Here you’ll find travel reports about Houthulst. Discover travel destinations in Belgium of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

2 travelers at this place:

  • Day488

    16 months away today!

    October 27, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    On the 27th June 2016 the two of us and Poppy left our house in Netherton, Dudley and set off on a 5 year European adventure in Martha, our new home on wheels! 16 months and 22,200 miles later we are still on the continent but this will be our last monthly 'vanniversary' over here before returning to the UK for a Christmas time visit, just short of 17 months from the date we left.

    We've toured 12 countries from the southernmost point of Sicily to the northernmost point of Norway. Here in Belgium, our 12th country, we are closer to the UK than we have been in a long while. We are getting very excited about seeing people we know and love and treading familiar paths once again. Don't get us wrong, we love our nomadic life and are very glad we took advantage of the only time we wouldn't need to visit a UK garage after 12 months to MOT Martha. It has given us an unparalleled experience of open-ended exploration and allowed us, to a great extent, to live for the moment instead of our thoughts frequently reminding us of the end. One of the many things we have learned is that the views, opinions and memories of our encounters are very much shaped by things we notice for their prominence and novelty. Many times, the absence of something has far less of an initial impact, memories fade quickly as we acclimatise and adapt rapidly to new circumstances in different countries and regions. However, we have felt the absence of friends and family throughout our time away, apart from during the wonderful visits from those who have been able to come and see us. We knew before we set off to satisfy our wanderlust that we'd miss people, but as we've been able to cast off many of life's possessions, complications and day to day business, our focus has been drawn to the things that are truly important to us.

    We'll be seeing many of you soon!
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  • Day479

    WWOOFing @ Woudezel: work & community

    October 18, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    We've talked a lot in previous posts about the farm ethos, setup and what we ate, but not much about what we actually contributed to it. Believe it or not we did work hard while we were there! Our first job was clearing dead wood from the forest area around the swimming pond. It had indigenous trees such as oak, birch and holly but had also been planted with american blueberry bushes, edible honeysuckle, kiwi, lime and many more species, some of which we had never heard of. The goats and rabbits enjoyed munching some of what was removed but the rest was taken to stack in one of the far fields where it would be left to decompose, providing homes for wildlife, some of which would help break it down. In a few years time, Diderik would start to colonise the stack with plant species, beginning with raspberries. It was heartwarming to see a hawk perched on the pile just a few hours later and a wren exploring between the branches the following morning.

    A thick wall of bamboo needed to be cut back to let light in to the forest and after we'd finished working on this, we set about clearing the spiky hawthorn branches Diderik had cut from the hedges. Long sticks were tied in bundles to fuel the stone bread oven, while smaller pieces were raked together and burned in the field where the ash would enrich the soil. Towards the end of the week Will got his wish and launched the little boat out on to the pond. Armed with a net and large plant pot, we removed a massive amount of duck weed from the water surface and raked the dead reeds from the shore. Ever the pig tucked enthusiastically into a trough of weed, a little was given to the chickens and the rest would e composted.

    As a less strenuous activity, we tended to some of the hundreds of potted plants Diderik was growing. Some were to plant out in the food forest but most were to sell at markets or to people he knew through courses. Local buyers would also come directly to the farm from time to time. For most of the pots, we needed to remove weeds then add compost and mulch. Some needed trimming, repotting or securing to a bamboo cane cut from the forest. Before we arrived, we reckoned we knew a good proportion of edible plants, but we discovered so many new varieties in the nursery here!

    As you would expect, most of the work was outdoors. We were lucky with the rain, but being October, it was sometimes wet. We spent these times working our way through three freezer drawers of Sea Buckthorn branches. Removing the tightly clustered orange berries was a slow task because we needed to be careful of the very strong, very large spikes that would pierce our gloves if we weren't. These berries were one of the many things Diderik used to make organic jams, some of which he would sell on at markets and some that we had the pleasure of sampling on toast, with cheese or in a stew at home. Belgian cuisine uses sweetened fruit in otherwise savoury dishes, for example we accompanied the roast chicken on the final night with yellow plums soaked in syrup.

    Our WWOOF host worked off-farm at another organic project 3 days a week, but during the time he was home, visitors came and went frequently. His Mum, Anne-Marie and 4 year old neice, Selestine came over when it was time to kill the chickens. Anne-Marie helped with the chickens and Selestine with the potted plants. We must mention the delicious Belgian chocolates they brought with them and left for the three of us- yet another of the many gastronomic delights! Near the end of our time, Diderik's Aunt and an older niece came to pass on some veal from a calf that had been in an accident on their farm and had to be put down. We got to know his friend Stoffel who was doing up an old mercedes camper van in one of the outhouses. He came with his two Border Collies, Izzy and Moss who grumpy old Poppy took a dislike to and scarpered back into the van whenever she saw them. Contrary to this canine relationship, we took a liking to Stoffel, who was initially a little quiet but once he got his teeth into a discussion, revealed well thought out opinions on topics such as immigration and multinationals, that were very close to our own. The back forth between the four of us was reminiscent of some of the political discussions we were so used to having in meetings and conferences back home!

    Diderik is passionate about spreading knowledge on permaculture systems, running various talks and courses on the topic. Seeing his system in action was one of the best ways to do this, so visitors would drop in for a tour of the food forest. As a new initiative, an acquaintance had begun to hold a Sweat Lodge in one of the fields, once a month near the time of the full moon. The sort of people who attended were likely to be interested in connecting with nature and therefore more links would hopefully be made to spread an understanding and perhaps the practice of permaculture. By staying at and working as part of the farm, more of these community webs were revealed to us and for a short time, we ourselves became part of De Woudezel's permaculture community. By writing this blog and talking with people we hope we can help share some of what we learned about a positive alternative to intensive modern monoculture farming. If you are interested or have any questions, we'd love to hear from you!
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  • Day477

    WWOOFing @ Woudezel Farm, Flanders 1of 3

    October 16, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    After our volunteering experience at Jan Ols Gården organic goat farm and riding stables in Sweden, we had caught the WWOOFing bug and arranged another placement for 11 days in Flanders.

    De Woudezel farm is an organic permaculture smallholding of 6 hectares, incorporating a plant nursery, food forest and a small number of amimals. Our host Diderik and his huge dog Lappa met us as we pulled off the main road into the farmyard as agreed, at 6pm sharp. Lappa is a cross between an Irish Wolfhound and a Briard, full of life and very, very affectionate! A black kitten soon came bounding up to join in the fun, purring happily when Vicky scooped her up.

    Life at Woudezel began with a tour of the animals, food forest and potted plants. As Diderik talked passionately about about permaculture, the philosophy of sustainability and working in harmony with nature, it struck a cord with us and we became increasingly enthusiastic about the coming 11 days.

    We'd heard of permaculture before, but seeing it in action was inspiring. Instead of being a labour (or chemically) intensive slog against weeds and pests in order to grow dense monocultures, natural systems had been created where a range of different plants had been planted thoughfully to grow alongside each other. Some would provide shade or protection from the wind, some would fix nitrogen and some would act as support. For example, a kiwi would be planted at the foot of a cherry tree and grow up its trunk. Grass and nettles grew throughout, their roots helping to bind the soil and their nutrients returning to it. Varieties would be chosen that would self propagate and often only a small amount from each plant would be picked, leaving seeds to fall and roots intact to grow more plants. The idea was for a 'permanent culture' that wouldn't be dug up and restarted annually, but that would continue of its own accord, with a small amount of careful and knowledgeable management. We'd had an amazing time on the previous farm, but already Diderik was sharing so much of his knowledge that we had an inkling we would get a lot out of working with him. Eventually the darkness forced us in to the large kitchen of the recently renovated farmhouse.

    Over the coming days, the more we discovered, the more we saw how far Diderik had progressed along the path towards a sustainable life. So much was put back into the system, with kitchen waste being fed to the pig, chickens or thrown onto the garden to enrich the soil. One kitchen tap was connected to a rainwater supply and used for washing and cooking, the other for drinking. A compost toilet was ready to be installed downstairs. Solar panels on the south facing stables harvested the sun to provide electricity (although the complicated Belgian system meant they must first sell the power to the national grid then buy it back). Diderik's cupboards were stocked food items such as coffee, juice, sugar, oil and flour from his brother, who is part of a cooperative shop in Brussels called Ethiquable. All customers are members who work there one day a month and recieve 30% discount on the ethically sourced food they trade in. One of the farm stable blocks now had a transparent roof, transforming it into a greenhouse. Plant matter and animal manure were combined to make compost, a process that produced heat to keep the animals and plants warm in winter and produce delicious black grapes.

    Diderik was keen to point out that there was lots more to be done but we recognise that there are many challenges to living sustainably, ethically and in an environmentally friendly way. We truly admire the aspects of his lifestyle he has adopted in order to pursue these goals.
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  • Day478

    Goodbye to Beth, Rich & Brussels

    October 17, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Yesterday we got chatting to a Tokyo born Brussels local. There is a real mix of people in this city and it creates a sense of vibrancy. Our friend had recommended Jeu de Balle flee market in the Marolles district as an experience that would show us the heart of Brussels culture. Well, how could we refuse? Getting up early we took the bus to the market, which was just getting started. Within a cobbled square, tables, boxes and sheets were layed out, packed full of antiques and nik naks. Bone china tea sets, silver trays, dark wood furniture and classical paintings were just some of the treasures to be found amongst the jumble. It was lucky we didn't have room for anything big or a steady shelf for anything delicate because we would have been sorely tempted to put our haggling skills to the test!

    We met Beth & Richard near their hotel just after 9am. Unfortunately the Sunday buses hadn't been as frequent or reliable as the weekday ones. We had decided we'd get more quality time if Beth & Rich caught the train to the airport instead of risking it with the van again, so we strolled down to a nearby café. It was a leisurely birthday breakfast of coffee, orange juice, pain au chocolate and of course Belgian waffles, both Brussels and Liege style, the former being hard and dusted with icing sugar, the latter softer and integrally sweet.

    There wasn't much spare time but a visit to a chocolate shop was in order for Beth and Richard to pick up a box of world famous Belgian chocolates. Not many were open but we found one displaying an impressive model of the Hotel de Ville made from the confection! There was a mouth watering array of 30 individual chocolates and truffles presented in a glass fronted cabinet. After the chocolatier had picked out two of each to make up a selection box, he allowed the four of us to choose our favourite to try. Belgium has a reputation for making the best chocolate in the world and after these heavenly tasters we weren't disputing it!

    The time had come to catch the train to the airport and after a slight hiccup with the ticket machine refusing the first two bank cards we tried, we were all standing on the platform hugging goodbye. We waved Beth and Richard off and suddenly felt deflated and tired. Brussels had a lot more sights and experiences to offer but all we felt like doing was getting back in the van and heading out to somewhere less urban. Overall, it had been an amazing weekend with our family. The difficulties we experienced were more than made up for by magical moments, such as Beth's discovery of the beautifully lit Grand Place on the first evening and we were sad to see them go.

    Our lasting impression of Brussels is of a city of contrast and diversity. Shiny, glass fronted European Parliament buildings jarred against dirty streets and polluted air (a much needed low emission zone is due to be introduced in January). The history contained within the antiques markets in the Marolles district was contrasted with smooth, modern hipster cafés. The indulgence of handmade chocolates and champagne bars jarred with the poverty of the large homeless community. Even the co-existence of French and Dutch native toungues was something we hadn't experienced in many other capitals. Although it isn't an easy city to visit in a motorhome, it has many layers and we are glad to have had the opportunity to see it for longer than our usual day trip.

    A huge thank you to Beth and Richard for coming out and being with us!
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  • Day478

    WWOOFing @ Woudezel: animals & food 2of3

    October 17, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    As well as hundreds of different types of plants, De Woudezel was home to Ever the pig, a Giant male and 2 Giant female rabbits (one of whom had given birth to 6 kits in the last couple of days), about 30 sheep, 50 chickens for meat, 3 goats, a collection of egg laying chickens, turkeys and a goose.

    Lappa the dog, the kitten and the black and white cat we later became acquainted with were pets and kept the vermin down. All other animals were there to produce food or to become food themselves. As meat eaters, this was something we had to come to terms with. When Will was young he was involved in the killing and preparation of chickens and rabbits for meat with his grandad and uncle. We are both familiar with catching and eating fish but Vicky in particular has a fondness for animals and was a little nervous of how she would feel when the knowledge of their lives and deaths was so close at hand.

    The Chickens:
    Camping in the field where the meat chickens lived, we got to open the door every morning to them plucking at the grass or darting after insects. It was a stark contrast to the tv images we'd seen of birds with clipped wings living in cramped cages.
    The egg chickens and turkeys stayed mainly in a large fenced field (although some chose to escape and roam further). At night they could be seen perched high up on the branches Diderik had installed in their coop or in the trees outside. They would fly between them to get to 'their' nightly spot. Several birds were getting old and it wasn't a good time for laying, but for our last lunch, Vicky found an egg laying in the middle of a nest of straw.

    The Pig:
    We both had a soft spot for Ever the pig who was gentle and engaging. When we were outside working with the potted plants she'd be snuffling and grunting around her nearby field. We loved to throw her the walnut windfalls we found as she'd go running after them and crunch the whole thing, shell and all, with such relish! When we were in the greenhouse, she'd come in to her sty and make herself heard so we wouldn't forget to go and give her a scratch behind the ears. She had some wild boar in her breeding and was covered in dark, strong, bristles. If there was time, we'd give a proper stroke and she'd often lay down on the straw and half close her intelligent, bright amber eyes, revelling in the sensation.

    The Goats:
    The big billy goat, the medium sized goat and the baby goat stayed in the field next door to the van. However, the similarity to the fairy tale ends there, as the smaller goats were both nannies (one older and one younger, but not a kid). None of them could be described as 'gruff'! We fed them some of the freshly cut branches cleared from the pond area and on the final evening we completed the important task of helping Diderik trim their hooves. The land in Flanders is flat and sandy, so their hooves didn't get worn down naturally and required trimming every 3-4 weeks. After Diderik had caught the billy, we helped to lay him on his side and held him there while our host took the special scissors to the two prongs of cartilage on each foot. This male wasn't as big as many of the goats at Jan Ols Gården but he was all power and it was a struggle for the two of us to keep him down at times. However, he was never aggressive. The nannies were easier to handle and after about 30 minutes all 12 hooves had been trimmed and sprayed with disinfectant. Job done!

    The Meals:
    We ate some amazing meals; our first consisted of potatoes and freshly picked greens with sausages from one of the pigs. For lunches, we were shown how to pick small amounts from a range of edible plants for delicious wild salads which we ate with bread from the bakery and organic goat cheese that Diderik's friend Stoffel had brought from the dairy he worked for. Our host began by cooking the evening meals for us but when he realised how much Will enjoyed cooking and had sampled his food, we fell easily into a routine of Diderik providing the food, Will preparing it and Vicky cleaning up afterwards. Everyone was happy!

    The freezers were well stocked with meat and plant produce grown on the farm. As well as the sausages, we ate farmed chicken, goat and liver from both pig and chickens. Seeing the good conditions these organic free range animals lived in and how happily they went about their natural behaviour, made it easier on our consciences than if we were eating meat from an unknown source with no assurances of living conditions or treatment. We talked about it a lot with Diderik and on the 9th day after we arrived, our feelings were put to the test. Diderik's Mum Anne-Marie came over and we watched as he killed 10 of his chickens by cutting their heads off with a sharp knife. It was very quick and the chickens didn't seem unduly distressed. We then helped by dunking them in a bucket of hot water to loosen the feathers, plucking them and cutting off their feet and wing tips. Diderik burned the remaining feathers off and Anne-Marie talked Vicky through removing the windpipe, crop (a part if the oesophagus where the initial stages of digestion occur) and guts that would be fed to the pig. It was a gradual transformation from a living creature to something we were used to buying, that Vicky found strange at times but not upsetting. In the end we felt very fortunate to have been able to gain this first hand experience and respect of the process that brings meat to our plates.

    Interesting additions to our Woudezel diet were a young hare Diderik found recently killed on the road and a delicious fillet of wild boar he found in the bin of the local supermarket. Living in the country, he had grown up with roadkill as an occasional part of his diet, so knew what to look out for and how to prepare it for the pot. The hare had lived a free life and we felt we were making good use of it in a stew that provided 5 hearty meals.
    The freegan part of Diderik's lifestyle came later, when he'd moved out of his parent's house and was living in squats. Although some supermarkets donate food to charities, the amount of perfectly good produce still thrown away is scandalous. Diderik would normally take cheese and yoghurt for himself and meat for Lappa the dog but when he found this fillet of wild boar sealed in its package with a best before date of the same day, it was too good an opportunity to pass up and we were more than happy to make use of this delicious cut, that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

    To complete our experience of farming an animal from field to plate our final evening meal was a chicken that Will had plucked and prepared, roasted with potatoes, turnip, kale, squash, plum and a bottle of locally produced organic ale to wash it down.
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  • Day473

    Thank you gifts & arrows

    August 10, 2017 in Belgium ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    My mom and sister Sara just finished these LOVELY wedding thank you gifts. Thank you SO much!!! 💖
    So cute! 😘

    These beautiful arrows are a little project of
    Yves: made the arrows
    Sin: painted the arrows
    Mom & her friend Lutje: wrote the letters
    Sister Sara: coordination 😉

    Love our arrows! 😍

    They also made these beautiful arrows together with Lutje. Aren't they beautiful??? 😄
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