Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Belgian birthday! Part one

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 45.  I am definitely not living the life I thought I would live at this age, but I can't complain.  Bill and I learned our lesson the last time we were in Germany.  You have to take all the opportunities you can to see Europe.  Last year, we stayed in town for my birthday and visited one of our favorite local restaurants, Osteria da Gino (Nagold).  This year, Bill decided to take a few days of leave so we could go somewhere.

Although I have enjoyed most of the countries I've visited so far, Belgium remains one of my favorite places.  I love the frites, chocolate, and beer.  Also, any country that has a statue of a little boy peeing wins points with me.  Belgium evidently has a number of such monuments, but the most famous one is, of course, Mannekin Pis, which is in Brussels.  Bill and I visited Brussels in 2008.  I would actually love to go back there for the beer scene alone, but we were going to be bringing our dogs, Zane and Arran.  When the boys are with us, it's better to be out in the country.

Off I went to Booking.com to find a rental house.  To be honest, although we ended up in Belgium, I also considered places in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  I finally settled on Holiday Home Bonjour Clara, located in Alveringem, Belgium.  I picked this house because it offered everything we needed and was in an attractive location near Bruges, Ghent, and the beach.  It had free WiFi, free parking, and was pet friendly.  Somehow, I failed to notice that it also sleeps at least 10 people!  The house is HUGE.  Moreover, besides being very large, it boasts a "swimming pond", which I also thought was pretty cool.  More on that later.

Anyway, for four nights, we paid 760 euros in cash.  We were actually supposed to do a bank transfer, but the hostess never sent the information to me.  I guess that makes sense, since we booked it just a few days before our arrival.  We usually spend less on our vacation rentals, but again, for some reason I didn't realize just how huge the house was.  For as many people as it can accommodate, it was definitely priced fairly.  I will review the house in the next post.

On Friday morning, we loaded up the RAV4.  I was feeling a little out of sorts because I ordered coffee from the States again and it hadn't yet arrived.  Just my luck, the post did try to deliver it on Friday... or so that's what the mail tracker says.  We have to pay a duty for the coffee, so I was wanting to hang around long enough to take care of that.  Bill, being ever practical and wary of long drives, noted just how far Alveringem is from the Stuttgart area and nixed my idea of waiting for the mail.  It's a good thing he did that, since it took all day to get to where we were going.  I had initially told our host, Marianne, that we would arrive by five o'clock.  We didn't actually get to her house until seven.  In all, I think it took about 8 or 9 hours to get there!

On the way to Belgium, we stopped at Ramstein Air Base to gas up the car, buy a top up for my phone, and get some lunch.  Although I had heard about the Burger King fire at Ramstein, I had forgotten about it and was shocked to see the charred skeleton of the building.  The fire happened in mid April.  It must have been quite the inferno!  We spent a lot longer at Ramstein than we should have, although I will admit to being impressed by the facilities there.  It's like a little America!  I hadn't been there since our last Space A trip in 2014.  We had burgers from Johnny Rocket's for lunch.  I think I can safely say I don't need to have another one of those for awhile.

Our drive to Alveringem was mostly uneventful, though very long.  Just getting out of Germany seemingly takes forever.  We ran into the usual staus and had to stop a few times for potty breaks.  Like Germany, Belgium's high speed freeways are apparently free (for now, anyway).  But the roads aren't in the best condition in some areas.  I also noticed both on this trip and our last Belgian holiday that free rest areas aren't as plentiful.  Lots of "rest areas" in Belgium are really just places where you can pull off on the side of the road.  If you have to pee, it seems you just do it outside.  We saw lots of men doing just that.  And if you go to a rest area, you'll most likely have to pay for the privilege of peeing.  I actually don't mind that, since it allows me to get rid of change and usually ensures that the toilets will be clean and stocked with toilet paper.

As we got closer to our destination, I noticed the aroma in the air.  It smelled of manure, then ripe cheese.  I said, "Ugh!  That really stinks!"

I looked over at Bill, who had a big smile on his face.

"You like that smell, don't you?" I asked.

"Yes!" Bill sighed.  He loves stinky cheese.  Maybe that's why we've managed almost fifteen years together!  I am kidding, of course.  I don't actually smell like stinky cheese... Do I?


The long trip was worth it...


Stay tuned for part 2!

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