4.5.10

In Bruges


Coach on the Shuttle
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I'll bet you thought I wasn't going on another coach trip? Well, my ex-secretary Chrissie was let down by a friend and so I found myself at Preston Circus at 6.45 on a Bank Holiday Monday morning on my way Abroad - by coach! The demographic was a lot more varied than before: as well as the pensioner couples, there were lots of younger people, beer-loving single men and some whose highlight of the trip I imagined was the chance to buy vast quantities of fags and baccy on the way home.

The trip was with Heritage 'Round and About Excursions' and cost an amazingly reasonable £26. The trip to Folkestone was painless, with only a couple of pick-ups (last one at Pease Pottage, where we changed driver to Bernie) and no motorway services stops. After a paper 'mug' of tea (£1.85) we were first on Le Shuttle - my first time - no passport control, no customs! The shuttle is a very very basic metal box with no concessions to passenger comfort (unless you are a car or truck driver) - there was a huge queue for the three toilets and I stood by a very small window for the 20-minute journey through the Eurotunnel. A pull-down seat would have been nice. Of course we could have sat in the coach, but it was hot inside and rolling about with the combined suspensions of the train and bus. No sign of passport control or customs at Calais, and I didn't even notice when we later crossed the border into Belgium.

At Bruges, it was across the bridge and into the town, which was a lot bigger than I'd imagined. First task was to buy postcards, next was a Wikitravel-recommended boat trip around the canals (€6.90). It started raining - and it got worse - the captain valiantly wiped down the seats and provided umbrellas but it got colder - and windier - as we progressed. Well worth it, though. Next it was a walk round town and a search for mussels and chips. I didn't have a map and couldn't find Tourist Information so we opted for La Dentelliere - one of the Tea Rooms we'd passed on the way in - right by where the horses and carriages set off. The food (and beer) were OK but pricey, and it was nice to shelter from the rain. Back on the coach for 15.45 (English time) we waited a statutory half an hour for a missing passenger then set off for P&J's, which I thought might be a supermarket, but turned out to be a chocolate factory. The main delight, however was out the back, where the (presumably) cut-price tobacco products were selling like hot cakes - some customers lugging out several big bags of cigarettes and rolling tobacco. I bought a bag of chocolate buttons with my remaining 3 euros and we set off for Calais, having picked up the now unpopular missing woman from another coach.

At Calais, we did have to disembark to show our passports, but there were no customs checks (Bank Holiday?) and it was back on the shuttle and home by 21.30. The mind was going overtime with the possible criminal opportunities afforded by the lax security (Peter James please note!). I was told by one regular that people who want to leave the UK undetected will often choose a day trip to Belgium. A very enjoyable day out, despite the early start, and once again an opportunity to chat and interact with the temporary community that is a Coach Trip.
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