Less than 20 minutes north from where we stayed the night in Calais, we had arrived in beguiling Belgium. There was a noticeable change in the scenery and streets as we crossed over the imaginary border and pulled in to refuel. Spectacular views of rolling hills with little white dots that turned into grazing sheep distracted us from the continues kilometres we clocked. Our excitement climbed towards its crescendo at having finally reached the mystical, far away land of Europe and we were feeling outrageously optimistic about the rest of our itinerary (especially after the first fuel injector hiccup in Dover) as we sped towards Brugge. Cantankerous clouds gathered overhead, growing darker and eventually the drizzle commenced as we crossed over canals announcing our arrival in Brugge.
Brugge is truly a romantic city with that fairytale feel from my childhood princess dreams. The streets are cobblestoned and the buildings emulate a gothic tinge with skyscraper spires. Buildings stand stoic like castles as flags fly high and as we wandered through them, I thought about all the history that was contained within their walls knowing Belgium’s reputation as the ‘Battlefield of Europe’. The market square was quite busy considering the woeful weather (mostly scattered showers but with occasional torrential downpours) and Rhys and I ambled around in our raincoats enjoying the unfamiliar sights and wafting, delectable smells. The medieval shop facades had every outsider looking up admiring and awed as I snapped a few pictures before my camera started getting too wet. As the rain became more constant, we naturally ended up taking cover in the nearest bar which happened to be below a beer museum. Luckily, it overlooked the main courtyard and we spent the next hour beer tasting, eating cheese and watching people go about their day through the the huge, rain streaked windows. We decided not to stay the night (mainly due to the weather and a lack of spacious free parks), so we jumped back in Sassy typing Brussels into the GPS thinking we would easily make it there before sundown. Belgium is a fairly small place right?
We were speeding along the highway surrounded by farmland when it happened. Sassy rapidly lost power and the smell of smoke and burning diesel filled the car as we pulled her off to the side of the road. We jumped out and popped the bonnet as trucks raced past the skinny median strip shaking us violently only to discover the exact same fuel injector hose had snapped! After some initial swearing and anger, we kicked our brains into gear, locked Sassy up and began walking to the closest farm to try and get help. We didn’t have a working SIM card for Belgium (one of the few countries that the Three London SIM doesn’t work) and we didn’t really know what else to do. As we walked, we tried to figure out where we were exactly so we could find our way back and we comforted ourselves by discussing some scenarios we might like to act out with Sassy right at the moment. Some of these included pushing her into a dirty lake, a molotov cocktail into the windscreen or rolling her off a tall cliff. Not long after we started walking, the driver of a fancy looking black Mercedes took pity on us offering a lift into town. Our saviour was a real estate agent on his way home who happened to speak very good English. He offered life advice from his experiences and encouraged us to continue on our trip regardless of the car outcome. We were dropped off at a service station so we could use the phone to call a tow truck, but the lady behind the counter didn’t seem to have a number and our request got a little lost in translation. Instead, she drew us a mud map to find the Ford dealer in town and our unexpected exploration of Aalter began. We walked for a few kilometres and dropped in on various shop owners to confirm we were going the right way, eventually finding the Ford workshop.
Once there, everybody was extremely helpful and a tow truck was organised but wouldn’t be available for four hours. To fill in time, we conversed with the staff, drank lots of their free coffee from their first class machine, used the very fast wifi and flicked through all the new car leaflets with a little envy. Eventually, the tow truck arrived and we jumped in the back to show them to Sassy’s resting place. After our second tow truck joyride in as many weeks, Sassy was parked alongside the showroom competing against the shiny new models for our attention. The right part was easily ordered as we still had the original broken piece and the box from the previous repair. We were told to get comfy as it could be up to four days before the new piece arrived. The next three nights were spent in the Ford carpark but we occupied ourselves by getting to know the small, sleepy town of Aalter quite well via our bicycles. We picnicked, participated in a small fete and made friends with some local ducks. Once the part arrived, it took all of 30 minutes to install it and Sassy was back up and roaring with life once again. We knew we would have to take it a little easier on the old girl this time around. Ths staff came out to wave us off and we thanked them for their help and for letting us crash their showroom and use their facilities before we pulled out onto the highway and headed for Brussels feeling full of hope once again.
Brussels is a bustling metropolitan area and we were headed towards an aire that backed onto a hostel in the middle of the city. After spending four days without a shower (amen to baby wipes) in a mechanic’s carpark, I was desperate for hot water and a freshen up. Later on, we jumped on our bikes and headed out to discover what Brussels had to offer us. We spent the whole day traveling between restaurants, bakeries and cafes with stops to major attractions and historic buildings. We had lost a little time and were trying to make up for it. Our weariness showed when we bought the biggest meringue we could find only to accidentally leave it at a restaurant after too many wines before getting a chance to taste even on bite. Doh! We didn’t arrive home until midnight and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow feeling extremely content. The next day, we decided we had better keep moving to make up for lost time, thinking we might even still make Oktoberfest in Germany. Our only stop was to pick up some cherry beer on our way out of the city. With luck (hopefully) on our side and in good spirits we left Brussels behind and continued north to the Netherlands. I had managed a taste of what Belgium had to offer and knew I would return sometime in the future.