After tasting La Trappe beer in Ravenstein, it would have been rude not to stop at the monastery of Koningshoeven on our way south. La Trappe is one of only six remaining Trappist breweries in the world and the only one on the Dutch side of the border with Belgium. The beer is strong, rich and smooth with no nasty bitter after taste. Like all indulgent things, best appreciated in moderation or you will fall over and look silly. Or look silly then fall over.
We thought it might be nice to visit the “Tasting Room”, but had concerns about the volumes of “tasting” that might be going on when we saw a coach load of blokes arriving. We continued eating our lunch as the coach disgorged. A little later we ventured in through the stone wall and heard the familiar sound similar to a football crowd of drunken yobs coming from the Tasting Room (which was basically a pub). They were probably happy and harmless, but we decided to retreat to the shop to buy some bottled beer instead.
I’m not one who believes in tradition for tradition’s sake, especially when it comes to religion, but the scene we were confronted with seemed disrespectful and just a bit wrong in this place. Surely the practice of silence and quiet contemplation of these Trappist Monks is somewhat ruined by a coach load of shouty blokes full of beer? Oh well, I guess it pays the bills. Anyway the Monks can talk to God later in the evening once the coach heads off down the road to the sound of “bluuuuuraah” and the pleasant aroma of vomit.
In the interests of balance, if you’ve ever wondered why men of God create such hedonist delights as beer, or if you wish to become a Monk, check out their website, it’s actually quite interesting: http://www.koningshoeven.nl/en/index.php
So to Belgium and yet another re-adjustment of our settings. Not the radio or satnav, no, our personal settings. Country hopping can become a bit tiring when you’re tired and nearing the end of your trip. Your ability to soak up new things and enjoy the learning experience is reduced and you become more reclusive. I had some work on and was very busy, so for more than a week, we were forced to be more reclusive anyway. In fact I was so busy, I had to call on the services of my trusty assistant S. Her attention to detail and especially the attention span of a grown-up are to be admired.
I like Belgium and it’s odd mix of chaos and order. Laid back and provincial French, yet ordered and on time like the Germans. I experienced this at a land sailing world championship a couple years ago in De Panne. The race (or the meeting, or the function) will start at 11.15. Not 11.00, no we give you 15 mins to finish your coffee and casually stroll to your rendezvous. If you arrive at 11.16 you WILL miss the event, DO NOT BE LATE. The whole country is buzzing with stuff being made and stuff being transported. I wonder if this is what the UK felt like in the industrial revolution? Remember, when Britain made “stuff” instead of just making money. All this buzzing activity does make it noisy though. The constant shoozzzsh, shoozzzsh sound of tires on asphalt is hard to escape. We thought it would be difficult to re-integrate into society after our time in the forests of Finland and Sweden, but had no idea we would become so aware of the noise of humans!
We stumbled across a beautiful paved motorhome parking area next to a canal. “This looks lovely, we can drink tea and watch barges chug by”. Hard core aren’t we. A familiar scene at the tap presented itself though. The water was switched off. Grrr. To add grrr to my grrr, the large bin provided only opened with a token. As my Flemish is limited, I have no idea where we were meant to buy a token. By the confused looks and head scratching by other people with B and NL number plates, knowing the language wouldn’t have helped. Why not just coin operated? Deep breath, exhale, relax and re-adjust. Is that a t’ia Chi move?
As so far Belgium had basically been my office and we hadn’t done any exploring, once the work was finished, we headed for the coast and a campsite with luxuries like rubbish bins, toilets and showers. Excitingly, I can report the taps were all on! Don’t get too excited though, the shop and café were closed and the campsite was just days away from shutting down for winter. OK, this is getting silly, we need to visit a vet for some vaccinations so Uller the ageing hound is allowed back into the UK. Then we need to book a ferry.
Wandering back to Hans, post vaccinations, a guy who was struggling to hold back his dog, shouted something across the street. I said, sorry I don’t speak Flemish. Being Belgian he probably spoke five languages so a bit of fluent English was a breeze. “Is your dog a girl?” “Yes” I said. “I can tell” he shouted, looking down at his randy young Border Collie that was salivating at the thought of a bit of lady dog action. We all laughed at how desperate his dog was and explained that Uller was a very old lady and not really up to any naughty business. As we walked off in our respective directions, we heard him say in English to his dog “you granny lover”.
The next day we thought we’d have a bit of an explore down the coast and as I’d had such a great time in De Panne at the world championships, I would show S my favourite friterie and bakkerij. Just north of De Panne we stopped at a land sailing shop. Just to look – honest! After all how many places in the world have a whole shop dedicated to land sailing?!
When we went to leave, I turned the key and Hans was silent. Not even a click, nothing. Drivers of older vehicles will be familiar with this kind of event. This is a foible I was prepared for so I took a deep breath and didn’t worry. It had to be that little wire that goes into the starter motor that has worked its way loose in the past. So on with the old jacket and rubber gloves to protect my hand from the still warm exhaust. The connection felt firm, so I tried to start again. Still nothing. Right, this isn’t funny Hans. I tried compressing the clip with pliers but then broke the connector from the wire. OK, I give up, let’s call international breakdown. Flemish street names are fun to relay to the call centre! I ended up spelling most of it.
Avid readers (all 3 of you), may have sensed the end of our travels were near by the tone of several recent blogs. Interesting cultural differences that once were fun and educational had become a pain. Niggles that were brushed off as part of the experience were now getting in the way of the fun. The tide had turned and it was time to head back to Blighty. While the breakdown man was messing about under the bonnet S was on the phone to change our ferry booking to that evening – despite the excessive cost for a same day booking.
Was this really the end? Are we really heading back with our tails between our legs? And will Hans the motorhome make it back?