One Stupid Idea – A Weekend

This time the weather took us to the northern coast of France. No, not Les Hemmes. We parked our car in the TGV station of Calais, being Fréthun, took the train to Boulogne-sur-Mer and started walking back. There is a trail GR120 that runs along the northern French coast and ends up somewhere in Belgium. We were planning on doing that. More or less. This would be also the perfect moment for testing out our small, tiny and light packing for mountains.

Our journey started in a landscape wrapped in a soft mist. All the soft hills of Nord Pas Calais looked even softer, colors muted and wet. A perfect weather for hiking. A slight fear was creeping into my mind when the bullet train approached the station. We were taking a train ride for 20 minutes, and would be walking the distance back. 50 km on foot, a nice way to spend a weekend, don’t you think?

The train dropped us off at the next station, in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The direction was to the coast as soon as we managed to buy some breakfast, some rain ponchos, since we forgot to prepare for the rain when we left home, and a bit of extra to drink. Boulogne is a beautiful city in its own right, it has a wonderful beach and so forth, but this time, we had no time to spend around it. We were facing a hike of nearly 30 kilometers that day, ending up somewhere close to Wissant.

We reached the edge of the nature preserve rather fast as we made our way up the coast towards Ambleteuse. GR120 travels mostly on top off the white cliffs. We were lucky enough to be walking during low tide and there was enough beach available to walk on and we advanced quickly. Once we were at the edge of Ambleteuse there was a lovely surprise waiting for us. It was a river, between us and the village. No bridge in sight. We had to start heading inland, to find a crossing point, which we found about 2 kilometers away. So we strolled through the calm streets, watching people eating giant dishes of sea food.

We walked through the boulevard at the doc and descended back on the beach. On the stretch of a kilometer or two, all the way to Audrelles the beach is horrific to walk on. It is soft and full of round stones that tilt your ankles in all different directions. It makes the advancing slow and tires out your muscles fast. We were happy to find a sign post showing the GR taking a turn to inland through yet another idyllic French seaside village.

Here I must add, that the idyllic French seaside villages, they exist, they are real, and they are just as idyllic and French as you have always imagined.

We found another route sign, that said 4,5 kilometers to Cap Gris Nez. We didn’t give it any more thought and just headed on. Through fields of barley. Oh I love barley fields. The way they smell under the summer sun and the way the wind makes them whisper and the way they wave and the way they just are. It reminds me dearly of home. After a while we began to notice, that the sign post might have lied. We had walked further inland and too much to the east. That meant biting the lip again and heading back. Which resulted in an additional loop of a few kilometers once we finally got the sight of the wind beaten cap.

That was a beautiful piece of our trail. The path goes right at the edge of the cliff, next to some fields. The pink flowers create a lovely contrast for the greenery and the blue ocean. As we climbed towards the cap, we saw a head popping up from the waves. The wind was pushing the water around the cap, forming a strong current and bringing fish with it. Hunting that fish were at least 7 very curious grey seals. There was a group of people watching down at them and the seals were watching up to the cliff at the people. A beautiful moment of common curiosity, I would say.

My knee started to give me quite some trouble right about then. The down hill I went limping back to the beach, as we headed for the last leg of the hike for that day. The beach was luckily hard and smooth and gentle on me. We didn’t make it quite all the way to Wissant as planned. The pain stopped me a couple of kilometers before. So we popped our tent out onto the dune and cooked dinner. I was exhausted and fell a sleep right after 8.

Early in the morning we woke up and started to head for Wissant, just a  couple of kilometers ahead. There we raided a very good bakery, well, which bakery in France isn’t very good? and had our breakfast. I slurped my coffee in the company of a very pleasant dog, who reminded me of our old dog. He had the same eyes and the same demand for scratches.

The first strip for the day was to get ourselves from Wissant to Cap Blanc Nez. The other one of the two caps. It was again a very humid day. Mist was all over us and the sky was grey. So far we had been lucky enough to avoid any rainfall. We were hoping that it would continue so until the afternoon.

My knee reminded me soon, that I had limped a little too far the day before. It was not happy about the plan to limp yet another 15 – 20 km. My dear Waffle was offering to run for the car, and pick me up from some of the villages. He got me angry with those remarks. This wasn’t that kind of a trip that would force me to stop.

It took us just a little over an hour to reach Cap Blanc Nez. I had needed a couple of pauses on the go but there we were. And the last kilometers of our journey were ahead of us. From there we turned inland, towards Fréthun again. It was a boring walk of ten kilometers via country roads. But finally we made it, tired and in pain but very happy. We tested out our lighter backpacks, mattresses and the new tent. All is working fine, we are ready to go to the Balkans!

At home we had a nice bath and a cold bottle of G.H. Mumm waiting for us. That is the way you end a weekend of hiking.

The rest of the pictures are here. 



The first leg of learning Dutch

Yup, here we are, a little bit smarter. 80 hours of Dutch behind my back. Breakthrough module is now studied. I think I did good, well, the hell with it, I did great! I got 96% of the maximum score! Just some minor things to be corrected.

Plus I made new friends, which is always a massive plus on any record.

This time studying a language has been very much a different experience than any other time. Counting out the first years of studying English as a ten-year-old eager mind. Now the motivation has been truly innate. I have a huge will to learn which is a wonderful feeling and really helps me to learn. I want to be able to communicate with the locals and of course with Waffle and his family with their mother tongue.

I am getting closer to that goal. At least on a theoretical level. It seems, that everybody outside of the classroom is speaking a completely different language. The differences in dialects in Belgium are huge. We are thought to speak somewhat proper Dutch but in the real world, the dialects rule the game.

Even though Belgium is not a big country, there are loads of regional differences in culture, and definitely in language and dialects. The obvious is of course the division between Dutch, French and German speaking Belgians.

The Dutch spoken here differs a lot form the Dutch in the Netherlands. Belgian version is actually called Flemish which has more influences from French compared to the proper Dutch. And there are several different ways of speaking Flemish as well. Starting from the west, the dialect that needs subtitles in national TV, since no Belgian outside West Flanders can understand them. They have they own set of words and completely self made way of pronunciation.

In the east is Limburg, there the Flemish is rather clean, people speak slowly, and practically sing all the time. Lovely people, these ones even I can understand without too much painful effort and millions of “Wablief?”s.

Closer to my home is Antwerp. They are famous for their arrogance and the Aantwaarps dialect, with a lovely, lovely “A”. It sounds like they have a permanent hot potato in their mouth, poor people.  Also the whole Flanders seems to have an odd passion of swallowing the letter “I”, which will make many sentences completely incomprehensible. Now how am I supposed to make anything out of anything? I am lucky though, I think, since I live in one of the cleaner dialect areas. But still, I am more or less screwed everywhere outside Rupelmonde, since the next village is already adding its own twist to the language.

I already booked the course for the next level, which will begin on Monday. The teacher spooked us students by telling us that it is going to be more intense. In preparation for that, I’ll be abusing Waffle. We’ll be having an hour each day, only communicating in Dutch! I am horrified. But he is very capable of talking sloooowly and in proper Dutch so even a dumb person can understand. Maybe eventually we evolve into more normal style of conversation.

So here I am, on my way to learning a new language, one step further!




Bricks and Clay

If you think about it, where do bricks come from. They are originally just humble pieces of clay. Put some work into the clay and you get a brick and you can start building. It is very much the same way with our lives.

You are handed over a few bricks beforehand. You have your parents, your family and relatives. That form the base layer of bricks of the building, that one day will become your whole life story. Those handovers were nothing but clay in their own beginning. These first bricks very much dictate, what kind of clay you get to work with and how your bricks are going to form. At least, the very first ones.

How have my clay and bricks been then? Well, I had a lot of clay to play with. Literally and as a form of speech. I had a wonderful and very much sheltered childhood in the countryside.  I formed my clay into many things, some of those things, it seems, became bricks in the foundation of my life.

Like the very stubborn clay, that nagged at my parents about becoming a horse. A very own horse for that little girl that was me. The clay kept nagging for two years until it became what it wanted to be. My very first horse has been a very big and significant brick in this building of mine. She directed my life early on very strongly. I could have become a teenager without not much sensible things to do without her. I could have grown into a very different person, than what I am now. I owe a lot to her and am grateful for the chance to have met her.

Another very significant brick in this building could have been many different things. I had again, several pieces of clay to play with. Some would have taken me to university to sturdy biology, or psychology, or languages. The one that formed into a brick took me to a different kind of school. Learning to understand something of business. I am not sure, if I am completely happy with that brick. I think it makes my building stand a little crooked. But who has their corners straight in this life anyways?

Then there is this piece of clay, that originally seemed so very insignificant. Just a small decision to go hiking and long trail, alone, in Lapland. The clay had started a year back, with another hiking trip, and was slowly turning into a more loved piece of clay, that I worked on. During that hike, the clay found somebody else’s piece of work. Maybe rubbed against it a little, leaving pieces behind. I think that became one of the bricks on the front stairs in this building project. The brick that you step on, when you get out, and explore.

That hiking brick might have opened the biggest clay mine of my life. There was someone else digging at the same mine, I noticed before long. There was Waffle, who apparently seemed to like the same kind of clay for building his house from. I guess we collided as we dag deeper. Bricks were formed and eventually they started to stick together and it seems that we are now building a mansion together. Where there is an extensive travel wing. That is what our clay is so often turning into. Bricks telling about travels. I love it. I love the way my Waffle works his clay into something that makes the base layer of our dwelling more and more beautiful.

Thank you Waffle.

What are you building out of your bricks?

For this cheesiness, please thank Daily Prompt: Brick