Brugse Beer VII
April 7th to 10th 2017
I’d only ever been to Bruges overnight, on our way out to a family holiday in Holland. And it’s not as far as driving to the north of England. And there was a geocaching mega event.
Do I need to provide any more reasons for going ?
Cap Blanc Nez
The End of the Netherlands
The Mega Event Site
Friday Afternoon Jolly
What’s the Scores, George Dawes?
I’d been looking forward to this trip ever since I booked it. OK, that was only February, once negotiations with Senior Management had concluded successfully, but still, 6-7 weeks of really looking forward to it. Ami decided she’d like to come too, for a bit of an adventure, and apart from extra food it doesn’t really cost any more, as I was planning to go in the car and the hotel rooms always sleep at least two. A weekend of Games Without Frontiers, or to quote the backing vocals of a certain Kate Bush, “Jeux Sans Frontieres”
The plan was to attend the seventh annual Brugse Beer Mega Event. On the face of it that sounds like a bit of a drinking trip that’s not really suitable for child, but one has to remember that the alcoholic beverage that Belgium is famous for is “bier” or “biere”, depending on your choice of language. “Beer” in Flemish is an animal. It’s the animal that is best known for defecating in an arboreal environment.
Anyway, that’s all tomorrow’s activities. Why? Because there’s no point in going on a caching trip to Bruges for one day when you can go for four days. This was the first.
The day began almost as soon as the previous one had finished, with us getting out of bed at 2:15 am to set off at 3 am trying to make a trip through the Channel Tunnel at 7am. So because of the chosen route, here’s the customary photo of the QEII Bridge. I always add this one to my blog posts for European driving holidays. This day when we crossed it was rather dark, but at least there was no toll for crossing.
A Bit of Tunnelling
We arrived at the terminal early, having completely failed to find any form of traffic jam. The very nice machine offered us the opportunity of an earlier train. Two trains earlier in fact. The car park was very quiet and there were no queues inside as we dived in for a quick breakfast and some coffee. We were killing time in the terminal until we were supposedly 5 minutes from being called. We then called ourselves and drove through to passport control.
It was quiet. The French border control guys don’t bother much with who goes into their country on the train at this time of morning. We went through so early, in fact, that we managed to bump ourselves forwards another train. We eventually caught a train at 6.20 am UK time, about an hour before the one I booked, and we’d already had breakfast too.
At the other end we got out of the terminal quickly despite having a quick stop to turn our bikes round. It didn’t take long to reach the Belgian border. We didn’t quite get all the way there though, because we planned to start the caching by doing the “Franco-Belge” series. As it’s name suggests, it is in both France and Belgium. The French part is in the commune of Ghyvelde, so that’s where we parked. We went to the marked parking for the series but I didn’t fancy it. It was just a grassy patch by the roadside. Instead I trolled along a bit further to the ninth cache in the series. That one is right by the border and has some proper parking spaces next to it.
Which Country is This?
So the first cache we found was in France. The second was in Belgium. The third was in France again and then the fourth was in Belgium. We then stayed in Belgium for about 25 caches as we walked around the village of Adinkerke. This is apparently famous as a hotbed of cheap tobacco selling. At least before EU trade rules. Maybe it still is, because I guess tobacco taxation is still set locally. After this we turned around and walked back to the French border.
The place where we crossed the border here has a bit of a memorial celebrating the sacrifices of various world wars and the bond of friendship between the neighbouring districts of Ghyvelde and De Panne.
As we crossed back into France here the footing changed for the first time from paved surface to loose cobbles and sandy soil. At least it was dry though and it was still quick walking. It was sufficiently quick, in fact, that we were at the far end in no time and looking for the series bonus cache. It proved to be easy. We didn’t have all the right numbers, as we were yet to do numbers 1-8 of the series. However the missing number only had two possible values, and one of those was suspiciously close to the listed parking spot. That was the one.
After this it was then a matter of slogging our way back through #1-#8 before raiding the back of the car for some of the pastries and cold drinks we’d carried over with us. At the end of this walk we’d found about 50 caches and it had taken just over 4 hours. That’s a pretty good conversion rate and a good start to the weekend. The weather was cool but sunny, and by the time we got back to the car we needed those drinks.
Once we were in the car I realised my error on the earthcache we’d been trying to get to all morning. We just needed to go back to the place with the little monument and the two flags. And then walk about 500m into France to get the needed information. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, aside from the fact that I managed to step in a massive dog turd on the way back. It took a good 15 minutes to winkle the stuff out of the sole of my boot using a sharp knife and some toilet roll. That’s 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
So why did I call this post “Jeux Sans Frontieres” ? Well, we cached in two different countries. The presence of an international border here is rather academic, to say the least. But also because Peter Gabriel’s excellent song of the name contains the line “whistling tunes, we hide in the dunes by the seaside”, which is kind of what we spent the morning doing. It’s all joined up thinking round here you know. None of your random rubbish!
Meanwhile, back at the plot, all of that turd winkling meant that I sort of wanted to go wash my hands. Plus it was about time for a short break anyway, so we jumped on the motorway and stopped at the services at Mannekensvere. We stopped here on our way out to our family holiday to Holland in 2014 too (see On Our Way). On that day we got irritated with the procedure of having to pay for fuel first, then filling up, then getting a refund of anything you didn’t spend afterwards. This time no such problems, because I didn’t need a fill up. So we just spent a few cents on using the toilets and had our first ice cream of the trip (holiday rules apply).
While we were eating our ice creams outside on their patio we decided we’d done with walking for the day, so we went to grab a few drive-by caches from a series at Waardamme. We ended up chasing round a German bloke, who was doing them on his bike. The series was designed for bikers, so he had the upper hand on us as we had to keep finding places to put a car. We got through about a dozen of those before deciding we’d had enough. Time to head off in the general direction of Bruges to check into our hotel.
Let the Events Begin
It was still fairly early in the evening and we still had some “stuff” to do. Specifically, there was a caching event at a hotel 500m away from ours. It proved to be a very popular event. So popular that a whole bus full of cachers from the Czech Republic turned up.
We did a handful of caches there before going to the evening “official” event, which was down in Loppem. Neither of us was in the mood for a lot of socialising at a big event though. We were tired and hungry. So we signed the log and mooched about for all of 10 minutes before giving up and going back to the hotel.
From this point onwards the evening went a bit Pete Tong, as we found that we were in a massive gap between any buses passing our hotel. We started walking and I searched for restaurants on my phone, but the first one we found was fully booked. So we kept walking in the general direction of Bruges old town. It was further than we could have done with, but when we eventually had done with walking and looking for restaurants we ended up in the Brouwerij De Halve Maan.
De Halve Maan (the Half-Moon) is home of the rather nice-tasting Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik beers. I should know. I tried three of the four they brew. The weakest was 7% alcohol. The strongest was a rather chewy 11%. I had that one instead of a pudding. When we arrived we were Hank Marvin so with the first drinks I ordered some bread and cheese. That’s traditional beer snacks around here, and got a fairly substantial hunk of old (and hence very tasty) cheese. While we were working our way through that Ami ordered a spaghetti bolognaise. I ordered a “Vlaamse stoofkarbonaden bereid met Brugse Zot dubbel en verse frietjes.” Roughly translated that’s a dark beef stew made with strong brown beer and served with chips. It was very, very nice. The gravy was thick enough to be eaten by scraping it up with the chips. And the chips were shaped to allow the scraping up of the gravy.
Let’s Call It a Day
By this time I was somewhat the worse for drink. Well, not worse, just more relaxed really. Ami and I had a good old chat about nothing in particular whilst attempting to find our way out of Bruges old town in the dark. We arrived at the station just in time to realise we were at least 90 minutes late for the last of the daytime buses. And about forty minutes before the next scheduled night bus that was going our way. For some reason Ami seemed reluctant to opt for a taxi. She gave in eventually and we grabbed a quick ride home.
All in all it had been a very long day, even though it was only about 10 pm. We’d been up for about 21 hours and we’d driven 220 miles, walked about 8 miles, and found 70 caches. That’s what I call a decent start to a weekend of caching.
The caches we found on the day were:
Up and Atom, Fallout Boy!
So the day arrived of the main event. We had travelled over specifically to attend the Brugse Beer VII event. Funnily enough, the seventh iteration of an annual event in Bruges. However it’s not named after beer. It’s named after a bear. What? Well it’s Flemish here, so beer is bear not beer, because beer is bier, not beer. The bear is the symbol of the city of Bruges. And beer is also a symbol of Bruges too, but not the symbol of Bruges. That’s a bear, which is a beer if you’re Flemish. I’m getting confused now. Let’s move on.
Event day started with breakfast at our hotel. Technically, I suppose it started with getting out of bed and getting dressed, but you know what I mean. The hotel breakfast was a fairly modest affair of the continental variety, including cheeses, cooked meats, bread and a few cereals, but it was also of the “unlimited” kind, so Ami did her best to eat them out of mini pains-au-chocolate while I had a crack at some bread rolls with pâté and then croissants with chocolate flavoured honey. Nice! It felt a bit expensive at €12 a pop, but then I realised I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, and I wasn’t going to get a filling breakfast for both of us anywhere else for less than €24, so fair enough. It had the advantage of not needing to go out, anyway.
From here we headed off to the event. I took the car up and we arrived plenty early at about 9 am, although the car park was already three-quarters full. I think they were doing a welcome breakfast, so obviously a few people turned up early enough for that. They were only just getting the event stalls set up when we arrived.
We picked up our goody bags and realised that we’d actually just got a bunch of tickets for going elsewhere. One-stop was to get a GPX file downloaded onto my GPS that contained all the new caches they were releasing for the event. These were also printed in the event book, of which we obtained two copies in “Engels, dank u wel.”
From here we wandered through the event site finding the locations of a few of the lab caches and the cafe. We had a quick nosey around the various geocoin shops. The event was being held at the very nice looking VIVES Hogeschool Campus in Bruges, which was about a kilometre from our hotel. The weather was rather warmer than the previous day, and I was glad I’d picked up my hat.
The lab caches were quite good fun, partly because of the variety and partly because the physical ones were quite creative. One involved completing a circuit on one of several variations of mad cycles, with either eccentric wheels or dodgy pedal configurations. Another involved the proverbial curly-wire-with-electrical-contacts game. Yet another involved finding the one and only stuffed bear in a heap of 500 or so stuffed toys. A couple of others involved solving or doing things printed in the event book, so we completed those whilst sitting down mid-morning with a refreshing drink. On the day we managed to obtain the answers to 13 of the 19 they’d set. I won’t say we “solved” 13, let’s just say that we acquired 13 answers by various means. Norfolk12 would have been proud. Ami enjoyed the daft bikes though.
After we’d had our drink we schmoozed a bit further and met up with a family from our Beds, Bucks and Herts area who were attending the same event. We also bumped into a bunch of cachers from Essex that we’d met the previous day in Adinkerke, and a Flemish couple we’d also met in Adinkerke, and the German guy who’d been biking around the same series we drove around the previous afternoon. Small world, innit?
Is It Lunchtime Yet?
At some point I noticed also that the GPX file hadn’t downloaded correctly onto my Garmin, so we went back for another go, and this second time they managed to get it sorted.
We’d also spent quite a while walking up and down the car park collecting trackable numbers. Might as well. There are some challenge caches that require you to have logged a certain number. Otherwise I’m not really bothered, especially when the CO has just put a list of codes in the back window of their car. It’s just as well there’s LogThemAll to help out with bulk logging too, otherwise I just wouldn’t have the patience.
Back at the plot, it had worked its way around to being lunchtime. We grabbed the traditional Belgian snack of frietjes met mayonnaise from the lard wagon and sat on the grass. The lard wagon in question was staffed by members of a local motorcycle gang, apparently. They did good chips.
Let’s All Go on a Tupperware Hunt
After lunch, we decided it was time to break free from the event and do a bit of caching. We went for a walk around to the north of the event site, collecting about 7-8 caches on the way, and then noticed that a lot of the new caches for the event were in the Sint Michiels district, just north of our hotel. We’d both had enough of walking the previous day so we decided to drive around Sint Michiels collecting some of the caches. It was quite easy-going. Basically, every time we saw a bunch of people standing in the street, we stopped and signed the log. I think we did about 13 that way.
A Night on the Town
By the time we’d done a few of those it was getting quite late and we had an appointment up in the old town to find the information for another of the Lab Caches, so we got ourselves cleaned up and poshed up (a bit) and caught a bus “up the toon”. We completely failed to register the necessary information about buses back again, but more of that later.
There was general apathy about what to do for dinner and we’d agreed we weren’t doing any more caching. We’d been at it hammer and tongs for most of two full days. So we wandered around a bit and I took a few photos in the still-lovely evening sunshine. We ended up in another restaurant on Waalplein, just over from where we’d eaten the previous night. It was a fairly basic affair. Basic meant a little cheaper though, so I wasn’t bothered apart from the fact that they didn’t take credit cards. They cleaned me out of cash. We both had lasagne, I think, then Ami had a pudding while I sampled another beer (bier, not bear).
It wasn’t quite dark when we’d finished, so we legged it off to the station in search of a bus, only to find (as ever) that all the day buses had finished and the first of the hourly night buses had just left (it was literally waiting at the traffic lights in a place we couldn’t get to safely). So this time rather than going for a motorised taxi again we saw some bike taxis. Basically, posh-looking rickshaws. The driver (rider/pilot/whatever) offered us a relatively reasonable price for the journey back home. In fact, he managed to get us back before the night bus would have because the night bus goes quite literally around the houses.
It was still, still light when we got back, but we were planning a busy day on Sunday, so we went straight off to bed to grab some ZZZZZZs.
The caches we found over the course of the day were :
A Cunning Plan
Our third day in Belgiumshire began with another hotel breakfast followed by a trip to a local bank (because the restaurant on the previous night didn’t take plastic and so cleared me out of Euros cash) and then to a Carrefour Local supermarket to grab some essentials for a day of caching, namely drinks, pastries and Pringles. We had an appointment with an event on a beach, and then a walk around the wonderfully-named Knokke Heist.
Down on the Beach
Our first target for the day was to head for an event on the beach near Zeebrugge that had been organised by a friend from the Beds, Bucks & Herts geocaching group. He’d been to the Mega too and needed to attend an event beginning with a “Z” to help complete a challenge cache he’s working on. Obviously there was some scuttling around the dunes to collect caches before the event. And there was an obligatory photo at the webcam cache on the beach.
While we were at the event we also managed to (cough) acquire the codes for the 6 Mega Event lab caches that we hadn’t managed to get the previous day, from a bunch of Polish blokes. Result. Full house. Except now I’ve found 99 lab caches (because Brugse Beer broke with convention by not doing lots of ten). I will now have 99 lab cache finds for the foreseeable future. And my number of lab finds will continue to end in a 9 unless I attend an event and deliberately throw the result by only logging one of them.
Knick Knacky Knokke Heist, Knicky Knacky Noo!
Sorry about that, but I just had to do it! It might equally well have been called “Knicketty Knacketty Knokke Heist”, but anyway, that’s by-the-by. It’s out of my system now. I can move on. Anyway, we had some serious cachin’ to get done.
Anyway, from Zeebrugge we made our way around to Knokke-Heist, or more particularly to Heist-aan-Zee, to begin our main walk of the day. This was the “Kalf” series. It runs in a big loop to the south of the town and quite close to the Dutch border. It was quite a long walk and the weather was warm. By the end of the 4 hours we spent doing it we’d had enough. We had done fifty-something caches by that time though. We’d walked along a variety of terrains, most of which were pretty quick to walk over.
So by the end of the walk it was most definitely ice-cream o’clock. I stuck another couple of Euros into a parking meter and we retired to a nearby bar. I had a giant coke and Ami had a vanilla milkshake, and we shared a rather fantastic strawberry coupe. It contained strawberry and vanilla ice creams, squirty cream, strawberry sauce and a handful of fresh strawberries. You get the picture. Strawberry flavour. Lots of it.
We sort of toyed with the idea of doing a few drive-bys in Knokke-Heist but eventually, we decided that we’d found a decent enough quantity already, so we were off home for an early finish. Before going back though, we popped over the border into the Netherlands at Sint Anna Ter Muiden to do a single cache that celebrates the most westerly point of the European part of the Netherlands. Obviously there are some other bits of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean, but Sint Anna Ter Muiden is the most westerly bit in Europe. The geocache we did there was based specifically around the mistaken view of many Dutch that the most westerley point is up on the coast near Heist-aan-Zee, but it isn’t. It’s here.
There are a couple of boundary marker posts at the roadside here. One yielded the necessary information for the geocache, and another (the most westerley itself) nestles conveniently in the formal garden at the front of a restaurant/bar, which is entirely in Belgium apart from its conservatory and its car park. As with all border points on this trip, it’s a non-entity. There’s signs by the roadside advising you that the speed limits are different, but that’s about it.
The way back proved more challenging. I tried to get Ami to navigate on Google Maps. That wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that they were building a new motorway around the south of Zeebrugge. Google Maps got its knickers in a twist.
When we got back to Bruges we were quite early, so we chilled in the hotel room for an hour (tending to our suntans) before heading out in the car to try out the pizza place we’d failed to get into on Friday night. We succeeded this time, but only because we agreed to sit outside.
The caches we completed on the day were :
What’s the Story?
So this day was, fundamentally, our last one in Belgium. We had to go home. “Boooooo!” and “Hisssssss!” and all that. It started with a quick hack around Bruges and ended up at a big white nose.
Which left the small question of what to do about caching for our final day.
One of the newly released series for the Mega Event was the “Cartoonwonders” series. It was over on the east side of town. It seemed to have 20 caches, designed to be easy for kids, with a few add-on extras for good measure. We didn’t really have time for a long series. To be honest after Sunday’s exploits we didn’t really have the legs either.
We parked up as per the guidance and began our quest for the day. The brief said it was pretty much hard paved all the way round, so we took the decision to not bother with walking boots. That proved to be a good decision. Relaxed feet and free ankles. Mmmm! I really must try getting some boots that actually fit my feet.
Back at the plot, we couldn’t find the first one. And we couldn’t find the second one either. But then we caught up with a local couple who literally lived right next to where we parked. They gave us some pointers on the first two. We then spent the rest of the series either walking with them, or catching up / leaving them. It was like a “with you, but not really with you” thing. We exchanged some pointers on the cartoon characters that were required for the bonus. They also helped us quite a lot (maybe we helped each other) with finding info for the accompanying multi. I would not normally have done a multi with 9 waypoints, but we were sort of walking around them anyway, so I thought we might as well.
The series proved to be much as described – flat, fast walking, and mainly paved. We thought we’d boo-booed with the bonus codes because we hadn’t been writing down the numbers associated with each character in each cache, but shhh, don’t tell the locals, you didn’t actually need any of them apart from the last, which was good. Anyway, it was located much where I expected. There was a suspiciously large looking gap between the first two caches.
To the Cachemobile
So with the add-ons that put us back at the car having done 21 caches in three hours. Slow going caused by the multi, but a decent series nonetheless.
After this we decided to revert to “drive-by” mode so that we could stop whenever we felt like it and scoot over to Calais for the train home. So we made our way around central Bruges for the last time and followed a quiet country road westwards, stopping every few hundred metres for another cache. We did about 16-17 this way before deciding that we better get a shift on. It was also time for lunch.
Lunch was had a the Mannekensvere services, and this time we included some fuel. I guessed I’d need €40 to fill up. I guessed a bit under, but at least that meant I didn’t have to go back into the shop to get a refund of the surplus. It was close enough anyway.
Cap Blanc Nez
From here we bashed our way across the motorways until we were at Calais and found ourselves with two and a half hours before our scheduled train departure. We had catered for this possibility by allowing for a bit of time up at Cap Blanc Nez, a cliff just to the west of Calais from which you can see Dover, and see the continuous trail of ferries crossing the Channel. It was a clear day, so the White Cliffs of Dover were clearly visible on the other side.
There’s a big monument on the top of the hill dedicated to the Dover Patrol, and this was the setting for a virtual cache. We did a few traditionals around here too before deciding we’d had enough and heading back to the Tunnel Terminal for the trip home. We arrived an hour before our scheduled departure but we couldn’t get on an earlier train. That proved to be a good thing because if we had got an earlier one, we’d have missed it as a result of having to queue for so long to buy something to eat in the terminal. Eventually, though we did get some food, and we did the necessary toilet trip, and dashed off to join the train loading lanes. As it happens we did get put onto one train earlier than we’d booked. That saved us a whole 12 minutes (according to the schedule).
Back in Blighty
Once we got to the UK again the drive home was boringly easy. That’s just how I like it to be, and we got back home at around 9:45 pm. Ami had slept much of the way back through England.
When I did all the final counting over the following days, having typed up all the field notes, we’d logged 208 regular caches and 19 lab caches, which I think is a decent return for four days. Ami was along mainly for the ride, so I didn’t do as much caching as I might have done if she’d not been there. To be honest, on the longer days of Friday and Sunday we’d done over 60 caches, and I regard that as plenty if you’re out for a 4-day burst. Eventually, even I got bored and want to stop.
I managed to eek it up by one more cache because the two virtuals we did at Cap Blanc Nez allowed us to claim a challenge we’d done in Kent the previous weekend (see Greenhithe). I was happy with that total.