Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zomer, Zand and Zee (Summer, Sand and Sea)

“I’m glad it’s Friday,” I said collapsing into a chair at the corner cafe. 
“Twee bieren,” my Belgian friend signaled to the bartender.
“What a week.”
“Sounds like you need a vacation.”
“I’d love one.”
“Let’s go to the Belgian Coast.”


Beer, cheese, chocolate, comics—the Low Countries are full of best things in life. And in the summer things get even better because you get to enjoy all these things outdoors, alfresco, under the sun and at the beach. Summer is the time that Belgians live for and spending time at the North Sea coast is the highlight they long for. Or zomer, zand en zee—which means “summer, sand and sea”. The Dutch language is a lot like English as far as words beginning with “z” are concerned.

As promised Saturday morning Astrid and I met at Brussels Zuid Station and boarded the Thalys Train. Ninety minutes later we debarked at the city of Oostende on the Belgian Coast. The sea air was salty, the dune sand tan and where the tide kissed the beach the sand was bluish-brown. It was beautiful. We celebrated our arrival by eating crepes with Nutella at a cafe overlooking the beach. 

From June to early September the Belgians, Dutch, Germans and all Eurocrats living in Brussels flock to the Belgian Coast to relax and enjoy eating über fresh seafood and sweet ice cream cones. This stretch of beachfront is little over 40 miles long so it may be small, but it's mighty fun.

Astrid and I hopped on the coastal tram and took it to the town of Middelkerke where we took off our shoes and ran around on the beach playing beach tennis. Afterwards we had salads—and strawberry milkshakes—for lunch.

We hopped on the tram again and got off at Knokke-Heist where Astrid’s parents have a second home. Their house was decorated in clean lines and nautical stripes in blue, yellow and white. Astrid showed me my room, which had with a fluffy duvet on the bed, a painting of an oversized red poppy and a thick white carpet. The living room lacked artwork but that’s because it had sliding glass doors that looked out at the ocean. What a view.

After showering we slipped into our summer dresses—hers white eyelet, mine cornflower blue—and went out to explore the affluent city of Knokke. The streets were lined the occasional chapel, some cafes and plenty of art galleries, that were a treat to see. People who can paint amaze me!

For dinner we went to a restaurant preferred by her family. When the staff saw Astrid, they rolled out the red carpet serving us each a Kir aperitif. In case your knowledge is like mine and your before dinner drinks consist of tap water or 20-year old Bourbon, a Kir is a drink of dry white wine with crème de cassis, which itself is a sweet black currant liquer. The Kirs did the trick and stirred our appetites. 

Being at the coast I had to order the national Belgian—Mussels and Frites—which was cooked and served in a pot with white wine. Although we sat at a two-top window table, I spent so much time looking out the window at the water it felt like we had three diners at our table—Astrid, me and the Sea.

For a nightcap we walked along the boardwalk and ate ice cream cones. It was “fancy shmancy” and so fun. 

“How do you feel?” Astrid said licking her chocolate cone. I breathed in the night sea air.
“Like I’m relaxed, without a care in the world, on vacation.” 
“That’s all from the zomer, zand en zee.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Belgian Coast was a wonderful way to finish my stay in the Low Countries. Thanks for traveling with me this month! I enjoyed sharing the trip with you!