Avoiding Crowds (and Children) in Belgium
After our stop in Ypres, we decided to slowly make our way up through Belgium to The Netherlands. Our original plan had been to head up along the Belgian coast. After some thought we decided that, being August, the possibility of running into lots of small humans during their school holidays was way too high. Given our aversion to little screaming birth units we changed our plans and went up through the center of the country instead.
We are traveling throughout the summer without any reservations, apart from our first night off the ferry in July. We were not really sure how that would go but felt fairly confident we would be fine. Our first destination was a free parking spot in Tournai a pretty, historic town.
First thing to know about driving in Belgium is that place names change depending if you are in the French or Flemish part of the country. It's not like Canada where you see both languages displayed. The Belgians just use one or the other depending where you are in the country. So "Tournai" is the French name for our destination (the city is in French speaking Wallonia) but in Flemish it is known as "Doornik". When I realized this I felt quite stupid. As we had been faithfully following our GPS toward our destination of Tournai I had been thinking "I must look up this place Doornik we are heading towards and see if it's worth a visit as well." DOH!
When we arrived at the parking spot it was jam packed with about 25 motorhomes from Italy. We were a little shocked and thought, wow this winging it thing might be tougher than we thought. But we chatted with one of the Italian families and he told us they were stopping for a few hours on their way to Calais; they were all heading en masse to England for an organized motorhome tour of Cornwall.
Once they all pulled out, we settled into a space and took a wander through Tournai. It's an ancient city with impressive Gothic and Romanesque architecture, Unfortunately the UNESCO listed cathedral was covered in scaffolding and closed to visitors while we were there. After a wander along the canal and a pleasant beer in the Grand Place, we decided that we would move on the next day as we didn't need to see any more.
The following night we stayed at a pretty canal-side spot near the city of Mons. When we arrived around midday we were the only ones there enjoying the sunshine and watching the boats go by. By the evening we were joined by another dozen motorhomes, but it was still a pleasant relaxing spot.
Back in the Dutch part of Belgium, our next stop was the very pretty city of Mechelen. We took the train from our campsite and found ourselves in the bustling center of the city. St Rumbold's Cathedral with its imposing tower overlooks the city and its beautiful pristine architecture. As part of a summer festival a beach had been constructed in the main historic square. It was quite surreal to see kids in swimsuits running around while Gothic statues looked on.
Our last stop in Belgium was the second largest city in the country - Antwerp. Previous visits had been just for work, so this was a chance to explore for fun. We stayed very near the center of the city allowing us to cycle around. One night we headed in by tram, and started our evening with some delicious Belgian beers and I eventually got the moules that I had been yearning for since I arrived in Belgium. It was one of those glorious summer evenings that you are sometimes lucky to experience in European cities. The atmosphere was jovial, the weather balmy, street musicians and buskers created a buzz and everyone was generally feeling positive and living life in the moment. We too were feeling good about our life choices. Antwerp was the perfect final stop of our eight day Belgium tour. Next stop The Netherlands.