It's always interesting to see, when you travel, some of your prejudices smashed to pieces and others embarrassingly confirmed. When I thought of Belgium, a country I had only travelled through but never visited in the past, two words would come to mind: "boring" and "grey".
So what a nice surprise to come to a very sunny and lively Bruges, and travel around Belgium and find it so green and interesting (especially from a historical point of view).
But let's have a look at how some of my other deeply ingrained prejudices have fared over the last forty-eight hours.
Food: I thought it was terrible, and this has sadly been confirmed.
Beers: Belgian beers have a great reputation, but I have given up alcohol for good (at least until the London Book Fair), so. . .
Weather: I imagined it to be as overcast as Hull or Aberdeen on a bad day. Not so during these two very warm and sunny days.
People: the cliché wants them dull and phlegmatic, but they seem lively and nice enough, even outside a tavern.
Trains: boringly over-punctual. Alas, not true: our train to Gent this morning was sixty-two (62) minutes late. It is true that the woman who made the announcement on the Tannoy cried, but still it's refreshing to see that Flemish and blemish can occasionally live together.
My first impressions of Belgium are very positive. It doesn't seem a cutthroat society. There are many nice shops, elegant people, beautiful houses, lots of green, many farms with animals near cities, which has to be a good sign. There seem to be few cars (thousands of bikes are parked in front of the station – what a contrast to many other European cities) and relatively few people around. Maybe that's the trick.
Amazing that this lovely place is only around an hour's drive from Calais.
Tomorrow morning, off to Leiden.