Monday, May 19, 2008

2008TripBlog10


Letter No.10

Bruges, Belgium

Hello everyone.

Gotta tell you all about yesterday (Thursday, May 18, 2008) which was quite an unusual day for us.

We needed to be in Bruges by Friday night. The big question was could we get there in our usual 50 miles a day traveling? No, couldn’t be done because we were in Troyes, which is 246.7 miles from Bruges according to our GPS.

Of course, the GPS consistently puts us onto toll roads in France, which we will not take. They are expensive to begin with, and especially steep if you are “more” than a regulation automobile. They are definitely not for us. We mapped out a route using only minor roads until we left France, and we’re not sure exactly how many miles it turned out to be.

Then the problem became where to make a stop. The only interesting place seemed to be Verdun – and that was nearly 100 miles out of our way. But we decided that would be fine. Woke up in the morning to find a dreadful looking sky and realized that Verdun would not be a wonderful experience since it would mean touring somber sites in the pouring rain. So, the decision was made. We’ll drive as long as it takes to go to Bruges.

Doesn’t sound like too bad a trip, does it? In a car, it would be a piece of cake. But in an RV that is decidedly underpowered and on roads that go through high hills (we’re slow), it’s not so easy. Besides that, the roads we were going to use go through every town on their way, which requires slower speeds and frequent detours while you are directed away from Centre Ville on city streets from one side of town to another where you can pick up the highway again.

We left Troyes about 9:40 a.m., stopped for gas, spent some time at a supermarket, and arrived in Bruges about 5:30 p.m. Sometimes we drove through pouring rain, and we could see that we’d be meeting the same storm as it caught up with us later!

Our first problem was getting fuel. In the first place, there are very infrequent gas stations. In the second, a high proportion of these stations require European credit cards which we do not have. We looked into stations on our route, but too often couldn’t buy gas! We even went into a supermarket that also sold gas and asked if we might pay in the market but it was not possible. There is very high priced gas on the autoroutes at regular intervals, but not on the national roads that we use.

As we got to Belgium, it suddenly occurred to us that we had no way of knowing if the campground we were counting on was still open! Since by then it was pouring rain, we needed to know if we had a place to go. Called with our handy-dandy Dutch cell phone (which wouldn’t work in France) but no answer. Tension up!

Got to Bruges, finally, but had very little gas. No gas stations appeared. We drove onto the ring road. Let us explain a bit. Most cities in Europe have a road that goes in a circle (ring) around the city on the outskirts, and allows you to take a route into a particular section or take a road going out without entering the city. Got on the ring and were in the midst of what may be the worst traffic jam we’ve ever seen. We were not moving at all. But the engine was still running and using gas.

We stayed in this situation a good twenty minutes, getting more and more tense. Imagine running out of gas in a strange country in the middle of a traffic jam! And with the prospect of no campground in sight. Then Adelle saw a young policeman trying to help. He was allowing cars that wanted to make a right to use a bus lane that is usually off limits. Adelle showed him the campground listing in our book – and he said we should go straight ahead – although of course, we couldn’t move. Then she told him she was worried about running out of fuel. He said that if we turned off the ring road and made a right, there was a gas station at the second light.

After some deliberation, that is what we did. Turned off and found the station and gassed up—70 Euros, or about $105, for perhaps 11 gallons. The proprietor told us that there are “no” campgrounds left in the city as a result of insurance and land developers. She was sure that our campground was gone, but she did give us direction to get back to the ring road and continue on our way. When we followed her advice, we got back onto the ring road in a different place. Traffic was now moving and we continued on our way – to find the campground open with an excellent spot for us, on asphalt, which is a great boon in pouring rain.

Tension gone! A safe haven and no problems about our weekend.! To add to our feelings of warmth, we parked on just enough of an incline to prevent the pouring rain from pooling on our roof and leaking slowly into the rig. This morning we discovered that this campground has WI FI that can be used in your own vehicle. Completing the feeling of warmth, our next door neighbors turned out to be a New Zealand couple, Tony & and Jane Harrow, who had read our book, took a lot of our advice, and were pleased to meet us! What nicer greeting could there be?

So, here we sit. Warm and fuzzy!. But that was not a day either or us would care to repeat!

One photo--the Dolphin at rest in Memling campground, Bruges, after our long trip from Troyes.

Bye for now.

Adelle & Ron

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