We have finally made it over to mainland Europe after spending eight months full timing in the UK.
The journey via the Euro Tunnel went very smoothly and was nice and easy. For those who have not used the Euro Tunnel to get over to France its very easy. As you arrive you go through what looks like toll booths but are in fact automatic checkin booths. If you have pre booked your ticked your number plate is automatically recognised and a simple press of the screen will print your boarding hanger, to place on your rear view mirror, with a large letter, ours was D, on it. You then follow the signs to the coach, caravan and motorhome parking area that has a large display screen which will tell you, by your letter, when to proceed.
We had arrived early for our train so wandered over to the terminal building which was very much like a motorway service station and had some breakfast. I then had plenty of time to try and work out how to fit the beam deflectors to the headlights which a large sign in the entrance to the terminal building had handily reminded me. Thanks to whoever thought of putting that there I had completely forgotten and would probably have never remembered, till I got nicked that is.
Once our number, well letter, had come up with the instructions to proceed we followed the big blue signs pointing to France, went through passport control for the UK and passport control for France. Yes thats right 2 borders in a short distance, made me feel like we were going across the Berlin wall in the good old days just without all the guns pointing at you. We were then, or maybe before passport control I forget, told to pull over by some special buildings to have our gas checked.
Having satisfied themselves I had turned off the gas (they have to check themselves can’t just tell em) we proceeded to boarding the train. Having seen a coach and another motorhome ahead of us disappear into the side of the train I thought can’t be that hard and it wasn’t. It was just one of those stupid things I was worrying about having had that incident with the bridge in Dorset.
After a 35 minute train ride we arrived in Calais and drove off the train, out of the station and on to French roads with Ann, my darling wife, constantly repeating to remember to drive on the right. I mean come on just because I got it wrong when we were in Germany ONCE. As it goes about half an hour out of Calais I got it wrong again, whoops.
I had programmed the sat nav for a camp site we had been recommended in Brugge, Belgium as our first stop and made sure I had selected the ‘No Toll’ option. This meant we were taken along some quite narrow but empty roads through some farm land and also through some very pleasant French villages of which one we decided to pull over in and grab a coffee from an almost empty bar before popping next door to a Lidl for some bits. As, in the past, my French came flooding back and was able to communicate quite well. Its a funny thing but can hardly speak a word of it in the UK but as soon as I am in France it just comes spilling out. Not that I know that much but a dam sight more than when in the UK, weird.
Continuing on into Belgium and Brugge to find our campsite, Camping Memling. A lovely site which is quite compact compared to the ones in the UK, seems they don’t have the 6 meter rule here, with very friendly staff that speak loads of languages including English. We were later to find out most people in Belgium speak several languages. I did find it amusing that there were lots of english words used in shop signs and posters, especially where they had the shop name in Flemish with an english tag line under it. The sign outside the camp site instructing you to park in the street before checking in was only in english, odd.
Bicycles rule in Belgium and as far as I can work out that unless it specifically says so they have right of way over everything including pedestrians. I am also guessing that if you knock over a cyclist something very very bad happens to you as it looks to me that the drivers in cars were petrified of them like they were tyrant rulers or something.
The camp site is situated just 2KM outside the main city which is a good half hour or so walk, a very regular bus ride or as I opted to do a 5 minute bike ride. Its probably more if you take your time and have to peddle yourself but since I was on a electric bike and felt like a tyrant ruler I bombed along as fast as it would go. It was quite a strange experience being on a road / cycle path and feeling safe.
The city itself is beautiful having been here since 1000AD . It has a fascinating and very important history and its links with the Medici family which you can find out about at the Historium which can be found in the Markt square in the centre of the city. I highly recommend you visit this as for €11 you can take a very cleverly done interactive tour through several themed rooms which tell Brugge’s history through a lovely story of boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy finds girl again…….
Now a word of warning. Brugge has a lot of breweries, not has many as it used to have, but still a lot and they make strong beer. That will be lager to the british but they call it beer. Don’t bother asking for lager they have no idea what it is neither do they know what bitter or ale is. Having had a local beer with my lunch at a rather quaint restaurant by one of the canals I wondered into the Beer Museum just round the corner from the Historium.
To be honest, its crap, you walk around with an iPad pointing at QR codes, little squares with chunky dots on it, thats by some picture or painting and either listen to or read some stuff that was … well … a bit boring and you get the impression they struggled for material. There were some interesting bits here and there but not much. When you get bored, didn’t take me long, you down stairs to the bar where you can choose to try 3 of the 8 or so different beers they have on tap there, you can buy more if you like. Its better if you go as a small group as then you can pool your 3 drinks and try them all between you as I saw a group doing.
Let me repeat the warning ….. whilst what you get is only 33cl, a third of a litre, by the time your have necked them and added to the beer you had less that an hour previously you leave there a little light headed and the chocolate shops beckon to you, and there is a lot of them. Of course your no longer in a state to resist so you wander in and they don’t play fair, they offer you free samples. So after being in 3 or 4 your not only slightly tipsy and your sugar levels have reached new highs and your feeling just that little bit sick. I now have every sympathy for toddlers who have dodged their parents watchful gaze and gorged out on chocolate and had a try of uncle Georges beer when he wasn’t looking at a family gathering. The ride back on the bike was fun though.