Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A seafood lunch - part 1

After walking up and down the Visserskaai a second time, I finally found a place I liked, with a nice offer of seafood, a cosy terrace with a premium table in the sun. Inside the place looked pretty full (always a sign of quality food and service), but the terrace only had 4 patrons: two elderly ladies wearing sun heads and a middle-aged couple.

When I walked up to entrance, the waitress was about to take the order of the two elderly ladies. I had to wait for a while and overheard their conversation. They both wanted lobster: 1/2 Thermidor-style (cold with a salad, mayonnaise and cocktail sauce) as a starter. The second half: warm with a garlic sauce for the main course.

The ladies sounded like regular clients, with the waitress calling them 'My Princesses'.

After a while the waitress re-appeared carrying a bowl containing two fine lobsters. The two 'princesses' were very curious to know whether the lobsters were males or females, as they insisted on having the precious 'coral' of the females. After a scrutinizing examination - involving the poor animals indignantly being turned upside down - they got the ladies' approval. It was fun and interesting to watch!

The waitress saw me taking the above photo and with a big smile walked over to my table for a close-up of the bowl and its contents.

'That'll be 10 euros', she laughed. 'Just put it on the bill!' I answered. Of course, she didn't but it was all good fun and I broke the ice, insuring me of some excellent service for the rest of the meal ...

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Getting the feel of the place

I arrived in Ostend on Thursday, June 9th at around 11.30 a.m. My taxi dropped me off at the hotel and the driver was kind enough to carry my luggage in. As check-in wasn't until 3 p.m. I left my bags in the hotel storage room and set off for my first walk along the beach promenade to get a feel of the place, enjoy the sun (the weather was surprisingly mild, with hardly any wind and a calm sea) and find a place to have lunch.

I walked in the direction of the port and the Visserskaai (Fishermen's wharf), shooting photos and observing people. It was a very nice walk and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I saw some famous landmarks on my way - more about that later. 

This statue facing the sea and honouring the fishermen who died at sea is the most famous landmark of Ostend ... and a favourite look-out spot for the many seagulls.
Click to enlarge.

At some point the promenade makes a 90° turn east and before you lies the Visserskaai, with on one side the entrance to the port with a small semi-open fish market, the North Sea aquarium and the lock through which the sailing yachts enter the docks further inland. The fishing port is on the other side of the port entrance and not visible from this point. The sidewalk across the road is lined with cafes and restaurants. By the time I got there, the terraces had started filling up with hungry tourists.

I walked up and down twice, checking out the menu cards, the general infrastructure and people sipping coffee, beer, a glass of wine or a soft drink while studying the menu. Prices for an standard menu consisting of a starter and a main course varied from 19 to 35 euros. The offer was quite similar: fish soup, shrimp croquettes, salads, two baby Dover soles with french fries, lobster, mussels and the odd meat course - steak with a choice of sauces (warm and cold), fries and a salad.

I had a hard time deciding which place to chose. Then I realized that it was almost 12.30 p.m. and that I felt rather thirsty. I wasn't ready to make a choice, though and walked down a narrow street leading inland, where I found a nice square with a small outdoor market in full swing. 

Market square.

The sidewalk terraces had a really French look and feel, and I decided to have a cool beer before deciding where to have my lunch. After all, being on vacation, I had all the time in the world. Especially as most restaurants took orders till 2.30 p.m.!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Why I went to Ostend

If this time last year someone had told me that I would be spending a short vacation in Ostend in 2016, I would have declared that person mad as a march hare. At the time I was of course still enjoying the happy memories of my Corfu adventure.

In fact, I was already planning a second visit of the island in 2016. Late November I went to the travel agency to book a 10-day stay at the Kontokali hotel - the same hotel as in 2015. Back home I called my ex-SIL who lives in Corfu to tell her I would be visiting her again end of May. She seemed pleased but immediately told me that she was looking for another job on the Greek mainland. In fact, at that precise moment she was on a boat to Thessaloniki to see a man who would help her find a job in one of the big hotels over there. If it worked out, she would be moving before Christmas!

To make a long story short, she did indeed move in December and I've never heard from her since. Both her mobile phone and landline have been cut off ... I made some inquiries, but she seems to have vanished from the face of the earth. I just hope she is OK and nothing bad has happened to her.

There I was, with a 10 day reservation on an island where I didn't know a living soul. All of a sudden the whole plan seemed less appealing. I also felt that my mother wasn't too happy about the idea of me going off on my own, with nobody to turn to in case of an emergency. So I cancelled my trip and brooded several weeks over an alternative. I didn't want to spend my yearly vacation, staying at home like I did in 2014. So I considered several options, one of which was Malta, where I spent a lovely fortnight in 1983 with my late husband, a few months before he was killed in a car accident.

Okay, I can hear you thinking "But you don't know a living soul there either." And of course, you are right. Plus, taking a plane from Brussels' airport suddenly seemed less appealing after the savage bomb attacks. It wasn't so much that I was scared to go to the airport and take a plane. It was more the severe, yet necessary security checks and endless queues that put me off.

The Belgian coast looked like a nice alternative. I considered several resorts: Knokke, Heist, Duinbergen, ... places I had been to with my mother in the sixties. And then I thought of Ostend. My last visit goes back to 1982. My late husband and I had just bought a new car and couldn't afford an expensive vacation abroad. So we booked this place, near the port of Ostend. It was a dump, but at least it had a large garage in which we could park our precious new car, a cherry-red Opel Kadett, btw. 

This is what the place looks like dd June 2016.
The old garage is all boarded up. The rest of the building still seems to be occupied,
 judging by the net curtains. I don't think it 
still is a hotel, though.

On one of our walks on the beach promenade, we came across this hotel. It was brand-new and 'you could almost smell the fresh paint' (as Rose said in the film Titanic).

My room was located on the third floor (white dot).

It looked awfully expensive. We were pretty young then and stood in awe before so much luxury. We swore that one day we would, when we could afford it, spend a night in this grand hotel. It wasn't to be ...

But this year I kept that 34 years ago made promise. I spent 5 nights in one of the recently renovated rooms - and yes, you could almost smell the fresh paint!