At long last, the final installment on our our 35th anniversary trip … of last summer!
Our last port of call was Zeebrugge, Belgium. I’d arranged a tour with Vera through Tours by Locals. The only hitch was that she didn’t provide transportation. We were to meet up with her in Bruges (Brugge), a 20-30 minute ride from port, then on to Damme. We had a full day planned and timing was tight.
After waiting a while near the pier, it was clear our travel mates missed the departure time memo. There was nothing to do but wait it out and hope we’d get a cab. I chatted with cabbies lined up to serve. They were not the friendliest bunch, notably less eager to engage than others we’d encountered on our journey.
Their attitudes worsened dramatically after I inadvertently stepped into the bike lane — not once, but twice! They scoffed at my ignorance and snickered amongst themselves. Oy. How had I missed those Big. Red. Lines? Seriously. Bikers barreled by at great speed with little patience for fools like me. Finally our travel mates appeared. We snagged a cab and were on our way.
Bruges is a beautiful little city, referred to as “Vienna of the North” for good reason. Vera instructed us to meet at a famous fountain. Our cabbie knew exactly where it was but rudely refused to accommodate. He dropped us in another city square. Vera scrambled to meet up. She was good natured about our delay and this disruption.
We’d planned a walking tour of Bruges followed by cycling along a canal to Damme. Given the late start we agreed to flip it. If we were to run out of time for anything, it would not be the iconic pedal to Damme! Vera led us to a basement bike rental shop straight away.
Cycling in a foreign city is challenging, given unfamiliar language, signage and traffic flow. Neither the Hubs nor I had ridden bikes in years. I’d badly injured a hamstring a couple weeks prior to our trip, adding to my anxiety. Would I be up for it or would I embarrass myself? I’m so glad we pushed through. This day was made for memory-making.
I discovered the old axiom was true: I hadn’t forgotten how to ride! I quickly regained confidence — enough so that I snapped several photos, driving with one hand. No doubt this was unwise; I don’t know if it was legal? I managed a few decent shots at a good clip. We traversed the noisy city center before maneuvering to a quiet bike trail.
It was a marvelous morning, the sun bright and warm and scenery picture-postcard perfect. We stopped by a working windmill and met some local sheep alongside the canal. In Damme, we refreshed with local brew and mild cheese — served cubed, seasoned with salt and pepper, pierced by toothpicks. Vera led us on a short walking tour of this tiny town. It seemed almost like time had moved on until a large John Deere tractor reminded us progress marches on, too.
Eventually we biked back to Bruges and enjoyed more delicious al fresco fare there. We spent the afternoon walking and talking. I don’t remember much of what anyone said, to be truthful. I savored this last day of our adventure and soaked in the ambiance. We did a bit of shopping, admiring lace and tapestry. A bit more tasting, chocolate and beer. Finally, late in the afternoon when we couldn’t wring another ounce from the experience, Vera called a cab to return us to the pier.
I can easily see why a dear friend tells me this is her favorite city in all of Europe. Yes, indeed. I’d go back in a heartbeat. I’d go back just a long weekend. Add Bruges to your bucket list!
~ René Morley