A bit of information, learned the hard way. Everything in Belgium is fermé, or closed, in March. Well, not everything, but anything you might want to show visiting family. And by March, of course, I actually mean entire winter. Belgium’s interesting things don’t come out of hibernation until April at the earliest. Now, don’t get all huffy with me and give me a long list of things to do in Belgium in the winter. I know. Plenty to do… blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, we seemed to be consistently choosing all the wrong things.
But at least that means that we had visitors who we wanted to show things. Nana and John (my mother and step-father) came for a visit! And the weather cooperated. Sunshine and warm temperatures. A true rarity in March.
We started touring with a day trip to Thuin. Want to go up in the Belfry? Sorry, fermé. But the suspended gardens are a good place for a steep walk. So after the second of many poulet curry sandwiches we did a little exercising up and down the paths.
Just down the road from Thuin are the ruins of Aulne Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery, founded in 656. Yes, that’s a year. It stood for a thousand years until the damn French burned it at the end of the eighteenth century. You can visit the ruins (or the many brasseries, or the mini golf course surrounding it, which is hard for me to type with my eyes rolling so far back into my head). Or at least you could… if it were April. Because right now? Fermé.
So we thought we might try Pairi Daiza. Fermé. Damn it. Guess what IS open… the Euro Tunnel. So we decided that the white cliffs of Dover might be fun to show off. Plus, who doesn’t want to go back to America and be able to say, “Yeah, we took the Chunnel to England one day”…
The cliffs were looking especially white in the sunshine. We drove down to the little town of St. Margaret’s at Cliff, which we had discovered the last time we were here. With it’s completely empty (at least in the spring) parking lot right on the beach, it’s the perfect spot for cliff viewing from below.
Since none of us had actually walked on the top of the cliffs, we found a parking spot at the end of a path and took a stroll through farmer’s fields right to the edge. They warn you, if you bother to do some research beforehand, that walking on the edge isn’t recommended due to the cliff’s habit of suddenly sliding into the sea but no one seems to take the warning seriously. As it isn’t posted anywhere and there isn’t a fence in sight, I’m not surprised. It was windy but warm and we all soaked in a little vitamin D.
Next stop, lunch. Ben discovered Dover’s oldest pub, which was perfectly cozy and provided us with sandwiches and fish and chips. The walls were covered with writing and we considered adding our names until we realized that we didn’t meet the criteria. Every signature was a name, with a date and time, of swimmers who had crossed the Channel in the water, not by train. Maybe next time.
The second most popular site to visit is Dover Castle. And it was also open so we jumped at the chance to visit a castle that we could actually enter, rather than stare at over a fence. It was only later that night after returning home that I did a little reading and discovered that the castle is supposedly haunted, which I wish I had known beforehand as it would have made it even more fun to skulk around the dark tunnels, although I’m glad the kids weren’t aware of the ghosts.
I must give Ben his due, here. He can drive on the left like he’s been doing it all his life. I tend to spend the whole time we’re in England making “whoa!” kind of expressions and wondering aloud just how we’re going to get through that roundabout backwards, all from the passenger’s seat. He really is quite the driver.
So we headed back toward the Chunnel, first stopping at the terminal to buy some Duty Free Liquor! and to pick up some Last Chance Before the Tunnel! reading material for the 30 minute passage. Just kidding. While, yes, that stuff is available, we opted for the Last Chance Starbucks! instead.
And that’s just the first three days. Plenty more of the whirlwind Nana and John visit to come!