Friday, March 31, 2017

Germany - Hamburg

You could ask why we chose Hamburg as destination, about two years ago? Well, mainly it was because we wanted to see the German version of 'Love Never Dies'. We both love this show and didn't want to leave the chance of seeing it once more.

All in all, Hamburg is not that far off. Only a plane ride of one hour. And not expensive either, as Brussels Airlines offers cheap fares inside the EU (especially when you only take hand luggage). We found a hotel online, and we were set.

Well, we found the town quite pleasing. Enough to see and the distances were not too big. We could walk to any place, and it mostly did not take longer than half an hour. I love towns that are walkable. For those who don't like to walk however, I can recommend the InterCity hotel. They offer you a free public transport ticket for the entire duration of your stay.

The muscial - in a theatre quite near to the (in)famous Reeperbahn of Hamburg - was superb. The lead roles of Phantom and Christine were sung by Mathias Edenborn and Rachel Anne Moore. Edenborn is a Swede, who used to be a premier league soccer player before he went to the music academy. And Rachel Anne Moore is American. Normally, it disturbs me when muscial numbers which are originally in English are translated - it is horrible how they do this in Holland and over here in Belgium! But the German version sounded just as believable as the English one. Beautiful texts, well set to the music. A live orchestra with great conductor and the superb singing of all the artists made this a show I'm not likely to forget.

Something I can recommend while visiting Hamburg is a boat trip on the Elbe. There is also the Alster (inside and outside) but that's only a big lake, nothing special (although houses around the Alster are quite expensive). The boat trips on the Elbe are something else. I recommend you go for a small ship, as they are able to navigate the small canals in and around Speicherstadt (for those who don't understand German: warehouse town). The temperature inside these building remains equal despite the climate, which makes them great for storing goods.

Shopping can be done in the area around the Town Hall. All the great shops - and a lot cheaper than in Belgium. I bought a tunic at Gerry Weber's that was 20€ cheaper than the one I saw in a local shop here.

All in all, it was a nice trip. The hotel was ok - we slept undisturbed - and we could spend our days without any problem.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hungary - Budapest

During the previous winter, Chris and I made a trip to Budapest. It was a nice trip, to a city we've wanted to visit for a long time - and we decided we must come back one day;

Taking advantage of Hilton's winter sale, we were able to book a suite in their hotel near the Westend Center (Pest) for less money than the room we had originally booked via The suite only cost 150 € per day and for that you got all the luxury you wanted (and we both like it that way). Hungary is quite cheap for us Belgians!

We arrived there around noon on the Saturday before Christmas. It was a bit snowing then, but the others days were not too bad. Remember, it was in the middle of winter! On Monday and Tuesday the weather was quite sunny, although a bit windy.

There is a lot to see and do in Budapest, and we have already said to each other we need to return one of the following years - and then perhaps in summer.

What makes the city this agreeable? Well, not the language (very strange looking, can't understand a word, but nearly everyone speaks either English or German). But there are wide avenues and boulevards, friendly people, lots of café's and restaurants (where you can eat very well for only a few euro - or forint), museums, galleries, shops (and among them a lot you don't find anymore in Belgium).

A lot to see as well, as the town consists of two parts: Pest and Buda. They are both on one side of the Danube river.

Now we visited in winter. But in summer there is a lot more to see and do there, so if we return it will be during summer time. If you look at the picture, you'd think it was already spring, because we had very nice and sunny weather during our stay.

I once had a penfriend from Budapest, Timea Nemec. Timea, if you happen to read this by chance, your town is indeed worth a visit!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Denmark - Copenhagen

Two winters ago, my sister and I visited the capital city of Denmark. Originally we wanted to go to Talinn in Estland that period, but due to a failure of Estonian Air we had to change our plans. One of our friends used to live in Copenhagen for a while and she told us how nice it was there.

Indeed, the town appealed a lot to us. It felt cosy and not to big, so you can easily walk to every part of it. We stayed in a hotel near the Rathus (Town Hall) which was quite in the center. Still we didn't get a lot of noise inside, thanks to special glazed windows.

We were there shortly before Christmas, which added to the atmosphere. There were many Christmas markets around. Like all tourists, we saw the landmarks of this town and also made a trip further inland.

Here are a few pics from our Copenhagen trip.

This is a sight of Nyhavn (new harbor) which is well-known with the tourists. Look at the typical coloring of the houses. Reminds me a bit of Bergen in Norway.

And this is is the Little Mermaid from the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. She looks a  bit lonely, doesn't she?

This is for those who love Shakespeare. We are seeing Kronborg palace in Helsingör (or Elsinore in 'Hamlet'). There is a Hamlet experience for those who want to. Helsingör is about 40 minutes by train from Copenhagen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Canada - Vancouver, BC

We first came to Vancouver in 2006, to board a cruise to Alaska. We arrived in the late afternoon, and the cruise would only begin the day after. So, after a refreshing nighst in a hotel, we took a pre-cruise excursion to see something of the town. What we saw pleased us a lot, so we decided to come back and spend more days in Vancouver.

We did this in 2010 and stayed a week at the West End Guesthouse on Haro Street. Top! I don't know if it still has the same owners, but when we were there it was the best B&B ever. Especially the breakfast...

Vancouver is a great town, and easily walkable. There is also a lot of green around. We stayed there in the middle of summer, and the weather was great. Quite warm and sunny.  We discovered the city itself, Coal Harbor being our favorite because we like watching ships sailing. And also Granville Island is nice.

During our stay we also made some excursions. One went to Grouse Mountain, and there was another one where we boarded a waterplane and flew over the gletsjers and landed on a crystal-clear mountain lake.

For fans of culture, there also is something. Vancouver has musea and while we were there there was a nice exhibition of art. If you like walking, head to Stanley Park. You can walk all around (great walk, even with a blazing sun) and in the evenings, you can enjoy a bite to eat or watch Theatre Under The Stars perform one or other musical (when we were there: Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).

Furthermore, there are plenty of dining and drinking options and enough stores.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Netherlands - Amsterdam

In 2013, we finally made a city trip to Amsterdam in our neighbor country Holland. Do you know, we'd never been in Amsterdam before, although it's so close to Belgium? Like I mentioned in a previous blog, when we were younger we mainly took our vacations overseas - North and South America, Africa, Asia.

We left on a Wednesday afternoon around two p.m. Normally we should have been there around five o'clock, but due to a train accident (what's it with train accidents, these days?) we only arrived by six. Because we had no clue how far it would be to the hotel (= the Hilton, now we know it's in Amsterdam South, and can easily be reached by tram 16 or  2) we took a taxi. We could immediately check into our room, emptied our suitcase, took a shower and then headed towards the restaurant. They serve decent food there in the Hilton.

The following days we took our time in exploring the city. We took a tour on the many canals (really worth the money) because the sun was out on Thursday morning, and afterwards visited the Anne Frank house. Also we walked along the 'grachten ' (the Dutch name for the canals). On Friday we intended to see the Rijksmuseum, but when we noticed the long rows of waiting people, we decided not to waste our time unduly and alternatively went to another museum; a 17th century house along the Herengracht, which allows the visitor to see how people lived in past centuries. We also went into Madame Tussaud's and walked in Vondelpark. We found some good restaurants to dine at - Thijs at the Prinsengracht and Te Pas at Lijnbaansgracht (has by now moved). Also Gaucho's  (Argentinian restaurant) was more than ok. Out of these three I'd give my best marks to Te Pas. It was a small restaurant, family owned. We ordered a surprise menu, and got only the best ingredients and the most exceptional wines. Ever heard of Sauvignon Gris? And the best, we only paid 144 € for 2 people! I don't know how they could manage, with all those fine ingredients and those very good wines....

Underneath are a few pics from our stay. We were not so fortunate with the weather, as the weather in the north of Europe had not been up to much good. But still it was a good trip.

About the first thing we did on our arrival, was take a tour by boat on the many canals of the city. No wonder it's called the Venice of the north! Some sights:

Quite narrow, some of these passages! And the bridges are not too high either...

Most trams make their end stop at the Central Station - this is also where most tourists from within Europe arrive by train. From overseas, you'd arrive at Schiphol airport. Btw, our hotel was on one of the descent routes for the airport, but luckily the glazing at the Hilton was soundproof!

Not far from the Central Station, by walking a short while, you can find the Royal Palace. From its bacony the new king, Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima, greeted the public after the coronation.

Another place you must surely visit is the Anne Frank house. The Jewish girl and her family were hidden in the back of this house for over three years, until someone gave away their hiding place to the Germans.

Btw, most houses in Amsterdam appear to be leaning against each other. This is because they are built on land won on water. To find solid stone, you have to go more than one kilometer deep, and this is not done. Strange sight, though!

We also visited a museum on the Herengracht, which was the mansion of a rich family and gives a perfect idea of how (rich) people in the 19th century lived!

 I hope this gives you an idea already. Both my sister and I liked being in Amsterdam and we shall certainly return one of the coming years.

Monday, March 20, 2017

France - La Rochelle

Until a couple of years ago, my sister and I did not take a holiday in France - like most Belgians do regularly. Apart from a one-day trip to Paris (with our vicar) and a school trip to Lille, I never thought of going to France - even though it's so near to our country!

The main reason: I don't like speaking French! I guess the underlying reason is to be found in a visit I once made with my (French-speaking) grandfather to a friend in the north of France and I could not understand one syllable of what was being said (at home granddad only talked Flemish).

However, times have changed. Nowadays the French realize they need English to go around.

We went to La Rochelle by train. First with Thalyss to Paris, then with a TGV to La Rochelle. We stayed in hotel Mercure, conviently close to the raillway station and also not too far away from the town center.

La Rochelle is a cosy place. The three towers are the first landmarks you can spot: Tour Saint-Nicholas, Tour de la Chaine and Tour La Lanterne. This one used to be a lighthouse during the Middle Ages and is the oldest remaining more or less intact.

The Atlantic Ocean is present everywhere and you can smell it as soon as you leave the train. Of course there is an abundance of seafood to be had, and we could enjoy all those good things from the sea during our stay. Oysters, shellfish, mussels, crab, just name it.

We also took the opportunity to visit the island of Ré during our stay. A three-kilometer-long bridge connects the island with the mainland, and you can reach it by bike, bus or car. Or if you prefer, you can take a ferry. We rented bikes and tried to discover as much of the island as one days allows.

Here are some pictures we took during our stay:

View from the water: when you reach La Rochelle, the first thing you notice are the two towers. On the left, the Chain Tower. On the right: Saint-Nicholas Tower. In the Middle Ages a chain was drawn up between those two towers to prevent ships (pirates) from entering the old port.

The ramp you see sticking out Tour Saint-Nicholas was used for the World Championship Cliff Diving, which took place last weekend. Some of the divers stayed in our hotel, btw. The drop from tower to water was 27 meter.

And this is the third tower which landmarks the town. It's called Tour de la Lanterne (Lantern Tower) and used to be a lighthouse.

La Rochelle is a medieval town, and thus had town walls and gates which gave entrance to the inner town. Here you see the old gate with the watch, which was used to keep time.

These mules with pants on are typical for the island of Ré (close to the French mainland of La Rochelle). During the past century, a farmer's wife came to the clever idea of protecting the legs of the mules (which they used to carry off the salt or oysters) against insect bites by using an old shirt of her husband as a 'culotte' (= pants).

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ireland - Dublin and environs

Because all Irish celebrate St. Paddy's Day right now, I thought I could perhaps post a blog about Dublin.

In August of 2014, we made our first city trip to the Irish capital. We were lucky with the weather, in that it was rather cold, but mostly dry.

We stayed at The Clarence on Wellington Quay, which is now owned by Bono and The Edge from U2. (We did not see either of them at that occasion, although they are said to visit from time to time. A year later I saw Bono leaving, while heading to reception. ) The personel at the hotel is overfriendly and we had a great room. What I found most astonishing was that we slept very well each night, even with all the noise coming from the Temple Bar district.

We arrived on Monday morning on a direct flight from Brussels with Aer Lingus (no, not Ryan Air!). Dublin airport is not far away from the city center, and an easy way to reach town is to take the 747 Airlink bus. It only costs 12€ for an adult return ticket and the ride takes about half an hour.

We took a day to explore the town itself (we went to see Trinity College and the Book of Kells, also went to Jameson Old Distillery to learn the difference between Scotch whisky and Irish one) and of course we also did some shopping (we're girls).

But we also took two trips out of Dublin. The first one was into the Wicklow Mountains (very rugged countryside) and the ruins at Glendalough. On our way back into Dublin we stopped in Avoca, the little village which was featured in the BBC series of Ballykissangel, if you ever saw that. We even had a drink and a bite in Fitzgerald's pub!

And the next trip was to the east coast of Ireland. We visited Malahide Castle (one of the most beautiful I've ever seen) with its resident ghost of Puck, the court jester. And believe it or not, but my sister and I felt his presence, while the rest of our group didn't - and most importantly, I don't believe in ghosts! The castle belonged for more than 800 years to the Talbot family. It only changed hands when only two Talbots were left, a brother and sister. When Milo died, his sister could not pay the death duties, so she made a deal with the Irish government and donated the castle to them. They worked in it and it has now been open to the public for five years already.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Portugal - City trip to Porto

Three years ago, we went on a city trip to Porto during the month of August. We only booked that trip in May of the same year, because the weather was terribly bad around that time. We figure dout we'd have at least 5 days of good weather when in Porto. Little could we suspect we'd been having one of the best summers ever!

Nevertheless, we enjoyed being away (we always do). It's only a two hour and thirty minutes flight from Brussels to Porto, and the airport is quite near the town. Porto is the second biggest city in Portugal and the people there are very kind and helpful.

We stayed in a boutique hotel a bit away from the center. It was situated in the Rua de Boavista (off the Avenida de Boavista) and is called Casa do Conto (the House of Tales). It's an old house which was converted to become a hotel, but then they had a fire and they had to start over. Tito, the manager, is a very friendly guy who is (nearly) always there and he'll do what he can to help you. The room we stayed in was on the third level (there is a lift) and faced the garden. We also had a little terrace (the suite is NG, it's the only one with terrace). It was peaceful there and we had a lot of space.

From the Rua de Boavista it's only fifteen minutes to the center of town, but if you don't like to walk a lot, you can also take the metro at Carolina Michaelis (outside left, and then the first street on the right). That only takes a minute or two. And you can purchase a Porto Pass for one day up to three days (the most expensive one costs 21€) which gives you access to public transport and reductions in museums, shops and restaurants.

The oldest part of town (and World Heritage) is the quarter near the river Douro. It is called Ribeira. Very picturesque, with narrow streets up and down and typical restaurants and bistro's. There you can take a boat to tour the Douro - something you really must do.

Another have-to is visit one of the Port wine cellars. They are situated at the other side of the river, in the part they call Gaia. We choose the cellars of Taylor's which are of the eldest (founded in 1692). The tour consisted of a visit through the cellars which a very nice guide and - of course - a degustation of three kinds of port.

For the rest there are lots of churches (often tiled in white and blue), museums, shops where you can buy really cheap things, ... Well, nothing is really expensive in Portugal. You can dine rather well for only 50€ with two persons, and then taking into account you have a starter, a main dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine. The Portugese wines, btw, are of good quality.

On our last night, we went dining to DOP, the restaurant of Rua Paula. It's to be found in the Palace of Arts, in a restored building. This restaurant is of star quality and you pay accordingly. On comparison to other star restaurants it's not too expensive though. We paid 320€ for the tasting menu for two, plus an arrangement for the wine - a glass of a different wine with every dish. These wines were of superb quality, and all Portugese. The food too was of the most exquisite quality and I can certainly recommend it. The service was impeccable and all the waiters spoke English and other languages.

We had a great time, and hope to visit there once more in the future.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Italy - Rome, the eternal city

Both my parents and my grandparents visited Rome, many years ago. But my sister and I wanted to explore further horizons, so we kept Europe until we were older ourselves...

The last couple of years, we've begun our exploration. We visited France (for the first time, if you don't count a trip to Lourdes with my parents when I was a little kid), going to La Rochelle and Saint Raphael. In 2015 we made a city trip to Rome.

We had exactly four days, and that's long enough to get an impression of this historic city. We stayed in the northern part of town, in Parioli. This was the real Italy for us. We were among people who commuted to work and went to dine in the local restaurant. The hotel, by the way (Hilton Garden Inn), was quite a good one and not very expensive.

What impressed me most were the remains of antiquity, like the Forum Romanum and the Colosseum. (Pictures underneath.)

And of course we also visited the Vatican and St Peter's.  The Sistine Chapel was most impressive (and here's a pic, although you were not allowed to take them...)

We walked for miles or kilometers and this with temperatures of high in the thirties Celsius. But the heat was bearable, especially when you drank enough. We swallowed liters of water (and wine in the evening). By the way, everywhere in town you could find free drinkable water. You just had to fill your bottle or spray your face.

By now I know I really like hot weather. Later on, we've been to other warm places, and intend to do more in the future.

Monday, March 13, 2017

UK - Edinburgh

Three summers ago, Chris and I went on a trip to Scotland. We'd been wanting to this for a long time, and finally it happened.

We stayed in Edinburgh (at the Grosvenor Hilton) and the first day we discovered the town. As you probably know, Edinburgh is a medieval town and has two parts, the old town and the new town. The old town is the part with the steep street and the castle on the rock, while the 'new' town was built in the 18th century and is mainly classic in design. Our hotel was situated in the new part of town.

In this picture, you can see the mighty Edinburgh Castle high up on its volcanic rock. In the Middle Ages, this must have been a fortress nobody could conquer. Around the castle was Nor Loch (the north lake), which was the open sewer of the town. You know, in these old days, the inhabitants threw their 'wee-wee's' and 'jobbies' (don't the Scots have nice words for excrements?) out of the window at set times (7am and 9 pm). When it rained, these excrements were carried along the winding streets down to the loch. This is why Edinburgh was nicknamed Old Reeky in those times...

And Nor Loch did not only contain excrements. When the lake was drained in the 18th century, when construction of the newer part of town began, they found at least 600 skeletons, mainly of women who were supposed to be witches.

Here is a picture of the newer part of town. See the difference? This is Georgian style, and the house you see can be visited. It once belonged to the Marques of Bute.

As we were staying long enough in Edingburgh, we had the time to do some excursions. We made some day trips to the middle of Scotland and also one to the Highlands. It was very tiring, but oh so worth it! We attended Highland Games (fun!) and tasted some whisky. I finally got to taste the Laphroaig which DCI Banks always drinks in the books of Peter Robinson. A rather smoky taste, but not bad. My sister probably wouldn't like it, though. And I always drink my whisky straight, not on the rocks.

Here's a pic of the Highland Games. We saw them in Luss (near Loch Lomond). It was nice to see all the different disciplines of pole throwing, dancing, pipers, etc.

The drive to the Highlands was wonderful. We came through the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. Especially Glencoe has its charm. Has anyone seen Monarch of the Glen? We passed the house where the series was filmed, too.

And of course a visit to Loch Ness could not be missed. We did not meet Nessie, but I suppose that was because the place was too crowded. I imagine, if we could be there on our own, we might catch a glimpse of the monster...

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Belgium - Dendermonde, worth visiting

My home town, Dendermonde, is certainly worth a visit. We're based in the province of East Flanders, and quite near to other cities like Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. Also Bruges and the coast are not that far away.

Dendermonde is an old town, and archeologists think it might already have existed BC. We don't have proof of it yet, but who knows when excavations might render a pottery shard centuries old? What we know for certain is that the Romans were here. Our city had a Roman name, Teneramunda. This is because it lies where two streams flow together: Dender into Schelde. And everyone knows, where there are waterways, there were people trading.

In the middle ages, Dendermonde got its town charter by Count Robert of Flanders, in the 13th century. Btw, this Robert is actually an ancestor of mine (albeit on the wrong side of the blanket). It was a typical medieval town, with surrounding walls and a moat flowing round them. There is not much left of these walls, but two of the cities gates remain and we have parts of the old moat as well. These are now used for recreation.


During World War One, our town was bombarded by the Germans and most of the old buildings suffered from it. But later on they were restored to their full glory. Right in the middle of the town center you can find the old Cloth Hall, which is now the town hall.


A bit to the side you see the Meat Hall, which is turned into a museum where you can view the findings about the origins of the town.

In the 17th century, a beguinage was built and it is really a community right in the middle of a busy town. A place where you can find rest and peace. Originally inhabited by beguins (a kind of nun) and now by artists and elderly people.


Also our churches are old. The Holy Mary Church is the eldest, and a mixture of styles. The foundation is Roman style, of which still rest a baptist fond of 800. I was baptized at this fond, btw. There are also great paintings in this church, the master piece a Van Dyck.


For the tourist, there are guided tours organized by the Tourist Office (located in the Town Hall) and there are also cosy B&B's and a hotel.

Friday, March 10, 2017

UK - Liverpool

Yesterday I posted the blog about the Isle of Man. This was part of a longer trip. First we spent a couple of days in London, then a week on Man, and finally took out a couple of days in Liverpool, where we arrived by ferry from Douglas.

It seemed logical to remain a couple of days in this harbour town. In fact, Liverpool proved an ideal destination for a short break or a city trip. There is enough to see and do to keep you occupied for two or three days.

We stayed in the Hilton, which overlooked the waterfront of the town.

At this waterfront, you can take trip around the harbour and on the river Mercy, there is also the Museum of Ship Building and a Tate Gallery. While we were there, an exposition ran with work of Monet and Reynolds. I quite like this style of painting, and I'd gladly had taken along some of the painting exposed!!! Now I settled for a decent copy of the Waterlillies by Monet. It's adorning my wall and looks just as great as the original.

Liverpool is also a dream for shoppers. Our hotel was situated near Liverpool One, a big shopping centre spreading across several streets only for pedestrians.

All the major shops are there to find, and while we were there the sales were going on, so we came home with suitcases twice as big as when we left! Shoes, clothes etc. are a lot cheaper in the UK than in Belgium. I found pajamas from Calvin Klein for 30 € and Ecco boots for just 50 €. You can only dream of this hereabouts.

And let's not forget, Liverpool is also the home town of the Beatles! You can make a Beatles walk and see all the places where they used to come and make their music. Myself, I prefer the Stones over the Beatles, but they have some great songs (especially when others bring them, like Jealous Guy sung by Bryan Ferry).

We also found some decent restaurants, and I can really recommend The Salt House, where we had delicious tapas for lunch.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

UK - The Isle of Man

In the summer of 2012 (just before the London Olympics), my sister and I took a trip to the Isle of Man. Now you'll wonder how we came by it? After all, Man is not widely known as a holiday destination. But as we don't like to spend our entire days in a swimming pool or on a hot beach, we prefer to explore the world and see as much as we can.

Somewhere in a weekend newspaper we read an article about Man, and then sought out how to get there. It proved rather easy. We could take the Eurostar to London (only takes 2 hours) and from there it was another 2 hours by train to Liverpool, where you can take a ferry to Man. Quite cheap also. We paid most for the Virgin train from London to Liverpool.

We arrived on the island in the evening, and it was raining. Of course, you know you'll get some rain when you visit the British Isles! But the next day it was already rather sunny. We stayed in Douglas, which is now the main town of the island. We took the first day to explore Douglas and make walks along the boardwalk, but the next days we set out to see more of the island.

Our first trip took us to Castletown, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Man. The Norse King Magnus built a fortress in the thirteenth century, Castle Rushen. It's one of the most complete castles in the British Isles and has been 'brought alive' by Manx National Heritage with lifelike figures and medieval-style furnishings. The oldest part of it is the lower keep, built in about 1250, the highest tower is eighty feet high and the walls are up to twelve feet thick. For many years the Castle was used as the seat of Government and as the Island's prison. It is still used for register office weddings and court proceedings.

The island has another castle, Peel. The ruins of this castle stand on St. Patrick's Isle. St Patrick's Isle is one of the smallest Islands in the Irish Sea and yet one of the most historic, with an extraordinary history stretching back over eight thousand years.
Already six thousand years before Christ, hunters found their way to it, attracted by the abundant fish. According to traditon, it was here that Saint Patrick stepped ashore to bring Christianity to the Isle of Man. A monastery was established there.
Lots of wars have been fought over this castle, as both English and Scottish powers wanted to have a keep there. In the 14th century, the castle was given to a certain Sir John Stanley. The Stanley's became Lords of Man and kept that position until the 17th century, with the Civil War.
The castle is a treasure trove for archeologists, as they've been digging around in the castle ruins and have come up with many artifacts, even discovered ancient burial grounds.

Did you also know that the Isle of Man still has a steam train running daily? There is also a 19th century tram riding from Douglas the north of the island. It was quite an atraction to ride in these ancient engines!

And also, the island has yearly car races, going through entire villages and towns, just like the F1 of Monte Carlo. And last but not least, the famous Bee Gees were born and bred on the isle. They lived in the center of Douglas, until the family moved to Australia.

We spent a very nice week in Man and learned a lot about its people and culture. An added attracted was the pungent sea air from the Irish Sea (which is in fact part of the Atlantic). I've never been near a sea or ocean which has that smell, a real afrodisiac!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Belgium - Knokke-Heist

Whenever there is a holiday (schools closed) my sister and I move to our flat in Knokke-Heist. It's one of the finest resorts on the North Sea coast, and if you ever happen to visit Belgium it's certainly a place worth visiting.

My grandparents already used to visit this resort in the 1920's and 1930's. They were relatively well-off and could afford to rent a villa for the entire summer. They spent their time there with the kids and lots of family. No small wonder my mother grew up loving the place, and when she was married and had children of her own, she decided we'd spend our summer there as well.

In fact, Knokke-Heist consists of three villages: Knokke, Duinbergen and Heist. The most mundane is Knokke, and especially the quarter know as Knokke-Zoute. It's quite near a nature reserve, called Het Zwin. It is the border between Belgium and Holland, and is in fact a big plain of sand, which is flooded daily by the sea, making it an ideal hide-out for lots of birds.

You can walk or bike there, and continue until  Sluis and Cadzand in Holland. Very nice, just hearing the cries of birds and feeling the wind in your hair.

The beaches in Knokke and Heist (especially those in Heist) are sandy and very wide. Sometimes, at ebb, you have to walk a mile or more to reach the water! You can do whatever you like on this beach: sit in the sun, play games, go surfing or kite-surfing, do a gallop on horseback (but only before 10 am and after 7 pm for the security of others), play beach-volley or basketball, ...

The only thing about Knokke-Heist is that houses and flats are rather expensive right now. For a one-bedroom flat you'll easily pay 200,000 € (or more) and prices can go up to 3 million for a place in Knokke-Zoute...

We were able to buy our flat at an affordable price in the 1990's, but since then it has tripled in price already. We have a view over another nature reserve, the Baai van Heist (Bay of Heist), where more birds makes their nests. We also see this lighthouse from our terrace:

We love to be here, and we know it better than we do Dendermonde. When someone asks for directions here, we can always point them into the right direction. We also do our shopping here mainly, as there are great boutiques present - not to speak of the many star-endowed restaurants in the neighborhood. Our favorites there are Bartholomeus and La Guerra, both in Heist.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

USA - Staying at the Saltwinds B&B in Hyannis, MA

Sometimes people ask me where I get the inspiration of travelling to places that are so far away from my home.

My answer is always: I read (a lot). Some years ago, I read a novel by Mary Higgins Clark, Two Little Girls in Blue. In this novel on of the twin sisters is kidnapped and taken to a motel in Hyannis.

Of course I knew this was the place the Kennedy's had a home, but that was practically all. Together with my sister I searched the web and we found out Hyannis was quite a nice place to visit. Enough to see (not only beach and ocean) to interest us, because we are not people who want to sit near a swimming pool the whole day.

So we started looking for the best possible price in airline tickets and of course a place to stay. We did not fancy an expensive hotel, but decided to go for a B&B. Our search came up with the Saltwinds B&B, owned and exploited by Ginny and Craig Conroy on 319 Sea Street. It looked more than okay to us, but we were truly amazed by the price! To our standards (Belgium is a very expensive country) this was as cheap as could come.


Also the first contacts with the innkeepers only promised we'd have a good time with them, so we took the plunge and made a reservation.

Boy, what a great holiday we had! The plane ride went rather smoothly, and we arrived at Boston Logan airport in the afternoon. There we had to catch the bus to Hyannis. Apparently we had just missed the previous one, and needed to wait another two hours. Ok, no problem. We had a drink and tried to adjust to the heat (that summer was very hot).

Once arrived in Hyannis, after a bus ride longer than usual because of the outgoing traffic, we found Craig waiting for us. He immediately took us to the B&B, where Ginny also greeted us and showed us to our room.


Nothing fancy, but it had all we needed: it was clean, and had a nice view over the garden. We even had a table outside where we could have breakfast or a drink.

We have stayed in 5star hotels and very luxurious B&B's, but what we especially liked about this one, was that Ginny and Craid were so friendly. They treated us not like guests, but more like friends and nothing was ever too much for them.

Ginny washed for us, Craig took us on tours of the town or drove us to the ferry's.  We often had a chat and after all of these years, still keep contact. I hope to be able to visit once more, but since my sister suffered a nasty accident last February, we need to make shorter trips as sitting still in a plane for a long time hurts her too much. Perhaps she'll get better as time goes by, we don't know and also the doctors can't tell.

Hyannis is nice place to shop (for us all these stores were so cheap) and it also had a lot of great restaurants (just ask Craig which are the best ones). Our favorite was Island Merchant and Embargo, where you have Spanish tapa style food. On Tuesday nights you could have tapa's for half the price!

Cape Cod is an experience in itself, and while in Hyannis, you should take the opportunity of visiting some of the other villages and also take a ferry to Martha's Vinyard or Nantucket. We also went to Boston for a day, to do the Freedom Trail and also for some shopping. Linens, underwear and shoes are way less expensive in the States compared to Belgium.