While this last week has been full of curiously poking down new Bruges alleyways, merrily biking along canals, and lighting up inside each time the nearest carillon chimes hit my ears, I decided to start testing my dormant train know-how to branch out beyond this medieval city. Side note: I love and enjoy everything about the train process over here. Retuning my brain to how to read the schedules. Listening intently to the foreign language announcements overhead to try to grasp a word or two. Settling into a nice cozy window seat in the First Class cars (this comes automatically with the typical Eurail Global Pass I get). I could go on but I digress. P.S. I'm happy to be back on the trains.
First direction calling me was the west, or coastal Belgium. I'm not sure why because the Belgian coast is not a particularly hot travel topic, but I thought the tram that runs its entire 40 mile coastline would be a good, efficient way to check things out. It was and now I know why it is not a particularly hot travel topic! The coast is, well, just fine. The beaches are wide, clean, family-friendly and most towns have easy to stroll promenades. The southern beach towns include wispy, rolling sand dunes like you've seen in every World War movie when they're charging the shore. A few towns have charm; most are built up with 10+-story apartment buildings right at the sand. I haven't been to Atlantic City, but it felt very Atlantic City-ish to me. It doesn't help that it's been cloudy, foggy and chilly in this notoriously gusty region, but one thing is clear: The Belgian coast is not all that (hey, I’m an honest journalist, okay?). When Belgians I've spoken to say that they don't even go to their own beaches, it makes me feel a little better about my assessment. Unfortunately, when they were handing out beautiful coastal towns along the North Sea, France and the Netherlands cut in front of Belgium. I mean, listen, I’m not going to say it wasn’t cool to have a foot in the North Sea, but I probably wouldn’t plan a vacation around my whole body getting in.
One of the cuter coastal town beaches, De Haan. I guess I didn't take many more!
On a different note, the coast did provide me with a Belgium memory I won't soon forget. At certain times of year (and infrequently this time of year), at perfectly timed low tide, a 500 year old tradition of shrimp fishing on horseback exists in the small town of Oostduinkerke. It is the only place in the world that still does this and man, was my timing lucky. The hefty Brabander horses with their rubber hip boot-wearing fishermen queued up to prepare for their journey to, and into, the sea. The clacking of hooves and ready-as-I'll-ever-be snorts as they filed down to the sand was ceremonious as the crowd rallied behind them. No one seemed to care that by the time they reached the water's edge everything from the ankle down was soaked and muddy. We all knew we were witnessing a historic tradition.
Flemish Brabant horses are known to be sturdy, muscular, and strong
And in they went. Slowly, one by one, wading into the shore break. With baskets at saddle level and nets dragging behind them, the gentle giants forcefully navigated the constant push of the tide. It was truly a spectacle to see. And although the shrimp caught are tiny ones (renowned in this area) and I didn't stay for the roughly three hours of production out there due to the inclement weather, it is obvious that it is hard work for both the horses and fishermen. I feel honored to have had the chance to watch this interesting custom for myself!
Heading in to the North Sea waters
Tot ziens (Bye)!