Monday 23rd April 2018 – OUCH! AND DOUBLE-OUCH!

The first “ouch!” relates to the fact that I am sunburnt.

You would never guess it from looking at me but the lower parts of my legs feel absolutely terrible. Quite bizarrely, it seems to be where I have this water retention issue and so I’m wondering if it’s the water that has caused the problem.

I mean – I have been careful. It’s not exactly what you would call roasting temperatures here and I’ve only been doing two hours at a time before coming in. So it’s not a “real” sunburn issue.

The second “ouch” is that I’ve found out what time our bus leaves on Wednesday morning;

Our flight is at 06:15 so I was expecting it to be early, but 02:40 is just ridiculous. I don’t fancy at all the idea of getting up at 02:00. As you all know, I’m not very often in bed before then.

To make things more difficult, my favourite hotels in Brussels and Leuven are booked up Wednesday night, so I’m going to be coming home.And so that’s going to be a REALLY long day and I shall be ill for a week.

But last night, I was in bed rather later than intended and only managed 5 minutes of a film before I was away with the fairies.

And away it was too.

I was wandering around somewhere at my brother’s looking for something. I was searching everywhere that I could think of and in the end I found his car. I looked in the boot and there were dozens of bags full of video cassettes and I was convinced that there were dozens, maybe a whole bag full, that were mine and I wondered what they were doing in there. However I had this uncomfortable feeling that I was being followed, and that it was my brother following me, so I picked up my garden fork which had a grass rake attached on the other end of the handle, and needed my baling fork with a long handle. That was at the doctor’s in Shavington so I went to the surgery, on this strange form of tandem tricycle thing. The door between the waiting room and the doctor’s room was open and I could see a man lounging around, lying on his side horizontally as if he was asleep. At first I thought that it was the doctor himself but it was a patient being attended to by the doctor, and there was about a dozen people in the waiting room who could clearly see what was going on. The doctor was surprised to see me, saying that I didn’t have an appointment and he wanted to know why I had come. I explained that I needed my baling fork so that I could get back on the bus and go round to the Hough and Proudlove’s farm, which was my destination. The doctor made a few extremely unpleasant noises about my coming and told me that I would have to sit in the waiting room and take my place in the queue. And that wasn’t in my plans at all.

I’ve already mentioned much of what happened today. A rest here, two hours outside there, have food, then repeat. And the afternoon “rest” really was a “rest” too. For a good 40 minutes.

After tea I went for a walk around the compound and by the big swimming pool I fell in with one of the security guards who spent a good 15 minutes telling me all of his woes. I never realised that I was so popular.

So I’m going to have an early night, and a good sleep if my sunburnt legs will let me. I’ve had a shower and a clothes wash already and the wet clothes are drying outside.

No alarm tomorrow morning. I need to build up my strength.

Sunday 22nd April 2018 – AFTER MY TIRING …

… day yesterday and my thorough and complete crashing out last night, and with it being Sunday so that there was no alarm to rouse me from my stinking pit, no-one was more surprised than me to find myself awake at 03:45 this morning.

I’d even been on a voyage during the night, but don’t ask me where because it all disappeared completely from my head as soon as I awoke. Not that there’s all that much to keep it in there these days, but that’s another story.

Being awake at 03:45 is one thing – being out of bed is quite another as we all know. It was a much-more-reasonable 07:00 when I staggered out of my stinking pit. That was followed by a clothes-washing session and then a shower. It’s amazing just how grimy everything gets when you’ve been sitting for 15 hours on a sweaty bus.

Throwing back the curtains, the first thing that I noticed was that the oil rig had gone. We’ve had an oil rig anchored a few miles offshore but it seems to have disappeared while I was away.

This morning I took some soya milk down with me to breakfast. And while I was collecting a second glass of orange juice (it’s real juice from oranges pressed before your very eyes) someone cleared the table, including my three-quarter-eaten muesli. I was rather miffed at that.

With having been away for a few days there was a lot of stuff that needed attention, and that took me right up until about 11:00. And then donning one of the pairs of shorts that I had bought in Leuven I hit the beach. A couple of hours with a good book and a bottle of water and I was well away. Nothing like as windy as it had been.

I was rather too early for lunch so ended up having to wait for a while. So I sat by one of the pools (there are five here, not four as I first thought) and here, out of the wind, it was even hotter.

A few things to attend to after lunch and then back down in the beach in my cozzy with book and bottle for another few hours. I stuck my feet in the sea too, just to say that I had, and rewarded myself with a nice cold orange juice.

But as for the sea, I watched some people running in there up to their necks without a second thought. Rather them than me. Far too nesh, I am.

By 18:00 the temperature had cooled down and the wind had got up sufficiently to drive me from the beach to the bar for a coffee. And the people here still don’t understand the meaning of “hot”.

A quick glance at my legs though shows that I have caught the sun. That’s something to take home with me anyway. A nice bit of red colouring. Nut I feel sorry for a small girl of about 12 or 13 – a blonde with pale skin who has clearly overdone it and is as red as a beetroot. She’s suffer for that in the morning.

With being caught up with something else I was late for tea. Pasta and lentils with spinach cooked in garlic. Delicious it was too. I followed that by a good walk around the grounds and found little crooks and nannies that I never knew existed. Must go on a better exploration in the daylight tomorrow.

No-one was more surprised than me to find that it was 23:00 when I made it back to my room. That’s what I call along day too. Only 5 minutes of film before I switched the laptop off and settled down for the night.

Sweet dreams!

Saturday 21st April 2018 – NOW, THAT WAS A LONG …

… day.

My alarm went off at 03:55,followed by a ‘phone call at 04:00 to awaken me.

But I didn’t really need much awakening as, true to form, I had had a disturbed night – just as I usually do when I need to raise myself early.

But I’d still managed to go off on a really long ramble. However, I’m not going to tell you about it and you will thank me for that. You’re probably eating your tea or something.

So alarm at 04:00 and at 04:05 I was tucking in to breakfast. Not a big choice out here (no surprise there of course) and it didn’t take me long to eat. And then I was in my room preparing to depart.

05:00 saw us on the bus and we set off to the salt lake outside town where we saw the sun come up. Not as magnificent as Greece 2013 but nevertheless, seeing the sun rise over the Sahara Desert has to be an experience.

A few miles further on we stopped for what was the highlight of the trip. We were going into the desert – on a camel. Not all on one camel but on one camel each.

I leapt aboard Sopwith the Camel and in company with about 30 others we headed for the interior. 07:00 is the best time to do this because it’s light but not hot, although if this wasn’t hot I don’t know what is.

One girl of our party – a youngish blonde – was whisked off on the back of a horse and galloped off into the distance. “That’s the last we’ll see of her” we said. “She’ll be sold into someone’s harem”.

Another one of our party, with a blonde-haired wife, was offered 26 camels for his wife. “Make it 30” he said “and she’s all yours”. And received a dig in the ribs. Nevertheless, it made me think that I should have invited Nerina on this journey.

Up into the High Atlas towards the Libyan border where at Matmata we visited a Berber cave dwelling.

We saw the sign for Tripoli – in Libya of course – but that was as close to the frontier as we were allowed to go. There was an army patrol on the road.

Northwards then along the coast to El Djem – and its famous Colosseum. You may not know where it is but I’m sure that most of you will have seen it – it’s the coliseum that featured in the film “Gladiator”.

Dodging the Police speed traps we continued northwards and picked up the bus that was to take us back to the coast. And I cans ee now why it was so late – it took hours to negotiate the traffic around the various hotels.

I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I returned. I struggled to eat my tea (I was starving), forgot my jacket in the restaurant and came back up here where I crashed out completely.

It’s a long time since I’ve been this tired.

Friday 20th April 2018 – THE ENTRIES …

… for the next couple of days are merely placeholders.

That’s because I’ve been on a mega-voyage and I’ve tons of stuff to say and over 200 photos to show. So in the fullness of time I’ll be developing a couple of pages much more substantial that this and you’ll get to see them in due course.

So needing to heave myself out of my pit at some silly hour this morning, I was tucked up in bed with a film on the laptop at some silly hour last night.

But nevertheless, as seems to be the usual procedure these days, I didn’t make it to the end of the film. In fact, far from it.

And it was rather a disturbed night too with me being unable to settle down into a deep sleep, what with the pressure of having to be up early in the morning. But that still didn’t prevent me from being on my travels.

We had to wait for the convoy to come and pick us up, and here it was arriving at some time earlier than the 07:15 promised. The convoy consisted of a couple of armoured cars with one of these armoured personnel carriers, painted orange, in between. And we waited (and waited, and waited) to be called. It was then that I realised that I didn’t have an important item of clothing wit me and I needed to go home for it. It was a good 5-10 minutes up the hill to Virlet and then I had to find what I needed and come back again of course, and it was already 07:19 and I was nowhere near arriving at my house yet so I doubted very much if I would be back in time. I didn’t think that they would wait that long for me.

The alarm went off at 05:55 and again at 06:00 and I was out of bed more-or-less promptly. By 06:30 I was downstairs with my rucksack all nicely packed and trying to track down some food. There’s a bar by the swimming pool that opens at, would you believe, 03:00 and he rustled up some toast and coffee, as well as a bottle of water for the journey.

The bus was due at 07:00 so at 07:30 (I could have had a normal breakfast) I asked the receptionist if it was normal that he would be this late.

“Ohh yes” he reassured me. “Quite normal”.

When he finally arrived and picked me up we headed off to the big mosque at Kairouan which we should have had time to visit but with running so late the bus that was going to meet us was already there.

So we didn’t have time. After all, it’s a long way.

We stopped at Jelma for a coffee and at Gafsa for lunch – and here at Gafsa we found out what the interior is really like.

Army road blocks, police barricades, searches and controls.

Where we are heading is that finger of Tunisia that points in between Algeria and Libya. Both those latter countries have anti-government militia that are fighting their respective Governments and when the pace is too hot for them they step over the border into the desert in the south of Tunisia to regroup.

Furthermore, there was a revolution in Tunisia a few years ago and with the traditional conflict in Tunisia between the Arabs in the North and the Berber and Tuareg in the South, the Tunisian Government’s control of the South is not as complete as it would like.

That’s nothing to be worried about though. All sides in the affair know that tourists are the people who bring money into the region and if they interrupt the tourist traffic there will be no more tourists and so no more money. So, far from being molested, tourists are welcomed quite positively regardless of any issues.

However some foreign Governments are nervous and refuse to allow their tourists permission to travel, and have leaned heavily on the tour companies to make sure that they don’t.

And I had the impression that the Tunisian Government is rather careful about letting a couple of other nationalities into the area too.

But no problems with British and French passport-holders (and a Hungarian as I was later to find out), I was pleased to say.

Tozeur is a town on one of the largest desert oases in North Africa and we were given a guided tour of the town and the oasis – on a horse and what might have passed for a carriage 100 years ago.

And an enormous amount of hilarity ensued when the wheel bearing of one of them collapsed and the wheel, passengers and guide were decanted into the street. A few other wheel bearings also looked rather shaky too.

Later, we piled into some elderly 4×4 Land Cruisers and were driven out into the Sahara Desert. Now that was an exciting ride, not for the faint-hearted as we went up and over dunes that looked totally impossible.

We ended up about 20 miles from the Algerian border near a village called Nefleyet. Right out here miles from anywhere (except the Algerian border) is the “village” that was build as the set for the film “Star Wars”.

No Jedi here today, just loads of souvenir sellers and the like trying to take advantage of the gullible tourists. Even I could see that the desert amethysts were fakes.

And so back to a hotel in Tozeur. If you thought that the one in Sqanes is luxury you should see the Hotel Ras El Ain here. I can honestly say that I have never ever in my life had such luxury.

But I’m not going to have the time to enjoy it. We’re getting up at … errr … 04:00 and we’ll be on the road at 05:00.

Thursday 19th April 2018 – I MUST HAVE BEEN …

(YOU’LL GET TO SEE THE PHOTOS JUST AS SOON AS I CAN FIND A RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION)

… tired last night!

It was quite early when I settled down in bed to watch a film on the laptop and I can’t even remember much after the opening credits. “Out like a light” is hardly the word.

And that was how I stayed until about 06:00 my time (05:00 North African time) when I awoke. “Gone with the Wind” has nothing on that.

And gone off during the night too.

I can’t now remember where I was but there was a ginger cat – and quite rarely, a female ginger cat – that was being bullied by a younger male cat and I had to rescue it. the lady who was its owner told me that the younger cat was itself being bullied by a couple of older males that she had and this was how it asserted itself by attacking the female
A little later I crossed over to some island – an island that reminded me very much of the Frisian islands off the north-west coast of Germany. And the first living thing that I encountered was a black kitten. It came down off a wall to see me. And as I was stroking it, first one and then a second black kitten came to join it and I ended up having three black kittens around me seeking attention.

It took me a while to gather my wits this morning which is quite a surprise seeing that there aren’t all that many to gather these days and then after the usual morning performance I went down to breakfast.

It’s another buffet-type thing and that is good, and if you are a carnivore or even a vegetarian you can pig out like nobody’s business with the vast choice that there is on offer here. It really is tremendous.

As for the vegan, there’s not a lot of choice – but even so, you don’t go hungry. There’s no soya milk for the muesli unfortunately but me no daft, me no silly, I bought a litre of that with me in my suitcase and so tomorrow onwards I’ll be taking my own supply down to breakfast. I did say that there’s a fridge in my room, didn’t I?

There was also an opportunity to study the restaurant times. There are bars and snack bars scattered about all over the place and basically, the meals are served as follows –
BREAKFAST – 07:00 – 10:00
LUNCH AND SNACKS – 11;00 – 17:00
EVENING MEAL – 18:30 – 21:00
That doesn’t leave all that much time for sunbathing on the beach, does it?

Back up here, we encountered the exciting phenomenon known as “Tunisian Hotel Showers”. I’ve already told you … "on many occasions" – ed … about Quebec Motel Showers, but Tunisian Hotel Showers are quite different. Here, you spend about 5 minutes setting the water temperature exactly how you want it and it remains totally constant right up until the moment that you go to stand underneath it, after which it’s anyone’s guess.

And they clearly expected me to be coming, didn’t they? There’s a clothes draining rail hanging up over the end of the bath (the shower is actually inside a bathtub) to hang up your wet clothes after you have washed them.

We had a “Welcome Meeting” after breakfast where our tour guide did his best to sell us all of these optional extras. And I’ll talk more about that in due course.

He also explained about the private safes in the room and how to work them. I immediately came up here to try mine out, and promptly managed to lock myself out of it. It’s a good job that I ran a test on it before attempting to put anything in it, isn’t it?

And then finally down to the beach with my book. It was sunny and bright for a change, but windy and cool. And there was nowhere to go to seek shelter. I stuck it out for as long as I could, and admired the various activities.

We had a guy parading his camel up and down the beach seeking customers to ride it, and being sent back by the Security Guard to clean up his animal’s … errr … leavings.

And surely the Security Guard didn’t REALLY set his dog on the unlicensed beach vendor? Or were they just playing about? But I did notice that the unlicensed beach vendor didn’t return.

And we had a Ship of the Day right out on the horizon behind the oil rig (yes, we have everything here) – too far off unfortunately for me to identify it.

We had been warned about making sure that we always keep our possessions close to us when we are in the public ares, so Brain of Britain forgot his rucksack in the restaurant after lunch, didn’t he? Lunch by the way was a buffet with the same food on offer as for last night’s evening meal so I had a plate of salad and some bread followed by more fruit salad and an orange.

This afternoon, I went on an adventure.

In theory there is no restriction on leaving “the compound”. Everyone stresses that quite clearly. But when you ask for directions to the nearest cash machine, they all look totally bewildered. “Why do you need to do that? We have everything here”.

After much explaining and a great deal of persistence, someone finally tells you that there’s a cash machine in the medical centre about a kilometre away.

So off you set – and have to run the gauntlet of taxi drivers, carriage drivers and bus drivers waiting at the gate. And you end up walking several hundred metres before they finally get the message.

Security guards at the next hotel look quite surprised to see a European pedestrian too and engage one in conversation.

But it’s clear to see at least one reason why they are reluctant to let tourists wander about the area unaccompanied, and especially on foot.

Since “the troubles” began, the number of tourists coming to North Africa has declined considerably, as one of the security guards was obliged to admit. And it’s not long before you encounter the first one of the abandoned hotels here along the beach.

This one, another huge hotel, hasn’t seen a client in several years and the owners have long since gone into bankruptcy, so I was told.

And not only that either.

There was a big construction boom here at one time and all of these hotels are evidence of that of course. but there was a considerable amount of new building that started subsequently that was abandoned once the tourists stopped coming and there are these overgrown, weed-infested building sites everywhere.

And all of this probably explains why the hotels that are still going are charging such ridiculous prices for a stay. I’ve never ever had such good value.

The Medical Centre did indeed have a cash machine and it even recognised my French bank card which is certainly something. And my presence at the cash machine certainly drew the attention of the locals waiting to see the doctor.

But here’s something else to consider. The Tunisian Dinar is worth just about 3 to the Euro, or 3.4 to the Pound Sterling. But the maximum withdrawal on the machine is shown as just 100 Dinar – about €33 or £30. So that tells you something about the cost of living around here.

The walk back involved dodging the buses and taxis that kept on stopping to see if I wanted a lift and entering the compound I almost collided with the gardener who was leaving the compound with his donkey and cart.

Out on his ass, you might say.

After a relax (but not, I hasten to add, a crash-out) I went back out to the beach and while the sun was even brighter than earlier on, the wind was even stronger so there were even fewer people on the beach.

Once more, I stuck it out for as long as I could and then retired to the café for a coffee. And one thing that I have noticed here is that they don’t understand the meaning of the word “hot”.

Tea tonight was almost the same as last night, but instead of beans with the salad there were chick peas and lentils. They will do nicely, thank you.

But you can tell that the hotel is full of Belgians. Mosselen en fritjes was on the menu tonight.

And now an early night. i’m off on my travels early in the morning, folks.

Wednesday 18th April 2018 – AND AN EARLY START …

(YOU’LL GET TO SEE THE PHOTOS JUST AS SOON AS I CAN FIND A RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION)

… it was in the morning too.

never mind the alarm at 05:20 – I was wide-awake at 04:00. That is, of course, quite another thing from saying that I was out of bed at that time but at least it’s a relief to know that my body clock seems to be working when it has to.

I made my breakfast – a half-baguette with jam – and packed it in my rucksack for the journey along with the butties that I made afterwards.

By 06:00 i was ready to go and a brisk walk through the not-so-deserted streets (it seemed as if the whole town was heading to the railway station right now) brought me there in such good time that the previous train was still in the station. And so I leapt aboard.

It was quite empty when it left but by the time that it had stopped at Brugge and Gent St Pieters it was standing room only throughout the whole length of the train. Early rush hour of course and everyone was off to work.

But my early arrival had availed me nothing because there was no earlier train to the airport.

“Airport???” I hear you say. “What it all of this?”

Well, we’re having a change of plan and instead of leaping aboard the next available TGV to go home, I’m going on a little voyage. I didn’t mention that when I was in Leuven buying my shorts, something in a shop window across the road had caught my eye.

And so to the airport. I arrived in plenty of time, checked in, had a totally painless passage through security – and much as Ihave criticised the mentality of Belgian officialdom in the past, it’s only right that I say chapeau and wish that Canadian and USA border staff would take a leaf out of their book – and walked the endless miles of corridor to my departure gate.

And then walked half the way back because there was a gate change.

I’d been very lucky checking in. I used the old “bad leg” ploy (actually, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, I do have issues with my leg) and was given an aisle seat, which was just as well because the plane was packed out with not a free seat anywhere. I had literally had the last ticket on the flight – as the Travel Agent had said.

And it was the oldest Airbus A320 I’ve ever been on. Piloted by Orville and Wilbur Wright, I had to move Amelia Earhart’s sandwiches off my seat before I could sit down.

And once we had settled down and taken off we all had to unsettle ourselves to search for documents papers and pens to fill in the applications for Visas. Why then couldn’t issue those with your boarding cards so that you could fill them out while waiting for the aeroplane to arrive is totally beyond me.

It was just as well that I had made my butties. I know that there’s a meal organised on the aeroplane but regular readers of this rubbish will recall that past experience has taught me never to rely on airline and tour companies to provide what I order. And so when I found out – just as I had expected – that there was no vegan meal on the plane for me, I didn’t worry.

The plane itself wasn’t that comfortable. We were crammed in like sardines but that didn’t worry me too much either. It’s a cheap tour package operator’s runabout and we weren’t going all that far anyway.

Two and a half hours later, we touched down. At Enfidha–Hammamet International Airport which, for the benefit of those of you who studied something other than geography, is in North Africa. Tunisia to be precise;

I’d seen a bargain last-minute offer to fly out to a holiday resort for a week in Sqanes on the Tunisian coast between Sousse and Monastir. All-inclusive, even down to the transport from the airport. Large air-conditioned room, balcony and sea view leaving, as you know, 5 days after I saw it and after a considerable amount of intense negotiations, knocked down to Yours Truly for all of €400.

And here I was. First off the plane, first through customs and immigration and sitting on a bench eating my butties waiting for the baggage.

I’d been saying for a while that the weather in Europe had been depressing all winter and how I wanted to go to the desert. Well, this was the best that I could do at short notice. And there we were, loading ourselves up into the tour buses on the edge of the desert and in the background was this dirty black cloud hovering about quite ominously.

And, sad as it is to say it, we hadn’t driven more than a mile or two before it started to rain.

Yes, here in North Africa, in April on the edge of the desert, and it is raining. You couldn’t make up a story quite like that, could you? But then, I suppose that with knowing the way that things work out when I’m around you would have bet the mortgage on it.

Onto the motorway where tractors, bicycles and carts drawn by horses are prohibited.

But not herds of sheep and goats, so it seems. We would regularly pass a herd of sheep and/or goats, complete with shepherd and/or goatherd, on the hard shoulder nibbling away at what passes for greenery around here (the sheep and/or goats, not the shepherd and/or goatherd, although one never knows, of course).

In fact, it’s all very much as you might imagine it being back in Biblical days.

And yes, they did have cars in Biblical days. Everyone knows that it clearly states in the Bible that the sound of Joshua’s Triumph was heard throughout the land, and later in the New Testament we read that the disciples were all in one Accord.

I’m not sure what I was expecting for a hotel. I know that, at the price that I paid, I wasn’t expecting all that much. And so my flabber has never been so gasted as it was when I saw it.

Firstly, it’s a gated compound and there are security guards who patrol the gate and the fences. But when you go inside you can see why.

It’s the holiday village to end all holiday villages and really must have been something quite impressive when it was built because today, even though it’s looking rather tired around the edges, it’s by far and away the best hotel in which I have ever stayed;

We were treated to a little cabaret by the … err … “Enjoyment Team” when we arrived and that, I’m afraid, got me off on the wrong foot. i’m the wrong person to come on one of these tours because with having worked in the tourist industry for as long as I did, I’m immensely cynical about this kind of thing. I just wanted to get to my room.

And when I did, well, what can I say?

I can have a dance in my bedroom it’s so big? A family of 6 could sleep in the bed and it’s all a kind of five-star luxury even if it is a little worn in the corners.

And there really is a balcony, and there really is a sea view – and a proper sea view at that too – none of your craning your neck around a corner and leaning out dangerously.

I threw open the windows really wide and let the sea air blow in around the room for quite some considerable time.

And then I … errr … had a relax.

Tea tonight – and every night – is a buffet. You can help yourself. And it’s rather light on the vegan options unfortunately but a plate of wild rice and vegetables cooked with garlic, and a helping of beans from the salad tray followed by a real and proper fruit salad and I will settle for that.

So now I’m going to have an early night. Only 56% on the fitbit but I’m not too bothered about that. i’m exhausted after everything today and an early night will do me good.

Tomorrow it’s the beach!

Tuesday 17th April 2018 – SO THERE I WAS …

(YOU’LL GET TO SEE THE PHOTOS JUST AS SOON AS I CAN FIND A RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION)

… bright-eyed and bushy-tailed leaping out of bed as soon as the alarm clock rang, ready to fight the good fight for yet another day.

And then I awoke from the exciting dream that I was having – something to do with a cake of some description and my mother (although I shudder to think what it might have been) – and it took me a good ten minutes and three alarm calls to shake off the feeling of impending doom that I was having.

And i’m not sure why that was either.

We had the usual morning ritual which involved a good 20-minute search for the apple-and-rhubarb purée that I knew that I had (and which came to light about 20 minutes after I had finished breakfast) and then a little pause while I tidied myself up and gathered my wits (which, considering how many wits I have these days, takes much longer than it ought to).

Having finally organised myself, I set out for the shops. First stop was Kruidvat and the gelatine-free sweet counter. i’m heading off tomorrow and I shan’t encounter another Kruidvat after this.

Next stop was Delhaize for the baguetteand the stuff for breakfast and lunch tomorrow. With my early start I won’t have time to track down any fresh bread so I need to organise myself now.

And just for a change, there was no-body doing anything unusual in the supermarket. That incident with the punnet of strawberries has affected me just as much as the other incident in LeClerc, where the woman insisted that they weighed her fruit and veg before they bagged it, a short while ago did.

The walk back here was quite uneventful, but I did stop at a café for a morning coffee and a little relax by the sea. And I fell in with one of the workmen digging these holes on the promenade and it seems that my guess is correct. They are indeed digging out for a new underground car park. As I have always said – if you want to know the answer you have to ask the question.

While I was working on the laptop I found myself going off with the fairies which I found quite surprising. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had a good sleep during the night, was it?

But it didn’t last long and I soon recovered enough to make my butties and head out to the street. And boarded the ferry down the road just in time to see one of the barges at the cement works flushing out its pipes into the open harbour.

At least, that’s what I assume that it was doing. It certainly wasn’t smoke that was coming out of that pipe over there.

In case you are wondering, which I’m sure you are, there’s not only the offshore works going on for the extension to the wind farm but there’s a huge construction project on dry land just here where the old loading bay for the former RMT ferries from Oostende to Dover is being converted into the new city bus station.

Now, how about this?

I’ve seen people carry dogs around in their arms, in a push-chair (yes, I have), in a bicycle trailer, but this beats just about everything, doesn’t it? Taking your mutt “for a walk” in a box attached to the frame of an old bagging truck.

I just don’t see the point of any of this. I thought that the whole idea of having a dog was so that it would fit in with your lifestyle. So why have a dog that needs to be dragged around like this?

I’m a cat person, not a dog person as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, but even I reckon that if you are going to have a dog, you have a DOG, not something that looks like a drowned rat that can’t run about and have fun.

The wind had changed round today so my little sunny nook from yesterday was ruled out. But farther along the beach I found another sheltered spot to eat my butties. And I had a good hour in the sun with my book. It really was starting to become a very pleasant afternoon.

Tons of shipping out there again today as always but unfortunately far too far out to sea to properly identify. Never mind though. It was quite a pleasant walk all the way down to the café where I had stopped yesterday.

And yesterday there were just two or three of us. Today, with the beautiful weather, they were queueing out of the door to be served and it wasn’t all that easy to find a good place to sit.

All in all I was there for a good 45 minutes drinking coffee and reading my book in the sunshine and (as I noticed later this evening) I am even sunburnt a little (no, it ISN’T rust). I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

The promenade ends here but I carried on a little way through the dunes because from up here if the weather is good there is an excellent view and you can see all the way down the coast as far as Zeebrugge.

We were certainly having that kind of weather today and the view was really excellent. And that doesn’t include the view that I had of the rather solitary gentleman whom I surprised in my assault on the hilltop. He certainly wasn’t expecting to be disturbed.

But that’s not all that there is to see up here either.

We’ve talked … "at great length" – ed … about the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall that the Germans had built to protect the north-west European coast from invasion and I even live just a couple of hundred metres from some of the fortifications.

But this part of the coast was certainly the most crucial from the point of view of the Germans. Probably the shortest crossing, the easiest access to the interior and several major ports in the immediate vicinity, most of the effort of the Germans was concentrated in the strip between Boulogne and Antwerp.

Even out here, you can stumble unexpectedly upon parts of the fortifications hidden in the dunes.

My walk back to the harbour was relatively slow under the birning sun and there was nothing whatever of any excitement to break up the journey. That is, except a working party tidying up the bows of HMS Vindictive.

It’s 100 years ago this year since her rather futile attempt to block the harbour mouth here to prevent German submarines heading out into the English Channel and beyond and they are having some kind of celebration. So I suppose they want her to look her best.

The ferry was in when I arrived so I didn’t have to wait too long. And I was soon across on the other side.

By now if anything it was somewhat hotter, but the ice-cream stall came to the rescue. Non-dairy sorbets are much more widespread than they were and the banana sorbet here is delicious.I adjourned to a bench on the promenade overlooking the sea with my ice-cream sorbet and my book and soaked up some more sun.

In the distance a huge container ship was heading our way and so I waited patiently for it to arrive. But before it reached me it had a touch of the old right-hand down a little and headed off out further away from shore.

As a result I can’t tell you very much about it, and even the view isn’t all that clear. No matter how good your photo equipment might (or might not) be, it can only do so much.

By 18:00 the temperature was cooling down so I headed off back to my hotel room. And at the entrance to the hotelI encountered yet another specimen of the whining, moaning Brit wbo didn’t like this, didn’t like that, didn’t like something else. So I reminded him of how much he was paying to stay here, but that had no effect whatsoever.

That really is the one thing that totally annoys me. It’s all very well not having certain facilities if you aren’t actually paying for them. I’m paying €110 for three nights accommodation here (without breakfast, without wifi in the room and so on, of course) but the place is clean and tidy, the staff is helpful, the rooms are comfortable, it’s a quiet hotel and it’s 100 metres from the beach. Where else are you going to get that here in Oostende?

I have to admit that there really are times when I am ashamed to admit that I’m British when I encounter people like him in mainland Europe.

With all of the effort that I had been through during the day I was feeling a little weary and so I lay down on the bed for a quick 10 minutes.

But 10 minutes. 19:55 when I awoke. More like 110 minutes I reckon. But I’m not complaining. I have a very early start in the morning so I need my sleep.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that last year I discovered a Syrian restaurant run by a couple of refugees. That was my destination for tonight.

And I do have to say that it really was an excellent choice because the meal was just as good as the one that I had had last time.The falafel was cooked to perfection and there were enough chips to feed a small army.

A choice of sauces too, so I chose garlic sauce. And if I could make mine emulsify like theirs I would be an extremely happy bunny.

Back here I packed away the stuff that I don’t need now and then went for an early night. I started to watch a film on the laptop but after about 20 minutes Iswitched it off and settled down to go to sleep.

Like I said – an early start in the morning.

Monday 16th April 2018 – I’M PAYING …

(YOU’LL GET TO SEE THE PHOTOS JUST AS SOON AS I CAN FIND A RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION)

… €110 (well, €118 with taxes) for three nights in this hotel and I do have to say that I’ve not had such a good deal as this in most other places where I’ve stayed.

No breakfast of course at that price but I’ve brought my own, left over from the place in Leuven so that’s no big deal. But the bed was so comfortable for a cheap bed that I was out like a light and stayed out for quite a good while.

That didn’t stop me going on a midnight ramble though. I was in some kind of tower last night – a tower that was some kind of tourist attraction. Right at the top of it I was. But for some reason there was nothing that interested me and I was more interested in seeing how quickly I could descend to the ground. Old women, schoolgirls, families – nothing slowed me down and I was bowling them over like ninepins in my race to the bottom. Outside, I was just leaning on a fence in some kind of depression when I was tapped on the shoulder. Two people – a young man and his girlfriend – from his party were there and they were desperately trying to cheer me up – telling me about all of the machinery that was still in this mill and how there were a couple of big old engines in the cellar that were used to manufacture electricity. But nothing seemed to haul me out of my depression.

Nothing seemed to haul me out of my stinking pit either. After all of the exertions of yesterday I was aching in places that I didn’t even realise that I had, and I thought that my fitbit was really taking the mickey when it told me that “your activity yesterday will really benefit your health”.

After our usual morning performance I had breakfast and then, shame as it is to admit it, I closed my eyes and was away with the fairies for at least half an hour. I definitely did too much yesterday.

But you can’t keep a good man down for long – nor me neither for that matter – and I was out on the streets again on a walk down to the Delhaize supermarket for some shopping and a baguette for lunch.

And we had yet another delightful scene in the Delhaize – of a woman weighing the punnets of strawberries (clearly labelled 500 grammes) to find out which one had the most in it. I thoroughly despair of the human nature that is within some people.

Back here I had a few things to do and then I made my butties for lunch and hit the streets.

But not very far – just outside the hotel where the people who run the bar opposite were unloading stuff from their van.

And you only need to look at the corrugated bonnet to tell you that this is one of the earliest generations of 2CV vans. And that makes it something of a rare beast. you don’t see too many of the cars of this generation about these days (although I do know someone who has one) never mind the vans.

In fact, thinking about it, with the Healey 3000 on Saturday, the Ponton last night and now the 2CV, I’ve seen more interesting vehicles this last three days than I have over the last three months.

My route took me along the promenade again in the general direction of the railway station. And past some very interesting works going on down on the beach with them building a sort-of lego wall to stop the sand drifting over the new causeway that they had built a couple of years ago.

And there was some piling work going on at the end of the older, previous causeway that was the harbour mouth. So it looks as if the work on the modernisation of the harbour is going to be going on and on.

It’s always a bad idea for me to see a ferry. I get in such a bad mood because, of course, every time I see a ferry it makes me cross. And of course there is a free ferry from near the aquarium that goes across the harbour to the commercial side of the docks where there are many of the fortifications still remaining from World War II, and also from World War I when Oostende was an important German submarine base.

We saw these towers yesterday and I had been wondering what they were. And so seeing as I was in the company of Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy aboard the Good Ship Ven .. err … Roger Raveel, I enquired of one of them what was going on.

It seems that they are the masts of more wind turbines for the offshore wind farm, whose headquarters you may remember we visited last time we were here. And the ships that are dodging in and out of the harbour are supply ships for the construction of the extension to the wind farm.

Being decanted onto the other side of the harbour, I threaded my way through the network of canals and locks that form the entrances to the various little avant-ports and found myself in the derelict shipyard.

The shipyard was built in 1931 apparently but not much ship repairing goes on there these days. But there was still this old fishing boat here, up on chocks and fenced off from the public. It’s looking very much the worse for wear these days and like the yacht from Delaware that we saw yesterday, this one won’t be going anywhere any time soon either.

In our quest for yet another Ship of the Day today I wandered around the headland to see what I would see.

But the first thing that I saw was the barge with the piling machine scuttling off presumably for its lunch break.

And subsequent enquiries revealed that they are still working on the harbour with the intention of providing a safe have for ships of up to 150 metres in length (which will be quite impressive from my point of view) and the work will continue for quite a while.

Not only that, according to the architect’s drawings, there seems to be the intention to put some kind of amenity building over there at the head of the old harbour entrance and that would be a pleasant addition to the amenities offered to tourists by the town.

There was a ship in the distance – one of the supply ships for the wind farm – and so with the aid of the zoom telephoto lens I was able to have a good shot of it.

But I was interrupted by a French couple who enquired about the piece of the bow of HMS Vindictive (whic, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, is stuck on a plinth just here).

Of course it’s the kind of thing that I’ve talked about before … "at great length" – ed … so I was able to tell them everything about it. They may not be any the wiser, but they are certainly better-informed.

There was a biting wind out here and it was quite cold too, but I found a corner of the beach that was well-sheltered and in a sun-bowl so I sat on the sand and ate my butties.

And read my book

And … errr … had a little relax in the sun. And why not? It was the first time this year that I had felt really comfortable outside in the nice weather.

There is quite a bit of work going on along the beach here right now. It seems that the sand has drifted quite considerably during the winter, probably with all of the storms that we have had, and has buried the protective fences.

There are teams of diggers digging out the sand and passing it over to bulldozers which are spreading it out on other parts of the beach.

And judging by the amount of sand that needs shifting, they are going to be here for quite some considerable time.

Halfway along the promenade is a little cafe and this was my destination today. I’d had a really good walk so far and so I reckoned that I had earned a cup of coffee and a little relaxation. And apart from anything else, there is a gentleman’s restroom here.

So yet another sit in the sun with a coffee, the book and a little repose for half an hour while I gathered my strength for the return journey. It’s a long way back to civilisation from here.

I took a slightly different route on my way back. After a mile or so I clambered up over the dunes behind the promenade and was rewarded by yet another candidate for “Ship of the Day”.

Never mind the smaller boat in the foreground – it’s hard to tell at this kind of distance whether the ship in the background on the horizon is a container ship or a cruise liner. But nevertheless it is certainly an impressive sight and I’m glad that I bought the zoom telephoto lens for the new camera.

Now this is what I had been clambering over the dunes to see.

We’ve mentioned the World War II fortifications and also the World War I ditto, but there are fortifications from an earlier date here too and the fact that they are built of brick rather than concrete will tell you that they date from before the mid-19th Century.

In fact, this is the Fort Napoleon, built by the aforementioned as part of his defences to keep out the pesky British from invading the Continent.

Every time that I’ve been to Oostende something has always cropped up to put a stop to any plan that I have had to come here, but not today. And so, in accordance with the usual procedure, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, it’s closed right now to visitors.

Being obliged to scramble over fences and building roofs is not something that has caused me any great difficulty in the past, but it’s not the kind of thing that you do in Belgium. Belgian police are notoriously unpredictable in their reactions and we have had some … errr … interesting encounters in the past, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall.

Heading back to the ferry I was lucky enough to be standing on top of one of the lock gates when the siren went off to tell me that the gate was about to open.

It’s that time of the day of course when the tide is coming in, up to the level of the water in the smaller docks and harbours and so they are opening the gates to allow traffic to proceed in and out.

And as luck would have it, right at this moment there were two fishing boats, O190 and O191, preparing to leave the harbour and they were queued up at the inner gate (being a tidal harbour there is a double-set of lock gates here, one opening inwards and the other opening outwards).

Fishing is not something that is as common today as it was 50 years ago. In those days there would have been whole fleets of smaller coastal fishing boats in ports like Oostende but with the amount of over-fishing that took place, the fishing fleets have declined as quickly as the amount of fish that they used to catch.

Nowadays it’s mainly huge deep-sea trawlers that work on a more industrial basis.

Back on the western side of the harbour my walk along the promenade took me past yet more redevelopment.

When I first started coming to Oostende 40-odd years ago the whole sea-front area was nothing but nice belle-epoque villas from the lats 19th Century and small, cheap down-market hotels.

But today there’s almost nothing from that period remaining. It’s all been bulldozed away and replaced by modern holiday flats that cost an arm and a leg to buy or to rent. It’s just not the same as it used to be and I personally think that much of the character of the town has gone.

Nevertheless, it’s still one of the places that I enjoy the most for a little break for a couple of days and i’ll keep on coming here for as long as I can find some reasonably-priced accommodation.

It has some nice beaches, good walks, good, cheap rail connections to just about everywhere and not the least of the reasons being that it’s situated on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the World.

Out there on the horizon miles away but we can see quite well thanks to the telephoto lens is a ship that, i reckon, is almost certainly a containership.

And although it’s difficult to tell at this distance, it seems to be “outbound” to the North Atlantic. That looks to me like the blunt end to the right of the photograph.

Back at the hotel I had a little … errr … relax for half an hour or so and then later went out in search of food for tea.

The Syrian restaurant that I like and which does excellent falafelschotels was open, but so was the good Italian restaurant next door. But that was displaying a “closed on Tuesday” notice on the door so it looks like falafel tomorrow then and Italian meal tonight.

The penne al arrabiata here, zonder kaas of course, is wicked and it does have to be said that had there been a fridge in my hotel room I would have put the toilet paper in it ready for tomorrow. But I enjoyed every mouthful of it and I’ll be back here again next time I come to stay in Oostende.

On the way back to the hotel i was swept up in a party of kids streaming out of the Youth Hostel on their way to the beach for some late-evening amusement but I came back here to wash my clothes, to have a shower and take an early night. No internet up here in the rooms so instead I watched a film on the laptop.

And I made it down to the end too, for the first time in quite a while.

So now to settle down for a good night. The next night won’t be anything like as comfortable as this one. The alarm will be going off at 05:30 for a start and that’s enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.

At least I can sleep on the train on Wednesday morning though.

Sunday 15th April 2018 – I’M MOVING ON …

(YOU’LL GET TO SEE THE PHOTOS JUST AS SOON AS I CAN FIND A RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION)

…this morning so I can’t afford to hang about. I have a lot to do.

Not like during the night anyway. For some reason or other I had a desire to learn English – more really for the precise terms of grammar than anything else. And so I enrolled on this course that was taking place in Flint in North Wales. So I entered the class where the teacher greeted me in fluent Welsh. Whatever the standard of my Welsh might be, it wasn’t good enough to understand anything at the speed that she was speaking and this took me completely unawares. I stepped back for a minute to wonder how I was going to cope with this. In the class was a girl from Finland – tallish and well-built with shoulder-length blonde hair in a pony tail, and we ended up in a bar having a drink and a chat about our experiences in this class.

I leapt out of bed with alacrity (and I bet that you thought that I was on my own, didn’t you?) and while I was waiting for my medicine to work I caught up with a few bits and pieces that needed doing and that I should have done yesterday had I not been so exhausted after our trip out.

After breakfast I started to hunt things down and do my packing but for some reason or other it took far longer than I expected and I ended up stuffing things at random into my suitcase – and then unstuffing them as I searched for things that I needed and that I couldn’t remember having stuffed into the aforesaid. I’m clearly in a bad way.

And my suitcase seems to weigh about 10 times more than it did coming here. I haven’t bought that much extra stuff – I know that – and a lot of the stuff that I brought, like the food for example, has been vastly diminished in quantity.

Dashing out, I handed back the key to the room and was delayed for a few minutes by the local cat who finally allowed me to pick him up and stroke him. Stroking a cat is of course very good for the stress, but not if you are in a hurry to catch a train.

At the station I had to queue for hours behind people who clearly had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning (I’ve no idea why my new bank card won’t work in the self-service ticket machines of the SNCB) and I was only just in time for my train. Had it not been running 5 minutes late I would have been in difficulty.

It was one of the first generation of the “luxury” second-class trains – the first of those from the late 1980s with comfortable individual cloth seats. And so it was a little on the tatty side with frayed edges and so on but nevertheless, very comfortable.and I settled myself in for the long haul up to Oostende. I’m treating myself to a couple of days by the seaside before I come home.

We pulled into the station at Brugge and after a while I noticed that we hadn’t pulled out again. I didn’t think much of it until I was tapped on the shoulder by the ticket collector. It seems that there’s a problem on the line higher up and the train won’t be going any further. A bus had been provided for us.

Eventually tracking down where I was supposed to go, I joined the heaving throng crammed like sardines into an old De Lijn service bus that whisked us up the motorway at 49mph. And was I happy when the doors opened and we could all alight?

The beautiful summer’s day that we had had in Leuven had now descended into a grey overcast sky but it will take much more than this to dampen my ardour. I set off to find my hotel, stopping on the way to pick up a baguette and being given the change from a €20 note in €2 pieces because they had nothing else to hand.

As for the hotel, I had a very good price from the Hotel Neutralia – a hotel that I don’t actually know. It’s wrong to say that it’s spartan – probably “basic” is a much better word to describe it – but I’ve stayed in many worse hotels than this and paid much more money for the privilege.

The staff are very friendly and hospitable, but the downside is that the internet doesn’t reach into the bedrooms on the upper floors (like mine). You have to come down to the foyer or the bar.

With the baguette that I had bought and a few other bits and pieces that I had, I made some butties and then headed out to the beach. Just in time to encounter a Ship of the Day – and it’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those, hasn’t it?

She’s the Artevelde out of Antwerp, and when I have a decent internet connection I shall tell you much more about her. But what I can say is that she came into the harbour, did a quick lap around and promptly sailed … "dieseled" – ed … back out again.

I walked on down to the railway station to check on the time of my train back to Brussels. And I’ll tell you something for nothing, and that is that I am not looking forward to a train that starts out at 06:41. Whatever time will I have to be out of bed to catch that? But at least there is a train. I could have ended up at somewhere much more isolated than this.

My perambulations took me around the yacht harbour and here there were many interesting things to see.

We had the Mercator of course. She’s the centre of attraction here in Oostende in the same way that Marité is back home in Granville.

But never mind the Mercator for the moment. This yacht caught my eye too.

And not for the least of the reasons being that she seems to be out of Dover – not the Dover just across the English Channel but the “Dover DL” which seems to indicate the Dover that is in Delaware, across the Atlantic from here.

So what she is doing here I really have no idea. But judging by the moss and the general debris scattered about on her, she’s been here for quite a while and won’t be sailing back home any time soon.

Back on the promenade and they seem to be digging it up everywhere. and how!

With it being a Sunday there’s no-one around to ask what is going on but part of the promenade had an underground car-park, so maybe they are planning to extend that. Parking here in Oostende is very tight in the summer and with all of the alterations that seem to be going on here, there will be fewer and fewer spaces. And so a few more certainly won’t go amiss.

But then, of course, parking is expensive here. And I paid just €21:00 to come here on the train. so I’m not sure why people coming to the seaside to lounge on the beach need to come by car anyway.

Back at my hotel I had a … errr … little rest for an hour or so and then went back out onto the streets – well, the Zeedyke actually – and headed west along the promenade, grabbing a bag of fritjes from the fritkot on the corner here.

Quite a walk too – much further than I was expecting in fact. but I did go past a couple of vehicles belonging to one of my former employers. The happy (and not-so-happy) times that I had there between 1979 and 1992 with the taxi business in between and around of course.

But how times have changed. When I started there in 1979 we had Ford R1114 lightweight coaches with Plaxton Supreme bodywork. But just look today at the kind of vehicle that is being used on coach tours. Mercedes engined three-axle heavyweights.

I don’t know how people today would have managed with some of the trips that we had to do back in 1979 in the equipment that we had.

Eventually I arrived at my destination – the Versluys Arena, home of the Koninklijke VoetballKlub Oostende.

Having missed my football last night, I wasn’t going to miss another and this evening KV Oostende were at home against STVV – the Kononklijke Sint Truidense Voetballvereniging.

I don’t recall having seen either of these teams before and I’ve certainly never been to the Versluys Arena so that sounded like a good plan.

I was crammed into the “away” end with the St Truiden supporters one of whom was dressed as a Canary. It’s the nickname of the club aparently, due no doubt to the yellow and blue colours that the team wears.

The match itself was very interesting. STVV had much more of the possession in the first half but they didn’t have the technique that Oostende had. KV Oostende were certainly the better team.

The trouble with modern football is that the aim seems to be “possession” – the longer they can hang on to the ball the better. And just like every other match that I have seen, the quick ball out wide to the wingers just doesn’t seem to be an option. They seem much more willing to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper.

At half-time though, KV Oostende were 2-0 up. And just to prove my point, both goals were scored by passes “over the top” of the defenders to players running into space.

During half-time the heavens opened and we were treated to the torrential downpour to end all torrential downpours. And the second half was played in conditions into which you wouldn’t have sent out a dog.

To everyone’s surprise (the STVV supporters and probably the players too) STVV pulled a goal back. A shot from about 20 yards out took a wicked deflection off a defender and ended up in the far corner of the net with the keeper helpless to do anything about that one.

And then, with 5 minutes to go, STVV scored a most unlikely equaliser with some good passing play where a ball broke kindly foran unmarked attacker.

And in the remaining time, STVV had two excellent chances to score a winner but their attackers were unable to make any contact with the ball.

By now the rain had eased off a little and I set off on my wet and weary walk home along the promenade.

I didn’t get very far though before my attention was grabbed by this gorgeous machine.

It’s a Mercedes 220 Ponton – the Ponton being the first modern post-war body styling from Mercedes and which ran from about 1953 to the early 1960s before being replaced by the W series models (somewhere down on the farm growing in a hedgerow I have a Mercedes W123 240D).

Not exactly my favourite Mercedes – I adore the pre-war and early postwar models of course but I would settle any day of the week for one of these and I’d be glad to take this home with me in my suitcase.

My long and tiring walk home brought me past the Royal Villa of King Leopold II. He was probably the most famous King of the Belgians (the King isn’t “The King of Belgium” but “The King of the Belgians”) and under whose rule there was an opulence that has never been matched either before or since.

And he had his Royal Villa, or Summer Palace, behind that wall on the Promenade at Oostende.

I slunk into my hotel and gave myself a really good shake so as not to traipse the rain with me into the hotel. I had intended to watch a film before going to sleep but with my fitbit telling me that I had done 227% of my day’s activity and walked a total of … errr … 17.7 kms today, I decided that an early night would be a better idea.

Saturday 14th April 2018 – I HAD A REALLY …

… nice day out today, and when I finish editing the photos (because there are more than just a few) I’ll be posting them up on here so that you can see what I mean.

We started off by having had a really good sleep for once, although there wasn’t that much of it with having not gone to bed until about 01:30. And that rather set the scene for the day, I’m afraid.

But I was still up early enough, had the usual morning ritual and followed all of that with a shower and a scrub of the undies. The heater in this room has a coat-hanger above it and so anything that I wash will dry in half a day and I need to take full advantage while I’m on the road.

There was plenty to do (like catch up with last night’s blog entry and go in search of some toilet paper) until Alison came on line and told me that she was leaving home, and at the appropriate moment I wandered down to the end of the street to meet her.

Just for a change it was the E40 that we fahrn’d fahrn’d farn’d down nd crossed into Germany there, leaving the autobahn at the next exit and heading, not north to Aachen, but southwards.

Despite having issues with the SatNav, that had different ideas that I had about where we needed to go, we eventually found our destination – Auf Aderich 33, 52156 Monschau. And hereby hangs a tail.

The Dukes of Brabant controlled several small German-speaking Provinces around Eupen and Malmédy which had been incorporated into the Austrian Netherlands. But after the territorial reorganisations following the Napoleonic Wars, their Germanic heritage meant that they were incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia.

Following the end of World War I at the Treaty of Versailles these small territories were given to Belgium as part of the War reparations.

But there was a slight problem. Due to the mountainous relief of the country here, the only rail connection that these provinces had with the rest of Belgium was via Germany. And the solution was found – that the railway line itself, known as the Vennbahn – would be ceded to Belgium too.

This produced several anomalies, in that several parts of Germany were now isolated from Germany proper by the now-Belgian railway line and despite several subsequent territorial reorganisations, this left five “enclaves” (and, historically, one “counter-enclave”) still isolated from Germany and surrounded completely by Belgium.

The railway line is no longer in existence (it’s a cycle path) but the enclaves are. And these range from town-sized enclaves down in size to just one house and garden. And here we are at the smallest enclave of them all – Auf Aderich.

And this is what we came to see – the smallest of the German enclaves into Belgian territory.

From here we headed on down the hill into Monschau.

This is a very pretty old town situated along the banks of the River Rur as it flows through a cleft in the rocks. Being situated on a fast-flowing river near to a plateau noted for its sheep, the town was famous for its many mills and cloth-weaving.

Not unnaturally, it became quite a rich town and there are dozens, if not hundreds of magnificent buildings here, built of local stone or wattle-and-daub that leave no(one in any doubt about how rich the town was in those days.

In fact, it was so rich that it was regularly looted and pillaged by all kinds of different invading armies during the turbulent years of the second millennium.

We had a coffee and went for a good wander around. Alison, who had been here on many occasions, showed me the sights.

But none of these sights was as exciting as the second-hand shop in the town that had a “dobro” guitar – the acoustic guitar with a built-in resonance speaker that was very popular with blues musicians in the 1920s and still makes an appearance today (we’ve seen many at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival).

I would have bought it at a heartbeat, until I noticed “made in China” stamped on the neck. So it’s not an original 1920s guitar at all but a cheap Chinese import, of no interest really to me.

We ended up back in Aachen and our favourite restaurant for a meal and a wander around – not to mention a visit to the Muller supermarket where they sell that beautiful white vegan chocolate with coconut flakes.

By the time we returned home it was too late to go to the football, which was probably just as well because I was exhausted. I sat here and vegetated for a while and then went for a walk around the block.

And then, an early night. A good sleep will do me good as I’m moving on tomorrow. Man In A Suitcase is hitting the road.

Friday 13th April 2018 – MY LANDLORD …

… back at the place d’Armes is going to die of shock when he sees how much the kitchen that I want is going to cost him.

Yes, I went to IKEA this morning to have a good nosey around. And it’s only the second-ever occasion – I think – that I’ve been to an IKEA and come away empty-handed. But that was more down to the logistics question of carrying away the stuff than a lack of willingness or of money.

On my travels last night I was dealing with giant worm, or snakes or something. Or, rather, I wasn’t – someone else was. it was all happening at a small rural railway station and this snake in the grass was upsetting people so my reckoning was that the easiest way to tackle it was to send in Terry on The Beast of Beaugut, his ride-on lawnmower, to mow the grass and if possible shred the snake. But it proved much more difficult in practice because for one reason or another the snake was refusing to co-operate.

Having had breakfast and the usual morning rituals I walked up to the bus station and leapt aboard the 358 that took me all the way to IKEA. and eventually managing to buttonhole a salesman. We sat down, had a discussion, drew up a few plans and costed it all out, and it came to … errr … a couple of coppers short of €2,000.

But that’s including a fridge, an oven and one of these two-burner ceramic hobs.

It’s not the cheapest range that they had (you really don’t want to buy that) but it’s next to it. The only concession to what I might call luxury is that there’s a brown oak-coloured work surface rather than the horrible cheap and nasty white one.

But whether he will pay for that is another story, isn’t it?

There was a massive crowd at the restaurant for lunch and it took me hours to be served. And then I wandered off for the bus, horribly late (both me, and the bus).

With not knowing the route of the bus into Brussels I ended up going round the houses and had to take a metro to the Bank.

But here we came up once more against the staggering incompetence of the bankers that I have. And it’s not like the BNP Paribas to behave like a load of bankers but even they seem to be managing it now.

They hadn’t ordered the replacement card for me like they promised (twice now) and having had the issues with various forms of proofs of address, they didn’t like the electricity bill either. They reckon that there’s some complication from their point of view about me living in France with a British passport, but I’ve been doing it now for 11 years so it totally bewilders me.

I was so taken aback by all of this that I forgot to mention the two other things that I wanted to do.

Afterwards, I went for a good wander around the city centre. I had planned to finally make it to the railway museum at Schaerbeek but once more with having had all of this messing about I ran out of time.

There was a football match this evening in Tubize – a bottom-of-the-table relegation dogfight between AFC Tubize and Union St Gilles. And for once, the trains were running kindly for me.

At Tubize, having grabbed some cash, I grabbed a bag of fritjes from the fritkot opposite the station and wandered down to the ground where I picked up a ticket.

And here we had a complication that I had not foreseen – they wouldn’t let me in with my backpack. But after a good deal of negotiation and discussion a friendly, helpful (in Belgium???) security guard offered to guard it for me at the gate and with no other option available, I accepted and in I went.

For once, at Tubize, there was adecent crowd. None of this “crowd-changes to the teams” stuff as is usual. And most of the supporters seemed to be from Union St Gilles too, for if they win they are saved from relegation and Tubize go down.

The match itself was dreadful. We had the first foul right at the kick-off and the first yellow card after just 29 seconds. The final score was 12 (I think – I lost count) yellow cards and one red and I do have to say that I didn’t disagree with any of them.

But the game was woeful. Tubize were inept and despite having many good chances they couldn’t hit the nether regions of a ruminant animal with a stringed musical instrument. Only one player, Jae-Gun Lee about whom I have commented before, looked to be of some good use, so of course they withdrew him after about 70 minutes.

And Union St Gilles were even worse. They had a couple of players whom I wouldn’t like to meet down a dark alley late at night, one of whom was the centre-forward – a big bustling, burly type. He looked quite useful as a battering ram but his team never had possession up front long enough to give him the ball. They managed just one shot on target all night – and scored!

Right at the death, Tubize won a penalty – and as is their usual form at moments like this, the St Gilles keeper saved it. Last kick of the game of course, and the jubilation from the players, officials and supporters as the ref blew for time told its own story.

It was a slow stopping train back to Leuven, packed as far as Brussels with St Gilles fans. But I eventually made it back here by about 00:45 and that’s my lot for now.

See you in the morning.

Thursday 12th April 2018 – SO HAVING BEEN …

… in bed long before 22:00 I was awoken at 02:40 with a severe attack of cramp (the first for some time, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall) and again an hour or so later for no good reason.

But if anyone thinks that I’m going to leave the comfort and safety of my stinking pit at that time of the morning they are totally mistaken. I turned over and went back to sleep;

I was off on my travels too. In a Burtons menswear shop (although it wasn’t) looking for a bright yellow jumper something like the yellow waterproof fleece that I have. And although they had some in, there was something wrong with all of them – too small, wrong colour yellow, wrong fastening and so on. And I was running around in this shop for ages, looking in all of the different crooks and nannies for what I wanted but with no success.

At the summons of the alarm I arose from the dead and we went through the usual morning ritual followed by a shower. And I threw my clothes in the shower with me and just like the Angel of the Lord who came down, I gave them all a scrub. I haven’t brought much with me so I need to do the best that i can with my clothes while I’m on my travels.

Loads of fog and mist about this morning, but seeing as I had plenty of time I walked all the way (all 4.4 kms of it) to the hospital. It’s a struggle up the long hill to there but it’s one f those things that I have to do when I can and when I’m not pushed for time.

But it’s pleasant walking over the cobbled streets watching the young female students riding their bikes over the cobbles towards the University. It can’t be good for the health – especially mine! Ohh yes -I can still chase after the women, even if I can’t remember why!

At the hospital the nurse dealing with me didn’t speak a word of English so I had my set-up interview in Flemish. I must know much more Flemish than I realise and that’s good news.

Even better news is that I seem to have lost 3kgs in weight since last month. My slow weight increase has been depressing me as much as my fatigue is, and so to see three kilos disappear is good news for me.

Sitting in my comfy chair in the public ward (dunno why I didn’t have a room) I was attended to by a different nurse who made hard work of inserting my drip-feed.

And then I was seen by a male doctor this time. Not female doctor with a bevy of beautiful students. But then you can’t have Castle Anthrax every time. But all the same – I don’t know why I came here of this is how they treat me.

it took ages for things to sort themselves out. Even I could see that the drip wasn’t working properly and when I told the nurse “that’s normal” she said. but she was back 20 minutes later when the pump started beeping that it had an airlock. And she was back a couple of other times too.

But eventually, much later than it should have been, the procedure was over. And then I had to find the doctor who had apparently forgotten me.

And my results are the same as last month – everything stable. So back in 4 weeks time. 9th May (a Wednesday) to be precise as the next day is a Bank Holiday.

On the way back I did some shopping for a couple of bits and pieces, including SHOCK HORROR some shorts. if I’m going to be lounging around on the beach this summer in the glorious hot weather that I just KNOW that we are going to have, I need to look the part.

And then to a café for a coffee to wait for Alison.

We went to our Mexican restaurant for a meal and a chat and ended up in a nice café on the old Grote Markt. later on, Alison dropped me off and here I am now ready for bed.

And I can’t say that I’m not sorry either. 145% of my day’s fitness target and it feels like it too. And I have a heavy day ahead of me tomorrow.

Wednesday 11th Aoril 2018 – SO HERE I AM ONCE MORE …

… not in the playground of my broken dreams but in a little studio in the Dekenstraat in Leuven. Didn’t that four weeks go quickly?

But at least my body clock seems to be working okay still. Despite a night that was … errr … somewhat later than I intended, I was wide-awake at 05:40 and waiting for the alarm;

Despite not having breakfast and not having a shower, I still didn’t have time to do everything that I wanted to doso the floor will have to remain unwashed until I return. But I emptied the rubbish, bleached everything that needed bleaching, cut my fingernails and changed the bedding so that I’ll have nice clean comfortable bedding when I return.

Yes, I lead such an exciting life, don’t I? At least I remembered yesterday to turn off the electricity for the heating and the hot water, even if I did forget to unplug the machinery in the kitchen. And I also forgot the opened jar of jam that I was planning to bring with me.

For some reason or other the walk to the station didn’t take as long as it usually does and I was there in less than 20 minutes. Plenty of time for a coffee and a relax as despite what happened four weeks ago, the train wasn’t in the station.

When it did come in, it was a six-carriage train instead of the usual 12-carriage train, and the seats were not reserved. We could sit anywhere we liked. I chose a seat right at the front – less distance to walk at my destination. As we know, time is pretty important when on the Traversée de Paris without Bourvil to carry your suitcase.

We were late arriving at Paris Vaugirard due to track repairs and the subsequent congestion but there was no queue at the Metro ticket window so I was through there very quickly. And even better-I convinced them to sell me a carnet of 10 tickets which means that I don’t have to queue at all for the next few weeks. And a carnet comes at a substantial discount.

The metro was reasonably painless -line 4 to the Gare de l’Est and then line 5 to the Gare du Nord and that’ll be the route for the next while until the repairs to the Gare du Nord station on line 4 are completed. It’s all getting to be quite complicated.

For the first time so far this year I was able to sit outside and eat my butties. How long this weather will last, though is anyone’s guess. We’ll be back in the snow before long.

The TGV was packed yet again but I had a good spec. And much to my disappointment we arrived 10 minutes late in Brussels.

That meant that I had missed the train that I like and had to catch the older less-comfortable one instead.

And at the place here I had to wait around for the office guy to come with the keys.

So now having been shopping at Delhaize and had my tea, I really am going for an early night. I’ve been fighting off the sleep all day and I’m about done.

I’ll be up early tomorrow though. A shower and a clothes wash and then the hospital.

Tuesday 10th April 2018 – AND SO I WENT OUT …

… this afternoon into town, as I mentioned that I would.

And with the weather being so appalling (no surprise there) I was dressed up like Nanook of the North.

What then happened was completely predictable. The clouds dramatically raced away, we had a bright blue sky with this strange round, golden object in the sky and I melted. First time this year. I was so hot it was unbelievable.

But as I returned, the weather just as dramatically closed in again and we had a pile of rain. I tell you – this is really getting on my wick now. It’s beyond a joke.

Another night of not very much sleep, and I was on my travels yet again. I was driving down the hill (at the Clermont-Ferrand side) into St Eloy-les-Mines of all places in a car that was comparatively modern, and was joined by a pale blue early MkII Consul (the type with the small rear lights) in a rather tatty condition, and an ancient F-series Vauxhall Victor. Our descent took us into the suburbs of London (like you do) and the local MoT station where the three vehicles were examined. On enquiring of the tester, I was told that “they’ve all passed OK” – which totally surprised me. As he handed me the documents I asked him if there were any advisories. “No, none at all. They are all good” – and that I found even more surprising. But who am I to argue with an MoT examiner when he has just passed all of my cars?

We had breakfast and the usual relax afterwards and then SHOCK! HORROR! I vacuumed the floor of the apartment and cleaned the kitchen cupboard. Not that you’d notice, of course, but I do and that’s what’s important.

For lunch I finished off the soup with some more bits of baguette from the freezer and then headed into town.

My wanderings took me to the harbour to see what the crane was doing, but there was nothing particularly evident as to why it should still be there. And there was no-one around to ask either which was surprising.

I went round to the boulangerie where the good baguettes are sold and picked up one of the baguettes that keep for a couple of days. That’s for my butties on the road tomorrow of course. I’m heading back to Leuven aren’t I?

The post Office was next, to post a letter to the Tax Office and then round to the estate agent’s to pay them this famous €0:34 before I go away.

And here I tackled head-on a subject close to my heart. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that the kitchen here is rubbish and I want to do something about improving it. So I asked the estate agents if the owner would consider making an investment into his property by making a contribution to the cost.

My demand wasn’t dismissed out of hand, which is one good thing. I need to make a report and to draw up a little plan about what I would like to do. This involves a trip to IKEA to price out a few things and I may well do that on Friday if I can – the one at Zaventam. I’m sure that there must be a bus from Leuven that goes that way. I shall have to make enquiries. I shall have to measure the kitchen area before I go out tomorrow.

This afternoon I was planning to wash the floor and then go for a walk while it dried but shame as it is to say it, I was stark out on the sofa. And you have no idea just how much this is depressing me.

Tea was a frozen curry out of the freezer and then I had my evening walk around the headland. Ready for bed now and I need a good sleep because I’m on the road tomorrow.

I wonder what Thursday at the hospital will bring for me.

Monday 9th April 2018 – IT SEEMS …

… that I have forgotten to reconfigure the alarms on my phone after the Easter break.

As regular readers of this rubbish might recall, the alarms didn’t go off o Friday (which I put down to a flat battery in the phone) and they didn’t go off today either. I was awakened at 07:00 by the church bells summoning the Faithful (both of them) to early morning Mass.

I’d been on my travels again during the night too. A young boy had come to our house to be looked after until a neighbour could come to pick him up. But chatting to him, it turned out that his mother had died most unexpectedly and this neighbour didn’t know. The best description that he could give me about his neighbour was that she wore a flowered skirt so I went to the end of the lane to wait for her, to intercept her and break the news to her. A variety of people came past, including a group of old ladies with walking sticks and we had quite a chat, and eventually a woman appeared, a large woman wearing a dark blue-grey skirt with the outlines of flowers drawn in white. She was indeed the neighbour concerned so I drew her to one side to break the news to her.
A little later I was back in Crewe at the house of a lorry driver who worked with my father. He had a caravan for sale and I was very interested in it. It was an old one but a lightweight fibreglass vehicle and the plumbing inside was rather eccentric to say the least. But I’d seen this type of plumbing before and couldn’t understand how it worked so I reckoned that the purchase price of this caravan was well worth it just for an informal course on how the plumbing on these things worked.

Eventually managing to tear myself out of my stinking pit, we had the usual morning ritual and then after a little repose and a coffee I attacked the packing.

I’ll be away for a week so I’m not taking much with me. I shall me relying on hotel sinks and washbasins to keep my clothes clean while I’m on my travels. That should do me fine for that kind of period although if I do spot a holiday on offer in the middle of the Sahara Desert I shall be somewhat at a disadvantage. You don’t need many clothes in the desert that’s for sure, but I don’t want to give any of the donkeys an inferiority complex.

And the desert! Yes. Given the dreadful weather that we’ve had and how thoroughly fed up I am of it all, a week or two at an oasis in the middle of the Sahara will do me the world of good.

The morning – and the day – gradually went downhill from there. In the post was a letter from the EDF about yet another issue with my standing orders thanks to the Crédit Agricole (who are quickly establishing themselves as the Worst Bank In The World) and I ended up on the ‘phone to the EDF for 45 minutes sorting things out. The guy there was very helpful and very friendly but that’s hardly the point now, is it?

Rummaging through the freezer at lunchtime, I discovered that I had run out of bread for lunch. There were however some bits of baguette in there left over from when I was ill over Christmas so I made some soup and had them with it.

After lunch, I steam-cleaned the kitchen. And it needed it too. I’ve been letting things lapse in here for a while and I need to get myself back on track.

That led me up quite nicely to my afternoon walk around the headland. It was grey, miserable and overcast again but not really cold – and not raining either which makes a big change.

And back here I made myself a coffee and sat down to drink it before carrying on with the cleaning. But the next thing that I remember, in a hazy, fuzzy kind of way, was that it was 17:35 and my coffee was stone-cold. By my reckoning, I was out for almost 90 minutes. This cleaning is clearly getting to me, isn’t it? And there’s so much to do before I can go away.

Tea was the other burger from last night with a bap, baked potatoes and vegetables steamed in the microwave. And very delicious it all was too. One thing about it is that I’m eating well.

And then we had our little walk this evening where I was interrogated by a grockel.

I’m hoping for an early night tonight and a good sleep. I can’t keep on going like this. I’m so short of energy and motivation that I’m doing nothing at all and that’s not part of my plan at all.