I wake up at 6:15. I refuse to even think about it, I’m going. I must liberate myself from this fear of stick shifts. I must see Bruges (Brugge). Today.
I’m on the road by 8:00AM. And lost by 8;15. I probably could have gotten lost sooner except there’s construction work being done on the familiar road from Auvers to Mery sur Oise across the bridge. I think I stalled in virtually every town in the Val d’oise region, from Taverny to Beauvais.
I finally find the right freeway at 9:30. By this time I’m exhausted and consider pulling over to take a nap. But I can still hit Bruges right around 12:30 if get moving now. I have no problems during the drive from the correct freeway entrace to Lille. The rest stops are lovely, the signs are clear and the freeway is uncrowded. Except for trucks which generally stay in the left lane and leave me alone.
I have a brief panic attack in Lille trying to reconcile the exit signs with the ones mapquest told me to use. Fortunately, I accidentally take the correct turn and find myself in Belgium, on the road to Gent. Which is according to my calculations, exactly where I want to be. It is now almost 12:30, and I should be in Bruges before 1:30, if I continue to drive like I have been (which is pretty much like a little old lady).
This is a beautiful country. Very green and manicured and well to do looking. On the down-side, the rest stops invariably charge .30 Euros to pee and there were condom machines in the ladies room, but no tampon machines. Aside from feeling inconvenienced, it strikes me as somehow sexist. I may never forgive the Belgians for this poor first impression.
When I hit Gent, I’m overjoyed. It should only be another 20 minutes to Bruges.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if I got hit by a truck now? I slow down a little and figure I’ll make it to Bruges in another hour. Right around 2:30. That should be plenty of time, especially considering it stays light until 10PM in these parts.
After driving another 45 minutes, I notice there’s another road sign to Gent. Have I been driving in circles? Where the hell is Bruges? Fortunately, according to the sign, I’m practically in Gent, so I should be able to figure out where I went wrong from there.
I start passing what looks like an endless industrial section, with huge plants and a vast grey expanse of water as far as the eye can see. It kind of reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of the Gulf Coast…in the middle east, I mean. This is weird because Gent seemed pretty well inland when I passed it the first time. Maybe Gent is bigger than I thought.
I head onward past miles and miles of really depressing terrain, until I hit a tiny little village at what appears to be the end of the world. It’s kind of dilapidated and lazy looking. Certainly not the Gent I’ve seen in photos. There’s even something vaguely Middle Eastern about this town…the slightly downtrodden edge to it. The barely decorated cafes that seem vacant except for a few guys out front smoking, drinking and chatting. Maybe I got caught in some twist in the time/space continueim.
The road seems to end here. I go back and try every variation of the roundabout before getting here and either end up on another road with a sign that says it leads to Gent, a vast expanse of water or a kilometers long aluminum building with trucks in front too many to count. Or a toll bridge leading to Ooestepoopergarpen, or something. All I know, it wherever it is, it must be north, which isn’t where I want to go.
I figure the little town at the end of the earth is my best bet and head back, cursing the Belgians for their crappy signage and cursing the radio station for playing that freaking “junk in my trunk (uh-huh-uh-huh-uh-huh) song (and I use the word ‘song’ loosely) yet again. Are Americans responsible for bringing this retarded craftless ditty into culture? No wonder the world hates us. Obviously the DJ at this station is trying to provoke all out war against us. And if I hear this song one more time, I’d probably join the fight against us. Maybe that’s what happened to John Walker Lindh (American Taliban).
I storm into town…well, considering my mastery of the manual transmission, lurch is more like it. I stop at the nearest café and ask two guys sitting out front pretty much verbatim ‘where the hell am I and how do I get to Bruges?
They patiently fill me in, draw me a map and show me which direction I should go to get to Bruges.
What I want to know is why nobody up until now mentioned the fact that there is a Gent Belgium and a Gent Holland and they’re within 45 minutes of each other (when you’re trying to get from one place to the other as opposed to by accident).
I can’t believe I’m in Holland. And now I’ll have to drive another hour backtracking to get to Bruges. Goddamnsonofabitch! Searching desperately for a bright side, I figure since I’m in Holland, I should really take the opportunity to find some of those delicious wafflenstroopen cookies I love. Two wafers filled with caramel that I’ve only tasted the like of in Holland. I don’t know what makes them so delicious. I’ve searched everywhere for them and have found only pale imitations. Now that I’m here, I’ll forever feel a gaping loss if I leave Holland without more of those cookies. But this town doesn’t even have an open grocery store. I figure I’ll hit a town on my backtrack and I can still be eating Belgium waffles in Bruges somewhere around 3:00.
I wind up in a town called Ternuezen which is on the water, but much more pleasant than Dutch Gent. I scour the town and finally find a store that sells the coveted cookies and am pleased to note they’re much cheaper here than in Amsterdam. These are called stroopwafels, but look and taste exactly the same. I get a couple of bags and congratulate myself on making the best of a bad situation. I figure I’ll make it to Bruges by 4:00.
On my way to the car, I pass a coffee shop and make a flash decision to make a better situation totally awesome. I am in Holland, after all. According to my calculations, I’ll can be in and out of there in 15 minutes and make it to Bruges by 4:30.
I leave the coffee shop on schedule. An hour later, when I remember where I parked the car, I’m faced with a task more daunting than any I have faced before on this roadtrip—yes, I must fill the gas tank.
During my wafflenstroopen search, I spot a Texaco nearby, so I know which direction to head. The trick is finding a road that agrees with me.
A half hour later I pull up to the self service pump and spend fifteen minutes adjusting the side mirror views until I realize that it isn’t the mechanism for unlocking the gas tank (which is the key…duh).
I spend another 15 minutes trying to fit the nozzle in the gas tank hole until I realize that it’s the guzzle for trucks, not cars. I spend another 10 minutes trying to get the car in front of the right pump, and another 5 minutes adjusting the car’s position so the nozzle actually reach the place I need to insert it.
When I enter the place to pay, there’s a bunch of crappy seven eleven type food which awakens my stomach. Now that I think about it, I’m punchdrunk from a combination of hunger, stress and waking up too early for my delicate system. I’ll never make it to Bruges alive if I didn’t put something in my stomach now. Something more substantive than a wafflenstroopen. It has to be something I can swig down really fast and keep driving. Something that coats my stomach. That only leaves one option once I scratch pepto-bismol from the list: chocolate milk. In addition to their unparalleled wafflenstroopen, The dutch have a rich, creamy, delicious chocolate drink called chocomel that I totally forgot to crave until now. I swig the chocomel like a person who has been stranded in the desert introduced to her first water in days.
I head towards Bruges, feeling mildly bloated, but sure I can make it by 6:15 for my Belgian waffle.
roadtrip to brugge, the shocking conclusion (if it’s 7pm tuesday it must be brugge)
Filed under: Bruges, Brugge, Deep thoughts, driving, driving in europe, europcar, food, dining, fine dining, french cuisine, france on a budget, mapquest, maps, mileage, tourism, transportation, travel, travel humor Tagged: | Belgium, border, Bruges, Brugges, chocomel, coffee shop, Holland, lost, map, mapquest, Netherlands, roadtrip, stroopwafels, Ternuezen, wafflenstroopen