Where do we go from here?
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been deciding what route to take from here: whether to continue on to northern France, or head southeast and travel through central Germany. As we’ve already bumbled through northern France a fair few times over the years, we’ve decided that we will be heading to Germany as there are still loads of places we’d like to visit there. Once the weather turns cooler, around mid-October, we’ll probably cross into southern France and work our way down to Spain for the winter. Before heading back to Germany though, we’ve made a brief foray into Belgium (country 25) and we’re now in Antwerp. From here we’ll be heading west to Roermond and Maastricht back in the Netherlands before crossing back into Germany.
Baarle-Nassau / Baarle-Hertog
On the way to Antwerp we stopped off at Baarle, which is in the south of the Netherlands, a few kilometres from the border with Belgium. It’s unique in that this Dutch area, known as Baarle-Nassau contains 22 Belgian enclaves, known as Baarle-Hertog. To complicate things further, there are seven Dutch enclaves located within the 22 Belgian ones. In this area, there are two of almost everything – councils, mayors, police stations, post offices, schools and so on – one for each nationality. The borders of the enclaves are rather arbitrary, running through the middle of shops and houses. The house numbers even have flags next to them to say which country the building is in. I’d read about all this in the book ‘Why the Dutch are Different’ by Ben Coates. It sounded completely bonkers, so we had to check it out.
As we pulled into the car park the satnav informed us that we’d just crossed into Belgium, and sure enough there was a line painted across the car park confirming it. Walking through the town we criss-crossed the border several times in a very short distance. Apparently this area was a bit of a problem in WWI as the Dutch were neutral, so the Germans apparently fenced the whole area off.
We are staying on a large aire on the outskirts of Antwerp. It’s a little bit noisy with the constant hum of traffic, but that’s the trade off if you want to stay close to the city – it’s a five minute walk to the tram stop, and a ten minute ride to Antwerp Central Station. It’s quite a compact city, so most of the main sights can be reached on foot, and we’ve spent a couple of days exploring the city.
Unbeknownst to us, yesterday was Antwerp Liberation Day, marking the liberation of the city by the Allies in WWII. The main event was a military parade through the city, featuring lots of retro 1940’s vehicles and costumes, followed by a military tattoo in the main square, Grote Markt, which had been overtaken with temporary seating. There was a rehearsal of the parade during the afternoon, so we made sure we saw that. The rest of the day was spent wandering about the old town and mooching around the shops, and by the time we got back to the van we’d walked over 10 miles and were feeling knackered. It’s great having TV reception again, as we were able to crash out watching Last Night at the Proms (we also enjoyed watching Gogglebox and Pointless on Friday!). Today we took things easier, spending much of the day outside cafés and bars.
Top of the list food wise for both of us in Antwerp was that quintessential Belgian dish, moules frites. There were lots of recommendations online for a restaurant called ‘de Bomma’ (which translates as Grandma’s) so we went there and weren’t disappointed. Regular frites with mayo were also on the food list, so we had these for lunch today.
We didn’t spot a single hen or stag do whilst in Antwerp, which made a nice change. There were, however, gangs of pensioners roaming the streets, causing havoc by blocking the pavements whilst having a good old natter. We fortunately beat a large group of them to the counter at the frites shop, otherwise we’d have never got served!