Blogger Niel Van Herck from Tjoolaard tells:
If I was living in the Middle Ages, I’d be a troubadour. Moving from place to place, taking in the surroundings, the people, savouring the food, absorbing the smells and the colours. But also looking for stories, the strange, the unusual … and merging the lot together into an experience and a new story. Lucky for you, I don’t have to earn my crust as a singer. Hammering away on a keyboard and clicking a camera does me just fine. As a digital troubadour, I tour the world and share my stories.
The fact is that I suck at sitting still, am ridiculously nosy and that staying at home isn’t my forte. Born to travel, in other words! Throughout Europe, to faraway locations and in my own country. With a distinct preference for outdoor destinations, plenty of nature and the more extreme. And for travel with a twist. As long as the experience takes centre stage.
My goal? Not to present you with a detailed itinerary but to give you a taste for travel.
48 hours in Koksijde and Oostduinkerke: back to my roots
Attentive readers know all too well that Ghent is the love of my life. Come September, I will officially have been living in this city the exact same number of years as I spent roaming around my native Oostduinkerke. Time flies. But as luck would have it, Westtoer invited me to return to my cradle once more and to relive my youth. To fuel my youthful enthusiasm, I took both my godchildren and one of my sisters along. 48-hour home town Oodeekay, here we come!
Day 1: Morning coffee and shrimps
I started in the fairly new coffee bar Kiss My Coffee, firstly because they serve excellent coffee, secondly because I love the interior. And in fine weather, you can sip your coffee outside in the sunshine. Cross the street and you’ll end up in the shop where I spent hour after hour during my childhood and teenage years: OoDeeKay Skateshop. Chief Steve still rules over the decks and sneakers here. It was he who helped to ensure that Oostduinkerke has one of the greatest skating parks in Belgium now (as did my dad in fact).
I lived in Oostduinkerke my entire youth, have a shrimp tattooed on my leg and took part in the shrimp parade as a nipper. But not once did I join the horseback shrimp fishers (I hang my head in shame). Far too touristy, right? Yet, umpteen years later, the momentous occasion arose. I finally joined the crowds in the direction of the shoreline, gaping at the enormous draught horses, slowly but bravely pulling a cart with a yellow fisherman.
Suddenly I realised why this folkloric attraction was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site: the power of the horse, the passion of the porters, the yellow against the grey. Heroes of the sea! And there is nothing to beat fresh shrimp.
12:00 h: Lunch surf&turf
Meat fanatics, unite! Butcher shop Dierendonck is an institution at the Belgian Coast and restaurant Carcasse, run by the young Anthony Snoeck, is determined to follow in its footsteps. True craftsmanship in this meat restaurant. Under thirty? Carcasse takes part in Jong Keukengeweld (‘the youngsters cooking for youngsters’ festival). Not too far away, my sister-in-law runs the Saumon d’Or, a superior fish shop with original fish recipes.
Time for another bit of nostalgia. In primary school, we used to visit the Koksijde Dune Abbey at least once a year. A school trip to the ruins of a formerly glorious abbey, with a museum full of curiosities, including the skeleton of sperm whale Valentine. The skeleton is no longer on display, but now you can travel back in time via the museum’s Virtual Reality experience.
16:00 h: Bunkers and Captain Zeppos
Strange how all of a sudden the dunes don’t look that imposing any more. Would I have grown up after all? No reason not to plough through the sand, get pricked by the beach grass and to jump off the tops of the dunes once more though! Highlight was definitely finding the semi-buried bunker from the war again.
As kids, we used to play soldiers here, hid the treasure trove full of prince biscuits of Captain Zeppos (played by my older brother) during my birthday party; later on, I brought my first girlfriends here and also took a fairly nasty fall while free running, known as ‘jumping from one thing to the next’ in those days.
Dinner in Koksijde’s other borough, Wulpen. Wielrijdersrust - Het Dorstige Hart especially famed among cyclists as a pleasant stop, where bartender Adelheid welcomes patrons with open arms.
Brand new, so no unadulterated nostalgia this time, and just as well perhaps. Win’est is a stylish wine bar, dark interior and, more importantly, right on the promenade. It serves the finer wines, cocktails for the fans and is the perfect place to end the evening. The party boys can go around the corner to The Possé or a little further up to de Viking.
Day 2: Racing time
With the nippers in tow, it was time to really go old-school. They started off by running from one go-cart to the next like a pair of lunatics before picking one, swapping it again and eventually bombing it down the promenade, with us running after them of course. Strange how these things also come with lights and noise these days.
The beach used to be my playground. Digging holes, skimboarding, swimming, building sand fortresses (castles were for princesses), surfing, late-night sessions, you name it. Great to see the little ones instantly coming up with the same game I used to play when I was their age: trampling razor clams, the more in the one go the merrier. Or dropping their lollipop in the sand, giving it a quick glance before putting it back in their mouth again.
13:00 h: Iceland trawlers and shrimp-stuffed tomato salad
The early bird catches the worm, especially if you want to eat at the Peerdevisscher. Behind the counter a veritable shrimp fisher and you can taste it in the food. Here, you can eat the best shrimp-stuffed tomato salad and lemon sole in butter sauce. Just writing about it is enough to want me to go back for more.
14:00 h: After such a textbook classic: the fisheries museum
I used to think of it as a creepy spot because it was full of strange dolls and old furniture, which is still the case, only now they’ve really pulled out all the stops to turn it into a pleasant experience. You walk through the former fisherman’s house, learn everything there is to know about the Iceland fishermen (bad boys for life) and end the tour in a large aquarium, full of fish, crabs and other creatures of the sea. With kids, an unbeatable experience!
No better spot for afternoon tea than Siska, especially when you have kids with you. For time immemorial, they have been serving the most fantastic waffles, humongous banana splits and shrimp croquettes. And the juniors? You can let them off to run riot in the two playgrounds.
The only way to end the trip is with a local secret: the ‘kakaatje’ at Geertje’s. Whatever about the latter being a local legend in his own right, the ‘kakaatje’, aka the cheese soufflé burger, is an absolute must. It’s actually a Bicky Burger with a flat cheese croquette instead of a hamburger. And cucumber instead of gherkin. Spent fortunes on them in my day.
For the record, I stayed at the Casino Hotel, four stars, right in the centre, beautiful rooms and particularly pet-friendly. Your pet can quite simply join you at the table.