The Streets of Antwerp

Waking up in Ghent is an experience in itself. Our room at the B&B we were staying in, was only a couple of floors up, however the night before, I had purposefully left the curtains of the two large windows open, so as to be able to see the sun rising over the medieval streets. I say ‘we’, but I really mean me. The bf started grumbling as soon as the first shaft of light hit the pillow, so I had to get up and close the curtains, however (and this had been my intent all along) I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos before going back to bed.

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The cobbled streets were silent and deserted. As I watched the alley across our room, an early-bird (possibly a baker judging from his overalls) locked his house behind him, got on his bike and pedalled off to work. Cars, of course, are not permitted within the small historic streets of Ghent. Only bikes. And boats of course. Did I mention the fact that Ghent is full of canals? Like Bruges, some actually call it the Venice of Northern Europe!

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More of that later. After another short nap, I heard the landlady tapping at our bedroom door, signalling that she had left our breakfast tray outside. As I opened the door, the scent of newly-baked bread almost made me swoon (she later told me that she went expressly for it at the baker’s at around 5.30am each day – blessed lady!). There were pots of jam, some delicatessen items, hot milk, eggs (we could prepare them on our small stove in the kitchenette as we preferred), etc… I must say it was one of the best breakfasts I ever ate. Obviously compounded by the peaceful medieval view from the breakfast table! As we ate, we planned our day, which we were going to spend in Antwerp.

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Antwerp, another Flemish medieval city in Belgium, is actually a port city, and its port is one of the largest in the world, ranking second in Europe. Its origins date back even before the 14th century. It has a large number of historical landmarks, not to mention cultural ones, since the artworks created by its famous 17th century school of painting (not to mention other arts such as weaving), were sought after throughout the world. Unfortunately, we knew we would be unable to visit as many of the places we were interested in as we would have liked, since we only had one day to spend in Antwerp, however we fully intended to try our very best.

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After taking the train from Ghent to Antwerp, while leaving the train station, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful flowering streets of this sweet city. Colorful flowers and plants flourishing in the warm spring sun, decorated every corner, as people from every imaginable country, ethnicity and nationality thronged the pavements. Shops sporting popular brands abounded, however to be honest I was more drawn to the tall medieval gothic-style buildings which majestically reared their sculptured facades right next to them! It seemed like there was so much to see! Everywhere I looked, the past sat right next to the present, and the mad cacophony of everyday life vied with the dreamy awe galloping through my senses.

Suddenly, incredibly, I heard a burst of classical music. It was a grand piano! Yes, right there in the middle of the street! A street-artist had somehow transported his enormous polished piano amidst all the flowers, gothic palaces and grand stores, and was playing a sonata as though his heart would break. Tourists, locals, and passers-by thronged around him clicking away madly at their cameras and mobile phones. Talk about live street-art!

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And we hadn’t even visited any of the places on our itinerary yet!

… more to come in a later entry!

P.S All photos are originals, taken by me on site.

 

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Ghent by Night

Ghent by night is a magical place. We arrived from Brussels Airport by train at around 8pm, then took a tram which left us very near our B&B. Actually, the tram left us right in front of the Gravensteen, which is a medieval castle right at the heart of the tiny cobbled city. The Gravensteen, originally built in 1180, had served as the seat for the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century, and was brought to life again in 1885 by the City of Ghent, which renovated it.

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Needless to be said, the sight of those historic ramparts glimmering like a fairytale at 9.30pm, was a real sight for sore eyes, especially after a journey consisting of a tiring 3.5hr flight, 1hr train, and the 10min tram.

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We were travelling with only our hand-luggage, since we were staying for a romantic long weekend in Belgium, however we were so tired, that these actually seemed to weigh much more than they did.

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Hubby was hungry and I really needed to sit down (and admire Ghent-by-night). As we walked slowly down the main cobbled streets around the Gravensteen, young people and tourists thronged the many small bars and cafes dotting the landscape. Most of these, I was overjoyed to note, sported windows full of a myriad of different types of beers and ciders! What can I say – I simply had to stop for a drink! My other half took the opportunity to buy a cone of the famous Belgian chips, which, placed in (yes) a cone of rolled-up newspaper, seriously rivalled those of Britain… and the sauce! Omg!

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Thirst and hunger appeased, we walked on towards our cozy bed and breakfast. Actually, at that point I did not actually know what to expect from our accomodation. The trip had been a Valentine’s pressie by the hubby, who had arranged everything himself. As we rang the doorbell and waited in the nippy chill (it WAS around 11pm by this time), a sweet eccentric lady opened the glass door for us, while a black and white cat bumped jocosely around her feet. The Lady, we were to learn later, was a live-at-home artist whose Asian-inspired paintings belied the fact that she was a spiritualist and a Buddhist (she was Belgian, but had travelled extensively to Asia). Honestly, I wish I had had the time to strike up a real friendship with her, but we were there to explore Belgium and enjoy the weekend togather after all, not spend the time with our landlady hehe.

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The b&b was simply charming. There were only two rooms to let, and I admit, my love had once again shown he really knew me by choosing the one I would have picked out myself. It was called ‘The Peacock Room’, and it was decorated in a vintage chick style. The color was, of course, peacock blue, and the walls had been painted with a couple of interesting murals by the landlady herself. The double canopy bed was adorned with Chinese lanterns and wind-chimes. There was also an ensuite bathroom and a tiny kitchenette with a well-stocked fridge, and complete with a small collection of quirky teapots!! Cute!

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We were really exhausted at this point, so after a quick shower and some minor unpacking, we went to bed, obviously looking forward to the first day of our stay (as well as the home-made breakfast which the landlady promised to leave outside our door the following morning)!

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… more to come in another post

P.S The photos, of course, are originals and were all taken by me on site.

Missing the cottage… yes more about Ireland ;p

When you live in a European island which is famed for its sun and beaches, where 9 months out of 12 you are sweating in the too-warm temperatures while wearing a sleeveless top and flip flops, and where it has only snowed a couple of times (literally) in the historical memory of the place, going on holiday somewhere in the mountains where the temperature habitually varies between -1.5 and 3.5 degrees celsius on a good day IS A BIG DEAL.

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In all of my life, I have never seen snow yet, not even when abroad more’s the pity – I have never been in extremely cold temperatures, not even when I visited the Dolomite mountains, and I have never been skiing. As an islander who takes hot weather, days at the beach, ice cream, and fun in the sun, as an everyday occurence, I can hardly imagine what living in such weather could be like.

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Right now, anyone reading this who actually does live somewhere cold, must think I’m crazy to want to experience such a thing. But really, I think one of the goals in life is to experience as much as possible, so living somewhere different in different conditions, is for me, something to do at least once.

Although I did not see and feel snow on my face and around me in Ireland this December, it WAS an experience. I literally froze my fingers off at times, still, coming to our rented self-catering cottage in the evenings, lighting the stove, and huddling under the blankets while sipping some hot tea, was awesome in itself. Something I had read about only in novels.

Our cottage was just lovely. Really small – having only one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen, yet totally perfect.

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Here is the link to its page on Tripadvisor – my review is actually still pending as of now, but I guess you might be able to read it at a later date – I left a 5-star rating ofc!

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g212097-d2222755-THE_GRANARY_country_holiday_cottage_with_open_fire_in_Cahir_Ref_8661-Cahir_County_Tipp.html

When the weather is so unkind, finding a little unlooked for friendliness gives one an unconditioned and natural warmth, one which is only to be felt in the heart. We arrived at the cottage on a very cold morning at around 1.30am. We had had no time to buy any food for our breakfast and expected our arrival to be pretty hard, since the owner was leaving us the key in a flower pot near the door. We were so wrong! As we parked, we could see the flickering welcoming light of the stove in the living room and the lampshade near the sofa sending us a cheery light – the owner had prepared them for us to show us the way and keep the place warm.

Also, when we went in, we realized she had left us some home-made scones for our breakfast togather with some butter, jam, tea, coffee, sugar and milk… it felt so good to know that someone cared for us in a country were we did not know anyone! Small touches of welcome and friendship from someone we did not know were so much welcome. 🙂

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