Loved Belgium

Trip Start Jun 15, 2004
Trip End Apr 03, 2005

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Saturday, October 2, 2004

We were met at the train station by Jacquie's friend Sophie when we arrived in Coutrai, Belgium. Sophie has a really big smile, an even bigger laugh but a really small car. Not so good for a couple of Canadian Backpackers with two packs each. We managed to stuff everything, including yours truly who received the nickname Christmas Tree due to my height and a wedding picture that Jacquie sent Sophie in which I am, apparently, as tall as the Christmas Tree at the Banff Springs Hotel. Anyway, clearly I digress. Sophie lives in a very nice house in the town of Waregem (sorry if I'm spelling all of these city names wrong Sophie) and after dropping our packs of at the house we went out to meet some of Sophie's friends at the annual pub crawl. It was a very enjoyable evening but all of the visiting and chatting resulted in our getting back to Sophie's house at about 4:30 am. Oh well, we were not sleeping in a tent so a sleep-in was possible. The following day we were driven by our most excellent tour guide to the small town of Bruggs. This was a very important centre for cloth making during the 12th to 14th centuries. The town was heavily damaged during the first world war but was rebuilt to all of its splendor. The streets are lined with the Guild Houses for the cloth makers, cheese makers, tanners etc. There are canals running around and through the town with boats meandering up and down and a very leisurely pace. It is one of the most beautiful towns that we have been in and we would highly recommend Belgium as a travel destination. Did I mention that Belgium does beer? The Trappist Monks were brilliant beer makers a few centuries ago and they are still making great beer today. We were taken to one small pub in Brugge where they served 300 different beers, all made in Belgium. Each beer has to be served in its own special glass with the name of the beer printed on the glass. I had a Trappist Stout which came in a short chunky glass, Sophie had a lighter beer that came in almost a brandy snifter and Jacquie discovered Rasberry Beer which came in a champagne flute. Very civilized.

The next day we went to Ypres to visit Tinecot, the Cemetary where so many Allied soldiers from World War One are buried. It was very moving to see so many tombstones marking the graves of so many young men in one area. The graves, when possible, are marked with the nationality and regiment of the soldier but so many are simply marked "known only to God". There is also a wall behind the cemetery which lists some 35,000 names of Allied soldiers who simply disappeared in the mud and trenches around Ypres. We also attended the Canadian Memorial just outside Ypres. We were impressed with how well the cemeteries were kept up.

The next day or tour guide had to go to work so she dropped us off at the train station and we spent the day wandering around Antwerp. If Belgium is known first for their beer, they are known second for Frittes. Don't call them french fries as the Belgians swear that they invented them. There are Fritte and Waffle vendors on every corner and, as it was lunch time when we arrived in Antwerp, we looked for the Fritte Shop with the longest line and cued up. We each ordered a "large fritte". It might have been appropriate to ask how large before we ordered as when the order was up I had a hard time lifting the tray. There were about 20 choices of dipping sauce including the usual ketchup and mayo along with curry, samboleek, tarter sauce and hot mustard. We sampled them all and managed to make it through our order. We could hear our arteries complaining as we walked away from the table. Jacquie checked out De Kathedral where many of Rubin's paintings are hung. It was, in Jacquie's words, more like a museum than a cathedral. Each piece of art had a story explaining it and everything seemed larger than life. The cathedral is built over the ruins of another church dating back to the 11th century and recent excavation resulted in the discovery of some very old crypts under the floor of the cathedral. We spent some time people watching in the diamond capital of the world trying to pick out which people carrying briefcases were transporting "millions" of dollars in diamonds. We took the train from Antwerp to Gent to meet up with Sophie again. Gent is another beautiful little city. The buildings are old and well maintained. It was getting dark as we wandered up and down the streets and bridges over the many canals and the lights came on illuminating all of the buildings and bridges. Absolutely wonderful We had a beer in a nice restaurant in Gent and then headed back to Sophies. We were treated to another great meal before doing our final pack up in preparation for leaving the next morning. Thanks to Sophie for being such a good host. We did about a hundred loads of laundry, slept in a soft warm bed and ate way too much great home cooking. We are off to Amsterdam for the final leg of our European Journey with full bellies and big smiles.

Did I already recommend Belgium?

Jacquie and Dave
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