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Tim Foolery

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Tag Archives: Europe

Lozerkasteel – Kruishoutem Hotel

Knowing that we had dinner reservations at number 50 of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants on our final night in Belgium, we decided to stay at Lozerkasteel in the town of Kruishoutem. We knew we would select the tasting menu and the wine pairings, so we knew we couldn’t drive to and from the restaurant, so staying nearby was required. There aren’t many hotel options in this town of 8,000 people, but using Booking.com we found this stunningly picturesque property just a few kilometers from the restaurant.

After we left Ghent in the mid-afternoon, the drive took us 30 minutes. We actually drive right past the property initially. then decided to drive up to the restaurant to see where it was and how long it would take us to get there. Upon returning to the hotel, we passed it again! Finally in the third time, we managed to find the driveway and arrive at 17h02. We told the hotel that we’d be there between 16h and 17h.

We arrived to find the innkeeper on the front patio reading the newspaper with his dog. We pulled in front and he welcomed us to the property. Immediately showing us to our room and giving us the quick tour.

The room wasn’t huge, but it was quite comfortable, the bed was surprisingly great. The room didn’t have many luxury amenities, but was perfect for what we needed – which was a safe, clean place near our destination restaurant.

The bed was stark, but surprisingly comfortable.

The room was tight, but we did have a small seating area.

The “minibar”

The bathroom was large and had small supplies of toiletries. Usually I don’t travel with shampoo or soap and rely on the hotel’s supply to get me through the stay. We had enough for showers before dinner and before departure, but that was it.

A double vanity sure was a surprise at this property.

The toilet was in the main bathroom, not separated like you often find.

While the room was nothing spectacular, the grounds were a different story. Nestled in a secluded area surrounded by rolling fields, a small pond and a working farm, you felt like you were in another world. You could hear no road traffic, no sounds save the braying of a donkey or the flapping of a goose’s goose wing. You could feel any stress you had just melt away.

There were dozens of geese milling about, but they kept to themselves.

The barn was a surprising addition, with loud donkeys.

The picturesque pond was just meters from the main house.

This was the main house next to our guest house. We did not get access to this part of the property.

A serene scene

A friendly two toned goat – white pants are acceptable in summer though.

One of the several curious outbuildings.

I sat outside and read the final pages of War and Turpentine in the seats previously occupied by the innkeeper and his dog.

As I was reading the innkeeper returned and asked if I had prepaid the room, which I had as it was required through Booking.com. he leaves and returns a few minutes later, saying I hadn’t paid. I showed him my paid receipt with the large Booking.com note saying “Show this confirmation to the front desk”.

Paid Booking Confirmation

My receipt did nothing to persuade the innkeeper, who demanded that I pay another 140$ to stay the night. Failure to pay immediately meant we had to leave. I protested again to no avail. I decided that I would just pay again, then work with the property, Booking.com or worse case scenario, my credit card company to fix the situation.

We returned to the hotel after midnight and found no other cars on site – we must have been the only guests. The innkeeper said that traffic into Brussels can be a bear in the morning and could take 60-75 minutes to go a mere 26 km. We decided to leave the hotel at 06h45, three hours and 45 minutes before my flight. Traffic was horrendous and I arrived at BRU at 09h00,just 30 minutes before my flight was to board.

Upon arriving back home, I emailed the hotel with a copy of my prepaid receipt and my strong armed double charge, asking for a credit. A second email was required before getting a response, they were on holiday for a week and would look into upon their return. Nearly a week after their supposed return, and having still heard nothing

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Ghent

I will be the first to admit that traveling to Ghent was never on my short list of travel destination. You know, it wasn’t even on my long list of destinations. It never even crossed my mind as a place I’d visit. But we did. Going in, I had really no expectations about the city of Ghent. I figured it would be a city that had a rough industrial feel, like a Manchester or a Pittsburgh I was so pleasantly surprised upon arrival too.

These working class town homes are now high rent areas.

I didn’t do any specific research on Ghent, other than finding its exact location on the map and the distance and direction between it and Bruges and Brussels. I didn’t even research the hotel until we were leaving the American Cemetery the day we were checking in. My husband did that research and booking. Yes, I was going in almost completely blind.

H.E. Dirk Wouters the Belgian Ambassador to the US was asked to provide guidance to American travelers visiting Belgium for the first time – what is the ONE BOOK they should read before arrival. He suggested War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. I did buy this book and read it almost fully before we landed in Belgium. It is the story of a man, and his father and grandfather who were from Belgium. The story is a fictionalized account of their lives based on stories and journals. It begins before the First World War and ends in the late 20th Century. I highly recommend this book for anyone traveling through Belgium or other areas impacted by WWI. It was an entertaining and moving story that consistently held my interest. Plus, parts of it take place in Ghent. This was the research I did on this city.

A park near the University in Ghent, which is often packed with people enjoying nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This unsanctioned public art was so loved by the public the city decided not to remove it.

Ghent is a small city that is easily traversed by bicycle or a relatively extensive public transit system. The day and a half plus one night we stayed had us encountering only a handful of people in which we interacted with directly. Those people were warm and friendly and proud of their city – and rightfully so.

Bicycle parking at the main train station.

The new modern design of the library juxtaposed to the classic industrial buildings.

Ghent is home to classic architecture as well as modern.

Does Ghent measure up to other cities in Europe like London, Barcelona or Paris? I’d say no, but it shouldn’t be measured that way. It’s of a different caliber. It is, in my mind as worth a visit as much as Prague is though. If you are traveling through Belgium, you must spend a day or two in Ghent, it is a beautiful and welcoming place to be. The summer days we were there were absolutely stunning. Go. Go now.

Ghent by Bike

Exploring a new city is best done by bike, don’t you think?  This holds especially true for a city like Ghent that has more than 400 km (248 miles) of cycling paths and more than 700 one-way streets where bikes can travel in both directions.  While the city of Ghent may not be as well known as a cycling city as Amsterdam, but is a huge part of the Ghent lifestyle.  I mentioned that our 1898 Post Hotel was surrounded by car-free streets – you’ll only find pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and trams.

We’ve had some amazing bike tours in ParisLondonBarcelonaMexico CityVietnamShanghai, South Africa, and Bruges. Most of these tours have been spent with us riding to, from and between some of the most famous sites in the area.  We’ve seen Notre Dame, Big Ben, the Gothic Quarter and the Bund on these rides, but in Ghent it was a little different.

First off, we didn’t book this tour until we were a day away from Ghent.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I was booking this tour while we walked around the Flanders Field American Cemetery on Memorial Day.  I found Bike Ghent on TripAdvisor and was impressed with the reviews.  Unfortunately the website wasn’t working properly when I tried to book, so I shot the owner, Christophe a quick email, which he responded by calling me back almost immediately.  He had another private tour planned for the day I wanted, but he offered to try to reschedule the previously booked tour, which was quite surprising.  He called back a few minutes later – SUCCESS.  Instead of meeting at his normal pickup point, we’d meet at the main train station.

Instead of touring the main historic cites, which are all centrally located in Ghent, Christophe took us around different parts of the city that tourists usually don’t see.  We left the station and traveled to Citadel Park, where Christophe told us that it was a pretty popular gay cruising park – a strange non-sequitur.  We continued along bike paths and main arteries learning the history of the area and how Ghent is transitioning into a modern 21st century city with co-work spaces and tech hubs.  The university system is large and diverse driving additional innovation.

The real focus of our tour also included the amazing street art scene in Ghent.  It was vibrant and diverse.  The murals were inventive added a fun level of whimsy to this urban space.  There was even a practice area near the old port where taggers can practice their trade, which was great to tour.  I was really digging the art – but if I had read this was a street art bike tour, I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but I’m so glad I did.

When you visit Ghent, do yourself a favor and call Christophe (the owner operator) of Bike Ghent, you won’t be disappointed.  He has a wealth of knowledge and makes the ride really fun providing a view of the city that you can’t get on your own.

1898 Post – Ghent Hotel

Our next stop in Belgium was in the Flemish city of Ghent.  As noted earlier, there weren’t really any Starwood properties in the areas we were visiting, so we felt free explore other lodging options.  When we are in this situation we love to branch out and explore new and unique hotels, lodging in unexpected or re-purposed spaces is always high on our list too.  The hotel we chose in Ghent was the former Post Office and was centrally located and is flanked on one side by the Leie River and Korenmarkt on the other. Ghent is a very pedestrian and bike friendly city, which I love, but what I don’t love is the sheer number of pedestrian zones near our hotel, making driving to the hotel and dropping off our bags difficult.  The hotel doesn’t offer parking of any sort.

The original building was built in 1898 (hence the name) and operated as the Ghent main post office until 2001.  The building was sold and re-purposed in 2014 into its current state housing 37 hotel rooms. The rooms continue with the postage theme, the appropriately named Stamp room is just 19 m² (204 ft²).  We stayed in the Postcard, a two level loft room with 25 m² (270 ft²). This room was interesting as the king sized bed and the separate water closet were on the main floor, while the beautifully designed bathroom was upstairs in the loft.  The double height room made the tight quarters much more comfortable, I didn’t feel cramped at all, but let’s be honest, the room was tight and there wasn’t much space to lounge, unless you were sitting on the bed (or maybe the stool in the bathroom). The largest room is the Loft, coming in at 65 m² (700 ft²), so there are plenty of options to fit your needs in this property.

The rooms are adorned with dark, rich colors.  There were lots of deep greens and dark woods. It was a very masculine design aesthetic, which we really enjoyed.  I wouldn’t incorporate it into my home (well, maybe a guest room), but it did feel quite welcoming, despite the color choices.  I think if it were a cold dreary winter day, this style would be cozy and comforting – with a nice strong cocktail, no less.

The bedroom was tight, but the views were unmatched.

The wardrobe and minibar added much needed storage to this room.

The view of the tight bedroom area from the upstairs bathroom.

The water closet – why would you need a stool in this room? Is additional seating really needed?

When we arrived there was a bartending competition taking place in the main bar, which was closed to the public.  I didn’t want a drink before I heard about the competition, but then I was immediately interested and utterly parched – and frustrated that I couldn’t get a drink.  That frustration passed quickly as we chatted up the gentleman working the front desk. He was excited to talk about the property and he obviously took pride in his job and his city.  After getting the basic info on the hotel, he offered several suggestions for dinner and drinks. He offered some pretty standard touristy places, but when we pushed and said “would you drink/dine there?” he immediately said he wouldn’t and it was mostly for tourists.  So he gave us different options that we took him up on. More on that later.

We were offered an escort to our room, which we politely declined and headed down the perfectly curated halls to our room. The ornamental selection of books and other historic treasures can be found on bookcases and tables in the halls and throughout the rooms themselves.  It doesn’t feel like a hotel, it feels like a perfectly planned guest room in a friend’s home. I found myself looking at every item on the shelves and quickly realizing that 1) the design team put a lot of thought into each item and 2) I could spend my entire visit just looking at the bric-a-brac.

The double height hallways were rich but flooded with natural light.

The hallways had an Eiffel Tower feel but were a bit dark.

An expertly curated and appointed bookcase in the public spaces.

The view from our room was on Korenmarkt and St. Nicholas’ Church, which was truly stunning during the day and utterly breathtaking all lit up at night.

The view from our room of St. Nicholas’ Church

The bathroom upstairs was fitted with white octagonal tiles and oil rubbed bronze fixtures.  The shower was large and luxurious with great water pressure and loads of hot water. The biggest problem with the bathroom area was it was just so hot up there.  It was 31C (88F) during our stay, but the loft area trapped the heat and the shower itself just pumped out more heat. It was actually uncomfortable when you were getting ready, post-shower.  We needed some additional circulation up there – it’s awful when you have a long hot day exploring a city, come home to take a refreshing shower before dinner, but are just as hot and sweaty after the shower as you were before.

A small vanity with very limited real estate, but the design was spectacular.

The shower was glorious.

The hotel has an honor bar on the second floor as well, for hotel guests.  This unmanned bar has several different types of liquor and wines. You are allowed, or should I say, encouraged to make yourself a drink – just be sure you write down what you had, how much and your room number.  They’ll be happy to add it to your bill. I love the trust this shows in guests and perhaps I’m just a cynical traveler, but I wonder how many deadbeats make a drink, but don’t pay for it. The honor bar was also expertly appointed and really called you to sit down, read a design book and enjoy a rich cocktail.

The honor bar was well stocked – I love the decanters.

The honor bar a warm and welcoming space.

The cordial set in the honor bar.

A quiet seating area nestled in a corner of one of the public spaces.

Speaking of cocktails, we did stop by the bar, called the Cobbler (not after a shoe mender, but a cocktail shaker) and had a nightcap.  I have an irrational love of mezcal, so I had to ask the bartenders to make me a cocktail of their choosing, with mezcal – but also with the bounty of the season – it’s a little over the top, but the herbs, fruits and berries made not only a beautifully styled and balanced cocktail, but it was a great little midnight snack.

This custom cocktail with an elaborate bouquet of herbs and fruit.

One more note on the booze selection, I think the minibar was the most wonderful incarnation of an in-room minibar I have ever seen.  Like everything else in this property, much care was taken not only in selecting the items to include, but the presentation of those items.  While we did not partake in the minibar, we were quite tempted and I think if the Cobbler had been closed, we would have made our own specialty drinks.

The minibar was well stocked and was quietly demanding we make a cocktail, how could we turn it down?

Our room, all in including taxes and fees was 206€ per night.  While not on the cheap side, we found such great value in this hotel and loved the idea of supporting a property in a repurposed space.  All the staff interactions were that of a five-diamond property. I would definitely stay here again – and I really loved the city of Ghent, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we do return at some point in the not-to-distant future.

Do you dig unique hotels like this, or does it feel too gimmicky and contrived? Do you appreciate the time and effort that go into all these details at a hotel, or would you prefer to stay in a place that spends more time and energy on the important things (comfort, safety, service) vs. an expertly curated bookshelf in a hallway?

American Cemetery on Memorial Day

After our visit to Ypres, the Hill 60 Battlefield and the French Mass Cemetery we wanted to visit one more WWI Memorial as we made our way from Bruges to the second city on our trip, Ghent. The American Cemetery is located in the town of Waregem and is the final resting stop for 411 American soldiers. The names of 43 missing soldiers are inscribed on the chapel, but have no known graves.

These men had died in battle not far from the current cemetery in the waning weeks of the war. We just happened to arrive on the Memorial Day Holiday in the US. That is a Federal holiday off from work, which we usually parlay into a longer weekend trip somewhere (we’ve used this weekend to visit Paris, South America, London, and Italy). The weather was beautiful during our visit, sunny, warm with a slightly sweet smell on the breezy air. Spring in West Flanders was amazing.

The Cemetery

The Flanders Field American Cemetery.

The Flanders Field American Cemetery.

The grand entrance to the American Cemetery

The grand entrance to the American Cemetery

Stone Chapel at the American Cemetery

The stone chapel at the center of the American Cemetery.

Commemorative Wreath at the American Cemetery WWI

A commemorative wreath laid by the American Battle Monuments Commission – the entity responsible for maintaining these cemeteries.

American Cemetery WWI

The symmetrically placed markers for each of the soldiers laid to rest here.

American Cemetery WWI

One of the quiet areas of reflection at the cemetery.

American Cemetery WWI

A beautiful Memorial Day

The cemetery was quiet, but it looked like we had either just missed or arrived too early for a Memorial Day ceremony at the American Cemetery, as dozens of folding chairs were stacked along the periphery.

We spent about 45 minutes walking the grounds of this small memorial. I was looking for last names that I recognized, finding none. The first grave we came upon was the most moving to me. Walter Lang from Ohio had died in battle on November 11, 1918 – the final official day of the war. This young soldier was so close to returning home to his family. So many of the markers had this tragic date engraved on them.

American Cemetery WWI - Fallen Soldier

Walter Lang died on the final day of the war.

Have you visited the American Cemetery in West Flanders?  Do you visit memorials like this when you travel or do you actively avoid them?