So we’re in the Ardennes. Thanks to the miracle of GPS technology we successfully navigated the wilds of Belgium to find “Le Vieux Chemin” in Anja’s new “monovolume” (which is how Europeans say “SUV”).
Although we had some confusion with which house we had rented (Ann and Anja were emphatic that they had reserved the one with the sauna), we got it sorted out and installed ourselves in a very nice “huisje” (housh-yuh) with a beautiful view of rolling hills.
The place is in a little town called Achouffe (.kzm), known (somewhat) outside of the Ardennes for the beer they brew of the same name. It’s a cute little burgh in the hills, maybe two thousand people, probably less.
As we got off the highway and were completing the last 15 kilometers to Achouffe it became apparent that we were truly in the middle of nowhere. Belgium is famous for the fact that it has lit almost every mile of highway and major thorough fare in the country (it’s actually visible from space at night), but in this particular part of Belgium, it was pitch black. Combine that with the fact that the average width of the roads narrowed to just enough to let a single car through, and that’s how you tell you’re in the Ardennes.
Right on cue, about two hours after arrival, it started to snow. We woke up to a white landscape under a grey sky, with flurries continuing all day. The kids, who had been excited for this adventure for a whole week now (which translates into a month of adult-time) were bundled up in hats and scarves and sent out to commune with nature.
We went shopping in the (relatively) larger town of Houffalize (Who-fa-leez) where we got some of the aforementioned Achouffe beer, some local meats for the gourmet, and did some shopping. The local shop owners had that surly attitude of service found in almost every small tourist town, comforting to see that people are people all over.
The funniest event of the trip was when Ann turned on the heated plate for the gourmet, and it started smoking… and smoking… and filling the room with smoke, and at first everyone was like, “Oh, it just smokes a little bit at the beginning as it warms up,” but then it became apparent that the damn thing was really ON FIRE!
After turning it off we found that one of the wooden coasters for the little metal dishes, and one of the wooden scraper thingees used to get your stuff out of the little metal dishes had become lodged underneath the hot plate, between the heating element and the metal plate, and had actually caught fire.
We threw the blackened utensils into the roaring fireplace (which Geert and I painstakingly nurtured to life from all the soaked wood we bought) and had a good laugh.
That night Ann and I spent 15 minutes getting hot and sweaty. Contrary to what you are probably thinking, we were in the sauna, arguing about the fact that the temparature gauge wasn’t moving when we dumped spoonfuls of water on the hot rocks, even though we could feel it get hotter. Eventually we figured out that there was a separate gauge for “humidity level” that DID go up when you put the water on the rocks, but the temperature remained the same.
Hey, give me some slack. I hadn’t been in a sauna in like ten years.
At the end of our self-immolation Ann wrapped a towel around her, ran to the patio door, opened the door, handed me her towel, ran out into the snow stark naked, and rolled around in the snow (for about two seconds). I have to admit, I was impressed. No way was I going anywhere near the snow. Way to go baby.
We built some seriously tall snowmen (taller than me) with the kids the next day, took a stroll in the woods, threw snowballs, and ate all the rest of the food the next day before cleaning the place up and heading out. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, I must say.