We left Brussels after checking out of Maison Noble mid-morning, saying farewell to Matthieu as he saw us off in order to see the Highlander we’d been talking about. As check in time for the campground we’d be staying at wasn’t until 2:00 pm and the drive would only take about 90 minutes, we decided to stop part way in the town of Ghent to sightsee a bit.
As we drove into the center of town we noticed a shop on one corner called Coffee and Bicycles, a named that called out to us like a siren luring sailors to the rocks. We purchased a couple of cups of coffee, settled down at a table and with a password provided by the shop, logged onto their Wi-Fi which produced a good signal, one allowing us to complete a number of the application updates and downloads we’d been unable to perform at Maison Noble.
Sunday is market day in many towns like Gent and so we wandered across the street for a moment to peruse the offerings, as it was the animal market, featuring songbirds, rabbits, chickens and fish. We walked closer to the center of town and using our Rick Steves guidebook, commenced to take a hour long walking tour which featured most of Ghent’s main sites. We were a bit disoriented at first and it took us some time to figure out exactly where we were on the map, but once straightened out we made for St. Bavo’s Cathedral, one of three very impressive churches in this small city.
Completed in the late 1500’s, it is home to the Ghent Altarpiece, formally known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. It is considered to be one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance, as well as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of Belgium. The original is being restored and is only shown in sections at six euros for the viewing. We decided to skip it and just take in the magnificence of the building itself. No matter how many times you visit Europe or take in one of these cathedrals, each overwhelms you with its majesty.
We walked the rest of the town center and then feeling a bit hungry, and the morning having moved along, we made our way back to the car, first stopping at a fast-food shop for our first official order of Belgian frites. We ordered ours with a creamy curry sauce and the small order, when it arrived, appeared too large to be consumed by two moderately hungry people. It didn’t take long to dispel that notion.
We drove the final hour or so to the small coastal town of Bray-Dunes to our campground, Camping du Perroquet. As we had been eating well in Brussels, we stopped in Adenkerke, the small town just north of camp at a Delhaize, another one of the large chains here in Europe and owner of the Food Lion stores in North Carolina. We picked up supplies, including the makings of a salad to which we would add some canned tuna brought from home.
Camping du Perroquet is a large campground, with two main sections separated by about a kilometer. The section near the main gate is grassy and contains a number of the recreational facilities they offer (tennis, mini-golf, horseback riding, etc.) and the outer section is located at the beach, with facilities that include the camp store, a restaurant, and a bar. We chose the inner section for the grassy plot we could camp on, as opposed to the outer where it would be on sand.
As we would come to discover over time, this campground catered more to folks with trailers, both those who pulled their own to visit and those who had permanent installations. This meant that this early in the season, the facilities that we would rely on to provide us with cover like the bar or restaurant, were only open on the weekend, that is the Sunday we arrived. For the rest of our stay they did not reopen.
This became problematic after the second day when the weather turned rainy on us (it had been bright, sunny and warm) as you can only spend so much time in the tent or the car before you go a little stir crazy, and neither is conducive to working on a computer, particularly if one wants to update their blog.
Our first morning in camp was spent unpacking parts of the car and getting its contents set up for our day-to-day activities. In the afternoon we hopped on the bikes and headed south towards Dunkirque. The campground was located right at the French and Belgian border and we rode on a fairly quiet two lane rode seven miles or so, making a number of short side trips out to the local beaches.
After the ride we hit the supermarche just outside of camp and picked up for the ingredients we would need for dinner that night, pasta with a jar of spaghetti sauce. After eating, we jumped in the car for a drive down to Dunkirque, to check out the town but primarily to escape the vicious mosquitos at our site. The next day I was a little under the weather, so we stayed close to camp and in the evening, in search of a place to hang out, found a nice bar/restaurant where we could have a beer or two and work on the computer.
For our final day, we loaded the bikes onto the car and made our way to Roubaix with the intent to find a bike shop or Tourist Information Center where we could get directions to the parts of the course for the Paris-Roubaix bike race (lovingly referred to by the pros as “The Hell of the North”) that features the infamous cobbled sectors, otherwise known as pave. Our first stop in town, Cycles Barelli, was a very nice shop featuring Specialized products as well as Colnago, Pinarello, and Focus bikes.
Unfortunately, the only employee there didn’t speak English so we made our way to the center of town to the Tourist Information Center, where the young woman behind the counter helpfully directed us to a cluster of small towns (Bourghelles, Wannehain, and Camphin-en-Pévèle) that featured three separate sections of pave. We started in Camphin-en-Pevele and driving slowly on a narrow two lane road made our way through the villages to the end of Bourghelles, with no pave in sight. Discouraged, we decided to stop at a small parking lot to think about whether we wanted to try to ride our bikes, as the weather was threatening rain.
We noticed a small group of local citizens gathered in the lot, most likely preparing to take a walk on a nearby path, and so we approached them and asked if they could direct us to the pave. One of the women in the group advised that if we just went back out on the street, turned left at the first intersection, went a short distance and parked at the cemetery, we’d find our section. We did as directed and soon found ourselves admiring the brutal nature of the course. Rain started to fall helping us to decide that bike riding that day would not be an option, a fortunate circumstance as disaster might have been an outcome should we have ridden on the slippery cobblestones.
We made our way back to camp and after partially breaking it down (there was a break in the rain and it gave us a chance to dry off some of the equipment and get it into the car), drove back up to, Adenkerke, for dinner at Moeder Lambik, a Grillade known for its charcoal grilled meats. We split a very large appetizer of Prosciutto and Melon, and our entrees consisted of the grilled shrimp appetizer for Joanna and a huge portion of grilled Pork Filet, perfectly cooked for me. Along with a large bowl of salad and one of frites, it was all we could do to finish enough of our meal to justify ordering desert, an apple tart with an interesting crust we’d not encountered before.
Not wanting to rush back to camp, we strolled next door to a mid-sized cemetery, containing the graves of local citizens as well as members of the Belgian military. Headstones and markers in the citizen section were elaborate and often immense, with a multitude of designs and configurations. The simple headstones for those in the military, spoke of a different type of honor, the rows lined up evenly, graves neatly spaced. Most of the dates were for men who’d fought in the First World War, a reminder of the price these countries have paid for the centuries of fighting that have taken place on their soil.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral: http://www.sintbaafskathedraal.be/
Ghent Altarpiece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece
Camping du Perroquet: http://www.campingleperroquet.com/accueil-en.htm
Cycles Barelli: http://www.barelli.fr/
Moeder Lambic: http://www.moederlambik.be/