Staying at Youth Hostel in Antwerp. Everything is close by. Went to the Cathedral. Some very nice and huge paintings including those of Rubens. Also went to the Steen (Kind of castle). And into the .9km tunnel exclusively for walkers and bicycles under the Schelde river. Very impressive. Went to the central Antwerp Train station. Very beautiful one. Nearby was the Diamond museum - India seems to have discovered diamonds (so I gleaned). A very interesting demo was given by a diamond cutter/polisher. Unfortunately camera was not allowed. Also walked in the diamond trade district - lots of Jewish and Indian businessman walking around in fancy suites. Most of the Indians appeared to speak Gujarati (one of the many Indian languages). pictures will follow soon....
Left campground near Zele. Lovely morning. Travelled along Schelde river to Antwerpen. Crossed rivers with boat. Missed a Paling festival (Eel Festival) at Mariekerke. Found room in hostel. Walked around centre of Antwerp. Had frites (fries) with tartar sauce. Sat by a bench in Grote Markt near the "Antwerpen" fountain. Met two Marathi speaking families from Pune.
6th June: Ieper and onwards Nieuwpoort - An English camper next door offered us coffee. Good start. Next to the Menin Gate there is a memorial erected by the Indian Government for the 130000 soldiers who died in the two world wars. After breakfast went place where John McCrae wrote "In Flanders field..." - a war poem. Visited Yorkshire Trench - was 10 meters deep - used during the First world war. Moved on and had excellent waffles and hot chocolate on the way. Reached Niewpoort. Was getting cold. Rain too. Tented at Niewpoort. Chatted with a scuba diver at a tavern while we waited for dinner table.
7th June: Nieuwpoort to Lapscheure - Had Chitale's "poshtik" ladoo as breakfast. Mostly bicycled along the North sea coast. Lots of building along the way. Mostly old and retired people. Hot chocolate + croissant. Had frites (Belgian fries) at Zeebrugge. Ride became beautiful along canals toward Lapscheure under canopy of tall trees. Stayed at Karls' aunt Maria and uncle Adiel. Had nice wine and supper (fresh salad, tomato-mozzarela, bread, cold cuts, smoked salmon, locally made ice-cream + fresh strawberries) with Frank (Karl's cousin) and his wife Beatrice.
8th June: Lapscheure to Brugge and back - Nice breakfast with Maria and Adiel. Ready and crossed Damse Vaart (canal) by Kobus (tiny boat connects the two shores by hand-cranked pulley system). Travelled light along beautiful canal route to Brugge. Sunny but cold. Lots of bicyclist. Some racing very fast. As we enter Brugge, we climb into a windmill. Onwards to Brugge Grote Markt (Main market square. However not always a market place though) where the bellfry (bell tower) is located. Went all the way up. Also nice quadrangle. Good place to just sit and relax. One street musician in the quadrangle playing music. Then into a beautiful basilica. Later to Brugge museum (about history of Brugge). Visited lace shops. Back to Maria and Adiel. Dinner with Frank + Beatrice and Beatrice (Frank's sister) at Knokke right on the North sea coast. Had garnalen (grey prawns) with tomaat (Tomatoes) + mayonnaise and tasty frites! Drove along zwin (nature reserve by the coast with unique flora and migratory birds) - which floods on full moon nights.
Decided to stay back. While having coffee watched the beginning of a half-marathon race near the town centre. Later, visited Tyne Cot - largest war cemetery in Europe near Zonnebeke. About 11kms from Ieper. Had lunch while watching people at a street fair in Zonnebeke. Back to town centre and visited the In Flanders Field Museum. Had a local beer called Omer (8% strong blonde beer) - was bitter and sweet. Was great!
Today Emmanuel took us to the Mobiel Bicycle Rental Shop in Kortirjk in his BMW! The bicycles are very sturdy and so also the panniers/bags which came with it. Picked up maps at the shop itself and decided to ride towards Ieper (http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ieper ). Met a "mad" Fleming on the way when we got a bit lost. He started talking about a Red Cross bus knocking him down and how he was in a coma for a week or so. Very interesting character. We followed a canal route and reached Ieper around 5pm. Had a cherry beer. More like a cherry cider/juice. Later we found a camping site. Put up our tent. At 8pm we attended the Menin Gate Remembrance Ceremony (related 1st world war). One woman ahead of me was in tears - perhaps she may have lost her grandfather. There were names of soldiers and officers from Sikh as well as Gurkha regiment and also Canadian army on the memorial walls. Had Flemish stew + salad + frites + Kapittol Blonde beer for dinner. And now back to camp-site. Good night!
Reached Brussels yesterday. Came to Halle from the Brussels Airport. Staying with Emmanuel De Paepe and family - Emmanuel is my friend Karl's cousin. Went to the town in the morning - picked up a few maps with bicycle routes of parts of Belgium where we are planning to go. Came back and had lunch with Emmanuel and his parents. Tomorrow Emmanuel will drive myself and Karl to Kortrijk, where we will pick up our rented bicycles and panniers. Some pictures from Halle below...