About our drive:
As Paul noted earlier, Belgium is quite dense and signs not well posted. We have learned that it is better to continue to drive around a roundabout until you can figure out which road to take toward your destination. On a much larger scale are "rings", basically of which are roundabouts that encircle the city center.
Leaving our West Flanders farm stay in Waterland-Oudeman, we decided to by pass Ghent in the attempt to avoid traffic. Of course, we did not heed our new-found knowledge to stick to the "ring" and instead ended up somewhere in the city center. Without GPS or even the dashboard console indicating directions (it's been raining so we can't always determine the placement of the sun), we are at the mercy of our gut instinct (or gravity, whichever it may be). Basically the attempt is to shoot the car in a forward direction- not always possible because old city centers are not on a grid - the thinking being, of course, that eventually we would shoot out the other end. Somehow we found one of the routes out and off we go.
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Many small towns & villages, meandering through until you reach the other side; what was supposed to be a 2.5 hour trip took about 5. Oh, well. No worries. Beautiful countryside, crazy routes, many wrong turns - or maybe all the correct turns 'cause here I sit writing from our lovely studio with a view of the church as it gently rains through the window sipping a Belgium beer.
When we arrived at Celinies', our hosts were not home but a quick phone call and our host responded where to find the key. A half hour later, Ben arrived home from picking up his three daughters from school and we had a very nice chat-both Celinie and Ben are teachers. I asked where a laundromat was as our clothes stunk of cigarette smoke from our previous stay. He generously offered their washer and dryer. After acclimating to our surroundings, P and I went for a stroll on one of the many marked trails for walking/biking to Weillen. Afterwards, we were very happy to have our own prepared food - big salad.
The apartment we are staying in is designed very aesthetically, making use of little space. The stairs up to the loft are a bit steep and a little unnerving in the middle of the night. In the bedroom loft they have a bookshelf full of various hard cover graphic novel series - in French - but we need to check them out.
The next day it was raining. After a late start (10 AM) we drove to Dinant, home of the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax and some very impressive medieval castles and fortress on the hill above the bluffs lining the river. We strolled along the lovely river walk but, getting disgusted by dodging the dog waste landmined turds along the cobblestones, we headed to the two streets inland from the river bank to stroll back to the bridge. Unfortunately we are a little early for the tourist season so we are missing out on some interesting exhibits, including Pataphonie with homegrown instruments and an opportunity to create your own music (it was booked for school tours). We stopped at a patisserie for some excellent coffee and two custard filled pastries then across the river and up to the Leffe monastery/brewery museum for a tour
We headed back across the river to a small produce market with some wonderful vegetables (we made a pasta dish with yummy white asparagas, zucchini, onion and garlic) and then to a supermarket to scope out local biers (the two local microbreweries are only open for tours on the weekend, after we have moved on). Back to our apartment, a yummy meal and some delicious Belgium beers. The rain has picked up again so we won't take an evening constitutional.
The next rainy morning we took a fair amount of time researching local hikes to take. It is a little harder when little is written in English and Jo's French classes were over thirty years ago (Paul took French for about a month when he was 12). Typing in phrases from brochures (not available online) into Google Translate is a bit laborious.
After quite some staring at maps/brochures/websites, we had a general plan of action. Our first stop was only a few kilometers away near Falaën for a little walk that started at a wayside shrine (complete with pictures from Lourdes), around and through the town past an old chateau of someone who obviously controlled the entire area sometime a few centuries ago and past a century that, though appearing to be very old didn't have any gravesites from prior to WWI.
Then we drove a few more kilometers to Sosoye to try to find another marked hike. Driving up a rather rugged gravel road with a low-clearance rental car we decided to turn around and head to Maredsous Abbey. We parked in one of five parking lots (none were full as the season doesn't start till July) and walked about trying to read the signs in Dutch and French ("Welcome to Maredsous Abbey" was the only English we saw). It seemed a bit like the Disneyland of religious orders.
There was a very large complex with a college, church, art studio, monastery and guest center. The only things open to the public were the cathedral and guest center. Bilingual tours were available for a fee but English wasn't one of the linguas so we wandered around a bit and went into the church which featured several wonderful modernist devotional paintings. A monk or three was working on the organ repertory which added to the atmosphere.
Then up to Le centre d’accueil St Joseph - many tables for eating, two cafeterias, a gift shop, a media center and, of course, registration to sign up (and pay for) guided tours. We ordered samples of cheese, sausage and beer. The young woman plopped down a small bit of sausage on a napkin, poured two beers into chipped ceramic mugs (all other times we've experienced beers poured into special glasses designed for each beer), and a slab of cheese was undecoriously handed to us on a thin, small "cutting board" with a plastic knife and four toothpicks stuck in it. So much for the celebration of the Lord's work in the gustatory plane! The sausage and cheese were quite good in spite of the callous disregard for the food and guests demonstrated by the server, and Maredsous is a fine beer, but we left totally unsated; definitely not moved by the holy spirit of biere. We drove off in search of a proper pub for lunch and a respectfully served beer. Driving along a river we spied castle ruins and climbed long stairs up a hill to an old railroad bed that is used for railbikes.
A little further drive we stopped in Anhée at Le Grand Cafe which, it turns out, only serves great beer but we were directed to a nearby pâtisserie for a very large half-baguette ham and cheese sandwich. We also picked up a yummy creme-filled cornet. Back to the "cafe" for a couple of beers (the bartender tried his best in French to discourage Paul from ordering a cherry-flavored Kriek as it is seen as more of a women's drink). Back into Dinant for a trip to the grocery store for supplies; complete with a nice moment where a French-speaking man demonstrated the bread-slicing machine for us so we didn't slice off our fingers. The weather was wet the whole time we were here and we were too early in the season for some of the more interesting exhibitions but we really enjoyed our apartment, it is beautiful here and quite relaxed.