20-22 April 2018
Sun still shining we headed off into Belgium and were soon appreciating the neat countrside. Everything from the fields to the farmhouses to the little villages seems clean and orderly, and donkeys and miniature ponies appear to be very popular. Our campsite on the outskirts of Bruges was also very neat – a complete contrast to Dunkirk – and had the novelty of an automatic check-in with one machine allocating a pitch and issuing a bar-coded ticket, and another issuing wi-fi tickets. Very clever but we prefer the personal touch.
The campsite is perfectly located for walking or cycling the couple of miles in to the centre Bruges. We walked it, entering the old city through a large gate across a canal with old fashioned windmills nearby and cyclists everywhere, making it feel as we expect the Netherlands to.
We found that Bruges is characterised by cobbled streets, quaint old houses, canals, bridges, and cycles. And in the centre, horse-drawn carriages filled with tourists, clip-clopping their way around from their base near the monastery, a charming scene with swans competing for canal space with boats crammed with sightseers.
We particularly liked the piece of kit that the horses wore to catch their droppings, keeping the streets unsullied – never seen that before.
Obviously we had to try the famous Belgian chocolates so visited one of the many, many chocolate shops in the city and selected 4 each to try which were beautifually boxed and horribly priced. Chocolate must be worth it’s weight in gold here!
Being tourists we viewed the famous bell tower, as featured in “In Bruges”, but somehow resisted the temptation to join the queue to climb it and instead found lunch which we rounded off by sneaking tastes of our chocolates along with our coffee.
At the De Halve Maan brewery – still family owned, now in the 6th generation – we did the XL tour which runs once a day. It was very busy – 28 of us – and lasted 45 minutes. It was interesting despite the fact that the brewery has been modernised with the final parts of the process, including bottling, now done at a new-build plant on an industrial estate outside the city fed with beer via a unique pipeline. There was a great view of the city from the top of the old cooling tower, and old parts of the building no longer in use have been preserved for the tour giving a feel for what used to go on.
At the end was our favourite bit: the tasting – 3 beers, all completely different in character and strength, illustrating different techniques. Someone has to do it!
We dandered gently back through the streets soaking up the atmosphere in the warm spring sun. Our view? Lovely city, nice beer, over-rated chocolates, horrible prices. Definitely worth a visit.