Thursday, 31 July 2014

In Bruges

I've wanted to come to Bruges ever since I watched this movie.

Under the influence of the white stuff
 Will I see Midgets (apologies if that is not the politically correct term)?

Will elephantine tourists (except me) try to squeeze themselves up the cathedral stairs?

All shall be revealed...
When I am in Bruges ....

I have no idea what to expect. But I booked a small hotel room right in the center for a decent price (cheaper than the cheapest room in Vancouver at the moment ;-)

I get up in Middelkerke at 5:30 am to finish that nagging translation and on my first smoke break am rewarded with a Belgian sunrise  reflected in the windows of the church in front of my window.  Then of course the thought enters my mind that this sunrise will look even better seen from the beach.  Off I ride into a cloudless sky ;-)

The sand castle survived high tide, but not the beach sweeper ;-(

Is there anybody out there ?

close ..

I finish the translation before breakfast, where I discover that Belgians like stinky cheese for breakfast.  But it tastes good!
Kerke in Middelkerke

I head East towards Ostend at 10 am. There is a harbour right next to the railway station that I arrived at 2 days ago.

Why can't bridges over railway lines look like this everywhere?

Yes, that is a liftable bridge. The canal that I will be travelling along all the way to Bruges also serves as means of transportation. I'm sure in the old days there were barges being pulled by horses on the treidel paths along the banks.
Not the cleanest people, these Belgians !

While the canal ride is very pretty, after an hour it gets a bit monotonous

Another innovative lifting bridge design.

Damn, yet another way to die ;-(

Time to step into a city from the past ...

... or into tourist land. 

 There is a soccer match between Brugge (Bruges) and some other city on today.  
 Later in the afternoon I will see the Belgian police with helicopter support clean up the mess.
My room is not ready yet, so I head around the corner to Moules Poules for lunch.  The Salad Nicoise is obviously made by someone who never had a real one before but it's not bad at all. What is quite bad are the prices for eating out in this city. A salad almost Nicoise for 17 Euros. Ouch. And there is not even any Aussicht! (inside joke, eh?). But they do have free Wifi, which is not standard in Europe !  After listening to screaming kids from all directions for a while, I wish there was a ban on toddlers in Bruges.

After a quick shower in my tiny room with uneven floors (hey, the building probably is 500 years old), I head out to climb The Tower....

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

If it's Thursday, this still must be Belgium (2 days in Middelkerke)

Beach. Windy. Not wheelchair-accessible.

Following a recommendation of my hotel's receptionist, I eat dinner at La Tempete.  
Bouillabaisse a la Mer du nord
The food is good (closer to France, I guess), but the waitress/owner is a bit snippy. When I order the appetizer Bouillabaisse, she grabs the menu from me, points at another page with a Bouillabaisse for double the price, and admonishes me for not ordering "a real meal".  Anyhoo, the appetizer proves more than adequate in size and taste, but I can't say that I felt comfortable eating here; too much under the watchful evil eye, I guess.

Just a few weeks ago, a friend and I had a discussion about the Lucky Luke comics. First of all: they're French/Belgian, being drawn by the same guy(s) who did Asterix & Obelix.  Second of all:  In the new Lucky Luke comics delivered and read in Canada, Luke chews on a blade of grass, or a straw, or whatever, but not on a cigarette like he used to.  Cycling along the promenade, I am stopped dead in my track but this sight.  Luke, the stupid dog, and the non-stupid Dalton brother and Luke is SMOKING !

He still smokes in these parts ;-)

Oh Belgians, what have you done to your coast?

tide lines

my version of The Scream

Time to go to bed in my hotel.

At first I suspect my hotel (vacation rentals actually) is designed for the elderly wheelchair-bound guest, since there is not a single stair in sight. Add to that emergency push buttons, wheel-chair-accessible showers and balconies (!) and they know who their target audience is. I just typed the vakanties met de puntjes op zorg into Google Translate: 
Holidays with the dots on health care
That explains why the elevator doors sound a chirpy Opgepast before they close.

Hmm.  I learned something new. And NO, I was not trying to make fun of elderly vacationers in wheelchairs, but the real importance of this hotel was hammered home when I saw several young guys in their 20s wheel their chairs into the hotel lobby this afternoon.  Thinking back over the hotels I have stayed in during this and last year's trips, I can not remember many hotels where anyone in a wheel chair would have had an easy time getting into their room. And even if  the hotel layout did allow that, I can't remember a single bathroom where a wheelchaired person would have gotten onto the loo or into the shower without major muscle effort. 

However, as wheelchair-accessible as it may be, there is NO telephone in the room. Good thing there is Skype!    Also missing is hot water at 5:30 am; they don't turn the boilers on until 5:45  am. Breakfast is at 8 am so I have time to cycle to the beach:

And if anyone should agree with the author that this coast is disfigured by more than enough ugly high-rises already, closely inspect the below picture: They're building more ;-(

Where the buildings of Saint Malo reflected harmoniously in the sand, these just look sad

Inhumane ?

run, run away 
After a good breakfast (the scrambled eggs and bacon looked too Belgian for me to try), I go on a mission to remedy the other thing that's missing in Belgian (and Dutch?) hotel rooms. No, I'm not buying a phone (Whenever there is no phone in the room, the place seems to have excellent internet; knock on wood!) but an electric water kettle. Instant coffee brewed with hot tap water just doesn't taste right.

And I am successful!  While the last travelling water kettle had to stay in Saint Malo last summer, this one will be a true TRAVEL KETTLE, since it can be switched from 220 V to 110 V.  Nice touch.

On the way back from the kettle store (EURO SHOP, a Home Depot-like contraption for household goods) I decide to head back to the hotel via the dunes.

A trailer park (for summer holidays)
Back at the hotel:

After I have have tested my kettle in the hotel (it works ;-) , I go for a short exporatory bike ride to Westend (in the opposite direction from Ostend ;-). More of the high-rises along the water and some old Belgium inland.

At 7:30 pm I've had enough of work. I need a diversion.  A bike ride?  Why not!  Why not ride the 10 km to Ostende to buy some cigarettes. And then the 10 km back. I won't walk miles for Camel, but I'll cycle miles for Gauloises -)

I already had the idea yesterday, when walking on the freshly unearthed tide flats I noticed that they were hard as concrete.  All I needed today was to see someone else do it and find some stairs down from the dyke.

I make it to Ostend by 8:30ish, find a cigarette store, and head back into the setting sun.

A good day ;-)