The next port of call on our trans-Atlantic was Le Havre, France; or so we thought. We had been excited to go see the beaches of Normandy. We even watched a documentary a week before the cruise in anticipation! Unfortunately, the port workers in France had other designs. They were on strike, as were the pilot boat operators, and so we could not dock there. Instead, we went to Dover, England – home of the famous White Cliffs of Dover.
Dover turned out to be a charming little town. After spending a few hours in the library using their WiFi, I dragged Stephanie off for that most important of British traditions: fish and chips. The way to find the best food anywhere you go is to ask the locals, so we did, and we were pointed to a little take-away joint that apparently wins awards for its fish and chips. This was one of those food experiences where I was tempted to go back for more despite being full – simply because it tasted amazing.
We tooled around the town exploring shops and parks and admiring the quaint architecture and how the streets all seem to curve in that oh-so-British way. We walked up a huge hill to Dover Castle, but at more than £20 person just to get in, we decided that our photos and memories of Blarney Castle would serve us just fine.
There was only one logical thing to do. It was time to hike up the White Cliffs and check out the views. We had seen the cliffs before on our crossing of the English Channel from London to Paris, but this time we could get up close and personal. It was only about a half hour by foot from the center of town to the visitor’s center up on the cliffs. As the land dropped away behind us, the views just got better and better. The cliffs themselves are white because they are made largely of calcium carbonate (aka chalk). Considering how soft and soluble chalk is, it’s amazing that the cliffs have stood for so long. They reminded me of The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride.
Next stop was Bruges in Belgium. We spent about five days here before and completely loved it. We were still in touch with our couch surfing hosts, so we had arranged to meet them. Unfortunately a communications snafu led to delayed transportation. Once we realized we had to make the short run into Bruges on our own, the shuttle was sold out. We took a different shuttle to the town of Blankenberge, only to find that we had *just* missed the train to Bruges, and the next one was in an hour. That was fine with us! We explored Blankenberge a bit, and checked out the seaside promenade.
By the time we got from the port in Zeebrugge to Bruges itself, we only had about two hours to spend there, so we had to be efficient. This is Belgium, and in terms of edibles, it’s known for four things: chocolate, waffles, beer and French fries. Guess which one was most important to Stephanie. We wasted no time at all in heading to local chocolate shops. Stephanie’s favorite of all the Belgian chocolates is Leonidas, where she hand selected a whole pile of assorted truffles to sample. My favorite is Neuhaus – more expensive, but seriously yummy.
As a result of our quick turnaround, our friend Pascal wasn’t able to make it, but Yannick met up with us, and took us through more of Belgium’s culinary delights. We went to Chez Vincent’s, for what Yannick said were the best fries in Belgium. Remember what we said about trusting the locals when it comes to food? Well, the line out the door backed up Yannick’s claim, and we were not disappointed. French fries were actually invented in Belgium, and I believe they truly are the best in the world. They have a double frying technique that renders them crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside. By the way, the trivia buff in me wants you to know that the word “French” refers to the way the potatoes are sliced, and not the country of origin.
Lastly, we stopped for a Belgian waffle. Again, it was amazing.
Suddenly, it was time to go. Yannick, sweetheart that she is, walked with us (and her bike) back to the train station, and waited with us on the platform until we pulled away.
Back in Blankenberge, we stocked up on Belgium chocolate to bring home with us. The Belgians take their chcocolate VERY seriously. As a result, the stuff in the supermarkets is held to the same high standards as the artisan chocolate houses. We took it easy, and only bought about €30 worth to take home. With our case of chocolate in hand, we felt our quick return trip to Belgium was a complete success!