6 days away
77 miles / 124 km since last post
523 miles / 842 km total
We left Bruges on Thursday morning and drove to Gent, straight to the campsite Blaarmeersen. Like in Bruges, we found a campsite that would give us the easiest access into the city. This one was a lot more reasonably priced than the last however (or so we thought...) - just €7 a night (compared to €22.50), although there was a little surcharge for electric too.
We arrived around lunchtime so had a quick bite to eat before heading off on the bikes into the city. It was a pleasant ride too, and made much easier with Stu's phone containing the GPS maps.
Once again, like Bruges, the city has many cobbled streets - some of them quite unpleasant on the bike, but we soon managed to avoid most of them. Gent is a very pretty city. It probably doesn't have quite the charm of Bruges, but it feels less of a tourist trap and certainly has a younger vibe about it - I guess the University helps with this. That said, there are still some very impressive buildings and the river and bridges make for a lovely looking city. It also has a huge pedestrianised area in the centre (the biggest in Europe apparently) which also makes cycling around easy and pleasant.
We were fortunate again with the weather - starting off with a little rain but turning into another gorgeously hot, sunny day.
Gent has an impressive Belfort (Belfry), and there is also the Castle of the Counts. On our cycle round we took in all the sights, stopping for a while next to the Lys river. After a while, feeling a bit thirsty, we went to find a cafe to get a drink. We found a great spot outside and with some welcome shade from the sun. A plate of chips with mayonnaise (a staple in Belgium) and a couple of Leffe Blonds later, we were feeling suitably relaxed and definitely in holiday mode. We took the cycle back to the campsite nice and steady :)
I think the beer plus cycling combination made us both feel pretty tired once back in the motorhome around 6pm ish. We both had a bit of a welcome afternoon nap before getting dinner and settling in for the evening.
Despite the weather being lovely nearly all day, by the evening time a thunderstorm had passed our way bringing with it some torrential rain which lasted most of the night - a bit noisy in the motorhome.
Thankfully by the morning (Friday) the rain had stopped, but unfortunately the sun didn't really make an appearance. We both enjoyed a really big lay in - I think I got up around 11am. We decided that as we have another night stay in Gent we would get some washing done and stay around the campsite today. It needed to be done so we may as well take advantage of being in a decent campsite with good facilities. So Friday was mainly washing, drying, eating, sleeping and playing on the Nintendo DS.
In the evening of Friday however, after some dinner and once it had started getting dark, we took the bikes back into the main town of Gent again. The guide books say it is pretty at night, and they were right. The old buildings are lit up really nicely, and there were plenty of people enjoying the Friday night in and around the many bars along the river. We were glad we made the late trip out.
Saturday morning we had to make our move out of the campsite in Gent and head to Brussels. We first wanted to fill up with water, and it was the first chance for us to use the water hose supplied by Westcountry Motorhomes when we bought our motorhome (campsites have often had their own we can use up until now). The hose is pretty pathetic really - it doesn't stay on or remain water tight, so the only way to use it was to grip it tight against the tap, and even then the water squirted out. A real pain!
Another unwelcome surprise was the bill when we left the campsite at Gent. What we originally thought to be €7 a night plus a small electric fee, turned out to be €40 for our two night stay. It seems they also charge for each person per night too, on top of the motorhome charge. Oh well, another lesson learned. I guess we will check out those prices a bit better next time.
The drive to Brussels wasn't too bad, until we actually hit the city. Suddenly everything got very busy very quickly. We first stopped off at the Atomium - a giant model of a molecule built in 1958. When we tried to use the car park we found the motorhome wouldn't quite fit through the barriers. So we drove round a little further and found a road to park on, but then couldn't work out how to use the parking machine. It seemed pretty straight forward - enter card, press green button - but no ticket came out. We just decided to chance it and rode the bikes further towards the Atomium to get a better look and some pictures, before getting back to the motorhome in a short amount of time.
It was a drive right into the city to get to our campsite. We had selected it by picking one of the Aires campsites - details of which are freely available on the web. They are generally regarded as cheaper but perhaps more basic sites, so you don't really know what you are going to get. But we picked the one nearest to the city centre.
On arrival we found that it was actually a youth hostel (Molenbeek) which had parking available for motorhomes and campervans. It did have electric hook-up though, so we thought we would stay. The only slight disappointment was the price - €30 for the night. Apparently this does include breakfast, but seems a bit steep for what is essentially a car park!
As we plugged in the electric and started making up some lunch, a couple of campervans full of French lads turned up. It seems they are here on a stag weekend (oh the joy of being in a European capital city on a weekend!).
We took the bikes for a ride to the Grand Place - the focal point of Brussels. This is an attractive square with some awesome 17th century architecture. Whilst the buildings themselves are fantastic, Brussels has already struck us as lacking the intimacy and charm of places like Bruges and Gent. It is also far busier (as you would expect I guess) and certainly not as clean.
We took a wander (as it was too busy to cycle) over to the city Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, parts of which date back to the 10th century. Another pretty amazing building.
We strolled around for a further hour or so, noting a lovely shopping arcade, some attractive narrow cobbled streets taking you past cafes and shops. However I think we both decided that big cities aren't really for us on this trip. We're glad we came to see Brussels but I think we both prefered the smaller and quieter places. It makes for a more relaxing and stress-free time.
Thankfully our motorhome was only a mile or so away, and we headed back to catch up with the usual bits and pieces - blog, photos, work out where we go next etc (not before stopping at a chemist to get some ear plugs, just in case the stag party gets loud). We also got in touch with our friends Carolyne and Dan in The Netherlands who we shall be visiting next weekend.
I think the plan will be to head out of Brussels tomorrow. We had initially thought of staying a couple of nights, but have both decided one night in the city is enough.
We are prepared for a noisy night - police sirens, drunken revellers and shouting on the streets!