Bienvenue a Belgium

June 19, 2008 in Belgium, Europe, Travelogue

Crossing into Belgium with kids was a deflating experience.

We were all excited to cross into a new country, get a new stamp in our passports and feel as though we’d crossed another milestone in our journey. We crossed into Belgium, alright. We passed a faded sign announcing the border of the province we were entering, and that was it. No check point. No passport stamp. No brass band with drums and cymbals to cheer us on and recognize our accomplishment. Nothing. Just more wind in our teeth and the beginning of long, wide canals fringed with enormous trees leaning gently toward the east from years of wind blowing across their growing trunks.

“Hey,” said Hannah, “Maybe we should carry our own band along with us and they can get off and play when we cross into a new country.” I laughed, in spite of the fatigue, and reminded her, “You’re it, Baby… get off and play that violin!” She gave me her one eyebrow up, one eyebrow down “stink eye” and pedaled past me into Belgium. So much for the welcoming committee.

My greatest joy at arriving in Belgium is that I am once again among the literate. While in The Netherlands translating Dutch was a constant puzzle and guessing game… sometimes we won, sometimes not. Happily, Belgium is bilingual: Dutch and French, and I can read the French. I knew exactly what I was getting at the grocery store. It’s the little things in life!
We arrived in Bruges tired.

It was only about a thirty mile ride, but it felt longer than the forty some we did the day before. We cycled all the way around the circular town to the VVV (tourist bureau) to ask after our campground. Tony was a little too long in the office. The kids and I had a nice visit with an Italian couple thorough a mix of my Spanish and their broken English while we waited. “Well, I have bad news and good news,” he says. “The camp ground doesn’t exist. It’s been made into a cinema complex.” Naturally. “However, there’s another one… back the way we came.” Sighs all around. It occurred to me as we cycled back around the quaint medieval city on bike paths fraught with obstacles, such as rickety wooden bridges, whole herds of grandparents on tour and Japanese tourists looking up instead of around them that “quaint and medieval” could actually be translated “serious pain in the posterior on a fully loaded bike.”

Nonetheless, we made it. The camp ground is perfect. Free hot showers, which rate highly on our list of amenities. A washer and dryer for only 4.20 euros per load. PER LOAD. This is cheap, actually. Every stitch of clothing we own is dirty, so I’m spending our life savings washing. We even have our own little covered picnic table pergola, which is definitely a novelty. I took it as a sign of having adjusted to our tent life that we chose to sit on the ground on our tarp and eat our dinner last night instead of at the table.

It rained last night. It is still grey and drippy this morning. The boys are coloring. The girls are washing dishes. Tony just agreed to swap the laundry load for me as he heads for the bath house. I’m typing in my “tent office,” as Meg has come to call it, perched on my green therma-rest with my tea. The prime directive for today is sorting out our train tickets. I’ll admit some trepidation about schlepping all five bikes, two trail-a-bikes and all of our assorted JUNK on and off the trains. A German on the ferry assured me that “this is no problem” but he was traveling alone, without the added circus train that is five kids. If all goes well, we’ll take our first train in two days. Beyond that, we hope to tour this “quaint medieval” village WITHOUT all of our gear.