Thursday, June 25, 2015

Day 29: Day Tripping

I had every intention of waking early and taking the short train trip out to Ghent and Brugge. Instead, I hit the snooze on my alarm for over an hour until I finally gave up and got out of bed. Then when I went downstairs, I found out that breakfast was included in my room rate. It was a breakfast buffet English-breakfast style. There was English bacon, sausage and beans. As well as the ubiquitous salami, turkey and cheese deli slices. I love their coffee makers that allow you to choose, coffee, cappuccino, hot milk, hot water or hot chocolate. So I have chocafe whenever the opportunity affords me.

Then after only one plate, showing a control I usually don’t have whenever food is buffet style, I took the tram out to the train station. I made the earlier train that was leaving at 10:09, it would get me to Ghent around 10:30, which didn’t really make me happy because I knew, I was late in waking up.

It wasn’t until I got to the train station that I realized I had forgotten my Eurail pass that would have allowed me to ride for free at my hotel. I ended up paying an unnecessary  20 euros. The first ride was  9.20 from Ostend to Ghent, but the ticket machine only took coins, it wouldn’t take bills and the ticket machines don’t take international cards. The ticket machines for the metros also don’t take international credit cards. Luckily, the ticket machine took all my coins, which is what I had to do to get the ticket for the train leaving in 2mins.

When I got to Ghent, I looked at that popular website to find out what to do in Ghent. It said, go to the city center. So I hopped on the tram, after a nice security guard gave me precise directions in English on which tram to take and where to buy tickets. Unlike Spain, Belgians don’t just vaguely wave you away.

I got on the tram, crammed with people. And when people started exiting the tram in large numbers, I asked a girl if this was the center and she said yes, so I got off. She was wrong. I was about another 3 blocks short of the city center. But the walk was easy, small cobblestone streets and for a small city, it sure had a lot of designer brand name retailers as well as H&M and McDonalds.

I found the center crammed with giant cranes. Again, another city in remodel mode. I’ve found that if you watch out for asian tourists, they usually have found a nice photo op. So when I saw a few of them standing on a bridge pointing and posing, I walked up the bridge.

It was a nice view, but once you’ve been in Amsterdam, a canal is just another city river. I wasn’t all that impressed. There were old medieval castles and gothic churches and well, I’ve just had my fill of those for a while. So I found some nice shots to take and headed quickly back to the train station to leave for Brugge.

Brugge was the bigger town, the only reason I know about it is because there was a movie about mobsters in Brugge. Why Brugge and Ghent, are spelled differently depending on what you are reading, I don’t know but I spell them the way I know them. Ghent is called Gent or Gint Sin Pieters train stop. Brugge is Brugge or Bruge depending on what you’re reading. Do they have an identity issue?

I got to Brugge having caught the train just as I got to the train station. Again, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for in this city, so I just hopped on a train to the city center, which I assumed they called ‘Centrum’, I didn’t think they were referring to the vitamin brand.

As you pass through Brugge on the train, you’d be utterly unimpressed. But go towards the Centrum and you see the medieval town it used to be. The narrow cobblestone streets, gothic churches and old castles. I went ahead and entered the Historium, an odd display of a day in the life of Jacob, an assistant of painter Jan Van Eyck(I saw some of his painting at The Prado). It’s a day of the golden age of Brugge in the year 1435, when Brugge was “the New York City of it’s time”, as it was told in the display.

But what it really got me was a nice view of the centrum plaza. It was nice. I walked by every one of the restaurants to look at their menus. Fleming stew, rabbit stew, fish and chips, steak and Bicky burgers! I was wondering about bicky burgers, now having googled it, I’m glad I didn’t order it. Usually anything deep fried sounds good but I’m not into eating horse meat.

Not finding anything appetizing, I strolled back through the streets until I got past the cute spots and then hopped on a bus and went back to the train station. I really wanted to go back to Ostend.

I’m staying in Ostend, obviously a seaside resort with many British vacationers since quite a lot of the menus in the restaurants offer “English Breakfasts” even my hotel. The TV shows channels BBC 1, 2 and 4. There’s also a channel of BBC1 that has a descriptive narrative during the show.

But most people I know have never heard of Ostend. The only reason I know of it is because they had a hotel name I recognized and I was able to get a room based on points and dollars rather than staying in Brussels. Besides, any city on the ocean is fine by me.

Now Ostend has a special place in my heart. It’s not just because they have this big, wide beach with a gorgeous wide seaside promenade. The Albert I Promenade is cement tile which allows pedestrians, bikers, children and pets to wander about and enjoy the distinct seaside stroll. The days I’ve been here, the weather has been so nice, bright blue skies, warm but not scorching sun and a cool, ocean breeze.

No, it isn’t just all that. It’s not just because there is a Chinese grocery store just a few doors down from my hotel where I picked up instant noodle soups and snacks that satisfy the latent Asian in me.

It isn’t that they have all kinds of restaurants, and almost all have got sidewalk seating. The ones on the promenade, have tables that set up their guest to face the ocean completely. It sort of looks odd to me, to see a line of mostly geriatric people staring out at the ocean.

It isn’t that Ostend, although facing the North Sea still have people not only sunbathing or swimming in the chilly waters, but body boarding as well as sailing. It isn’t that they have actual sand castles themed on Disney’s “Frozen”.

It isn’t that Ostend has been the first place where I found a second hand bookstore run by a little old man.

It isn’t that despite only being here only 2 nights, spending only 2 afternoons here, I am able to leave the train station and find myself not just to my hotel but to that Chinese grocers without having to use my GPS. In fact my GPS couldn’t find me!

It’s because all of this. Basically, this is the place, I really should have spent more time in. I would love to come back to Ostend and stay longer next time. Maybe when it’s warmer.

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