Day 11. Brugges to Antwerp.
We woke in Brugges to dull grey skies. After showering, packing, and loading the car, we went into town to search for food. By this time, it was 10:00 AM. As we walked, a light misty rain fell and the temperatures were probably 55F (13C).
We walked along some narrow alleys in search of a bakery. We found many chocolate stores, selling truffles and chocolate rabbits, but a bakery with coffee eluded us. We crossed a canal bridge and walked along a cobbled path. A few tour groups of 50-60 elderly Germans went past. The mist turned to rain.
Another right turn and along another narrow street. Past a kindergarten set in a 500 year old build. Then a left turn into small square to find restaurants that weren't open yet, a tea house that was already closed, pastries sitting uneaten in its' glass case. A small sign advertised a Pizza Hut. Frustration and hunger upon us, and now fully damp we walked into a large square full of people and the weekly market. Carillons tolled and a cafe with a large canopy stood to our left. A sign in English read "Breakfast served until 11:30 AM".
We sat at the edge of the canopy, watching the square fill further, mostly with older folks. Several groups of them sat down in the cafe, while others went past, waving at our new neighbors and exchanging greetings. Clearly they were part of a group tour that arrived in the city.
The rain continued to fall, occasionally bursting into full showers and then patches of blue would appear. We drank coffee and watched the tour groups pass by, wrapped like little green and blue mummies in their foul weather gear.
We wandered the town a bit. Jackie and Elijah going one way, Beau and I another. We walked through the Provincial House, one of the large buildings on the square.
Beau and I walked into the market, looking at the fresh produce. I explained the concept of the bi-weekly market to Beau and how it's just catching on in the States. She thought it was weird that people only bought their groceries on certain days and why they couldn't just "go to Janey's" like we do. Which led to a discussion of the size of refrigerators in Europe and how nobody keeps half a steer in a spare freezer like we do, because they don't have spare freezers. I'm trying to impart to her that our European cousins mostly consume only what they need rather than stockpiling it.
We left Brugges in the middle of the afternoon and thought to drive to the coast. The coast is only 10 miles distant, but a series of wrong turns at roundabouts had us driving down one lane roads. When we got to Zeebrugges, we found a mostly busy port city and not much in the way of tourist activity.
We decided to get some cheese and coldcuts in case we got hungry on the trip to Antwerp or Luxembourg. We pulled into a business park that had a sporting goods store, a buffet restaurant, a furniture store, and a Carrefour Hypermart. I've been in a Carrefour before, but not like this one. Imagine a Super Walmart. Then double it. There was a small city of summer bungalows behind the business park, so I assume this is where the Germans invade in August.
If you have no idea what that last comment was about, then you've probably not worked with people living in western Europe. Much of the continent shuts down for the month of August, when it is hottest, and they all head to the coasts. I've heard the traffic jams going to the south French coast can last for days.
The drive to Antwerp took about an hour and we arrived with the sun still up. We checked into a Holiday Inn Express. We had a beer in the hotel lounge and talked with the young women at the front desk. They suggested a tapas place about half a kilometer (.3 mile) away. We weren't terribly hungry, so that suited us.
Even though it was technically daylight when we left the hotel, clouds were forming. I walked back in to ask about borrowing an umbrella and was told they only sell umbrellas. Jackie had hers and the kids were in hooded jackets, so we were covered. Except we weren't. Halfway to the restaurant, the clouds opened up and I got soaked. I ran while Jackie strolled, cozy under her umbrella.
The tapas was, like tapas is, amazing. Manchego cheese, empanadas, olives, bread. Two older men wandered about, playing music on guitar and singing songs in Spanish. After a few songs, they put out their collection plate and I threw in a few Euro. Then he went to the other side of the table and demanded payment from Elijah. He smiled, but stood there until Elijah fished out a one Euro coin.
Returning to the hotel, once again we made it halfway when the skies opened up again.
I noticed, driving through the south of Netherlands and around Brugges, that the clouds have a very dramatic look to them. There is a depth and texture to them that is different from the big white puffy clouds of western Oklahoma that sometimes gather into storms. Having seen paintings from the old masters, it's now clear why they painted the clouds the way they did--it was an accurate representation of their world and not just taking dramatic license.
Today we're skipping Antwerp and heading toward Luxembourg. Stopping by the WWII battle monument at Bastogne.