We are so excited that we are now in Europe. We caught the train from Folkstone for the Eurotunnel. What fun it was and a little worrying as on the news that morning an earthquake (a small one mind) was reported to have rumbled the seabed of the English Channel. We put our fears behind us and drove down onto the station platform. To board the train we drove through a large door in the side of the carriage. It didn’t take long for the train to be loaded and the doors closed and we were off travelling under the English Channel. What a weird feeling it was, all that water above our heads :--)
35 minutes later we were driving off the train onto French soil, remembering to stay on the right hand side of the road. Fortunately the roads were very quiet for Paul’s 1st attempt as it was Bastille Day (a public holiday in France) and he didn’t make any wrong turns :--)
Up bright and early the next morning (ah!) we were off to the Boulangrie (bakers) for our 1st French baguette and the Patisserie (cake shop) for a delicious strawberry tart for lunch.
We drove along the north coast, through Dunkirk and on to Bray Dunes. It was a bit like Brighton (or for the Aussie ‘The Entrance’). Lots of gift shops, cafes and thousands of holiday makers.
We ventured into a French supermarket to stock up on cheese and pate to go with our baguettes, and what we hope are a tin of smoked oysters…..
We crossed the border into Belgium but before we went any further we had to buy a road map so we could work out which way we should be heading. Making ourselves understood in the shops with the help of the phrase book and lots of hand signals was a challenge.
We didn’t expect to come across a Greek Festival when we stopped at Bredene, just east of Oostende in Belgium, but there where crowds of Greeks enjoying their native music, along with dancing and lots of Ouzo. We joined in by tucking into a bowl of Belgium mussels, cooked by a Greek, washed down with a Greek beer.
Brugge was a beautiful city, cobbled streets, tree shaded squares and canals. We toured the Diamond Museum and learnt that even though diamond is the hardest substance known to man, a diamond can still be smashed if you hit hard enough.
We camped a 10 minute walk from the Memin Gate in Ieper. The buglers sound The Last Post here every evening, rain, hail or shine and have done since 11th November 1928 as a moving tribute to all fallen soldiers. 54,896 men who fell in The Great War, who have no known graves are commemorated by their name on the Menin Gate. It was a very tear jerking ceremony.
The gothic Cloth Hall in the market square in Ieper was a ruin after The Great War but within a year it had been rebuilt to its former glory and now houses the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ with many artefacts and eye witness accounts of the First World War.
We met Timmy and Winnie (locals) while in Ieper and enjoyed a great evening with them while trying a few (!) of the Belgium beers. At 9% proof just a couple had us a little the worse for wear. The following day we met our new friends for lunch as we needed ‘the hair of the dog’ :--)
Zonnebeke and the Memorial Museum Passchendale was our next stop. Many Australians fought and lost their lives around the town of Passchendale in the 1914-1918 conflict. The museum was very informative and after going down the re-constructed dug-out I am thankful that I have never had to live underground like a mole. Warren Snowden, our Australian MP for Veterans Affairs, was also there that day.
We caught the bus into Brussels and at 2 Euro for a ¾ hour journey it was good value and saved us trying to park the van in the city. We walked all over the city, doing all the tourist things – Grand Place, Royal Palace, St Michaels Cathedral, Mannekin-Pis. I wondered around the lace shops, drooled through the windows of the chocolate shops and tucked into a sugar coated Belgium waffle from the Belgium Waffle shop. We stopped for a coffee in the Grand Place and enjoyed watching the flower market in the centre of the square and doing lots of people watching. The old parts of the city were beautiful but the rest is just like any major city, busy and noisy with traffic.
We have crossed another border and are now in the Netherlands. We visited the windmills at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk. The windmills, built in the 1740’s, are still used to keep the land from flooding, along with modern day diesel pumps. There are 19 windmills and the sight of them lined up on the edge of the dykes was awesome.
We walked into Delft tonight and enjoyed walking along the canals keeping out of the way of hundreds of cyclists. There are cycle ways everywhere and young and old ride bikes. Even very young baby’s have there own cycle capsules. Delft is a delightful town, lots of canals, little bridges and cobbled streets. We stopped in the town square for a glass of wine and a bowl of mussels and listened to the bell ringers doing their weekly practice from the church spire.
One of the things I have noticed is that the Belgium and Dutch dress beautifully. No Trackie Daks and Ugg boots for them. Makes Paul and myself feel a bit dowdy :--(
Hope all is well
Take care love Liz & Paul x