Something that we discovered in Belgium is that the trains are exceedingly difficult to navigate! This is partly because of a language barrier on our part (with a fairly basic knowledge of French for me and a working knowledge of French and German for Sarah) but in the main part due to the lack of coherent information displayed at the station. This was quite apparent when we found ourselves stuck in Ghent for an hour after mistakenly hopping off our train to thinking that there was a connecting one to Bruges – only to discover that the train we had disembarked had changed into the Bruges train and was trundling into the distance by the time we had worked this out!
Our problem with trains continued as we attempted to navigate our way back from Bruges to Brussels. We had checked what appeared to be departures and jumped onto the 16:57 to Brussels, found our seats and prepared for the journey. A little way into the ride we realised that the scenery was pretty unfamiliar – going from countryside to costal and finally it became very apparent we were pulling into a port. What had appears to have happened was that we had inadvertently been studying the arrivals and jumped on the 15:57 from Brussels and not the 15:57 to Brussels! We had in fact arrived on the other side of Belgium, in Ostend!
Belgium being a small country, and no one checking our tickets meant that this wasn’t exactly the biggest problem for us. We asked at the station and found that almost every train leaving was calling at Brussels Midi so there was a slim chance of us messing up our amended journey home. We decided that as we had accidentally arrived in Ostend we had better check it out and see what there was to see!
As luck would have it we seemed to have arrived on a day that there was an enormous street fair – called the Ostend at Anchor, an annual fair that seemed to celebrate everything nautical. The first thing to hit us was the smell of herring over a barbecue, which was incredible! We hadn’t eaten since having a small waffle in Bruges so the smell had our tastebuds working overtime! We took a little wander first to see what other snacks were around at the fair.
While exploring we heard music filtering through the crowds on the streets, coming from a stage set up just by the cathedral in the town square. The band were singling in French and speaking to the crowd in English between songs, they were great, playing rock songs and punk sea shanties! We grabbed a beer and stuck around for a little while to enjoy it before moving on!
After having our full of beer and rocky sea shanties we moved on to find some food – the search was getting a little more desperate now! Fortunately it didn’t take too long, and we came across a lighthouse selling croquettes! We didn’t understand the Dutch that the menu was in so just went with the time honoured tradition of pointing and hoping for the best. When the guy running the stall realised he presented us with our croquettes saying “here are the cockroaches and here are the entrails” with a laugh, before telling us we’d just ordered ham and also prawn! They were delicious, croquettes had become a form favourite of ours since Amsterdam so we were more than glad to have as many as we could get our hands on!
We walked a little longer and saw some beautifully decorated boats and saw a quirky jazz band as we walked among numerous stalls selling every piece of sailing paraphernalia you could imagine. We then felt a few drops of rain, which quickly turned into a thundering downpour! We decided to make a break for it and head back towards the station – passing the jazz band who were bravely soldiering on in the downpour, a little reminiscent of the string quartet on the Titanic!
Before we got to the station we made one quick stop, to get some of the delicious herring that had drawn us in originally! The people running the barbecue were lovely, telling us that as it was nearly the end of the day we could have as much as we wanted to take with us for free!
We headed back to the train absolutely stuffed with croquettes and hearing and couldn’t have been happier about ending up on the wrong side of Belgium!