Monday, 16 August 2010

Mol, Flanders

This was an irresistible destination. We have driven for a large part of the day through torrential rain, on Belgium's atrocious roads (concrete slabs), and arrived here just as the Tourist Office was closing. Luckily the efficient girls coming out of the front door and locking up saw us waving from across the traffic, unlocked the office and found us some brochures. We came round to the Corbie Hotel and negotiated the price of a room down from 130 to 110 euros including free drink, breakfast, underground parking, and wifi. :-)

The ferry could have been named the vomit comet. Every ten minutes or so, the announcement came: Would "Nelson" please go to Information, or the Cafe, or wherever.... What a name to choose for the clean-up man. Still we had lovely coffee, did the crossword, had a sandwich, watched ships in the Channel ploughing through the swell.

Belgium is quite a densely developed country, not much open country before you hit suburbia (again). But my god what marvellous houses they build. I suppose so much needed to be rebuilt after the two world wars they have become absolutely confident about their architecture. Deco, Gothic, Moderne, Plain, Fancy, Stark, whatever the labels are, who cares? I love the houses and factories and shopping estates. Unlike the French (who can also show us Brits a thing or two about house-building) the Belgiques are not in love with concrete. They tend to use brick, but in wonderful colours. Even someone with a modest plot to build on will not hesitate to create a house in an ultra modern style... cubic, or utterly plain, or something with gold finials on all points of a slate roof. The gardens are exquisitely coiffed, planted by design and using dozens of small conifers, or huge banks of white hydrangeas, or with perhaps one huge spreading flat juniper. The whole character is different from anything you see in England... spooky in that you hardly ever see into a house, because of blinds or net curtains, but so jaunty and feisty outside.

I have tried to take photos but it was hard to do it properly on the move and in the rain, and maybe we can do some slower drives and or stop along the way tomorrow.

Today we decided to come to Mol, Flanders just for the name. We came through Duffel (presumably where the coat originated), and also passed the amazing Van Hool plant, where the day shift were pouring out of the gates of the huge factory. Buses of every shape and glamorous colour are all lined up on the forecourt for various things to be fitted and tested, and in the doorways of the plant you can see all tomorrows coaches waiting to emerge. Another design heaven. In a big carpark across the road, you can even see Van Hool trolley buses waiting to be smart. I remember trolley buses from London when I was a child, and I wish we had them again now.

We had two main anxieties during the day... finding somewhere for lunch on a Monday when most cafes are shut, and then later finding somewhere for the night. Our lunch was in the middle of a tiny village called (I think) Lichtevelde. The rain was tipping down but we were so pleased to find t Gildeke eethuis which served us a fab home-made soup, followed by spiced chicken breast with jazzy vegetables and rice. As we were their first ever English customers we also had a free helping of Belgian frites with mayonnaise presented to us, and delicious chocolate cakey things with our coffee. I recommend this place and its charming young owner-chef Herbert Vanzieleghem, who has a monthly gastro-menu at 43 euros, and worth checking out. is his website.

Hotels do not generally exist in Belgium, apparently. The rash of cheap motel/hotel brands which now grace every main road in the UK have not arrived here, and only touristy places have hotels. We passed precisely one Bed and Breakfast place, all day, as far as we could see. And due to the pissing rain we decided our camping could be postponed in favour of a real building for tonight, so looking for a place was a genuine mission. Anyway, here we are, with Andrew watching BBC2 I think, and we have herbal tea to drink (made with strange perforated tubular ali sachets). Now we can go for a walk down to the river, find a pancake house, then come home to our comfy room. So far so good. Quite a tiring day but very pleasant to be here, and I am still elated at the memories of all those amazing houses in every town and village we passed. Tomorrow we head into Holland and turn north.

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