A tale of fish and trams on a North Sea coastal journey

You couldn’t exactly call it an argument nor could you define it as a lively debate of differing opinions let alone a heated exchange of opposing ideas and views.  Nothing of the sort, yet our little tiff was more like a friendly squabble between Travel Bud and I, both not seeing eye to eye with the day’s scheduled travel plans, which, as all globe-trotters know, can change on a whim.  After all, it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and all that I was hankering to do that early October day was hang out in Oostende, wander the shops and languish the afternoon away in a charming seaside bistro, imbibe in a vino or two and admire my latest acquisitions.  Oh, and of course quill the next best seller. 

On the other hand, Mr. Oz’s vision of a perfect day was to explore the Belgian coastline via De Kusttram, a 68 km long tram line that transports one from the French border in the southwest to the edge of the north eastern border in the Netherlands.  The roughly two and a half hour journey spans sixteen towns and seventy stops, offering one the opportunity to hop on and off at leisure and meander the day away.  All for the bargain price of 2 Euros each way!

Quite an ambitious undertaking on the best of days, yet not the wisest of decisions if you’ve already squandered the morning away and have only the afternoon in which to discover the charm of these denizen of North Sea villages.  A feat of monumental proportions and quite the impossible task which was simply not do-able all within a four to five hour time frame.  Oh, and did I mention that we had also planned to spend a few hours in neighbouring Bruges?  Delusional or what?  A record-breaking whirlwind tour of the Belgian coastline in three seconds flat – or not! 

Let the squabbling – or was that negotiating – begin!

And did I happen to also mention that it was fast approaching lunch and with our tummies grumbling, the aroma of freshly grilled fish most difficult to resist, with rows upon rows of enticing sea food delights an invitation to savour the flavour of the delicacies that the sandy beached marina port of Oostende had on offer. 

And where exactly did we end up frittering the afternoon away? 

Stay tuned for more on the adventures of cuckoo ol’ Auntie Nora and sidekick Oz in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Next blog post in three weeks!!  - Wednesday, January 20th, 2016!!

Come journey along with me as I meander along the North Sea coast in search of memories as I inadvertently stumble upon mis-adventures of the Pink Sneaker inspired kind!

As the New Year approaches, I would like to give a heart-felt thanks to all of my faithful readers who have traipsed along the path with me on my globetrotting adventures for the past three years.  A dash of humility sprinkled with a bit of humour makes for entertaining reading and hopefully some laugh out loud smiles and chuckles.

Looking forward to sharing many more travel tales for years to come.

When tired of schlepping just park yourself in Le Royal in Antwerpen Centraal

Schlepping, lugging, traipsing and indulging are just part and parcel of my globe-trotting adventures, so it should come as no surprize that a majority of my overseas sojourn consists of languishing the hours away in – where else? – The railway station. 

Hauling over-stuffed trunks crammed to the brim with baubles and treasures, as well as battling it out with stairs versus luggage, required fortitude and stamina, not to mention Herculean prowess of the muscle inspiring kind.  My celebratory reward not limited edition designer satchels as neither a Birkin, Chanel, Furla or Louis loomed anywhere on the horizon - so my only choice was to make do with soothing libations of the merlot and shiraz mind numbing kind.

Are we there yet?  

Taking a break

So, there I stood, parched and dishevelled, in Antwerpen Centraal – a middle aged ol’ Auntie in dire need of liquid replenishment – either champagne or bubbly will nicely do the trick, calm my nerves and obliterate any residual memories of yet another gruelling day spent duelling with baggage gone bad.  Stumbling and tripping my way up five – yes – count ‘em – five – escalators – from the subterranean track levels below - a task of monumental proportions and no walk in the park, required the aid of a small army of butlers and maids to cart and lug my bags up hundreds of stairs – but alas, no such luck, for hired help was neither on my payroll nor part of my jet-setting entourage.

Spent and fatigued, seriously contemplating kicking my luggage to the curb, I contemplated my options:  abandon said trunks and be done with it; have a fire sale and auction off each and every one of my treasures or take a break, give up and skedaddle over to the nearest bistro for a lovely cuppa tea – on second thought, make that a vino or two or three.

And that is how we frittered the afternoon away in Le Royal CafĂ©, taste testing Belgian brew and sampling gastronomic “rail-way station” cuisine, all the while indulging in our favourite “people watching” pastime, commiserating (or was that chuckling) with all of the other struggling pack-packers who also clearly over-packed!

Needless to say we arrived at our Ghent hotel just a tad late.  Heck, just blame it on those ever so efficient trains.  Or not!

Next post – in three weeks – Wednesday, December 30th!!  Stay tuned for more on the adventures of cuckoo ol’ Auntie Nora in Belgium.

Come schlepp along with me on my European escapades as I sprint for trains, trip down stairs and kick my luggage to the curb.  Just another day in the life of Pink Sneakers on the Go...

Sint Anna Tunnel - Stares, glares and wooden stairs

It was perhaps either by fluke or behind the scene machinations of a pack of gremlins on a mission to trip me up and make me slip, that I happened to inadvertently stumble upon a decades old underground pedestrian tunnel.  Situated smack dab in the centre of Antwerp, the Saint Anna Tunnel connects the older centre of town with the newer neighbourhoods of the Left Bank.  Constructed in 1933, the 573 metre long walkway boasts Art Deco architecture, wooden escalators and an old world charm reminiscent of centuries past.  Tunnelled 32 metres below the river Scheldt, the underground corridor passages amblers and cyclers from one end of Belgium’s second largest city to the other in 10 to 15 minutes flat, all depending of course, on how briskly one treks.

Entrance to Sint Anna Tunnel

Traversing the river presents quite the conundrum indeed, as there aren’t any bridges linking one side with the other!  A feat of monumental proportions, made all the more challenging if you’re a borderline claustrophobic – okay, I confess – a full-blown Category One type phobic – reluctant to place a pink sneakered foot in any type of confining space whatsoever.  Like, ever and make that never!  Come hell or high water.

“Come on, I dare you”, Travel Bud goaded, promising to spring for my lunch if I confronted my fears and ventured deep into the rabbit hole – a carafe of merlot and moule et frites my reward for this never to be repeated show of dare - or was that scare? 

Do I dare?

Mind scrambling a mile a minute, I contemplated my options.  Could I hightail it to the light, lickety-split, in a marathon sprint worthy of Olympic gold?  Or, should I hang my head in shame and admit defeat even before the games had officially begun?  It’s not like I hadn’t been sequestered in any type of confining space ever – after all, I had stoically endured being squished in sardine economy seating for decades on end, jetting across the pond in cramped tin cans that doubled as fancy, smancy flying machines.  And, let’s not even get into the issue of long distance trains - encapsulated in a speeding tube burrowing through kilometres of sheer rock, with nary a glimmer of freedom for miles on end.  You get the picture – or not - noggin pressed against the glass pane, pupils searching the coal darkened blackness as the reflection of one’s visage scrapes the edge of the rock.  Ouch.

So, there I stood, one pink sneaker clad foot a step away from descending into the labyrinth of the unknown, determined to emerge victorious and claim my prize at the end of the tunnel.  Like, how difficult could this jaunt to Linderover possibly be?  The creaking and clanking of the almost century old wooden escalators conveying me to the subterranean, had an almost surreal feel, as if I had jumped feet first back into time.  Almost palatial, spanning a width of 4.30 metres across, the walkway was brightly illuminated, the cream coloured tiles accented with posters as well as with markers indicating metres traversed.

Going down!!

So far so good!  Admiring the artwork.

Looming straight ahead -  The.  Dreaded.  Tunnel.  Straight.  Ahead.  Oh, and did I mention it seemed to go on forever and ever with no end in sight?  Yikes!  Keds firmly planted on the ground, I took one hesitant step and then another, all the while glancing backwards, to gage whether or not the escalators were within sight.  So far so good.  Still within bird’s eye view, distant, yet easily accessible, if need be.  Re-assuring to say the least.

Gulp!! The rabbit hole of possibly no return.

Are we there yet??  Obviously, not.

Feels like I'm in some type of science fiction movie episode 

On the road to nowhere or hopefully somewhere

Are you sure there's an exit?

“Come on, you can do it”, Travel Bud cheered, “just 10 more minutes and then we’re at the other end”.  

You’re kidding, right?  You mean we’re NOT almost on the other side?
“But we’ve been walking for ages and ages”, I wailed.

Actually, in reality, it was more like 2 minutes, if that, but who’s counting?

“But what if I lose sight of the escalators?  Then what?”

The point of no return.  This is how far I ventured in the rabbit hole.

No need to say more.  In a flash, I spun round, a crazed and frantic middle-aged ol’ Auntie shrieking, tripping and scrambling like a bat out of hell along the corridor, on a one woman mission out of there.

Picture blurry. No explanation required.

The stairs. The glares.  The stares.

So much for enjoying that long anticipated celebratory reward.

On that note, might as well pour myself a vino.  Or two.  Better make that three.

Come tunnel along with me, as I snake my way along the Sint Anna pedestrian walkway deep under the river Scheldt, but on second thought, let’s just not and catch up with picture books instead about the mesmerizing sights on the other side, which, unfortunately for me, I never got to see this time round.  Hey, perhaps next time, I’ll be a tad wiser and roller-blade my way there!!

Catch up with the adventures of cuckoo ol’ Auntie Nora in Belgium and the Netherlands.    

Next blog post – In three weeks!!  Wednesday, December 9th!!  Stay tuned!!

Glitches and dining by candlelight - when the lights went out in Ghent

Sequestered in the railway station, schlepping luggage up and down the stairs for hours on end, was perhaps not the most ideal set of circumstances under which to commence my long-awaited stay in Gent, offering a hint of a glint as to what other type of travails were unsuspectingly lurking in the wings, waiting to trip me up.  And, let’s not even get into the topic of windstorms, rain and hail, even though those elements significantly contributed to wrecking havoc on my four-day sojourn.  Could it get any worse?

Yikes!  Did I pack the umbrella and rain boots?

Oh…. and let’s not forget about yet another unforeseen minor calamity – for, just as I had finally ensconced myself in the quaintest of French bistros, parched and ravenous after a harried day of climbing and lugging, anticipating the most delectable of feasts, mere seconds from savouring mouth-watering beef bourguignon to be washed down with the finest of merlots…the unexpected happened!

Our quaint French bistro 

A loud bang, followed by the lights flickering on and off.  On and off.  And then off.  Blackness.  Silence.

Momentarily stunned, unable to fathom the reality of what exactly had just transpired, my thoughts flip-flopped between possible scenarios.  Did I somehow inexplicably lose consciousness, only to emerge temporarily blinded?  Did I imbibe in a tad too much vino?  My mind raced for a reasonable explanation – was all of this just mischievous trickery by some fun-loving apparition out for a few chuckles or was there something of a more sinister nature behind this most bizarre of events?

Yikes!  What happened?  Where's my dinner?

Nope.  Nada.  Nothing of the sort.  Just an average run-of-the-mill power outage – you know – the type that frequently occurs during thunderstorms and inclement weather.   Yikes!!  Imagination once again off on a tangent, lost in its own world of illusion (or, was that delusion?) veering on the edge of insanity and borderline exaggeration.  Not quite, but you get the picture.  (In defense of Imagination, at least it’s back home doing its job, in contrast to going AWOL this past summer, abandoning me in the lurch, as it gallivanted around the globe on its not so lucrative world-wide adventures.)

A flurry of frenzied footsteps followed, as the ever so clever wait staff, brandishing lanterns and candles, hustled to appease the qualms of bewildered diners.  Darting from table to table, the white apron clad team were on a mission to please, re-assuring frazzled guests that this unfortunate blip of events was merely a temporary inconvenience – and, would they care for a complementary glass of vino?

Indulging in some vino just seconds before the lights went out

Not missing a beat, the chef worked his magic and churned out plate after plate of delectable cuisine, five-star succulent dishes to please even the most discerning of gourmands.  Whipping together a bevy of gastronomic delights was a feat in itself, not to mention the additional challenge of having to chop and grill as well as bake and broil – a couple of flickering candles the only beacons of light.

Vino, ambiance and candlelight

I marvelled at this fortuitous turn of events, as who would have thought that I’d be happier than a clam whilst banqueting by candlelight, nestled in the welcoming warmth of this charming bistro.

Oh…and should I even bother to tell you about the collective sighs and groans when the lights eventually came back on? 

Come traipse along with me in search of gastronomic cuisine, and, if perchance, lightning strikes, then thank your lucky stars, for you’re in for a real treat and a dining experience like none other - after all, it’s the unforeseen minor glitches that make meandering the globe so memorable and worthwhile!

Stay tuned for the mis-adventures of cuckoo ol’ Auntie Nora in Belgium and the Netherlands.  What next?  Trapped in the St. Anna tunnel?  Yikes!!

Next blog – in three weeks – Wednesday November 18th!!  Stay tuned!!