After yesterday’s long ride where we had pushed ourselves physically along some of the long stretches, we were both bushed by the time we had set up the tent, showered and had supper we had little energy for anything other than snuggling into bed. Laying in my sleeping bag I thought to myself that I may have difficulty getting to sleep, as although it was about 10pm, it was still quite light. Five minutes later (or so it seemed) I woke up to Mr V preparing breakfast, having already stuffed all his bedding away in their respective sacks.
We breakfasted and finished the packing and were on our way by about 8am, just as our fellow campers were rousing.
Once we had navigated our way out of the city, the going was quite straightforward from Gent (Ghent) to Bruges, as for most of the way it travelled alongside the major canal linking the two cities. The evidence of WWII is still obvious from the concrete gun emplacements remain every few hundred yards standing in quiet testament to the depths of inhumanity that mankind can still plummet. We did though take some time to wonder around one such monolith which is now utilised as a bat sanctuary.
We came across an interesting sculpture on the way and stopped to investigate further; this was a commemoration of the Canadian troops who were the ones to liberate this area, there was a gentleman carefully restoring the flags carved in the stone. It is sobering to witness how the commemoration of the lives lost is still so highly regarded here and in Holland, and the gratitude that is passed down to each generation so that even small school children are aware. This remains alive in the collective social consciousness in a way that it is not in the UK other than for those with a more direct connection.
We reached Bruges just before lunchtime, so this was a short day in the saddle, peddling around the perimeter of the original medieval city, we peeled off to find our campsite and were booked in and setting up by noon. The site is small in area, being in the city, but is busy and well organised. For the first time in our trip we are not the only UK citizens, indeed this site is somewhat like a little Britain such are the number of GB number plates on the camper vans and cars. The small tent camping area is quite private and planted with hedges at the end of the site next to the woods abutting the site. We enjoy dappled sunshine for the morning, but the afternoons and evenings are in shade. We don’t mind this having had some sweltering spots over the past few weeks, as we can always wrap up against the cooler air. We do get odd looks though as we venture out of the shade to the rest of the sunlit campsite dressed in our lightweight duvet jackets.
The site though is nice and quiet despite the numbers and so sleep was only disturbed by the snoring of neighbours and a group making their way back through the woods in the wee small hours with what sounded like sleigh bells. Oh, and by the irritating puncture wounds sustained during the great mosquito invasion of Antwerp!
One of our neighbours, a German gentleman gave us a seminar on his unusual choice of tent. He swears by the time tested inverted ‘V’ medieval style for its simplicity. Though he did sleep in a smaller modern tent inside.
We had decided to spend two nights here so that we could sightsee in Bruges and booked ourselves onto a walking tour of the city, cycling into the main square first thing in the morning gave us a false sense of how busy it would get later in the day. We were pleased we had opted for the morning tour as this meant that the day was still relatively cool and the crowds had not yet reached their peak. Bruges is a beautiful city, much of the medieval buildings are still intact, as it has escaped damage from both world wars. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is not difficult to see why. Every corner you turn is another slice of history. Our guide was excellent, as a history scholar she really knew her stuff and regaled us with charming stories about the city, including the still outstanding reward to anyone who returns the golden serpent that stood atop the watchtower, stolen by Ghent citizens and now displayed in their watchtower, and the orphanage that hid Jewish children amongst the Flemish and the return visit of their descendants.
Once the tour had come to an end, the crowds had significantly increased and reflecting the tourist economy the city now largely depends on. This was particularly evident especially in the two main squares and Mr V was keen to move on, so we sought the quieter back streets away from the hurly-burly, enjoying a lovely walk along the canals and around the outside of the city with its numerous windmills.
Staying two nights here has meant that we have been constant whilst there has been a turnover of fellow travelling campers and we have new neighbours both sides tonight. One couple with a very friendly and inquisitive puppy, and the other side a pair of Dutch teachers who have taken a years sabbatical to cycle from Guangzhou to Singapore, and are now cycling the length of the WWII frontier. An idea for a future Talula tour me thinks.
Onward we shall go tomorrow, though our hearts are a little heavy as our remaining days are now so few, but we are intent upon enjoying every moment we have left. The weather once again is predicted to be scorchio; we have a 40 min ferry crossing to break up the day and hopefully give a cool breeze.