Any longer in Belgium and I might have contracted scurvy.
Never in my life have I eaten so much crap.
Delicious crap though – chocolate, waffles, icecream, cuberdons (purple goey-centred jubes), a beer or five to wash it all down with, and of course, fries smothered in sauce to try and absorb the beer.
But I was prepared for this, and, like many other travellers, I unashamedly came to Belguim to eat and drink my way through the country.
Given that, I decided to skip the big cities and headed for Bruges, Ghent and Ieper.
I’ll start with Bruges – the so-called and hackneyed ‘Venice of the North.’
Yep, it’s nice, but it’s massively touristy and I swear half the backpackers only came here so they could say they were ‘In Bruges’ after the movie – which I have to admit I haven’t actually seen yet.
However, I do now know where all the scenes were shot thanks to taking the ‘In Bruges’ walking tour, though it was really more of a product placement for local eateries.
To be honest, the best part of Bruges for me was hanging out with a Texan backpacker called Buck (no shit), even though our uneventful flirting ended when a fellow kiwi backpacker, who quite fancied him, convinced him (while I was in the bathroom) that I had a Russian boyfriend.
Given this occurred at a Belgium beer tasting, I was well pissed, and well pissed off, so I left them to it.
Besides, I was quite excited about going to bed in my pod bunk, complete with a mustard-coloured privacy curtain and not one, but two power points next to my reading lamp.
I can honestly say I have not been that excited since the hostel in Amsterdam gave me a towel and then proceeded to replace it with a fresh one every day.
But as enticing as the freedom of being able to charge my electronics whenever I wanted, I only stayed one night in Bruges as the allure Ghent, sold to me as ‘Bruges without the tourists,’ was too strong.
The description was right, though I actually think Ghent is more picturesque than Bruges.
My hostel also felt like a home and was packed with an eclectic selection of male backpackers.
As an aside, seriously where are all the female backpackers? I’m not complaining, I’m just curious.
I’ll detail three of my new travel buddies.
Travel buddy number one was a crazy Croat, who dragged us out on our first night to what he told us was a free African rock concert, only to get us horribly lost in the Opera House stairwell.
It took half an hour and the opening of every door in the stairwell to find the concert, which much to my surprise was more like a Belgium version of Mumford and Sons than African rock.
After that we sat around drinking beer in the courtyard of our hostel talking about each of our countries’ strengths – i.e. New Zealand: sheep, rugby, Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Concords – when out of nowhere the crazy Croat pipes up with – ‘I’m a good lover.’
It was quite awkward and not long after he stumbled his way to bed and was never to be seen again.
Travel buddy number two was a Spanish teacher in town for a technology workshop, which funnily he didn’t realise was taught completely in Dutch.
Turns out we make good travel companions – he had no idea where he wanted to go, I had no idea of how to get to where I wanted to go – so I pointed and he navigated.
And, even though English is his third language, during our day together we only had three lost in translation moments:
1. Me – ‘what’s your favourite food?’
Him – ‘stick with tomatoes.’
Translation – steak with tomatoes.
2. While drinking coffee in the square overlooking this very random flea market.
3. Me – ‘are you ok with a vegan buffet for lunch?’
Him – ‘sounds good, I love bacon.’
The next day he had to go back to his workshop, so I spent the day with travel buddy number three – a hardcore Australian bloke who has been travelling for the same amount of time as me but via push-bike.
Amazingly, I convinced him to come on a day tour of the World War One battlefields around Ieper and I was seriously grateful for his company, as even when you put our ages together we were still a good decade younger than anyone else on the tour – in fact two were so frail they required chairs to sit down at all the sights.
Please don’t mistake me for having a crack, it’s just I seem to have an uncanny ability to get myself on tours with the elderly.
As for Flanders Fields, it was a sobering day which really makes it hit home about what it must have been like fighting in a war for a distant motherland on the other side of the world, only to be laid to rest in a cemetery like this one.
But what upset me most, was that apparently a diplomatic scrap over who would pay for the personalised epitaphs on the graves means no New Zealand graves carry one, depriving families of a chance to give a sense of the boy/man lost and the loved ones they left behind.
But whoever they were – lest we forget.