Driving to Belgium
In a truly bad start to a holiday, I awoke with a headache. I’d not slept well, my head was pounding and I had pain in my left eye. Worse, because we had to leave in a hurry there was no time for coffee, so I downed some painkillers for the headache and opted to tough it out. This was a mistake.
Due to being early (about 7:30) on a Sunday morning, the roads were quiet, and so we made good time, stopping only at a service station near the Dartford crossing to stretch our legs. Thus, we arrived early at the Channel Tunnel and were able to board an earlier transport, arriving in Calais about an hour and a half ahead of schedule.
Obviously, with Louise being unused to driving in France (opposite side of the road, speed limits in km/h, and signs in French), this was advantageous to us, though needlessly so as it happened. We made good progress again, despite our little Clio struggling with the higher speeds. We topped her up with petrol at another service station just outside Bruges and carried on, arriving in Ghent at about 2pm, plenty of time to navigate the tight, cobbled streets to find the hotel Gravensteen, which would be our first stop.
The room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, so we wandered down the street to see what we could see, and found a small café bar called Giri’s (which we will definitely be returning to). A couple of small beers each soaked away an hour or so while we waited. When we got in, the room was lovely, though not without its problems. There are very steep curved stairs leading to it, which I would undoubtedly be unable to handle in an emergency, and the safe was broken! Worst of all, they only supplied instant coffee, which to me, is utterly barbaric.
Even so, the room is pretty big with a nice bathroom and a comfy bed. There could be worse places to spend a few days. Our evening meal was an unexpectedly delicious pizza from Al Castello near the castle, with a glass of Omar Traditional Blonde. All just a few minutes walk from the hotel.
After such a long trip, we were both tired and had an early night.
Day 2 started with some of that barbaric instant coffee and a shower. We’d set our alarm for 8am but were both awake way before that. Nevertheless, it was after 9 before we ventured outside. Task the first was to find some decent coffee to drink, which we did in the form of Broodjeszaak Martens, a café that served, most surprisingly, Costa coffee. It did the job. Incidentally, it happens that this particular café is right next to Brouwbar, a brewpub we planned to visit one evening. At least we now know where it is.
And so to today’s main event, a visit to Castle Gravensteen – a medieval castle built by the count of Flanders way back at the time of the crusades. We spent a few hours wandering around and listening to the recorded tour guide.
Café ‘t Geduld was our lunch stop. Not so much lunch really though as a beer to relax. We stayed long enough to rest our feet and headed back in the direction of the hotel to charge phones and get ready to go back out.
Beer and Chips
The evening wasn’t the greatest success. We failed to find a decent meal, so ate some Belgian-style chips from a cafe called Frites Attellier and then sat outside a really interesting bar called Trollekelder for a couple of hours with, in my case at least, a bottle of Westvleteren 12 beer – the first time I tried it and, considering the price, potentially the last too.
Unfortunately by this time, the heat, the walking, and the beer (and maybe the salty chips) had resulted in Louise feeling unwell and so we called it a night and went back to watch a video in our room, leaving the evening of July 4th to those Americans who prefer to celebrate Traitors’ Day in Europe.
A day of relaxing
We had intended to visit the Cathedral. However, on arrival we found they required booking online in advance, so we settled for a couple of photos of the outside, while we wandered around town. We ate a baguette and a glorious waffle in a café called In Choc and spent the day just hanging out until the evening when we went out for a few beers.
Why is it…?
Why is it that when on holiday, one always finds the best food experience on the last day? Well, on Wednesday, we had coffee at a small café and decided to look for somewhere to eat lunch. After a few maybes, we walked into 5th Gök, a Turkish restaurant that sold what can only be described as a fusion of Turkish and Belgian cuisine. Kofte kebab with rice, salad, and baked potato, or beef stew with french fries, to name only what we had. I only wish we’d found it sooner, but this would be our last full day in Ghent, with tomorrow being a transit day where we drive to Aachen and then on to Koblenz for four days.
The day ended with a wander down the street to the Brouwbar microbrew pub which I mentioned a few paragraphs above for some last drinks, and then, in the morning it was time to check out and make our way to Germany.