Greetings and welcome back to the Braam’s travelling extravaganza!
As Claire recovered from her 24 hour bug, we had a lucky smooth day of travel including a private, oversized cabin on our train. This was a rare occurance as we are generally fortunate to find 3 seats together. After a tour through Ghent on the tram, we arrived to our Couchsurfing hosts home. Here there was a plethora of toys for Meier to play with, but unfortunately his would be playmate had already gone to bed. We got to know one of our hosts, Jolien, while we sat and chatted before hitting the sack. That night, Doug caught the bug, so the following day was a bit of a waste. Claire had the opportunity to catch up on some travel housekeeping while Meier again exploited the toy collection. Jolien returned later with her daughter Luna and the kids had a chance to play a bit. We had a quiet dinner in and Doug retired with Meier directly after. That night, Meier had his turn with the bug, and we were afraid our time in Ghent would be a wash. The next day was our last day, and Meier was amazingly perfectly fine in the morning. We couldn’t believe it, so we geared up and headed out. We toured the beautiful city and its meandering cobblestone streets. We checked out the castle, old neighborhoods, open air markets, a boat tour and the three adjacent cathedrals. As we walked the cathedrals, each was older than the last, with the oldest being built in the 10th century! Pretty amazing! We were also told that the first oil painting ever created was in the oldest of the cathedrals, but we couldn’t understand any of the informational signs, so we have to take our river guide at his word.
We headed out early the next morning to the small town of Neerpelt. Our mission, the remote Trappist Abbey of Achel. We arrived midday, got our rental bikes and headed out. This was our first time on bikes in a while, and it was amazing. There is a wonderful network of biking trails all through Belgium (and the Netherlands) and we took advantage as we headed to the abbey. The trails were awesome. They are totally separate from the roadway systems and are all numbered and clearly marked. They seem to really have this system figured out. So anyway, we got to the abbey, and it was glorious. There were a fair amount of tourists milling about the old Monastery and the grounds. The whole thing was really beautiful with a cathedral and many other well crafted brick buildings. We went to the café for lunch and a sample of the beers. We each had a brown and a blond, both really tasty. In the café, you could see into the brewing operation which we were hoping to see in action. Once we read that there are only 6 monks at the abbey, we realized our chances were slim. More and more people packed into the café and we headed over to the store. At the store, there was a huge variety of Trappist and other Belgian brews along with abbey made cheese and a variety of other products at wholesale prices. So of course, we loaded up on as many bombers as we could carry (and some cheese) and headed out. The next day, we toured the countryside on the bikes. We took advantage of the trail system once again as we pedaled a nice long loop into Holland and back. Once we neared our apartment, we took a nice break by the canal to let Meier play and enjoy one the many fantastic local brews. That evening we headed out to the main square of Neerpelt for a drink and some food. Strange thing we’ve noticed here is that they typically won’t serve you dinner on the patio. You can have drinks, maybe a snack, but no meals. Kind of strange, but there’s quite a bit of variance from culture to culture and they’re all quite different from American culture. So we had a drink and headed to the local Kebab stand for a quick and cheap dinner and went back to the apartment to prepare for our next days travel to the Netherlands.