I’d like to think that hidden gems are a specialty of mine: after years of living off the beaten path, we particularly enjoy seeing things that the average tourist won’t. We are helped by the fact that we currently live in western Europe and can easily drive places that otherwise would be difficult to get to. One such places is the enchanting Abbaye de Villers in Villers-la-Ville, partway between Brussels and Charleroi (but not really near anything).
Someone had once mentioned the abbey to me as a place they liked to take visitors, and although I wrote down the advice, it took nearly a year before I acted on it. Over the summer, when we had a houseful of guests and Grant was out of town, we collectively came up with a number of different mini day trip options, ultimately deciding on a half-day adventure checking out the abbey. We packed cameras, a cooler full of food and drink, and set off not really knowing what to expect.
After what ended up being an hour’s drive due to detours and closed roads, we arrived in the tiny, tiny town of Villers-la-Ville, which primarily houses the abbey and its associated visitor’s center/museum. Founded in 1146, the abbey was abandoned in 1796, which makes for a unique site perfect for photography. The museum is nice and we enjoyed following the map around the ruins, trying to picture what life was like for the monks hundreds of years ago. Despite having seen pictures online, we were absolutely awed. It is one of those places where no photo does it justice (though Grant’s from last week comes very, very close).
During that first visit, we made a couple of mistakes: we didn’t bring Scarlett and we left our food in the car, not knowing if outside food would be allowed — whereas there are actually picnic tables and benches inside the grounds for that very purpose. The abbey was incredible and we enjoyed the view from a few different places around the edge of the complex as well as checking out the different gardens that are hidden off to the side. We had a wonderful time and I had been looking for a good excuse to bring Grant back: last weekend was it! The weather forecast was the best it has been in weeks, so we decided to enjoy a beautiful fall Sunday walking around the abbey with Scarlett. The plan was to arrive shortly after it opened in the morning, when there would likely not be many people around (Belgians tend to sleep in), and enjoy the photo op and peaceful setting.
We were totally unprepared for a local festival. When we arrived, the parking lots were already overflowing, police had signs warning drivers about horses, I spotted a number of carriages, and people with dogs crowded the small village street:”Good thing we brought Scarlett, we’ll fit right in!” I joked. We decided to check out what was going on before going to the abbey, and ended up joining a procession led by a horse-drawn cart (full of people in old-fashioned clothing who were throwing candy to everyone else), followed by a group of red-clad horn players, and then the rest of us with our dogs — although I exaggerate in saying everyone had a dog, I’m not exaggerating by much. I had never been in quite a procession before and I must admit, we had a lot of fun.
As it turns out, it was a festival of St. Hubert and there was a priest who blessed all the animals there: a few goats and geese who appeared to be making the abbey their home, all our dogs, and many horses people had ridden there for the occasion. Although it was not the calm setting I had imagined, it was quite the experience! As a bonus, we were able to walk right in as part of the festival, so although it meant Grant missed the museum aspect (and the super cool timeline), it also means we didn’t pay the entry fee. Most importantly, it means we are both looking forward to going back again!
Note that if you are taking visitors who are only in town for a short time, it is possible to combine a couple of hours here with a stop at Waterloo Battlefield, which can be on the way (or at least not too far out of the way), depending on which roads you take to/from Brussels. But if you do decide to stop at Waterloo, the museum takes at least two hours (if you go quickly) and although it is fabulous, the tickets are on the pricier side and there’s no option to just climb the Lion’s Mount, as we learned the hard way. That being said, you can always do a drive-by to see it!
… since I actually wrote something here. Sorry about that.
I am sitting in the corner of one of my favorite coffee shops, wondering how to write a post that will bring my blog back to life. Or really what to write in such a post. There is so much to say I don’t know where to start, even if being in the coffee shop inspires me to write. The couple at the table to the right of me is speaking Serbian, and hearing them distracts me from my eavesdropping on the Italian ladies discussing their dinner plans. True story. We’re surrounded by people from all over and although I’m glad I have a smattering of French, I sometimes think the bits and pieces I know of other languages end up being just as helpful.
We are now well into our second year living in Brussels: I really can’t believe it has been fourteen months (and counting) since our Belgian adventure began. I’m not sure if the honeymoon phase ever really left because I am constantly discovering new things and enjoying it all — almost. There are definitely some things of which I am decidedly not a fan, but as frustrating as they can be, I’m able to remind myself that I’ll only be here a couple more years, and then they don’t bother me quite so much. Usually.
I had grand plans of keeping this more up to date when we moved to Brussels, thinking that a dark, damp winter, combined with a husband working long hours would leave me with plenty of time to write posts I could put out later, when life was busier. But I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be during that dark, damp winter and those long, husband-less days. For one thing, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors, and even if a visitor or two wasn’t at our apartment, there has almost always been at least one on the horizon, which of course meant preparing and planning.
For another, we’ve really tried to embrace life in Western Europe and have been doing a lot of traveling — while that gives me lots of fodder for the blog, the planning and the executing of these trips takes up a lot of time and energy… And I’m not always up for recounting everything right away, as much as I should. Some trips I hope to highlight on here include lots of wine tourism to Alsace, Champagne, Burgundy, and Germany’s Mosel Valley.
We also took two very big trips recently: back to the States for some family time and (as you may have seen on the last snapshot sunday) all the way to Hawaii for the wedding of some friends. The travel for that trip in particular was brutal — and made much worse by United Airlines’ incompetence — but our time with friends in Hawaii was truly magical.
My professional life has also taken a turn for the more exciting: in addition to freelance projects (including a chapter in another book! More on that soon because really, it’s a great book!), I started a full time, work-in-an-office position last spring that has kept me very busy and also makes me want to have a break from my computer when I get home. And so the blog suffers. But here’s to hoping my blogging drive continues as the days are indeed getting darker and I’m more likely to want to be curled up and writing somewhere cozy…