Hello, and welcome to Episode Two of my tiny travelogue!
After a restful and refreshing night's sleep, we jolted awake just after eight on Tuesday morning. We allowed ourselves no lazy lie-in as obviously we wanted to make the most of the handful of days at our disposal. Which is why, although breakfast was being served between 8.30 and 10, we'd told Veronique to expect us first thing.
With no time to lose, we jumped out of bed and, spurred along by the early morning sunshine which winked at us from a bright blue cloudless sky when we drew our curtains, we got ready in no time.
One of the privileges of our luxury room was that it is in a kind of annex rather than in the main building, our only neighbours being the horses in the stable facing us, half-hidden by a luscious bank of bright pink Hydrangeas.
Fully awake and with rumbling stomachs, we made our way along the garden path to the breakfast room.
Ever thoughtful, Veronique had equipped our room with an umbrella in case of rain. We still can't believe our luck, as we would certainly have needed it if we'd been there just a matter of days earlier.
Hunger pangs more than stilled, we were ready for whatever the day would bring us. Rather than walk the crowded streets of Bruges, we took advantage of the marvellous weather to explore the rural area around Bruges, our destination for the day being Lissewege, a picturesque village a stone's throw from Zeebrugge.
Catering for the many tourists who flock here all year around, there's a large car park just outside the village, from where a mere 5-minute walk will take you to its heart.
The street which backs onto the car park was lined by a grass verge with a couple of benches and some delightful artwork produced by the residents, tying in the Sculpture Trail which is being held here each Summer. The hot air balloons with their crochet jackets on the top left were part of an installation called 99 Luftballons, which duly supplied me with an all-day earworm!
From the car park, we made our way into the village, admiring the picturesque white washed houses and the charming little canal known as "het Lisseweegs Vaartje", which is part of an old natural waterway connecting Bruges with the North Sea.
Aptly nicknamed "the white village", it has been voted as one of Flanders' most charming villages, so it isn't at all surprising that is a honey pot for tourists wanting a taste of its nostalgic flavour.
In the window of a small art gallery, Jos was mesmerized by the vintage camera on display (top right). An Agfa Click I, it was Jos's first camera, and one which is still in our collection.
Next stop was the old- fashioned candy shop called "De Soete Paepe" (transl. the sweet pastor, bottom right), which derived its name from the 19th century village priest Servatius Meerseman who used to distribute homemade marshmallows (known as spekken) to the poor.
Arriving at the canal, we passed a restaurant called De Valckenaere (bottom left), where a waiter was setting the terrace tables. Stopping to make inquiries, we were advised to pre-book a table if we wanted to have lunch there.
With that out of the way, we were able to continue our explorations in the safe knowledge that we wouldn't have to go hungry later.
Soon we arrived at the brick Church of Our Lady of Visitation which, built between 1225 and 1275, is a textbook example of so-called "coastal Gothic".
According to legend, the church was built on the site where fishermen once found a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary in a creek. Although the village was of modest size, the 13th century church was not. Lissewege was a stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella, so the construction of the monumental church may have been funded by donations from these pilgrims.
Lissewege has a soft spot for art and culture, culminating in the already mentioned Sculpture Trail which is celebrating its 27th edition this Summer.
Along the trail, which takes one all over the village and beyond, 120 sculptures by 89 different artists are exhibited. A sizeable chunk of these can be admired in the garden of the old presbytery - now the tourist office - situated on a narrow cobbled street behind the church.
Our initial intention was to buy the instruction leaflet for a walk we'd intended to do in the afternoon, but alas, the tourist office's opening hours were from 2 pm onwards only, so we spent time in the garden instead.
Time to stand and contemplate the art on display and take photographs of those which caught our eye.
I had a particular soft spot for the girl reading her book on a circular perch (bottom right) but I'm afraid I didn't take note of its creator, nor could I find it pictured in the official on-line brochure.
Returning to the square in front of the church, we could see that the terraces of the cafés were slowly but surely filling up with people, the amassed bicycles parked all over the square indicating that these were groups of cycling tourists, the most annoying of these being commonly known as cycling terrorists! Suffice to say that they're not my favourite kind of people!
Lissewege is a typical "polder village" surrounded by fertile green polders that were often reclaimed from the sea, and it feels as if you are walking around in a time capsule. Or rather, it does if you factor out the cars parked at the side of the roads and the ubiquitous tourists.
These particular tourists were getting quite thirsty by now, so we turned into a leafy footpath alongside the canal, which would eventually take us back to all the hubbub and to the restaurant.
We counted ourselves lucky for being early birds, as while we were having lunch, lots of people were being turned away as it was fully booked by now.
Before ordering, we quenched our thirst with a glass of alcohol free lager. I just want to make clear that Jos's silly grin had nothing whatsoever to do with the consumption of alcohol!
While Jos ordered steak with mushrooms and Belgian (not French!) fries, I opted for pasta with a smoked salmon sauce.
Our first meal out together since February 2020, although Jos already had lunch with his son once or twice in the meantime.
Afterwards, we made a brief return to the car so that I could change out of my Clarks Cloudsteppers and into a pair of proper walking shoes.
Then, armed with only a map I'd printed off the Internet, we attempted to find the start of our intended walk. Way-marked with the typical hexagonal signs, it was a question of finding the start, which eventually we did after walking around the church and through the tourist throng twice!
Unsurfaced country lanes lined with pollarded willows, the gaps between the trees offering glimpses of the polders and a row of wind turbines gaily waving at us in the distance, ultimately brought us to a wide and shimmering blue canal, with glimpses of the port of Zeebrugge on the horizon to our left.
Scrutinizing the map while sat on a conveniently placed bench, a freighter, its stern proclaiming its home port as Antwerp, came chugging along, leaving frothy waves in its wake.
The stretch along the canal's towpath being a bit boring, we were glad to reach a path leading away from it, although we were disappointed to see that we had to walk along the main road for a stretch. No mean feat with both cars and cyclists to dodge.
It was a relief to turn into a quiet lane once more, where a charming little chapel was standing guard. This is the Ter Doest chapel, built in 1687 by the eponymous Cistercian monastery.
Our return journey took us over a stile and into a meadow leading to a path next to a railway line. If we'd thought the canal path boring, this was even worse, the only redeeming features being the occasional uninterrupted views across the polders towards the village.
Back in Lissewege, we found that the Tourist Office had now opened its doors. No longer in need of walking instructions, we decided to pay a visit to the on-site Museum of Saints.
This tiny museum displays a magnificent collection of colourfully painted statues of Saints. Being the proud owners of some plaster statues inherited from Jos's grandparents, we were keen to find out the identity of one of them, a saintly chap handing a loaf of bread to a little boy. And here is is, on the top right: Saint Gerardus Majella.
And look, isn't that the little chapel in that painting? Quite a large turnout for such a tiny chapel, don't you think?
After this overdose of saintliness we returned to our car and drove the short distance to one of Flanders' most impressive medieval monuments: the tithe barn belonging to the former abbey of Ter Doest.
Built in the 13th century, the monumental barn, 50 metres long and over 30 metres high, is all that is left of the once prosperous Cistercian abbey. The blind Gothic windows at the top sides are of special note, as is the lofty interior which consists of three aisles with oak pillars and beams.
In order to get there, we had to drive past the chapel which, weirdly reminiscent of the painting, was inundated with people. No pilgrims, though, as instead of being lead by a priest, they were listening intently to the ramblings of a guide.
Upon leaving the barn, unfortunately the group of tourists had reached the site as well, making it impossible for me to take a decent photograph of the building. I was just lamenting this fact when the guide blew his whistle, and, like rats responding to the pied piper, they came running from all directions. Huzzah!
There were sculptures on display here as well, the one on the top right representing a giant Coronavirus surrounded by desperate health care workers.
On that note, we have reached the end of the day and of this post, leaving only the day's outfit to show you in more detail.
Both the short-sleeved green sailor style jumper and the wide-legged trousers with its mix of flowers and stripes were charity shop finds, and I'm sure it's not the first time they were worn together. Both pieces are frequent travelling companions. As you can see, I only added minimal accessories, a charity shopped necklace and a flower bouquet brooch from a small independent shop in Antwerp.
I hope you'll join me again for the final episode in a couple of days. Until then, do stay safe, my friends.