A Groggy Day in Ghent & The Nicest of People
The day is Friday, 30th August and a full week has passed already since Yggdrasil the Hymer motorhome set off on our fourth European Tour. I write these words on a new friend’s driveway in Belgium. Looking back over the three countries we have passed through already, as we prepare to cross another border today and drive onwards into Germany.
I left you all back in Calais on Thursday as we recovered from our late night ferry and prepared to leave for Belgium, and Ghent. As we set off the roads were busy. And only grew busier still as we passed from France and into Belgium.
Normally I adjust very quickly to driving on the right side of the road, rather than the British left side. But today, I just could not seem to get to grips with it at all. My cold was at it’s worst yet. My eyes were sore and the simple task of looking at things was frustratingly uncomfortable and blurry. Every task seemed complicated, difficult. Every query from Jay stretching my mental resources just a little too far.
Inside, way down beneath the fog of germs, was the happy, enthusiastic, “Yay! We’re in Belgium!” person that I wanted to be.
Unfortunately for poor Jay the person sitting in the navigator’s seat was a snarling, sneezing, eye rubbing, paracetomal popping, angry Troll!
Every tour feels different. Different countries, different challenges, different delights. And so far, for me, this Tour was feeling decidedly jagged. From Jay’s grumpiness on day one, to my own short temper today, that happy “Two have an Adventure Together” feeling was in pretty meagre supply. And I didn’t like it. Not one little bit. It was not what I’d been looking forward to!
Sighing, in a gurgling kind of way through my streaming nose, I struggled with apps and maps and wished fervently this darn cold would hurry up and get better so I could think properly again. Which was round about when I remembered that our Vodafone SIM likes to be taken out of the Mifi unit, and put into a phone to reset, when we leave the UK. That’s why our wifi signal was so terrible today!
Oh how delighted I was that my brain cells had actually functioned adequately for a few seconds. Some antibodies must have killed a germ or two, that had been loitering on an important connection up there. No sooner had I solved the wifi problem than I remembered we wouldn’t have services in Ghent and needed water and toilet cassettes emptied.
Poor Jay picked that exact point to ask a silly, unnecessary, question. Something like –
“Is it this exit or the next one?”
And the snarling, mucous leaking, Troll was back. How dare he expect me to answer navigation questions? Didn’t he know I was trying to simultaneously switch the SIM card over and find us a handy Aire with services? Roundabout? Were we on a roundabout?
Somehow, the Leurgy Monster ( formerly known as Fi) managed to find a brilliant little free Aire, complete with water and electric hook up, just a few minutes drive away from the outskirts of Ghent.
We carry two toilet cassettes so can go about a week, comfortably, without emptying. A few days more if we have to. But the van does. most definitely not, smell like roses by day eight and nine.
Jay is a total toilet pro by now, and had everything emptied, cleaned and smelling pretty, before I’d even managed to shift myself out of the van. He was looking a bit puzzled over the new fittings we’d got for our new water hose though.
As luck would have it my fumbled attempts to get it all working were right first time. And I effortlessly managed to look like a casual, practiced expert. Raising my “Most annoying person to travel with ever” status for the day to new, and unparalleled heights.
But Jay still didn’t strangle me. So our relationship seemed to have reached even stronger levels of tolerance and understanding. These are the joys, so they say, that only travel can bring.
Filled and emptied in all the right places it was only a short drive later until we arrived at our parking spot for the night. A long strip of free parking at the side of a canal about forty five minutes walk from the historic centre. ( 51.050269, 03.68447 )
After a long, long (I wished I’d gone to bed instead kind of long) walk along the canal we found a large parking lot at the city centre end where many other vans were parked. With hindsight I wished we’d stayed there instead. It was a good spot and only twenty minutes walk from the centre. Especially with my cold playing up it would have been a good option.
Both spots were good though, and I couldn’t honestly say which I’d stay at if we ever visit again. There’s so much to visit in the city that the closer spot would probably win. But I’m glad I had that experience of walking in from afar. Watching the city draw closer and closer as we passed the anglers, and crowds of moorhens on the banks of the long canal. Crews of racing canoes streaking past us. Almost silent upon the still surface of the water.
By the time we reached the end of the canal however I was sorely in need of a break. A drink, a seat and some food. Followed by another drink. And maybe a rescue vehicle while we’re writing a wish list!
There was a McDonalds just round the corner. Never my first choice of somewhere to eat. I’d rather never buy anything there at all to be honest. But I felt too ill to care by this point, and at least it would be familiar and easy to work out. The signs around us were mostly all in Dutch and I was out of my depth language wise.
Mickey D’s was, today, my saviour. Self serve menu boards, better food range than the UK, and they even did table service! I popped in our orderss while Jay sat outside with Marley then collapsed beside them on the picnic seats. Not at all sure whether I had it in me to continue any further.
Now I’ve always been told I was a “bottom-shuffler” as a baby. One of those children who never crawls but instead shuffles around on their bottoms before they begin to walk.
Mum always says it was because I was scared to put my head down in case I missed anything. I’d love to protest, but I have to say I think it’s probably a fair point. Mum’s are always right you know.
Suffice to say then, that no amount of leurgy was going to stop me carrying on that last twenty minutes into the city centre. And, on this occasion, my stubborn nosiness paid off. No sooner had we left McDonalds than the streets changed. Cyclists were everywhere. Cobbled sidestreets, overgrown with flowers and grass. And canals. Everywhere canals.
As always, if there’s water then I’m happy, and with every step we took into Ghent’s historic centre I was happier and happier. We’d visited Bruges back in 2016 and loved it, but we both agreed that Ghent won hands down in the “Incredible Medieval Canal Cties You’ll Never Want to Leave.” stakes. Sorry Bruges. You’re beautiful, and we love you, but Ghent has our hearts now. It’s just the way it is kid.
The only thing to mar this incredible place we found ourselves in was that I was just not able to fully get into our time there. No amount of stubborness could combat my shaking knees. Or the raging, dehydrated thirst that had me in a constant search for somewhere to buy soft drinks and water without breaking the bank.
It may have been dull and cloudy, but the humidity was high, and warm sweat coated our bodies in a sleek, amniotic sheeting. I just couldn’t get enough liquid into my body to keep the thirst at bay for more than twenty minutes at a time. Unfortunately corner shops seemed to be a rarity in that corner of Ghent. Bars there were a plenty, but after a €25 bill at McDonald’s we really couldn’t afford to stop at bars every half an hour. Besides which I’d have to carry Jay home after all the beer, and there’s no way I was fit to look after a merry Jay today!
I’d love to go back. I’d love to have the energy and enthusiasm to put names to all the beautiful, varied buildings we passed. The squares and statues, canals, bridges, towers and castle. To catch the Hop on Hop off water buses and spend a good day or two wandering and loitering this incredible, beautiful, lazy, busy, chilled, energetic, cycling, boating joy of a Belgian City.
For this day there was only so much my aching body could take though. With the long walk home still before us I, reluctantly, called it quits, and we slowly headed back the way we had come.
It was a long, long walk back. A sadistic invisible spearman was jabbing his spearhead into the soles of my feet with every step. The final canal back to Iggy seemed impossibly long in the settling darkness of night.
Home at last I turned on my laptop and loaded all the day’s photos from my Nikon. I don’t usually feel like crying when I sit down to work on photos like these. Well not on any photos in fact. And, come to think of it not so much “Not usually” as “never”.
I decided to take this as a sign that the photos could probably wait until tomorrow. This little lady had clearly had enough fun for one day, and Iggy’s drop down bed had never felt better to climb into.
A bad night’s sleep and I woke feeling surprisingly better than any day since we set off on this trip a week ago. Thank goodness! Today we were heading past Antwerp to meet fellow Hymer owners Chris and Peter who’d kindly invited us to stay on their drive for the night. I’d been a bit worried I just wouldn’t be well enough to keep up a conversation with anyone.
Thankfully I remained fairly human for the rest of the day. Though it might have been better for our lovely hosts if I hadn’t been able to chat quite so much! Somehow the conversation always seemed to lead back to Brexit, and worried as we are about losing our EU citizenship, we do tend to go on a bit once we get started on Brexit. Sorry guys!
Luckily for us they didn’t get too fed up of us, and we kept them up far too late talking. They’re a lovely pair of humans, and I could have easily spent a week in their company. They’re both very knowledgeable people, and I feel very blessed to have spent some time at their table and learned a bit more about Belgium from them.
The night was too quick, as these meetings on the road always are. They laid on a wonderful, international spread for us, and even bought some bubbles to celebrate our 15th Anniversary!
And so, here I am. A couple of hours on the road since we left the haven of their driveway and set off for Germany.
A new country awaits me in just a few kilometres, and it is time to look forwards again. But just for one last moment I pause and smile as I remember Chris and Peter. Their hospitality, their kindness, their air of strength, mixed with gentleness. The kind of people who make you remember just what a fantastic animal we humans can be. Just how much wonderful there is that’s worth trying for in this life.
For now, I will turn my eyes forward again. But I hope our roads will cross again soon. I think, if we’re lucky, they will.
And besides… they still have to paint a leaf on my van…