While having a full time job and a passion for travel, to know in advance when the bank holidays are is a must. In London, we had 2 bank holidays in May and we got out of town for a long weekend on each of them. Together with the couple that we share our home in London, we decided last minute to go to Belgium and Netherlands for the second, so with a tank full of gas and an adventurous spirit we set out from London following the signs towards Dover (or more specifically, the GPS). We chose the ferry over the tunnel because it was 3 times cheaper. Upon arriving the queues were quite long so we took the first one. After waiting for a long time, we got to the booth. It turned out we were queuing at the wrong company. Bad part: we had to go out and join the queue at the other company. Good part: we got an owl to hang on our rear-view mirror so we can exit.
In case you are going with the car, don’t forget to check the European regulations since there will be several things that you will need to have in the car. The ferry ride is about 90 minutes long in which you can go to the restaurant, have a coffee or a beer at the bar, shop at duty free, enjoy the view from the outside deck or simply take a nap until you arrive in Calais, France.
Bruges: a city that will capture your heart
Bruges is less than one hour and a half drive from Calais. If you are going to spend a couple of hours here, I would recommend the Centrum ‘t Zand parking which is located next to an information centre and King Albert I park. Near the information centre we found an impressive food market with French and Belgium food but what impressed me was the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and their amazing scent that was all around. We couldn’t help ourselves and we bought some fruit for a short breakfast.
Five minutes walk from here and you arrive in the middle of Grote Markt which is the magical astonishing centre of Bruges. The buildings and horse carriages give this area quite a medieval feeling. You could find here plenty of good restaurants, museums and other attractions such as the imposing medieval bell tower, Belfry and the Provincial Court.
If you continue your walk through the cobbled street of Bruges, you can reach Rozenhoedkaai which is the most photographed spot in Bruges. Here we took a boat ride around the canals of Bruges. After the boat ride we decided to try one of Belgium’s iconic waffles. Needles to say, we weren’t disappointed.
Continue the rest of the day buying chocolate (Leonidas is a pretty common chain of Belgian chocolate) and wander through the narrow, cobbled streets and across canals. You can be amazed by the beauty that Bruges has to offer.
Ghent: a bigger version of Bruges
If in Bruges was an easy job to find a parking just near the centre, in Ghent we spent quite some time before finding an underground parking that had available places. With our cameras ready and our eyes wide open, we start walking towards the city centre until we found the first attractions, Belfort (the bigger version of Belfry) and St. Nicholas’s Church. In comparison with Bruges, this city is alive, the streets were full of people enjoying the free time. Most of the people gathered around the river, with barely any empty place at the bars on the riverside. We arrived at Graslei and Korenlei, the thriving heart of the inner city where we decided to stop at a terrace and admire the historical buildings along the river but most important to enjoy the sunny weather that we are missing in London.
We went past the Gravensteen Castle which was the seat of the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century when it was abandoned. This stone castle was also a film location for a BBC drama series set in the 15th century and now is a tourist attraction.
We continued our way back to the parking lot on some narrow streets and we hit the road again, this time towards Amsterdam.
We arrived late in the afternoon, we checked in and decided to go to the city centre to start our adventure. Although the centre was full of people ready to party, after some drinks the most attractive option for us was to have a decent sleep after being awake for more than 40 hours so we decided to head back to the hotel and start fresh in the morning.
Full of energy we spent our entire day walking through the streets, discovering new places. We started from Rijksmuseum toward the flower market, Dam Square, Central Station, Red-light district and centrum where we found a nice Argentinian restaurant called “Madre Maria” that serves unlimited ribs for just 15.99 euros. I ordered a small portion for 9.99 euros because I figured it will suffice. To my (and everyone else’s) surprise, even the small portion was made of three big racks of ribs.
While in Amsterdam check out Jordaan. It is a residential, really calm and peaceful part of the city to stroll around.
Zaanse Schans: a windmill town-village
This Dutch town is full of wooden houses, barns and windmills. If you arrive here, check out the cheese factory were you can taste and buy Dutch cheese – don’t miss the smoked goat cheese which is delicious. After you go all way to the end near the functional windmills, you can take the ferry for just one euro per person (map and marshmallow included) to go to the residential area on the other side. As soon as we docked we were struck by a strong chocolate smell but unfortunately we couldn’t find the source. In this residential area you can find tall wooden houses, all painted in different colours which luckily for you provides wonderful photo opportunities.
On our way home we decided to take the flower route. Although the towns and villages are still beautiful, the tulip season, unfortunately, was gone. Anyhow, there will always be another time for that. We continued our way towards Calais and then to London, back to our home.
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