1st May to 8th May
The whole reason for visiting Belgium was that we had bought tickets for Labadoux earlier in the year. With this in mind, we wanted to see a few more places in Belgium to get a greater sense of the country before the music festival. Several years ago we had a great time in the Ardennes staying a few nights in Chimay enroute to Switzerland in the camper so we had high hopes.
We arrived at Tournai around mid afternoon but unfortunately the weather had changed dramatically and it certainly felt similar to our more northerly position – grey sky, rain and wind.
Tournai is predominantly French speaking and lies in the middle south. The town centre is dominated by a cathedral and old town and seems relatively touristy as the square is lined restaurants and bars and even has a horse and carriage set up to ferry visitors around the historical centre. The historical centre was the area where I decided to complete a mini bar tour, the goal been to sample the wonderful Belgium beers of course.
A remarkable thing happened when we were leaving Tournai, as an English van parked next to us on the aire. This van seemed familiar so we took a double take as Colin and Anne jumped out. We had parked next to Colin and Ann the first time in Koper, Slovenia. Then on our second visit to Treviso, Italy we parked next to them on the town’s aire too, completely by chance. Now, over 9 months later they were next to us in Tournai. Completely unbelievable, what is the probability of these occurrences? After a cup of coffee and quick catch up with Ann and Colin (great to see you guys again, enjoy your trip to Greece) we headed off north to Ronse, a Belgium town that lies directly on the county’s linguistic divide.
Upon entering Ronse, we missed completely the entrance to the town’s aire and sailed past the entrance. Attempting to double back we proceeded down the next left hand turn. At this point a Volksawagen van that was following us started flashing it’s lights and beeping it’s horn. Being cautious and fearing some sort of scam we carried on and took the next left and upon turning I managed to get a glimpse at the driver behind us, who seemed relatively old and had a Captains Birdseye white beard and therefore we decided to pull over and see that he wanted. Staying put in the cab, the driver approached us from the pavement and then asked if we spoke Dutch, which we replied no, he then proceeded in Dutch and a little English to tell us directions to the aire, which lay behind the local swimming pool and then gave us the code to the barrier so we could enter without having to go to the reception. What a friendly and useful gesture and maybe a small antidote to all the horror stories you hear of motorhomes being flagged down to then be robbed at the roadside.
We were greeted with more Belgium friendliness once we were parked up as an employee from the swimming pool came out to greet us and gave us a tourist guide of the town. This lady spoke excellent English and also explained to us that in Ronse it’s inhabitants speak either French or Dutch. Using the tourist information we walked around the sights and checking out tobacco prices as Belgium is reportedly the cheapest place to buy. On this price reccie we wandered into a convenience store and fell into conversation with it’s owner, an Iraqi who had served in the recent troubles as an official translator to the UN. He ended up in Beligium with his family after his UN contract had finished and started his Belgium life in Antwerpe and then had moved to Ronse. He talked about language and integration difficulties even though he spoke both Dutch and French well, especially for his wife whose second language was English. He also talked about separation from his friends as it seemed they were re-repatriated to the USA and not Belgium. I think we were both touched by his openness about his personal life and also we were reminded about the reality of other peoples lives and how lucky we are. To help us contemplate these feelings we found a Belgium frituur and ordered a large portion of fries. Wow, we were not expecting the portion size!!! We both gasped as the waitress placed the tray on our table, it really was too much for two people. It makes sense now that Belgium food is described as ‘french quality in German portions’!!!!!
When in Belgium…
After a morning of tabacco purchasing we finally headed over to the site of the festival location near the town of Inglemunster not far from Gent. Labadoux was suggested to me by a friend that we met on the Camino, Jempie, who lives in Brugges and it seemed perfect this year as 1) the Levellers were headlining on the Friday night and 2) it was our last weekend before we start work in the UK!!!!!
Festival parking at Labadoux
Labadoux overall was perfect, we both had a great time and it really was a big finale to the trip. We will both remember the Saturday afternoon where we spent all of the afternoon outside our van with the people who were parked next to and over from us. Everyone at the festival was really friendly and I quickly made ‘festival’ friends with Goern, Bart, Kornflake, Sam and Co. The whole time went far too quickly, almost a blur which was probably helped by the vast quantities of Jupiler beer. The only negative was that I was unable to find Jempie at the festival even though we were messaging each other – it was completely ridiculous really, I just don’t know how we did not meet up. It was a real shame, but obviously not to be. Maybe next year???? Seriously, if time permits I would go back………raise a glass (plastic!) to Labadoux.
Saturday afternoon at Labadoux………..
…….was spent socialising with our neighbours. Labadoux was a really friendly festival and this sums up Belgium people well.
Next stop is the UK and work…..