Kiri and


Bertha in Binche

August 8th, 2014 (by Steve)

As we arrived into the province of Luxembourg (in Belgium) from Luxembourg (the country) having missed seeing Luxembourg (the city)… all very confusing… we realised that our view of Belgium as a flat country was incorrect. You see, as we passed through Belgium on the outbound leg of our second loop we experienced a very level country of Flemish-speakers. Coming in from the south, it was a different picture with rolling hills and a French-speaking population… as well as amusingly-named towns… I wonder if they’re M+S?


After spending a night next to a babbling brook in the south east of the country, we ventured to Binche to help at a church there for a few days. Charles + Frances are friends of our parents and they lead the Eglise Protestante Evangelique de Binche. We’ve tried to visit a church most Sundays of this trip and at times it’s been a bit daunting to go to a new place where we don’t know quite what to expect and how we will communicate. Church should be a place where we join with others who have a similar outlook and focus in their lives, but actually, sometimes our fear of potential awkwardness and the unknown become a barrier. Some Sundays it’s been much easier to just spend quiet time together in Bertha.

But in Binche we were in safe hands with Charles + Frances. After getting Bertha plugged in and being given a very warm welcome, a hot dinner and a refreshingly cool bed (sometimes it gets a bit hot in Bertha), we joined them on Sunday morning at their church. Kiri was set to work on the djembe during the songs as well as painting a picture of a doorway to illustrate the passover story. Charles had provided me with a rough outline of his talk in French, which I was just about able to follow, but it was good to tune my ear in to Frances’ translation into English too! After the service we had some lovely conversations with other church-goers, although due to our poor language skills some of them had to be quite simple. And then our first Sunday roast in a very long time!

At every project that we visited in the first loop, our focus was on how we could serve. This might have been our sole project of the second loop, but we still had the same focus; offering to help in any way that we could. Although we jet-washed some peeling paint on lintels, washed and vacuumed a car and helped to lay part of a new floor in an art + prayer room, we came away afterwards feeling like we’d received far more than we’d given.

On Monday evening, we joined Frances + Charles at their English conversation group; a great bunch of local people who meet together to practise speaking English. We’d timed our visit pretty well as it coincided with a barbecue they were having, where we had great fun as well as great food. Occasionally the conversation would lapse into French (or even Dutch!) and we’d be straining to catch the gist of what was going on, but most of the time everyone was really keen on practising their language skills. Which worked well for us! One particular moment of joy for us was the amazement that the local Belgians had at seeing chocolate cornflake cakes that Frances had made.

On Tuesday, Kiri was invited along to a ladies’ group meeting where she shared about our trip with the ladies of the church. She talked about the people we’ve met on the road and the qualities that we’ve learned from all of them. There was then a discussion about the variety of churches that we’ve been to (when we’ve been brave enough to actually go to church!) and how all of us are part of one body.

Throughout our few days with Charles + Frances, mealtimes were probably the times we valued most, and not just because we ate some incredible food. As we ate, it was great to talk deeply with them about our faith, our lives and our aspirations for the future. We’re not particularly good at small talk, so it was refreshing to get into deep conversations with them, as well as joke around at times too. It was then a great privilege to all pray together before we departed in Bertha.


On a different note, it appears that the media have been going crazy over Bertha’s return to the UK. So, as the BBC asks “What will Bertha bring to the UK?“, we’ll break our silence. You’ll be pleased to know that before we left Belgium, we stocked up on beer.

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A Ghent Gent and an Antwerp… Twerp?

April 28th, 2014 (by Steve)

Planning is everything in motorhoming. Everything is reduced to what you’re carrying; water, gas, electricity, fuel, food etc. Due to our meticulous planning, therefore, we certainly did not run out of gas, bread, milk and fruit only to find out that it was a public holiday. We definitely didn’t turn up at an LPG station, connect the hose and then realise it was closed and there is no chance that we turned up at Lidl on Easter Monday expecting to be let in. Or maybe we did all of the above. Doh.

Empty, we headed towards Ghent. Our research on things to do there had yielded the encouraging phrase of “buy a one way ticket to Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels or anywhere that isn’t Ghent”, but we ploughed on nevertheless with a spring in our step (or maybe that’s just Bertha’s suspension?!). Once there, we located some bread, milk and fruit in a 24 hour shop and warned our fridge not to use too much of the remaining gas. Our surroundings were pretty funky and grungy; right next to a motorway underpass, with an adventure playground next door… oh, and a tram line within walking distance. Any city that has trams HAS to be good.


The following morning, we wandered into Ghent from where we’d parked up; about a 45 minute walk or so. On the way we spotted a vending machine for bread (a day late!) and I was probably a little too excited when I was asked to specify exactly which banknotes I wanted from an ATM. Now we’re not normal when it comes to visiting cities (as you may have gathered from the last sentence and our other blog posts), so once we’d seen the pretty sides of Ghent (it really is lovely), we moved to find something that had caught our eye in the “hidden gems” category.


A pathway where you can do what you like with a tin of spray paint. Now that’s our kind of fun! Not having any cans with us (we’ve never actually tried spray painting seriously, but would both love to), we meandered down the alleyway as one might move through an art gallery… but in a slightly grungier way. Hmmm, did we really? Maybe we just walked normally… anyway, we passed a few people painting big words, then came across a couple of guys with a bit more ambition. One was painting a grungy figure on a motorbike, the other painting a futuristic flying car. These guys knew how to handle spray cans obviously. We leaned against a wall opposite (having first checked that it was dry!), and watched the masters at work. I don’t think we could have been happier watching a sculptor at work, or an actor, or a dancer, or a watercolour artist, or a cellist… it was just a real privilege to be there. It was over too soon though; the artists had to go off and do something and promised they would be back that evening… we expressed disappointment that we’d not be around, and one gave us a photocopy of the sketch he’d done for the motorbike and the other his business card; Suitably grungy name. Nice. We headed back to Bertha, content (having also made friends with a zebra… as you do!).


The following morning, a fire engine cherry picker stopped in front of Bertha, raised its ladder, then drove off. Very random.


Having gone from Bruges to Ghent, we fancied a change from city visits, so opted to stop in a little village on the way to Antwerp. The motorhome parking was right next to a dyke and we felt like we got a bit of a taste of Belgian village life. Everyone seems so laid back and chilled and healthy in this country; we love it! Maybe it’s due to all of the cycling? In a similarly leisurely vein (try saying that after a Brugse Zot!), when we moved on, we only travelled 4 miles down the road to another little village where we again had a marvelously chilled day before we hit Antwerp. It’s a bit of a shame that we missed the asparagus festival though.


Now when we were in Ghent, I received an email from a family member, addressed to The Ghent Gent (which I appreciated). I was reassured to find out that I wasn’t regarded as The Antwerp Twerp once we’d moved there. Once again, we were located a little outside the city, so had to walk in, but this walk provided probably the greatest highlights of the day; four 81 year old wooden escalators and a 500 metre long pedestrian tunnel under the river. I said we weren’t normal!


The city of Antwerp was pretty cool too and we appreciated the evidence we saw of it being quite arty. In one of the squares, a group of dancers/actors were filming a short scene; doing endless takes and the advertising in shops seemed to be a little out there and quirky. We like spotting things that aren’t necessarily on the tourist trail. The option of sewer tours was vaguely tempting, but by the time we’d found the entrance, we’d done quite a bit of walking and didn’t particularly fancy doing a whole lot more underground. Plus we were aware of the excitement of the escalators and pedestrian tunnel awaiting us on the way back to Bertha!


Once back in Bertha we settled down for our last night in Belgium, before we headed off towards the Netherlands. On the way out of Antwerp we might have had to re-route ourselves a little to avoid going through a tunnel that had a maximum vehicle weight of 1.5 tonnes. What’s that I said about planning?

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In Bruges

April 21st, 2014 (by Steve)

Chocolate, chips and beer. 3 of the 5 main food groups (which also include meat and cheese) and they can all be found in their finest forms in Bruges! Oh and it’s quite a pretty place to be too. We arrived at our aire in Bruges just after 11am, parked up, then walked into the centre of the city, along with the throngs of other tourists who had the same idea. I could already tell that this would be a different experience of the city from when I last visited in November 2010. Back then, it was November, so it was quite quiet, but I was also in a different season of my life; I was single and I had a heavier wallet! It’s interesting how these things can change how you view a city; the first thing we noticed this time though were guided tours, led by a stunning collection of paraphernalia held aloft.


The happy memories started flooding back as we meandered through the streets, alongside the canals. Bruges really is a stunning city in terms of architecture, but also with regards to the way it conducts itself. OK, that sounds like a pretty odd thing to say, but one thing we’ve noticed in Belgium is that everything seems to be clean, tidy and purposeful. The environment just exudes a feeling of care… or something else. Maybe it’s all the chocolate? In any case, whatever it is, it’s led Kiri to compare it with Venice in terms of favourite cities on our trip and that’s high praise!


Last time in Bruges I bought the Brugge City Card, which gave lots of discounts for various attractions, meaning that we spent loads of time in various museums, on boats and climbing things (namely the Belfry). The budget this time didn’t stretch to getting that, so we weighed up which museums would be worth visiting. Discounting the chip museum (despite it being quite unique, there’s only so much information about chips that you need to know!), we decided that we’d visit the chocolate museum. Once outside though, we did some maths and realised that for the 14 Euros we’d pay in entry fees, we could buy a fair amount of Belgian chocolate in a supermarket as well as a selection of Belgian beers AND we could have chips in the main square whilst appreciating the city bathed in sunshine. Guess what we chose?

(NB: Chocolate not pictured, as it disappeared before the camera could be taken out of its case!)

Sunday morning came, and with it a time of joyful reflection on an empty tomb and the impact that has on our lives today. As we munched on our mini eggs (thanks Mum!) the story that had been so full of darkness when we read it on Friday had a conclusion of light. Happy times! We hit the city again, enjoying the past-time of tourist-watching, appreciating the time that we had to stop and listen to buskers and just taking it all in at a relaxed and leisurely pace. This city really does have a lot to offer.


After a short time back with Bertha as we consumed simnel cake and played Scrabble we returned to the centre of Bruges for an evening Easter service. Last time in Bruges, I’d visited a Belgian church, but we were intrigued by an English church this time. We received a very warm welcome there and appreciated joining with other visitors in celebrating this special day in our own language. It was also lovely to have a cup of tea afterwards but I think we’ll probably stick to non-English churches for the rest of the trip, to broaden our experiences.


Kiri was dragging her heels a little as we returned to Bertha through much quieter streets after the service, not wanting to leave this beautiful city. In fact, so eager was she to remain that she took herself off for a run through the parks before breakfast this morning! However, our 48 hours of parking were coming to an end and we didn’t want to have to shell out for more, so we bade Bruges farewell and headed down the road towards Ghent. It’s very flat around here…!

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Oil’s well that ends well

April 18th, 2014 (by Steve)

167 miles in 4 days versus 592 miles in 4 days. You could say that we’re taking this loop a little more slowly than the previous loop! It’s not gone exactly according to plan thus far, but we’re in Belgium and Bruges is on the horizon for the Easter weekend, so we’re not deviating too far from the plan.

Once we’d overcome the minor hiccup with the fresh water tank cap, our first night was spent in Bray Dunes, just along the coast from Dunkirk. It’s a stunning bit of coastline, which makes it difficult to imagine the atrocities of war amongst the dunes there three quarters of a century ago. Even the wrecks of a few boats that are visible at low tide can’t begin to evoke pictures of the bloodshed there. All we can do is reflect on those who have given their lives and pray for peace in current war zones.


As we were in no rush, after the first evening, we decided that we’d stay there for a second night, so we had a chilled morning (including stocking up on French cheese!) before we decided to go for a wander along the beach together. We were just leaving Bertha, when Kiri spotted a puddle. Under Bertha. A quick dip of the finger into the puddle revealed that it was oil. A quick lie down next to Bertha revealed that it was coming from the drain plug of the sump tank. Not good news.


Abandoning the walk, we researched a local garage and looked up the French for “sump tank drain plug”. Eventually I settled on “bouchon d’huile” as an easier way of describing it and we set off for a garage. It’s amazing how far a few words of French and lots of hand gestures can get you. From what we understood, the mechanic told us we’d need to go to a Peugeot garage to get a new drain plug and we shouldn’t touch the plug ourselves, as all of the oil would drain out (his hand signals for this part were especially pleasing). The Peugeot garage didn’t want to know and they fobbed us off on the Renault garage next door. Here we had a lovely welcome and once again, although they didn’t speak any English, we managed to communicate pretty well. Del Boy would have been proud of my French language skills. We were to come back in the morning, when they would do a “vidange” and re-seal the plug… for just over 100 Euros.

As we arrived back at the aire, we were greeted by Jeff; a very friendly Brit in his late 70s. We explained our predicament and he made it his personal mission to help us avoid spending that much money to get the problem fixed. After a good hour of trying with various tools and bodges, we couldn’t get the current drain plug off (we’d even modified a water container to catch the oil), so conceded defeat. At this, Jeff gave us a bottle of wine, despite our protestations that we should be the ones giving wine to him in thanks!

The following morning came and we dropped Bertha off at the Renault garage and went into the nearby town to have a pain au chocolat (we understand that’s part of the protocol in France when your vehicle is being fixed!). At 12 we returned to be reunited with Bertha, who had a new washer on her drain plug and lashings of sealant too. No danger of further leaks there, and the work done for 20 Euros fewer than quoted. Bargain.


From there it was a short drive into Belgium. Unfortunately I’ve not been too well for the last few days, so we’re having a couple of days of rest on another free aire before we explore Bruges. We’re loving the slower pace of travelling this time though and feel no pressure to rush… I’ve managed to read a whole novel already. This is the life!

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