This isn't as big a deal as it sounds, though, as the French border is a mere 6 kilometers from where we were staying.
The aim of our visit was Cassel, a litle town perched on a hilltop 176 meters above the Flanders plain, in the north-eastern corner of France, in the newly formed French region of Hauts-de-France (a merger of the former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy).
Easier said than done, though, as getting there proved to be fraught with obstacles.
First, we had to turn back after just a couple of kilometers as Jos had forgotten his flat cap, and refused to spend the day bare-headed.
Then, due to a major road diversion in border town Watou, we got a bit lost. Luckily we had good old "Marie-Jeanne" (our SatNav!) with us, who navigated us by way of narrow country lanes through fields and villages where time seemed to have stood still.
The final stretch of our journey was a cobbled road zig-zagging up the hill, until we finally arrived in the town centre. There, we snagged the last parking spot at the edge of the Grand'Place, near the town's main church, leaving our car in a rather precarious position.
Nearby, on a corner, was a little café, where we stopped for coffee in order to get our bearings.
Here, time seemed to have stood still too.
Apart from "le patron" and his dad, who sat at the table next to us painstakingly cleaning a head of lettuce for lunch, the charming café exuding the spirit of French Flanders, was empty.
While admiring the café's rustic decor, its tiled floor, the fringed mantelpiece with its ornate figurines, we suddenly noticed the fly paper hanging from one of the lamps, proudly displaying its hapless victims.
With that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I approached the toilets which, much to my relief, turned out not to be of the French variety!
We were told that people are proud of their Flemish heritage here and that there are still evening classes teaching the language, which, confusingly, is a little bit different from the Flemish we speak on the other side of the border.
I'd printed a town trail of approximately 3 kilometers, called "Cassel, par rues et ruelles" from the Internet, but we were given a colour map outlining the same by the café's landlord.
The town trail starts outside the tourist office in the Grand'Place, and can be followed by way of copper stud marks in the pavements.
In spite of the map and the stud marks, typically we still managed to get lost a couple of times!
After exploring the Grand'Place and its historical buildings, notably the The Noble Cour mansion, a 16th-century Flemish building, which is home to the Musée Départemental de Flandre, we continued the walk by turning into the Rue du Château.
This narrow lane passes through the old castle gate before leading up to a public garden on top of the hill, with several viewpoints and orientation tables.
The Casteelmeulen ("meulen" is old Flemish for mill, the modern word is "molen") is a post mill situated on the highest point of Cassel Hill, on the site of the former castle. The present mill dates from the 18th century and is a listed building. It is still a working mill and can sometimes be visited.
From the mill, there's a path climbing up to the equestrian monument of Marshall Foch, who had his headquarters in Cassel from October 1914 to June 1915, during the Battle of Ypres.
It was here that we had our first wobble, as it seemed that the pavement studs and the walk's instructions pointed us in different directions.
As it was nearly noon by then, we decided to retrace our steps to the Grand'Place and grab some lunch. In spite of an uncertain start, the sun was out in full force, and we were able to eat sitting outside on the terrace overlooking the Grand' Place.
Afterwards, we continued our walk, eventually finding the path downhill which led us in the right direction.
At the octagonal Horne Chapel, we turned left and at the bottom of the street, turned right on to Rue de Dunkerque, passing an old horse trough on our right.
Here, we were accosted by a scruffy Frenchman walking his dog, who told us we were a couple of months late, as apparently the trough had been refilled and the borders replanted back in the Spring.
He then continued with a rant involving the local authorities, the EU, and the general state of the world which, as we all know, is foutu. We politely listened, nodded and mumbled some standard French replies, while backing away, throwing a casual au revoir over our shoulders, with him still nattering on in the background.
Soon, another gate, the Porte de Dunkerque came into view. Passing underneath brought us back to the main church, Collégiale Notre Dame de la Crypte, and the café, where our car was parked.
Still, the walk wasn't finished!
Behind the church is the old Jesuits' chapel, with a listed façade dating from 1687. Here, we had to turn right on to Chemin du Chapître, an alleyway of sandstone steps, emerging at the bottom on to Rue du Maréchal Foch.
We had another wobble here. We kept on walking in the direction of the town centre, passing a bakery, where we bought a baguette and two brioches for our evening meal.
It then dawned on us that we'd missed a turning. We were supposed to pass beneath yet another gate, the Porte d'Ypres, but couldn't recall seeing it. Afterwards, looking through my photographs, I think the one on the bottom left in the above collage could have been it.
This should have brought us to a path called Chemin des Remparts, following the town walls. However, we were able to rectify our mistake without turning back as, almost immediately after passing the bakery, we came across a narrow alley leading to the Chemin de Remparts!
Back on track, we followed the path running at the back of the town's houses, with a variety of garden gates with peeling paint and rusty hinges, punctuating the walls.
We sat down on one of conveniently placed benches, soaking up the September sun and admiring the view.
The final stretch of the path becomes another alley, which at some point is only 70 centimeters wide, and emerges onto a road leading back to the Grand'Place and our car.
The next day, it was time to pack our bags and head home, saying goodbye to our little cottage and the lovely Johanna for another year.
--- The End ---