Serendipity and the Belgian Coast

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We knew when we made our last-minute travel plans that we would go to a French coastal town, Brugges and probably somewhere on the Belgian coast… But we really had nothing solid. As we were driving back from Wimereux, I read a comment someone had just left on my blog, recommending De Haan. I had never heard of this little coastal town, but we really had nothing else to go on, and decided that we should check it out! Gem had said that they rented bicycle buggies, and that sounded like a lot of fun! So, after half a day in Brugges, we set out for De Haan.It was just about 20 minutes away– perfect! As we came into the town, we noticed right away that there were lots of families having a great time– plenty of parks and play equipment everywhere, and bicycle rentals abounded. We found free parking easily, and Amelia burned off some steam at the park. The pier was close by, so we rented a bicycle buggy that let two people pedal, one child ride and one adult steer. Perfect! And it was five euros for 1/2 an hour, eight euros for a full hour– pretty reasonable, I think! It was super enjoyable, and really nice to get some exercise after too many frites and Belgian chocolates. Jeff and I pedaled as fast as we could for some stretches along the promenade, and of course that was just way too much fun!

Some of us were not quite used to summer sunshine!

It was starting to turn into evening, so after we returned the bike, we walked back to the beach to sit and have a drink before heading back to Dunkirk. We couldn’t get enough of that precious sunshine, and it wasn’t too cold to be out. I left my camera in the car, since I figured there was nothing left to take a picture of.

As we sat and enjoyed watching the waves from a cafe on the promenade, another family came and sat next to us. They had the cutest, fluffiest little dog, and Amelia was mesmerized. They let her pet “Plushka,” and then she gradually talked them into letting her try walking the dog. The couple had a 10 year old daughter who was really sweet and big-sisterly with Amelia. They walked that little dog up and down the area in front of the restaurant, and we gradually started chatting with the parents. They are a Belgian couple from Gent, and had come to De Haan just for the weekend to relax at their vacation home nearby. We don’t end up talking very much with people out in public here in England, since most are very reserved and somewhat suspicious of strangers. That was not the case in Belgium– the social warmth was palpable. We chatted for a while, and then it started to get cold and Jeff went to pay the bill. But they wouldn’t take his card. We asked our new acquaintances where the nearest cash point was, and they insisted that it was too far away, and that the gentleman should give Jeff a ride. As it turns out, it was a ways away, and the closest one didn’t work– they went to another one, and we ladies sat and chatted while the girls played. When Jeff  and Henry made it back, we thanked them for the wonderful company, and for helping Jeff out with the ride, and said our goodbyes.

We walked back to our car, and just as we started the engine, another car pulled up right in front of us! Elena got out of the car, and ran over to tell me that they would like to offer to let us rent their vacation home sometime. She doesn’t list it publicly, but likes to offer it to friends. They were asking very little for it– in fact, the same amount we had paid for our parking lot hotel room! We exchanged contact information, and then as we were saying goodbye again, Henry asked if we would like to come have a look, since it was only a kilometer away. Sure!  We had nothing else to do! So we went over to their place, and it was really nice, big enough for two families to stay there. They asked us if we had plans, or if we could stay and have a drink. Of course!  Then they started opening bottles of Belgian beers for us to try, solemnly stating that they did not want to get us drunk, and offering graciously to drink the greater portion of each bottle. We chatted for a long time, and learned a lot about Belgium, Belgian people, and Belgian beers. When it was time to go a couple hours later, they packed us a bag of several more beers to enjoy back at home, instructing us to think of our Belgian friends when we opened them. Amelia had a wonderful time with Anna, and was also sent home with a special baby doll that she had outgrown.

Anna, Elena, Henry*, and Plushka

What a sweet, surprising evening! It was like balm on our slightly frost-bitten souls to be received so warmly, and treated like dear friends by a family we had only just met. We will absolutely take them up on their offer, and I am looking forward to more bike rides on the promenade, and time on the Belgian coast. Their only requirement for using their home was that they could come and have a drink with us when we visited. I found myself thinking as we drove home, “What if we had never gone to De Haan? What if a thoughtful reader didn’t leave that comment?…”  And I just felt thrilled that we were able to make a connection, that good things just happen sometimes, and that valuing people and connections can be incredibly rewarding. I know that the highlights for me of travel are always the people I meet. I learn so much about the place I am visiting from locals, and it always just feels so amazing to be able to know people from so many places in the world. And that ability to connect is always there– we are all people, and have so much in common just by virtue of being human. I love it when others see this too, and we are able to share a moment (or hour, or day) together. So, we loved De Haan.

Do you have any serendipitous travel stories to share? I love to hear about these kinds of things!

*Yes, I have changed the names of our friends for their privacy…

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40 Responses to Serendipity and the Belgian Coast

  1. Gretchen June 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    I love this story!! My heart is all warm and fuzzy for you. =0) What a fantastic experience and one that you truly needed.

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

      Thanks, Gretchen! It was really sweet– that drive back to France was short and joyful.

  2. Jenny June 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Wow! I love this story too. So glad you had such a wonderful experience. xx

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      Yes– there is just nothing like hospitality, is there? It was completely unexpected, and the highlight of our trip.

  3. Kristin June 15, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Oh that is a wonderful! What a great experience. I am so glad you met that family. 🙂

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

      Yes, me too! It felt pretty natural after growing up in the Philippines, where hospitality is such a cultural value. But it had been a long time since I had felt that, so it was really good for my soul! I am curious about the social climate where you are, Kristin. I know it’s Asia, but I’m sure it’s different from the Philippines…

  4. Eve June 15, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Thank you for this wonderful story! I’m moving to Seattle in exactly a week and I’m definitely a little nervous (but really excited at the same time!) about new people and making new connections.

    • Marisa June 15, 2012 at 4:31 am #

      Eve – I hope you see this – I live in Seattle and I’d love to meet up with you and give you a local’s welcome if you are up for it. Would just love to meet you 🙂 What part of town are you moving to?

    • Marisa June 15, 2012 at 4:37 am #

      Forgot to say that if you click on my name you should be able to email me 🙂

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Eve, I hope that your move goes really well, and I am sending good thoughts your way! I hope you come across the kindest people in town– you are off to a fantastic start, with Marisa in your corner!

      P.S. Marisa, I knew you’d be all over this, you sweet thing! 🙂

  5. Marisa June 15, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    Love, love, love, LOVE this! So happy that you were able to connect with those lovely people – just makes me feel happy hearing about this type of meeting. This is really what life is all about – what it should be about. I had a big smile on my face just sitting here and reading this. It still amazes me to think of all the serendipitous meetings in life and I am delighted to think of how we can meet so many people now that we’d never have had the chance to meet in the past. The ease of travel and our ability to communicate – just like via your blog – allows for so many more connections and I think it is pretty marvelous! And you know when I meet someone I often think what a miracle it is and I’ll think of all the billions of people in the world and wonder at the odds that I would just so happen to meet wonderful you – do you know what I mean?

    Also – random – but I was talking to my boss’ nanny tonight and we got to talking about our mutual love of Germany and come to find out last summer she nannied for a family in Amberg!! Of course she loved it there and I couldn’t help but think of you 🙂

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      Marisa, I think we really do understand each other in terms of connecting with others, especially in this big (but small!) world we live in. It is still incredible to me to think of all the people I know in all parts of the world. What if I had never left California, where I was born? I think every person we meet and connect with changes us in a way, so every relationship is significant. I am so honored when someone else wants to let me into their life.

      I wonder if I met that nanny. I did meet a gal that had just moved there in the fall of 2010. Ask her if she went to a gymnastics class (with the children) or if she took art classes at the local college– if so, I think we have a match!!

    • Marisa June 18, 2012 at 5:06 am #

      I think we do understand each other very much – that is why I keep coming back to visit with you! I just love your point of view and your thoughts on the world and on life – I think we would be great friends in the real world! I relate so much to your way of thinking on so many things! xoxo

      That would be absolutely wild if you met her!! I’ll ask her for more details – but I do think she lived there in the summer. She’s in college so I assume she would have been leaving in the fall. But I just don’t know for sure. I’ll check into it and get back to you! She’s hoping to go back again next summer because she loved it so much 🙂

  6. Amanda June 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I loved reading this story! The best things always come as surprises, don’t they?

    Right after I graduated high school I decided to travel instead of go to college right away. I found an English tutoring position with a family in León, Spain – offering free room and board in exchange for helping their two girls with homework and a little conversation practice… it seemed ideal! An inexpensive way to see the world~

    Well, the family was not so ideal. The mom was nuts and yelled at her dog Rufus all the time. She yelled at me too, for not making my bed or not putting the dishes in the dishwasher correctly, basically just to make herself feel better I think. The girls were very condescending and mean (although I learned a lot of Spanish from them)… It was very depressing and scary.

    But along the way, I found a Spanish for Extranjeros (foreigners) program at the local university and I met the best friends I have ever had before or since. They were from France, Germany, Japan, the US, as well as some locals from the area. They saved me and took care of me when my host family mistreated me- inviting me for communal dinners and sleepovers, staying out late with me to enjoy the nightlife… My heart totally opened up and I felt so free!

    Anyway, I guess I just felt like (over?)sharing and wanted to tell you how much I liked reading about your adventure and am excited to see what happens next!

    (now back to work… boo, yuck 🙁 )

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

      Amanda, thanks for sharing (NOT oversharing!) your story. How crazy and terrible to get set up with such a weird and unpleasant family! What a lousy solo-travel experience, especially at such a young age. But the second part about communal dinners and sleepovers sounds SO awesome. I hope it did make up for the bad stuff, so that it was a good time for you overall. I love that you did travel first, I think it gives such a great perspective on the world before settling in for all the regular grownup stuff.
      And, always, thanks for following along with us. I love it.

  7. Ed June 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Such a great story, Ariana! And the way you write, your readers feel like they experiencing it right beside you. Hope you have many more fun days like that. Love, Dad

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Thanks, Dad. That is the best compliment, because that is really what I want to do– to invite others experience life here along with us. I’m sure many more fun days are ahead! Going to the beach again tomorrow…

  8. Rebecca June 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    As I read your post my nose startled to tingle, then my eyes started to squinch, then I cried. Is that cheesy? Having read back through your blog and reading what a rough year it’s been, I was really touched by such a sweet encounter and so excited for your family that you have a wonderful place to come back to that is super affordable and wonderful people to see. Yay!

    • Ariana June 16, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Hi Rebecca– not cheesy. That is really so sweet. Thank you so much for traveling and empathizing with us, and the long, exciting (and yes, rough!) year it has been. We are especially aware of the small blessings and big gifts that are coming our way– all of the comforts and luxuries that make our life here good. And of course, thank you for telling me your thoughts!

  9. June 17, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    Glad you had such a great trip and were able to connect with such great people! I’m back in the US for a visit and it really is such a great feeling to connect with people again! I’m wondering why I left such great friends in the first place 🙁

    I had a very serendipitous experience when I was studying in Amsterdam during college. I took a five day trip to a Paris. I had no plans when I arrived, but I met a homeless man at the train station who saw that I was a bit lost and offered to help. I told him that I didn’t have a place to stay so he led me to a tout who took me to a hostel. I ended up rooming with three girls from Iowa who were also studying in the Netherlands. They were in Paris visiting friends from Iowa who were also spending a semester abroad. My roommates invited me along to meet their friends who then gave us a great tour of the city. I soon learned that they were studying with the same program that my little sister would be studying with in Paris the next semester. They took me to their dorms, the cafeteria, and on a tour of the school grounds. I was able to bring back not only pictures of the dorm my sister would be living in as well as the campus but also the names and contact info for these girls who would due in Paris all year and who had offered to help my sister get adjusted to life in Paris once she arrived. Talk about a small world!

    • Ariana June 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      I know what you mean, Melissa. There is nothing quite like being able to be with people and just relax, not try to figure everything out, make a good impression, etc., etc. It is exhausting trying to make friends in a new country. I am thankful, however, that you are in a socially warm culture!

      And, oh my goodness! I LOVE your Paris story! I love those sorts of connections that make the world feel so small, and like there is a much bigger plan out there than we are often aware of… How very cool– thanks for sharing!

  10. Mary De Bastos June 17, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    What a fun story!!

    My in-laws are Portuguese. I don’t speak the language, but I love that when we visit my husband’s family doesn’t leave me out. They talk to me in Portuguese {or Spanish which I understand a little better} and ask me questions. They really do want to know my replies. Where ever we go I’m welcomed with open arms and a kiss on each cheek. I love the culture. They are some of the most humble and friendly people I’ve ever come across in my travels. I can’t wait for our next visit.

    The Glaswegians are a bit more reserved but when we go to Edinburgh they are soooo friendly! Especially if anyone hears my accent they rush to ask me questions and say hello. It’s such a wonderful city and I love any chance I get to visit.

    • Ariana June 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      That is really so sweet about your in-laws, Mary. I think that one of the biggest challenges of joining a new family can just be feeling left out, like your past is irrelevant once you step in… So wonderful that your new family is so sweet, sensitive and genuinely intersted in getting to know you and welcome you into the family.

      Also, super interesting about the social differnces between Glasgow and Edinburgh. We have already been wanting to take a trip to Edinburgh as soon as we can, and this really motivates me to make it happen!

  11. Melinda January 2, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    have you been to other parts in Belgium? like Brussels? or have you only stuck to the coast? only reason I ask – because we want to travel there in October and i would think the coast areas are empty like a ghost town, but the cities would be more happening.

    any suggestions would be great!

    oh and great blog by the way! i am a new reader and love it!!

  12. Melinda January 2, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    hi I’m Melinda – orginally from CA but now (well have been) live in Switzerland.

    I love this story about Belgium- We want to travel there maybe this october – have you been to other parts of Belgium besides the coast? As I am sure the coast is like a ghost town during October. We were thinking of larger cities etc. but have never been. But after reading this incredible story about how nice the people are etc. we need that, especially living here in Switzerland where not all the people are friendly 🙂

    Any info would be great! 🙂

  13. Cupcake Crazy Gem April 1, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    Ariana, I only just found this post! after seeing someone had visited my blog through this very link! How fantastic is this! I’m so glad you took my advice (I don’t even remember leaving that comment!) that you loved Den Haan and that all that wonderful stuff happened as a result!! Yay!


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