Speed travelling in Europe - 3000 miles, 14 days, 12 cities, 2 lakes

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Day1 - Dover, Calais, Ghent, Antwerp

Early start for 8am Norfolk Lines ferry from Dover western docks to Dunkerque. Norfolk lines are consistently the cheapest channel crossing these days. It’s definitely worth spending the extra half hour on the boat especially since the Calais operators…Sea France, P&O etc… really don’t offer any extra services or facilities. Norfolk Lines are also very popular with people travelling to/from eastern Europe… the added benefit for them is that Dunkerque is that little bit further east for the onward drive.

Arrived Dunkerque mid-morning French time and headed straight onto the motorway. Three words describe this part of northern France and Belgium… flat, flat, flat! A friend of mine lives in a place called Cassel, a short distance inland from Dunkerque… admiring the spectacular views from the top of the village you are only at a couple of hundred metres, but compared to the surrounding countryside it’s like being on a mountain top!

And so to Belgium. Not long since April Fool's Day or "Fish Day" as it's known in Belgium... and if you believe Wikipedia, the Belgian tradition is for the children to lock out parents and/teachers until they are brought treats. A bit like a youngsters version of a trade union!? The only other things about Belgium that I was really familiar with until this trip were Brussels and Bruges... both impressive places of course, but somehow they always seem to get all the headlines. Step forward our first destination... Ghent (Gent)... a little gem of a city that I have barely even heard mentioned before. Quaint bridges over pretty waterways, more listed buildings than in the whole of the rest of Belgium, and quaint cobbled streets preserving a true medieval feel. It really is the little jewel of Flanders and you get the impression that the locals must have been trying to keep it secret from all us pesky tourists!

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Mid-afternoon and on to Antwerp (Antwerpen). We were there just as a man walked out of an Antwerp bank with $28m worth of diamonds... it wasn't me guv, although I'm sure Rachel wouldn't mind if it was! It's the diamond capital and fifth largest port in the world (2nd largest ein europe) but somehow we weren't quite so enamoured with Antwerp... nice enough in parts but soemhow seemed a little seedy & soulless elsewhere. That said, it was a Sunday which is often an unfair day to judge a city, so the jury is still out for me! What we would recommend is checking Rubens paintings at the Cathedral of Our Lady and the nearby Grote Markt. This town square is the heart of the old city and rivals the Grand Place of Brussels for its stunning architecture. All in all, the Metropolis, as the locals call Antwerp is proably only worth a day trip... stay in Gent instead!

Our nightime accommodation was at the Ibis Antwerp near the famous Vogelenmarkt marketplace & Rubens House. Nice enough hotel but undergoing refurbishment at the moment.

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