In medieval times the town of Damme was a bustling port on the river Reie. It was connected to the city of Bruges, six kilometres away, by the river and it was to here that boats would come laden with exotic goods.
Because of Damme’s strategic position as a major trading post, a protective system of ramparts, walls and moats in the shape of a seven pointed star was built in the early 1600s. Unexpected guests were not encouraged.
Luckily today visitors are very welcome and, like us, many come for a day trip by paddle boat from Bruges. The day we went to Damme though we seemed to be the only visitors there and the serenity was a welcome change from the clamour and crush of tourists in Bruges.
The only person there to greet us was Jacob Van Maerlant, a medieval poet known as the father of all Dutch writers, whose most important works were created in Damme. From his plinth in the centre of the tiny markt he smiled down on us as if to say “Welcome”.
We wandered the empty streets and explored the remains of the ancient fortifications.
We ate our lunch next to a medieval water pump in the centre of the Herring Market. In the 15th century 28 million herrings were sold here every year. In the quiet of this day we could hardly imagine how hectic the market must have been.
After several hours of peaceful exploration we boarded the Lamme Goedzak again. We had just one more half hour of serenity before we would re-join the throng of travellers in the Markt once more.
After walking almost five kilometres through the Kosciuszko National Park it is quite a relief to come to a halt at Rawson Pass. It’s the perfect spot to stop for a rest, a picnic lunch and a visit to the restrooms. At an elevation of 2,100 metres, the amenities block at Rawson Pass is the highest toilet block in Australia.
Constructed of local mountain stone and built into the surrounding slope, the toilet block blends in perfectly with the surrounding area and doesn’t stand out at all.
What is outstanding is the amazing view from this lofty loo. Mt Kosciuszko is the highest mountain in Australia and even in mid-summer there are patches of snow on its slopes, along with delicate alpine wildflowers and spiky tufts of button grass.
From Rawson Pass the Australian Alps can be seen in all directions.
It’s hard to go past a bathroom with such a beautiful outlook, especially when it’s the only one on the track between Thredbo and the final ascent to the top of Australia.
In 1889 the railway line from Sydney to Cooma opened amid much fanfare and celebration. It meant that people could travel overnight to the Snowy Mountains in relative comfort, and also allowed the residents of the mountains to visit the city with ease. After nearly a century of service the train line closed in 1988 but the station and a section of the line have been maintained since then by the Cooma Monaro Railway, a group of passionate train enthusiasts. Their dedication means that this nostalgic collection of buildings and railway equipment will be preserved as a history lesson for generations to come.
When travelling in Europe it’s possible to get from one place to the next in a very short time. There are planes, ICE trains and fast ferries. But once we’ve arrived at our destination we like to enjoy our surroundings at a much slower pace.
The canal system around Bruges is perfect for slow travelling. When trading was in its heyday in the 16th century the canals were filled with barges and merchant ships. Now they’ve been replaced by boats full of admiring tourists; and during the day it seems as busy as ever. So we plan our escape to a more peaceful destination.
The tiny village of Damme is a mere six kilometres from Bruges but it may as well be a world away. To get from Bruges to Damme there is a perfectly good road and also a cycle and walking path that follows the canal bank. We decide to take the most relaxing way and buy €10.50 round trip tickets for the paddle boat Lamme Goedzak.
The 35 minute journey gives us the time to appreciate the beautiful scenery on either side of the canal as we sail along. Lush farmland and pretty cottages are interspersed with woodlands and windmills.
There’s the occasional waterbird and plenty of contented farm animals in the fields.
As we pass by, we wave to those on the path who are more energetic than we are.
When the boat arrives at Damme and ties up at the tiny wharf, we will stroll into the Markt along a cobbled street past ancient buildings.
At the end of the day we’ll return to bustling Bruges … and we’ll sit back, relax and let the boat captain do all the work.
If deliciously indulgent, hot and sugary desserts are your passion then Belgian waffles are for you. There are waffle stalls everywhere in Belgium and after a hard day of sightseeing it’s impossible to ignore the sweet fragrance of dough baking in heated waffle irons as it wafts through the streets surrounding the market square.
There are two types of Belgian waffles. Brussels waffles are golden-brown on the outside and light and crispy inside. They are usually served with nothing more than a light dusting of icing sugar.
Liege waffles are thicker and sweeter, with melted chunks of caramelised sugar inside. They are perfect eaten straight out of the waffle iron; no extra flavours are necessary. If you must add more, pile on some whipped cream, ice cream and strawberries to create a heavenly combination.
But if you’re craving the ultimate sweet treat, the choice of toppings seems endless. How about chocolate sauce, nuts, bananas, kiwi fruit and/or lollies? The combinations are limited only by your imagination and appetite.
Spend enough time in Belgium and you can try them all!
At the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt there are interactive stations where visitors can play with film techniques and create their own special effects. My favourite was the green screen.
According to Wikipedia, “a blue or green background in front of which moving subjects are filmed allows a separately filmed background to be added to the final image.” This is known as Chroma key compositing and it is a is a “special effects technique for compositing two images or video streams together based on colour hues.”
Even though I knew this spider wasn’t really there, the sensation of seeing it climb out of the box behind me was a little creepy!