[England] [Chocolate and Beers in Belgium] . .  

Early December 2001:

Another Australian couple, Jamie and Tanya and ourselves caught the Eurostar over to Lille in France, and from there toured in a hire car for five days through Belgium. Naturally it wasn't ever going to be sufficient time, so we decided to concentrate on Bruges and then the southern area known as Wallonie. More commonly as the Ardenne region, it is extremely hilly and was the scene of many battles in the world wars. It's a stunning area with hills, valleys, fast-running rivers and many castles atop ridges.

We spent some time wandering aorund Lille after getting off the Eurostar. Christmas markets were being held near the city centre and Mike and I had our first taste of warm chocolate-coated waffles - delicious if somewhat messy! There were some very creative window displays - the French really know how to go all-out for seasonal shopping displays. After picking up the hire car in the early evening we drove across the border into Belgium and up to Bruges, where we had booked B&B accommodation.

The accommodation proved fascinating as it was a really modern, minimalist home. All the other B&Bs Tanya and I had researched, were of a traditional and historical nature, so it was surprising to find something so modern in what is a very quaint city. After entering through the front door in to a foyer area, we found that the living area was sectioned off from the foyer and bedrooms by a large round, pivoting door. This was locked later at night.

Bruges is an amazing small city surrounded by a river and old ramparts. The city itself is small enough to get around on foot, walking on cobbled streets or travelling by boat along the many canals. We had a great time wandering the streets, drooling over many chocolate shops. Lace and linen are the main tourist buys in Bruges, but many types of boutique beers are also produced. Over the next day and half we took a horse and carriage ride through some of the streets, went to a couple of small markets and also managed to have an ice skate on the temporary rink set up in the town square. Jamie definitely skated all over the rest of us - he has speedskated for most of his life. After leaving Bruges, we travelled southwards, skirting around Brussels, the capital of Belgium. We stopped at Namur for the night, in a small hotel run by a Chinese French couple. It was a little weird to see Asians speaking French! Namur is quite a large sprawling industrial city. Like many towns in Europe, it has a fort which overlooks the town. As we left the next morning we went up to it and enjoyed wonderful views of a misty morning over the city.

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The next day we travelled through hilly regions, stopping at a spa town for lunch, and ultimately ending up in La Roche en Ardennne, a small town set in a valley, for the night. It was quite pretty but black and white photos in the hotel we stayed at, showed that the town had been extensively bombed during the second world war and as such a lot of its old architecture is gone. A small hill sits in the middle of the town and on it are ancient fort ruins. Miserable weather the next morning meant we decided to give touring the ruins a miss. In fact, as the photos will show, the weather was pretty overcast and rainy for much of the trip. It had obviously been raining a fair bit before we had arrived in Belgium as many of the rivers were swollen.

On the last day we drove south-west towards the French border to take a look at the town of Bouillon - another town set in a valley, with a fort high on the ridge! We only had time to drive around the town and up to the fort before making our way northwestwards aiming for Lille. On the way back up to Lille, we stopped at the town of Dinant for a couple of hours. The town is narrowly stretched out on either side of a river, due to the encroaching high hills on both sides. On one side, the hills, were in fact, limestone cliffs and perched on the top was yet another fort. There were steep steps in the town leading up to the fort but no one, surprisingly, felt like climbing them. The town, from a tourist perspective, is apparently popular with climbers.

Highlight of the journey: Definitely Bruges, like a box of chocolates, with lots of hidden little treasures! A miniature Amsterdam

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