Day 9: Nothing Compares 2 U

Today was our last full day in Ghent and our last day in Belgium for a little over a week, as tomorrow we’ll be heading into the Normandy area of France. I’m really excited to see Normandy but I’m very sad to be leaving Ghent, it has left quite the impression on me.

We were all feeling lazy this morning, so we slowly got ready, and Ma and Pa headed to the post office to mail back some gifts we have accumulated. I headed to this great little cafe called Wasbar for a bizarro breakfast – speculoos latte, orange juice, pain au chocolate, one egg, cheese, 3 pieces of toast, butter, jam and chocolate spread. It was a weird combo, but also delicious.

One of Pa’s travel traditions is that he likes to collect Harley Davidson t-shirts from where ever we visit, so while he grabbed a cab and headed to the shop, Ma and I wandered and chatted about travel to come. We met Pa an hour later, now getting close to lunch time and headed to our new favourite haunt, Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant for a last hurrah there (this included a few beers). After the beers we headed back into one of the many great squares, and Pa and I had some frites from Peter’s and Ma had a waffle with caramel.

Ma had decided that she wanted to head back to St Bavo’s Cathedral to get some photos of the dramatic alter piece (Catholics, am I right?) so we all went, the cool Cathedral a welcome respite from the increasingly aggressive afternoon sun.

We decided for old time’s sake to get a few chocolates from the gourmet chocolatery (I got whipped coffee cream and creme brûlée), grabbed a bench in St Bavo’s square and watched the bubble man delight the children.

I decided that this guy has a great job. He doesn’t really have to talk to anyone, I’ll be let no one calls him an asshole, he doesn’t have coworkers who conspire against him. He just grabs his bucket of suds, his homemade bubble wand, sets out his hat and stands in the square, entertaining eager children. Benefits are probably shit, though.

Ma wanted some introvert recharge time, so while she went back to the hotel, Pa and I went to this other bar we had been eyeing, the outdoor portion wedged between 2 buildings and quite literally right on the canal. Had a taken one step to the left, I would have been wet.

While Pa and I were imbibing away the afternoon, a husband and wife in a kayak paddled up to the bar, right at our feet. The husband got out of the kayak (with Pa’s help), went in to the bar and came out with 2 bottles of kriek beer, 2 glasses and a role of duct tape. With his wife still in the kayak, he took out the duct tape, wrapped it around his wife’s sleeve and then to the brick ground. He literally taped his wife to the ground. He then poured their beers, they enjoyed them, and he was back in the kayak, un-taping his wife, then paddling on their merry way. It was one of the weirdest and most hilarious things I’ve seen in a while. I’d tried to stealthily grab some snaps on my phone:

After finishing off a second round, it was time to meet Ma at the Castle of the Counts for some more photos, followed by a traditional Flemish dinner of frites, waterzooi stew and meatballs.

We wandered back to our hotel, drinking in this wonderful city for the last time.

Day 8: I Know I’m Awake But I feel like I’m in a Dream

This morning we got up at a decent time and hit up an adorable little bakery around the corner for breakfast. At Julie’s we had iced lattes, cuberdon steamed milk, cinnamon buns and scones with jam and cream. Feeling satisfied we hopped a train northbound to the fairytale town of Bruges (or Brugge). Bruges was a sleepier town until the 2008 hit movie “In Bruges” (highly recommend, unless you’re offended by the word “fuck”) came out and tourism has skyrocketed. Apparently Ghent and Bruges are bitter rivals.

We walked the kilometre from the train station to the main market square – along with gobs of other tourists and travelers, some stopping right in front of you and blocking the entire narrow sidewalk to get the perfect shot.

We got to the busy market square and things were hoppin’ – tourists, waiters, horse drawn buggies and food carts crammed every corner. We were feeling a little overwhelmed and a little disoriented, so we stopped for a beer.

After some beers in some pretty ridiculous bar ware, we started our Rick Steves walking tour, starting at the belfry (as seen in In Bruges).

They’ve boarded up some of the viewing points on the upper part of the Belfry, thanks to a particular scene from the movie. Bruges is capital of West Flanders and is encircled and connected by waterways, where swans and tour boats are king.

Ma didn’t get a waffle the last time she and Pa were in Bruges, so we stopped by Fred’s and each had a delicious Liege-style waffle.

After our sweet treats, we wandered around the old squares, ancient houses, former markets, breweries and abbeys.

Everywhere we turned there were people. And not just people, but tourists (like us). We decided that we wanted to do my favourite thing – boat tour!

Our boat captain/tour guide was hilarious, with a dry sense of humour and cracking wise in 3 different languages (I’m assuming he was funny in Dutch, I can only vouch for English and French).

After 30 minutes of putting around the moat, Pa and I decided we were thirsty and had noticed a neat looking brewery on our boat trip – Bourgogne de Flanders – so we tracked it down, each got a flight of 6 beers and grabbed a table at the hip brewery (some hits, some weird misses).

We were almost Bruges’d out, but Pa had something to show me – the Bottle Shop.

This shop is like Mecca for good beer fans – ceiling to floor, wall to wall of brews, including a whole section of krieks. Truly breath taking!

We headed back to the square and grabbed a cab back to the train station and trained back to Ghent, where we had some delicious pizza and pasta for dinner and headed back to the hotel.

There are quite a few articles on the internet about Bruges vs Ghent and here is my opinion – Bruges is beautiful and cute and it is a fairytale town for a lot to see and a fun boat tour, but I got the sense that the town itself is disingenuous – like it existed solely as a tourist town. I don’t know how many Belgians actually live there. Ghent is also beautiful and interesting, but it just seems like it’s more of an authentic Belgian experience, because so many of the people there are native Gentenaars and the town doesn’t feel like it exists for tourism, which is how I felt about Bruges. Bruges is not a fucking shit hole, but if it came down to the 2 towns, I’m on team Ghent.

Day 6: She’s Leavin’

This morning we leisurely got ready and ate our breakfast, as we were leaving not only Delft but also the Netherlands for the next leg of our trip. I wrote a whole mess of postcards and we checked out, sad to say goodbye to our 400 year old hotel room, delicious breakfasts and quaint surroundings. Today was definitely our most complicated travel day, with 3 trains (and one dicey connection time) taking us from the heart of the Netherlands to East Flanders. Ghent (or Gand in French and Gent in Dutch) is our first stop in Belgium on this trip, and I was VERY excited, half expecting to see groups of short little curvy people who look vaguely like me and Pa guzzling brews and cramming waffles and frites into their faces.

Our first train trip took us out of Delft and eventually into a Dutch city called Breda, and because we were on a Dutch train and not a German one, the train was late and we missed our connection. We waited around Breda for an hour and hopped the next train, this time into Antwerp (also late). We huffed it from track 23 to track 1 (the Antwerp train station is a beautiful Art Deco behemoth) and made our final train from Antwerp to Ghent.

Right away you could tell the difference in the Dutch architecture from the Belgian – Belgian buildings in Ghent are taller and broader, less big windowed facades, but still ornate and beautiful.

We grabbed a cab at the Gent-Sint-Pietrs train station and headed into the old town, winding down streets lined by cafes, bars, restaurants, and galleries. We’re staying in the historic Patershol neighbourhood, which was in years past a working and warehouse quarter (Vancouverites, think Yaletown) and is now very trendy.

Our hotel is right on the canal and is actually 2 rooms let out by an enthusiastic Argentinian artist who has a gallery and her own housing on the main floor and the rooms to let above.

We dropped our luggage and hit the town, thirsty for our first taste of real Belgian beer. I had seen in photos a place called Her Waterhuis aan de Bierkant which is right on the canal and right over the bridge from our hotel, so we headed there. We found a table on the canal, Pa ordered a blonde on tap called Augustijn and I ordered the kriek on tap and we were in Belgian heaven.

At the table next to us sat 4 Americans who all work for Pepsi and are on their 7th annual Belgian beer sojourn. They get together, tour around and drink and take photos of all the beers, which sounds like the dream.

We polished off our second beers and ambled off in search of actual sustenance and happened upon a cuberdon stand that I had read about in my trip research.

Cuberdons are a Ghent candy, also known as “Ghent noses” because of their conical shape. The original flavour is raspberry, and they’re chewy on the outside and liquid in the middle. There are 2 cuberdons hawkers in the main square and apparently they are bitter rivals – apparently one gives you a better deal than the other. We decided to get a 3€ bag (he just grabs a handful and puts it in a bag) and move on…right next door to a waffle place. The last time Ma and Pa were in Belgium they didn’t get to have real Belgian waffles, so we made sure we took care of that on the first day here – so we each ordered one, crispy and covered in caramel.

A small waffle wasn’t quite enough food (seeing as we had all missed out on lunch) so we walked around in search of more substantial food, which isn’t hard to find in Ghent as there are restaurants and cafes tucked around every corner.

We settled on a restaurant, sat outside in the sunshine and had some more beer (quelle surprise) frites and mayonnaise. Thoroughly stuffed, we waddled back to the hotel to relax for the night.

Day 1: Leaving on a Jet Plane

Welcome to the DeCaigny Abroad trip blog for 2018: Windmills, Wallonia, World Wars and Waffles!  This year is a very special trip for me because I get to visit the land where the DeCaigny’s come from – Normandy and Flanders – and we get to meet some relatives.

Our trip started off pretty easily – got the YVR with plenty of time, breezed through check in and security, had some late lunch and a coffee, then found our gate with a myriad of other silver haired folks (I joked with Ma and Pa that they must feel like they’re flying with their people).  At one point and woman approached me and asked ‘Are you Kelly?’  As it turns out, one of my girlfriends at work has a friend who was taking the flight, and told her to ‘look for the girl with the blue hair’.  We chatted with Anya for a bit and then it was time to board.  The flight was pretty uneventful and after 8 1/2 hours and 2 subpar meals for what we’re used to from KLM, we landed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at noon.  We did the usual airport stuff – disembarked, went through customs (‘you’re here for a month?  You’re going to be here for your birthday!’) grabbed our luggage and bought our train tickets for our first home base – Delft.  When we started planning this trip, we quickly discovered that staying in Amsterdam would cost a small fortune, so we chose to stay in Delft – known as “Little Amsterdam” – it has all the charm and canals of the big city, just smaller, less busy and much less expensive.

The trains in the Netherlands are plentiful and efficient – like those in Germany.  Our jaunt to Delft took about 45 minutes and we even spied a beautiful old windmill!  We grabbed a taxi and told him the name of our hotel – De Emauspoort.  The first thing he said was ‘Perfect location!’  We drove past old brick houses and snaking canals and took a turn down an absolutely adorable street:

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This is the street our hotel is on and it was everything I was hoping and dreaming it would be = quaint, with bikes and flowers everywhere you looked.

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We checked in and found that we were staying in the ‘Vermeer Suite’.  One of the things that Delft is famous for is the birthplace (and famous resting place) of painter Johannes Vermeer, whose greatest hit is probably The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  The room is decorated in the old Dutch style, up a flight of very challenging stairs, and adorned with prints by the Dutch master himself.  We dropped our gear and hit the town in a attempt to stay vertical for as long as possible.

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The other thing that Delft is famous for is ‘Delft Blue’ or ‘Royal Delft’ – a style of pottery characterized by blue ink on white porcelain.  There were shops all around the main square (or Markt) filled to the brim with dishes, tiles and other trinkets depicting very Dutch scenes (windmills, row houses, clogs).

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We picked a little restaurant and Pa and decided to indulge in our first brews (of what will be many, many brews) on the square.

A note about Dutch people so far – I was nervous because I had read a BBC article about how the Dutch are known for being very direct, and I’m very sensitive, but so far the Dutch people we’ve met have been very friendly, eager to chat and interested in Canada.

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We finished our drinks and took a brief walk around the square.  Pa and I decided we wanted to check out a cheese shop, because we both really enjoy Gouda.  As it turns out, this cheese shop was the place to be, the Baskin Robbins of cheese as they had 31 different flavours of Gouda, all available to sample.

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After sampling some delicious Gouda (we’ll be back there) I bought some postcards from a Delft Blue shop and we tucked in for some dinner, which I could barely stay awake through.  After a 2 minute walk back to our hotel, I uploaded some photos to instagram between nodding off and hitting my head on the table.  I gave up on the idea of a blog post for that night, and apparently climbed into bed (which I don’t remember doing).

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Germany, Day 21: Don’t Worry About a Thing

Today we headed out to the suburbs of Berlin, to the town that houses many palaces and a lot of charm (and apparently a really excellent film museum): Potsdam.  We went to Potsdam because Pa wanted to check out the summer palace of Prussian king Frederick the Great.  Frederick wanted a palace that he could go to to get away from the hustle and bustle of Berlin, so he had Sans-Souci (“Without Cares”) built in Potsdam in the mid 1700s.  Luckily for us, Potsdam was only a half hour on the S-bahn and a 10 minute bus ride away from Berlin.

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Sans-Souci is probably most famous for its gardens, and as we had little interest for the inside, we decided to forgo the 10 room interior and explore the extensive gardens with the fountains, temples, sculptures, woods and terraces.

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The gardens are extensive and we had to grab some shelter when a rain cloud rolled in._mg_8202

There was a wedding shoot being done on the grounds, so naturally I had to be a creeper.

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After spending several hours in the gardens and dodging the weather, we found a beer garden across the street so we had a delicious lunch of hot chocolate, beer and bratwurst.  We got back on the bus and S-bahn and headed back to our hotel to get a final load of laundry done.

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Dinner time rolled around so we hemmed and hawed and settle on a literal hole in the wall called Cafe Schwarz, a hip and vibrant place that serves all day breakfast and has an extensive cocktail selection.  We dined on scrabbled eggs, bruschetta, toast, beer, bitter lemon, apple strudel, banana cake and whisky before walking home and turning in.

Germany, Day 18: And She Shows You Where To Look

Today is our last full day in Dresden before we leave tomorrow morning for our final leg on this German Odyssey – Berlin.  We’re pretty sad to say goodbye to Dresden because it’s a beautiful, vibrant and sumptuous city, perfect for exploring, relaxing and people watching.

I love all the different spires of the city, so on our way to Dresden’s “Green Vault”, I decided to indulge myself:

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We entered the palatial complex called the Zwinger that houses the Green Vault – a series of rooms that their 18th century Prince Elector, Augustus the Strong filled with different treasures and delights.

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There is only a certain amount of people allowed inside the Green Vault at the same time, so you have to buy a ticket for a certain time.  Security was the tightest I’ve ever experienced at a museum as we had to lock up ALL bags (including Ma’s tiny purse), cameras and phones.  You then line up at two sets of doors that a guard lets you in, two at a time, you wait, then the doors on the other side open.  Everything is alarmed and behind glass, but it is easy to see why – all the rooms are different themes (amber, ivory, jewels, sculptures, bronze, coat of arms, silver) and contain many priceless treasures, big and small – ornate crystal drinking vessels, paintings, amber chess sets, diamond-hilted swords, etc.  After an excellent hour-long audio tour, we decided to embark on one of our favourite travel events, the self guided Rick Steves walking tour.

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Before we started the tour we had to get to the starting point, and that meant cutting through the Zwinger’s stately gardens.

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The tour started at Dresden’s Opera House, known as the Semperoper as Semper built it.  It burned down twice – once in the 19th century and then again, sadly, in 1945 as did many many other of the fine structures and treasures in the city.

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The last opera performed at the Semperoper in 1945 was Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber and the first opera performed when it was rebuilt almost 40 years later, so they honoured Weber with a statue in front of a cafe.

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We crossed back into the Zwinger’s gardens and marvelled at the beautiful fountains and stonework.

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Part of our instructions were to cross from the fountains into the main garden through an orangery, but we noticed that this glassy atrium sold beer and pretzels and it was lunch time, so we stopped and had a beer overlooking the gardens before moving on.

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The Zwinger gardens are also home to this beautiful glockenspiel, outfitted with porcelain chimes that emit a much sweeter sound that the usual brass bells.

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We left the Zwinger and headed north towards the river Elbe, reading stories of Augustus the strong and some of the pre and post war history of the city.

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One of our favourite pieces was this 250 foot long porcelain-tiled mural showing a parade of the rulers of Dresden.  This piece miraculously survived the 1945 firebombing.

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Our walking tour ended along the river on a balcony walk that overlooks the Elbe.  We decided to have a sit and watch all the activity at the other side of the river.

It turns out Dresden is setting up a huge party – it’s the anniversary of Germany’s reunification and every year a different state’s capital hosts the bash – this year it’s Dresden’s turn as the capital of Saxony.  Huge white tents are set up everywhere as well as sound and lighting systems.  The festival starts this weekend, in time for us to just miss it.

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We found a beautiful river-side cafe where we treated ourselves to ice cream confections and fizzy water, ambling back into town where we bought our mandatory post cards and fridge magnets, grabbed some coffees, relaxed in the old market square before headed to dinner.  Again, Dresden spoiled us as we ate a delicious dinner on a beautiful sunlit square in the shadow of the majestic Frauenkirche while the local busker serenaded us with Leonard Cohen classics.

Germany, Day 8: Like A Bridge…

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Today was our last full day in Heidelberg, so the the four of us (me, Ma, Pa and Argie) decided to check out the previously undiscovered parts of the old town, starting with the old bridge.  The bridge is old and mostly pedestrian so we had a good chance to amble around and take photos of the city, castle and bridge itself.

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The one end of the bridge houses a love lock fixture at a peaceful riverside point with a beautiful view of the castle.

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Following our time on the bridge, we headed over to check out parts of the old university.  Heidelberg houses one of the oldest universities in Europe and is still a popular institution today.

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The rest of the day was pretty much a day for relaxing.  We learned that gummy bears and gummy candy come from the west part of Germany, so we filled up with gummy bears and gummy Heidelbergs, bought some Christmas ornaments, sampled some Schnapps native to the region, ate some cake, sent off a parcel and lots of postcards, had dinner at a burger joint decorated with birch trees and finally watched the sun set over the square while drinking hot chocolates and cointreau, sad to say goodbye to Heidelberg but excited to find out what’s in store in Rothenburg.