Little throwback to latest weekend trip where we, that is my friend Kathleen and I, explored the so-called ‘Antwerpse Kempen’, a large natural region roughly situated east of Antwerp, where picturesque towns with monumental abbeys are embedded in a land dominated by forests, wetlands, heath and sandy grounds.
We started our trip at the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo (which confusingly lies in Westerlo). You can visit abbey and courtyard and/or do the ‘Lindendreef’ hike which is about 2km and takes you around the abbey’s walls. For lunch or diner you can head to opposite Torenhof and the adjacent ice cream and bakery shop explains the always happy buzz at ‘lekwei’ ( or in English ‘lick meadow’ cause that’s the inviting meadow where you enjoy the local yummy ice)
We stayed in B&B Welcome Home in neighbouring Eindhout and that name says it all. The home of Stijn & Stijn breathes that welcome cosy feeling. Rooms are spacious and spotlessly clean, bathroom luxurious and the breakfast is to die for. Make sure you’re hungry before you put your feet under the table. We did a pre-breakfast hike so could enjoy to the fullest! There’s a lovely garden with cosy corners and some animals, so children would definitely enjoy it here too. Oooh and Sam, one of the two dogs is a very cooperative photo model!
The B&B is ideally located for hikers and nature lovers as immediate access to some lovely hiking trails.
We had lovely dinner in the Orangerie garden of Hotel Geerts in Westerlo and for lunch or mouthwatering desserts and ice creams head to Kasteel Kaneel. Desserts and hospitality are great and bonus points for the unique setting. More than approved! Upon arrangement with owners you can opt for lunch and/or dinner in b&b too.
On the second day, after our morning walk and copious breakfast, we drove to Averbode abbey. Another Norbertines abbey, founded in 1134, and lying at intersection of three Belgian provinces. The land surrounding the abbey belonged to the noble family of ‘de Merode’ and was later on sold to Natuurpunt (Belgian nature conservation organization). While visiting church and abbey grounds is worthwile our focus this weekend was breathing in nature. The ‘Bos en heide‘ or ‘heath and forest’ trail showcasts the region’s assets perfectly: dense forests open up in wide sandy and heath covered ( blooming in August) landscapes.
Well deserved treat and closure of the trip! Cheers, see you next time!
The drive from CPT is around 400 km and many interesting stops are possible along the route. We took a coffee and sweets break (Trends Cafe) in charming Riversdal and had a late lunch in Mosselbaai at trendy Blue Shed Coffee Roastery…
Lovely seaside and beach walks were in very short distance and together with a glass of local wine and some snacks on our outside porch thé perfect way to end first day of our stay here.
Day two and time for some action and see some wildlife.
Reason for choosing Tergniet was actually its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Alternatively you can also opt for a luxurious stay inside the reserve and enjoy its spa facilities, but Tergniet was only a 20’ drive and for us a more budget-friendly option. (Though must say pricing seemed reasonably fair compared to other game reserves)
The 4500 hectare reserve is home to four of the big five (no leopards) and offers a wide range of activities, also for day visitors like us. We opted for a 3 hour guided game drive, where guide Silas safely drove us around and gave lots of intel on the local wildlife.
Sadly no lions showed up that day, but we saw plenty of zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok (one of SA’s national symbols), the rare black impala etc…… ( there are about 26 different species to spot and over 200 resident bird species).
Had booked a picnic after the drive, which was served on the border of the inner lake, with comfy seating and great views the perfect spot to relax and kill the appetite.
Sleeping outside the domain has its advantages, like in daytime safari-feel, night-time ocean-feel…best of both worlds!
Time to continue this roadtrip! Next stop on our Garden Route discovery will be Plettenberg Bay. So keep an eye out for the next posts! See you then, and in the meantime: stay home, stay safe and above all, stay dreaming!
(Note: we made this trip early Febr, when world was not yet in this tight paralyzing grip of scary Corona, stay safe everyone!)
Cape Town touchdown…what better way to start our South African adventure than eploring the Mother City! Welkom in Suid-Afrika!
We landed in Cape Town around noon and after installing ourselves in our comfy Airbnb some leg-stretching to ease the back and muscle pain after the long flight was more than welcome! We spent our first day on African soil strolling CPT’s streets with impressive Table Mountain as perfect backdrop.
Table mountain is a flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town and is a huge tourist attraction. The highest point is 1,086 meters (3,563 ft) above sea level. It is often covered in cloud which is know as the ‘Table cloth’. By the way, it only looks flat from one side, the overlying mountains to the south west are known as the Twelve Apostles…
Another day, other scenery. On our second day we took a sightseeing bus tour…The red tourist busses, hated by some, loved by others, though a relatively cheap way, at least in SA, to cover more ground. The red city line brought us, among other stops, to Castle of Good Hope, Table Mountain and Camps Bay.
…and we used the blue Peninsula line to get to Kirstenbosch Gardens where we spent almost whole afternoon.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens of the world. Showcasing Cape flora in all its beauty and the garden’s jaw-dropping setting, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, make this a must see.
You can do the lovely tree canopee walk, several theme gardens, like the fragrance or medicinal garden and multiple walks to choose from, even a braille walk.
For us Kirstenbosch definitely was one of the highlights during Cape Town visit and only a short bus or Uber ride from city centre.
Day three started slowly as that night I had a major back pain attack and needed upto noon to recuperate. As it was Saturday that day we decided to take an Uber to lively Woodstock area and market. Setting for this was The Old Biscuit Mill, and old red-brick factory that was transformed in 2005 into trendy co-work spaces, workshop venue and designer stores. Add the daily artisan and fashion stalls and every Saturday a neighbourhoods market and you’ve got a hip and trendy hub for fashion/designer/foodie lovers.
‘One of the very best things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating‘
Foodies without a doubt will enjoy what Cape Town has to offer on culinary and gastronomic level. Favorite breakfast spot was Origin Coffee Roasters at the Waterkant, just a short walk from our Airbnb and most of our evenings were spent at the vibrant V&A Waterfront, it’s see and be seen there with lots of restaurants and bars, live performances, start of boat excursions, local artisan stalls at the Watershed, etc. We had some lovely dinners at Si Cantina Sociale, Ginja and Sevruga.
Day four and already our last day in Capetown and time to test-drive our rental car before the real roadtrip began! We drove upto Kalk Bay for breakfast and some shopping. Salt and also Lekker are great spots for a coffee and or light snack.
then onwards to Boulders Beach and spot the local penguin colony.
Did you know when African penguins are on land, their black and white ‘tuxedo’coat may seem a cool fashion statement, but that it also serves a practical camouflage use when in water? Known as “countershading” the black coat on the penguin’s back hides the penguin from predators swimming above them, while the white belly ensures that predators swimming below the penguin have a difficult time noticing its prey when they look up.
About 2100 penguins call Boulders Beach home, but make no mistake, they are still an endangered species. Do not disturb them to get close and rather observe from a little distance.
…Further south to Cape of Good Hope. We did a lovely hike there with jaw-dropping views.
Beware of the baboons! Bought something to drink and snack and before I could put it in backpack one of the cheeky bastards ran off with my pack of chips. They would make master pickpockets, fast as hell!
Moenie bobbejane voer nie!
Would have liked to spend some more time there but a challenging drive back to city awaited with famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. (Chappies for the locals and among one of world’s best coastal drives)
The road winds through steep coastal cliffside linking Cape Peninsula with Cape Town city. Breathtaking views guaranteed! When driving, eyes on the road though, there are plenty of viewpoints along the drive where you can stop and admire the view.
Sun was already starting to set when we drove back, truly magical.
Another last night and lovely dinner at the Waterfront and then onwards to more adventures. Next stop: Mossel Bay with first safaritrip, but that’s for the next post!
Want to know our itinerary and where we stayed? You can read all about that here
2018 stands for feast in overdrive in Valletta, capital of Malta, as the entire year it proudly wears the crown of ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. If you haven’t put it on your travel radar yet, now’s the time to adjust your antennas! With 320 monuments all within an area of 55ha that makes this compact capital one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and if UNESCO says so…
We explored this charming and picture-perfect city early June and we were completely under its spell from day one… join us, that’s the husband and me, on this little photo stroll through Valletta’s streets…
…though not winding…no, the city centre handles a uniform grid pattern and orientation is therefore easy. First things first though: we flew in from Brussels South with Ryanair and stayed in an Airbnb located in Cospicua/Bormla, one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’. We had a lovely trip to Mdina and an extensive fun tour of ‘The Three Cities’ which I’ll tell you more about in the next posts.
but let’s focus on Valletta first…
Malta’s history is forever linked to the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem but to fully understand the capital’s and island’s current mix of styles and influences we need to step back much further in time for a (very brief, I promise) history lesson…
In chronological order the island was invaded by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Norman, the Sicilians, the French and Spanish…are you still with me? Then, in 1530 the Knight Order arrived (more on that later) with years of glory and fall, followed again by a, this time very short, French rule; after them the British took over for many years. During WW2 the city suffered extremely heavy losses and bombings and then, fi-nally Malta gained independency in 1964…and if you would think all these influences would result in a mishmash of styles, think again…it all blends perfectly well to a, to this date, modern vibrant town that fully embraces its cultural heritage.
The island thanks it name to the Phoenicians, who called it Maleth, which means shelter. The Maltese language, still spoken, found its origin in Arabic and the capital was named after Jean Parisol de la Vallette, Grandmaster of the Knight Order and also the one who commissioned the building of the new city capital. You can have coffee full Italian Style and a Mediterrenean afternoon siesta oh and driving left and tea and biscuits stuck around too 😉
How exactly did those knights end up in Malta? When they were thrown out of Israel by the Muslims, they first ended up in Rhodes until they had to flee from there too. The Spanish king gave them Malta to make their home, which they did. Years of glory followed, with fortifications being built, coming out victoriously out of the Grand Siege and Turkish attacks and the building of a brand new capital and more defence structures. All that building and defending against enemy invasions cost a lot of money though and by then some of the knights of the Order had a certain decadent lifestyle they didn’t want to give up, scandals followed and hence the fall of the Order.
Enough talking, time for photos now 😉
Staying in the Three Cities meant our daily trip to the city centre included the inner harbour crossing by ferry (fun) or typical dhasja (much more fun).
Stepping off the boat and heading left brings you to the elevator (your feet and back will thank you) going high up to ‘Upper Barrakka Gardens’. This is a ‘must do’ to see and be seen: you can admire the phenomenal view on the Grand Harbour, watch the canon firings at 12 and 16pm, feed the pigeons, have a snack and drinks, people-watch or just rest and absorb those holiday vibes.
These gardens were installed on the upper of the St Peter & Paul bastion, originally as place of recreation for the Italian knights of the Order. On the lower tier you can find the saluting battery.
From Barrakka Gardens on you can start exploring the city at your own pace or if you appreciate some extra historical and cultural info, join one of the many guided tours. We joined a ‘Colour my Travel’ tour taking us on a three hour walk through the city centre.
Covered Food Market
The Lady of Victories chapel is built on the exact spot the very first stone was laid when building the city of Valletta.
A definite must see is Saint John’s co cathedral, built in only five years time. The interior decorating took much longer and if you step inside you’ll immediately understand why as there’s not a blank inch in the cathedral left. Paintings, floor marble stones, tapistries, sculptures, crypt, you name it and you’ll defintely find it inside! The decorations on the walls were all paid for by two Cottoner brothers, Raphael Cottoner and Nicholas Cottoner. They were both grand-masters and you can find their monograms RC and NC on the walls. St John’s Co Cathedral has 375 graves. Their gravestones, all in marble, show the knights and grand-masters that are buried inside this cathedral. The oratory is also of great interest and do expect some crowds when visiting, all admiring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only work signed by him ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’.
Rabbit and roasted veg at La Pira, typical Maltese kitchen
when local, drink local
Merchant St, Republic St and Old Bakery St all lead to Fort St Elmo, the crossing streets will either lead you to Sliema Ferry landing area or Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens. Do not miss out on those Lower Gardens as they equally guarantee a phenomenal view.
Monument Lower Barrakka Gardens
detail of view from Lower Barrakka Gardens
Even on colourful eye-catcher and cities’ trademark, the famous balconies, the mixed cultural influences left their mark. There still, apparently, is some discussion whether Arabic or Spanish origins. Most probably it comes from Arabic times when women had to stay out of sight and this got translated to Maltese way over time, with housewives watching the world go by from above and with little side-windows to gossip with/about the neighbours (?)
By now you probably think there are only old stones to walk on in this capital…meet Valletta 2.0…
The above photo is part of the Parliament House and architect Renzo Piano’s (the one of the Shard in London) so-called ‘City Gate Project’, a masterplan to restyle the old City Gate area. He made some very drastic changes, as the old gate in no longer an actual gate but a V-shaped entrance and citizens had to grow accustomed to this new style. However, to my opinion he succeeded wonderfully wel in marrying old and new. The stone slabs in the limestone are carved out this way to copy natural erosion by nature.
Have I convinced YOU that Valletta is worth a visit? Then start planning your trip and check the cities’ tourist site and 2018 cultural highlights!
Next post in this series will highlight the Three Cities and Mdina, stay tuned 😉
This girl is in desperate need for spring! We already had those first little teasers warming the heart, however the season transition, as often, is like the dancing procession of Echternach: three steps forward and two steps back! Spring definitely keeps us hanging on…
Erratic as the weather and moody as my temper, this post jumps from cold to warm and from grey to colour, keeping in mind patience is always rewarded!
Speaking of patience, it took me a while to start blogging again, not out of lack of inspiration, more due to some health issues that keep hanging on themselves. There are days where all energy goes to getting through the day, but that’s another story…a little extra solar boost would definitely recharge my batteries!
Crisp cold mornings on the nearby corn field, in search for some colour, my hunt was rewarded!
As if someone carefully displayed them like in a giftbox…
…and no gift without a wrap around it!
Meanwhile in our garden colours start to shift and the pale and earthy tones are joined by some welcome bright returning guests…
Like the airy plumes of the miscanthus below, resting in the wind and bringing fluffiness and spark am sure this slowly ignites nature’s transformation…
…to full spring days and a total explosion of life and colour all around, with playful bird tunes announcing the start of a fresh new day. In our garden the crocusses and daffodils are the first colourful guests, followed by some snowdrops and later on bluebells
I’ll settle with the crocusses for now and am living in hope as with the start of a new season maybe I get that reboot too 😉 The party garlands in the hazel tree are hanging in place…time to get this party started!
Making notes for this post I wasn’t even sure if I would ever publish it…it’s not a ‘happy’ topic, but it’s part of who I am, right, so why not?! I promise it will not be a depressive or even too long post!
Just to fill in the blanks for those who do not know me, or those who didn’t know that part of me yet: I have been a chronic back pain sufferer for more than thirty years now after several surgeries between the age of 14 and 19. I take tons of medication daily, have regular treatments in pain clinic and stopped working years ago as physically no longer manageable though I left many tears for giving up my job, and still do.
End of story right, take your meds, physio once in a while, lots of resting, respecting the boundaries…oooh I wish it was that simple!
I have a lot of radiating pains, to my legs, to my arms and neck and sometimes to my head leading to migraine. I call them my ‘attacks’: they vary in severeness and in duration, from a few hours to two days. They come on top of the usual daily pains I have and to which I have grown accustomed. They start at random, not triggered by anything specific, though I should not start vacuum cleaning the whole house😉, I can only do one room, or cleaning windows, etc,…things I have all learnt to work around or find other solutions for.
My days are planned based on how I feel, after doing groceries I rest, I sometimes leave them downstairs to unpack half an hour later because I need to lie down first. When cooking dinner I start my preparation in the afternoon so I can rest before doing the actual cooking, that means if dinner is something more elaborate than just cooking pasta! I split up nearly every activity, so I can rest in between. When having a party or invitation by friends or family we try to avoid two evenings in a row, as I know that is asking for trouble. When I know in advance we go out, the schedule is extra cleared the days in advance and resting is doubled. Luckily I have two lovely, understanding men in my life and here in the house helping me out, my husband and son, I honestly would not know what I would do or who I would be in all this without them! I feel blessed with the lovely friends, family and neighbours stopping by concerned and offering their help, so warms the heart!
Though I have learnt these attacks don’t last, every single time they knock me out big time, it’s not only my body that crashes, it’s a mental thing too and takes time and a lot of inner power to reboot every time again, over and over again. Sometimes I’m lucky and I am only overrun by such an attack once every two weeks, sometimes it’s two in one week!
During those attacks, depending on their severeness, visualisation usually helps me…oooh the beaches I’ve been on, and mountain streams, feet in the splashing water, or recalling happy memories from past holidays…I have a happy song too that goes over and over in my head: Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine😀how bizarre is that, but it helps…
The most difficult thing still is to let go: letting go of the plans made for that day or evening, my social world has already been reduced and changed, so I do want to hold on and cherish the people and the things I still have or can do but on the attack days I have no choice: it’s letting go, hoping for better hours, days to come, finding that inner strength to reboot again and focus on the many things I can still enjoy like cooking and baking, reading, gardening, photography, holiday planning and dreaming, making new friends, so once I’m up and running again, well, figuratively, don’t it feel good!
Every year on the 15th of August the historical centre of Antwerp forms the decor for the ‘Rubensmarkt’. More than 200 stalls with food, drinks, clothing, flowers, etc…so far nothing exceptional, I know, but what makes this Rubensmarkt so special is the traditional aspect linked to it: the stall owners are all dressed in baroque costumes and they seem to have just stepped out of one of Rubens’s paintings!
15th of August being a public holiday here in Belgium, celebrating Assumption of Mary you can expect big crowds, especially as Antwerp throws in a second celebration that day! Due to a pamphlet written in 1913 by artist Louis Van Kuyck declaring that day a ‘day of all mothers’. Over the years the rest of Belgium and Europe copied the Amercian tradition to celebrate in May, but here in Antwerp, well yess, we feel the need to be different, sorry 😉 In our Household we usually celebrate twice, you can’t have enough reasons to make your mum feel special and appreciated, right?!
If you plan a trip to Antwerp in August one of these years, do try to enjoy one of the typical traditional markets like this one, add some sunshine and great company and you will have a fantastic day!
Yessss, we are starting off big! I know, bit ironic, on a blog with the emphasis on the joy in the little things, let me explain…we, that is my husband, son and me, just got back from a fantastic road trip cruising the Amercian southwest. We crossed four states, each having it’s own charm and around every bend another jaw dropping view…will save those stories and photos for later posts, so stay tuned!
What we always do when abroad and groceries are to be bought at some point, is visiting the local weekly market or supermarkets. I know, some people hate this part, but we actually love it! Drop us on a market in South of France or in this case the local Wallmart and you won’t hear us for the next hour or so! The abundance of new, to us unknown brands or other fragrances or varieties of well-known articles or, in this case, just be amazed by the size of the packaging!
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I mean, who said size didn’t matter?!
Do you like shopping abroad or is it just a necessity and do you keep your trips to the local deli, market or supermarket restricted to an absolute minimum when travelling?
Feel free to comment, send feedback or just say hello! Still in the process of starting up this blog, so thanks in advance for your patience with this newbie in blog town!