Friday, December 12, 2014

The Longest Tram Line in the World: Belgium

This is still the "last trick" of 2014, going backwards in time from our 4-day trip to Belgium at the end of November.  In the last post I showed our stop in Veere, NL, on our way home, December 1.

Today's post is what we did Sunday, November 30, celebrating our 7th year of meeting on the internet, via our Shutterchance photography blog.  Has it really been 7 years?!

One of Astrid's co-workers told her about the tram line the full length of Belgium's coastline.  And since we were staying in Ostend, around midway on the coast, we both got very excited about spending a day on the tram, getting on and off wherever we wished.

The Coastal Tram, as it's called, is 42 miles long with 70 stops, making it the longest in the world.
Since we started in Ostend, we first went south to De Panne, near the French border,
and then back all the way north to Knokke-Heist, near the Dutch border,
then back south to Ostend, making the full trip up-n-down in one day.
(image from Wiki)

And it cost only €5 each for that entire day!

We started at the Marie-Joséplein tram stop in Ostend around 10:15 a.m. that Sunday,
just a 5-minute walk from our hotel, on a very foggy day.

Disclaimer:  some of the following images may be hampered because of the fog or moving tram!

I knew we'd see the North Sea, of course, but had no clue about anything else.
The architecture was just astounding along the entire coast, and still building.
Astrid says the English and the Germans in particular come to vacation here.

I grabbed whatever churches I could get along the way... well as these 5 water towers.
The Dutch aren't the only ones who build these magnificent water structures!

We figured we'd have a hot-chocolate break in De Panne at the southern-most stop,
which we did, right on the coast.  That's a Belgium waffle, yes.  We're not dumb.

Little did we know that at that exact time, the 19th Panne Beach Endurance international bike race
was happening!  Talk about serendipity!  It was our biggest surprise of the day.

So, both before and after lunch, we were spectators of the 1000 plus participants,
at the starting line of their 52 km endurance ride.
A real beach race over one distance, a struggle against nature and against yourself.

Are you ready for the race of your life?  We were all waiting.

Finally, they started coming, gaining speed to climb the ramp...

...over which they would then hit the quagmire of loose sand before riding the beach.

While many sailed through with flying colors, many others didn't.

Once they saw the water, I bet they thought they were home free, almost before they started!

But of course, they still had miles to go!

Here's where I was standing most of the time, seeing mishaps and all.
You can actually see Astrid at the end on the right, crouched down in the crowd (red coat).

 Back in the tram again, heading north to Knokke, we enjoyed the Ostend sights as we passed by.
We had already seen many of them on foot the previous two days (a later post).

It would have been fun to get off at many of the tram stops, of course.
But the purpose of the day was to get off at the "bottom" and the "top" only,
and just look at everything else while passing by.

Speaking of which, we did see all kinds of fun things (besides sand dunes, of course).

You could spend much longer than a day on this tram to see everything.
And yes, that's a windmill (bottom-left) and my one weathervane of the day (upper-right)!

All along the way we had looked to see where we might stop for our anniversary dinner.
At the end of the line in Knokke, we switched trams and started back down the coast.

We had picked the Blankenberge Pier once we passed it going north!

The present Blankenberge Pier was built in 1933, crossing 350 meters into the North Sea.
(The original pier built in 1894 was destroyed by the Germans during WWI.)
The pier is now a leisure complex with several catering businesses, an auditorium and exhibition space.

And that's where we chose to eat our anniversary meal.  How exotic!

Besides choosing the local Blankenberge beer,
we noticed they had spaghetti carbonara on the menu.
Have you ever seen it served with a raw egg like that?
Hands down, it was the best carbonara either one of us had ever eaten.
And the pork dish suited it well (we always share, remember).

By then the daylight was "setting," with the fog ever-present as we left.

What a way to end the day, get back on the tram and go home.
Look at Astrid's sheepish grin.  We had the time of our lives.

It really doesn't get much better than this, Folks.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Veere, NL: The Last "Trick" of 2014

Hold that thought, which I'll explain at the end.

Most of you know that the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November is my hardest time to be away from family.  The way we've ended up "fixing" that is by Astrid taking that Friday off and having a long weekend to do something.  Besides, November 30th is the anniversary of our first meet-up in real life (2007), and December 5 (tomorrow) is the anniversary of when I moved to the Netherlands, on Sinterklaas (2009).

It's a good weekend to celebrate many things!

So, we decided to go to the Christmas market in Bruges, Belgium!  Lucky for us, Astrid found a 4-day, 3-night hotel (with breakfast) in Ostend, on the Belgium coast, 30 minutes west of Bruges...for a total of €154.  It was too good to be true.

But this post isn't about that.  This is about the day, Monday (yes, just 3 days ago), when we drove home and stopped in Veere, NL, in Zeeland Province.  I'm starting at the end, yes.

As we left Belgium, Astrid spotted the Kim Clijsters website advert (any tennis fans?).
And as we drove into the Netherlands from Holland, a windmill welcomed us HOME.

 Driving into Veere, our side-trip of the day, we came in and went out past this Grote Kerk from 1450,
in the middle of "rehabilitation."  We didn't even try to go inside.

We didn't want to stay long, eager to get home, but we wanted to get a feel for this small harbor city,
starting with the Tower from the sixteenth century, which once serviced as an Inn and coastal lighthouse. 
 It is now one of the oldest still-existing hostels in the Netherlands.

 It was freezing cold as we walked around the harbor.
It felt like winter weather had finally come to our part of the world!

We both had to "use the facility," so we stopped to eat at the Peter Bliek café.
Warm beenham sandwiches with hot latte macchiatos...just what the doctor ordered.

Then we went strolling around to see the magic.
This is the city hall from the 15th century,
whose carillon has been voted one of the prettiest in the Netherlands.

 Talk about charm oozing everywhere!

I "collected" the gable stones I found, of course.

And the weathervanes.  How could I resist!

After all that, we were back on our way home....

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Okay, now back to the last trick of the year!

A few of you know that I will have a left-knee replacement, scheduled for January 8th, allowing a full year's recovery (24 physical-therapy sessions) on my deductible (I'm not stupid).  It started with a volleyball injury back in 1971.  Two surgeries later, without any cartilage left, bone on arthritic get the picture.  It finally cried "UNCLE!"  Enough is enough.

So, we don't plan any other tricks trips for awhile, until I'm up and at it after the surgery.  The holidays are upon us, with miles to go before the end of the year.

In the meantime, I'll get three more posts done on the Belgium part of our wonderful long-weekend away:  Oostende/Ostend, Brugge/Bruges, and the longest tram ride in the world.  

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our Sister City, Woudrichem, NL

While my American family and friends prepare for the big Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, and our European Christmas markets simultaneously get ready to open....

Here's what Astrid and I did last Saturday when Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands, letting all the Children know he'll see them on December 5!

For one thing, we needed more flour for Astrid's bread machine and cornmeal for my cornbread (from the windmill in Woudrichem).  So it was the perfect day to take the ferry across the river to see our Sister City.  We were there in August, remember?

It's only a hop, skip and a jump from our apartment to our Merwede riverfront where we catch the ferry.
 By now, most of this should look familiar to you, yes?

Because we got there in plenty of time, we had a chance to see Mr. Cormorant drying off his wings.
It made an easy photo op because he stayed out-stretched for what seemed like forever.

Once on the ferry, it was good to look back on our own city, Gorinchem, with her beautiful landmarks,
while across the river we saw our sister waving to us (middle center and bottom).

There she is, Woudrichem, as seen from the river entrance.

We've really grown to love this city.  After all, she's family!

Immediately we headed off to the windmill, for two reasons...
to get our flours and to have a nice koffie break in the bunker café below.

We were too early in August when we wanted to check it out...De Kruitkelder.
This time we intended to have lunch there but during the winter months, they only serve koffie...
and all kinds of goodies, like these Woudrichem slof rolls.

With that extra energy, we then slowly walked to a new place for lunch,
catching some of the sights along the way (this team was there before and after!).

Woudrichem is a harbor city, like Gorinchem, oozing with charm.
Can you tell which boat was my favorite?  HA!

You almost forget you're going for lunch when you walk in such places.

Guess where we ate lunch?  Who knew it was a restaurant!
After all these times of seeing this place near the salmon boats, we finally got to go there.

It's the De Stroming restaurant, sitting on two boats in the harbor.

OMG.  Talk about charm!

It's our new best place to take all our guests, whenever they come.  Seriously.
They even have Woudrichem's own beer, Woerkumer, an abbey beer made in Belgium for them.

It was getting late when we headed back to the ferry for our trip home.

This time, waiting on this side of the river, Mr. Heron entertained us.
How can he scrunch his long neck in like that?

And OH, don't forget Sinterklaas.  He had arrived in Gorinchem at 10 a.m.
and was getting ready to arrive in Woudrichem at 5 p.m.
In fact we passed him on the ferry.  See him?

And just like that, we caught the Golden Hour while on the ferry home.
(Astrid took the pic of the cannon!)

I guess you know I'm going to say it...but I feel like my whole life is the Golden Hour,
even if it does mean I miss being with my family over the Thanksgiving weekend!

On Friday we're off to Belgium for a long weekend, to see the Christmas markets in Ostend and Bruges.
But first, Happy Thanksgiving to you who celebrate it.

May your Horn of Plenty be full!