Friday, September 18, 2015

A Break from Bruges. Damme.


I 
    woke Sleeping Beauty, aka my sleep loving newphew, up at 12:15p. He had slept for two hours and if I had let him, he could have slept for two more but we're not in Belgium to sleep.

For today, I had planned for us to go to the nearby town of Damme - an opportunity to see another place.

From April until the 30th September, the Lamme Goedzak Steam Wheeler travels 4 times a day, along the canal that connects Bruges with Damme. A one way trip takes 35 minutes and 10.50 euro for and adult ticket. I thought the boat ride would be a nice way for us to see some of the countryside outside of Bruges.

The boat is docked just outside of Bruges - at  Noorweegse Kaai 31, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from our hotel.  According to Google Maps, it would be about a 40 minute walk.  Alternatively, you can take the bus from the historic center of Bruges and it will drop you nearby the dock.  By the time I woke Z up, the sun had burst through the clouds.  It was a picture perfect day and I decided a walk would be great!

This morning, I took over the navigating duties as I didn't know (and never asked) if Z's Bruges map would have the address for the dock.

In any event, we walked along the route that Google was taking us on.  We walked through the historic center, passing by all the charming buildings and we crossed many a bridge over many a canal.  We turned left and we turned right until the historic city gave way to modern Bruges.  Then, we walked by modern apartments, office buildings and stores.  We were still making our way along a canal.

In due time, we arrived at the dock which really wasn't much of a dock.  The boat was already there, parked right alongside the edge of the canal.



We tried to board but there was a rope blocking the ramp leading up to the boat.  We had arrived a bit early but thankfully, we had arrived in good time because we barely had to wait 5 minutes when one of the boat workers removed the rope and waved us on board.  There was an older American man and younger American woman who also got on board.  He was extremely friendly and was chatting up a storm with the boat captain.

I handed over the money for two tickets and Z and I immediately headed up to the upper deck.  It wasn't exactly a crowded boat! :-)


By the time the boat was ready to leave, a few more passengers had boarded but at best, the boat was 90% empty.  But a boat's got to go people or not so the captain fired up the engine and we slowly chugged our way along the canal.


In the 13th century, Damme was the port for Bruges and the two towns were linked by the Reie river. Somewhere in time, the river was turned into the long, straight, treelined Damse Vaart, which is the canal we were on today.  The canal continues across the Dutch border to Sluis.  I don't know about the section of the canal that lies beyond Damme but the section we were on was really picturesque. 


On either side of the canal are paths for walking and bicycling and roads for cars.  Beyond the canal were fields, farms, and plenty of animals grazing.  The is polder landscape and it is really pretty here.  Z remarked that it would have been an easy bike ready to go from Bruges to Damme.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am NOT a good bike rider.  For whatever reason, I just can't handle a bike well and I've fallen off enough times that I do not enjoy being on two wheels.  Z tried to convince me that I could do.  "It's flat and straight", he exclaimed.  "How could you do not do it?"  If he only knew about my utter lack of cycling skills.  I stood firm in my *I am not biking* stance but then suggested that perhaps he could bike back to Bruges and I would meet up with him there.  He was keen on the idea so I made a mental note that when we arrived into Damme, I would try and find a bike rental place though I was pretty certain that they wouldn't have a one bike rental option.

As we approached the 30 minute mark, a windmill came into view.  Having spent nearly two weeks in the Netherlands when I was younger, windmills are a familiar sight to me but I was certain Z had never seen a *real* one before so I pointed it out to him.


As we passed the canal, I caught glimpse of a roadsign that simply read, *Damme*.  We were arriving into our destination.


We disembarked along with the other passengers.  Our friendly American, who by now had already drunk a beer that he bought on the boat, waved us goodbye along with a few happy words.  Apparently, the younger woman was his daughter.  They seemed to really enjoy each others company - I noticed them taking photos of each other - the usual tourist photo op.

From the boat dock in Damme, Z and I instinctively made our way to where we thought the main part of the town was.  We had strolled into the town's main square which reminded me of the one in Bruges though Damme's is far smaller and the buildings far less grand in architectural design.  It's still got a lot of charm though.


Town Hall, a smaller version of the one in Bruges.
We managed to find the Information Center and went inside to get a map and information on things to see and do in Damme.  As I had anticipated, there's not a whole lot to see and do in Damme so we might have to be content with just walking about and exploring the town.  At the Information Center, I also took the opportunity to inquire about bike rentals and as I had anticipated as well, one way rentals are not possible.  Sorry, Z.


So, we strolled.  We didn't get far when someone had to make a pee stop.  There was no place to pee except in a field.  While he discretely watered a tree, I took photos of these 3 little birds, perched on a fence outside of a handicrafts shop.


In Bruges, if you walk just a few blocks away from the touristy part of town, you find yourself strolling along some very quiet streets - seemingly eerily quiet at times.  It's busy work day but no one seems to be out and about.  In Damme, it was eerily quiet even in the main square.  This place is really a sleepy town.  Thankfully, it's charming enough to draw people here.


I thought the adorable horse drawn cart, with the drivers dressed in period costumes, was for a wedding but it's actually for tourists!

By now, it was lunch time and although Z had really stuffed himself at breakfast, I figured we needed a bit of snack at least.  We passed by what looked like a lovely little cafe and well, the thought of some Belgian sweet was enough for me to pull on the front door.


Inside was a warm and inviting place.  I checked out some items under the counter and decided we should have a bit of a bite here.  I ordered two cups of cappuccino and a slice of something that looked like a cheesecake with chocolate and some red fruit or other. 


Of course, I had our cappuccinos capped with whipped cream.  Splurge!  Our cappuccinos also came served with a small shot of chocolate mousse and a speculoos cookie.  There was some serious sugar and fat overload on the table but it was delicious!!


With a bit of a sugar high fueling us, we continued our walk about town.  Z led us down a small tree lined path.  At the end, stood a small church.

Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) dates from the 13th century and is known for its unique flat topped tower which is an architecture feature that is pretty much exclusively seen only in the polders, the low-lying land of this region.


We stepped inside the church and spent a few minutes checking it out.  I think there were probably two handfuls of tourists in all of Damme and well, including Z and I, there were six people inside the church when we were there!




Back outside, we continued back on the path which led us to the church's small cemetery.  I love cemeteries - don't know why....maybe it's because they're usually very calm, tranquil places.


The path continued around the perimeter of the cemetery, giving us a good look at the tombstones.  I always have to look at the dates.  Some tombs were for recently deceased but several dated back more than a 100 years.



In a small garden, immediately adjacent to the church stands a three faced fiberglass sculpture by Belgian artist, Charles Delporte.  Called View of Light, the sculpture evokes three lights:  morning (grace), midday (kindness), and evening (gentleness).

View of Light by Charles Delporte, a Belgian painter and sculptor.

The statue seems very popular as I noticed reproductions of the statue or even just a face installed in various locations about town.


Eventually, our walk led us back to where we started.  With nothing else to see or do in this sleepy little town, we decided to return to Bruges.  It was either taking the boat back down the canal or walking.  According to Google Maps, walking distance to our hotel is about 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) and would take at least an hour and half.  If it wasn't such a beautiful day for a walk, I would have voted for the boat but we both agreed a walk would be good for us.



We crossed the bridge that led over to the other side of the canal because we wanted to have a closer look at the windmill.


After a quick few seconds to take some photos, we set out on our journey back to Bruges!

When you're in Damme, the speed limit is 30 kilometers.  When you leave,  you can rev it up to 70!