Cycling in the rain and the best hot chocolate ever!

Jim & I were lucky enough to have fantastic weather when we were in Belgium, with the exception of one day – my birthday.

We had planned to hire some bikes and cycle out of Bruges for the day to escape the day time crowds.  The plan was to cycle to Damme and then maybe as far as Sluis in Holland if we could make it.  Outside the skies were grey and it was forecast to rain.  At home, we would have hidden indoors and waited for a nicer day before heading out on a bike.  But we were on holiday so we did it anyway.

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It belted down and we got drenched.  The few other cyclists we saw all had their waterproof coats on – we didn’t have anything like that and so we must have looked like drowned rats, but we didn’t care.

We hired our bikes from Bruges Bicycle Hire.  For four hours, we paid €7 each, but this would have been slightly cheaper with the Bruges card.  We cycled alongside roads in Bruges until we reached the canal path that would take us to Damme.  I had been really nervous about this – I’m a country girl really and I have hardly ever cycled in traffic, but it was fine and much less scary than in the UK.

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The canal path to Damme is a really easy cycle.  Damme is about 5km away and the path is straight and flat the whole way.

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It very quickly became clear to us that we would not make it the 16km to Sluis in Holland – we had totally overestimated our fitness and endurance!

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Damme itself is a charming little medieval village.  It was very quiet, but we were arrived relatively early on.  It was absolutely packed full of cafes, and so I imagine that it does get busy with cyclists on nicer days.  When the heavens opened, we escaped into Levens  which is beautiful bakery with huge, sticky, tempting pastries and home made chocolates.

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I was still full from the breakfast buffet at the hotel but Jim couldn’t resist a danish pastry.  He also had one of the most unusual cups  of tea I have seen.

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The cup had a tilted bottom, with the tea leaves on one side and the liquid on the other.  When it was brewed the way he wanted it, he had to tip the cup backwards so the liquid ran away from the leaves.  This was served on a platter with a complimentary square of bread and chocolate mousse.  I can’t stand tea, but it looked so exciting that even I was tempted!

We cycled on past Damme in spite of the weather and went as far as Oostkerke (about 9.5km from Bruges) before turning back.

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When we arrived back in Bruges, we still had the bikes for a little while, so we visited one of the city gates before cycling back to the bike shop through the back streets.

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This was a really nice way of seeing a different side to Bruges.  It was not packed out with tourists but it was just as lovely as the main tourist areas – the little cobbled streets were all so appealing that I wanted to stop t photograph every one.

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After all of the hard work cycling in the rain, we deserved a treat and went to The Old Chocolate House for the best hot chocolate ever.

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Pretty much every second shop in Bruges is a chocolate shop and there are a lot of places claiming to serve the best hot chocolate ever.  This is the only one we tried, but it would be hard to beat – it is definitely the best hot chocolate I have ever tried!  It doesn’t really advertise the fact that there is a cafe inside this chocolate shop – there is just one small board outside and then the stairs are a bit hidden away in the back.  At the top is a really old fashioned little tea room, serving delicious hot chocolate in soup bowl sized mugs.

I loved the theatre of it.  The mugs of warm milk are brought to the table with little chocolate pots full of chocolate buttons and a whisk.  You can also order a plate of hand made sweet miniature delicacies to accompany the hot chocolate.

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Watching everyone else receive their mugs and plates added to the excitement and anticipation of receiving ours, and the hot chocolate when it came tasted soooo good.  I would make the trip back to Bruges for another one of those hot chocolates alone!

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In spite of the weather, I had a really good birthday and it was one of the best days of the holiday.  Living in the UK, we are so dominated by the weather – it is our national obsession.  The fact that it was raining when we were cycling and the fact that we were soaked to the skin didn’t spoil the experience at all, and if anything, just made us appreciate the awesome hot chocolate all the more.  So, I am definitely going to try not to be ruled by the weather forecast when at home and just do what I want to do and find a way to enjoy it, whatever the weather.

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