A weekend in the west (of Belgium)

A few weekends back, I took the boyfriend to see my family’s hub. I myself grew up in the centre of the country, but my parents, uncles, aunties, cousins, grandparents are all from Bruges. So I guess it was high time we visited what I consider to be the most beautiful city in Belgium. But of course I cannot just go to Bruges without visiting the family. Which is why I didn’t really mention to anyone that we would be in town. Bus since we were staying at my granny’s and she likes to spoil me rotten, we ended up not spending much time touristing in Bruges at all. But we did have a wonderful weekend.

We drove to Bruges on Friday morning, and when we got there my granny had made sure there was a more than delicious lunch waiting for us. I think I have told you before about our Burgundy style of life in one of my first posts, so you might not be surprised that what she called “a light lunch” was in fact quite impressive. Of course first there were some wine and apetisers. Cheese, sausage, little savoury buns. Then there was zucchini soup. (And let me just tell you, no one can make soup like my granny can.) Then there was a “salad”. As in, couscous, lettuce, tomato, peppers, goat cheese, blue cheese, spring onions, bacon, crunchy stuff, and who knows what more. Not to forget coffee and biscuits, duh. The weather was absolutely stunning. Simply perfect. Beautifully sunny, and completely manageable both in shade and sun! So of course after the meal, the obvious plan was to head to the sea side.

From where my granny lives, you can take some country roads straight to the coast. Belgium is super small, but having grown up in the centre, I can tell you for sure that there are many differences over the teeny tiny distances. We simply do not get country roads like the west gets them. Just wide enough for one car, never mind the tractors coming from the other side. Fields and cows all around, everything as flat as a pancake. Ideal for the boyfriend to test his driving skills across the channel! Of course, the sea side was crazy busy, but it felt so good to have our feet in the water! I hadn’t been at the Belgian seaside in forever. After having lived in Finland, Ireland, and Australia (not meaning to sound stuck up, sorry, but you fellow travellers know how it is), the Belgian coast really isn’t the most impressive. Beach and apartments from west to east. A few sandhills. That’s it. But my granny and me always go to De Haan. It’s quite different from the other seaside towns. It has amazing architecture, sometimes you even feel like they took some cottages from next to an Austrian skiing slope and dropped them in De Haan. The village really does have a nice feeling to it. The sea, however, does not have the most impressive view. It is really just straight and brown and deep blue for as long as you can see, being a 180º horizon. But then again, maybe that’s only not impressive to me because I take that as the standard. But view or no view, turtles or no turtles, crazy amounts of tourists or no tourists: feet in the water is feet in the water and I love it! I really did enjoy my seaside afternoon like a kid on christmas morning. We finished off the day with my favourite dish from granny: a salmon lasagna.

The next day, we had a wedding from a friend in Bruges. Beautiful day, beautiful wedding, beautiful smiles. We were a little bit early, so we had a little wander in the centre. I showed the boyfriend the Grote Markt (the Main Square), the Halletoren (the Belfry), and some cobblestone streets between De Reitjes (the small channels / river flowing through Bruges). After the ceremony, we walked through one of the main shopping streets (chocolate shop, beer shop, lace shop, chocolate shop, lace shop, and another beer shop) and drove to Meetkerke for the reception. I don’t think it was actually in Meetkerke, since our turn off was the tiniest road between a few fields. For a second, it seemed like the sat nav was playing a prank on us, “turn left in 300 meters” when there was nothing but fields. But we found our way to this beautiful farm house, decorated with balloons and photos, music flowing over the fields out of some odd-looking unidentifiable instruments. And after some apetisers and champagne (juice for me, being the designated driver), it was time to head back to granny’s for more food (roasted duck, tasty!) and relaxing by sunset.

Sunday then, we went back into town for more touristing, with granny as our local guide. We started at the train station and made our way to the Minnewater, a beautiful park with the old houses from Bruges peering through the trees at the far end. At the end of the park, just around the corner, there was the Begijnhof (Béguinage). Currently, there is an exhibition in Bruges (De Triennale). Artists from all over the world were asked to put up a piece of art inspired by the following question: what if the 5 million tourists that visit Bruges every year, would also live in Bruges? The artwork in the Béguinage consisted of treehouses in the courtyard, all put in the trees without a single nail. I originally found the idea odd, to fill a historical city like Bruges with modern artwork, but I must say, this really worked. The piece and quiet of the Béguinage, the old look of it, the trees all slightly bent in the same direction because of the wind, and the simple wooden treehouses at the top of your view. Not bad at all.

Next up was some wandering through the cobblestone streets, watching the horses with their tourist carriages clickclack by, enjoying the breeze from the Reitjes. A very succesful morning I would say!

Of course granny felt like she should treat us even more, so we drove along the Damse Vaart (the channel leading up to Damme, a once again beautiful old country village not far from Bruges, with a massive church as the only sight on the skyline) to a country pub (Belgian style, no more than 10 tables) for lunch. First we had an aperitief (the pre-dinner drink, tomato juice for me since somehow I turned out to be the designated driver once again) with a few hapjes (apetisers): a gazpacho and some crackers with a black olive spread. For starters, I had a pasta with parmesan cheese and truffle. My goodness, that earthy stuff is like an angel peeing on your tongue. For mains, I went with my West-Flanders favourite: tomaat-garnaal, emptied tomatoes filled up with Belgian grey shrimp and home made mayonaise. Of course accompanied by home made Belgian-style chips. Hell yeah. Heaven yeah! After coffee (accompanied by gummy bears, best idea ever), we had a little walk between the fields as for the first time during the weekend, clouds started to darken the sky and it turned slightly chilly. That marked the end of our weekend, and it was time for us to tackle the busy drive home.

What a delicious weekend, both for our bellies as for our tourist minds.



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