Yesterday, 22nd of September, was car free Sunday: a (mostly) sun drenched day were streets in city centres throughout Flanders and Brussels were cleared and cars were banned. We decided to visit nearby Mechelen, where innovation goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and targets for a better and more liveable future.
As all exploring requires some starter fuel, first stop: the newly opened neighbourhood cafe Grá
Where ‘Grote Markt’ was the place to be for cultural info and activities, ‘Bruul’ showcased police force’s horsepower and ‘Ijzerenleen’ was stage for sportive demonstrations…
Vismarkt and local pub ‘t Ankertje are always a welcome stop if you need to re-fuel again…
And if your energy tank is really low you can always head to the De Vleeshalle food court that opened this year…
Being in the neighbourhood, the Lamot centre housed the Joker Africa travel event that day, and as we will be visiting Western Cape next year, thé place and time to gather some useful info and tips.
And of course, historical buildings à volonté in city centre…
Events like these (mobility, cultural activities, citizen interaction, etc…) fit perfectly into where city sees itself by 2030, comitting to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Recreational domain De Schorre is inevitably linked to Tomorrowland… however, when madness and beats fade, the original function of the area returns: a lush green site where hikers, children, day tourists and locals can exhale and enjoy nature. The 75ha park is also often used for recreational or sportive events. Since last edition of TML some mythical creatures made the domain forest their home: at the request of the festival the Danish artist Thomas Dambo has brought seven giant trolls to life and this using recycled materials.
Together with my friend Kathleen I had a wonderful stroll in the forest, on the hunt for these friendly giants. Ask for a map at the domain’s information point. They are happy to point out the secret locations of the mythical residents, or just let the trail surprise you and discover at own pace…
Located in a former clay pit, the area is now a green oasis of peace and quiet.
With his unique creations the artist hopes to inspire people around the world to recycle and carry our precious planet and nature in their hearts.
Leaving the domain and heading for our on site lunch spot we got treated to yummy surprise gift and totally in line with the green environment: thé most delicious apple tarts, made by local bakery ‘Den oude kneeder’
Third and final part of our Puglia-trip brings us back where we started: to Bari, but not before exploring the region south of it, which is dotted with picturesque towns, inland or seaside, and the oh so typical trulli houses…avanti!
Our first stop after leaving Salento region is Ostuni, nicknamed the white city, wonderful town with lots of dining and strolling options. La città bianca shines in the sun, though that requires its effort: inhabitants are obliged to maintain and re-white yearly…
On route to our lodging for the next two days we passed Monopoli, another stop obligatorio! And as we already discovered earlier on this trip, another town with Greek roots. ‘Monos polis’ means unique and singular and even many centuries later the city still proudly wears this name. Lively atmosphere near seaside and colourful shopping streets, though time pauses and all sounds ebb away when further exploring the tiny city streets…
Time to check out our b&b! Home for these two remaining nights of the trip was the lovely Dei Balzi-Dimore de charme in medieval-vibe town of Conversano… what.a.gem! Both city as the lodging! We had the very spacious suite Lavanda on top floor which comes with room-wide terrace and city views. Yummy breakfast and warm welcome included, what more do you want?
Conversano is about a 15 to 20 minute drive from both Monopoli and Polignano a Mare and an excellent choice if you need a central location to visit the area. On top of that the city on itself with medieval trapezium-shape castle and lovely squares and alleys is worth a visit.
Another highlight, Polignano a Mare, birthplace of the father of Italian singers, Roberto Modugno, and his epic classic ‘Volare’. Dramatic and breathtaking views with the city centre perched on rocky headland overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Lots of viewpoint terraces to admire the caves and creeks carved out into the limestone. Might become bit crowded in tourist season but nevertheless a must ‘sea’ 😉
Last stop of this trip…charming Alberobello: trulli wonderland and inevitably attracting many tourists. Trulli are limestone dry wall and conical-roof houses. The roof is often decorated with, mostly, Christian symbols and sometimes topped with a pinaccolo. The ancient dry stone building technique is characteristic for the Itria Valley region with a very high concentration (around 1500 trulli) here in Alberobello which is listed Unesco World Heritage since 1996. The town is built on two hills and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Tourist shops, trendy bars, etc…can be found in Rione Monti district, however, head to Rione Aia Piccola district if you want to escape the crowds.
Ready for second part of our recent Puglia discoveries? Andiamo!
That means leaving beautiful Bari and Matera and heading towards region around baroque town Lecce.
We stopped around noon in Taranto: industry and port acitivities rule in this city that once was found as a Greek colony and now, at first sight, seems ruled by shipyards and factories…At first sight that is, because when you head for city centre, you’ll get a glimpse of a vibrant city trying to find a balance between its economical character and cultural past.
Highlight definitely is the Aragonese castle: it is located at the turning bridge where old town meets new and where Mare Grande meets Mare Piccolo. Btw, don’t let the industrial aspect fool you, dolphins made the water and islands in the Ionian see facing the city their home and town delicacy are locally-grown mussels.
Time to drive towards Lecce and check in at the Agriturismo we booked ahead and which is located just outside Lecce, in quiet Novoli countryside. We enjoyed three nights at Li Calizzi amidst fruit and olive trees and fully enjoyed the warm welcome and peaceful location. Thumbs up for the lounge and pool area, yummy al fresco dinners and host Ravi!
Time to set our teeth in exploring the region: Lecce lies in Salento, the southern tip of Puglia and just breathes culture. Famous for its ‘Pietra Leccese’, a soft limestone that has a very unique way of reflecting light and gives the local monuments a natural warm glow. Besides the history lots of shops and restaurants and bars.
Another town within easy reach of our accomodation was Brindisi, which can also serve as airport destination when visiting this part of Italy. Again lots of shops and a ‘stroll, explore and enjoy’ destination. Pier side offers multiple fine dining and passeggiata options while admiring the passing yachts, in all sizes!
Highlight, for us, in Salento was trip to nearby Gallipoli, again an acient Greek settlement. Lots of shops and dining facilities and alleys to get lost in, though turquoise water of Ionian Sea is never far off, so perfect town to explore on foot…
…and/or just sit and relax …
You can choose to explore the small alleys of centro storico or do the Riviera walk all way round with picturesque sea views guaranteed. You can gaze at the cathedral or hit the shops and definitely don’t miss Blanc, truly thé most wonderful café & living store and for a wonderful lunch with amazing view head to Il Bastione.
Gallipoli definitely has it all, don’t miss out on this gem!
Join me next time for the final part of our trip where we stayed in Conversano and explored both seaside and Trulli-countryside.
It’s already a month ago that we returned from our Puglia trip and finally found the time to gather some photos for this post. My mind and body often being held prisoner by all the medical stuff going on it sometimes is a struggle to break free from it all and hit that relax button, even on holiday. As much as it is fun and energizing, it also takes away a lot of energy and the backdraft always follows, always.
But, here we are again, slowly and step by step, and kicking off with first part of this Puglia trilogy.
If you’re now trying to locate in your mind where to situate this Italian region, just think of the heel of the ‘imaginary’ boot shape at you’ve found it! Region of ‘masserie, mare, orechiette, trulli, tradizione, tutti sotto il sole italiano’!
We landed in Bari after a short smooth flight, rented a car through Sunny Cars (Kia Stonic, which was ok but hard suspension) and decided to drive to Bari’s city centre before heading to our first real planned stop.
We party-crashed a funky international Volkswagen meeting and were immediately immersed in Bari’s colourful and laid -back style.
And some centro storico exploring of course…
Time to really kick off this trip and get this show on the road! First flagged destination on our route: Matera, which ironically for this trip isn’t in Puglia but in neighbouring Basilicata, however should not be missed when visiting the region. This year being European Capital of Culture is of course an extra bonus.
Matera is best-known for its Sassi, (with Sassi meaning stones) ancient cave-dwellings inhabited since Paleolithic period . Matera is located on top of a canyon, on the other side you will find Parco delle Murgia Materana, ideal for hikes. All along the edges of the ravine you will find caverns and grottoes in the limestone layers.
In 1950s the Italian government due to the unhealthy living conditions decided to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to another nearby city, leaving the caves abandoned and nature taking over…until late 1980s. By then, tourism also started to reach this part of Italy and local authorities promoted the return to caves, financially supported provided that the new owners renovated and made habitable of course. Supported by Unesco and rewarded World Heritage site since 1993 the caves house now private properties, as well as hotels, restaurants, B&B’s, etc. There are guided walks to follow or you can follow an itinerary at your own pace. There are two districts : Sasso Caveoso with the houses caved in the rocks and Sasso Barisano where the houses are built on top of the rocks.
We stayed two nights at Airbnb Le Ferule lying comfortably within a two-minute walk of Sassi entrance. The appartment was very clean, spacious, breakfast goodie basket and fridge filled with refreshments. It had a modern decor so if you want to be kept immersed in the Sassi-feel, then would look for lodging inside Sassi-perimeter, but for us, this was fine. Downsize perhaps was that the terrace looked out on street where three communal garbage containers (for glass etc) were installed and there was always the odd neighbour during our stay dropping glass at 6 am 😉
Ready for some more exploring?
Cobblestones, steps and more steps, not thé most ideal combo when you’re a long time chronic back pain sufferer and MS patient, but hey, we survived ( a lot of resting, gelati and lemon granita!)
Ideal is to stay overnight…when sun sets and temperatures become bearable: enjoy an aperitivo and al fresco dinner followed by the obligatory passeggiata (see and be seen) and admire the wonderful twinkling of warm-coloured lights at one of the viewpoints. So much more relaxing if you know a comfy bed is waiting for you, right?!
Next destination on our trip was Lecce and exploring Salento region, where we were staying three nights in an Agriturismo, so keep your eye out for the next post 😉
Have you already visited Bari and/or Matera? Think both cities have so much more on offer and feel we only scratched the surface, so as always, feel free to comment or add tips!
The art of living a happy, balanced life…they should teach fulltime classes in it…I bet Pascale Naessens would pass all of them with flying colours. For those abroad where the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, she’s the best selling culinairy author in Belgium and for many years has been on a crusade to promote a simple pure lifestyle. Next to pure, simple ingredients and healthy living she’s a passionate ceramics artist, furniture and kitchenware designer and extremely keen on anything outdoors. For almost a year she had set her mind on throwing a huge garden party where all her passions would merge and could inspire others. Partnering up with selected like-minded partners and brands past weekend Kappelen’s Wolvenbos was the perfect green stage to host Pascale & Guests…
together with my friend Kathleen we immersed ourselves in the world according to Pascale…both chronic pain patients we both know how important it is to maintain a healthy body and mindset. We had every fibre, pore, and all our senses open to absorbe the good life…hope below photos give proof we did to the fullest!
Lots of workshops could be followed, some needed pre-registration, some were free accessible like this ceramics try-out…had to post Kathleen’s work of art, mine was a disaster ;-)))
Throughout terrain plenty of cosy corners to relax, follow interesting lectures, have a healthy snack or drink,…
Hoogstraten Belgian tomatoes
Self organic beauty brand
Feeling hungry, time for apero and snack
Stands were implemented into domain with respect for existing green structures and great eye for detail and host and her husband took time to have a chat…
…and if you felt an afternoon nap was necessary after all that fresh outdoor air, nothing beats a Velda bed in open forest, right?!
Biggest wow to us was the ‘Secret Garden’ area, stage for the yoga classes and more zen and nature inspired sessions…we had a relaxing treat in the Rituals corner where hammocks and skilled hostesses awaited us…
Need I say more? We had the most wonderful day and returned home with a big outer and inner smile!
Walking discoverer or discovering walker, call me what you want…always great exploring a familiar city with a new set of eyes. That city is Mechelen, situated south of Antwerp, Belgium, and when I mention ‘guided city tour’ some of you probably start to sigh…now hold it, not just any random dull tour. It’s called the ‘fun tour’ ( plezante wandeling in Dutch) for a reason…
Ferre and Rudi are experienced city guides, when you have been enthusiastically guiding people around for more than 30 years, I think you’ve earned that title, right?! The ‘fun tour’ is normally only open to groups however each year some days are reserved for individuals, as was yesterday evening and together with my friend Birgit I joined in.
In about 2,5 hours Ferre and Rudi take you around their city, with covered distance limited (1,5km). Their approach mixes street theatre, cabaret, poems, jokes and documented stories, everything told/sung in juicy local dialect.
‘As gao paost da dɘ paos an ao paost’ (local dialect, the fun factor would go lost in translation, sorry)
Without giving away too much (in case you want to take part in a tour yourself) you’ll learn more about why St-Rombouts cathedral has darker colour on top, the link between Charles V and pub ‘Den Beer’, the odd sculptures on city hall facade and why locals eat sweet pastry called ‘Astridjes’.
As the charm of the tour consists of the fact of it being in local dialect, it is not offered in English. However, as often, when stepping on foreign soil, some words in local tongue are always appreciated, so start practising 😉 Need help to get familiar with the local sounds and how to keep your driver’s license at the same time? Dialect Mechelen
Did you know there are even special courses to learn the dialect?
How about where you live? Is it encouraged to speak local or regional language?
If you have a bit of interest for arts or some creativity running through your veins this is the place to be: a succesful marriage of heritage and contemporary arts in a breathtaking setting. Art galleries, festivals, shops, musea, amphitheatre, golden masjid, restaurants, planetarium, too much to mention. Do check out their website for upcoming events if you are planning a visit and would definitely advise to spend at least half a day (if not a whole day) there.
In the Centre of Katara you can find Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Subodh Gupta, a series of three sculptures with military headgear. Each piece is made of cooking instruments, used pails, traditional Indian lunch boxes and glass bowls. Together, they recall Gandhi’s famous visual metaphor-the three wise monkeys-representing the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ proverb…
Don’t miss the pigeon towers…Poop collection: smelly(probably) but in this case very attractive(definitely) business and another win(g)k to the region’s cultural history. Like in most Middle-Eastern countries, in the past, pigeon’s poop was considered liquid gold as its composition made it an excellent fertilizer.
scyscrapers: tall, taller, tallest
You can find the tallest building in Doha in the Aspire Zone. 300m high this one offers 360-degree panoramic views and a cantilevered pool on the 19th floor in case you want to find out what it feels like to float 80m above ground.
‘Sometimes you gotta zig when eyeryone else is zagging…’
…One (there are two of them) of the ‘Zigzag towers’, or dancing towers. Close to our hotel and Lagoona mall.
Highest and most colourful towers can be found in West Bay area and can best be observed from the water, during a typical dhow boat cruise.
‘all that glitters is not gold…’
Without any doubt jaw-dropping infrastructures, the more reason the extremely dangerous conditions the builders work in and their ridiculously low pay should continue to be brought under attention.
show me your green (and blue) zones
Did you think Doha was only sand? Well Qatar definitely is but its capital tries very hard not to be. The city focusses on implementing green zones with a versatile function: playgrounds for children, picnic areas, green hills, tracks for joggers or cyclists, etc…
Where Aspire Park is Doha’s biggest park (and next to Aspire Zone’s Stadium and Villaggio Mall shopping complex) and has plenty of green zones and even an artificial lake, it is its vastness that may effect the ‘cosy-factor’. All depends on your personal interests. We were rather fond of the Al Bidda Park and walkway. After our visit of MIA (see part 1) we walked part of the Corniche and Corniche Park (7 km waterfront promenade and green zone offering Doha Bay vues) upto Firestation, a creative hub and great place to have lunch. They offer residency projects for upcoming artists. From there we did the walk back to old city centre through Al-Bidda park which runs pretty much parallel with the Corniche.
The Pearl monument and fountain can be found on the Corniche at the entrance of the dhow harbour. Where Qatar nowadays gets its wealth from oil and gas, it used to be from pearl diving and fishing industry.
More green? MIA Park, Dahl Al Hammam Park, Oxygen Park, hotel parks and many more…
and yes, if you insist, some sand too…
From Doha a short drive to Al Wakrah and then further inland plenty of sand dunes await. We drove in the dunes behind Sealine Beach. If you want to go dune bashing yourself and you are not familiar hire an experienced driver (safety first, always) and avoid weekends. Fun road side distraction: camel rides, falcon tête-à-tête and photo opportunities.
Both Sealine Resort and Al Wakrah souq definitely worth a stop, only make sure your visit does not overlap the souq shops’ closing time early afternoon as we found place rather desolated then.
Since early May 2019 Al Wakrah and Doha city centre are connected through red metro line which will make travel between them a lot easier. This is the first line implemented, three more planned to become operational.
Skipped due to lack of time but still on our to do list for when second time around:
visit State Grand Mosque
visit the planetarium at Katara
inland sea Khor Al Adaid
National Museum (that officially opened just after we left)
Banana Island Resort
Al Shaqab tour – breeding and training centre Arabian horses
Like I said in the intro of my first post, Doha, and Qatar in general, has probably not highlighted (yet) on your travel radar and yet it should…though you will find numerous articles telling you there is not that much to see or do, I strongly disagree and hope both my posts helped showing that.
Some practical info:
Doha is the capital of Qatar, located on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with only one country, Saudi Arabia.
Time to go: November upto March (too hot and too humid outside this period)
Currency: Qatari Riyal
Language: Arabic is official language but most people speak English.
We flew Qatar Airways and thumbs up on all levels. Taxi is fastest way to reach city centre. We always used Karwa Taxi and found them reliable and cheap.
Doha is not exactly pedestrian-friendly, so be careful when crossing the street.
The implementation of the state of the art metro system will be a huge jump forward when it comes to connectivity. And of course looking towards FIFA World Cup 2022 all stadiums will be linked.
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha, close to Katara and The Pearl. Luxurious rooms with large balcony and a great pool area. One of the capital’s top Thai restaurants, Isaan, is located in the hotel. You can opt for breakfast in the hotel or go to opposite Lagoona Shopping Mall for a quick snack or to get your daily supply on fresh fruits or snacks.
As for food and drinks, know that the only place you can drink or buy alcohol in public is in five star hotels (except Ramadan) and it is very expensive. Opt for one of the tasty mocktails, you won’t regret it. Foodwise, the world will come to your plate, no worries. The choice in restaurants and world cuisine is endless: Armenian, Lebanese, Thai, Italian, Turkish, Persian,…
When I told people a few months ago we were going to Doha, some eyebrows were raised and deep think wrinkles appeared…eeeuuuhm, yes, Doha…and where’s that exactly??? Indeed Doha is not on the average tourist’s travel radar…local tourist board and Qatar Airways have been investing heavily past years as passengers in transit with more than five hours to spend are offered a city tour. However Doha, capital of the richest country in the world, is well worth a full trip on its own with lots of cultural highlights and must sees.
In case you are wondering how Doha lighted up on our travel radar, well I’m lucky to have family living and working all over the world and one of them happens to be a pilot for Qatar Airways. This was a family reunion visit and a heart-warming and very much enjoyable escape to the sun, in what was at that time full Winter season in Belgium (we went early February). The warm embrace of family and an inspiring culture…thé best combination!
Need inspiration yourself or an excuse to plan a trip to the Middle East? Do foreign cultures trigger your enthusiasm to explore? Continue reading to find some top excuses for a trip to Doha!
Excellent as early Spring or Fall break and sun guaranteed!
With temperatures around 25 degrees Celcius, Doha is a great travel destination to plan somewhere between November and end of March. ( too hot and too humid outside this period) Don’t forget to bring a sweater as temperature drops quickly when sun sets and especially near the coastline where there’s always some wind it can become rather chilly.
Ok, enough talking, who wants to see some photos?
Join me in some of what we considered some of the highlights of our trip:
No better place to mingle with the locals and absorb the endless array of flavours and colours! Perfect for souvenir hunting (don’t forget to bargain!) or sit with a cup of coffee or mocktail of your choice and watch the world go by. Plenty of restaurants for lunch or dinner. (as for the mocktails a whole new world opened up: the choice and the powerful flavours make you forget about the no-alcohol rules, I swear) If you are the ‘shop-stroll-sit-absorb-eat-relax-taking your time type’ expect to spend a full day here or like we did a half one and returned for another half. The outdoor part still gives you a sense of direction where the indoor part leads you into a labyrinth where you’ll find everyhing from textile to food, decoration, animals, etc…
Explore The Pearl (incl Porto Arabia and Venice-like Qanat Quartier)
Big, bigger, high, higher, shiny, more shiny, luxurious and then think over-the-top…the world is not enough when it comes to the Pearl. Does it feel artificial? Yes well, let’s not forget it is indeed an actual man-made island!
Explore QQ (Quartier Qanat) on foot or by boat. Try to avoid Fridays and Saturdays, these are the weekend days in Doha and found the Quarter just a bit too desolated then.
And don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the beautiful bronze horse sculpture at the Kempinski hotel. It is designed by a Doha-based Iraqi artist to honour the tradition and cultural importance of the Arabian horses. Not hard to believe it took more than four weeks to install because it weighs over 45t and is almost 60ft tall! If you have the time and/or money to step inside (the hotel, I mean, not the horse) an additional world of heritage and Arabian culture will open up as the interior is said to be absolutely stunning!
MIA, Museum of Islamic Art
As a museum it represents Islamic art from three continents and this over a time period of 1400 years. Admission is free (!) and must say as a non-museum person it is worth the visit, if not for the collections ( beautiful ceramics, sculptures,etc…), then go for the unique architecture and location of the museum itself! Or just relax and have a drink by the stunning ceiling-high window and admire the view on the Gulf and West Bay area. The oculus all the way in the top catches the light which is then diffused by the perforated chandeliers. Unfortunately I am not such a gifted photographer that I can register with my camera the magic and beauty that unfolds before my eyes, though do hope the below shots give a hint….You can find MIA at the end/Beginning of so-called Corniche (Waterfront) and near Souq Waqif so you can easily combine these.
Catch your breath and have it taken away at the same time…
(one of the slogans strolling through the Qatar Airways on-flight tourism commercials. At our outbound flight I was sceptic, later I knew better…)
Join me next time when I tell you more about the Corniche stroll (that is the waterfront walkpath), Katara Cultural village, and some more fun involving sand and a camel. Did I mention we were only 6 days in Doha? Ha, bet you didn’t think there was that much to see and do, right?!
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha which I can highly recommend, it is close to The Pearl and Katara Cultural Village. More on the practical stuff to follow with second post.