were stifling in the middle of the day, but if you ventured into town before 10am you would share it only with the locals – flocks of pupils cycling to school, or people walking their dogs. I ventured twice into old Brugge at this early hour, and these were my best memories. On Tuesday I took my bike and rode around for a couple of hours, looking at first for an open bakery, but then just enjoying myself and exploring further and further parts of the town.
Views of Brugge
Tuesday’s weather soon turned colder, and rain threatened for much of the day. We took a boat trip along the canals – interesting and picturesque, but boy it was cold. We explored a bit more generally, and particularly liked the renaissance interior of the Holy Blood Basilica, which was painted in rich reds and golds over every inch of stonework. The name comes from one of the many biblical ‘relics’ produced en masse in the middle ages, and purporting to be a vial of Christ’s blood as washed from his wounds by Joseph of Arimathea and brought back from the crusades by a Flemish knight ( a mere 1000 years after the crucifixion, but why spoil a story ?). Apparently the miraculous vial was dry until 6 p.m. every Friday, when it mysteriously liquefied, until the year 1325 at any rate. Being the run up to Ascension Day, when the vial gets paraded through the streets of Brugge, it was out on show for some veneration, so we got to see the glass surrounding it, if not the actual item.
Views of Brugge
We had left our sleepy dog for some hours in the van, a situation he seemed quite happy with, but so had eventually to return there. The weather then turned very rainy, but being inside the van by now we were not too bothered by it.