Brussels and Tournai

Our last two days in Belgium were spent in Brussels and Tournai. We took the train from Bruges to Brussels and got a hotel near the train station. Since we had an early flight out we wanted to be closer to the airport. Once we arrived, we walked around the Grand Place, ate, and of course we had a beer.

There’s a place down one of the side alleys from Grand Place, called Plaka, that makes the BEST gyros.

The next morning, our final day in Belgium, we got up and took a train into Tournai, about an hour away. Tournai is in the region called Wallonia near the French border. Tournai was one of the main creators of tapestries during the Middle Ages and when I read that they had a tapestry museum I really wanted to visit. (Side note: I have been intrigued by the method of creating medieval tapestries since seeing The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris several years ago (amazing! Go see them if you have the chance) and reading The Lady and the Unicorn and The Seventh Unicorn)

We passed lots and lots of windmills. Amazingly, I didn’t see a single dead bird piled up beneath them. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Tournai’s belfry dates from the 12th century and is the oldest belfry in Belgium.

Tournai is the only Belgian city to have been controlled by the British throne (Henry VIII in 1513). It has changed hands several times; it was important in Roman times, then seized by the Franks in the 5th century (the birthplace of Frankish King Clovis) and was a Bishop’s see in the early 6th century, it was controlled by the counts of Flanders until it was recovered by France in 1188, then Henry VIII in 1513 and returned again to France in 1518, the Netherlands in 1521, then a Spanish Habsburg province, then the Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century, and then back and forth between France and Austria.

We thought Tournai to be utterly charming. We might have been the only tourists in the town, which was so refreshing after the hordes of tourists in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Everyone spoke French. No one spoke English, or very limited English. There weren’t English translations on the menus or street signs or museum displays. This might bother some, but we loved it. (Apparently I still retain enough of my high school French to be able to communicate (together with hand gestures, ha!) and decipher menus.)

We finally located the Tapestry Museum

I was disappointed in the Tapestry Museum. They had a few medieval tapestries and an old loom, which was interesting. None of the tapestries were as intricate and beautiful as The Lady and Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris, or even the Vatican Museum in Italy. I didn’t mind that the placards were just in French and Dutch. I was just disappointed at how limited the displays were. My favorite thing in the museum was a series of maps…

USA = BOUFFENT DES BURGERS 😂
FLORIDA = TOURISTES, GOLF, RETIREES, ALLIGATORS 😂
Hotel De Ville

In spite of the disappointment of the Tapestry Museum, we adored Tournai. Wandering around and exploring, enjoying the challenges of navigating with…language challenges. It was a fun and relaxing day. We were sorry not to have been able to see the inside of their Cathedral of Notre Dame (11-12th century basilica and UNESCO world heritage site) that was undergoing renovations, nor the Pont Des Trous, a medieval bridge on the outskirts of the town which was originally part of the city wall. It was blown up during World War II and reconstructed.

Brussels and Tournai

Our last two days in Belgium were spent in Brussels and Tournai. We took the train from Bruges to Brussels and got a hotel near the train station. Since we had an early flight out we wanted to be closer to the airport. Once we arrived, we walked around the Grand Place, ate, and of course we had a beer.

There’s a place down one of the side alleys from Grand Place, called Plaka, that makes the BEST gyros.

The next morning, our final day in Belgium, we got up and took a train into Tournai, about an hour away. Tournai is in the region called Wallonia near the French border. Tournai was one of the main creators of tapestries during the Middle Ages and when I read that they had a tapestry museum I really wanted to visit. (Side note: I have been intrigued by the method of creating medieval tapestries since seeing The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris several years ago (amazing! Go see them if you have the chance) and reading The Lady and the Unicorn and The Seventh Unicorn)

We passed lots and lots of windmills. Amazingly, I didn’t see a single dead bird piled up beneath them. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Tournai’s belfry dates from the 12th century and is the oldest belfry in Belgium.

Tournai is the only Belgian city to have been controlled by the British throne (Henry VIII in 1513). It has changed hands several times; it was important in Roman times, then seized by the Franks in the 5th century (the birthplace of Frankish King Clovis) and was a Bishop’s see in the early 6th century, it was controlled by the counts of Flanders until it was recovered by France in 1188, then Henry VIII in 1513 and returned again to France in 1518, the Netherlands in 1521, then a Spanish Habsburg province, then the Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century, and then back and forth between France and Austria.

We thought Tournai to be utterly charming. We might have been the only tourists in the town, which was so refreshing after the hordes of tourists in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Everyone spoke French. No one spoke English, or very limited English. There weren’t English translations on the menus or street signs or museum displays. This might bother some, but we loved it. (Apparently I still retain enough of my high school French to be able to communicate (together with hand gestures, ha!) and decipher menus.)

We finally located the Tapestry Museum

I was disappointed in the Tapestry Museum. They had a few medieval tapestries and an old loom, which was interesting. None of the tapestries were as intricate and beautiful as The Lady and Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris, or even the Vatican Museum in Italy. I didn’t mind that the placards were just in French and Dutch. I was just disappointed at how limited the displays were. My favorite thing in the museum was a series of maps…

USA = BOUFFENT DES BURGERS 😂
FLORIDA = TOURISTES, GOLF, RETIREES, ALLIGATORS 😂
Hotel De Ville

In spite of the disappointment of the Tapestry Museum, we adored Tournai. Wandering around and exploring, enjoying the challenges of navigating with…language challenges. It was a fun and relaxing day. We were sorry not to have been able to see the inside of their Cathedral of Notre Dame (11-12th century basilica and UNESCO world heritage site) that was undergoing renovations, nor the Pont Des Trous, a medieval bridge on the outskirts of the town which was originally part of the city wall. It was blown up during World War II and reconstructed.

Rainy Day

Today was another cold, rainy day which was spent doing laundry (the reality of traveling with just a carry on bag), and then wandering around the markt, shopping, eating, drinking, and enjoying people watching. We came across some street performers and lots and lots of adorable pets – even an Old English Sheepdog and a bunny!

Ghent

Today was cold and rainy, but nevertheless we decided to go explore Ghent (a short 20 minute train ride away).

We went straight to Gravensteen Castle…

Fun! (Okay, maybe not the many, many steep, narrow, old stone spiral stairs. Those were NOT fun. They were a bit scary.) But the rest of the castle was fun, especially the audio tour (hilarious, especially the sound effects).

The cross window signifies that Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders (who built Gravensteen) went on crusade to the Holy Land.

Gravensteen was built in 1180 by the Count of Flanders, Philip of Alsace. The audio tour did a wonderful job of relating the history of the castle and of Flanders, along with many anecdotes from Philip’s life.

After touring the castle, we walked around Ghent and had lunch. And then then it started pouring and we stopped and had frites and a Stella (as one does). Ghent is beautiful and I wish we’d had better weather and been able to see more. Still, we had a great day, loved Ghent and really loved visiting Gravensteen.

In Bruges

After (almost) 3 years of pent up wanderlust, Tim and I have finally hit the road again. We decided to do a quick trip to Belgium, mostly because there were seats available.

The flight over was fine. Okay, honestly, it was noisy (imagine crying babies, screaming children, and lots of yapping and whining from little dogs) and so we didn’t get much (much=any) sleep. Then the customs line was slooooowwwwww. But we finally got on the train to Bruges!

By the time we arrived at our Airbnb in Bruges it was noon local time and we’d been up for 24 hours. We were exhausted…so we crashed for about 4 hours. We got up and walked to the market square (markt), ate dinner, had a beer, and just marveled at the fact that we were finally traveling again. Europe, we’ve missed you!

The next day we did the touristy things – a canal boat tour, and city bus tour…and then just walked around and explored and ate and drank. We learned a lot about the history of Bruges and saw swans and beautiful buildings and the sun was out.

This was the old city hospital. The arrow is pointing to where “ambulances” would drop off patients (by boat). In the lower right corner you can see the edge of a door which is where the dead were picked up.

The Lindbergh Nanny (book review)

I received an advance reader copy of The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press and…wow. I loved it!

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly when it is done well, and this was. I was already somewhat familiar with the story of the Lindbergh kidnapping in broad terms, but not with the finer details. This book focuses primarily on Betty Gow, Charlie Lindbergh’s nanny, as well as the butler, chauffeur, and other staff. It was fascinating and I found myself constantly taking breaks from the book to look up more information on Betty (she was lovely), or Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “Lucky Lindy,” or the investigation or trial. I feel much more informed about this event now.

The book itself is fiction, but the author clearly did painstaking and meticulous research. She brings the characters and tragic story to life.

There were a few minor typos/grammatical errors, which will presumably be corrected before publication (November 15, 2022) but they didn’t detract from the well written and engrossing story.

I highly recommend The Lindbergh Nanny, (5 stars!). It will be published November 15, 2022. I’m very grateful to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC, to Mariah Fredericks for writing such an enjoyable, thought provoking and riveting read.

And Then There’s Margaret (book review)

Description:

When Allison Montgomery’s beloved father-in-law passes away, her mother-in-law, Margaret, ‘temporarily’ moves in. From rearranging the furniture and taking over the kitchen, to undermining and embarrassing Allie at every turn, Margaret turns Allie’s life upside down causing her to bounce between a sincere desire to support her grieving mother-in-law and an intense urge to simply push her out of the nearest window. Feeling annoyed, trapped and even a little childish, Allie struggles to avoid a complete meltdown with help from her fearless and audacious best friend, a plan for reinventing herself and enjoying a second act, and, yes, a few glasses of Chardonnay. Along the way, Allie discovers the reasons behind Margaret’s attitude toward her all these years. Does it help? Maybe…

I enjoyed this book…I did. It’s a light, enjoyable read, and there were many funny moments. But I found Allie incredibly frustrating. And Margaret. And Hank too. And that made it difficult to relate to the characters. In the end, things are explained a bit and that helped…but still.

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for the ARC. Look for And Then There’s Margaret in bookstores now.

The Last to Vanish (book review)

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda was another good mystery/thriller.

Abby Lowell has been working at The Passage Inn in the small town of Cutter’s Pass in North Carolina for 10 years. It’s adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and offers beautiful scenery, great hiking, and breathtaking waterfalls. Cutter’s Pass has also been the scene of several disappearances through the years. When one of the missing’s family members shows up at the Inn looking for answers, Abby becomes embroiled in the mystery.

This was a good, fast, easy read and was very enjoyable. Abby, and all of the supporting characters, are well rounded and likable. The story moves quickly and is compelling.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the ARC. Look for The Last to Vanish July 26, 2022.

Back to the Garden (book review)

I received an advance copy of Back to the Garden by Laurie King a couple of months ago and I finally finished it last night. (It’s been busy around here!)

I love a good mystery and this was good. Full disclosure- it took me a while to get into it. It seemed rather slow in the beginning and I kept putting the book down and getting distracted. I kept at it though and after a couple of chapters, I was hooked. (So, if you find this slow…keep going!)

The book goes back and forth from the 1970’s to present day. In 1975 the young heir to the Gardener Estate establishes a commune on the grounds. In the present, the estate is run by a trust and open to the public. When one of the art works in the garden, a statue, needs restoration work, they discover a body buried beneath it.

The main character is a police inspector who is investigating a serial killer who was active during the time period. She’s an intriguing character, very likable, and the supporting characters are as well.

There’s a few surprises throughout the story and, once I got past the first couple of slow chapters, I found it a very enjoyable read. I’m giving it 4 stars- because it was a bit slow in the beginning.

Back to the Garden will be out September 6, 2022.

The Lioness (book review)

I have been waiting (and waiting and waiting) for this book to become available at my library. It finally did…and I read it…and I loved it!

Before I talk about The Lioness I have to mention that I love this author. I read The Flight Attendant and The Hour of the Witch and while I enjoyed them, I found myself frequently talking to the main characters (which is not something I make a habit of) and exclaiming things like, “GIRL, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” Or “OMG, YOU IDIOT!” And so forth and so on.

The Lioness is Chris Bohjalian’s latest book, which he apparently wrote in 2020 during quarantine…or as he so aptly put it, during the year that Satan spawned. I think it must have made a difference because this is my favorite of his books (at least the ones I’ve read.) I was captivated immediately and just devoured the book (no pun intended, ha!)

I’m hesitant to describe the book in much detail because I don’t want to give anything away. It’s set in the 1960’s when a Hollywood movie star and her entourage go on an African safari. They anticipated seeing giraffes munching on leaves or seeing elephants or wildebeest…and things didn’t exactly go as planned.

The book is written from several character’s viewpoints, which typically annoys me. It didn’t in The lioness. Each chapter is labeled with the character speaking, so it’s very easy to follow and doesn’t feel strange. And it makes sense. (But if this usually isn’t a format you care for, you might not like it.)

Chris Bohjalian is a lovely writer. His characters are all well rounded and intriguing and he describes Africa and the animals and challenges so well that it’s easy to imagine being there.

Excellent book, highly recommend! Five stars.