Four intrepid explorers to Belgium please.

Ostende, Belgium coast.

Muddy Ground short break, so we're in default Belgium. Bloody good it is too. We're in this €500,000 flat on Ostende that cost us €450 for the week. All polished concrete floors, walls and work surfaces. Drift wood furniture 'cause it is built into sand dunes.

The apartment we have is one we've driven past countless times up and down the coast and have looked at in an "if only" manner. But now having lived in it I am not sure. One whole wall is given to glass. This includes two bedrooms and the lounge. There is no way of shutting out the world and people gawp at us on their way to the beach. As we are slobs there's a lot of gawping in pity.

The apartment is lovely, and we'd get used to the gawping. However it is all concrete. You can't hang pictures and personalise the space, or even lay a different flooring really. There's also the question of the kitchen layout. It's dire. The fridge, microwave and crockery are in the hallway. Who planned that little nugget eh? Probably didn't win any ergonomics awards. And the concrete floor looks nice, but add in sloppy children and every single crumb shows up in stark relief. It is good as a wet room though. I like the look for a week but it'd kill us as a lifestyle statement.

Strawberry jam burger.

Just had a burger in a small beach town; it was the only place open and the kid's were hungry. The chef put strawberry jam on it. No, really; strawberry jam, intentionally. It was ok for a burger with strawberry jam on it. In other words not at all.

Things to do.

So, what to do? Well fifteen miles of sandy beach to do that's what, and we've been doing it. Sandcastles, huge pointless dams, kite flying, boomerangs, drinking beer from beach cafes, running around, crabbing, getting burnt, looking at naked German people, ice cream with sand in it, burgers with strawberry jam, catching the free ferry as it's free, Decathlon in the rain, finding plastic stuff on the beach, sandy sarnies and getting wet in the sea. Ticked all those boxes.

So we've done nothing and everything. Surprising number of English people here. Normally devoid of UK people is Belgium, but English accents everywhere. Oddly needy children though, crying on €1 supermarket rides needy. Embarrassing for us, let alone the parents. Our kids look on bemused. Girl child at last beginning to speak to foreign people. Still take this piss at my "ein cafe noir" in cafes.

Olls digging for joy on Bredene beach.

Driving on the right.

Driving on the right comes natural to me, more so than the left oddly. Even after driving in the UK for 30 years I get it wrong, and often drive on the right coming out of supermarkets. Perhaps my brain is wired that way. Here abroad I never ever have moments, even in the most ridiculous road works. Odd that. Mind before kids some years I did regular 15,000 miles per anum in the States.

Just slightly wary of speeding fines since being caught doing 90mph in a 40km/h zone in France a few years back. Lucky they never caught me on the bike doing 140mph everywhere. 90 was a tad excessive, but even so a fine was harsh. What's France for other than for speeding?

Still bemused as to opening hours here in Belgian land; big town, so does everything - I mean everything - closing at 6pm seem fine and reasonable? Totally dead. Sucks big time. They can't be watching t.v. 'cause Belgian t.v. is plain awful.


And what do the Belgians actually do in life? They have oodles more cash than us that's for sure. The workmen outside the apartment drive VW Tuaregs. A few drinks in a bar need stumping for €20. But fair play; no Costa, Starbucks or McDonald's here. All seem family owned places, and the quality of food anywhere is outstanding. Coffee in particular. Just bemused as to what they do as everything seems permanently closed. One restaurant we went to [] only opened for 4.5 hours a day; 2 of those being over lunch. How it survives is beyond me as there were only two couples eating, yet the place could sit 300 easily.

The funny little town events; one year free sweets for the kids from a truck driving around, here we had the waiter race. All the waiters in town have a tray with three drinks - the one with the most laps of the centrum wins. Belgium not being PC at all two were being carried by black thick-lipped coolies in slave wear. Couldn't see that going down well in Brixton.

The Bredene shipping container art installations.

I've been through Oostende loads of times as it is a big ferry port and for some reason my family used it when going to Germany when I was young. We lived in the Midlands; would you use Ramsgate? The other day I thought it would be nice to look around. No chance as it is being rebuilt wholesale. Cranes and diggers everywhere. Sorry Oostende, lost your chance. We did do the big World War II gun emplacements, and that was very good, especially for the children.


Looking at the Belgian coastal map we realised that our six year old has actually, on and off over the years, walked it all apart from 4km at Knokke. Should imagine very few Belgians could lay claim to such a feat. Also shows how good the beaches are. Time to move upwards to Netherlands and Denmark. Today we again walked around 12km near Zeebrugge, so all sunburnt.

Eventually, this being coastal North Sea, it rained so off to Decathlon we went. It's like a big play centre that place. We all tried various bicycles, skate boards, scooters and in-line skates. Happy hour for us whilst wife spends €200 on tat. I was very tempted by a blue shopping bike, but guessed correctly that bringing one home would be akin to those pastel portraits you see around the Black Sea resorts. They look brilliant at the time, yet at the airport each and every one is shit. A pastel blue, open framed shopping bike would go down well on the Sainsbury's run to Redhill town.


And this being us away from the focus of balancing work, school runs and cycling is interesting. At home my cycling focus is very aspirational; either thinking of a 140mm full suspension bike or learning to manual or do drops, whilst failing miserably. Here life is simpler so I'm looking at shoppers, folders or cargo bikes with real interest.

I'd love to be able to embrace the cycling lifestyle that the low countries do. Pull your shopper out of the garage, cycle along the promenade, put it on to a ferry to Oostende, coffee in the harbour, cycle back. Way cool. Who cares that it weighs the better part of 20kg and is styled on a butcher's bike circa 1925.

I feel sad that on Sunday I'll be back in camo gear with a Camelbak thrashing rather pointlessly through a muddy wood somewhere. What an hideous pigeon hole that is. At work I bridle against conformity and silly team building sessions, yet in going mountain biking that is all I do; team bonding exercises.

Worse as I bond through a blog my "team" is virtual. What a sap I am. We all laugh at the shoppers as we rush off on our burly mountain bikes, yet here amongst the real cyclists it is us, the weekend warriors who should be laughed at. Cleared that drop yet? Big deal sucker, get a life; move to a real cycling orientated country. Only once have you spent six months without a car can you call yourself a hardened cyclist. Sell the susser, buy a shopper.


Interesting looking at the cars here. Recently I tested a VW Up! and the salesman stated they were selling tons abroad. I've not seen one here at all, not one. Loads of Dacia Dusters though, and they look good. Also seen the VW pick-up and that looks dull. Rather have the Duster thanks. Also absent are hybrids. Not seen one at all.


It's also interesting that here you can buy cigarettes from shopping isles and can smoke in cafes. In the UK you can only smoke outdoors, and supermarkets can be fined heavily if you can see a packet of ciggies. EC law is a bit of a farce.

Oh, today I had to buy toilet roll. Somebody in Europe obviously thinks it a chore to have to throw the cardboard tube away as here the centre degrades in water, so you just flush it away. Man imagine the furore in the UK. All those childhood hours spent making ray-guns or binoculars would be lost. Keep the tube!

Quad bike.

Of course being Europe Land there's little actual health and safety. Today my six year old hired himself an electric quad bike and rode it through the town centre park. Yes, a six year old was allowed to hire a powered vehicle. Worse, to get to the park meant he had to ride the thing along the road, as one does at six. How much supervision can one do when said child just pushes the go button and goes?

Really, we expected him to come away with a pedal powered buggy rather than a freakin' quad bike.

I tried it, the torque was pretty good. So I loaded us all on and it still went. No wonder his face was white for the first ten minutes, then the crazy took over and away he went, skidding through corners like an Essex lad done good.

Swearing on television.

Oh and of course there is European tv and radio. You have your kids watching cartoons, or the radio is a nice, family channel. Next thing you know the radio or tv have, without warning, switched to "fuck you" mode. Bugs Bunny followed by CSI or Frank Sinatra covers [the Europeans seem to cover everything rather than play an original recording, and they are all ancient things] with Euro trash music.

It's just bizarre.

Literally on one radio station it was Madonna and Elvis covers, then the next it was Euro trash where the lyrics were "I want to fuck your brains out." That's not right is it?

Yet oddly it is what I love about Europe. You're never quite sure what you're going to get; one moment good, one moment you're in the doggie poop.

Fluent French?

On one trip we took some people with us who spoke fluent French. At the first petrol stop it was attendant service and the guy, I'm not kidding, just shouted "Feel er oop with foower star, sil vous plait."

My wife, bless, fell into this routine until that evening at a restaurant he went to order for all of us. I was having none of it, so did my usual closed eyes, point at the menu routine. He studied the menu, ordered three meals. Mine came first; kebab and chips bloomin' fantastic. Theirs arrived; cows brain with salad. Naturally wife swopped mine out for hers. In the end I ate two and a half of the things as they were lovely.

For some reason we fell out then, not helped by my calling him a "fookin' prick" at every opportunity I could. But now my wife also adopts the random approach - it works. Generally.... you still get raw mince from time to time.