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KORTRIJK GROUP VISIT TO MAIDENHEAD, 9 - 13 MAY 2011

European Report at 9th June Meeting

As I am a new member to the committee, and also a member of the group of only two years standing, I was asked to give my thoughts on the recent visit of our friends from Belgium from 9th -13th May, especially as I have not experienced any other exchange visits with our group beforehand. First of all I have to say that I thought the whole visit was a great success and I am full of admiration for the way the whole visit was organised. There were two factors over which we had no control: one was the weather and in this we were so fortunate as we had lovely sunshine the whole time. The other was our traffic and in this we were not so lucky, as two of the Belgian ladies’ cars were held up for a long time on the M25, arriving late at Braywick.   The organisation of the week was superb!

There were two outside visits: to Winchester on Wednesday and to Dorney Court on Thursday morning.  These were excellent choices and would keep a history lover or a devotee of gardens and art very happy, helped in both cases by knowledgeable guides. It was particularly sensible to spend the morning in Winchester touring the city and getting a background to the whole history of the place. Also such a good idea to have a base at the Mercure Hotel, where we had a very good lunch, but could also retire to when necessary.  In the afternoon one could spend time in the cathedral, which needed time and concentration, or walking round the shops seeking bargains, as several did. Thank you Barbara! Dorney Court was also a good choice: a beautiful historic house with romantic and royal associations on our doorstep.  The Garden centre next door was a very pleasant venue for lunch. Thank you Linda!

Tuesday morning we met in the attractively sited village hall at Remenham to hear an interesting presentation, with photographs, by our guests on an important Kortrijk local industrial enterprise, the De Coene company.  This was a small family enterprise which expanded into a large scale industrial/craft firm, with Joseph De Coene as the important inspiration. They specialised in furniture and wood.  Unfortunately it went bankrupt in 1977.  Among important commissions were the City Hall in Vorst, office chair for the future King Leopold III, decorations for Liner Queen Mary, Brussels Residence Palace Hotel and the Palais de Europe in Strasbourg where the firm’s special design of laminated wooden rafters were used. There was a very important commission in 1957 when they designed the furnishings for the Royal Palace in Riyadh for the King of Saudi Arabia. This was followed by a most enjoyable and impressive lunch provided by our ladies, under Rita's overall management. Particular thanks are due to Rita and her team.

This left two afternoons when we could entertain our own guests as we wished. I myself had one lady – Veerle – to stay with me and was extremely lucky in that she and I had so many interests in common – especially art and culture.  I was so relieved that she did not want to go shopping and that she had seen Windsor castle on a previous visit (as a choir member).  It is important to do what your guest would like so I took her on a walk and visit to Cliveden one day and on a car tour of the whole area on the other, when she could get an idea of the beauty of the Thames Valley. As the Royal Wedding had just taken place, I had bought a copy of “Hello” and pointed out to Veerle the photo of the Belgian Crown Prince Philippe, one of the guests at the Wedding.  I learned that the Belgians were divided about him – as well as many other things! Some thought him stupid and some would keep him on the throne - but this where such a visit is so special, as we can all learn about each other.

The whole visit was particularly enjoyable as every evening was either spent as a guest at a fellow member’s house or at an official farewell dinner.  No evening meals to cook!  Very relaxing!.  The last evening was spent at Winter Hill Golf club where we had an enjoyable farewell dinner together. Thanks to Michaela for arranging this and for the lovely photographs she took to help us remember the visit. Thanks are due also to Ann and Harry Wale for their welcoming dinner on the Monday, and to all the Tuesday evening dinner hostesses.

I must say here how important it is that everyone who can, contributes, albeit as hostess, waitress, cook, or organiser.  I think this group is outstanding in the enthusiasm and expertise of its ladies.  It seems to me that the circle of help is wide and impressive  - not like some societies where all is left to a small, hard working committee.

Well done, Maidenhead!

Congratulations to all involved in the very happy and successful visit from Kortrijk.

Ella Grey, Committee member, 9 June 2011

 


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