Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Our European Road Trip Begins (Aug 1-3)

Here we are sitting in the common room of a little campsite in Bruges, Belgium listening to a fellow camper sing and play the piano…..and she’s brilliant! What a treat! Bruges is our first stop on our 3-month long journey around Europe. The last couple of weeks we have spent in the UK, house hopping and dossing with friends. We’ve searched out and packed our little Astra full of camping gear and now we’re on the road.

We caught the ferry across the English Channel on Sunday with our car, disembarking and following every other passenger out of the terminal. 5 minutes down the road we suddenly realised we hadn’t passed through any security and noone had viewed or stamped our passports at either end!! Will this be a time where following the crowd will get us into trouble?? Only time will tell, but right now no one knows how long we’ve been in Europe, so I guess we’re exempted from the 90 day rule under the Schengen Zone agreement! Sweet!! Unless of course we are deported on the grounds of bypassing security. Fingers crossed we don’t come unto close contact with any authorities!

On our way to Bruges, we stopped at the biggest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world called Tyne Cot which has over 11,800 WWI soldiers buried there. It was a deeply moving and sobering experience as we reflected on the fact that most of those who died were around our age or younger and many who were Australian. We thought about the devastation, for Mothers, for Fathers, for siblings, for whole families and for their communities across different parts of the world where the Commonwealth is represented. We also reflected on the courageous spirit these soldiers would have possessed and in the face of their fear they laid down their lives. Some of the graves were for unidentifiable soldiers and their headstones read ‘Known Unto God’…..what a beautiful way of remembering and acknowledging even those whose names were unknown. Lest we forget.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

We’ve spent 2 nights here in stunning Bruges. It’s such a quaint, romantic little town full of old buildings, canals and cobblestone streets. In Europe, it is known as the ‘Venice of the North’ and we can definitely see why. We absolutely loved just strolling along the streets and alleyways admiring the unique and quirky surroundings. The town is even more stunning at night when the canals and streets glow with strategically placed lights. On the first night at dusk, we saw swans floating down one of the canals and it was such a surreal and romantic moment. Just beautiful! The centre of town is the Market Square where the streets open up to a huge cobblestone courtyard with traditional restaurants and beautiful buildings on the perimeter.

Market Square

One of the picturesque canals

And the FOOD!! OMG the FOOD!! So good! In one day, we ate Mussels & Fries (Belgium’s traditional dish), we tried Belgian chocolate, authentic waffles and Belgian beer. Firstly, the mussels surprised us….both Tim and I haven’t like mussels previously, but one of our aims on this trip is to challenge our taste buds so we gave them a go and went with our waitress’s recommendation. Our mussels were stewed in a creamy vegetable sauce, were so tasty and very more-ish. We visited a few chocolate shops which not only displayed a feast for the belly, but a feast for the eyes. Simply a work of art. The chocolate we tasted was a mixed bag as far as our liking goes….we could tell that it was extremely good quality, but a little on the sickly side for our taste. We did prefer the darker chocolate and specifically the truffles which were filled with fluffy, mousse-like chocolate. Mmmmm. The waffles were nothing like we’ve ever tasted before!! Crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. We decided to eat them as the Belgian’s would and have them sprinkled only with icing sugar rather than the whole hog of chocolate, strawberries etc. Well actually the truth was, we knew that after everything else we had eaten we would really want to throw up if we had more chocolate and all the trimmings. The beer we have tried is incredible to say the least and even I agree when I’m not a beer drinker. Lets say that if I can get my hands on more Belgian beer in Australia, I might just become one! Lol. The 2 or 3 that we tried were so smooth, with a mild sweetness on the finish. Not the beer that I know!

Mmmmm, Belgian beer!

Last night, our final night in Bruges, we had our very first ride together on a horse-drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets and alongside the canals. It was a romantic way to finish off our evening. Well, we did think that was a nice ending until we checked the bus times and realised we’d missed the last one for the day by over an hour. Ooops!! So the only means of transport was our feet (unless of course we wanted to pay a ridiculous amount for a taxi) so we gritted our teeth and started moving despite how exhausted we already were from walking all day. An hour later we arrived back at the campsite ready for a big night sleep….which ended up being interrupted by very noisy campers!! Honestly, who yells across a full campsite at 4 in the morning!! Grrrr! We have now accepted that these are the things that we may just need to suck up while camping in Europe in the peak season.

Our horse drawn carriage

Today was our first experience of packing up the camping gear while on the road. Prior to leaving from the UK we decided to test all the gear just to make sure we knew what we were doing and everything was functional. We discovered that we didn’t really know what we were doing because we forced our ‘pop up’ tent into the bag (with great difficulty) completely the wrong way almost destroying it before we even started. During this time we were both a little headstrong, to say the least and were reminded how camping does test our relationship.

Cooking brekkie

As we packed up the tent this morning, we found that the thing was falling apart already! So out came the sewing kit to do some quick repairs on some really dodgy stitching. Having learned how to pack the tent away correctly and being mindful of letting the stress of packing up go, we actually managed to fulfil the task seamlessly without chewing each other’s heads off! Maybe positive teamwork is not out of our reach after all and maybe we might get through this road trip with our marriage still in tact.

Today we are off to Brussels, Belgium’s capital to stay with some couch surfers who have kindly accepted our request.


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