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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mechelen and Oostende - Day 1

Wahoo! The touring season has started! And I'm off to Belgium with a group who I took last year and have requested for me again. Must be gluttons for punishment!

The group are all members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the purpose of this trip every year is to sample the Belgian beers, so I'm in good company!🍻🍻

I had an early start this morning, leaving the depot at 0445hrs to travel to Northampton and take a break before picking up the first few of the group at 0700hrs. 😴 I was met here by the group organiser, Doug, his lovely lady friend, Janet, and his two sons, Kevin and Carl. Seven o'clock came and I was told we were just waiting for the third son, Michael, who I hadn't met before. I was told Michael was always late and if you wanted him there at 7, you had to tell him quarter to! Nevertheless, they told him 7! So when he turned up at 0708hrs he said, "did you notice I'm 7 minutes early? If you'd wanted me here at 7 you'd have told me quarter to!" That's when he was told if he was late again, he'd be finding his own way! So we left 10 mins late and set off to collect the rest of the group.

We arrived at the next pick up to learn that 2 of the younger lads had woke up late, rushed to the pick up point and realised they hadn't brought their passports, so they rushed home with the intention of catching up with the coach at the first services.🏃🏃💨 When I did the safety announcement I also asked that everyone could put their hands on their passports. It's always been a rule with this group, if you forget your passport, you don't come, because it's not fair to hold up 40 people on the return journey while 1 struggles to get back into the country without a passport. At this point, Michael, who had made us late from the first pick up point, came and asked to get his luggage out to check for his passport! He didn't have it! So he was left behind, again with the intention of catching up with the coach, after someone had delivered his passport!

So finally, we were on our way, 25 mins late, with a train to catch! We had an easy journey down to the M20, with no sign of the lads chasing us, although they were in contact on the phone. 🚌 We had to go to the Eurostar station to meet them so they didn't have to pay extortionate parking prices for the weekend. I disagreed with us doing this. It meant our crossing time was being jeopardised because we were not going to be arriving at the channel tunnel terminal until 30mins before our crossing. That's cutting it a bit fine for my liking! It also meant that the group would not have time to use the services to get coffee and breakfast before getting on the train and so we would have to stop as soon as we arrived in France. And I was in serious need of a caffeine fix! ☕️☕️☕️ 

But we did make our 1120 crossing to France, 🚇 unfortunately without Michael! From here on, it should be smooth sailing.......she says!

We stopped at the services after getting off the train and I got my free coffee and breakfast! ☕️🍳🍞☕️ Then we got on the road, heading for our first brewery visit in Ninove, Belgium. The journey should have taken just under 2 hours but the traffic was horrendous and it took us nearly 3 🚗🚛🚙🚕🚌🚕🚗🚗🚛🚚🚌🚗🚗🚑 Despite us arriving so late, the owner of the brewery was very welcoming and hospitable, telling the group not to leave thirsty! They had a bit of a guided tour and lots of sampling 🍻🍻🍻 while I tried to get a quick kip 💤💤 After an hour and a half we were on the road again for the final time today, to check into our hotel, which for the next 2 nights is the Holiday Inn Express Mechelen. It is on the square in the very centre of the city. 

It is a 10 minute walk back to the hotel from where the coach is parked for the night and on my way back, I bumped into Doug with about 8 others and was invited to join them for a drink. Well it would be rude not to! A lot of research is done before this trip, into where the best bars are with the largest beer menus, so I was quite surprised at the relatively low choice of beer at the first bar we went to with only about 50 to choose from! It was a funny little place. Everywhere you looked was chickens! Whether they were ceramic, plastic, cuddly toy or dead and stuffed, they were everywhere! 🐓🐔 There was even Cock Art!

We stayed there for a short time before moving on to the next bar where we would be having dinner.

A lot of our group were already here eating when we arrived and the place didn't seem to be as 'quirky' as the bar before. The girl came to take our order and I very quickly ordered a bottle of Kriek (cherry beer) and steak and chips, which pushed the rest of them to hurry up and make a decision! I was starving!

While we were waiting for our food, I was looking around and there was a really cool chandelier made from green wine bottles. Apart from that, there was nothing about the place that really caught my eye. The rest of the group were more than happy with about 100 beers on the menu though!

My dinner was lovely and the beer went down very nicely but it was now getting on for 10pm (9pm British time) and I had been up for nearly 19 hours. Now that my tummy was satisfied I was really starting to feel tired, so I left the group and went back to the hotel where I slept for a solid 9 hrs!