The coastal city of Ostend is known for more than just it’s sandy beaches. It was also home to one of America’s most beloved musical icons.
First Impressions Aren’t Always Correct
We got there around lunchtime and wanted to head straight for the beach. But first, we had to stop at a bathroom. Man, do I wish I had taken pictures! First off, the men and women shared a bathroom. Weird. Just weird. So, my husband and I walked to the same door. There was a lady standing there directing the traffic flow in and out of the bathrooms. She only spoke Flemish, so we had to play a bit of charades. She let my husband go in first, but she sent him into this tiny little area that had swinging doors like the saloons in the old west. The side wall was made out of glass, and this little room was like two inches from the door where the lady and I were standing.
My husband said afterwards he felt like he was peeing in the street for all to see. There were three stalls next to this little area, and I had to wait for someone to come out. But when the first person came out, the Flemish lady got a rag, dipped it in a bucket of water, wiped down the toilet seat, and then motioned for me to go inside. I could hear and smell everything going on around me. When I came out, I walked to this tiny sink to wash my hands, and the woman went in and wiped down the toilet seat again.
I have never wanted out of a bathroom so badly in my whole life! This entire bathroom, all three stalls and the one public viewing pee room, was about the size of a walk-in closet. The first thing my husband said to me when I got outside was, “I think that was a first for you, huh?!”
Oh, trust me. It will also be a last.
I learned a very important life lesson that day: cowboy boots are not meant for beaches. Who’d a thunk it, right?! We checked the weather before we got on the road, and it said the high would only be something like 68, and that it would be in the ’50s all morning. Well, when you’re from Texas, you see these temperatures as jeans and long sleeved shirt weather. Not to mention, Ostend has a reputation for being very windy. Since I needed to wear jeans, I put on my boots. Thinking it would be cold and I wanted my feet warm, I figured that would be okay. No. Not really okay. Walking through sand in boots is like trying to run in water.
And, it’s important to note, the forecast was wrong. It was like 85 degrees the whole time we were there with very little wind.
There was a man playing music, people flying kites, couples riding bicycles, children riding on dune buggies, and sea gulls absolutely everywhere. There are cafes all over the beachfront with pretty outdoor patios, and the seagulls walk right up to the tables and beg for food. That was kind of cute, but what wasn’t cute were the five or so times they tried to dive bomb my head.
Seagull attacks aside, I really enjoyed this beach. Especially because it didn’t have the typical beach vibe. There’s just something sort of hip and funky about this one.
Let’s Get it On
After the beach, we strolled through the city and desperately tried to find the Marvin Gaye statue to no avail.
And you thought the heading was dirty.
A lot of people don’t know that Gaye lived in Ostend for two years, and it’s where he wrote and produced his Midnight Love album. If you’re not a super fan, that might not mean anything to you. But I’m guessing you know “Sexual Healing.” That’s right. “Sexual Healing” was born in Belgium.
His time in Ostend is kind of a sad story, really. A series of events brought him to a town he’d never heard of in a country he admitted he probably couldn’t find on a map. But he ended up finding a real home there. He sobered up and started getting his career back on track. Midnight Love brought him back to life in more ways than one. But because of Visa issues, he had to return to the States. That was late 1982. Less than a year and half after leaving Ostend, and falling back into drugs, his father murdered him. I’ve always thought that so much of his life was sad, and I loved that Ostend was a positive place for him. We didn’t have enough time to go on the walking tour, but I will most definitely do that when we go back this summer. To read up on the tour, click here.
What might also be of interest is this interview he gave in 1981 while living in Ostend. It’s especially interesting to hear him talk about his impressions of the city.
Because Feeling Stupid in One Language Isn’t Enough
Just outside of the city, on our way home, we stopped to gas up. This was the strangest system. If you wanted to pay with a card, you had to use this central pay station that connected to all of the pumps. I think you were supposed to swipe the card first, then select a pump, and then confirm with your pin number before it came on. I say I think that’s how it worked because everything was in Flemish. It kept screaming this ugly message at me.
At least, I think it was ugly.
“Systeemfout. Transactie algebroken tgv een systeemfout. Probeer opnieuw aub.”
Yeah. My thoughts exactly.