The Channel Tunnel is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Modern World’ selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It connects the UK to continental Europe. I remember thinking: wow, you can drive across the English Channel. Of course, being in England and on our way to Belgium, we wanted to go across the Channel Tunnel. The high-speed train is the obvious choice, until you see ticket prices. We went with Megabus (a coach bus company) and expected it would take the ferry and we would miss the tunnel altogether. So, when we arrived at the Channel Tunnel Border Crossing we were slightly surprised, a little excited and vastly disappointed. There was a train stuck in one of the tunnels and we had a minimum three hour wait ahead of us.
Let’s get a couple facts sorted here. Maybe the channel tunnel was cool and exciting when it was first opened but that was over twenty years ago in 1994 and as our bus driver loudly and angrily announced to us when we arrived, neither country has been willing to put in any money for upgrades or fixes since then. Secondly, you can’t drive across the tunnel; your car (or bus) is loaded on to the Eurotunnel Shuttle for road vehicles (the largest such transport in the world). You can move across within the carriages while going through the tunnel. The tunnel is 50 km long which makes it both difficult and timely to access anything if a problem arises – i.e. a train breaks down, fire, power outage, etc. There is a service tunnel running between the two tunnels used in emergency situations to evacuate people and send in help. On top of the degrading quality of the tunnel as well as the issues with fires and weather, the worst problem currently facing the Channel Tunnel is immigrants/refugees trying to cross into the UK. An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 migrants are said to be waiting in Calais for an opportunity to get to Britain. So far this year, Eurotunnel, the company that operates the crossing, said it has intercepted more than 37,000 escape attempts through the tunnel (taking into consideration that individuals often try several times).
Check out this new article if you’d like to read more here.
After two hours of waiting in the terminal, we were summoned back to our bus. Excited that we were finally about to be going through the tunnel, we were yet again disappointed: it was another hour and a half wait on the bus before we loaded onto the Eurotunnel Shuttle. FINALLY, we made it on; and it was a tight fit: the bus barely made the turn into the vehicle shuttle with about an inch to spare on either side. Once the doors for to the carriage shut, end to end there wasn’t a lot of room. We were allowed off the bus, which had to be turned off, and positioned ourselves by the window to view entering the tunnel.
Needless to say, we arrived in Brussels quite a few hours later than expected. Luckily, we had had a few wifi spots along the way and were able to message the family we were staying with and who was picking us up. India and Swayze were waiting when we arrived and drove us back to their house where there mom, Brenda, was cooking us dinner. We couldn’t have been more excited to see food as we’d barely eaten all day having expected to arrive much earlier.
The de Heij family live just outside the city limits of Brussels, technically in Flanders. In Brussels they speak French, in Flanders Dutch is spoken. The city divide doesn’t sound like much initially but interestingly enough our friends pointed out that the road dividing the two is paved differently on either half – the two cities completely refuse to work together. We of course found this almost outrageously hilarious but supposedly the clash between French and Dutch in Belgium is both a political and social issue.
Our three days in Brussels involved spending only about an hour in the city of Brussels, which we did on our last evening just to say we’d been. We saw the beautiful centre square with the magnificent church and the strangely famous “Manneken Pis”, a small bronze sculpture, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin from 1619 (the statue today is a replica as the original was stolen countless times). Lastly, we went into one of Belgium’s many chocolate shops and bought a bag of sugar coated marzipan sweets (a must-try).
Swayze and India both go to university in the Netherlands and had only come home for the evening to welcome us to Brussels. The following morning we drove with them and Brenda to Delft, the university town Swayze lives in. We spent the day there enjoying the weekend market, the church, and having lunch by the canal.
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) of Delft was constructed in the 14th century and is closely connected to the House of Oranje-Nassau, the Dutch Royal Family with many members of the royal family buried in the church’s royal vault.
While the church itself is beautiful, the view following the steep climb up the tight staircase (be warned, there are at least a few hundred stairs) of the church tower is more stunning. The church tower is the second highest in the Netherlands and provides an excellent view across the entire city of Delft and neighbouring cities.
Wandering through the town we spotted hundreds of bicycles which is the main mode of transportation for locals (especially students). It is said that every bike in Delft has been stolen at least once.
In the evening we picked up Swayze and drove to Scheveningen in The Hague for dinner by the beach. We didn’t realize there was a fireworks celebration that evening and only luckily got a table at one of the restaurants.
After a long day we got back to Brussels in the evening and planned our day trip to Bruges for the following afternoon. A tour bus would have cost over 40 EUR each although we would have seen both Ghent and Bruges. However, a return train ticket (with the weekend discount rate) was a third of the cost and gave us more time in one city, definitely a better deal.
In Bruges, anyone who wasn’t chowing down on a waffle, was sipping a beer. Literally, everyone was doing one of these things. Therefore, it only seemed fitting that we did both.
We did a brewery tour of de Halve Maan which involved a 45 minute tour around the different levels of the brewery and a free beer at the end. The tour itself was far from great (The Granville Island Brewery Tour in Vancouver was way more informative) and it was obvious the entire thing was targeted at making a spectacle: all the old tools and machinery were purposely staged in corners, covered in dust and spiderwebs.
The guide didn’t accurately answer any questions and only knew an overview of the basics involved in making beer. But the view from the top of the brewery was excellent.
After the tour, we enjoyed our free beer and then wandered around the city stopping to enjoy a couple more beers before hopping on the train back to Brussels.