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Thursday 30th August 2018 – I WISH …

… that banks would stop employing cashiers who wear low-cut tee-shirts. When this one today leant over the counter to give me my US dollars in a fashion so that we could count them together, I was totally distracted and I have no idea how much she gave me.

It’s definitely bad for my health, all of this.

Last night was slightly better. I slept all the way through until the racket from the fridge and the air-conditioning awoke me at about 04:00. But I soon went back to sleep until the alarms went off.

Breakfast for some reason didn’t start to be served until 08:00 so I had plenty of time to attack the notes from yesterday, and I’d even finished by the time that they opened the dining room, which is always encouraging.

Afterwards, I had a shower and washed my clothes from yesterday. I’ll be washing myself away at this rate if it keeps on like this.

A little later, I went out into town, stopping off for a bottle of water and to explore the shopping mall just down the road.

And why is shopping in North America so boring? Well, when you’ve seen one bunch of shops, you’ve seen a mall.

I’ll get my coat.

bibliotheque archives national de quebec montreal canada august aout 2018Down the road at the foot of the hill by the Parc Viger is this beautiful building.

Dating from the early years of the 20th Century, it was formerly the Montreal Technical School but today it’s the BANQ – the Bibiliothèque and Archives National de Québec.

I’ve taken shelter there from the rain once a few years ago, but I’ve never actually visited it. However, it is my destination for this morning.

bibliotheque archives national quebec montreal canada august aout 2018While you admire one of the most beautiful interiors that I have ever seen, let me tell you my story.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that a few years ago I wrote a pile of stuff about the Chemin du Roy, the road that was built by Pierre Robineau de Bécancour and Jean Eustache Lanouiller in he early 18th Century to link Montréal and Québec

I wrote at the time that I would one day have to visit the National Archives to find the original maps of the route, because much has been lost in the subsequent 300 years.

So here I am.

bibliotheque archives national quebec montreal canada august aout 2018But I’m in for a massive disappointment.

There are indeed record of the route, that’s for sure. But they are held at the archives site in Québec, not Montreal. So I need to go there instead.

And where are the BANQ archives in Québec? Why, on the campus at the University of Laval of course.

Ring any bells?

track layout gare viger montreal canada august aout 2018But all is not lost. It wasn’t a total waste of time.

I’ve been wondering for years about the track arrangements at the Gare Viger – how the platforms were actually laid out in relation to the buildings, and here I struck gold.

On the wall was an exhibition of the area, and one of the exhibits was a map of the area 100 years or so ago which showed everything that I wanted to know.

train sheds gare viger montreal canada august aout 2018The station was subsequently modernised and extended, and this meant that the track layout needed to be changed.

And while I wasn’t able to see a plan of how the station layout was configured afterwards, there was a handy aerial photograph hanging on the wall that showed at least some of the train sheds.

So I might not be any the wiser, but I’m certainly better-informed.

gare dalhousie montreal canada august aout 2018The Gare Viger dates from the turn of the 20th Century. But before this, there was an earlier Canadian Pacific railway station in the eastern side of the city – the Gare Dalhousie.

It was from here that the first trans-continental train set out in 1886 (and we’ve all noticed that, once again, the Maritime Provinces have been totally ignored by the official Canadian History. According to them, there’s nothing except eskimoes and indians east of Montreal and they don’t count for anything)

After the opening of the Gare Viger it became a freight depot and then an industrial warehouse. However it’s recently undergone a programme of renovation and they have done a good job here.

It’s now a circus school, and seeing as it was formerly a Canadian Pacific building, that is quite appropriate. Clowns should feel right at home here.

gullwing port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018Down on the docks Oakglen is still there, as we might expect, but we have another bulk carrier down at the far end.

She’s the Gullwing, a Maltese bulk-carrier of 39000 tonnes and was built in 2011, although you might not think it.

She’s come in from Quebec after an exhausting tour around the Pacific, and were I going to visit my friend Rhys I would hop aboard because according to the port authorities her next stop is Charleston in South Carolina.

msc alyssa port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018Also in the far end of the harbour was a huge MSC container ship.

No chance of reading its name from here unfortunately but according to the port records, there’s an MSC Alyssa in port and she seems to fit the bill.

She’s of 61500 tonnes and has arrived from Liverpool. And were I to want to go back to Leuven for my next hospital appointment I would immediately leap aboard, because her next port of call is Antwerp.

kids pirate ships port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018The brats still aren’t back at school yet in Montreal, and so the children’s entertainment is in full swing.

I was impressed by the pirate ships, and even more impressed by the fact that the kids were being allowed to swing on ropes and slide down zip wires and all of that.

Can you imagine that in the stupid nanny-state UK where the ridiculous Health and Safety rules are such that you even need a fire safety certificate to wave a flag at a football match.

But I haven’t come here to waste my time.

seabourn quest port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018I had it on good authority that there was a cruise ship in town ready to do a voyage down the St Lawrence and the Eastern seaboard of the USA, and so I went for a look.

And here we have the Seabourn Quest, all 32,500 tonnes of her and built as recently as 2011, which is quite modern for a cruise ship. We’ve seen some thoroughly ancient and disreputable ones in our time.

Unfortunately the quay was heavily guarded so if Strawberry Moose and I want to nip aboard, we’d have to buy some tickets.

juno marie port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018The little tender alongside her is the Juno Marie.

She’s officially described as a tanker, and being small like this, her task is very likely to be to fuel up the larger ships in the docks as they arrive so that they are ready to set sail as quickly as possible.

There are a few of these little tankers in port and we’ve seen at least one of them before.

ursulines place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018When I was here last October I’d finally managed to make it to the real centre of the city where it all was happening back in the 17th Century but I didn’t have time to go far.

One of the places that I hadn’t seen was the old Ursuline convent, or what remains of it.

This organisation of the “Grey Nuns” was founded here in Montreal in 1737 by Marguerite d’Youville and they ended up over time with quite an impressive range of buildings here.

ursulines pace d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018Their claim to fame is that they were the first female religious organisation to undertake the full range of social and charitable aims.

There had been many people engaged in these tasks before, and we’ve talked in the past about people like Marguerite Bourgeoys.

But they just had their little niche of interest, not the whole range.

ursulines place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018There was a large hospital on the site too, as well as a very large and impressive church, if the old drawings are anything to go by.

But as the city expanded northwards and eastwards away from the river, and as the port of Montreal expanded along the banks, it was deemed necessary to make a new road network connecting the two.

And so the Ursulines had to go, and so did some of their buildings.

ursulines place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018Luckily, not all was demolished. There are still some remains of the impressive buildings that are now classed as Historical Monuments.

And if you look very carefully in the roadway, you’ll see lines of granite setts – there are a couple in the photo here.

When they were doing some roadworks a while ago they came across the foundations of the old walls that had been demolished. They have marked them out on the road with the granite setts so that you can see the extent of the former buildings

grand trunk building rue mgcill montreal canada august aout 2018As I was making my way round to the Place d’Youville I noticed this building in the distance.

Whilst the building itself is impressive, the exciting thing about it is that over the door is carved the legend “Grand Trunk”.

This was one of the earliest of the main-line railway companies that was involved in the “railway wars” in Canada at the end of the 19th Century.

This was their magnificent Head Office in the Rue McGill, built 1899-1902.

Unfortunately it didn’t last long. The Grand Trunk was one of the biggest losers in the Railway War and it was coming back from a very unsuccessful fund-raising trip in Europe in 1912 that its president, Charles Hays, was drowned on the Titanic.

The company quickly went bankrupt and was taken over by the Government, forming part of the Canadian National rail network.

place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018Montreal these days is basically a very large island, but back in the 16th Century it was several small ones.

The original settlement was on a small island bounded by the St Lawrence River and the Riviere St Pierre.

That latter river was eventually built over, and today, it’s the Place d’Youville, named for our friend Marguerite.

place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018When we were here in October last year, you will remember seeing the excavations that were taking place just here.

This was the site of the city’s first indoor covered market which later became the Parliament Building for the country.

However the building was destroyed in 1849 in the riots that followed the passing of an Act emancipating the rebels of the 1830s and was never rebuilt. The Government of Canada moved elsewhere, much to the chagrin of the Québecois.

fire station place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018A fire station was erected here in 1903 – 54 years too late to save the Parliament building unfortunately.

Today the fire brigade has moved elsewhere and the building is now a museum. I would have liked to have gone for a look around but I was rather pushed for time.

I still have quite a lot to do today and it’s late.

street washer montreal canada august aout 2018While I was standing by the side of the road taking photographs, I was interrupted by a street washer.

Mind you, he didn’t let me interrupt him, and carried on with whatever he was doing.

As a result, not only did I have a complimentary shoe-wash I had a complimentary ankle wash too and that certainly different. And it wasn’t just me either. Several other passers-by were in the same boat.

diesel locomotive 4707 port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018Further interruptions were the order of the day too.

While I was a-wandering a little further on (which is rather better than walking by St Paul’s), I heard the familiar wail of a diesel locomotive siren in the distance so I legged it rather rapidly down the street.

Not rapidly enough, as it happens. I was defeated by the pair of locomotives, 4707 and his friend, disappearing into the distance down towards the dock.

And when I return home and have access to myJane’s Train Recognition Guide I’ll tell you all about them.

stele place d'youville montreal canada august aout 2018Instead, I went back to the Place d’Youville and to photograph the stele. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that last year when I was here it was all fenced off and it was impossible to take a proper photo.

So having done that, Bane of Britain wandered away from the site, without actually going over there to read the plaque to discover what it says.

I really don’t know why you lot pay me, honestly I don’t.

You DO pay me, don’t you? All you need to do is to click on one of the links at the side and make your next order from Amazon that way. I receive a small commission on your orders, but it costs you nothing at all.

fire engines montreal canada august aout 2018I’m not sure at all what was going on here.

There I was, standing on the edge of the kerb and three or four fire engines pulled up, one after the other. Their blue and red flashing lights blazing away.

They performed some kind of danse macabre in the street and I’ve no idea why. There was nothing like any emergency that I could see in the vicinity and they didn’t seem to be in too much hurry.

old customs house port de montreal harbour canada august aout 2018I turned my attention to the building that I had come here to see – the old Customs House.

Ideally situated at the exit to the harbour, nothing could come into port without paying the appropriate duty to the Government and this was where they did it.

The Customs people aren’t there now- they’ve moved on down the road into a new modern building that is 10timesasbig, even though trade in the port has declined.

By now, my stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut and I needed to organise some food.

Not round here though as I still had some important things to do.

So onto the Metro at Victoria-OACI and off to Namur (the Metro station, not the town in Belgium) and the big Walmart there. But leaving the metro station was really difficult. The way that the doors are positioned there was a howling gale every time someone opened one of them and it was something of a struggle to pass through.

It all seems to have changed there. New buildings and the like and I couldn’t at first get my bearings. But there’s a Subway at the bottom end of the shopping complex so I installed myself there.

The restaurant next door had a free wifi service so I was able to patch in there and pick up the news.

It was a long hike to Walmart from there – longer than I remember it being – and it was something of a disappointment when I arrived. It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer items on the shelves these days and the place is looking rather untidy.

There weren’t all that many customers there either and I’ve no idea why.

There wasn’t as much choice as I was hoping but I managed eventually to kit myself out with the remainder of the articles that I need. Whether it’s all suitable I really don’t know, but I can’t do any better than this.

bulk barn namur montreal canada august aout 2018But here’s a shop that I hadn’t seen before, even though the staff tell me that they have been here for four years.

It’s called the Bulk Barn and it’s very reminiscent of the old “Weigh and Save” shops that we had in the UK in the late 70s and 80s.

And I’ll make a note of this place because they had everything in there that I could possibly use, including dehydrated vegetables for travelling purposes.

I’ll have to check to see if there are any of these places anywhere else on my route around Canada in the future.

traffic jam decarie montreal canada august aout 2018By now it was rush hour and time for me to be heading off.

I was lucky that I was on the train because had I been in a car I would probably still be there now judging by the amount of traffic on the Boulevard Decarie.

Total gridlock and that’s the kind of thing that makes me glad that I don’t live in a city these days. How would I cope with all of this.

Back at my hotel I organised my suitcase yet again to take into account my recent purchases. This suitcase is becoming rather uncomfortably full.

There was some work that needed to be done, so I caught up with that, and then decided to go out for tea.

mcgill students partying rue st catherine est montreal canada august aout 2018I walked the entire length of the rue St Catherine Est from my hotel almost all the way down to the bridge and I was not alone.

Apparently the students from McGill University are having their induction week this week and it’s party, party, party. Hordes of them freaking out all over the place.

It made me feel quite old to watch them. These days they don’t look anything like 18 year-olds at all and that’s all very confusing.

But the big surprise for me was the pizza place that was advertising vegan pizzas – yes, vegan pizzas! I’ve never ever seen vegan pizzas advertised in a mainstream pizza place before so I went in to give the place some support.

And delicious it was too.

That was me organised (such as I can be) for the day. I retreated to my hotel and decided to have an early night. I need it too after all of this.

Saturday 7th July 2018 – ONE OF THESE DAYS …

… I’ll have a decent night.

But it wasn’t last night, that’s for sure. With all of the excitement following Belgium’s unexpected victory over Brazil there was chaos in the streets and enough noise to awaken the dead.

And so despite everything and all of my best intentions, it was hours before I managed to go off to sleep.

It was another morning too where I was awake long before the alarm went off. When I finally glanced at the time it was 05:47 and I was hoping for something rather better than that.

There had still been time to go on my travels though. Back driving a taxi and I’d been given a list of the regular clients which I was sure that I had memorised, and so I tore it up. And immediately there was a call over the radio “go to Nantwich and pick up so-and-so”. And I couldn’t remember where he or she lived. My notes were too badly torn to be able to be pieced together so I asked on the radio, but I couldn’t understand the reply which was rather garbled.
A little later I was in Eritrea (don’t ask me why) – an Eritrea that looked like nothing that I had ever seen of it. There was a military patrol walking down a road floating up observation balloons, many of which had fallen to earth and were littering the side of the road. Suddenly the patrol withdrew, leaving me isolated right out in front, a rather nervous place to be. Eventually I found a tourist guide who was selling tickets on a steam train ride. he was negotiating with someone and they agreed on a price of $50:00. The only thing that I could see in the brochure for a steam ride was at $130:00 so I asked about it. He replied that I needed to go to the railway station and book it there. He mentioned 13:30 but I didn’t understand if that was the time of departure or the time of return, and it was all so confusing.

So crawling out of bed I had my medication (now that I have some) but I still didn’t feel like any breakfast so I had a shower instead and cracked on with my paperwork.

The cleaner wanted to come in here at 11:00 but I told her to wait for a while as I was expecting a visitor.

And sure enough, just when I reckoned that I ought to go outside, I opened my door to see Alison pulling into the car park. Bang on cue.

welkenraedt july juillet 2018Our first port of call was about 30 kms down the road in Welkenraedt.

Despite only having a population on 9,000 or so, it’s probably one of the most famous small towns in Belgium and it’s one that I’ve been dying to visit ever since I first came to Oostende over 45years ago

And for one of the strangest reasons too, because it’s not your usual run-of-the-mill tourist venue.

Back in the 1970s at the railway station in Oostende there would alwas be a train waiting to meet the ferries, and they would always be going to Welkenraedt.

It aroused my curiosity so I did a little research and found that it was a small town in the north of the Ardennes that didn’t look as if it had any significance at all, so I was puzzled as to why all of these trains would want to come here.

railway station welkenraedt belgium july juillet 2018And when you look at the station, it’s a big, modern station that has plenty of facilities and it is all out of proportion to the size of the town

A little bit of research back in those days soon cleared up the question.

Welkenraedt is the closest railway station to the border between Germany and Belgium – in Germany until 1919 and in Belgium afterwards.

And when the railways were electrified, the German voltage system was different from that in Belgium until comparatively modern times. And until the Schengen agreement, there was a frontier post at the station.

So while the passengers were having their passports controlled, the train would be changing engines and then going on to Aachen or Cologne or maybe further still.

Welkenraedt is officially a German-speaking town but when it was transferred to Belgium by the Treaty of Versailles, the SNCB, the Belgian railway company, opened a locomotive depot here and transferred in a large number of French-speaking railway workers.

They flooded the town to such an extent that you will struggle to find German spoken here today. We saw a couple of signs in German but that was about that.

We went off to find something to eat as Alison was hungry, and I forced down a helping of overcooked chips. I’m clearly feeling better after my crisis of Thursday and Friday.

viaduc de moresnet july juillet 2018But you can’t cometo this region without going down the road to Moresnet.

For several reasons really, not the first of which is this absolutely gorgeous railway viaduct.

It’s not quite on a par with the Tracel de Cap Rouge of course, that’s rather exceptional, but it’s by far the best that you are likely to find around this part of Europe.

viaduc de moresnet july juillet 2018According to the information that I have found, it was built during the period 1915-1916. The pillars are fine examples of reinforced concrete of that period.

It’s just over 1100 metres long and at its highest, it’s about 60 metres above the velley of the River Gueule

That tells us a couple of things

  1. There may well have been something here prior to that period that was demolished at the start of World War I
  2. It escaped demolition during the fighting of World War II

viaduc de moresnet july juillet 2018Knowing my usual luck, we would ordinarily have had to wait for about three weeks to see a train pass over the viaduct, and then we would have missed it because we had gone for a coffee.

But that’s not the case here. This is the main railway line that runs between Aachen and Antwerpen, one of Europe’s busiest ports.

We’d hardly pulled into the village before a freight train went rattling by just above our heads.

moresnet belgium july juillet 2018So while you admire the village of Moresnet and Alison and I have gone for a coffee with the friendly young girl who runs the village café, let me tell you a little story.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Treaty of the Limits in 1816 redefined the border between the Low Countries (because Belgium didn’t exist at that time) and the Kingdom of Prussia.

For various reasons, they couldn’t agree with what to do with the commune of Moresnet and so they planned to divide it between them.

moresnet belgium july juillet 2018Unfortunately, any logical dividing line ran right through a very important and valuable quarry and they couldn’t agree where the line should go so that each country would have half the value.

Eventually, they agreed that the quarry and a surrounding piece of land would be a neutral zone administered jointly by one official from the Low Countries (Belgium after 1830) and the Kingdom of Prussia (the German Empire after 1871).

And so you had Moresnet, Neu-Moresenet (the German bit) and Moresnet Neutre.

In 1914 Germany took all of it, so at the Treaty of Versailles Belgium was awarded all of it, so in 1940 Germany took it all back and in 1945 Belgium regained all of it.

There has been quite a lot of excitement in such a sleepy little Belgian village

But our conversation with the serving wench was quite exciting. being practically right on one of Belgium’s linguistic borders, our conversation drifted between French and German with hardly a pause.

Belgium is a fascinating country.

And if that’s not enough to be going on with, just up the road some time round about 1750 a miracle involving Mary the Mother of Jesus is said to have taken place

franciscan friars moresnet chapelle july juillet 2018Pilgrims came to visit the site so a small chapel was built, followed by all of the usual facilities for the visitors, and the village of Moresnet-Chapelle developed.

A group of Franciscan Friars (and seeing as this is Belgium, they were probably chip monks) were sent from Aachen in 1875 to provide spiritual comfort to the visitors.

As a result, some substantial development took place.

chemin de la croix moresnet chapelle belgium july juillet 2018Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve talked on several occasions about the Chemin de la Croix – 14 stages of Jesus on his way to his crucifixion, death and subsequent resurrection.

We’ve also been to see a a magnificent example of this at Cap de la Madeleine in Quebec.

In 1895 they decided that they would emulate it (the filthy beasts) right here.

chemin de la croix moresnet chapelle belgium july juillet 2018In 1895 German benefactor provided some cash to purchase the land around the chapel and they set to work.

The work was completed in 1904 and today there are 14 grottoes made of puzzolane, each featuring one of the stages of the Chemin de la Croix.

The aim is to visit each one, purchase a candle to light in each (which must bring in a fortune) and say a prayer at each one, in order to be absolved of your sins.

Of course, I don’t need to, for regular readers of this rubbish in one of its previous guises will recall that I was granted absolution by the Pope, having passed through all of the Holy Doors in Rome during the Period of Grace in 2000.

I choose my friends carefully as you know.

chemin de la croix moresnet chapelle belgium july juillet 2018The twelfth station, the Calvaire or Calvary, featuring the crucifiction, is always a good ‘un and there’s no exception here.

In fact, it was so popular at one time that they have installed benches here and occasionally hold open-air church services here.

But clearly not masses, because the place is pretty-much deserted today.

And I shan’t bore you all by repeating the story that a Frenchman delightfully told me, that they asked for a famous sculptor from each country to send in their impressions of how the Calvary should look, and the Belgian sculptor sent in a drawing of John Wayne on his horse.

Final stop (for now, anyway) on our day out was just a couple of miles up the road.

driehoek netherlands germany belgium july juillet 2018Here we have the Driehoek – or “Three Corners” – where the countries of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet.

And when we had Moresnet-Neutre, it was a Vierhoek because that area had a bit of it too.

The girl in red is sitting half in the Netherlands and half in Germany, and the girl on the floor is half in the Netherlands and half in Belgium.

vaalserberg netherlands july juillet 2018Not only that, the highest point in the Netherlands – the Vaalserberg – is only 100 metres or so from the border and so we had to pay that a visit too.

It’s all of 322.4 metres above sea level, or 1,058 feet for those of you still dealing in real money.

And in the background you can see an observation platform. Apart from the fact that it cost real money to go up there to the top, the number of steps that I saw was enough to put me off the idea.

So having been driven up the Vaal(serberg) our next stop was across in our third country of the day – Germany. And those silly Brits who voted to leave the EU just don’t understand the advantages of having Breakfast in Brussels, Lunch in Luxembourg, Tea in Turin, Supper in Sampdoria and Bed in Bari.

Aachen in fact was where we went, where Alison wanted to take me to a café that she had found. And even though we arrived 12 minutes before the advertised closing time of 18:00, they refused to serve us.

Consequently we nipped to Mullers for some of my white coconut chocolate, and then to the cat café that we had visited a while ago.

The cooking smelt delicious so Alison had some thick soup and I had hummus with raw vegetables and bread.

It’s not far back to Liège from Aachen, even though you pass through three countries to get there. and I was in time to see Russia defeated by Croatia. And I could tell by the way that the first Russian limped up to take his penalty, head bowed to the ground, that he was going to miss it.

Tomorrow I am on the move, and so an early night – if my neighbours let me. They are being just a little rowdy, but then you can’t win a coconut every time, can you?

Tuesday 29th August 2017 – AND SO …

… having had a reasonable night’s sleep last night, it took the alarm to summon me out of my stinking pit this morning.

But I’d been on my travels last night too. There had been a court case and this big gorilla of a man had been found guilty of several violent offences and sent to gaol. He was accompanied from the van by a policeman and a policewoman, neither of whom could be called “powerful” by any means and the inevitable happened – that he broke away from them. We then had this stand-off in that he couldn’t run away but they couldn’t lay hold on him and they were dancing around this car park for quite a while.
A little later I was in my house and I had visitors. Someone knocked something through the window (we were only 6 floors up) and I asked what it was. “A stuffed toy thing” was the answer. When I went down to let them out I picked up the stuffed toy – a stuffed cat as it happens – and began to stroke it, and it transformed into a real kitten. I went for a walk around the town, which was similar to the “old town” of Granville, all the time stroking this animal that I had against my shoulder. Under the archway where people were passing, they suddenly closed it off and a group of schoolchildren led by a teacher came there. He was giving them a talk about the history of the place but they were all distracted by me and my cat.

bay of fundy saint john new brunswick canada aout august 2017As it grew light, I nipped out to Strider to pick up some stuff and there dieseling down the Bay of Fundy in the distance was a nice big ship.

Saint John is quite an important port, not just for bulk carriers and containers, but also for oil tankers due to the presence of the huge Irvings oil refinery on the edge of town.

I was quite optimistic that we might have a good ship-spotting morning here today as I went on my errands.

And I wasn’t wrong either.

msc kim bay of fundy saint john new brunswick canada aout august 2017Heading into town and down the big bank, I noticed a huge MSC container ship in the harbour.

This is the MSC Kim, all 41,000 tonnes of her. Built in 2008, she’s 265 metres long and 32 metres wide. She’s come in from a tour around the Gulf of Mexico, last stop being New York.

Her claim to fame is that when she was unloading in Antwerp a couple of years ago after a trip from Ecuador, Belgian police discovered almost half a tonne of cocaine in her cargo.

bay of fundy london bus double deck saint john new brunswick canada aout august 2017But this was far from being the only excitement here on the docks.

While the Silly Brits are busy selling off their heritage in order to raise cash to pay off the massive debt that the country has, other countries are happily snapping up the bargains.

Here on the quayside recently unloaded is a fleet of AEC double-deck buses to add to the ones that we have seen parading around the streets of Montreal.

Won’t be long before the Brits have nothing left to sell, and then the fun will begin.

bay of fundy railway locomotives saint john new brunswick canada aout august 2017And that’s not all either.

The way that the Canadian government works, railways are a thing of the past in the country. Seeing a Canadian train is a rare event.

And so no-one was happier than I was to catch a train of three locomotives, two power cars and a partridge in a pear tree go clanking through the port pulling a load of oil tankers

From there, I went off to pay the insurance for Strider. And here we had some bad news – and some worse news.

It seems that I’m not entitled to a No-Claims Discount, having a foreign driving licence. That’s pretty miserable.

And secondly, there has been a substantial (and I do mean substantial) hike in insurance premiums over the last 12 months.

I bought Strider because it worked out cheaper than hiring a car for two months – and it still is, but the gap is narrowing rapidly again. I need to think of another plan.

Licking my wounds I went off to Service New Brunswick to join the massive queue for the new licence tags. Luckily they haven’t increased in price – that’s the only consolation that I can offer.

The insurance company offices are close to the Irvings refinery and I’d seen a tanker unloading there.

palanca luanda bay of fundy saint john new brunswick canada aout august 2017And so off i trotted to find a suitable vantage point to take a pic of her.

She’s the Palanca Luanda from the Marshall Islands where they have more ships than people (due to the 3% Corporation Tax rate). 11,000 tonnes and built as recently as 2012.

She’s come in from a trip down to Baltimore and Wilmington.

Having had a dismal morning I wandered off.

I stopped for lunch at a petrol station on the way to Moncton. In the gorgeous sunshine and warm weather I had a little snooze too, and then fuelled up.

Strider’s fuel consumption has improved a little, which is good news, but only to be expected after he’s had his overdrive fixed, but not enough for me to ever recover the money that it cost me.

But then, off to Moncton.

Missing my turning into the Value Village car park so turning round in the Costco car park up the hill and not being able to find the (only) exit, which then decanted me back the wrong way and I had to turn round again.

But at least I had some luck. A tin opener, a knife, fork and spoon, a proper pyrex microwave bowl and a couple of books.

But nothing at the Salvation Army shop, nothing at Home Depot and I didn’t even bother with Princess Autos.

bay of fundy memramcook new brunswick canada aout august 2017I was back on the road – the old road out of town across the Tantramar Marshes.

On the outskirts of Memramcook I found this beautiful girder road bridge, so I stopped for a photograph.

There’s a vestige of the extant Canadian railway network behind it too – the line from Halifax to Montreal which runs passenger trains a couple of times per week.

And here we have a calamity.

The motel where I had chosen to stop – it’s now private flats and apartments. Two others were closed down, one in Sackville wanted me to buy the building, not stay for the night (I didn’t pay that much in Labrador!).

So I moved on to Amherst.

The cheapest place was fully-booked, and the only rooms on the town were, well, even worse than in Sackville.

But then this is what I have a mobile internet connection for.

A room was available at a slightly less ridiculous price at Pictou – only 90 minutesdrive down the Trans-Canada Highway. But at least it’s in the right direction so equipping the ship for silent running, off I set.

90 minutes later, I was there or thereabouts. But the motel wasn’t where the satnav said that it was. And so I spent another half an hour doing some detective work and I eventually arrived there, beaten, bedraggled and bewildered.

And I know now why the room was free. A genuine 1950s design, with furniture, decor and musty smell to match. Had I not been thoroughly exhausted, I would have walked away.

But at least we had a microwave so once I’d figured out how to use it, I could cook some of the pasta meal that Rachel had prepared for me.

And grateful I was too.

Wednesday 1st March 2017 – THE TROUBLE …

… with having had a really decent sleep during the day is that during the night it’s very difficult to drop off again. And so it was last night. Took me absolute ages.

But having said that, once I’d gone I’d gone, and until about 06:00 too. I had a quick look at the time, and turned over back sleep again until the alarm went off.

Breakfast here is at 07:30 but I still managed to haul myself out of bed early (no cacophony to accompany me, for which I am grateful) and stuck myself under the shower to liven myself up.

First down to breakfast (although I was almost immediately joined by others) and fruit salad, bread roll, orange juice and coffee. One thing about the breakfasts here, leaving aside the choice and the amounts on offer, is that everything is so fresh and tastes delicious.

And so it ought to be, given the price that one has to pay to stay in here. Of course, I’m not paying anything like the price indicated on the door, being stuck in my tiny little room in the garrett, but I’m not complaining for a moment.

What I was complaining about though was the internet. Sometime during the night it had crashed and they hadn’t been able to fix it. That left me hanging out on a limb for a while as I have so much to do here.

By 09:00 nothing had happened and so I decided to go for a walk along the promenade. It was grey and miserable, quite windy too, and there weren’t many people about.

demolition redevelopment promenade strand oostende beach belgium march mars 2017We mentioned yesterday the story about the redevelopment of the promenade. Here, we have yet another old building from the Belle Epoch that has bitten the dust. It wasn’t as spectacular as the Villa Maritza, but there you go.

In fact by now, most of my old haunts from my spells in Oostende in the 1970s and early 80s have disappeared. All of the cheap hotels that used to be here have been swept away and replaced by blocks of holiday flats. One cheap hotel that I’d noted when I was here in 2013 had gone by the time that I came back here last November.

promenade strand oostende beach belgium march mars 2017Not that it’s particularly relevant to this particular part of the discussion , but here’s a view of the corner of the promenade that I took this morning.

You can see another Belle Epoch villa here today, hemmed in by the more modern blocks of flats, and I wonder how long it will be before it’s gone too.

But there’s an exhibition of photos along the promenade showing us how Oostende looked 70 years ago just after the end of World War II and I noticed this photograph on display. It was taken from almost exactly the same spot as my photograph, and you can see how the corner looked back then, and compare the difference.

sculpture seafront strand oostende beach belgium march mars 2017You might have noticed in the previous photograph the orange object on the promenade. There are actually about a dozen of them and they clearly have some kind of significance, although whatever it might be has so far escaped me completely.

It’s not exactly what I would call “artistic” but then what do I know? My idea of a sculpture is the column and statues to the right, a war memorial to the natives of the area who lost their lives at sea. It’s a shame that its site has to be cluttered up with these modern … errr … items.

fish dock fish market oostende belgium march mars 2017I told you yesterday about the fish market here in Oostende. That’s it there, the white building with the blue wavy roof. I went for a look inside but there were only two stalls open and the choice of fish available wasn’t overwhelming. Not really worth photographing.

I reckon that the dock behind it was the old fish dock, but it’s used these days by the Police and the Customs authorities – people like that. It’s where their boats are anchored, or moored, or tied up.

free ferry oostende harbour belgium march mars 2017When I was here in 2014 I stumbled across a ferry that I hadn’t noticed before, in all the years that I’ve been coming to the town. The deep-water port goes deep into the town and there isn’t a pedestrian way across the entrance. It’s a long walk around to the other side.

That’s the reason for the ferry, anyway.It’s only a small ferry, with room for 50 seats on board, and I took a photograph of it from the far side of the port entrance, with the town in the background. And also with the old ramps from the days when there was a ferry service across to the UK.

free ferry oostende harbour belgium march mars 2017It’s always a bad idea for me to see a ferry, because I end up in a bad mood. In fact whenever I see a ferry it makes me cross. Especially when it’s a free ferry, and today is no exception. It always brings out the sailor in me.

Of course, that’s the reason why I was able to take a photograph from the other side of the port entrance – I’d piled on aboard the boat. As indeed you might expect.

You’ll notice by the way the booths on top of the quay to the right. It was some kind of market day going on up there.

It’s been months and months since we’ve had a real “Ship of the Day”, but you can’t go sailing across a port (even if it’s nothing like as busy as it was 50 years ago) without encountering a ship or two.

simon stevin luxembourg oostende belgium march mars 2017We’re in luck today, because here we have the Simon Stevin, registered in … errr … Luxembourg. Just imagine sailing this ship up the Moselle. She displaces 35,000 tonnes and was built in 2010.

She is actually a pipelaying vessel, and that will explain her presence here. With the expansion of the wind farm out on Thornton Bank, they will be needing extra cables laid to the shore.

The Simon Stevin would be the ideal vessel to be involved in a task like this.

willem de vlamingh luxembourg oostende belgium march mars 2017The Simon Stevin isn’t the only big ship in the port either. We also have the Willem de Vlamingh in here too, and she’s likewise registered in Luxembourg.

She is your actual cable-layer and was built in 2011, displacing 6800 tonnes.

So here we are – some of the benefits that the wind farm has brought to the town of Oostende

simon stevin pilot boat oostende belgium march mars 2017As if that wasn’t enough, the harbour pilot boat was setting out of the docks and heading out to sea.

The entrance to the port is somewhat complicated and so a harbour pilot is necessary for certain boats that want to enter here. And so it looks as if there’s one of those standing offshore needing help to come in.

I couldn’t see anything hanging around outside, and nothing had come in by the time that I had left. I’ll have to go round later on this afternoon or maybe early tomorrow morning to see if anyone else has come in to join the party.

atlantic wall world war II oostende belgium march mars 2017We saw in an earlier photograph – the one that I had taken of the Promenade in the 1940s – all of the fortifications that covered the shoreline of this part of the world. All of them built by the Germans in World War II

There are still plenty of them left, dotted all over the coast and we have seen plenty of them in the past. The eastern side of the entrance canal to the deepwater port is still littered with them even today and in all of the time that I’d been coming to Oostende I’d never actually been for a wander around them – until today, that it.

atlantic wall oostende belgium march mars 2017The port of Oostende had been a German submarine base in World War I and had been the subject of what was the precursor of the later commando raids of World War II. Not only that, the beaches here would make an ideal landing for the Allied armies coming to liberate Europe in 1944, what with the major port of Antwerp only just down the road.

Hence the German were quite nervous about the coastline around here and had used labour from the prison camps to construct these massive fortifications, as well as many others of all different types which have long-since disappeared.

atlantic wall oostende belgium march mars 2017What many people don’t realise though, because it was another one of these wartime secrets that wasn’t put into the Public Domain until the great release of wartime records in 1994, was that the Allies knew absolutely everything that there was to know about the Atlantic Wall, and they didn’t even need to send someone to look at it.

The company that had contracted to build it was a Belgian company, from the rue des Atrebates in Brussels. But what the Germans didn’t realise what that the company was actually owned by a Russian emigré called Leopold Trepper. And he had a part-time employment as a spy for the Soviet Union, leading a group called the Rote Kapelle or Red Orchestra

atlantic wall oostende belgium march mars 2017It was one of the greatest triumphs of espionage in World War II but because it was a Soviet triumph, it never received the acclaim that it deserved.

But the work was done thoroughly, and the vestiges are very difficult to remove. We’ve seen when we were in France a few years ago that one of the gun emplacements near the Atlantic Wall suffered a direct hit from a blockbuster bomb, and all that it did was to tilt the concrete.

That’s why many of these places are still here. Explosives are really the only way to remove them and it’s far too dangerous to destroy them in a congested area.

oostende belgium march mars 2017The Atlantic Wall isn’t the only set of fortifications here at Oostende. We have another exciting pile of stuff buried in the sand dunes.

Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to go over to it. It was all fenced off and I couldn’t find an obvious point of entry, and so I can’t tell you exactly what it is.

I shall have to make further inquiries.

new harbour wall hms vindictive oostende belgium march mars 2017We saw the new harbour wall when we were here in November. We walked the whole length of the other side of it in order to have a good look at what they had built, and I was tempted to go for a walk down this side of the harbour wall today, but the weather was conspiring against me.

There were some people out there trying to walk down there, but they weren’t having a great deal of success.

And you might be wandering what that bow of a ship is doing set up on a plinth out there

hms vindictive oostende belgium march mars 2017A closer inspection reveals that it certainly is part of the bow of a ship, and the colour gives you a clue – that it might be something to do with the Royal Navy.

It is in fact part of the bow of HMS Vindictive, a cruiser that has a very important claim to fame in the history of Oostende.

The British were concerned about the U-boats operating out of the port after its capture by the Germans during World War I, and so they launched two raids on the harbour, sinking ships in the entrance canal to the docks.

HMS Vindictive was one of those that was sunk here, in the raid on 10 May 1918, and when it was cut up for scrap, the bow section was preserved as a monument.

ship english channel oostende belgium march mars 2017The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and we have thousands of photographs going back to 1970 of ships sailing up and down here.

As ships have grown larger and larger, there are fewer and fewer of them, but the size means that you can see them easier even when they are away on the horizon, especially if you have a 305mm zoom lens.

I’ve no idea what kind of ship that this might be, but it’s certainly a big one and it seems to have an on-deck cargo. There’s plenty of accommodation on there too, so I’ve no idea what it might be. I know that there’s a car transporter that takes passengers with it and sails from Hamburg to South America, but that is probably not it.

msc container ship english channel oostende belgium march mars 2017No prizes for guessing what this ship might be. The initials of the owner – MSC- painted on the sides gives the clue away, because we have seen dozens of these in the past sailing up the St Lawrence River on the way to Quebec and Montreal.

It’s a container ship of course, and a huge one at that. And it’s empty too. And that’s a symptom of the world’s reliance on China for its manufacturing industry and that the world has nothing to send back in return.

We saw all of this with Japan in the 1970s and how it led to the collapse of manufacturing industry in the UK. Now, the rest of the world is suffering, and this is the Brave New World into which the Brexiters have plunged their country, with no colonies and noallies to back them up.

strand oostende beach belgium march mars 2017With the telephoto lens still on the camera, I could take a photograph all the way down the beach in the direction of Zeebrugge. But you can’t see much down there because of the wind whipping up the sand all the way down the beach.

We were brave, those of us out there, but at least I had done what I had intended to do, which was to have a good visit of this part of Oostende. It’s hard to think that I’ve never been out here, in all the years that I have been visiting the town.

Now I can head back to civilisation.

sailing ship Nele oostende belgium march mars 2017Parked up at a wharf near the ferry is a sailing ship, the Nele.

You might think that she is an ancient ship but she was built as recently as … errr …2005, but to a design of a traditional Oostende masted sailing ship.

It’s possible to go off for a mini-cruise on board and I did admit that I found the idea somewhat tempting. But I imagine without any doubt that I’ll be back here some time or other, and so I can make further enquiries.

undersea electric cable cross section oostende belgium march mars 2017I’ve not quite finished yet over here.

We’ve seen the wind farm out there on Thornton Bank. That’s about 30 kms offshore and in order to bring the power onshore they have a huge submarine cable.

Outside their offices they had a couple of metres of cable on display, and so I went over to take a photograph of it. It’s interesting because NALCOR in Labrador have laid a cable under the Strait of Belle Isle and are planning another one under the Gulf of St Lawrence to Cape Breton, so I was curious to see what a submarine cable looks like.

It will be of interest to the Brits too. Having sold their electricity-generating capacity to the French, one of these will be laid across the Channel sooner or later to run British electricity across to France in the same way that the Compagnie Lyonnais des Eaux runs British water from Kent across to Northern France through the pipeline in the Channel Tunnel in times of drought.

Back on the other side of the canal I went to the Delhaize to buy some stuff for lunch. They had grapes on offer too so that was today’s fruit issue resolved, wasn’t it? And back here, I crashed out for an hour as soon as I got in, which meant that I was rather late for my butty.

This afternoon I had a few things to do, and then went out for a walk. And here I encountered yet more of Belgium’s world-famous customer service. I went into a café for a coffee, and sat and waited for a waiter.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually, a waiter appeared, and cleared a few empty tables – and then disappeared. Eventually, he came back and I ordered a black coffee.

And waited

And waited.

Eventually I picked up my coat and left, heading for the café next door. I’d beens een by the waiter, placed my order and had it put on the table in front of me long before the other waiter in the other café had brought me the one that I had ordered.

I came back to the hotel for a warm, and then wandered off for tea. I know a nice Italian restaurant here that is cheap but good value, and they served me up a delicious penne all’arrabbiata, nice, hot and spicy.

So I’m going to try for an early night, and see how I am, and how the weather is, tomorrow. I hope that it’s a nice day and that I’m feeling up to some exciting moments.

Saturday 25th February 2017 – IT’S THE START …

crocus krokus botanical garden kruidtuin jardin botanique leuven belgium february fevrier 2017 … of the Krokusvakantie here in Belgium this week. That’s the school half-term, and while it might be known as “Carnaval” in the French-speaking areas of the country, you can see why it has its name around here in Flanders, can’t you?

On my travels and I had a walk back from Caliburn through the Kruidtuin – the Botanical Gardens here in Leuven and the flowers are well and truly blooming today, aren’t they?

If you ask me what kind of flowers they are, I would say that they were mauve ones, because I know nothing whatever abut flowers, so they might not even be crocuses at all, but whatever they are, they are quite prettu.

So what was I doing at Caliburn then? And not once today but twice too.

In fact, I’ve made a start on emptying my room out reading for (hopefully) leaving on Tuesday if all goes according to plan.

new facade brusselsestraat leuven belgium february fevrier 2017But first surprise of the day was that the crane on the corner of the Brusselsestraat and the Kruisstraat has now disappeared. Work seems to have finished on the facade of the building across the road.

And what a good job they seem to have made of it too. I imagine that they’ve re-pointed the brickwork and sealed the joints underneath the roof, and now they’ve added some tiles to the wall to weatherproof it.

All in all, it loks very impressive from here

And so after yet another bad night, I was once more alone at breakfast (which suite me fine) although my garrulous Dutch/Russian friend did stick his head around the corner to make himself a coffee – I really am not up to social conversation at 07:00.

But after a relax downstairs in my room, I set to work.

It was a case of going through everything that I have here and deciding upon its priority – am I likely to be using it between now and a week on Tuesday (and there are reasons for this particular date)? And if not, I started to load it up into a couple of IKEA bags that I had lying around. That includes most of the food for a start – no reason for most of that to be hanging around for a start. And books, and bottles of pop and the like. I remember thinking when I was in Sedan back in November that I would buy just enough stuff for the first month of my stay. Here I am, three months in, and I haven’t eaten half of it.

Once I was loaded up, I set off to Caliburn to deposit it all, and then down to the Carfefour by the football ground for the stuff for pizza night tomorrow.

A little deviation (and I’m always up for a little deviation as you know) through the Kruidtuin to see the crocuses and then back here, via the Supermarket on the corner. And there’s a thing – there were plenty of black plastic boxes of the sort that I had been liberating, but all stacked up neatly at the back of the warehouse. My response is that if they don’t want people to liberate them, they shouldn’t leave them outside by the bins.

After lunch, we had another session of loading up the IKEA bags, and then after a brief pause I went back down to Caliburn with the stuff and deposited it there.

While I had been having a relax just now, I was idly scanning the internet. And something that I saw gave me an idea – I have plenty of ideas, don’t I? Furthermore, a little research on the internet proved that it was a feasible proposition too. Thus I had a quick coffee, and hit the streets.

sncb electric multiple unit Antwerp Berchem railway station belgium february fevrier 2017Here I am, at the Antwerp Berchem railway station on the south side of the city, waiting for the train to Gent and Oostende which is just a-cumen in.

But I’m not going to either of these places.

Somewhere just after St Niklaas is the small town of Lokeren. It’s a place that I’ve never ever visited before and seeing as how I’m hoping to be on my way in early course, now seemed to be the right kind of time to deal with that issue

No derailments today – we were in luck – but we had to take a different track out of the station. My luck was in, for this one took us close to the carriage sidings and I had a good view of something that had caught my eye away in the distance on several occasions.

elderly vintage diesel sncb multiple unit leuven belgium february fevrier 2017It’s actually a very sorry example of the first-generation Continental multiple units, one of the ones that you used to see painted red and cream that used to wander over the French SNCF and presumably Belgian SNCB rail networks in the &950s

Mind you, this is just one of the driving carriages of a multiple unit set and it has long-since lost the colours that it might have carried on the SNCB. But it’s beautiful all the same and I wonder what it’s doing here.

And more to the point, why no-one has seen fit to rescue it. I’d take it home with me in a heartbeat.

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017No prizes for guessing why I’ve come to Lokeren, is there?

I owe myself a football match from last weekend, what with the train derailment in Leuven, this match is a Belgian Jupiler Pro League (the equivalent of a Premier League match).

I’ve never been to Lokeren, never seen either of the clubs play, and KAS Eupen was on of the teams on my list of clubs to see

The ground is only a 20-minute walk from the railway station, and that means that if I exert myself and the game finishes on time, I could catch the 22:17 to St Niklaas, change for a train to Mechelen, and then catch a train from there to Brussels and then on to Leuven.

If I missed it, there is a train at 23:11 in the other direction to Gent St Pieters and then the last train from there to Leuven, getting me back to the railway station at Leuven at about 01:00.

That sounded like a plan.

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017I found the Daknamstadion easily enough – it was quite straightforward, rather like the walk that we have made so often to het Lisp at Lier. And the stadium resembled that at Lier too. They must order them off the peg or something like that, I reckon.

I had a cheap seat (€18:00 for a Premier League match) behind the goal, but in a corner where I wouldn’t be hemmed in by chanting supporters.

But they were up at the far end in the standing bit, with the away supporters right next to them. That’s bizarre crowd segregation, I can say.

mascot daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017But … tragedy! We had the mascot, not that he was up to very much of course, but there were no cheerleaders!

All this way on the train and not a single cheerleader to be seen anywhere. how disappointing is that? I had a good mind to go and ask for my money back.

But at least it’s a Premier League match, so entertainment and excitement was sure to be guaranteed, wasn’t it?

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017But right from the kick-off, I could tell that this match was going to be something completely different.

Because if ever there are two more inept teams as these playing anywhere in the top flight of any football league anywhere else in the world (and I include Rockall and the Lofoten Islands in this) I just wouldn’t believe it.

These two teams were totally clueless from start to finish, and I mean every word of that. If this was a Premier League match, then God help them all

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017KAS eupen had a player sent off after about 20 minutes – what for, I couldn’t really see. And KSC Lokeren scored a penalty during the match – a rather strict penalty if you ask me.

But KAS Eupen scored two goals, even being 1 man down. And that’s not an idication of how good they were, it’s an indication of how totally inept KSC Lokeren were.

KAS Eupen’s two goals were a breakaway down the wing, a cross into the centre and a rather hopeful volley from about 20 yards out, and a ricochet off the referee that dropped nicely for an Eupen player to hoist over the wall into space where there was a team-mate running on

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017KAS Eupen hit the post too, and their keeper made five or six magnificent saves too.

In fact, the KAS Eupen keeper, Hendrik Van Crombrugge, was by far and away the best player on the pitch. The KSC Lokeren n°14, Mehdi Terki, had a good game, but I wouldn’t have given you twopence for the remainder.

And if you want to see the … errr … highlights of the match, they are now on-line. But it beats me how they managed to find 8 minutes of them. I’m on the far right of the screen at 04:34 – in the bright yellow coat.

Despite the late start ond the 4 minutes of injury time, I put on such a turn of speed that not only was I comortably in time for the 22:17, the earlier 22:11 for Gent St Pieters. I hopped on board – and wasn’t that a fatal mistake?

Yes, everyone would expect that with almost all trains running at one-hour intervals, then all trains would run at one-hour intervals. That is almost true, and the only exception is the express train from Oostende across to Welkenraedt (that goes through Leuven), and that runs at 90-minute intervals. And so the train that I had caught arrived in Gent 20 minutes after the previous one had left, and the next one was the one that I would have caught had I come here on the 23:11 from Lokeren. In other words, being early at Lokeren station had made me as late as it is possible to be.

gent st pieters railway station belgium 25 february fevrier 2017So here I was in Gent, stranded yet again with well over an hour to wait for the train. At least it gave me an opportunity to go for a stroll around in the late evening.

The station really does look magnificent in the urban light, like most of these beautiful Victorian piles, except that it isn’t a Victorian pile. The railway station that was here was nothing spectacular, apparently, but when they announced that they would be holding the 1913 World’s Fair here, they designed and built a railway station building to suit the aims and the ambitions of the Fair

gent st pieters railway station belgium 25 february fevrier 2017The interior is fairly spectacular, had it been allowed to settle in its own surroundings, but it was partitioned off into shops, full of coin machines and people sleeping all over the place. I was rather disappointed.

I sat there with the bag of fritjes that I had bought from the fritkot across the square until my train arrived.

It was almost 01:00 when I arrived at the station here, and about 01:45 when I returned here. Cold, tired and exhausted.

I went straight to bed, and straight to sleep too. It was late.

Saturday 2Ist January 2017 – PHEW!

I’m exhausted!

I’ve just seen the most exciting football match that I’ve seen for years!

So after yesterday, I had something of a disturbed night. But that’s really no surprise what with everything else that had been going around here just recently.

And it was disturbed for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I was off on my travels again. And for quite a while too.

I started off in Labrador but I don’t remember very much about what I was doing there.
But I do remember being back at my house in France and there was a huge queue of 4×4 quads passing up the track in front of my house making a great deal of noise. But a large tractor went out of control, demolished the stone wall at the back of my house and went bang into my wooden verandah. I went out to see what happened and to chat with the tractor driver who was sitting on a big old red tractor of the 1920s. The verandah was shaken but didn’t seem to be damaged, but the wall was in a state and it occurred to me that this damage made a convenient exit for me to go out there and load up the Escort van which I was still using. So while I wanted him to repair the wall, I didn’t want him to do it quite then.
From there I was back in the UK on the road between Whitchurch and Oswestry. I’d driven past some kind of tall cylindrical brick building like a water tower, followed by a huge brick blockhouse kind of place in a rhomboid shape flanked by two outer towers – used as a big ammunition store. It was set in a very dirty and untidy pig farm, which would prevent visits, that’s for sure. Just after this was a kind of bluff about 30 feet high with a house on the peak, and here I met Nerina. We had quite a lengthy discussion, which revolved around shopping. I asked her if she went to the market at Whitchurch or the market at Oswestry. She replied that the Whitchurch market had closed down and she went occasionally to Stoke on Trent on a Friday evening for her shopping. We ended up going for a walk around Oswestry to the shops and I was telling her about France – how LIDL had opened a branch in St Eloy and how it didn’t matter because at St Gervais (which was actually Commentry, but never mind) they had opened not just a LIDL but an ALDI so we still weren’t shopping in St Eloy, although not that that would matter too much to her because she had never been there anyway – I was confusing her last night with Laurence.

I struggled into breakfast where I had company for about 30 seconds – another lodger stuck his head around the door just long enough to gulp down a glass of orange juice – and then I came back down here to chill.

As the day brightened up, I decided to go for a walk to the shops. But this involved going down to Caliburn to pick up the shopping bags that I had left there by mistake the other day.

collection of bicycles old town leuven belgium january janvier 2017I could have gone on down to the Carrefour had I thought on, but instead I walked back towards the town in the freezing cold weather and headed towards the market and the Delhaize supermarket

Instead of going straight on down the Kapucijnenvoer and up the Brusselsestraat, I took the short cut through the maze of narrow streets, cutting off the corner.

old town leuven belgium january janvier 2017There is a great deal of “Old Leuven” that either escaped the ravages of the German Army in 1914 and 1940, Allied bombing in 1944 and the extremes of modern architecture that did more damage to British cities than the Luftwaffe ever did.

As well as that, when the city was rebuilt after all of the damage, it was rebuilt in many cases as it used to be, not as modern architects thought that it ought to be.

predikherenstraat old town leuven belgium january janvier 2017Loads of little alleys, loads of little archways that really bring out the medieval flavour of the city. You can imagine just how this city must have been 120 years ago – how wonderful it must have looked.

It’s certainly a much more interesting way to come into the city centre than straight up the Brusselsestraat.

That’s the Brusselsestraat there – down the end of the Predikherenstraat there. And unfortunately, that’s not managed to escape the ravages of modern architects.

predikherenkerk old town leuven belgium january janvier 2017Luckily, when the architects and rebuilders turned to the Predikherenkerk, we had something that resembled very much what it was supposed to have been.

This is said to be the oldest Gothic church in the city and dates from 1234. It was originally the church of the Dominican order and the resting place of some of the Dukes of Brabant.

It was badly damaged during World War II, and restoration began in 1961. it wasn’t finally completed until 2008

Oudlievevrouwstraat river dyle old town leuven belgium january janvier 2017My trek then took me down along the Oudlievevrouwstraat and over the bridge across the River Dyle. Unfortunately this area hasn’t escaped the ravages of the second half of the 20th Century and a huge pile of new apartments has sprung up overlooking the river.

I must admit that despite the rather bland appearance of the buildings, I wouldn’t mind a little apartment in a block just there, as long as there was a view of the river to comfort me.

Back here to warm up again, I had a coffee and a sit in front of the radiator for a while. And a brief search on the internet for nothing particular produced some astonishing results.

During the “unavailability” of my grandparents, my mother and her sister were boarded, when they were small, with a family in Palmers Green, London and later in Birchington, Kent during the 1930s. We’d kept in contact with them until they had died in the 1950s and 60s and even been to visit them as small children, although I don’t remember very much. My brother was actually named after one of the “cousins”.

It had come up in a discussion that I’d had the other day, and so in a fit of idleness I typed in the family name of one of these people. Much to my surprise, I found several pages on the internet that related to this family. Not only did this bring back many happy memories, I ended up having an on-line conversation with someone from those days.

The world is a surprisingly small place these days, isn’t it?

Another thing that I did, which I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, is to go through all of the till receipts in my wallet. Some of them have been there since I was in Canada.

Amongst the things that I found were a couple of receipts for medication, and a €20 note. That cheered me up, and no mistake.

railway locomotive multiple unti leuven railway station belgium january janvier 2017After my butties and a little chat with Liz on line, I walked up into town and to the railway station. I’m not going to sit around here and be miserable when I can be miserable somewhere else, and it’s usually football at weekend isn’t it?

And I remembered why I had packed an oversize pair of the sports trousers that I usually wear. They had been in my Canada stuff and I’d brought them back here for some reason or other.

Before setting out, I slipped them over the normal-sized pair of trousers that I usually wear. They fitted perfectly and I was comparatively warm, considering that it was minus 3°C

Loads of places that I would have wanted to visit, like Eupen playing in the First Division, or even Hasselt in the Third Division, but Belgian football has staggered kick-off times, and the bizarre thing about that is that all of the matches that I would have liked to have seen, even OH Leuven’s match at Royal Antwerp, finished too late for me to catch a train back home again.

It would have to be Lier and Lierse SK with their cheerleaders.

What a shame!

7798 6291 6317 railway locomotives lier belgium january janvier 2017At the railway station at Lier were three locomotives parked up in a siding, so I went over to have a look at them.

The two on the right, 6291 and 6317, are two of a class of 136 lightweight diesel-electrics built to a style of my former employers, General Electric. They date from the early 1960s.

The one on the left, 7798, is one of a class of 170 heavy shunter-freight locomotives built in the early years of the 21st Century by the German company Vossloh.

antwerpsepoort lier belgium january janvier 2017I was there in plenty of time and so I went for a walk around the site of the old ramparts of the city.

They have long-been demolished and little remains now. Nothing whatever at the site of the Antwerpsepoort – the Antwerp Gate. But it was here on 5th October 1914 that the British Army’s rearguard, guarding the retreat to Antwerp, erected a barricade and held up the attacking Germans long enough. for the rest of the Army to escape

cheerleaders lierse sk cercle brugge Herman Vanderpoortenstadion het lisp lier belgium january janvier 2017I was expecting much more of a crowd seeing that the visitors today were Cercle Brugge. But the popular side was packed out anyway, and they made a lot of noise that contributed to the tremendous atmosphere.

I was in my usual place to the left of the goal with all of the other old fogeys, where there was a good view of the cheerleaders. I mean, there have to be some compensations about coming all of the way to Lier in the freezing cold.

lierse sk cercle brugge Herman Vanderpoortenstadion het lisp lier belgium january janvier 2017As the cheerleaders withdrew from the field they stopped for a moment at the foot of one of the stands so I was able to take a quick snap of them.

It’s all blurred and out-of focus but the camera on my phone isn’t really up to all that much in these kinds of half-light conditions when you are snapping away in haste. And of course, you can’t take DSLRs into public venues in Belgium so this photo will have to do.

cheerleaders lierse sk cercle brugge Herman Vanderpoortenstadion het lisp lier belgium january janvier 2017Liz asked me how the cheerleaders performed – well, I couldn’t tell you that from first-hand experience but you can see some of their dancing in this video clip just here that should give you some idea.

Not the best cheerleaders that I have ever seen but I just appreciate the effort that Lierse SK has taken to entertain the fans. If for some reason I can’t get out to see OH Leuven I’ll gladly come here and spend my money and I’m sure that I’m not alone.

I can still chase after the women, even if I can’t remember why!

As for the football itself, the two teams were evenly matched. As the first half wore on, Lierse gradually grew in confidence and took control, but Cercle Brugge looked dangerous on the break, especially down the right wing. However, as I have said on many occasions at this level of football, the teams are far too slow to play the ball forward, dwelling on it for far too long and finding the brief opportunites closed down.

Half-time was 0-0 but Lierse had hit the post and the bar, and had a couple cleared off the line too. Cercle Brugge had missed a sitter, open goal from 5 yards out, right in front of where I was sitting. A no-score draw it was, but boring it was not.

After half-time, the teams came out with much more of a purpose and the battle raged from end to end. Everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats as the pendulum swung from one side to the other. The slippery, ice surface was a wild-card in the match too, with players losing their footing at vital moments.

And sure enough, we had a goal. And to the surprise of almost everyone except those who follow this rubbish, it was Cercle Brugge who took the lead. For once they played the ball in early from the wing and caught the Lierse SK defence flat-footed.

And if you think that the game had been exciting up to this point, the two teams upped a gear and we were pinned to our seat as the tension mounted. We probably had the best 30 minutes football that I had ever seen from this point on.

Lierse SK equalised with 15 minutes to go, and Cercle Brugge can consider themselves to be quite unlucky to concede this goal. A Lierse SK player went down on the edge of the penalty area, no more than about 15 metres from where I was sitting, and I had a clear view of it. To me, it looked clearly as if the player had slipped on the frosty surface but not only did the referee blow for a foul, he booked the Cercle Brugge defender. I had a good look, and the linesman certainly didn’t flag for a foul and he was closer to the action than I was too.

From the free kick, the ball went straight to the head of a Lierse SK attacker, totally unmarked at the far post, and he didn’t miss from there.

The final 15 minutes continued at this roaring pace and when the final whistle went, the teams received a standing ovation from some of the crowd. And quite right too because it really was that good a match. And it was a shame about the equaliser – it meant that I didn’t get to console any of the cheerleaders.

I came home in the sub-zero temperature and caught my train at Lier. It’s the Liege train that I catch and I have to change at Aarschot. The train is at 16 minutes past the hour and there are only a couple of weekends when the 20:16 train doesn’t run, aren’t there?

By the time that I returned, I was cold and tired. But I’d had a really good day out and I was feeling a little better than I was yesterday.

I’ll pay for this day out of course, but ask me if I care.

And you wouldn’t care either after having to sit here and read over 2360 words, you poor people.

Sunday 8th January 2017 – WHAT A MATCH!


Just two matches in Belgian professional football. Both involved travelling, but one involved a train, a metro, a tram and a long walk to a huge 60,000-seater with a crowd of about 1,500.

The second involved a train ride and a long walk to a compact modern stadium with a belting crowd, a belting atmosphere and CHEERLEADERS!

And I’m glad that I chose the match that I did, because it was one of the most exciting – not to mention the most bizarre – matches that I’ve ever seen. Not even Pionsat could conjure up a performance like the one that I saw this evening.

As far as sleeping went, I had issues yet again. It took me ages and several attempts to drop off, and when I finally did, I was awake again by 06:15. I’d been on my travels too, doing something with a group of children, trying to train them to perform office work and I was also supervising a group of former colleagues at one stage during the night.

For breakfast I was alone again, and that was how the morning went. I read through a pile of stuff on Labrador but there was nothing that caught my attention today, just for a change.

After lunch, I left the premises and walked down to Caliburn for my gloves, seeing as the weather is cold today. And once I’d done that, I walked off through the back streets taking the short cut to the railway station.

sncb multiple unit train leuven station belgium january janvier 2017There was plenty of time before my train was due to leave, but I didn’t have to wait in the cold because it was sitting at the platform. And it was quite warm too.

And then we hit the rails and off we shot. Not to Antwerp and not to Aarschot either, but to Lier. The Herman Vanderpoortenstadion, the same football ground that we visited the other weekwhen OH Leuven was playing there.

het lisp Herman Vanderpoortenstadion lier belgium january janvier 2017The stadium is otherwise known as Het Lisp, and today, SK Lierse was playing Lommel United. Lommel United is a team in the Belgian Second Division that I have yet to see, and so with a choice of just two matches today, it seemed like the good choice.

A nice pleasant stroll through the thick fog took me to the ground and I warmed myself up in the pie hut under the stand with a nice hot coffee, much better than the usual football club rubbish where it’s more like coloured hot water.

But I’m clearly showing my age these days.There’s full security and searches at football grounds these days, and yet they took one look at me as I entered the ground and waved me straight on in.

cheerleaders het lisp Herman Vanderpoortenstadion lier belgium january janvier 2017I took my place in the cheap seats at the back of the stand with all of the other old fogeys, and we had the usual distraction of the cheerleaders performing on the field.

As I said last time, I’ve seen better cheerleaders than these, but at least they are here, and it gets me out of the house – and that’s quite important. I just wish I could find a seat closer to the action.

lierse sk mascot het lisp Herman Vanderpoortenstadion lier belgium january janvier 2017You’ll have to excuse the quality of the photos that are on here, and the fact that there are only one or two. But we were blanketed in a thick fog that was rolling across the pitch and at times, visibility was quite difficult.

And add to that the fact that the camera in the phone isn’t made for this kind of thing. It spent most of its times focusing on a fog bank rather than the action.

And so what can I tell you about the game? The fact is that both of the teams were quite evenly matched. But if anything, Lommel were much more composed on the ball and looked more confident.

And that’s what made the result so amazing.

The final score was 5-1 – in favour of … errr … Lierse SK. And that was absolutely astonishing.

I can do no more that itemise the goals that Lierse SK scored, and you’ll see exactly what I mean –

  1. A free kick outside the area that was heading straight into the keeper’s arms with no problem or danger whatever – except a diving header at the near post at the last moment by a Lierse SK attacker
  2. A penalty
  3. All totally against the run of play.

    I thought that the first goal in the second half would decide the match – and straight from the kick-off SK Lierse hit the post with the ball rolling along the goal-line and back into play just half an inch from the outstretched foot of an attacker.

    And 30 seconds later –

  4. A SK Lierse player runs into the penalty area with the ball. The keeper dives bravely at the attacker’s feet to block the ball, and the loose ball could have gone anywhere from here. It rolls free to an unmarked SK Lierse attacker
  5. From there, it went from bad to worse for Lommel United.

  6. Keeper makes a great block-cum-save from a fierce SK Lierse shot. he can’t hang on and the loose ball could go anywhere. It rolls free to an unmarked SK Lierse attacker
  7. A shot on the volley from 35 yards that can go anywhere. It takes a vicious swerve right into the far corner of the net

Five of the luckiest goals that I have ever seen – you won’t see this kind of thing ever again. And there was still enough time for Lommel United to score a consolation goal.

But I was amazed.

On the way back I bought a bag of chips and then came back on a couple of crowded trains, changing at Aarschot.

A nice walk brought me back here and now I’m going to bed. And judging by the sounds, I have a new neighbour next door. I hope that whoever it is, he or she is quiet.

Sunday 16th October 2016 – OOOH LOOK!

sncb multiple unit antwerp central station belgium october octobre 2016It’s a train! And it’s not in Leuven station either, is it?

Yes, I’ve been out and about today, and on my travels too. Nothing like a nice afternoon out, a change of scenery, a change of ideas and all of that. And to somewhere that I haven’t been for ages and which I quite like too.

Doesn’t this all make a change?

All in all, it was a really good day up to a certain point. Especially as I’d had a really good night’s sleep.

I was in bed reasonably early last night (something like 22:30 if I remember correctly) and more-or-less straight asleep. And the next thing that I remember was that it was 06:45. That was totally painless – I’ll tell you that. I’d been on my travels as well but don’t ask me where I went and what I did because I remember nothing at all.

And by 08:15 I’d breakfasted and even been down the road to the boulanger for my Sunday baguette. That’s what I call “organised”. I spent the rest of the morning working on my blog and by the time that I’d finished, it was completely up-to-date.

That on its own deserved a reward. And it was a beautiful day too, with not a cloud in the sky.

And so I hit the streets.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Belgium (yes, I’m still in Belgium) and I bet that you won’t know as what it serves until I tell you. You’ll never guess.

It’s not a palace, a court of an art gallery or a museum, but it is in fact a railway station – one of the most beautiful in the world. Antwerp Central railway station it is, and it’s a monument to everything that is great and good about Belgian architecture.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016It took 10 years to build – from 1895 to 1905 – and replaced the original railway station that had been the terminus of one of the very first railway lines in the country.

And although you might not think so, it was hit by a German V2 rocket during World War II. While no significant damage appeared to have been caused, the shock waves from the blast had undermined the stability of the roof, which then in the early 1980s started to sag alarmingly.

glass roof antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016The roof of the train shed is one of the most magnificent parts of a most magnificent building. It covers 12,000m² and was designed by Clément van Bogaert. To have demolished it (or even to have demolished the station, which at one time was being seriously discussed) would have been nothing short of an act of deliberate vandalism.

But wiser heads prevailed.The station was closed for a short while in the late 1980s and the glass was replaced by polycarbonate, which is about half of the weight of the glass and which seems to have resolved the problem.

We have seen on our travels around the Northern hemisphere some totally disgraceful acts of vandalism as classic railway stations have been butchered or even demolished to make way for the 21st Century.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016Here in the Antwerp Central Railway station, they have been solving the problem of expansion in a way that is so simple and so straightforward that it’s a wonder that no other railway network or modern architect has tried it.

What they did was simply to expand downwards. The railway station is built on four levels – the newest and most modern level, to accommodate the TGVs, is on the fourth level down. It’s all so simple, isn’t it?

I went outside into the sunshine, because it really was a nice day. Here, I’m in the Meir

meir antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016But we can’t go off down the Meir without looking backwards at this gorgeous building. yes, you’ve guessed – it’s the Antwerp Central Station again, designed by Louis Delacenserie, the city architect of Bruges and who was responsible for the restoration of the magnificent buildings in that city. And you can see why I’ve placed the station so highly on my list of magnificent buildings.

And if you look carefully at the plaque just above the entrance arch, you’ll see (although you can’t see it in this photo) the word Middenstatie – Middle Station in Flemish. That’s the original name of the Railway Station.

And then I had a sudden shock. I’d noticed the time. I’d been so engrossed in what I was doing with the Central Station that I had completely overlooked the real purpose of my visit to the city.

I needed the tram 5, and I had worked out the route that it took, and so I headed off to a nearby tram stop to wait.

And wait

And wait.

And wait.

underground tram network metro antwerp belgium october octobre 2016Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration. I walked around the corner and there was a flight of stairs leading down. I hadn’t realised this, and how I ground my teeth when I had worked it out, that trams 2,3,5 and 6 are called the “Metro” and they run through the city underground – not on the surface where I had been waiting.

And so about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to be, I finally discovered the underground metro system and then had to wait 10 minutes for my tram.

Damn and blast!

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016And here I am in Deurne, on the outskirts of the city. And this is the Bosuilstadion, the home of Royal Antwerp Football Club.

This was my destination for this afternoon and I’ve finally made it, 20 minutes after kick-off. And my odyssey isn’t over yet, because being so late, all of the ticket booths are closed.

A steward directed me to an office where I had to argue my way into the ground (I’m impressed with how much my Flemish is improving) and I ended up having to pay €25:00 for en expensive seat. They wouldn’t let me into the cheap seats.

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016And by the time that I finally entered the ground, I’d missed almost all of the first half. and I’d missed two goals too. 1-1 it was when I finally took my seat.

All of that I’d missed, and for €25:00 too. I fancied a cup of coffee after all of my exertions, but the unexpected €10:00 over what admission to the cheap seats would have cost me had cleaned me out.

I was not having a very good day today.

OH Leuven bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016I didn’t mention that the reason for my coming here was that OH Leuven was playing away against Royal Antwerp. That’s them in the black strip – Royal Antwerp in the white and red.

I’ve been without my football fix for two months now and the easy accessibility of trains, the proximity of Antwerp to Leuven and the glorious weather was more than enough to entice me out of my cocoon to watch the action, such a sit might have been.

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club fans celebrate second goal OH Leuven Deurne belgium october octobre 2016The Royal Antwerp fans are very happy – letting off a red smoke bomb and waving a huge club flag about.

And so they ought to be, too. They’ve just scored a second goal, a goal that turns out to be the decisive, winning goal.

And at the final whistle, It occurs to me that I have never ever seen OH Leuven do anything else except lose. I must be the Kiss of Death to OH Leuven.

In fact, from what I saw of the game, it was pretty miserable. There wasn’t much in the way of excitement and the goalkeepers didn’t really have to do all that much. The Royal Antwerp keeper was the busier of the two but he wasn’t really under all that much pressure.

Royal Antwerp had a player, the squad n°55, who was an exciting player when he had the ball. He looked the best player on the pitch at certain moments, but he only seemed to work in fits and starts and it didn’t seem to me as if he was all that keen to run and chase around when he didn’t have the ball – not that I would know all that much about it.

magnificent buildings meir antwerp belgium october octobre 2016I caught the tram back into the city and decanted myself out into the Meir. The Meir is the main shopping street of the city and where everything in the city goes on, and it’s also where there are some really magnificent buildings here.

I was lucky in that it hadn’t gone quite dark by this time, so the camera on my mobile phone could cope with the situation, such as taking a photo of the big Inno Department Store here, with the much-more banal Delhaize supermarket in the foreground.

meir antwerp belgium october octobre 2016My idea of a late evening wandering around the city taking some photographs came to a rather dramatic halt as the light disappeared.

Had I had the Nikon D5000 with me, it wouldn’t have been too much of an issue but cameras like that aren’t allowed in football grounds in Belgium so I hadn’t brought it with me – relying instead on the camera on the telephone, which doesn’t work very well in situations like this.

Instead, I went to sort out some cash and then went for something to eat. It’s Sunday, pizza night, I had bought some vegan cheese the other day and I’d seen a very democratic pizza place on my travels. It was run by real Italians too, and I ended up speaking Italian to them – and it’s been a long time … "two years ago last summer when you were in the Alto Adige in fact" – ed … since I’ve done that.

Brought back a few memories, that did. I must go off to Italy again.

multiple unit antwerp central station belgium october octobre 2016Down in the bowels of the station I waited for my train back to Leuven. I’d come on the line via Brussels Airport and Mechelen, so I decided to go back on the line via Lier and Aarschot.

Not that it would make any difference because it was pitch black outside at this time of night and I couldn’t see a thing.

The train was packed when we set off, and as the journey progressed, more and more people crowded in. 99% of the people on board were students, dragging their suitcases behind them. Leuven is world-famous for its University, which is huge, and I imagine that all of these students have been home for the weekend and are now heading back to their kots.

It can’t have been unexpected because the train had been extended from the normal size to accommodate the crowds. So much so that there was an announcement “for those of you alighting from the train at Heverlee, DO NOT travel in the first four carriages. Presumably they don’t fit alongside the platform there.

town hall leuven belgium october octobre 2016The train pulled into the Station and the train disgorged about 99% of its passengers. And like a huge tidal wave, they all swarmed up the main drag into town, dragging their suitcases behind them.

People were dropping off the end of the wave the further towards the town centre we advanced, but there was still quite a crowd as we passed the beautiful Leuven Town Hall, all lit up in the night.

And when I finally reached my hostel and installed myself in my little room, I could still hear the rolling suitcases rattling by.

So here I am now, back at home, tired out and spent up. It’s been an exhausting day and I’m spent up – and not for very much good purpose either as I’d missed almost half of my football match.

But never mind – I’ve had a nice afternoon out, even if the photos don’t do the journey any justice. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take the Nikon and had to rely on the camera on the telephone, but I’ve done the best that I can.

I hope that you all enjoy it.

Tuesday 29th March 2016 – THERE ARE JUST SO MANY …

… job opportunities these days.

basterd suiker emte supermarket zoutelande netherlandsYes, I’ll be back in the Netherlands at some point giving them lessons in English spelling because somewhere along the line, they seem to have lost their way.

But the existence of this product explains quite a lot and answers many questions.It must have been on sale in the UK at one time or another, because I’ve overheard loads of people wandering around Tesco’s or Asda going “where’s the basterd sugar?”. And now I know why.

After my dreadful evening last night, I was first up and first into the breakfast room yet again, and I was in and out by 08:30. It didn’t take me too long to pack and arrange my affairs, and by 09:10 I was on my way.

But something very surprising happened as I was leaving. I’d handed my key to the chambermaid and as I was walking away from the hotel, the landlady came chasing after me. Not, as you might think, to accuse me of taking the towels away, but to shake my hand and wish me all the best in my forthcoming trials and tribulations. I thought that that was very poignant indeed.

Off to the supermarket and stocking up with Raak Campagne Pils and gelatine-free licorice-and-banana flavoured sweets, and then I went off for a drive along the coast.

sherman tank westkapelle netherlands museumJust down the road in the town of Westkapelle I stumbled upon a museum. This features exhibits relating to the polders and dykes around here and contains a few exhibits from the battles around here that liberated the islands in the Scheldt estuary in late 1944.

That up there on the top of the dyke is a Sherman tank of course. From the USA and the most popular of the USA light tanks in World War II

remains of shipwreck westkapelle netherlands museum“Exhibits relating to the polders and dykes”, I just said. And this area of the coast is littered with shipwrecks, which is hardly surprising when you remember just how close to the shore the main shipping lane is.

It’s bad enough in a motor-powered ship but it must have been a nightmare in a sailing ship. There’s hardly any room at all in which to manoeuvre. This pile of metalwork has been gathered from off the shore over time and is part of the exhibits.

landing craft tank LCT737 westkapelle netherlands museumThat’s not all either. This is a Landing Craft – Tank and was one of the key elements in amphibious warfare.

It’s the kind of thing that I would buy in a heartbeat if I were to live on my own island somewhere off the coast. Caliburn would fit in there quite nicely with a little modification (to the LCT) and t would be just the thing to keep us all mobile.

I would gladly have told you so much more about the exhibits but as you might expect, the museum is closed. No surprise here.

So I travelled on up the road for a while and found a lovely spec by the seashore where I could watch the ships sailing along the coast, and also have a little snooze for a couple of hours. You’ve no idea right now how much I’m feeling the exertions of my travels.

I stopped for a coffee on the way home, at a motorway service area just before the International Border, and then hit all of the traffic around Antwerp. And that’s just how it was, all the way back to Alison’s.

I didn’t hang around for long though. I have a long day ahead in Brussels and so I crawled upstairs for an early night.

There’s just about enough time for me to tell you about my travels though. Some British person had bought a piece of land in France, but it was more like on Barony Park in Nantwich, at the top end of the street where Helena and Ann used to live. He was laying down some huge amount of concrete hardstanding there in order to erect a block of flats. Someone had been working for him but had left the job half-way through and an arrangement had been made for me to go and pick up his wages. I had to be there at 17:00 but when I arrived at 17:01, everyone had already gone – in that minute that I was late. I had to find a place to park there, annoying all of the traffic whilst I was trying to squeeze into a parking place – access was really difficult. I had a good look around but I couldn’t find anyone, and ended up by talking to a man who had been interested in buying the small plot next to this large one. He had thought that with this first man ordering to much concrete, he could add whatever he wanted onto the neighbour’s order and pay pro-rata. They could lay his concrete together and he would return the labour on this person’s site. However, the first guy was not at all in favour. he told him to bring his tonne of aggregate, his tonne of sand and of cement and we’ll do it in five days. This made the second guy have second thoughts about buying this plot of land for if this was how it was going to be like in the beginning, how was it going to end up in the future when they were living next door to each other? From here, I had to go back to my bus (for I was driving a bus) and pick up Roxanne’s grand-parents on her father’s side. We had to go and pick up our mail which was delivered to the garage of a block of apartments somewhere that looked like a street I know in Evere and was put in galvanised metal buckets. There was nowhere to park, as usual, so I had to park in the street while they nipped out to pick up their buckets and pick up mine too. Of course, at this moment a great big bus pulled up behind me and of course he wasn’t very happy so I had to move. I had to drive about 50 yards down the road to where I had seen a parking place. But it was tight down there and I had knocked the mirror on the passenger side of my bus so I couldn’t see properly and had to inch my way down there and inch my way into this parking space and shunt myself in so that I was close enough to the kerb. But this bus wasn’t helping because every time I went forward, so did he, which meant that I couldn’t reverse back in, especially with no mirror on the passenger side (it was a RHD bus by the way), and I was on the point of getting out and giving him a piece of my mind.
I was with Liz and Terry somewhere around the Pinware River in Labrador. It was where they have built the new diversion but we were actually on the old road but this was all now industrialised and a big city environment with a railway line that ran up there and a yard where containers were loaded and stacked. The first thing that we noticed was a shipping container that had not detached from its trailer, so the crane had picked up the container and the trailer – and then dropped the lot! The whole right-hand side of the road had been devastated by fire and I wanted to photograph this, so I had to drive around to find a suitable place to park (I was in Strider, but a RHD Strider, by the way). There was nowhere really to park and I lost Liz and Terry while I was doing this. I’d gone higher up the hill, but on turning round and coming back, I noticed that there was a road that turned off to the right so I turned off to travel along it, but it was a one-way street and I ended up going the wrong way along it. People were flashing their lights at me and some youngish guy tried to get into my car with me and give me a lecture, something about “all of these tourists coming into our country and thinking that they know their way around when they really know absolutely nothing. They ought to be given proper qualified guides to accompany them”. My reply was that I was interested in seeing things that I was interested in, and seeing them through my own eyes, not anyone else’s. This led to quite a heated debate. He started speaking to me in a language that I didn’t recognise but, remembering where I was, I guessed that it was Innu, which he confirmed. It was all very unpleasant.
We were out walking by the river somewhere round by Farndon, that area. There was a girl, rather like Pamela Hayes or that girl whom I met on that ship out in the Gulf of St Lawrence who looked quite tall (although she was wearing high heels) and she was intending to throw herself in the river. We had a big discussion about it and I explained that this wasn’t the solution – there were people far worse off than she was, and all of this sort of thing. There were people up to their necks in water struggling to get out and so on. I introduced myself and told her that I was out looking for an apartment somewhere as I lived at home with my five siblings and my parents in a little two-bedroomed house. My mother was swimming in the river at this time (although it wasn’t my mother, it was the mother of Helen – a girlfriend from my school days). All of our family was into things to do with painting – my mother was a painter and my brother was a house painter. I was actually on my way to Halfords to buy a box of assorted tap washers to do some plumbing. I knew a girl who worked there, but she was in the department that sold tapestries. My mother then came out of the water and we all had a big chat and then went off to buy these washers; However, there was nothing really suitable – they had a multi-pack of washers there but these were just bits and pieces. At this moment, the Police turned up. There had apparently been some other kind of incident going on there and they had come in response to that, but we were all held and interviewed about what we knew.
This next bit is nothing like complete because after I woke up, I fell asleep again almost immediately and so didn’t dictate it “at the moment” as I would normally like to do. From what I remember, though, I was on a train that had left France and was heading down to the south of Europe. I’d boarded it at the departure point, Paris, and it was crammed with people like most wartime trains were. We’d boarded it right behind the engine and had to work our way backwards to find a seat. We must have travelled for miles and there was still no seat to be found. We kept bumping into the guard and he was telling us all kinds of stories about wartime travel and so on. I don’t remember too much more about it, although we did end up somewhere down by Yugoslavia and we were still standing. But on the subject of wartime, I was explaining to someone that French railways were liberated “all at once”. They were surprised by that but I pointed out that the railway staff was actually civilian in most cases and would just take orders from whoever was giving them. It made no difference whether they were French, German or whatever, whether they were giving the orders or receiving them. They would not, in by far the most cases, be considered as combatants. So once the head of the pyramid of command had been liberated, so would all of the rest of it.

Saturday 26th March 2016 – I’VE NOT GONE OUT …

… for any tea tonight. I’m not feeling like it.

I had a good breakfast this morning and then went for a walk to the supermarket to buy the stuff for lunch. After a lunch (which was rather late as I wasn’t all that hungry) I went for a long walk along the prom southwards towards Vlissingen. That tired me out and so that was that.

I’d been on a good wander around during the night too and travelled miles. I started off being involved with a young English girl (and I know who she is but I just can’t think for the moment) who owned a jet aeroplane like a flight trainer that had been built in 1962. She had bought it at an Air Force liquidation sale with the aim of restoring it but she had fallen into the clutches of some evil English guy. Her aeroplane was stored in his hangar and the body had been taken off the chassis (it really is an astonishing aeroplane!) ready for restoration. He was annoyed intently with her because of the fact that she was now seeking her independence, but seeking her independence she was. We all thus dashed off to this hangar at this small airfield and managed to recover the chassis from the hangar and were pushing it onto the airstrip. As an aside, I was amazed at how corroded it was, especially around the body mounting points and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to go very far off the ground on that. But we had to – we had to bolt the body onto it and all clamber inside so that we could fly away. As we were moving the chassis, the man turned up. I was all for cracking on, doing everything for ourselves but he wanted to help us by holding open the gate while we pushed the chassis out. However the girl started to talk to the guy and began to discuss all of her future projects with him so he was there giving her all kinds of advice which was based on his own self-interest and not on anyone else’s. I could see that this girl was starting to waver again and I reckoned that we would never ever get away at this rate. The discussion then turned to stories about other planes that were lying abandoned on other airfields all over France and throughout the world and it soon became clear that this was how she had acquired this aeroplane. But we needed to hurry up before she swayed completely, but no matter what I said and how I encouraged her, I couldn’t get her to hurry. And I couldn’t get her to slip out of the clutches of this other guy. I could see her ending up by putting this chassis back into the hangar before much longer and going back off with him. How I wished that she would get a move on.
In this little bit we featured three girls, one of whom was my elder sister and another was my youngest sister. I was running some kind of Health-visiting team in Northern Austria and they had come to join it, working as Health visitors. It was very difficult work so I couldn’t understand why they had come, and my youngest sister had the worst round of them all. And then we had the 06:30 alarm of my neighbour in the next room and that, I’m afraid, was that.

But really, I’d had a bad night. it was like being back just after my operation and the severe compression in my chest that prevented me from settling down. I suppose that I should be worried about this but I’m not really. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life, no matter how long it might be, wrapped up in cotton wool.

I was about to go for an early breakfast when a friend of mine appeared on line for a chat. Consequently it was gone 09:00 when I made it down to breakfast and that may account in part for my lack of hunger this evening. As usual, we had an excellent breakfast with plenty of juice and coffee as well as some lovely Dutch bread and strawberry jam.

commonwealth war grave cemetery zoutelande nethrlandsOn the way to the supermarket (where the coffee machine is still “defekt”) I went past the cemetery and there is a Commonwealth War Grave in there.

I meant to go in to have a look at it on the way back, but what with the savage, biting wind that we were having, it slipped my mind.

It could be a victim of the Battle of the Schelde that liberated the area in November 1944, or a body washed up from the sea from maybe a naval operation or a downed aeroplane – or maybe even someone from the First World War – a victim of the sea or an internment victim (hundreds of British soldiers were interned in the Netherlands from 1914 to 1918, having fled there from the Germans after the Fall of Antwerp)

In fact, a search on the Commonwealth War Graves site discloses that it is the grave of a Flying Officer, a navigator of 239 Squadron RAFVR who was killed in January 1944.

239 Squadron was equipped with Mosquitos and flew night-time operations within the bomber stream to hunt down and attack German night-fighters that were targeting the bombe

valkenhof hotel zoutelande netherlandsIt occurs to me that I haven’t yet posted a photo of my hotel, the Valkenhof. It’s a bit pricey as I’ve said before, but it is Easter weekend and the place is crowded.

My little room is one of the three in the annex to the side and it’s that window just there underneath the pointy roof. No, I have no real complaints about the place and as I have said before, you definitely win with the breakfasts.

strandcafé beachside pie hut zoutelande netherlandsYesterday, I’d seen a strandcafé away in the distance to the south and so this afternoon I braved the savage wind to go for a good walk in that direction to see what the possibilities were.

It took me ages too because I wasn’t really up to much. This is definitely proving to be too much for me but I’ll gamely struggle on as the sea air will only do me good, and this is why I’m here.

bunker two atlantic wall zoutelande netherlandsOne thing that I shouldn’t have done, I suppose, was to walk right up to the top of a huge sand-dune.

That certainly ook a lot out of me but it was well-worth the effort because the view from up here was absolutely stunning and I regretted not having the Nikon D5000 in working order. Away in the distance is the town of Zoutelande, so you can see how far I’ve walked, and you can also see the storm clouds gathering out there in the North Sea.

bunker two atlantic wall zoutelande netherlandsBut there was a good reason for coming all the way up here and I’m glad that I did, because there are a couple of bunkers that relate to World War II, relics of the Atlantic Wall.

The big Commando raid on Dieppe in August 1942 was, from the British point of view, a huge fiasco but it had one very important side-effect in that it frightened the Germans to death. As a result, millions of Reichsmarks and tens of thousands of men and tens of thousands of tons of vital war materials were diverted from the German war effort in order to build huge concrete fortifications all along the Occupied coast from Norway to the Bay of Biscay between 1942 and 1944, and weren’t properly finished when the invasion took place.

Here, these two huge bunkers guard the entrance to the Wester-Schelde and the port of Antwerp and are now a museum, although it goes without saying that it was closed today.

beach huts zoutelande netherlandsI had my coffee, taking my time in case a ship came past (but I was out of luck) and then walked slowly back along the beach to my hotel.

One thing that caught my eye was this row of beach huts. From what I can tell, people rent (or own) them and store their beach material in them. Then they sit around their beach hut on deck chairs (even on a devastatingly-windy day like today) surrounded by windbreaks and sit and absorb whatever sunlight lught be about.

So now that’s all I’m doing. I’ll have another early night and try to have an early breakfasT

I hope that I feel better tomorrow.

Wednesday 23rd March 2016 – BACK ON THE ROAD

So here I am again – hitting the road to the Netherlands coast in West-Zeeland – the bit that’s to the western side of the Scheldt estuary. I’ve never set foot in this bit before so I’m determined to put that right – not the least of reasons being that we haven’t had a Ship of the Day since last October and up there in the Wester-Schelde you can see these huge 300,000 tonne supertankers and container ships making complicated manoeuvres just hundreds of yards offshore as they line themselves up for the entrance to the harbour at Antwerp.

Years ago, there used to be a vehicle ferry across the river to Vlissingen but that’s now closed and replaced by a tunnel. We are told by Wikipedia that it is a “bored tunnel” and so Strawberry Moose, Caliburn and I have decided to go there to cheer it up and bring it some excitement.

So having now decided on my seaside trip, I’m awoken today not by the birds chirping under the eaves but a torrential rainstorm cascading down onto the roof. And that awoke me from a very deep reverie.I had been off in the mountains of Tennessee or Kentucky last night, some time back in the 1920s or 30s and I met a girl called Lousey (that’s pronounced “Luzie” by the way). She was very young and blond but was in what we would 50 years ago have called an “irregular union” with a boy only a couple of years older than she was, and they were living in a cabin with Lousey’s mother. Someone had called a priest, or maybe a Justice of the Peace down to this village to discuss this “irregular union”. It turned out, following an inquiry, that this boy and girl were in fact living together but the boy was a scavenger of scrap metal and donated the income from this into the household. He was thus deemed to be supporting Lousey the best he could despite his limited abilities. Accordingly, this relationship was deemed by the judge or the priest to be exceptionally a “regular union”, despite the extreme youth of the two people involved. We drifted on from there down a street called Losey Road, which we were told was named after this girl, and at the top of the road there was some kind of queue involving all of the people from the village. I was with someone, who might have been Liz but I can’t remember now. I had a small bottle of sun-cream and so I put a small amount on my hands and started to rub it into the skin. Lousey was just in front of me and she had the same kind of cream and was doing the same thing. She noticed that I was only using a little bit so she pulled a face, laughed and said that she used tons more of the stuff when she did it. I showed her my jar and replied that I only had this small jar and there wasn’t much left. If I had more I would use ten times as much and I’d rub it all over me. Everyone in the queue except Lousey and my companion burst out laughing because they had seen a double-entendre in my remark but my companion turned round to Lousey and said “would you swallow that, Lousey?” meaning the remark that I had made. By now, everyone else, including me but excluding my companion and Lousey, was rolling aound on the floor in fits of laughter about this even more outrageous double-entendre that had gone clean over the heads of my companion and of Lousey.

Downstairs, Alison had already gone to work so I had my breakfast and said goodbye to Brian, thanking him for all of his hospitality, and then I hit the road.

I missed my turning into Leuven, ended up going by Nossegem instead, following the signs for Machelen instead of Mechelen and then being stuck on the Antwerp motorway due to a road accident, being unable to exit for the turning to St Niklaas. It really was not my lucky day.

But I am going to have to change my stereotyped ideas about the Netherlands and write a different script. I ended up in a “Jumbo” supermarket in Breskens which sold, inter alia a non-alcoholic drink called Raak Campagne Pils. One look at the label told me what this might be, and one sip out of the bottle later that night told me what it was. It was indeed the nearest thing that we can buy in Europe to Canadian Root Beer so now I am properly set up. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say. What I mean by my comments is that here in the “Jumbo” there was a bench for customers to sit, and we had free wi-fi, free coffee and free biscuits and I’ve never ever had anything like this anywhere else.

finnlines ro ro freight carrier wester scheldte vlissingen antwerpOn the beach at Breskens, we could peer through the rain and see right across the river to Vlissingen and the huge Finnlines ro-ro freight carrier that runs a regular service between Antwerp and Helsinki.

If that doesn’t qualify for a ship of the week, I dunno what will because this thing is huge, and I do mean huge.

Mind you, it had plenty of competition including an MSC container ship that was coming up behind it, which I didn’t photograph, for reasons which will soon become apparent.

sonche trader cadzand wester scheldt antwerpFirstly, I was distracted by this monster turning into the river at Cadzand.

This is the Sonche Trader, built in 2009 of 53,000 tonnes and flying the flag of Liberia. she’s coming in from Callao in Peru via several other ports. Her last port of call was Rotterdam, although it might not look like it.

And as I turned my attention to the MSC container ship, it was here that I was distracted once more because I had a phone call.

One thing that I do like about being a dazzling European cosmopolite … "did you forget “modest”?" – ed … is that here I am heading south to north via several different countries, and I have another dazzling European cosmopolite friend heading east to west through several other different countries, and our paths dramatically cross.

hans field selfie ted ferry terminal zeebrugge belgiumAnd so half an hour later, Strawberry Moose and I are in the ferry terminal in Zeebrugge, Belgium, having a coffee and a chat with my friend Hans and his travelling companion, Selfie Ted.

They are travelling from their home in Munich on his way to the UK to see family. You’ve no idea just how small the world is, and regular status updates of your social networking sites, so that your friends can see where you are, make it even smaller still

pauls hotel duinbergen knokke heist belgiumIronically, before I drove up to Belgium I was planning on coming up on the train, and if I had a few days spare, like now, I had planned to come to Knokke-Heist to stay.

And when you are feeling tired and ill and you need to stop, you find the first available hotel regardless of price. And so here I am, in Knokke-Heist of all places, at a shabby-gentille hotel at €70:00, breakfast included, and for Europe, I’m quite satisfied with what I received.

Surprisingly, there’s no fritkot in the vicinity because I went for a slow walk to look around, and I’m not taking the van out to go to look. A packet of biscuits (and my root beer) will do me for tonight.

Tomorrow, we’ll hit the bored tunnel, cheer it up and then go off to Zouteland on the island of Walcheren to see what we can find.

Thursday 8th October 2015 – THAT WAS ANOTHER …

… sleep of the dead last night. I was watching a film on the laptop but after about 20 minutes I gave it up as a bad job and that was that. I didn’t feel a thing until the morning and I was awake long before the alarm went off.

I’d been on my travels too, and they really were travels. I’d started off back on the buses, doing the regular Friday night run that I used to do for Shearings – up around Central Scotland and that area. Then Cecile and I were living somewhere in Belgium and it was midwinter. We had a day and a half spare and so I suggested that we go off to the Arctic Circle. I had three Cortinas in various conditions (all of them running, after a fashion) and I chose the worst one to do the trip, if I could remember where it was and if the Council hadn’t towed it away. But although it took me about 30 seconds to pack (and I was amazed at how little I needed) it took Cecile almost all of the day and a half to make herself ready.

Finally, I was in Stoke on Trent with someone whom I used to know and we were just stilling around doing very little and talking. And Zero put in an appearance too.

All in all, I’m surprised that my journey through the night hadn’t thoroughly worn me out. And on waking up I noticed that there was no condensation on the roof even though I’d been cooking in here and it had rained during the evening.

sawdust barge gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaThere’s no photo of my spec from last night, because while I was putting away everything into Strider I noticed through the trees some movement in the bay away in the distance, so I shot over to see what it was.

I know that there’s a sawdust barge that works the coast around here collecting the waste products from the sawmills to take to Matane and while I wouldn’t recognise a sawdust barge even if I were to trip over one, this one looks as if it could be something to do with that.

autumn colours cabin in forest gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaI went back on the road, having forgotten about photographing my camp, and instead of going around the coast I ended up in the mountains taking a short cut.

The autumn colours up here really are magnificent. You can understand why it is that I enjoy travelling round the eastern part of Canada at this time of the year. And to live in one of those cabins over there would be superb. If only I could see the sea from there.

riviere au renard gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaI rediscovered the sea at Riviere au Renard and found myself head-on in a howling gale. I parked up and went for a walk around the harbour but the wind blew me back to Strider and so I didn’t get to see too much.

The harbour was however quite full of fishing boats but many of them were up on stocks. The fishing around here these days has been having an enormous struggle since the collapse of the cod industry in 1992

gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaThe north coast of the Gaspé Peninsula – the southern shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence – is really beautiful.

The road along here is something comparatively new. It’s all up steep headland and down into deep inlets, and in almost every inlet there’s a small fishing village with a quay and a church, and is usually called St-Something or Anse (Cove) au Something Else.

Every one of them is extremely photogenic but the difficulty that you have is finding a good uninterrupted view of the place.

gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaPrior to the roads being here along the coast, the only access to these small villages was by sea and you’ll remember when we were in Matane the other day we visited the marine museum that was situated in the old quay from where all of the coastal boats used to depart.

And if you know anything about cloud formations (which you will do if you’ve been reading this rubbish for any reasonable length of time) you won’t need me to tell you where the northern shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence might be.

bulk carrier ship superstructure gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaWhile I was stopped and having my lunch, I noticed this object way out in the gulf. And it was moving too, and so with the telephoto lens I squeezed off a good long-distance shot.

You can’t tell what it is from here, but from the headland at the back it was easy to identify. It’s the superstructure of a large bulk carrier heading down the Gulf of St Lawrence towards the Atlantic. As I said before, it’s hard to understand why so many people were unable to believe that the world was round when you see evidence like this.

maersk container ship gulf of st lawrence gaspe peninsula highway 132 quebec canadaTalking of ships, we haven’t had a real ship of the day for a couple of days. And so when I saw this one steaming (or rather dieseling) past the foot of the headland upon which I was standing, I had to take a photo.

She’s too far out for me to be able to identify her name but she’s one of the fleet of Maersk Container Ships and according to the company’s interactive fleet map, 24 hours after I saw this ship, the Maersk Carolina was leaving the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Maersk Palermo was still in the river.

It’s more likely though to be the Maersk Penang that had arrived in Montreal from Antwerp and was now on its way out to Halifax.

From here I went off to find a place to stay. As I said, it’s becoming darker earlier and earlier and I don’t want to be caught out again.

Saturday 26th October 2013 – I REMEMBER …

… back to 2004 when I was ill and thinking that I ought to develop a new interest, that the subject of footy first came up. Brussels is ideally situated for being a Northern European footy fan and I do remember thinking that as Belgium and France are rather boring in that respect, I ought to cast my net a little further afield.

Dutch football fans are well-known for their passion and ardour and as the town of Breda is easy to get to from here on public transport (change trains at Antwerpen), then NAC came onto the radar. However, times changed, and things changed, and I changed, and that was that. Nevertheless, it was always something that turned around in the back of my mind.

Dutch football has some very interestingly-named teams such as Willem III, Heracles and Top Oss, but pride of place has to go to the enigmatically-named Go Ahead Eagles. Any team with a name like that deserves to be supported. And so imagine my surprise this morning when, over a cup of coffee, I glanced at the footy fixtures and found that the Eagles were playing away this evening – at NAC Breda!

So early this afternoon after lunch I leapt into Caliburn and shot off up the motorway as far as Weerde (I really ought to live in a town with a name like that – second only to the town of Silly of course) when I realised that I didn’t have my passport (I seem to be making a habit of this).

Back on my way to Antwerpen I encountered a Carrefour at Mechelen so I was even able to do a pile of shopping, and after that, with Golden Earring playing on Caliburn’s music centre in honour of my Going Dutch, I eventually arrived at the ground.

stadion rat verlegh NAC Breda netherlands eredivisieNice and modern, which many purists (including Yours Truly) will think is a pity, but with plenty of space around it and plenty of parking too which makes a pleasant change.

Buying a ticket for an Eredivisie match is not easy. You need to have a Dutch FA clubcard to but a ticket for the match. if you don’t have one, which of course I don’t, you need to produce a national identity card, which I don’t have either, or else produce a passport, which I did have, so it was a good job that I remembered to go back and fetch it. But just €15 (that’s £12) for a ticket is an absolute bargain to watch a 1st-tier match in a keenly-fought domestic league.

Next stop was to buy some food. I left Caliburn (who has never been to the Netherlands before, by the way, so there’s a first) at the Stadion Rat Verlegh (a delightful name) and went on foot to the centre, and I’m glad that I did because I stumbled once more upon something quite exciting that I would otherwise have missed.

fokker 100 scrapyard breda netherlandsThis is a Fokker 100 of the late 1980s or early 1990s and what it is doing here as an advert for a scrapyard I really have no idea. This isn’t the first one that we have seen either, for those of you with very long memories will recall the Andover that sat on top of a scrapyard at Ettiley Heath, at the back of Sandbach, for a while. But anyway, here it is and here it sits, and here it will probably stay until the price of scrap aluminium rises again.

It did rather remind me of that delightful story about the old World War I pilot reliving one of his battles during a live television interview.
“There I was, at 8,000 feet, all on my own, and suddenly these five German Fokkers appeared out of a cloud, right in front of me”
“I should mention, for the benefit of our younger viewers” said the interviewer “that a Fokker is a type of German aeroplane”
“Thats right!” ejaculated our hero. “These Fokkers were Albatroses”

historic building medieval centre breda netherlandsSo I eventually made it into town, following my nose which was quite interested in the smell of chips that it was detecting.

This brought me to a little square just on the edge of the old medieval centre and here was a beautiful historic building. I’ve absolutely no idea what it might be although it looks like an ersatz town hall or school building of the late 19th Century when the Dutch ran out of inspiration. However, I could be completely wrong about this and nothing would surprise me.

Here I was distracted as two pizza delivery motorcyclists burst out of an alleyway and headed off in different directions. That gave me a clue and so I headed into the alleyway and found myself at the back of a takeaway pizza lace. My takeaway Vegetarian with my own vegan cheese (I always come prepared) was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

public urinal Breda NetherlandsOn the way back to the stadium in the dark, wishing that I had come here much earlier to properly explore the town, I encountered this object, right outside the football ground as you,might expect one such object to be. Whatever its proper name might be, I was told that the locals refer to it as the p155 house, and for very good reason too as you can see.

In fact I made very good use of it. I must stop drinking all of this flavoured water while I’m driving. It’s doing me no good at all, I tell you that. I’m not sure how I would have coped had I not found this artefact. It’s certainly a novel way to spend 1.2 centimes.

Mind you, it’s a bit disconcerting having to resort to something like this in front of a crowd of about 17,000 people trying to get into the Stadion Rat Verlegh. I mean, I didn’t want to give them all an inferiority complex.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013But that’s enough of me talking rubbish. Let’s concentrate on the football.

Tyhe quality was rather … errr … less than I was expecting for an Eredivisie match. NAC were, well, about average I suppose but Go Ahead Eagles were thoroughly awful and how they were in one place higher than the home side before the kick-off I really do not know. They had a central defence pairing of Lord Lucan and Martin Bormann and for the second quarter of the game they were quite simply torn to shreds. Its no exaggeration to say that 4-0 at half-time, all the goals coming in that 20-odd minute spell, was something of an understatement.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013It will also come as no surprise to anyone reading this that the second half was a totally different game. Naive followers of the sport would expect the second half to begin with the Eagles having their heads buried in their boots and a bouyant bunch of Breda boyos bouncing out to run up a cricket score (mind you, 4-0 IS a cricket score when England are batting).

But no, Breda had gone right off the boil and were content to play exhibition football for a while, passing the ball around amongst themselves instead of going for the jugular.

This of course gave the Eagles some kind of respite and a couple of times they snatched the ball away and went racing off down the ptch to give the Breda defence some VERY ANXIOUS moments indeed. I remember thinking that if the Eagles scored twice (which they could so easily have done), there would have been an almighty panic in the Breda side and anything could happen.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013However the Breda defence stood firm and with just two or three minutes to go, they managed to pot a fifth goal to calm what was clearly becoming a jittery Breda performance. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a side winning 4-0 look so nervous.

But I really don’t know why teams like this do this kind of thing. 4-0 up and looking good, and then going on the defensive for 45 minutes. They should have carried on with the allout attack, been 6-0 up after the hour, and then gone on to bury this team, instead of giving them a few easy chances to get back into the game. Really bad planning, this, and I would have kicked the players all around the stadium. A tight mid-table finish means that goal difference is all important when it comes to doling out the prize money at the end of the season and whenever you are given the opportunity, which doesn’t arrive very often for clubs like this, you should be going for the throat;

And on that note, I went home. Another one of my … errr … goals in life accomplished.

Thursday 10th March 2011 – I have to go to rescue my Minerva.

If you are fairly new to these pages I bet you don’t know that I own a Minerva. It’s something I bought years ago while I was on the lookout for an old Land Rover for hauling logs around the farm. Ever since then it’s been in storage near Antwerp but I received an e-mail today to say that the storage facilities are closing down and I need to move it.

Luckily we are here with Terry’s big trailer, and I reckon that the Minerva will fit on it. It’s rather a shame in a way because I was hoping to be able to move the Cortina 2000E estate and get that down to the farm, but it will still be nice to recover the Minerva after all  these years. Ahhh well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ve painted the door frame to the apartment and I’ve also prepared the wall at the back of the terrace. But when I went out to paint that, the wind blew me back inside again. It was rough out there, and so that will have to wait until another day.

This afternoon I cleaned all of the paintwork in the hall and then painted the ceiling in there.

Terry carried on with the odd jobs such as repapering part of the kitchen and fixing a few electrical items while Liz carried on with her marathon floor-waxing, with the help of Terry once the little jobs were finished. Once the floor was something like, we moved the living room back into where it ought to be and I’ve moved my bed and computer into this room while Terry and Liz started to paint the walls in the hallway.

Tomorrow I have to empty out my room of what is left there and then give it a good clean, put the second coat of paint on the door frame and paint the terrace wall if the wind will let me. Terry and Liz will finish the walls in the hallway and then paint my bedroom. The second coat for the hall and bedroom is planned for Saturday morning, and then all that will remain will be touching up in the blue bedroom where Terry and Liz are sleeping.

And that, dear reader, will be that. We’ll empty the place on Monday morning, have an estate agent round on Monday afternoon and then adjourn to a hotel for a couple of days so that the place will be completely empty so that we can do the touching up.

Such is the plan. And so you just watch something happen to upset it all.

Wednesday 21st April 2010 – Friends Reunited

strawberry moose tracy woghirenStrawberry Moose got to see his Auntie Tracy this evening. In fact it’s been quite some time since the two of them met – probably two years or so.

As predicted, cleaning this apartment is pretty hard work particularly when your heart isn’t in it. But at least I’ve cleared away the forest of dead plants inside the apartment, made a start on the ones on the terrace, and I began some desultory cleaning.

But then of course the rest is history.

It didn’t take me long to get discouraged so I rang up Tracy in Antwerpen to see if she fancied coming down for a coffee, but she wasn’t feeling too well and so, any excuse to stop cleaning and tidying, I went up there.

We had a good chat, mostly about what’s been happening to us since we both graduated from the Open University, and then went out for a meal. And if there’s one type of cooking that will run a good Indian close then it has to be Middle Eastern cooking and as luck would have it there is an Egyptian restaurant not too far from where she lives whose falafel and hummus is second to none. And of course there has to be a big plate of fritjes to go with it. After all, this is Belgium and they invented the French Fry. There is of course all of the old jokes about this –
“Why are there no Belgian astronauts?”
“Because there are no fritkots on the moon”
“What do you call a German living in Belgium?”
“Why are there potatoes in Belgium and oil in the Middle East?”
“Because the Belgians had first choice”
Yes, we know them all.

But I like Antwerpen – it’s got much more going for it than Brussels. And had my work not have been so “irregular” I would have gladly bought a place here. In fact there is a suburb of Antwerpen specially named for me – it’s called Weerde. I would have been very happy there, almost as happy as living in that Belgian town between Enghein and Ath.

It’s called Silly.