We had breakfast in France - on our way out of Bray-Dunes, we sat on the seafront and had a pain au chocolat and croissant each. Two miles later we were in Belgium, quite a minor business, announced only by a small sign.
Last impressions of France? Friendly drivers, some quite pleasant roads and pretty good cycle paths - a welcome change from England. Some really pretty areas (e.g. Cherbourg peninsula) and some not so nice (e.g. Le Havre and surrounding areas) We had some good meals there, although the food does tend to be quite fatty and I'm a little sick of frites right now. Good stuff - crepes au citron, pain au chocolat, smoked duck salad, camembert and lots of other nice cheeses.
We had lunch in Belgium - we found a pub, I'm not really sure where, somewhere just south of Oostende I think, and struggled through our first few words in Dutch to get a table and ask for the menu. Dgym went for a macaroni cheese. I couldn't decide what I wanted, so went for the thing I could least understand, (which is always fun, as long as you know that "gesiers" is French for "gizzards" :) It turned out to be prawn croquettes with salad, and was very good.
I was wondering before today what sort of a place Belgium is - nobody really seems to go there on holiday or anything, so we weren't really sure what to expect. It was for the most part quite pleasant, the cycle paths were nice, taking us along mostly traffic-free routes in the countryside and guiding us alongside the roads in town. The food was tasty and a bit cheaper than France... they just need to get rid of Zeebrugge. We seeemed to spend most of the afternoon getting through the city what with the cycle paths either being very sporadically signposted, or sending us roundabout the houses/docks on a very indirect route, or having lorries planted in the middle of them. We then arrived at the mechanised bridge just in time to see the lights go red and the bridge lift in front of us. OK, we thought, we'll wait here while a couple of ships go through... so we waited for fifteen minutes while four or five large slow ships chugged their way in from the sea... and then the bridge did nothing. We waited, and waited, and nothing happened. I noticed that the front car that was waiting was also British so I went to ask if they knew anything about when the bridge would go down. They, like us, were just hoping it would go down soon. Dgym pointed out that it looked like some large ships were about to crawl out in the other direction too, so we gave up and tried another bridge. We managed to get over the bridge, at which point it was roadworky chaos and pretty much unnavigable for a cyclist. We somehow managed to duck between hurtling lorries and get ourselves out of it, thank goodness.
So - if you're thinking of cycling in Belgium - it's quite lovely, but stay away from the cities!
The Belgium/Netherlands border was quite unannounced - I'm not sure when we actually crossed over, but we did. We're only just past the border, and have stopped at the first hotel we saw. Which at 65euro is little more pricey than we'd normally go for but we were tired and hungry, and it's a very nice room for the money. First impressions of the Netherlands? It's flat, and there are lots of bicycles. Hooray, we're definitely in the right country. And, in response to our feeble attempts at speaking their language, the Dutch have been putting us to shame by responding fluently in our own.
We had dinner in the Netherlands - the only local restaurant was also expensive at almost 20euro a main meal, but very nice indeed and the dishes (a mixed grill and a steak) came with lots of tasty side dishes, and pancake soup. Pancake soup is something that had never occurred to me before, but it's a great idea. The waitress was very friendly and helped us with our Dutch pronunciation as we read out to her cheesy lines from the phrase book such as "The meal was delicious thank you" and "Can we have the bill please?"
Yes, I have heard that a good percentage of Netherlanders speak good English. I've been to a couple of places there (Amsterdam and a town at the west end)
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