Belgium: Brugge, Zeebrugge, Knokke Heist

On Friday morning we depart with an hours delay from Enschede, via Utrecht and Breda to Belgium.

Our first destination is Brugge, on of the cultural cities of 2002. We planned to arrive in Brugge in the early afternoon and spend the afternoon there. In the evening we would continue on to our hotel in Zeebrugge.

The first part of the trip goes as planned. Before we know it we’re in the vicinity of Antwerp and I spot the exit for Brugge. Much to my surprise we end up in front of the Liefkenshoek-tunnel with a tollbooth. 140 BEF the poorer we get to continuo to Brugge. Great!

On the next sign, I see a boat behind the name Brugge and I start to doubt whether we took the right exit. As I don’t feel like a ferry I skip this exit but half an our later we’re back on track and I knew that decision wasn’t a very smart one. The Belgians obviously aren’t very strong on sign posting but we’re on our way…

About 20 traffic lights, road works and innumerable rerouting later we are approaching Brugge, with over an hour and a half delay. In Sijsele, a small village just before Brugge I risk life and limbs in mud that’s ankle deep just to take a few pictures for my dad of lovely houses that would never pass the norms and values of the Dutch “welstandscommissie”.

And as if all the delay wasn’t bad enough yet, we have to wait for the first in a long line of open drawbridges that cross the canals of Brugge. We enter the city through an old gate. Right inside the gates to the city, just next to the court house we wander into a flea market, the R.A.D. They have tons of nice knick knacks and at least 10 (matching) chairs that I can’t take with me, even if I was prepared to fix ’em all up.

As it still seems to be quite a walk into town, we pick up the car and are very lucky to find a parking space about 6 metres from the large square. For 60 BEF per hour we are parked in the centre of Brugges city centre! We wander around the square and have a look at the old buildings. All of a sudden it starts pouring down and armed with our umbrella’s we explore the shopping streets that fan off the square. We head for the Belfry but the stench (sewage) keeps us from entering. We enjoy our first cup of Belgian tea and coffee from one of the terraces of Bar Brasserie Huyze Die Maene (what a mouth full) for BEF 135,=. As the rain dwindle we do some more exploring in the city centre with it’s beatyful and stately old buildings.

At appr. half past four we pick up the car and head for Zeebrugge. On the way there we defy another endless amount of traffic lights and detours but arrive at the Formule 1 hotel in time to register. Fortunately the hotel is easy to find, despite the, yes you’ve guessed correctly, detours that hide the entrance road!

We check into the hotel, freshen up a bit and take the car out to have a look at the port and the boulevard. As I try to remember (for back in the office) that is the site of Belgiums telephone directory we have already passed through Zeebrugge’s centre. As I ask for directions I’m surprised to learn that Zeebrugge has no boulevard and that the port consists of the port and nothing else. I’ve completely had it when I ask the lady for directions to a nice restaurant and she points us the local Frituur (fast food restaurant). I whip out the map and we drive down to Knokke-Heist. On the deserted, almost ghost town boulevard of Heist we find a cosy restaurant. You cannot have visited Belgium’s coast without having eaten mussels so I order mussels in white wine. My mum orders fish that translated roughly is called sea devil, with greem pepper corn sauce. After no alcohol for about 9 years, the wine works it’s magic and I’m getting so overheated that I’m afraid I’m going to combust spontaneously. After paying BEF 1430,= we head for the beach with it’s chilly wind. Wonderful, worth all the traffic jams and delays!!!

We are in bed quite early and despite my wine induced state there’s no more than 20 seconds between brushing my teeth and sleep, including the struggle to climb  the ladder to my bunk bed.

The next morning we are up way before the alarm clock was set. We breakfast on the last of the bread rolls we brought with us and the saccharine the citron sucre from the vending machine at the reception desk. We’re on the beach at Duinbergen (also Knokke-Heist) at 8.30 already. There’s a fierce wind and I’m loving it. Nothing better than the beach when the waves are topped by rims of white foam and the spray of the ocean in your face. No need for volume shampoo as I look like I took 220 Volts… my hair is standing up straight.

Here in Duinbergen, the boulevard is deserted too except for 2 people strolling like we do. The casino of Knokke invites us to visit the exhibition of Magritte but the horrible paintings on the outside of the building do nothing to tempt us. No biggie that it’s still closed!

After exploring the boulevard, we walk up and down the beach once more and make sure that we’re back at the car before 10 as I didn’t pay parking fees.

Enschede – Brugge: appr. 5 hrs
Brugge – Zeebrugge: appr. 45 minutes
Zeebrugge – Knokke-Heist: 5 – 10 minutes (9 km)
Hotel: Formule 1 Hotel Zeebrugge, 1 double and a bunk bed for BEF 1250.- (in season) without breakfast. Shared bath and toilets.


From Knokke it’s pretty simple to drive to Antwerp although it’s right back via that terribly bad piece of road we passed over yesterday but at least there are no detours.

On the dot of 11 o’clock we are on the parking lot right across from the “exotic” market at the city theater. We entered right on the Amerikalei and were on the Frankrijklei (roads) before we knew it. Luckily we could park in one ot the last spaces between the park and the market, and that for a mere 30 BEF per hour (max. 2 hour parking so illegal refills every now and than).

We roam around the market and I keep being surprised about the choice in olives, Greek, Moroccan and Turkish breads, fresh cheeses, sweet rolls, nougat and more yummy stuff. There are stand with fresh pasta, mozarella bread rolls, tomato and the usual stands with cheap clothing, flowers, veggies and fruit and assorted mess.

We drink coffee and tea at Mexican restaurant Pablo while the rain, again, is pouring down.

The rain soon stops though and again we head for the market for nice snacks to have lunch in the park at the other side of the street. I buy green olives with “look” (garlic) and basil, mixed olives with garlic, cactus fruit that I enjoy all day because of the needles that are stuck in my skin and hurt at the strangest times, a bread with spinach and fetacheese and doigt de fatima and sugared peanuts.

We settle on a couple of plastic bags on a bench in the park and enjoying all the goodies we have just bought we watch all the different people passing by: a traditionally Jewish family, the father wearing a fur hat and the 4 boys different types of coverings, the 2 daughers in decent pleated skirts and thick socks, the pregnant mother wearing the same clothing, completed with a golden blond wig, laughing and chattering young Arabic girls with their traditional headsscarves and hip clothes, guys walking around the park at least 6 times looking for company and old men and women on their way to the market.

We fill up the parking meter again and head for the “Meir”, Antwerps main shopping street. The clothes on the main street don’t differ very much from the ones in Holland but the luxury stores in the streets around it pale the ones in the PC Hooftstraat in Amsterdam. We walk down to the Kruidtuin (Hortus Botanicus) on Leopold Street, just behind the city centre. It’s a lovely walled garden with all kinds of plants, shrubs, treas and 2000 kinds of herbs where you have absolutely no sense of being in a metropolis. This time it was very busy but usually you can really unwind down here with a good book and a nice drink.

At the end of the afternoon we drove to the hotel via the Italielei and the Noorderlaan and check in. After a short nap we head out again at eight o’clock. We park the car at the usual spot and walk by the terraces and busy squares: from city theater along the Meir to the Groenplaats, Grote Markt and the Handschoenenmarkt with the Onze Lieve Vrouwen Kathedraal (with it’s 123 m de highest gothic cathedral in Belgium, entrance fee BEF 140,=).

The terraces and restaurants on all the squares are chock a block. We are lucky: on the Handschoenenmarkt there’s a parade for Liberation Day and an interesting processions passes by: bagpipes played by kilted men, horn blowers, drummers in Napolean outfits on horses and a parade of more or less spruced up people.

The view from the Steenplein over the river is grand, very nice but it was getting pretty dark so we couldn’t see a whole lot. What we saw was worth it though.

We sank into a couple of comfortable chairs at the Ribscafe An ‘Twerf on the Suikerrui for a delicious vegetarian lasagna (for me) and spareribs (for my mum). With drinks and a sorbet for my mum as desert we have had another dinner for appr. BEF 1.500,=. The Dutch owner/waiter was very nice and had a short chat with us. Nice place!

In honour of Liberation Day a canon is fired on the Steen Plein and at the sixth shot (when my mum has finally regained a pulse) half of Antwerp is out on the front doorstep to see what’s going on.

The next morning we get up in time. We did have breakfast at the Formule 1 hotel that morning and fortunately we’re there before the masses. So we do not have to wait for the Kaiserrolls, coffee, tea, orange juice, jelly, butter and chocolate paste. Basic but nice! And it sure beats the tea from the day before!

At nine thirty we’re at the Vogeltjesmarkt (Birdmarket) and I show my mum the animal part first. Nowadays, dogs can only be sold from stores but you can still see enough of them to pity them. Dozens of kinds of rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, parrots, parakeets and canaries, rats, ostriches, chickes to eat and for show and even a sad looking small chinchilla.

My mum can’t resist the temptation and goes into a dogstore. I pass over the opportunity or else I’ll be tempted to bring home a whole batch of pathetic looking, lovelessly treated little puppies home to my apartment on the 11th floor. She comes back out without dogs but I’m sure she’d be less unfaltering when they’d have “duitse staander” puppies.

As it rains again, we head into yet another tearoom. After tea we explore the rest of the market with the mess and cheap stuff. From the last few coins I (at eleven thirty in the morning) buy a small spring roll because yesterday’s were extremely nice. We’re in the car on our way home right in time (more rain).

In exactly 3 hours (that’s the way to go) we drive back to Enschede, despite a detour around Amersfoort (obviously Belgium does not own the patent to detours!).

I come home to a squaky clean house with clean linnen on the bed (the cleaning lady was in). The best way to come home, ought to keep that in mind for future trips!

Knokke-Heist – Antwerpen: 1 hr
Internetcafe: op 50 meter van de hoek van de Frankrijklei en de “exotische” markt.
Hotel: Formule 1 hotel: Luithagen Haven
Web: en