woensdag 14 september 2016

The age of miracles

We'd booked our little holiday in Belgium's west country back in May already, so that we'd have something to look forward to after coming back from Wales.

In fact, we have been treating ourselves to a couple of days at the same place in early September for quite a few years now.

This year, with my dad being so ill and passing away only days after being admitted to hospital, it looked like we'd have to ditch our plans. In the end, we decided to go ahead, leaving a day later than planned, after the funeral.


Our home for the week, "Marjolein Guesthouse", is a small first floor studio situated above the owner's carport, in a wonderful thatched wooden building.

It's got everything you can think of: a small dressing, sitting area, kitchenette, breakfast nook and bedroom, all-in-one, with a compact little bathroom leading off the main room.


Although the interior might be a little too minimalist for our taste, the view from the breakfast nook and balcony more than makes up for this.


It's on the outskirts of the quiet country town of Poperinge, only a few kilometers from the French border.

Poperinge is Belgium's hop growing capital and in fact our little home looks out on one of the town's many hop fields.

Hop picking began on our second day. If this conjures up romantic images of times past, then you'd be disappointed, as everything is now being done semi-automatically, taking only one or two people working a special hop picking machine, leaving the hop poles bare in just a matter of days.


About 15 kilometers from Ypres, the epicentre of the infamous "Flanders Fields", the whole area is steeped in First World War history.

The countless military cemeteries, with row upon row of identical white gravestones, are very evocative and thought provoking.


Poperinge itself boasts quite a few fine buildings, one of them being the town hall, built in 1911 in neo-Gothic style by the architect who was also responsible for the reconstruction of Ypres after the Great War.


The town hall has a dark secret: in the courtyard at the back the death cells and execution pole, where deserters faced the firing squad, can be visited. Quite a chilly experience, especially as in one of the cells you can see a cinematic impression of a soldier waiting to be shot at dawn. You can also see some of the graffiti left by the prisoners.


The town also has several richly decorated churches which are well worth a visit. This year we went to see the St. John's Church (St. Jan's Kerk), a well-known place of pilgrimage. It is connected with the nearby Miracle House (Mirakelhuisje) where it is said a stillborn child was brought back to life by Our Lady of St. Jan.


The reason we chose to visit this church, which is a little out of the way, is that by coincidence, I found a brooch dedicated to Our Lady of St. Jan at a flea market last year, which attracted me because of the Poperinge connection.








Poperinge's major claim to fame, however, is Talbot House, which was opened in 1915 by British army chaplain Philip Clayton as a soldiers' club.

During the Great War, Poperinge was part of unoccupied Belgium. Away from the turmoil of battle in the Ypres Salient, the town became the nerve centre of the British sector. 


Talbot House provided rest and recreation to all soldiers coming in, regardless of their rank.


Talbot House is still run by British wardens, and all visitors are offered a cup of tea or coffee and cakes, included in the ticket price.


Chaplain Philip Clayton, who was known to all as "Tubby", insisted that Talbot House had to be a place where people could forget about the war for just a moment, hence the sign next to the front door saying: "To pessimists, way out!"


We concluded our first round of sight-seeing by a relaxing walk in the local park, after which we retreated to our fairytale cottage to enjoy the view from our balcony.


I hope you will join me again on my further adventures in Belgium's west country in my next post.

29 opmerkingen:

  1. You so deserve your little escape and it looks such a super place to visit.
    Please !!! Can I have your breakfast frock when you've finished with it. It's gorgeous haha xx

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    1. Thanks Lynn! That frock is one of my favourites, though, so I doubt I will ever get bored with it ... xxx

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  2. What a beautiful and quaint little place for your holiday. I hope that it was healing, and am so sorry for your loss.

    I have to second the other commenter's mention of that frock - it really is superb x

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    1. That holiday really did me a world of good! As for the frock, I will show it in more detail in one of my next posts. xxx

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  3. The place you stayed looked beautiful and what a superb view! The hop production town sounds really interesting.
    Your dress that you wore for the relaxing walk looks gorgeous!!
    I am so sorry about your Dad. x

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    1. Thank you Kezzie! We cannot get enough of that view and often sat on the little balcony until it got too dark to see anything. xxx

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  4. It looks like a lovely place to stay. That town hall is splendid! I hope your break brought you a little peace and relaxation.

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    1. It really is a lovely place to stay, which is why we are returning again and again. Another plus is that we're there in less than two hours. That's how small Belgium is ... xxx

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  5. Your travel posts are always so wonderfully engaging, dear Ann - and this one is certainly no exception. As a perpetual optimist, I had to grin (big time) over that sign. :)

    Thank you for taking us along on your latest adventure. I look forward to sharing more about our own recent travels in the coming weeks and months.

    Big hugs & many heartfelt thanks for your recent blog comments,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thank you for your sweet comment Jessica, it means a lot to me. I'm looking forward to reading about your travels! xxx

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  6. I'm so glad you could go to your special place and have some you time after all the sadness of recent weeks.
    I can see why Poperinge is such a favourite place, it's gorgeous and as for that cottage, what a stunning view.
    Your dress is lovely! xxx

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    1. Thank you, Vix, that place is really special to us, and whenever I'm stressed out I only have to think of that lovely view. And Poperinge itself seems to live at its own, gentler pace. xxx

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  7. very pretty white/pink/red dress!!
    your little holiday home seems very inviting - if we are in that area one day i have to ask you for the contact :-)
    because.....what you are writing and your pics make me want to visit flandern - as the architecture and history geek that i´m. the british club sounds and looks "gemütlich" :-)
    xxxxx

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    1. Please do ask when you decide to visit Flanders, Beate. But then of course you also have to pay Antwerp a visit, and Jos and I will be your guides! xxx

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  8. Belgium is another place on my list of countries I'd like to visit and your pictures make me feel it even more!

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  9. A little break in a relaxing place is important now and then. The town looks interesting and has many touristic attractions.
    A cup of tea ( or coffee ) is always a pleasure, isn'it?

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    1. Thank you Dan, a mixture of relaxation, culture and cups of coffee, what's not to like ;-) xxx

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  10. Interesting to see your photos of places that were only names on maps, and in history books to me.

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    1. Thanks Goody, and it's been my pleasure to show you around! xxx

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  11. I'm really glad you were able to take this time out after all you've been through with your dad. It struck me that actually Belgium is a closed book to me compared to say France, Germany and Spain. Of course I've heard of Ypres, but the rest is quite new. I wonder why that is? Glad you had a fab time. Poperinge looks beautiful as do you. Xxx

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    1. Oh, thank you Tania. I guess a lot of people only pass through Belgium on their way elsewhere, but we've got quite a few towns which are well worth a visit, as well as a rich cultural heritage. xxx

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  12. Your holiday accommodation is so sweet!

    My nan used to travel to Kent to pick the hops, so I immediately think of days gone by when I think of hop gathering.

    Those white stones certainly are sobering aren't they. It must be interesting visiting the Flanders area. The very idea of an execution area being visitable (let's make up words!) is chilling, I don't think I could see something like that without crying, those poor men. In retrospect, it's fully understandable why they deserted :(
    xxx

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    1. I always think of Kent and its oasthouses whenever I think of hops. Before I ever visited Poperinge, I didn't even know hop growing was big news there. Visiting that execution area certainly did not leave me dry-eyed and made my hair stand on end. xxx

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  13. What a fascinating place Poperinge is to visit, especially Talbot House. I like the 'way out'sign, but it must be a very sobering building to visit when you think about all those solders who passed through its doors but never made it back home xx

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    1. You cannot help to reflect on that sobering fact when visiting Talbot House. xxx

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  14. Another fascinating read Ann. Like Tania I don't know much about Belgium at all much to my shame. Of course we all know about Ypres but other places... no.
    Talbot House must have felt like a wonderful haven during such turbulent times. Love the pessimist sign! Places such as these are so moving, I have visited war graves in Thailand and will never forget it.

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    1. The more we visit the area, the more fascinating it becomes. There are so many relics of the Great War. You cannot help but stop and reflect at the wastefulness of it all. xxx

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