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 2: Golden Age

This morning we knew we would not need alarm clocks because the same jet-lagged sleep happens to us every year – in bed super early, awake super early.  This morning I was awake by 0430hrs and Ma and Pa were already awake.  We decided to get up and leisurely get ready for breakfast (served at 0700hrs) and the day exploring Delft. The breakfast served by our hotel was delightful and everything we would ever need – strong coffee, Dutch pancakes and fresh, buttery croissants.  We finished by about 0745hrs and hit the town.

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Because we were up and about so early, we had a lot of the old town to ourselves as well as beautiful early morning light.  It’s definitely autumn in Delft as there is a chill in the air, but the sun is still warm.

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Delft is such an adorable town.  Around every corner is another canal, another flowered storefront, another cafe.

As 0900hrs neared, the city started to come alive with bicycle traffic picking up, and people whipping through the streets on their velocipeds, taking kids to school, heading to school, or heading to work.

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The first thing that we wanted to see this morning was the Oude Kerk, or Old Church.  The Oude Kerk is a large, brick, pre-Reformation structure with construction beginning in 1239 and lasting 400 years.  One of the biggest draws of the church is it is the final resting place of Delft’s native son, Johannes Vermeer (remember, of Girl with the Pearl Earring fame).  Apparently Vermeer died very poor and left his wife with a lot of debt, but she still wanted to bury him in the Oude Kerk, so they originally buried him vertically.  Later, when Delft decided that Vermeer was in fact, a big deal, they dug him up and gave him a proper burial.

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I found the Oude Kerk to be less than impressive – sparse and underwhelming.

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The next thing we (mostly I) wanted to do was a canal boat tour.  I love boat tours because it’s a great way to see the city from a different perspective and you usually learn a bit from the tour guide.

The first boat tour left at 1100hrs and we had not spent a lot of time in the Oude Kerk, so we had more time to kill.  By this time we were gingerly dodging cyclists left and right.  The cyclist culture here is quite different from what I’m used to in the Lower Mainland (either super aggressive Vancouver cyclists, or scabby homeless people who you know damn well didn’t pay for that bike that they’re riding around that residential neighbourhood).

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In order to pass more time, we went to the market square and grabbed a delicious coffee at a cute little shop called Bagels and Beans.  We sipped our drinks and watched vendors set up their stalls for the day in the square.

 

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We finished up and settled up and slowly walked towards the boat moorage.  I just couldn’t get enough photos of canals, bikes on canals, tree-lined canals.

We got to the boat, paid our tickets and climbed aboard, a 45 minute jaunt through the canal system.  Our tour guide’s name was Ellen and she was graduating from the University of Delft in Engineering and Policy.  Delft is actually a university town as 1 out of 5 residents in the city are students.  We passed by beautiful buildings of brick facade, windows and shutters and learned that many of them were actually student housing.  It made me think fondly of some of my lodging when I attended the University of British Columbia – damp, partially-carpeted hovels barely legal suites boasting hot plates and 30 year old microwaves, deep in the heart of Point Grey.

Other fun facts we learned from Ellen:

• Many of the canals are lined with ropes.  Why?  Not to help people who have drunkenly fallen into the canals, but to assist cats that fall in.

• The residents of Delft used to be charged more taxes if you have more windows in your front facade.  Many wealthy people would install more windows to show off how rich they are.

• Students who graduate from Engineering often have their bicycles tossed into the canal by fellow students as a way of signifying that they will be making more money and can therefore afford a car.  The city fishes out 300-400 bikes every year and resells them to make money for the city.

After the tour was over and I had shot enough smouldering glares to the dumb old men who talked/laughed through the English part of the tour, we found we were a bit peckish.  Ma wanted to try and restaurant we had read about in Lonely Planet called Kek, which offers up fresh and healthy fare.  This place was everything that a hipster would love – lots of kitsch, lots of avocado on the menu, and lots of young people with questionable fashion.  I ended up having a BLTA and a delightful blood orange lemonade.

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Our afternoon plan was to head to the Royal Delft Factory and do the tour, followed by copious coin dropping at the gift shop.  The only problem is that we were losing steam so by the time we got a cab there, saw two huge tour busses in front, we decided to forego the tour and instead go straight to the gift shop.  The shop was an enormous 2-room operation, filled wall to wall and ceiling to floor with white and blue porcelain.  Ma and I both picked out a few items, paid, and the PAID for them to be shipped back home to Canada, as we didn’t want to haul around delicate porcelain items for the rest of our trip.

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We discovered that the factory had an adorable little cafe that served Delft Blue’s own beer called Delft Brew, so of course we had to try some (it was pretty good!).

We headed back to our hotel for a siesta as we were all pretty low on energy.  An hour later we headed literally across the canal from our hotel to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) to check it out as well.  This church was built in 1351, so not so much ‘new church’ as it is ‘newer than the Old Church’.

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The church again was underwhelming, but its claim to fame is that it is the final resting place of William of Orange, who is seen as the father of the nation.  The tomb is quite garish and ugly, but the people decide they couldn’t have a plain burial for the Founder of the Netherlands, unlike all the chumps buried in the floor.

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After we spent maybe 15 minutes in the church, we hit the square again to revisit the cheese shop we popped into yesterday.  The shop keep was so eager and flirtatious that I couldn’t even say no to all the goat cheese samples he was offering me, and I HATE goat cheese.  After learning that you can bring the cheese back to Canada and it can be unrefridgerated for a month, we bought a couple of wheels of Gouda and went and found a brasserie that has Grolsh on tap, where we ate, drank, and headed home to bed, in a valiant attempt to stay up past 2100hrs.

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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