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19-1-2013 3:19 pm  #1

Getting Around in Belgium

The following is not an exhaustive investigation into the logistics of travel in Belgium, but just one person's opinions and experiences. For more information on the subject contact the more travelled members of the forum such as Smoking Hot and/or Zaphod, etc. Now please read on ...

In this treatise I shall be discussing the logistics of the foot passenger travelling on the P&O ferry/cruise ship from Hull to Zeebrugge who aims to purchase his or her goods from Bruges, Ostend or Adinkerke. I will just be considering the more accessible options and ignoring things like buses or taxis, the viability of which would depend on the number of people in 'the group' or any deals that could be arranged on an individual basis.

We'll look at the cheapest options first and the pros and cons thereof.

The Kusttram: Also known as The Atlantic Wall tram service this (?privately owned?) service runs from the Northern border with the Netherlands to the Southern one with France and mostly follows (but not always in sight of) the Belgian Coast, stopping in all the major  towns and cities along its path. Note that this service does not go to Bruges or anywhere near it.

Pros: Cost. For a few Euros you can purchase a Day Pass that allows you unlimited travel on the tram giving you access to every point along its length as described above. The average baccy shopper will most likely be most interested in travelling either to Ostend or De Pannes (Adinkerk) as that's where most of the baccy shops can be found. The closest point that a P&O foot passenger can get onto it is on the N34 (Kustlaan) just outside the port 'gates' - or where the gates would be if there were any. Between 08:00 and 18:00 there are 3 trams per hour, so the wait for the next one is never more than 20 minutes.

Cons: For the older or more infirm traveller it's a trek of around 3Km from the ferry teminal building. Pleasant in warm weather, but arduous in current conditions while the best travel offers are on. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. As it stops at every tuft of grass it's quite slow. Although the overall time to Ostend is on a par with the train ... 45 mins, the time to get to De Pannes is around 2 hours - or at least so I'm told. Although it passes very close to the Alantic Wall WWII open air musueum, the actual entrance to it is much further inland and therefore awkward to access by tram. Also the museum shuts down in mid October and doesn't reopen until mid April giving you a narrow window of opportunity to visit it. In practice it's best to leave this for those early october trips when travelling by car.
Timetable and planner for the tram is here

Now for the next cheapest option.

The P&O Shuttle: This service runs from directly outside the terminal check in building to the main bus terminus (currently under considerable reconstruction) in front of Bruges main railway station. You have to pay in advance for tickets at the time of booking your ferry passage.
Pros. Although not central to Bruges it is nevertheless quite close to at least 3 baccy outlets on Katelijnestraat, Vrijdemarkt (Koning Albert-Laan) and a square just off Stenstraat (second turn on the right after the St. Salvatore's Cathedral). The walking distances involved are from half to three quarters of a kilometre.

Cons: The return cost of the shuttle is £13.50 per person which, although not cheap, is at least partially offset by the convenience. Prices for tobacco products and alcohol are higher here than in other places and there are absolutely no freebies on offer. Selections of brands are limited to just the most common ones and hardly any (if at all) have cheaper own brands on offer. Bruges is as boring as the rest of Belgium is supposed to be, but thankfully isn't.

Now for the most expensive option; the train.

I'll be covering this one in detail in the second post in this thread for reasons that will become obvious on reading it.

They lie on recordings; they lie on oath; their shysters lie on their behalf. Don't believe a word coming from the mouths (2 per person) of any UKBA officer.

19-1-2013 4:42 pm  #2

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

An admirable summary, Sir H!
More, please.  :-)


19-1-2013 6:16 pm  #3

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

As above this one is about using the Belgian railway network to access the outlets in Ostend or De Panne (Adinkerk).

There is (allegedly) a station very close to the P&O ferry terminal which should give you access to the network. I've never used it, so I don't know where the station might be and have no knowledge of timetables or costs. However I have travelled to Ostend and Adinkerk from Bruges.


Pros: If using the P&O shuttle service into Bruges you are just a few dozen metres from the Bruges main railway staion entrance. The cost is just a few Euros and services are regular and often (weather conditions permitting). The travel time is short - around 30 minutes if memory serves. From the Station at Ostend you can actually just about see one of the baccy outlets on the other side of the road and it's less than 5 minutes walk to it, with another one or two just around the corner. At least one of the shops (?Brittish Tobacco?) will give you tokens to use to get free tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soup etc. from their vending machine.

Cons: Much as in Bruges the selection of brands is not the best and prices aren't as good as they could be, although slightly better then in Bruges. Also a lot of the shops that used to be found there pre 2000 have closed down, so competition isn't as fierce as it is in Adinkerke with few, if any, freebies on offer.

FIY I shall first give you a detailed account of my latest (16/01/2013 to 18/01/2013) trip by this route as I made some notes at the time. My opinions will follow it. Enjoy.

After a very smooth crossing due to minimal winds and smooth seas we docked at Zeebrugge earlier than usual because of 'scheduling problems' in accessing the sea lock at King George Dock, Hull. I, along with others, boarded the P&O shuttle bus and travelled into Bruges where we all went our separate ways as I was travelling alone. (Although the weather could have been described as colder that a witch's tit I learned my lesson on that subject back in '07 and was dressed for Arctic conditions.) I then proceeded into the Railway Station and purchased a return to ticket to De Panne for €17. I had to go back to ask for the platform number I needed! (sometimes it's like pulling teeth from a hungry crocodile - more later).
On Platform 6 I ascertained that the trains to Kortrijk left at X:07 and X:32 during the hours that travellers such as ourselves might be interested in. An hour later I was in Kortrijk, but couldn't find my connection to De Panne on the available timetables. On enquiring at the station office I was informed that I need to be in Lechtervalde (which I passsed 40 minutes earlier Ggrrrr!!!!) for a change of train. SHIT!!!! After a fairly short, but boring wait I boarded the Kortrik to Bruges train back to Lichtervalde and alighted onto Platform 5.

It was just a few paces to cross the platform to track 6 where the hourly train to De Panne was already waiting. Assuming that you catch the X:07 train from Bruges and that it's on time, or that all trains are delayed by similar amounts, the X:35 train to De Pannes should similarly be waiting for you - if you get off at the correct stop in the first instance! (see what I mean about crocodile teeth?) Arrival in De Panne station was 35 minute later at X:10. If you exit by the front of the building there is a bar on the opposite side of the street which claims to sell tobacco, but as I was heading elsewhere I didn't go into it and cannot give any details about the service, brands on offer or prices. The alternative is to walk along the platform and cross the tracks using the level crossing at that point and walk the <>1Km (depending on your favourite outlet) into the Adinkerk we all know and love.
On this occasion I went to my favourite outlet where I am well known having shopped there for many years. Because of this I chatted with the shop's manager and, once he knew I was alone and on foot, offered me a ride in his car back to the station. Wasn't that very lovely/good/nice of him? Perhaps the Irish are right: 'A stranger is just a friend you haven't yet met'! I consider him to be a friend, of course as does he to me. However this turned out to be less than advantageous than it appears to be as I just missed the 'next train out of Dodge' and had to wait 50+ minutes for the next one. At least I didn't have to carry all my booze and baccy all that distance back the the station! Fortunately I was able to spend most of the time chatting with a local, on subjects both wide and various, while we waited for the train and until he got off a couple of stops along the line. If you consider that he learned English from playing games on  his X-box it just proves that the average Brit is merely lazy in not learning one of the languages of our EU brother/sister states - of which I am equally guilty!

On my arrival back In Lechtervalde the Bruges train was already waiting for me and I was in Bruges in around 20 minutes. Having a bit of time on my hands I mooched into the station bar/restaurant and had a couple of beers to while away the time until the shuttle was due to pick me/us up for return to Zeebrugge/P&O. All-in all I consider this route to be a relaxing and pleasant way of doing everything I (?we?) go over to Belgium for. You can decide for yourself.

Pros: If you've already paid for the shuttle it's not excessively expensive. It's definitely convenient. If you can avoid my mistakes you still have time to explore a bit of Bruges on your return there, which is (?)marginally better(?) than hitting the bars and getting bladdered while waiting to get on the shuttle to return to Zeebrugge. The range of brands on offer is second to none. The prices are TTBOMK the best available in Belgium. More than a few own-brand goods are widely available there. Most outlets offer free hot drinks. As in Ostend hot drinks are free, although usually without the necessity of requesting tokens. Depending on the goods and/or quantity you wish to purchase the overall cost can be less that going to the alternative towns/outlets. And don't forget the freebies which can often be negotiated depending on the financial outlay being made on any such trip.

Cons: Again there is the trek from/back to the station (putatively in De Panne, but effectively in Adinkerk) to the Adinkerk outlets. The time constraints may not be onerous, but if you want to get  back to Bruges quickly (?why?) you only have 45 minutes to canter there and back or you miss the next train otherwise you have 1 hour 45 minutes to do it. Depending on the nature/quantity of goods you are purchasing they have to be carried over significant distances which may be excessive if you're less than perfectly fit. You may not have  known the manager of 'your' outlet the as long as I have (pretty much the same).

As an aside I probably know the back streets and alleyways of Bruges, De pannes, and all points inbetween than any, or even all of you put together, will ever know. Until May 2012 I regularly went over in one of my cars and drove hundreds of kilometres/miles searching out the more interesting and photogenic spots in Belgium. Sadly our (un)civil servants of UKBA have marked me down as an incorrigible smuggler to be slammed hard with every excuse they can muster. As such my return on this trip back to Blighty was less than pleasent. As it's now sub judice I cannot comment further on the subject other than to say:

They try to knock me down
They can try to grind me down
They can try to keep me down
But I shall bounce back and kick serious arse!
In short: I'll be back! Dum dum ... *crash*

Last edited by Sir Henry (19-1-2013 6:20 pm)

They lie on recordings; they lie on oath; their shysters lie on their behalf. Don't believe a word coming from the mouths (2 per person) of any UKBA officer.
     Thread Starter

19-1-2013 6:48 pm  #4

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

Train?...now let me think...oh yes...I remember...vaguely...trains were those things we used to not-travel on before we all got driving licences. Really dude, does anyone still use those archaic things...and as to 'trams' do I look like I live in the former IronCurtainski ?!?!

If you lived in Norfolk you'd know that NO ONE uses public transport...unless they are 1. A Care in The Community case 2.Old or 3.teenage WETs.

Ok humour aside, Sir H, excellent report -the sort we need far more of. 

The last time I used the train station in Zeebrugge was around 1989 and I got a ticket for next to nothing (a pair florins or whatever the currency was back then) all the way to Emden...only 2 changes and an 8 hour wait (ie two paperbacks and a bottle of scotch from the platform shop) in Groningen. I recall zeebrugge station was packed with everyone coming off the ferry and the ticket staff not speaking a word of English , luckily I spoke fluent Dutch....NOT.

"I, uh, let her out the trunk...heard what, err, She snarled at THEM...."


19-1-2013 6:51 pm  #5

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

excellent report and info sir henryhttp://images.boardhost.com/emoticons/happy.png

Please ensure you do not divulge any information which could identify you as Border Force will use your posts here as evidence against you in court.
Better to live one day as a lion than a thousand days as a sheep'


19-1-2013 7:13 pm  #6

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

Me 'n' our lass have got the train to Ostende from Bruges a couple of times in the past and I must say the services are frequent, the trains are clean and best of all, you can book, pay for and print the tickets out at home before you even set-off. Which, although there are usually no problems finding english speakers in Belgium, means that you don't have any problems at booking offices locally. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/happy.png
Yes, I am one of the lazy brits Sir H mentions http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/grin.png

I am Homer of Borg, resistance is.............hmmmm doughnuts http://i45.tinypic.com/24uxqug.png

19-1-2013 7:51 pm  #7

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

Honestly(!)(?) I quite enjoy a train journey. Having spent virtually all of my working life driving from A to Z and all points inbetween it's pleasant to be able to 'smell the roses' while someone else has all the responsibility. I still miss the *chuff - chuff* and smell of the old steam trains! If I were younger & fitter I would be a volunteer on one of the UK's Heritage Steam Train lines. Am I showing my age? Stuff you!!! In my day(!) a cheap day return from Rotherham to anywhere in the Peak District was a couple of shillings. I and many of my friends would reguarly go on these routes and spend the day/weekend simply pratting around. If only I could relive those days *sob*. I've tried to relive these 'days of my glory' while fetching a few bits 'n' bobs back from the continent for me & mine, but ....

They lie on recordings; they lie on oath; their shysters lie on their behalf. Don't believe a word coming from the mouths (2 per person) of any UKBA officer.
     Thread Starter

23-2-2013 10:24 am  #8

Re: Getting Around in Belgium

An update to the Kusttram service - or rather lack thereof:

Currently the tram lines are being replaced and short sections of it are out of service. As it's now 'off-season' this shouldn't be much of a nuisance to locals who will undoubtedly only be using it for relatively short hops of a couple of stops or so. However this will be onerous for the baccy cruiser due to the need to change from tram to replacement bus service and back again numerous times between Zeebrugge and De Panne.

I would advise that travellers avoid this service for the next couple of months until the repairs have been completed.

They lie on recordings; they lie on oath; their shysters lie on their behalf. Don't believe a word coming from the mouths (2 per person) of any UKBA officer.
     Thread Starter

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