Being a seafarer is enduring weeks and even months on board a vessel without setting foot on land. No wonder people of this profession (especially me) tend to get exuberant and excited once arriving on a certain port. The main reason: shore leave (though this doesn’t happen every time the ship is on port). These two words perfectly denote a total escape from day to day hard work on the ship, a moment of relaxation, setting eyes on new and various places and of course, the answer to month-long yearning to walk on dry land.
One of the most memorable shore leave that I have experienced so far was that on Bruges, Belgium. Our ship was moored on Zeebrugge port so we are privileged to go downtown. It was my first time to walk on a European land and I was anxious to see lots of scenic places on this municipality. Unfortunately, we only have a limited time to roam around and we have to return to the ship for our port duties. Nonetheless, we took some photos along the road for souvenir and bought some Belgian chocolates for pasalubong.
If you happen to take a walk near the port area, towering windmills will catch your attention.
Upon finishing port formalities, we waited for the service van that will then take us to Zeebruggee Seamen’s Centre. I was surprised to learn that transportation services from the port area to the Centre was free for us, since it was quite far from the port. Once we arrive there, transportation fee is now on our own expense if we want to go from one place to another.
Going places around Bruges is relatively easy even if it is your first time on such foreign soil. There’s a lot of location map on certain places so it is unlikely for you to get lost.You can also take a train or a tram to go to their tourist spots, though it will cost you some euros if your location will take a couple of minutes to your destination. Travelling in groups will definitely help because you can pay for a group as a whole, which is less than the ordinary fare if you are alone.
It is okay to take a nap inside a tram but make sure not to miss your intended destination.
First thing that I had noticed when we went ashore is that nobody seemed to be loitering around the place at that time. Every corner and street was so quite and we only happen to meet few people giving me the picture of a somewhat departed town. Unlike in our place back in the Philippines where you can see children playing on the streets, that place was entirely different.
Brick buildings were present everywhere. Chocolate-colored churches, houses and other structures dominate the whole countryside.Their architectural designs are simple yet elegant. These structures seemed to be designed as such so as to stand snow and other weather elements during winter time.
Zeebrugge Church, Belgium
Walking along the road for sight-seeing was surely tiring. We are already catching our breaths for the next couple of hours but we manage to amuse ourselves by stopping for sometime and taking some pictures of places as well as of ourselves on every pose that we can imagine.
Santino, is that you?
A picture taking session with total strangers surely makes everyone smile with glee.
Our last destination was the beach of Heist, Knokke-Heist,where to my surprise, most people gather to watch the sunset. Everything was alive near the beach as compared to the places that we had been few hours earlier. People are either strolling on the streets with their pets or having a sumptuous meal on restaurants by the seaside. Loud music was playing overhead, thus setting a festive mood.
It was getting late so we started to walk to the tram station then rode for another couple of minutes to Zeebrugge Seamen’s Centre. Though we are not able to go to every tourist attraction, the experience was quite worthwhile. I was able to observe the way of life in this foreign country and even came across on how people act to maintain a harmonious and peaceful society. Belgian people have this high regards on being responsible which is shown on little things that happen on daily basis.I just can’t help but dream about having the same thing with my own countrymen.
Almost everyone wants to stay for few more hours but we have to face the fact that work is waiting for us back on the ship. It was a limited time but walking on solid land with trees and houses alone eased our weary mind. Some of my colleague might find the shore leave quite ordinary, but for me, it was the best after five months: catching a glimpse of a Belgian sunset and setting foot on European land.