Business in Belgium took me to Roeselare, a small town in western Flanders between Lille and Bruges. Roeselare is where Rodenbach beer is brewed, a dark red colour with a taste not unfamiliar to the Kriek beer, sharp but not too unpleasant.
Monday night I parked on the Beguinhof in Bruges. Being a warm evening the place was packed out with tourists. On the Rozenhoedkaai I stopped for that great Belgian staple, mushrooms on toast, with a Bruges Tarwebier ( a wheat beer ) followed by a blonde Corsendonk, a Trappist-style beer brewed in East Flanders.
Tuesday evening I headed south-west towards Ypres, passing through Passendale where a massive battle took place in 1917. Passendale is a largeish village on a low ridge to the north-east of Ypres where the land slopes away to the west. At high school our English Lit. course consisted of WW1 poetry and novels by Graves, Owen and Sassoon while at the same time our history course covered the early 20th century so I have always had an interest in that period of history. As far as I am aware, this is the only major war that has been 'romanticised' by so much literature. I stopped at Tyne Cot cemetery at nearby Zonnebeke. This is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. I noticed a couple of headstones with a Star of David, soldiers in the Australian Army medical corps. For some reason one of these headstones had a number of miniature wooden crosses planted in the ground directly in front.
On to Ypres and a passable fillet of salmon with chips and bearnaise sauce at the Victoria Palace restaurant at 24 Boomgaardstraat, just past the western end of the Grote Markt, a restaurant famous for mussels but it was a choice between the salmon and the 'kabeljauw' or cod. Washed down with a glass of the local Kasteel beer.
By Wednesday the weather had turned extremely warm, bit of a rarity this year for Belgium and southern England. I spent the evening in Ostend walking up and down Albert 1 Promenade and along the Visserskaai. A great number of fish and seafood restaurants with outdoor terraces, most of which are pretty shabby, with exceptions like Bistro Bottarga ( closed Wednesdays ), Savarin and Toi, Moi et La Mer. I ended up in the Perigord restaurant at the Thermae Palace hotel where I had a sole meuniere and frites, with a glass or two of Hoegaarden. Ostend was famous for the royalty and nobility of Europe who came to take the spa waters in the 19th century. The Thermae Palace is a landmark in the town, between the Casino and the racecourse, and known for its long colonnaded arcades parallel to the beach. The restaurant is a fine, long room overlooking the beach. You can imagine the kings and queens and hangers-on in Belgium eating in this dining room after raping the Congo.
I was served an amuse-bouche while waiting for the sole, a tartare of tuna and a pleasant pea soup in a small bowl. The waiter advised me that it was perfectly acceptable to drink from the bowl if I wanted to. But I didn't - I used the teaspoon provided.
Thursday evening I ended up in a warm Knokke, just up the coast towards Holland. Like Le Touquet, Knokke was one of the fashionable resorts in the 20s and 30s, the Marbella of Europe at that time and it still has a fashionable ambience. But it seems as expensive as the south of France -- 6 Euros for a 25cl bottle of Belgian beer, in this case another Rodenbach, and 15 Euros for a terrible salade nicoise - no hard-boiled eggs and no white beans. There used to be a kosher hotel and restaurant there years ago, frequented mainly in season by fellow Jews from north London, until Messrs Boeing, BAC1-11 and Caravelle could get you to the Med faster than the new-fangled DODO ( drive on, drive off ) ferries could sail from Dover to Calais.