Well here we are on the last day of September and much has happened since my last blog. We left Reims with little help from the GPS.Thank goodness for google maps and internet access. My netbook has paid for itself many times over. We haven't seen internet cafes and most hotels whilst they provide free WiFi don't seem to have computers available for use in hotel lobbies.
The weekend weather was very cold with chilling winds and we felt that we'd been very lucky to have had two weeks of fabulous weather. We headed north to Valenciennes - where I bought a coat! Grey skies and very cold winds persisting. Top temperatures have been around 11 degrees so very different from our 29 a few days before.
From Valenciennes to Brugge in Belgium. Brugge is a very beautiful place and whilst there are people everywhere, we could have spent much more time there. It is known for its chocolate and lace. Needless to say that every second shop in the touristy areas is well stocked with lace products or chocolate. They do have other shops as well as a few Cathedrals and very old buildings. We found a car park almost in the centre of the city and were soon pointed in the right direction for the tourism office. The GPS died as we arrived in Brugge so I think we were very fortunate to find our way right into the centre of the city. With map in hand we were then able to see the main sights in the few hours we had there. This even included a canal ride of 40 minutes as well as a visit to the lace museum and we were in time to see a class of lace making in progress. Sad to say that most of the women were well into their very senior years. I suppose this is another art that will slowly die- such a shame but great patience and excellent eye sight is required. I think I'll stick with patchwork!
With some basic intructions of how to leave Brugge and get on the right road to Brussels, we departed and prayed that our GPS would kick in so that we would find our way to Chris and Belinda. I had their address and email address only so you can imagine it was a fairly stressful time. We drove at least 20 kms at 120 kms/hour before there was a peep out of the machine. It soon peetered out before making a last attempt at pointing us in the right direction. The skies were grey, it was cold and there was so much traffic and we realized that we couldn't be entering the capital city at a worse time. I can tell you we were both very relieved to arrive in Trevuren and see the name Edwards above the door bell. Chris & Belinda welcomed us very warmly and looked after us very well for a couple of days. We met Tim aged 16 and Nicole too which was a bonus. Nicole and her husband were married in July and Markus is working as a Youth Pastor in an Anglican church and Nicole is a lab assistant at the local high school in Lowestoft in the UK. Nicole had returned to Brussels to revoke her citizenship which is required within 90 days of leaving the country.
The roads here are amazing and in France on the Autoroutes the speed limit is 130 and many people fly past when you are sitting on the speed limit. Belgium was tops at 120 but I don't think the roads were in as good condition. The French certainly know how to look after the motorists and there are many rest/ petrol and food stops along the way. We have found that the drivers are very courteous and they certainly don't sit out in the centre lanes - they very quickly get back into the other lanes.
We experienced the tram and underground metro of Brussels as Nicole was booked on the midday Eurostar back to England. Also a treat was to experience real Belgian Waffles.. Wow! Whilst we have been in Europe there have been strikes and demonstrations across many countries. We saw it first in Beaune and then in Brussels, they were expecting to gridlock the city between 1-5pm. We were not keen to get involved in the action but saw hundreds of demonstrators gathering at the Gare Midi whilst we were there. We left Nicole and the city and headed back to Trevuren where we walked past the palace, lakes and gardens into the main village where we met Chris and went for lunch at a very beautiful Italian Restaurant.
In the afternoon Belinda took us to Leurven, a University City where we saw more bicycles than we've ever seen before - they are everywhere. Dedicated bicycle lanes are there too, so pedestrians need to get out of the way. We were amazed to see young girls in short miniskirts and high heeled shoes riding their bicycles- no helmets to be seen.
First stop this morning before leaving Belgium was a trip to Krefel, where we purchased a new GPS, a Tomtom and we were on our way. This lifesaver was timely as I don't think we'd have made it out of Brussels, let alone on to Beauvais where we are tonight. Off to Monet's Garden at Giverny tomorrow, then Palace of Versailles Saturday morning before returning the car.
Journey to be continued....