• Joanna

Bunged up in Belgium

Updated: May 27

Crossing the border from France into Belgium was surprisingly easy… yet tremendously nerve racking at the same time. There was a simple brick gatehouse with a couple signs alerting us to the new country... and not much more. It was a little unsettling, considering we had been expecting the entire rigmarole; full border patrol with passport check, health affidavit, Covid test, passenger locator form...


Nothing.

Nothing at all.


I was more than slightly disappointed not to get a Belgium stamp in my passport… so I guess photos, memories and this blog will have to suffice.

I kept expecting to be pulled over and taken into custody over compromising the European Union health status. I had terrifying visions of testing positive, having our French rental compounded, our belongings seized and the both of us deported back to where we had once come.


It didn’t happen… but… the day was still young. Anything could happen… and I was fully prepared. We’d already suffered a traffic violation, so why not Belgium banishment?


My experience entering Bruges was a lot more stressful than it rightfully should have been. The challenge was on, attempting to navigate the chaotic city core, despite the lackadaisical support of our GPS. At times, right in the most tumultuous parts of the downtown, road lines completely disappeared, making this ill-conceived road network near impossible to confidently guide ourselves to our required destination. Had I someone to follow, maneuvering the spider web of cobblestones and roundabouts, I would NOT have landed myself in a multitude of backtracking and turn-arounds.

But… we finally made it to the hotel.


Hotel de Orangerie - a small, boutique hotel, located right in the centre of historical Bruges. It embodied the height of luxury and sophistication, and I can’t believe I actually secured a double room at the price I did. This hotel had the magical ability to make one feel rich, yet tremendously poor at the same time. Their menu prices and mini bar offerings were enough to cripple us, and without exercising a proper degree of caution, could have potentially led to our financial ruin. We were greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne while we waited for our room to be ready, and we enjoyed it in the lavish drawing room.


Our room was called "Fish Market," which seemed an usual name... though not as odd as our neighbour, "Holy Blood."

Stinking up the entire European continent with my dirty and much-over worn garb, I was desperate for laundry facilities. Not only was I completely out of clean socks and underwear, but every item of clothing had a decidedly foul odour.

My saving grace was hotel laundry service. After quickly scanning over the item price list, I knew I was right at the storms eye of a major decision.


Do I continue to make payments towards my mortgage? Or

Do I get a load of laundry done at my boutique abode?

Underwear €5

Jacket €39

Trousers €29

Blouse €23

T-Shirt €21


The list went on, categorizing other items such as sweaters, skirts, scarfs and socks at a preposterous rate. Had I made the decision to follow through with my strong desire for clean clothes, I would have set myself back over €271… which is the equivalent of $370.84. That’s a plane ticket.


Soiled, stained and stinky clothes for the win!

I endured the agony by turning socks inside out, forgoing the comfort of knickers and doing my utmost to remain socially distanced from the general public.


With only a few days until we were set to arrive at ZeeCee and Richard’s, I was confident I would be able to suffer through.

Bruges is a photographer's dream. A city in abundance of multi-coloured cookie cutter façades and medieval rooftops that stepped up to the sky, Bruges takes top ranking in being one of best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets and antiquated feel, Bruge is a picturesque city, with a rich history that spans back to the Vikings, and is fully protected by UNESCO. It is not only famous for its beer, waffles and chocolate, but also for its elegant and delicate lace. In fact, Belgium is known for having the most luxurious lace in the world.


We allowed ourselves to get lost in the city known as the Venice of the North, and despite the dreary weather, jumped on a guided boat tour to see the sights from a different perspective. It wasn’t all gloom and doom, and the sun did grace us with a much-appreciated appearance.


Of course, no trip to Belgium would come complete without indulging in one of their world famous waffles. I had temporarily convinced myself to abstain from the decadence, but I gave into temptation more easily that I would have thought possible. With the waft of waffle every few steps, it became exceedingly difficult to ignore the sweet treat.


My craving could have been appeased with a basic, plain waffle, but I decided to opt for something slightly more excessive. I chose the Nutella, raspberry and whip cream option. The first few bites were lovely… quite enjoyable… and then each morsel got increasingly more sickening…

This, however, did absolutely nothing to stop me from devouring the entire thing. Oh no…


My glutinous and overly excessive indulgence instantaneously resulted in stomach cramping, upper abdominal pain, bloating and nausea. That was it… it was over. My seemingly simple sweet-tooth treat had gone awry. The entire day in Bruges was ruined, as I tumbled further and further into a sluggish slump. I had to force myself out of my hotel-bed horizontal position, and in a desperate attempt to burn the sugar out of me, I took to the streets for a power walk around the city. It didn’t work.


In fact, it had the opposite effect than the one I’d originally desired. Instead, my awful waffle walk of shame took this nauseating dessert and carefully stored it safely away.. for what was set to become what seemed like an eternity. It was an absolute betrayal of my own digestive system.

Bruges, in the evening, was enchanting and the architecture came alive with the lights. We took a local recommendation for dinner, and were delighted to discover an absolute culinary treasure. From there, we wandered the cobblestone lanes, and stumbled upon one of Bruge’s most cozy and best known bars. Aunty Lin took advantage of the wide range of Belgium’s finest beers, and sampled some of the local brew.


Me? Not so much.

Still suffering from this abnormal and inconvenient case of bunged-up belly bloat, I decided that beer wasn’t necessarily the answer I was looking for, and chose to stay on course with wine and water.


Ahhh… the joy of constipation…


I read somewhere that if Bruges was the belle, then Ghent, the rebel, and this seemed undeniably appropriate in description. Ghent was a true university town, alive with students from all over the world… and from our brief encounter with the city, we’re impressed with its fascinating culture. One review aptly described it as a charming muddle of alleyways rimmed by quaint steeple-roofed buildings running along pretty canals. It could've been exactly the description of Bruges, yet Ghent seemed decidedly more mysterious… almost haunting with its Gothic architecture.

Mesmerized by the cosmopolitan vibrancy of the city, I found myself wishing I’d dedicated a couple of years to international education. Studying abroad seemed so enticing.


We signed up to take a free city tour, but were teetering on the edge of cancelling, due to the threat of torrential downpour. Right on cue though, the sun came out to light up the city in all its brilliance…and to also make us regret our decision in borrowing two rather large and burdensome umbrellas from the hotel.

The tour was fascinating. Our guide was a young Canadian student, who, regardless of having only been in Ghent for two years, thoroughly impressed us with his historical knowledge of the city. There were a few times, he noticeably paused, as though searching his brain for the story, the dates or trying to bring memorization front and centre, but all in all, it was well worth the gratuity.

These free walking tours are often led by students, making money to fund their studies.

James was engaging, and filled us full of stories of;

Charles V and the Revolt of Ghent ~ the bloody and humiliating execution of its leaders due to a refusal to pay unwarranted taxes.

The Battle of Gravensteen ~ the 1949 student occupation of the castle in protest of an increase of beer.

The Spitting Fire Dragon ~ legend has it that this bronze statue was stolen from Bruges and is now the protector of Ghent.

The Industrial Revolution ~ Lieven Bauwens, an industrial spy who smuggled an entire mule-jenny spinning machine part by part, from Britain into Ghent, and so began the European Industrial Revolution. James explained how the factories would use children to pull out cotton blockages from underneath the machines, resulting in the loss of fingers, hands and even arms. I remember thinking that this would not be gainful employment for Aunty Lin, as she manages to snag her fingers on anything and everything, on a regular basis!

The risk factor would be much too high.

There was so much more… such as façade renovations, city revitalizations, historical ceremonies, folklore and legends… Highly recommended and intend to take advantage of these tours with each city I visit from now on.


After the tour, Aunty Lin wandered into one of the churches to look around and admire some of their paintings on display. I found a tavern, sat myself down and attempted to write a bit.


I conveniently positioned myself close to the loo, in case of any ”rumblings” in the intestinal tract. Two days in Bruges… and almost a full 24 hours in Ghent, and still not a peep from the bowel department.


The waiter approached me for my order, and I kindly asked for a glass of rosé and a glass of tap water. He didn’t even hesitate in his peculiar response.

“Here in Ghent, we can only serve tap water to people for medical reasons.”


Huh???

Having had guzzled copious amounts of tap water throughout the city, I knew it was nonsense… and not only a brilliant way to scare tourists, but to significantly increase sales.


I smiled at him.


Would three days of not shitting suffice?


… stupid waffle.

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