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.
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!
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?
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.
Time to wrap up the Valletta series! In this third and final post you can follow in our footsteps, or wheels, as I take you around a Three Cities tour and more extensive visit of Birgu/Vittoriosa, so buckle up, we’re off!
‘The Three Cities’ is a general description of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. With Birgu the oldest one, existing since the Middle Ages, the other two cities, Senglea and Cospicua, were both founded by the Order of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each city goes by two or more names, the one before or after the Great Siege.
It’s day four of our Valletta trip and though our Airbnb is located in Birgu/Vittoriosa we still haven’t actually explored this side of the water. To cover all three cities, four if you include Kalkara, by foot would take us too much time and kill my back so we hired some wheels to the rescue…not just a car…you can drive that at home too, right?! We went for a Rolling Geeks ride. A cool (bottled water inclusive) and relaxed (just enjoy the ride) way to explore…Think a pimped golf cart and you kinda get the picture…Belgian owner Kris or associate are around to give you detailed info on what to expect: basically you drive your own electric funky car, there’s a pre-programmed gps, language of your choice and your on-board gps tourist guide tells you where to stop, get out, admire the view and all relevant historic details.
In about two and a half hours the tour takes you on a 17km ride from Birgu Waterfront to Kalkara, Senglea/Isla and Cospicua/Bormla. There’s enough time to take a stop and have a (non-alcoholic) drink (remember you’re driving) and if you should take a wrong turn, the gps corrects and Big Brother Kris and team are also tracking you…only seconds after your wrong turn you will get a call guiding you quickly and safely back on track. It’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road…but you absolutely want to take selfies during the tour? No problem, the built-in camera does that for you…cool, right?! Enough talking, what do you get to see on this tour?
Kalkara Film Studios
Malta forms perfect decor for many movies and its versatily is a great asset. Even when movie plot shows a completely other city, it may well be filmed in Malta…large parts of the movie ‘Munich’ for example were actually filmed at various locations on the island, standing in for scenes in the movie that play in Tel Aviv, the West Bank, Beirut, Cyprus, Spain, Athens and Rome! Want to keep track of the filming tours or upcoming projects, then keep an eye on Malta Film Tours
From Senglea and its viewpoint Il-Gardjola you get wonderful vistas on the harbour and Fort Sant Angelo.
The tour also brings you to the Cottonera Lines, a massive construction of fortifications, built in 17th century, with major aim to protect the Three Cities. The British later on expanded with Fort Verdala. What used to be fort barracks are now houses and apartments.
Fort Verdala-Cottonera Lines
Further on the route: plenty of picturesque and colourful buildings…
The tour ends where started: at Vittoriosa/Birgu Waterfront…time for that drink now, what do you think?!
We filled the rest of our day strolling through Birgu and Cospicua…
Before Valletta was the island’s capital, Mdina was…and before Mdina, Birgu was…The Knights of St John renamed it ‘Cittá Vittoriosa’, meaning ‘the victorious city’. These days this is shortened to ‘Vittoriosa’.
Our strolls were followed by a little dghasja harbour cruise to get in those phenomenal views from the water, and to be honest, to cool down too…when temperatures are high nothing beats the sound of splashing water and wind in the hairs!
View on Gardjola Senglea
Monument at Lower Barrakka Gardens
All now left to end this perfect day is an evening stroll down the Waterfront admiring the yachts and a delicious ‘dinner with a view’ as day slowly twinkles into night…
The final day of our trip, well half a day, left us just enough time to join a historic re-enactment group as Fort St Angelo stepped back in time to when it was under French occupation….
The central location of the medieval fort in the Grand Harbour offers spectacular views and was in history of extremely strategic interest. It played an important role during the Grand Siege and was headquarters to the Grand Master of the Order. According to legend it is built on site of a fortified Roman settlement.
Such fun watching those ‘soldiers’, ‘salesmen and women’ marching towards the Fort…though in that heat in full gear and costume…you must admire their passion…
All work and no play?? Euuh, obviously not always…
Don’t shoot me but I’m not a musea person, no matter the subject…can’t help it…However, I know what I like and don’t like: I like admiring buildings and can appreciate architecture whether modern or historical, I like colours and patterns, texture and there has to be that wild card that ignites the fantasy. Pull the objects out of a building, place them in nature or outside somewhere and you’ll have my attention.
Our recent trip to Ostend, Queen of Belgian seaside resorts, rewarded us with ‘open-fresh (though my husband persisted ‘cold’) air’ artworks to admire when strolling through town.
Beaufort is a triennial art project that extends along the entire Belgian coastline covering 15 resorts each having their own identity. It is a project that was first launched in 2003 in which the sea very often plays the main role. Furthermore every participating artist comes from a country that borders on the sea.
In Ostend there are three different Beaufort-artworks to discover however during our walk on the western strekdam we stumbled onto the Monument for a Wullok by Stief Desmet. A wullok always holds some kind a magic and as a kid holding it to your ear, thinking you could hear the sea and what lied beyond…wow…however some things stay secret and magical, reason for the artist to return the bronze sculpture to the sea and let time, the salty air and sand transform it.
Together with the Beaufort art project Ostend is also home to the Crystal Ship open-air art exhibition. An international group of visual artists (more than 50) transform existing structures with their creative interventions and murals. In this concept of ‘public street art festival’ it is the largest one in Europe!
This visit our eye fell on the works of Telmo&Miel at Nieuwpoortsesteenweg.
Even without big events or festivals like these, Belgian seaside always has something to offer to please the eye if you would ever get bored of wave or people watching…
The picturesque ‘Duinenkerkje’ at Mariakerke/Ostend is the final rest place for painter Ensor where he lies peacefully…altough…surrounded by lively sheep and a colourful rabbit…
And in neighbouring De Haan some beautiful romantic sculptures keep you company on your evening walk…
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
One month ago one of March’s beautiful spring weekends led us to Belgian Voer-region and Dutch city Maastricht. A perfect combination: countryside and city, best of both worlds…You could already read all about our discoveries in Voer here Welcome in the Voer region…but I still owed you some Maastricht tales and photos…
Maastricht lies at the crossroads of the three countries that together make up the Euregion Meuse-Rhine with ‘Maas’tricht itself lies at river Meuse.
We stayed in Townhouse Hotel located in Wyck-district near city station and it offers warm hospitality and coziness in a modern decor.
A very special thanks to the hotel helpful hotel staff as during our stay my husband got sick and we were forced to stay longer…not a punishment for me, but sadly no romantic weekend as he experienced most of Maastricht out of his room😟
Mainly just me therefore exploring the city, so do keep me company and join me on this little stroll!
Maastricht is often described as one of the most romantic cities of the Netherlands offering a wonderful variety with quaint historical districts, art, history, culture, gastronomy and calm green surroundings. What’s not to like?
The Wyck-district, where we were staying is linked with Maastricht’s city centre through the ‘Sint-Servaasbrug’ and is therefore frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists.
If your mind is set on shopping, Maastricht definitely is the right place: hip and vintage in Wyck, multi-brand shopping centers Mosae Forum and Entre Deux in city centre and the more posh boutiques in ‘Stokstaartkwartier’ ánd always open on Sundays!
Paradis de Clayre
Wanderlust in Wyck
royal warrant holder, delicious coffees and teas
Maison de Clayre
wooden robot and other toys and gifts in Wanderlust, Wyck
Entre Deux shopping centre
Shopping makes hungry, right?!
tasty B.L.T. bagel Wycker Cabinet
‘t Wycker Cabinet
Maastricht houses one of Holland’s most unique bookstores, being located in a former church ‘Boekhandel Dominicanen’ offers an enormous collection of books with a view, oh and yummy coffee and sweets in the inside shop!
book store Dominicanen
up, up, look up!
Maastricht is also one of the oldest cities of Holland: Saint Peter’s caves and fortress, the casemates, stone wall…all still prominent witnesses of Maastricht’s prominent place in history. One place in particular that you just have to visit when inside city centre is ‘het Vrijthof’. This large square has attracted people since medieval times when pilgrims came to see the grave of Saint Servatius, lying in the Basilica carrying his name. These days, Vrijthof is also known for its many outdoor cafés and frequent events.
At ‘De Bisschopsmolen’, a bakery in a restored watermill, they are justly proud of their craftmanship and working with natural products and simple processes.
After visiting the mill, do take a further stroll in the Jeker-district, Jeker being a small stream, flowing into the Maas here in the city. Explore Helpoort, the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands, and the characterful surrounding streets.
One of Lisbon’s many jewels, Belém lies peacefully, well if you ignore the tourists, alongside Tagus river…how different it must have been during the Age of Discovery with explorers impatiently embarking onto their long voyages to unknown destinations and adventures, and with it the booming trade bringing the world to Belém…
No exploring on an empty stomach…skipping this bakery and their well-known pastéis would be a capital crime! Pastéis de nata exist all over the world, only these ones, manufactured following an old, and till today, secret recipe from the monastery can be called ‘pastéis de Belém’…did you know that according to Portugese tradition a bride who eats a pastéis will never take off her ring?!
Undisputed leader when it comes to tourist queues…the Unesco-listed monastery, but so worth it! Built for the glory of God, king Manuel I and explorer Vasco da Gama this spectacular building shows an exuberant mix of styles, mixing religious, gothic and manueline/maritime elements. Construction took almost a century and it was built on the site, so the story goes, where Vasco da Gama took off on his voyage to India in 1497. Monks of the St Jerome order provided spirital guidance to all explorers following da Gama’s footsteps and adventures linking the monastery forever to Portugese maritime history…seems only right then that both king Manuel I and Vasco da Gama found their final resting place here where it all began.
Fantastic beasts and where to find them…a place for spiritual guidance and fantasy…
But it’s still a monastery…
Another Unesco monument, Torre de Belém was built to keep port entrance safe and most often it was the last building of their homeland the explorers saw for many, many months or years sailing off. Originally standing in the centre of the Tejo estuary the flow changes made the fortress stand on the river bank now, making it more accessible.
From Torre de Belém a pleasant riverbank walk leads to Padrao dos Descobrimentos…
Designed as a caravel overlooking the sea with Henry the navigator in its prow, this concrete structure was built to mark the 500-year-death of said navigator. Actually it was re-built as another version made of wood and iron in 1940 already existed as part of the Portugese World Exhibition.
Both ramps together show 32 figures that have put their mark some way or another during the Age of Discovery, think cartographers, navigators, warriors, artists, etc…
Many more interesting things to see and do in Belém of course…just check tourist office for more info!
As for accessability, from city centre just take tram or train, our Airbnb Inglesinhas 5 being located close to Cais do Sodre station, train was a fast and easy option.
This weekend Antwerp’s hip and trendy ‘Eilandje’ neighbourhood offered thé perfect and sunny scenery for the 10th edition of the Water-rAnt festival. The city’s oldest docks welcomed around 115 historical ships and put nautical heritage and tradition in the spotlight.
Highlights: the 2km stroll along the historical vessels, some of them open to board and explore, tours with old steam tugs or other historical ships, ambiance à volonté and couleur locale, musical performances, demonstrations and no festival without food stands of course!
MAS museum centerpoint and in full glory and for once maybe could be re-named MASt
Inhaling life on the water makes hungry as a horse, no worries, different food stands kept every wannabe sailor satisfied, think oysters, mussels, sea food platters, smoked eel and lots of sweet treats and drinks of course.
Not just an ordinary street band, contagious enthusiasm, happy vibes and funky beats are their trademark, with success, resulting in lots of cheers and smiling faces!
Draft horses and their ability to pull weight up to 3 ton each were an enormous asset in port’s history. Belgian heavy horses are among the strongest of the heavy breeds. You can still spot these power beauties when making a city tour with the horse-drawn streetcar. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are well taken care of and get to drink regularly. The way our driver spoke about his beauties showed his passion and love for them.
The new ‘Londenbrug’ bridge opens up to welcome sailing boats and yachts into the inner docks and offers open view on Port Authority house, one of the last completed designs by Zaha Hadid.
Did I awaken some nautical vibes with you? See you next year then or check the eventspage below to find future interesting festivities!
The so called Swan Markets, regularly held in the Netherlands and Belgium offer starting entrepreneurs a platform and chance to showcase their craftsmanship and creative skills on a larger scale as it usually attracts a very large crowd. As was also the case last Sunday in Antwerp where the ‘Grote Markt’ and sunny weather formed an excellent décor for this lively market.
Handmade jewels, fashion accessories, home deco and lifestyle items, modern or vintage…whatever your preference or style, there’s something to be found for every person and budget. Letting my eyes wander over the colourful, detailed pieces and products created with passion made my heart jump! And then I didn’t even mention the extremely tempting smells coming from the different food trucks, taking you on a world journey with oriental flavours, U.K. Fudge, American style BBQ, oysters, pancakes,…
Enough written, some impressions…
I must admit I have a terrible weakness for scarves…luckily Spicy Scarves Amsterdam has just the cure! Double or three layered and all handmade! Depending on your mood or the season you can go for the colourful ones or more toned down, sportive or sophisticated, believe me, very hard to choose! I met Waheeda, the lovely lady in the photo and creative brain behind the brand, during our trip to The Hague last week where she has a shop at the pier in Scheveningen,…if a trip to Holland is not scheduled in your near future travel plans, do re-consider, or just visit their webshop of course!
Buying a This is Liger t-shirt will guarantee you a very unique piece of garment. Each year six visual artists are asked to team up with the brand, each artist designs a limited edition of only 360 pieces. You can find the unique number on the shirt, the designs are all very cool, couldn’t resist so bought one for our son.
Plants and flowers run through Stefanie’s veins, not only hers but also her family’s and this for already four generations and going. With her plant caravan she brings all that is lively and green to you or to markets like this one.
oh, and never ever throw away again your old toilet 😉
With the colourful scarves of ‘Sjaal met Verhaal’ you do not only end up with a quality scarf, as the name suggests, there is a bigger and warm story behind it: buying here means supporting women entrepreneurs and projects in Nepal and Thailand, securing a job and an income for several locals. Do check out their website, support their project and get yourself a lovely handmade scarf!
Who doesn’t like candy?! However, over the years the word has gotten such a bad connotation…Tante Toos to the rescue, all sweets are pure fruit, pure flavour, all paleo and often vegan and raw too…no obscure additives, these fruit ‘mats’ only contain pure fruit and some herbs and are then rolled like a yoga mat…they come in different flavours: raspberry, strawberry, applepie, mango and forest fruit. Store them in a closed container up to six months,…though I doubt you’ll have them that long! I tasted the raspberry and applepie and oh my, though as thin as a slice of paper it is truly a full explosion of freshly baken homemade applepie! Fun and original way too to finish off or decorate a homemade dessert…