A kind woman who lives in a village outside of Lille drove us into Belgium. She was just going to take us to the border, but she likes Ieper and thought we would too so she drove us all the way there. We waved goodbye to her and her kids and, before anything, set off to find some Belgium waffles.
We’ve been pretty frugal when it comes to food, only buying the cheapest things we can find at supermarkets. We were in luck because we found a pack of Belgium waffles for under a euro. We weren’t planning on staying, but of course we did. The Gothic style buildings, the history, and the waffles were all great reasons to.
We found a campsite that was under ten euros a night. Again, we didn’t have a tent, but the next two nights under the stars were pleasant anyway. It was cold, but we wore lots of layers, and as a back-up plan, our camping neighbor (a biker from the UK) offered us a room in his tent. We didn’t take him up on it, but he was nice to have conversations with. When we weren’t lounging at the camp we, as usual, walked around to take in all the sights that we could.
Ieper is a walled city with many cemeteries, old battlefields, and memorials from World War 1. The walk from our camp to the city was filled with bomb craters.
They do something called The Last Post Ceremony every evening at 8pm at the Menin Gate. They’ve been doing it every single night since the spring of 1929. It consists of men playing bugles to honor those who fought for freedom. We got there late enough to not have a good view, but at least we heard them. On the gate itself are the names of over 54,000 missing men who fought and have no graves.
Ieper was a great place to learn some history and explore. When it came time to leave we put on the backpacks once again and walked out of town, ready to get north and see where we’d end up next.
I only got two iphone pictures of the rest of our time in Belgium, but where we ended up was south of Antwerp, and the story is worth telling. We got there in a few rides, the last one dropping us in a not so fantastic place. So we walked a while, and then a while more, and finally stuck out our thumbs while walking. It was worth a shot.
Maybe a minute later a woman pulled over. She was heading back home after getting her son a sleeping bag for an upcoming backpacking trip of his own. We got to talking and she invited us over to camp in her garden. We were honored and accepted.
After meeting her husband and three sons they shared dinner with us. They showed us the art they’ve created (beautiful sculptures and paintings), and they even let us use their tent. Before we retired in it for the evening she and one of her sons took us down the road to a bar. We hadn’t tried Belgium beer yet and kept hearing about how amazing it is. The bar was walking distance away and used to be a fort in the war. They open it up in summer time, and it was incredibly neat. We wouldn’t have ever experienced it if our ride hadn’t dropped us of at the spot it did, if we hadn’t stuck out our thumbs at the exact moment we did, and if we hadn’t met the generous woman who we sat with then.
A lady we had hitchhiked with earlier in the day told us her favorite Belgium beer was Chouffe beer.
“The one with the little gnome on it,” she said so that we could remember.
So we got one of those and a different one so that we could try two kinds.
And Belgium beer really is amazing!
We slept peacefully in their tent. I liked the shadows I could see from the inside in the morning.
We really appreciate people who walk us places, because we’re pretty good at getting lost. Our new friend delivered us to the road that would lead us the rest of the way to Antwerp. Then we bid him farewell and wished him luck on his upcoming travels.
We walked a while, long enough to eventually justify that since we were probably leaving Belgium that day, we should take a break and experience Belgium beer one last time. So we went into a restaurant and got more Chouffe beer.
The bartender wasn’t pleased when the delivery guy put two big boxes on the ground in the middle of the bar area instead of taking them to the back. Being the only ones in the room and feeling like we should acknowledge him in some way, Jason asked what the shipment was.
“New beer glasses. We get new ones all the time because people always steal them. They know that we get them for free. If they’d just ask, I’d give it to them.”
We kept talking. He was a nice guy. He’d given his notice at the restaurant by then and was just working his last days.
By the end of the conversation he’d given us a bottle of wine (a kind they were switching out for a new one) to take with us, and even told us we could take a glass.
“You’ve got to drink the wine out of something.”
So here I am, currently drinking water out of my stolen glass from Antwerp, as I type.
That really was our last day in Belgium. We ended up taking a city bus that took us to the border of Holland, where more adventure awaited us.