Tag Archives: cheese

Belgium – Antwerp (with Chris & Peter)

Rolling off the ferry in Holland, with a quick overnight stop before heading into Belgium.  Our first stop was on the outskirts of Antwerp to meet up with Chris & Peter, a motorhoming couple who invited us for dinner, before a quick city explore.

We began this trip in the same place as our previous Scandinavian tour ended – in the carpark of the Bricklayers Arms, near Harwich port.  We had a tasty meal in the pub, our final fling with good British grub before re-joining the continent and relying on our own home cooking.  The next morning, facing an early start, we packed up and drove the final few miles to catch our 8am ferry to the Hook of Holland.  The crossing was uneventful and passed by quickly.  Off the ferry, we drove through stuttering rush-hour traffic to finally pass around Rotterdam, before cutting south to reach a quiet, parkland aire at Oud-Beijerland where we overnighted.  We walked through the park in the morning, glad to see the area well used, with runners, cyclists, dog walkers and trainers, and even a grass-munching horse.

Antwerp (garden walks)

From Holland, we moved quickly on into Belgium.  We had received a kind invitation from Peter and Chris, fellow Motorhomers and followers of our travel blog.  They were in the early stages of planning a long Scandinavian trip, similar to our recent travels, and wished to pick our brains on various aspects of the experience.  We were happy to be able to share with them what meagre knowledge we had accumulated.  We first called into a nearby leafy aire in Brasschaat for a few minutes to examine its available services, before making our way to their address.  After a short dilemma with local road signs seemingly denying us entrance, we found Chris and Peter’s home and parked up on their drive, a little nervous to be meeting, effectively, total strangers. Our initial fears were soon assuaged as we were warmly greeted by this lovely Belgian couple and immediately treated as their honoured house guests.

Antwerp (formal gardens)

Antwerp (the Orangery)

We relaxed into their beautiful home as we all completed full introductions over cups of Yorkshire tea accompanied by Belgian chocolate.  After tea, we drove to a nearby park and casually walked well-worn paths sprinkled with a thin covering of fallen leaves, through long avenues of tall late-autumnal trees.  The low buzz of traffic on a nearby road mixed with the crisp crunch of our feet on the multi-coloured dried leaves.  Our conversations continued as we wandered under cloud-filled skies filled with a hanging, constant threat of rain. Thankfully, the day remained dry for our walk and the sun even made a brief appearance as we reached the central Orangery building, brick-built with high arched windows. Its formal gardens were filled with neat planted beds of various plants and vegetables, many still in colourful bloom.  Some volunteers were tending the vegetable beds, preparing them for the coming winter.

Antwerp (Belgian beers)

Antwerp (complementary cheeses)

Antwerp (at the dinner table)
We were treated to local Belgium beers as aperitifs, accompanied by tasty savoury snacks and more lively travel-orientated chat, from all parties.  We were then beckoned to the dinner table for yummy mushroom soup followed by a tasting table of cheeses and complementary local beers, a social, sharing meal that enhanced our interaction over the table.  We talked long and late into the evening, swapping stories, before saying our goodnights and retiring to Benny for some welcome sleep.  In the morning we returned to enjoy breakfast with Chris (Peter unfortunately had to leave for work early), where we received detailed instructions for a flying visit into nearby Antwerp.  The city was currently in the midst of major traffic issues due to construction works for a new tunnel.  We caught a local bus, about a half hour journey to the end of the line, close to Antwerp Central train station.  Due to the extensive works and subsequent road closures, all further progress towards the historic centre had to be on foot.

Antwerp (Central Station)

Antwerp (inside central station)

The day was cool and overcast, with a muted grey sky that seemed bright but somehow sucked all the colour out of the city’s buildings.  Everything looked pale, lime-washed, devoid of deep shades or shadows, and the ever-present expectation of a deluge following us with each step.  We first visited Antwerp Central, a huge style-defying building (Neo-Classicism, Baroque, Rococo, Art Deco?) constructed in the early years of the 20th century.  From there we wandered towards the historic centre, only stopping off briefly to purchase a new pair of walking shoes for Nicky.  We passed a statue of Rubens in a lovely square before reaching the Cathedral and the large market square in the heart of Antwerp.

Antwerp (Rubens square)

Antwerp (notre dame cathedral)

Antwerp (statue and cathedral)

We passed a very pleasant few hours wandering the main sights.  We walked to the cruise ship terminal, surprised to see such a large ship in dock.  We passed Antwerp’s medieval fortress, Het Steen, built to defend the port.  It was previously a prison and barracks, but now houses a museum.  We passed the 16th century red-brick and sandstone Butcher’s Hall, built by the oldest Guild in Antwerp, now also a museum.  We spotted luminous Segway tours and numerous groups of cruise ship passengers having guided city walking tours.  We ate our lunch sitting in a raised, covered bandstand in Groenplaats square, people-watching and enjoying a fine view of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Antwerp (castle)

Antwerp (nickys new shoes)

We walked south out of the main medieval centre, to visit a few more key sights on our way home.  We passed the MoMu, the Mode Fashion Museum in Theodoor van Rijswijck plaats before crossing over to visit the small Botanic Gardens.  We wandered through the plants, although little was in bloom on this grey October day.  From there we reached the covered plaza outside the modern municipal theatre.  The square was filled with active groups of skate-boarding teenagers and chatting students, relaxing under the nominal cover provided by the extended brise soleil.

Antwerp (market square facade)

Antwerp (view from cruise ship terminal)

Antwerp (city streets)

We caught the same bus back, passing near to Zaha Hadid’s impressive Port House building on our route home. But, three quarters of the way back the driver stopped and insisted we all got off, much to the chagrin and confusion of local passengers, and us.  Rather than the uncertainty of waiting for another bus, we walked the final mile and a half back, with the threatened rains finally catching us up on the very last stretch. We arrived back rather drenched to collect Benny and to say our final goodbyes to our lovely host Chris, before we headed off through more busy traffic to overnight in the city of Ghent, in anticipation of our next Belgian city break.

Antwerp (small botanic grdens)

Antwerp (theatre)
A huge thank you to Chris and Peter for their open, friendly and very welcoming hospitality and we wish you both fine weather and smooth roads for all your upcoming travels. We look forward to having the opportunity to follow your travels, and we hope someday to return your kind invitation and genial hospitality, once we are settled and have a place we can once again call home, wherever that may be.

A & N x

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Holland – Gouda & Delft

Our final city visit on this tour to beautiful Gouda & a flying visit around the centre of Delft before returning home to reflect on our six month tour. 

The next morning started brightly, with the unfamiliar sun lighting up the edges of the clouds and highlighting the tawny autumn leaves.  We left the spacious aire in Dalfsen and retraced a few miles back to Zwolle and beyond, heading along fast wide roads past our previously haunt of Utrecht and on into the centre of Gouda.  We bagged one of the spots with free electricity in the town’s €8 per night aire at Klein Amerika, checked we could pick up the nearby library’s Wi-Fi from Benny (yes) and then we readied ourselves for a visit into town.  During our drive the rain had sneakily returned, defying all forecasts, so we waited a while until we spotted a break in the deluge and quickly wandered over the bridge across the canal leading into the historic centre.

Gouda (cheese shop)

Gouda (cheese selections)

Despite the grey, wet day, we took an instant like to Gouda.  There were local flags lining the pretty streets and it had a quiet buzz, a tranquil busyness that stoked our interest.  We stopped in to taste lots of cheeses in the specialist store we passed, with flavours from liquorice to smoke to chili to lavender to wasabi.  The brightly coloured cheese-blocks ranged from rainbow to solid black, from green to blue to red to white, depending on the flavours and spices added prior to the aging process. We decided very early that it was so pretty that we would spend a second night here, so we slowed up and took our time, looking into every small nook and cranny we passed on each lovely street.

Gouda (bridge and canal)

Gouda (market square)

Gouda (a in main square)

We circled the very large Sint Janskerk church, flanked by narrow canals and cobbled streets, before reaching the main square dominated by the gothic town hall, set alone in the centre.  The square was really a wide triangle, coincidentally (or perhaps deliberately?) shaped like a giant wedge of cheese.  On Fridays during summer months it hosted a large cheese market with sellers and suppliers wearing traditional costumes, but on our visit it was almost empty of people.  The edges were lined with the covered seating areas of restaurants and cafés, some with watching customers, but mostly quiet.  Red and white painted shutters lined the façade of the Town Hall and were repeated throughout the city on many buildings, including the tourist office that housed the Gouda Cheese Museum.

Gouda (central square town hall)

Gouda (a at town hall)

Gouda (lion and buildings)

The following day we did more of the same, simply wandering around quiet back streets. We visited the Gouda Cheese Museum where we watched a short video on how the local cheeses are produced, from cows in the field to shelves in the shops.  We saw the equipment used over the years and how it brought prosperity to the region, and the political and commercial implications of when the crown, seeing the wealth of the suppliers grow, decided that cheese needed to have its own tax applied. We bought a few small items as gifts as we wandered, feeling glad to have had this one last, very lovely stop on our tour, as after the traffic mayhem of Germany we had thought our travels over and all we had left were the miles home.

Gouda (cheese museum poster)

Gouda (in cheese museum)

Gouda (nicky in clogs)

That night, our last abroad on this trip, we sought out a specialist craft beer bar we had read about, called Biercafé De Goudse Eend.  When we arrived we were the only customers except for one other, so we sat at the bar and chatted to the barman and owner Jeroen.  We tried a selection of beers and made many unsuccessful attempts to beat the challenge of moving a bottle opener over a metal strip shaped like the skyline of Antwerp without contact.  We learned about the history of the bar, with its ever-growing collection of rubber ducks, and grew slowly sozzled with the bar and chilled atmosphere.  The bar busied up very quickly later on, with many more beer aficionadas arriving to join the chat.  It was a great night to top off our travels and leave us with lasting memories of Gouda.

Gouda (church building)

Gouda (nicky with pub games)

Gouda (in Goudse Eend piub)

The following morning we rose early, heads a little fuzzy, to pack up for the last time on this trip and head to the Hook of Holland.  We were only an hour or so from the port, so we had plenty of time to spare before our afternoon crossing.  On the way we decided on one last flying visit, and called in to see Delft.  Other than being synonymous with blue and white pottery, we knew very little about the town.  After a struggle to park, and then with no means to pay for a ticket as neither cash or Visa cards were accepted, the parking attendants let us off if we promised to only be an hour.  We would, so that was a bonus.  We walked along a canal into the main square, seeing several churches and the impressive town hall, amazed by the scale of the main square and the beauty of the surrounding streets.

Delft (town hall view)

Delft (central buildings)

Delft (cheese tulips and pottery)

Delft (a on canal bridge)

We had a rather boring and rocky six-hour ferry trip, arriving into Harwich port just after 8pm.  After a winding queue through the port and customs areas, we broke free and drove around 10 miles to the nearby village of Little Bentley and parked up in the empty car park of the Bricklayers Arms.  After confirming it was fine to stay, as they are a BritStops listed pub, we spent a lovely two hours drinking with Liz, the proprietor and owner.  We were the only customers in the bar during our stay, and we couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the previous night’s bar in Gouda, so very different but so similar too.  The following morning, excited to be back in the UK, we headed off to meet up with friends, our Scandinavia trip now at an end.  It would be some time before we could process all we had seen over our incredible trip, almost six months of travel, with such a variation of experiences, scenery and activity.