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17th December, 2019


It was still almost dark as we proceeded towards the large breakwaters of Zeebrugge port at 08:30, passing into the harbour and swinging the ship about whilst the later breakfasters were enjoying their morning fill.

We backed down to our berth with the pesky wind blowing up as dawn broke, typical for this region. Luckily we tucked the stern of the ship close to the harbour wall so that we could get a line ashore promptly and assist our berthing. We were safely tied up by 09:45, and a long gangway provided by the port was used to assist in ship access today due to the large tidal range experienced in these north European ports.

One of the largest ports in Europe, Zeebrugge in 1895 was just a small fishing village. Now it merges with nearby Blankenberge, a pleasant seaside resort town with a lovely promenade. It still has an important fishing village – the largest in Belgium – and just as importantly for this country, about 100 chocolate shops…

However, most of our guests today would probably be more interested in heading to nearby historic Bruges, a relatively short train or bus journey inland. Of course, there are also some rather popular Christmas markets there well worth a visit… Done Bruges? Then why not try the charming city of Ghent – bigger than Bruges but far less touristic.

Ghent’s canal-side blend of Medieval and Classical architecture combined with a modern energy give it something unique. I once spent a week there staying on a friend’s canal barge during the festival of Ghent in July, and it was a superb time indeed – very jolly.

For those not into Christmas markets or medieval cities, we also ran a little trip to a quaint village called Damme for those interested. This typical Flemish village has plenty of historic character, one of the region’s largest chocolate shops and an impressive castle called Loppen. Crucially, for those humbugs, there is no mention of a Christmas market here…

Well, the fun ashore came to an end as supper time drew close, and at 19:00 our 3rd officer was given the chance to ‘drive’ the ship out of port, under my watchful eye. Back out into the North Sea again, we would pass through the English Channel overnight and then turn south to France in the morning for our final call this cruise. More Christmas Markets? Surely not…

Captain Kim Tanner

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