We woke up to a very damp and driech morning in Luxembourg, having experienced heavy rain overnight. Thankfully, we had put the external topper on, mainly as a form of insulation on these increasingly cold nights upstairs, but it served us well in all the rain. Everyone around us on the campsite awoke a little bleary end this morning, thanks to an incredibly inconsiderate German Big White who pitched up at 1am, and inexplicably, decided to park in what was effectively the seating area for the Big White opposite us. What’s more, they decided to back in, revving their engine, and shining their lights into Oscar. When we woke up this morning, we couldn’t quite believe where they had decided to park, so close to the other German Big White, effectively on their pitch. The pleasant German lady stepped out of her van with a lot of disbelief on her face. Of course, the offenders were still asleep, tucked up in their van.
The lady came over to talk to me, seeing that I was observing the situation. ‘What should I do?’, she asked.’ ‘They have parked on top of us!” A few minutes later, the culprit appeared from his van. A heated discussion ensued in German, which I didn’t understand. Howard, who was ear-wigging, thought that the man had said that they were leaving this morning anyway. I couldn’t help but feel that this was no excuse at all, since he had effectively woken up at least a half of the campsite with his parking antics. What made it ten times worse, was that there were three free pitches right by the entrance, that he could have driven straight into, without disturbing a soul. Not long after, the guilty looking German slunk off out of the site, with the nice German lady shaking her head in disgust after him. ‘He must have personal space issues’, Howard muttered as he left.
Excitement over, we quickly breakfasted and packed way, conscious that our next destination was a good couple of hours away. However, everyone seemed to want to come over and talk to us this morning – always the way when you’re in a hurry. One Luxembourg lady with a California wanted details of where we had got our topper from – she wanted one! I duly gave her the link to the California club website. Then a Belgium chap came over to talk, seeing all our flags. He asked where we were going to next. ‘Belgium’, we replied. He enquired where. In true unplanned style, we confessed that we would probably decide in the next ten minutes, but it would probably be a toss up between Ghent and Bruges. ‘No question,’ he replied. ‘It has to be Bruges.’
So that is how we ended up heading towards Bruges this morning.
Within no time at all, we had crossed over the border into Belgium. The first part of our drive was a little like a culinary tour – passing by Rochefort (as in cheese), and Ardennes, then Brussels (as in pate). Apart from the modest Ardennes hills, there is a reason why Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands are called the ‘Low Countries’ – they are incredibly flat. Having just driven through the Alps just a few days previously, the landscape seemed incredibly dull. I realised, as we were driving, that it is stunning mountainous landscapes and seascapes that I love more than anything, preferably both at once, and I always struggle with flat places. Howard tried to explain to me the history of these three countries, having read all about it last night while I was typing. Over the centuries, they have been combined and broken up, often a major component being religious divisions between Catholics and Calvinists. He recalled visiting Leuven in Belgium some years ago for work. Here, the two universities, the Catholic and the Protestant ones, divided up the journals to their libraries by alternate years, so that each would only have half the journals!
Eventually we arrived in Bruges, just after lunch. We parked by the river and walked into the Old Town. I’m sure many of you have visited this lovely city, but for those of you who haven’t, it is picture postcard perfect. The cobbled streets lead towards a large central square, the Markt, with the stunning belfry clock tower on one side, and on another, a row of wonderfully colourful buildings, with the characteristic crow-stepped gables, forming a real picture. We walked on to see the Burg Square, and then St. Salvator’s Cathedral. The whole city is a true feast for the eyes, and not surprisingly, was busy with visitors.
In the fourteenth century, this Flanders city was a the heart of the cloth trade, and as such, was a key member of the Hanseatic League, the powerful trading alliance in Medieval Europe. British wool was imported and woven into fine cloth here, and the Flemish weavers, including those in Ghent and Ypres, then traded with goods such as hogs from Denmark, spices from Venice, gold and silver from Poland, furs from Bulgaria and hides from Ireland. The whole old town seems to ooze history, and it is hard, at times, not to think you are walking on a film set.
Being in Belgium, I had hoped to indulge in chips and mayonnaise, but was dissuaded from this by Howard. Instead, our crepe smothered in hot chocolate sauce (Belgium chocolate, of course) was probably even worse for us than chips.
We eventually dragged ourselves away, and went in search of our campsite for tonight. Unexpectedly, we have ended up just over the border in the Netherlands tonight. Both campsites we had selected in Belgium turned out not to be open, not before we had driven to the coast near Zebrugge. The first appeared to have vans inside, but when we pressed the intercom, we were told that they had shut for the season.
So we had another half hours drive across the border to a campsite in Zealand. It is clear to us, that most campsites this far north in Europe are now closing down for the winter, in contrast to the campsites we experienced further south in Spain, Portugal and Italy at the beginning of our trip, many of which stayed open all season.
We have now visited all the countries in Europe that were on our imaginary ‘list’ when we started this trip. The nights are closing in, and becoming colder, and so reluctantly we have decided that it is probably time to start thinking of returning to the UK. There is a huge part of me that wants to just turn round and start all over again, but I know we need to return. There are so many other places that we would have liked to have visited, and others that we think we may return to someday.
For now though, we have the Netherlands to explore. Just half a mile across the border, and I have already spotted my first windmill. Next on the list – a little mouse with clogs on!