Tag Archives: Belgium

Discovering the Semois

Winding its way lazily for 210 kilometres, starting in Arlon in Belgium, arriving in France and changing its name to the Semoy before joining the Meuse at Monthermé , the Semois can charm most lovers of the great outdoors. Usually, the river has an optimal flow of water for safe canoeing and kayaking in early summer, but following substantial rain it is also becomes navigable in August and September. The area was more popular in the 60’s and 70’s before European visitors jetted off in search of more far flung pleasures. To me this is a benefit as the crowds have gone elsewhere, making the trip down the Semois very civilised indeed. There is still plenty of accommodation from hostels and camping sites to luxury hotels but on this trip we stayed with friends at their house.

The Semois
The Semois

Canoe and kayak hire locations can be found at numerous points along the course of the river. The operators will collect you and your boat at the end of your voyage or even take you upstream to commence your journey. The river is perfect for first time kayakers as there are no dangerous rapids and generally the water is slow moving. There are a number of weirs which can be avoided by beaching beforehand and carrying your boat past. We went over the weirs and had no adverse effects other than a bow wave that washed over the kayak’s prow soaking our legs. My camera, watch, phone, spare clothing, lunch, etc. were stowed in a waterproof barrel secured to the kayak.

Kayak on the Semois
Kayak on the Semois
Dragon flies and flowers
Dragon flies and flowers

Paddling downriver is not the only means of slow travel to explore the Semois. GR16 is a long distance trail that follows the river valley from Arlon to Monthermé, where it connects with GR12.
We hiked a section by Cugnon and made a deviation to visit the caves where Saint Remacle lived for a while in the seventh century while converting the Ardennes to Christianity.

Caves of St Remacle
Caves of St Remacle

GR 16 looks like an appealing project when we have finished our flirtation with GR 579 (Brussels – Liege) and GR 12 (Brussels – French Border), but there is still a lot of Semois river to paddle! That is the primary benefit of slow travel; there is always so much more to experience.

Rock stairs on GR 16
Rock stairs on GR 16

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

A personal reflection on flags for #FriFotos

The theme for the photo sharing day on Twitter on Friday 18 November 2011 was Flags. If you look at my Twitter profile you will see that I tend to spend time between three locations. In this piece, I will include photos, including flags from each of these places.
Wales
Welsh flag at Llangollen
Starting with my birthplace. This photo was taken while looking for new angles to take photographs from. The castle on the skyline is Dinas Bran. It was built by the Welsh sometime in the 1260’s but fell to King Edward 1 of England.

Belgium
Belgian flag
Taken while at Fete de la Musique in place des Palais. This photo was used by the Belgian French language Radio and TV broadcaster to illustrate how far Belgium was from forming a government. Belgium went to the polls on 13 June 2010 and didn’t agree on a workable coalition until 11 October this year. The country now holds the world record for the time taken to form a democratically elected government. The article can be found here. You may need to use Google Translate. They did accredit me as the copyright holder but did not link to my Flickr page or give me a link back, but I was humbled to have it included.

France
French flag at Chamonix
Finally a photo of the French Flag from outside the Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM), Chamonix’s High Moutain Police. They operate a professional mountain rescue service. I end up at Chamonix at some time each winter, even if I don’t always spend the season there. I for one am glad that these brave policemen are there to rescue anyone in distress high in the Alps. The memorial plaque outside is sobering, as it records a the death of at least one policeman each year for nearly all the time it has been in existence.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily photo: Val-Dieu, Belgium

The abbey of Val-Dieu was founded in 1216 by Cistercian monks. Surviving wars, floods and moral crises, it was temporarily dissolved by the French Revolution. Then in 1844 with the aid of the church and the last surviving monk, it was re-established and flourished again for another 150 years. The last monks departed in the spring of 2001, but were replaced by a thriving Christian community. It is now a place of pilgrimage for Christians and tourists alike. The Val-Dieu cheese and beer is still produced here.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily Photo: The Sequence by Arne Quinze in winter

The Sequence by Arne Quinze

The Sequence
The art of Arne Quinze involves a lot of timber nailed together from an aerial platform. This piece is in the government quarter of Brussels. It is built above the street so that it is possible to cycle or even drive a car underneath. This photo was taken in December 2010 when Brussels had a good coating of fresh snow. Missing the snow right now.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Seeing the world through new eyes


Last week, we visited a friend in Liege, Belgium and went to see her allotment garden. Now allotments aren’t places of obvious beauty and this one was no exception. The fences were all homemade and so were the huts and of course they were mainly producing vegetables. But look a little closer. I put my camera on macro and took the photos in the gallery above.

The point is you don’t have to go to tourist hotspots or visit the “Seven Wonders of the World” to find remarkable beauty. Often it’s not where you expect. The challenge for the present age is to get enjoyment from travel without creating an ecological footprint that will prevent our grandchildren enjoying travel as well. One way of doing this is to open our eyes to see the beauty in the seemingly mundane.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

A bicycle and a fish fight in Brussels

On Saturday afternoon, I went for a ride around Brussels using Villo! bicycles. I was looking for some street art by Muga. After I had found the piece I was looking for, I continued exploring the back streets by bike. After ending up at Place Jourdain, I decided the best way to get back up to the top of Ixelles was via the European Parliament. Here I found the prow of a beached trawler and was intrigued to see that it was for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign,commonly known as Hugh’s Fish fight. It is the follow up to the Channel 4 TV series, in which he publicised the crazy practices carried out on the seas and oceans around Europe.
Trawler exhibit at the EU, Brussels
As an individual, we often feel powerless to get big political institutions to change their course, but what we buy or refuse to buy has a bigger influence than our vote in many instances. The plight of the oceans is dire, with little projected to thrive in them other than jelly fish by 2030. Hugh’s Fish Fight is a campaign aimed at highlighting the shocking waste caused by the Common Fisheries Policies.

Hugh’s Fish Fight

Signing up for the petition is an easy move, but looking carefully at the fish and seafood we buy at home or on our travels can also make a huge difference. Much of the seafood on sale today is not from sustainable sources. One thing we can do is look for the MSC’s (Marine Stewardship Council) logo, to certify that the fish was from a sustainable fishing process. Even farmed fish are fed on unsustainably fished anchovies and the like.
Trawler exhibit at the EU, Brussels
On a positive note, on the Sunday I was in Diksmuide, Flanders, Belgium. Looking for somewhere to eat our evening meal and we decided to dine on a canal barge . We were pleasantly surprised to find that they took great care to only provide sustainably fished seafood. They did not use tuna and had an excellent vegetarian / vegan choice on their menu.   I’ll probably mention them in future post on Diksmuide, but in the meantime they can be found by the IJzer Tower. They are called Water en vuur (Water and Fire). The point is that some restaurants now do consider how sustainable the food they offer is. Supporting them is doing our bit, for the change we would like to see in the world.

More information on Hugh’s Fish Fight: http://www.fishfight.net/

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Free to view art: Part 2 – Murals and sculptures

In an earlier post, I shared some of my the street art I had come across on my travels. This post will also be about free to view art, but this time the art herein is all officially sanctioned.  Belgium is the capital of Bande Desinée (carton strips), many of the characters in the books are on display on this wall outside the International Railway station at Gare du Midi. How many of the characters do you recognise?

Bande Desinée mural, by gare du Midi, Brussels
Bande Desinée mural, by gare du Midi, Brussels

If you call in at the Tourist Information office in Brussels you can get a walking tour taking in all of the murals. I find this one amusing, but in fact most are quite amusing.

Bande Desinée mural, Brussels
Bande Desinée mural, Brussels

It would be remiss of me not to include a Tin Tin mural in a post including Belgian cartoon strips. Here is our hero at Stockel Station. It is worth mentioning at this point that all of the Metro Stations in Brussels have major works by well known artists. Look up the STIB Website or call in at their shop at De Broukere, Brussels and get a brochure detailing the works.

I for one can’t wait for the new Tin Tin movie. I love the work of Speilberg, Jackson, and Steven Moffatt who wrote the first draft of the script. How about you?

Tin Tin mural on Brussels Metro
Tin Tin mural on Brussels Metro

Moving on to sculptures, Jean Michel Folon, is one of my favourite Belgian artists. Many of his works are on display in public places.

Quelqu'n (Someone), Namur, Belgium
Quelqu'n (Someone), by Folon, Namur, Belgium

Niki de Saint Phalle also produces colourful works in all senses of the word. This one can be found at Luxembourg City’s bus station.

"La Grande Tempérance" by Niki de Saint Phalle
"La Grande Tempérance" by Niki de Saint Phalle, Luxembourg

Arne Quinze produces some interesting pieces. Previously he had a big piece at Toison d’Or in Brussels. The Sequence can be found behind the Belgian Government buildings.

"The Sequence" by Arne Quinze, Brussels
"The Sequence" by Arne Quinze, Brussels

Flaine, the purpose built winter sports centre in the French Alps comprises 1960’s style concrete apartment blocks. The sculptures on display though, provide an artistic counterbalance. There is a big work by Picasso, but my favourite is this one by Jean Dubuffet.

Dubuffet, Flaine, France
Dubuffet, Flaine, France

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Belgian Music Festivals 2011

Belgium and music festivals in the same sentence?  If you find that surprising you are missing out on some of the best live music events in Europe. Many of the festivals are free, so timing a visit to Belgium to coincide with a free event could make a lot of sense. This post will cover mainly Rock / Pop, purely because I don’t get Jazz, although you might find me at the occasional Folk concert.

Brosella in the rain
Brosella in the rain

Brussels Jazz Marathon
This weekend (27, 28 and 29 May), the Brussels Jazz Marathon is held. Venues range from Grand Place to the small bars like ‘London Calling’ close to where I typed this. All concerts are free. Other Jazz Festivals include Day 2 of Brosella, Brussels (July 10), Jazz in the Park, Ghent (26 -28 Aug and 2 – 4 Sep), again the concerts are free, but you’d have to pay me if you wanted me to attend them 😉 Day 1 (July 9) of Brosella is Folk music, also a free concert.

 

The music festival season has been under way since the last week of April when the PackRock Festival was held. Then, in the first weekend of May, the annual Fête de l’Iris is Brussels celebration, the iris being the symbol of the city. The events include two evenings of free music, this year with Arno as headline act and Piano Club supporting. I missed them as I was at the Inc’Rock Festival at Incourt. The headline acts were Puggy, Pony Pony Run Run and Stromae. Piano Club played on the Friday night.

Puggy at Inc'Rock
Puggy a popular Belgium group at Inc'Rock

Rock Werchter, Europe’s best music festival
There are plenty more music festivals to come, including many free concerts. The largest Festival is Rock Werchter, Werchter (30 Jun – 3 Jul), this is probably the best music festival in Europe, although I’m sure the Glastonbury regulars would disagree. There are currently 61 acts on the programme, including Linkin Park, Iron Maiden, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Black Eyed Peas, Chemical Brothers and Coldplay. Tickets start at 76 euros plus booking fees. There is also a TW Classic at the site featuring Bryan Adams and Texas on July 9.

Pukkelpop, Couleur Cafe, Dour, Francofolies and Esperanzah!

Pukkelpop, Hasselt (18 – 20 Aug) has the Foo Fighters, Eminen, Thirty seconds to Mars as well as dEUS, one of the top Belgian bands. Day tickets start at 79 euros, but the Thursday has already sold out. Couleur Café (24 – 26 Jun) was originally a world music festival, but has grown to include other musical genres. This year the line up includes Seal, Wyclef Jean and Puggy. The Dour Festival (14-17 July) is held in the village of the same name. This year Papa Roach, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and Pendulum are appearing. Tickets start at 40 euros for 1 day or 100 euros for 4 days.  Although the name Francofolies de Spa, Spa implies a French speaking / singing event, this is not strictly true. Acts booked include Pony Pony Run Run, Hoverphonic, Zazie and Stromae. Well maybe you haven’t heard of them, but they are all from French speaking areas of the world and many sing in English. Prices fro 45 euros per day. My last inclusion in the paid festivals is Esperanzah!, Abbaye de Floreffe, Namur (5 – 7 Aug) is the main World Music Festival in Belgium.

Sharko at Belgavox
Sharko at Belgavox

Brussels Summer Festival
The Brussels Summer Festival (12 -21 Aug), Brussels takes place over 10 consecutive evenings.  Head liners this year are Jamie Cullum, De la soul, Stromae, Hooverphonic and more. Last year the wrist bands also allowed free entry to many museums in Brussels, I’m hoping they do the same this year. I’ve already bought my ticket for the ten days for 30 euros.

Brussels Summer Festival
Brussels Summer Festival

Free concerts
Now, back to the free concerts. For the two previous years Belgavox brought both Dutch and French speaking musicians together to deliver one track each for Belgian unity. I cannot find any mention of it for 2011, so do not know if it will take place this year. This free concert was a great way to sample a lot of Belgium’s groups and singers.

The next big free musical event is Fete de la Musique (17 – 18 Jun) at venues all over Belgium and beyond. I’ll probably head down to Place des Palais on the Saturday and St Gilles on the Sunday. Another free musical event I have attended for the last two years is the Czech Street Party outside the Czech Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU in Brussels. As well as showcasing some of the Czech Republic’s talent it also has stands from each Czech Region with food and drink tasting.

 

There are many more free and paid festivals. Do a little research before visiting Belgium and maybe you can take in a free concert during your stay.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Walking near Chateau Beusdael, Belgium: Photo essay

Another from the ‘Around Europe with a camera’ series

On the second day of walking, we set off from Château Beusdael and headed up to the forest covered hill in front of the Château entrance. Then we headed East along the ridge, before crossing some fields and dropping into a sunken road containing numerous badger sets in its banks. When we reached a road, a sign indicated that we were only 15 kilometres from Aachen in Germany. Then we circled round and headed back up to the ridge, this time heading West enjoying the sun shine through the trees adorned h ,with new leaves. The track lead to a junction with the road, where we came across a memorial to the Belgian and Allied victims of the electric fence erected here by the Germans to separate Belgium from the Netherlands in World War One. We continued West and then made our way down from the ridge back to Château Beusdael. Yet again our walk took us over into the Netherlands for a short time, before returning us to the Belgian side of the frontier.

Click on a thumbnail for a larger version of the photo:

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Frontier hopping in the Fourons (Voeron) April 2011

This post is part of my ‘Around Europe with a Camera’ series:

The Fourons (French) or Voeron (Dutch), is the area on the Belgian / Dutch border between Liege in Belgium, Maastricht in the Netherlands and Aachen in Germany. It is a Flemish region of Belgium with common facilities for French and Dutch speakers. It is the only part of the Flemish Limburg Region located on the East side of the River Meuse.

Click on individual thumbnails to view a larger size.

Over the Easter Holidays, I stayed with eight friends in a Gite near Welkenraedt, which was ideally located for walking the numerous trails through the undulating countryside. In contrast to the rest of the country, there are fields and hedgerows in this part of Belgium. The main agriculture is dairy farming and fruit orchards.

On Day 1 we shared a cars and drove up to Fouron-le-Comte (‘s-Gravenvoeren) and walked towards Fouron St. Martin (Sint-Martens-Voeren) where we ate lunch and drank some of the local beer (Rick’s Beer), at a tavern next to the church. The graveyard from the church which by the date on the tower dates from at least 1650 includes a small plot maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and holds the remains of a British Wellington bomber crew shot down by night fighters on 5 August 1941.
After lunch we walked on to Planck on the Belgian / Dutch border and then went into the Netherlands. This is a very different Netherlands to the tulip fields and windmills, the agriculture being similar to the Fourons, but a rationalisation of the farms had taken place and very few small fields and hedgerows were left. Our return route to Fouron-le-Comte (‘s-Gravenvoeren) criss crossed the frontier as it followed a ridge of high ground between the two countries. The choice of marked trails was outstanding and most allowed mountain bike access.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.