Today it was bitter. As in bitterly cold. Snow was falling on and off; the icy wind blew. As I had visited the beguinage in the freezing fog exactly 2 weeks before, I chickened out of any more sight-seeing. I felt slightly disappointed as I had envisaged doing touristy stuff on this last weekend. Tom decided he would brave the weather to have a look round the city, but this morning I ensconced myself in the bar where the wifi was at its strongest, ordered a coffee and set about writing more of my travel log. I always find the time passes without me noticing how quickly when I get a pencil in my hand. Tom arrived back after a couple of hours. He went to warm up and chill out upstairs.
One thing I had to do today was to rearrange my plans for visiting Beauvale Priory when I got back to Nottingham after the weekend. I had organised with Ann, the owner of the Priory Teashop and Farm, to go on Tuesday morning. However, Ian’s work commitments had changed; he needed to be in London on Tuesday, so I had to be home a day sooner. Ben, our old mutt, needed me! Fortunately Ann was free on Monday morning too, so all was sorted.
Later in the afternoon I thought I might go and have a look at the Gentpoort (Ghent Gate) which is one of four remaining medieval gates around the city. I’d made a mental note about seeing it on my first Bruges visit. I wrapped up, went to check the parking ticket on the car and yet again I chickened out of the excursion; it was so cold. We could exit Bruges by Gentpoort the next day and have a look at it then.
For dinner we went to try the small restaurant we’d noticed the previous evening a few metres up the street. This was a homely place with roaring fire and the meal was excellent - proper Belgian chocolate mousse for dessert which left a chocolatey taste in the mouth for quite a while afterwards. A great end to our last culinary adventure on this trip.
We were woken by what sounded like elephants exercising in the room above us. It was only four children playing, who must have been jumping off the beds. They were on holiday and having fun. My empathy started to wear a bit thin after nearly an hour. It seemed like an hour anyway.
We breakfasted, paid the bill and packed the car, clearing off the night’s snowfall. Thankfully
there was some de-icer left in the can. We made a quick stop at the Gentpoort for me to take a few snaps. It was still too cold to hang around for long.
The trip to the Channel Tunnel was fairly uneventful and quicker than I remembered. I made the mistake, which I am sure we have made many times before – of missing the exit for Cité Europe. We had several hours before our reserved departure time, and thought we might purchase a few goodies to bring home. We ended up approaching the ticket controls of the Tunnel sous la Manche instead, but managed to find the little side road that took us back to what we found was a Cité Europe, all closed up. That is a mistake we’ve also made before. No Sunday opening in France. Again, I cannot fault the French on this. Not because of any judgment on Sunday trading in an ethical sense. My ‘Keep Sunday Special’ feeling is about the importance of having a special day to chill out, rest, have family time - Sabbath in its human-oriented sense. Restoration is essential, as is meaningful work for the rest of the week.
We did manage to find a little local supermarket open in the back end of Calais to buy a few snacks for the journey, and a few bottles of wine with the Euros we had left. Who knows what will happen in the Eurozone before we next have the opportunity to travel abroad? Tom and I have discussed European history and economics now and again. I can’t help thinking that history just keeps repeating itself in cycles. Economic crises and power struggles between the leaders of neighbouring states form a backdrop to Marguerite’s and the Templars’ plight; as they also do to my Granddad’s wartime journey to Flanders and Picardy; to my father’s post-war flight to Great Britain as a 17 year-old; to my mother’s first trip abroad in 1956. Bruges, Ghent, Valenciennes, Calais, Paris, Britain, Europe have been through so many traumata together over the years. We are stuck with each other, even if somebody decides they want to take their ball home on certain occasions because they are hacked off with everybody else.
There is little to report about the journey home under the sea, via Bexley to see friends, and on to Nottingham and family. There is one visit left to make on Monday morning – and the snow was back with a vengeance.