May 13, 2015

There Are Days - a trip to the sea

There are days…

Some days are days when Germany feels … Feels a bit too familiar. Düsseldorf becomes a bit too comfortable. Days I feel I know this city too well, I know what to expect around every corner, even when that's not true.

Other days I just need a break, a break from myself, maybe, a break from the routine - especially when things are really busy, something I am sure everyone has felt.

And yet other days I just need to feel the smell of the salty water and the wind in my hair, because whatever you feel about Düsseldorf and about Germany, there are very few places where you can smell the sea.

I often do miss the salt, the smell of the ocean, and the freshness that it brings. I don’t miss my hair going all weird and out of control and how the humidity turns me into a troll, when my otherwise relatively straight hair starts to do itself up with funny little curls in the next and around the face- but troll or not, there is something about being close to the coast, no matter how sticky it can get in the summer and how much chillier it makes the winters, even when the temperatures aren't very low - believe me, winter in Taiwan, on an island in the middle of the sea is the evidence of that - in Taiwan I had to visit the hotsprings to warm up - you can read about that here.

Building castles. Why not?
I may not be a “sunbathe on the beach”-person but I am definitely a in love with the sea - and that is the one thing I find difficult in Germany, I am so far from water, Germany is more or less landlocked, part from the very north, where you have the Baltic sea. Well, the Baltic sea is too far away from Düsseldorf, especially for a daytrip. And also, I am not sure if the Baltic sea counts - it's not salty enough and it's not really alive - we humans have done our best to kill it, unfortunately. 

I want the REAL sea. The big, stormy ocean, the breathtaking potentially wild waters. The waters where the fish still lives and where jellyfish may be flushed up onto the beach on a windy day. The waters where storms on a windy day may change the beach to look completely different the next morning. THAT kind of sea. That kind of beach.

Lucky for me I have good friends in Düsseldorf who feels the same, so when one of the french girls from Brittany - another area I love to visit - suggested a road trip to the beach Easter Monday, I was all ears, and early in the morning she picked me up and we headed out. 

Düsseldorf is conveniently located in Western Germany, North Rhine Westphalia (Nordrhein Westfalen), and Netherlands is not even an hour away - if you drive slowly. You can take the train over to Venlo from Düsseldorf and be there in a heartbeat - but getting to the coast takes a bit longer. But we weren’t going to stay in Netherlands, not this time, this time we had our hearts set on Belgium - De Haan. No no, not “Den Haag” - The Hague - that’s in Netherlands - I was there discovering Zeekraal (Salcornia in English, "Glasört" in Swedish) last year - more on that here

No, this time we were going to De Haan, De Haan in Belgium.

De Haan is a small town in West Flanders, or maybe more of a village, at least off season. Not far from Bruges, shortly after Ghent. Ghent I have been to many times, the bonds between Gothenburg and Ghent are strong, not the least because the automotive industry, but De Haan I had never had a chance to visit - and I am so happy that I now did.

Such a cute little village, and with a fantastic long beach. The weather was perfect too - windy, not too warm, but no rain, and with very few people. THIS is how I like the beach: None of that sunscreen-with-sand-and-sweat and one-billion-bodies-on-the-same-spot and sand in the picnic food, just nature the way it is - it couldn’t have been better. 

We spent a considerable amount of time walking on the beach, chatting, just enjoying ourselves. My friend even took of her shoes and walked into the water, and normally I would have too, but I was too busy taking photos, and my hiking boots just seemed to complicated to get off, at least without at the same time getting sand in my camera - and I have already had a camera ruined by sand, surfing in Zhunan ( 竹南 ) in Taiwan.

So I skipped the bare feet but I got plenty of beach, and ocean and salty air!

After our walk, and after a late lunch in De Haan (not too impressive, I might add), we got back in the car and drove to Bruges, another absolutely adorable place - a gorgeous city with very appealing and very old architecture, and maybe just as important, fantastic chocolate, and tasty Belgian beer.

Bruges (Brugge) is an old city and just like several of the other Belgian cities, it was a centre for trading, and full of wealthy merchants once upon a time; You see traces of it everywhere, 

In Bruges my friend gave me a little tour - she has spent a lot of time there and knows the city well - and I saw some of the spots featured in "In Bruges" (no trace of Colin Farrell though...). Bruges really is mesmerising, and I more or less expected a mideaval merchant to step out around the corder - but all we saw was modern day jugglers, baloon sellers and other tourist magnets.  While there, the sun decided to come out. It couldn't have been better - and before we left we had hot chocolate and waffles, seated on a little wall by the canal in the city centre - amazing. It may be a tourist trick - but Belgian waffels, the thick, slightly sweet ones, they ARE good, very good. Completely different to what a Swedish waffle would be - but addictive, never the less. 

I came back to Düsseldorf that evening absolutely full of energy, despite the long road trip - I'd do anything for a day by the sea now and then. 

If you are on the road and looking for a nice spot - De Haan and the other little towns along the Belgian coast are quite nice. I do recommend coming by car though, at least if you travel in from Germany - or make sure you have a bit more time on your hands.

However, we weren't there in high season and parking was still difficult - so bring good shoes, you may need to walk for a bit - and regardless, you need either good shoes or shoes you can take off easily when you are by the beach; The sand WILL get in everywhere. 

Links and things

More about De Haan at the official Tourist Website, here.

Bruges you can read about here - I don't know it well enough to be able to say much about it.

Or you could see if you can get your hands on a copy of the excellent film "In Bruges" (Link to IMDB) by Martin McDonagh

Where IS De Haan?

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