Tag Archives: automotrice

Wednesday 16th June 2021 – NOW HOW ABOUT …

hellmans vegan garlic mayonnaise leuven belgium Eric Hall… this to go on my lunchtime butties?

This is something quite new in the shops. I’ve never seen it before. And I shan’t have to worry about visits from vampires during the night because I tried some of it with my pasta and vegetables and believe me – it took the varnish off the door when I breathed out. This was definitely a good buy and no mistake. It’s the kind of thing that will put hair on places I don’t even have places.

But be that as it may, let us return to our moutons as they say around here.

That is, around France, because Im not in France right now. I’m actually in Leuven because it’s time to visit Castle Anthrax again.

At 06:00 when the alarm went off, I leapt out of bed – sort of, something like – and the first task of the morning after the medication was to peel, dice and then blanch a kilo of carrots that I’d bought on Monday. And then I put them to drain in the sink.

Secind thing was to make a coffee and then make some sandwiches etc for my lunch. Packing my stuff and then giving the kitchen a good clean and disinfecting and, of course, taking out the rubbish before it walked out on its own.

At 08:05 when I went out this morning it was already scorching hot. Heaven alone knows what it’s going to be like at 15:00. But heaving my pack up onto my back I set off down the hill in the Rue des Juifs.

street repairs rue des moulins Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallDown in the town there was already some excitement going on in the Rue des Moulins.

They had a concrete cutter and a digger down there, sticking a pile of earth in the back of the lorry down there, and the workmen are busy admiring the hole that they have dug. For a moment I was wondering if I should go over and fall in with them but instead I pushed on.

At the railway station, my train wasn’t in yet so I had a nice relaxing sit on a bench on the platform while I waited for the train to come in.

GEC Alstom Regiolis 84581 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere wasn’t all that long to wait. The train pulled in round about 08:45. Just one six-car unit instead of two six-car units coupled together.

Climbing aboard, I went off to find my seat. For some reason or other that I don’t understand, they had me sharing a 4-seat combination with a couple of other people. No chance of my supporting that idea so I grabbed an empty seat where I could sit all on my own.

Having had a very late night last night, I wasn’t up to doing all that much but I did managed to copy onto the laptop all of the files that I’d backed up onto my memory stick. And the music ones took some sorting out. I’ll have to research the albums that I cropped the other day and work out which song goes where.

Our train was delayed at Argentan and so we arrived 10 minutes late at Paris Montparnasse. But there was no delay on the Metro and I arrived at Gare du Nord with plenty of time to spare.

TGV INOUI 206 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallJust as I arrived at the station concourse the train from Lille Flandres was just pulling in.

It’s one of the TGV Inoui Reseaux Duplex trains that we travel on regularly – one of the double deckers, but we aren’t allowed to board it yet. There is going to be a delay because these days they give the train a deep clean before we’re allowed on.

As soon as the cleaners had finished they announced the train, and there was a mad scramble of passengers towards the gate. And there as a slight delay from my part because it took me a minute or two to work out how the rail ticket on my phone works.

TGV INOUI 206 211 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallThe train is actually two eight-car units coupled together and so it goes without saying that I was in the second half down at the far end of the platform.

And you’ve no idea of the confusion that I caused trying to find my seat, because it didn’t exist. Even the ticket collector couldn’t find it.

On close examination however, we discovered that I’d gone into the wrong carriage. I’d gone in through the correct door but at the top of the stairs I turned right instead of left and hadn’t noticed that I’d walked over the bellows into the next carriage.

But once I was sorted out, I had a good sleep all the way to Lille Flandres.

We had a curious incident after we left the station. Some woman was asking some passers-by “which is the way to Lille-Europe?”. I told her “follow me, I’m going that way” and she did – for the first 100 yards and then she shot off ahead.

She must have known the way after all for she was standing outside the station smoking a cigarette when I caught up with her.

The train wasn’t in yet so I was able to sit down and eat my sandwiches in comfort

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4523 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallWhen the train pulled into the platform we all swarmed down the steps.

It’s one of the tri-volt TGV Réseau 38000 train sets, known colloquially as the PBA, or “Paris Brussels Amsterdam” sets. This time there was no problem finding my seat and I spent most of the journey reading an e-book while my neighbour spent most of the journey speaking to someone on the telephone.

At some point I must have dozed off because the rattling over the points as we came into Brussels awoke me. And so I packed my things.

Having gone through all of the procedure about Covid tests, Passenger Location Forms and the like, there was no control at all at the railway station and I felt quite disappointed.

There was a train to Leuven and Liège on its way into the station so I ran off to platform 15.

am80 automotrice 390 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThe train was another one of these disreputable Am 80 automotrices or multiple units.

Old, tired, dirty and graffiti-ridden, they should have been put out to grass a long time ago from that point of view. But they are quick and reliable, and perform a lot of long-distance work like Brussels to Luxembourg and the one on which I’m riding – the Belgian Coast to Liège.

If these trains were cleaned, the graffiti was removed and they were given modern interiors with a modern seating configuration, they could keep going for another 40 years.

When the ticket collector came down, I couldn’t find my ticket on the SNCB app on my phone. Luckily the ticket collector could. We learn something new every day.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric HallThe heat at Leuven was searing and I burnt myself on the metal handrail on the steps down from the passenger walkway

But from up there, there was a good view down onto the Martelarenplein. I’ve taken a few photos of that just recently but usually from ground level. This is the first opportunity that I’ve had of taking an aerial view and so I wasn’t going to miss it.

The heat was really oppressive as I struggled around the ring road to the Dekenstraat. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. At one point I was overtaken by some weird kind of solar bicycle but he cleared off quickly before I could photograph it.

At the Dekenstraat I found my room – another one of the upmarket duplexes. They are very good to me here, giving me a free upgrade whenever there’s one vacant.

Having sorted myself out I sat down to do some work. There was something on the dictaphone from the night but the only thing that I remember about it was being on a bus coming out of Hanley down the Etruria Road. Suddenly it had to manoeuvre into the outside lane, round in front of a couple of cars then off to the left down a slip road onto the “D road”. The slip road had all kinds of houses alongside it and it was cold and foggy and it hav been snowing heavily. I asked the driver what was happening. He said that the police had told him to go that way so that he didn’t have any other choice. I asked him “what about the people who live in Longport and places like that?” He replied “that’s rather a shame but the police have told me to do this and this is what I have to do”. Then I awoke in a really cold sweat again. There was much more to it in this dream and I think that my ex-friend from Stoke on Trent appeared in it somewhere

Having finished that I had more things to do but instead I crashed out on the sofa. I awoke with a start at 18:45 and there was shopping to do so I had to nip out smartish because they close at 20:00.

road works naamsestraat naamsevest leuven belgium Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve been watching the roadworks down at the junction of the Naamsestraat and the Naamsevest.

They are now at the stage of resurfacing the road so I reckon that in another three or four years they might actually have it finished. We all know how quickly they work here in Belgium.

Normally I would be going to the Carrefour but I didn’t have the strength tonight so I ended up at Delhaize. And I was only just in time too because as I was queueing up to pay, they switched off the lights in the shop.

In order to get back up the hill and return to my digs I had to have an energy drink. But I made it back and made myself tea – falafel burger with pasta and veg – with the latter all mixed up with that garlic dressing. Pudding was pineapple slices with sorbet.

There was the intention to write the journal entry for today but instead I fell asleep again. When I finally awoke I just went to bed to sleep it off. I can write up my journal tomorrow.

Wednesday 19th May 2021 – YOU’RE PROBABLY WONDERING …

… about why it’s taken me so long to put my notes of today’s travel on line.

The truth is that last night with 164% of my daily total of effort recorded on my fitbit, I crashed out completely at about 21:15 and crashed out properly too – in bed under the bedclothes and out like a light. I vaguely remember waking up again at about 23:20 but that was my lot until 05:20 the following morning.

And that’s another mystery, isn’t it? Whenever I do go to to bed really early I can’t seem to make the most of it and end up waking early, except on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago.

But returning to our moutons, as they say around here, Wednesday is the day that I travel to Leuven. I was up and about at 06:00 as usual as the first alarm went off.

First task was to make myself a coffee, and then make a thermos flask of coffee for the journey. Those water bottles that we received for our expeditions on board THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR really are the business.

Making my sandwiches and so on for breakfast and lunch was next, the sourdough and the ginger beer needed feeding too so I attended to that. It will be interesting to see if there’s another eruption of the sourdough while I’m away. To be on the safe side, I’ve put the jar in a bowl to stop it going everywhere.

Having done a few more bits and pieces I headed off down the road towards the railway station, realising after about 200 yards that I’ve forgotten to pack any clean clothes. Too late now to do anything about it now.

people on terrace rue lecampion Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallDown in the town I noticed a few changes hat have taken place since I was last here. Cafés can now open their terraces to the general public.

Many of the city centre cafés don’t have terraces of course but the local council has given them authorisation to set up ad-hoc terraces on the street in front of their premises. And even though it’s a cold, damp 08:15 or thereabouts on a midweek morning, there are a few clients who couldn’t wait to sample the delights of which they have been deprived for so long.

Draymen too delivering beer barrels and crates too. That’s a welcome sign too.

But I still think that it’s far too early to be opening up like this with casualties the way that they are. I can’t help having the feeling that it’s as if the Government has given up the fight against containing the virus and relying on the vaccination programme. This is all going to end in tears.

beach cabins on lorry cours jonville Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallBut there are other more positive signs of summer too, as I noticed further along at the junction in the Cours Jonville.

As I waited to cross the street one of the Council lorries pulled up in front of my. It was pulling a trailer and was loaded up with the beach cabins off the Plat Gousset.

At the end of the season the cabins are taken off the promenade to keep them safe in a compound in the Council’s maintenance depot. They don’t leave them on the promenade through the winter

Regular readers of this rubbish who will recall having seen the winter storms smashing their way onto the promenade at high tide will not be surprised by this. Coming back at the start of the season and finding a pile of matchwood waiting for you isn’t the way to run a seaside resort.

gec alsthom regiolis 84555 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallAt the railway station my train was already in and waiting for me so I could go and find my seat and sit down. And that was just as well because with not feeling very well, the walk up there had thoroughly exhausted me.

It was only a 6-car unit too – just one of the GEC Alsthom Regiolis sets that we usually have – so it was pretty crowded this morning. I had a companion sitting next to me, but that didn’t stop me sleeping for the first part of the journey.

The rest of the journey was spent updating the laptop. This morning before setting out I copied onto a memory stick the files that had been updated on the big computer since my last trip to Leuven. I have one of these tiny 64GB memory sticks attached to my keyring which I use as I travel about to copy files from one computer to another.

The Gare de Montparnasse was still quite empty – full life hasn’t yet returned to Paris (and quite right too) – and it was easy to find a seat on the Metro train to the Gare du Nord. I always walk down to the end of the platform at railway stations because I’ve noticed that the crowds seem to congregate at the middle so the ends of the trains are usually much more empty.

At the Gare du Nord there were very few people around yet again so I took full advantage by buying another carnet of 10 tickets. I seem to be going through them quite quickly these days.

TGV Reseau Duplex 216 gare du nord paris France Eric HallAs I arrived upstairs at the terminus where I catch my train, a train from Lille pulled in and I reckoned that this will be mine going back out again.

We won’t be allowed on it for quite a while because they have to clean it thoroughly these days before we can get back on, so I spent the time looking around. I can tell you a little about my train while we are waiting.

It’s one of the old TGV “Reseau Duplex” double-deckers that they use on high-volume routes. The first time that I had travelled on one was a few years ago when I went from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on my way to Montreal, and doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago, the way things have been this last year or so?

sncf locomotive 522228 class bb 22200 gare du nord paris France Eric HallWhile I was looking around I came across this beautiful machine.

Anyone who has travelled on an express train in France before the days of high-speed high-capacity multiple-units will have been on a train pulled by one of these. It’s locomotive 522228, one of the class of BB22200 locomotives that flooded the SNCF network back in the old days and are the epitome of French long-distance travel.

The Nez Cassées or “Broken Noses” began to be introduced in 1975 and a total of 205 were introduced. Some of them have even been timed at travelling in excess of 200 kph. But in 2012 they began to be withdrawn for breaking and that marks the end of this era of traditional travel. And that’s a tragedy

TGV Reseau Duplex 215 gare du nord paris France Eric HallEventually the details of our train were posted up on the board so we could all swarm down to platform towards our seats.

As you might expect, mine is down at the far end of the train, which I suppose isn’t too bad because it means that I don’t have so far to walk at Lille Flandres. It’s a train of two-units coupled together and, surprisingly, we have two units of consecutive numbers.

This wasn’t quite as full as the rain on which I’d come from Granville so I had no neighbour. I could eat my lunch in comparative comfort and read my E-book.

It’s a book written in 1918 and talks about the early history of flight, AIRCRAFT AND SUBMARINES: THE STORY OF THE INVENTION, DEVELOPMENT, AND PRESENT-DAY USES OF WAR’S NEWEST WEAPONS by Willis J Abbot and makes several claims about powered flight taking place before the Wright Brothers but by people other than the usual suspects Gustave Whitehead and Richard Pearse.

It’s a fascinating read about submarines because there is little research that has been done into the German U-boat campaign of 1914-18 compared to what was done in the Second World War and the massive tomes of CLAY BLAIR

Interestingly, there’s an obscure reference in Abbot’s book to the fate of the Hunley – the world’s first killer submarine. He says that divers a couple of years after the end of the American Civil War found it still embedded in wreck of the Housatonic, although no mention of that was made when Itzé and I WENT TO VISIT THE HUNLEY after it had been recovered.

Our train pulled into Lille Flandres railway station bang on time and so I set off in the damp atmosphere down the road towards Lille Europe Railway Station.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4518 SNCF TGV POS 4403 gare du lille europe France Eric HallOur train was already in the station but there was 20 minutes before our train was due to depart so I had plenty of time to take a photo of it.

Once again it’s a train consisting of two train sets. Mine is 4518, one of the TGV Reseau 38000 tri-volt trains, the same type as the Thalys PBA trains that work between Paris, Brussels and occasionally Amsterdam. It’s coupled up to 4403, one of the POS units tat formerly worked the eastern TGV network.

its neighbour 4402 is the train that holds the world speed record for conventional train travel, having reached 574.8 kilometres per hour on 3rd April 2007.

push me pull you sncb locomotive gare du midi brussels belgium  Eric HallThe train that took me on to Leuven from Brussels Gare du Midi was one of the SNCB “push me pull you” units with the locomotive pushing it from the far end.

And I was lucky to catch it too because there was another barrage at the station with the police checking the travel papers of people getting off the train. I was paperless, as you might expect, so I had to bluff pretty hard to be allowed officially to enter the country.

But I know what to do for the next time that I arrive in the country, and I can see that I shall be having to change my travel habits.

But anyway, they let me in and I could head off for my train.

sncb series 55 locomotive 5503 haren brussels belgium Eric HallFor a change, our train took the older route that passes by the huge railway rolling stock depot at Haren, and alongside the area where they park the redundant locomotives prior to scrapping.

Amongst the locomotives in there today is 5503, one of the Class 55 diesels of the SNCB. This was a generic design used by many railway companies in Europe, and this particular model was built by BN, a Belgian company now part of Bombardier, and powered by General Motors EMD engines.

It’s a testament to the efficiency and reliability of the GM engines that 60 years after their introduction there are still plenty of them still in existence. The British version of these, powered by the unreliable and inefficient and, for all intents and purposes, irreparable North British engines that were cheap licensed copies of a MAN diesel engine, never even made 20 years.

To give you some idea, because of the narrow British loading gauge, the engines had to be mounted upside-down so that to even do a simple job like draining the oil and changing the filter, you had to take the engine out.

sncb automotrice am75 haren brussels belgium Eric HallAlso ready to go to the breaker’s yard were a few of the AM75 multiple units.

When I was working for that American company 15 years ago I would have been pleased if one of these had arrived at Jette railway station to take me off to work instead of one of the ancient units that usually took me, but these days they are long obsolete.

Introduced in 1975, there were 44 of these train sets introduced. There are one or two of them still circulating around on the network round by Antwerp and Charleroi and are the oldest multiple units left in action on the SNCB railway network, but I suspect that they won’t be around for much longer.

But I’m interested to see what the next generation of multiple units will be like.

sncb class 18 locomotive 1886 gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric HallAt Leuven I could see which locomotive had been pushing us towards Eupen.

It’s 1886, one of the Class 18 electric locomotives. There are 120 of these locomotives, built by Siemens between 2008 and 2011 and replaced a variety of different locomotives from previous generations built in the 1950s and early 1960s.

From the railway station I staggered off to my accommodation. And it really was a stagger too because I didn’t enjoy the walk at all. And I didn’t have an upgrade today. The place is busy so I’m in a single unit, although bigger and with a double bed, something that you don’t have in a basic single unit.

My trip to the shops was later than usual, and for 2 reasons too. Firstly we had a torrential rainstorm and I wasn’t going out in that. And secondly, I needed all of this time to gather my strength.

roadworks naamsestraat naamsevest Leuven Belgium Eric HallBecause I wasn’t feeling very energetic, I took the shorter route along the ring-road to the supermarket, and ended up at the junction of the Naamsestraat and the Naamsevest.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve seen the roadworks at this junction for the last couple of times that we’ve been here, and there still appears to be no change. They aren’t making much progress here, which seems typical these days with building work, and I wonder how they are progressing with the other work we’ve been watching.

Anyway, at the Carrefour I did my shopping. They had burgers on special offer and also some reduced vegan sausages so I bought them for the next few teas But I forgot the vegan mayonnaise for my sandwiches which was a shame.

roadworks naamsestraat naamsevest Leuven Belgium Eric HallOn the way back I passed by the roadworks again, which we can see now from a different angle, and then headed on for home

The walk back with the shopping exhausted me and the climb up the stairs to the 2nd floor finished me off. I made myself some food, a burger with pasta and veg, and that was that. I’d had enough for today and so I was going to go bed straight away. I can finish my notes tomorrow.

it’ll also give me a chance to listen to the dictaphone to see where I went during the night because there was a file on the dictaphone to indicate that something had happened during the night.

Nerina was actually involved in this although I didn’t have the chance to see her. I had to go to see someone who had built some kind of magnificent motorbike and was busy building – I dunno, circus or fairground attractions out of old cars and so on so I thought that I go and talk to him about perhaps getting a bike or doing some work or something. He lived on Stoneley Road – no, not Stoneley Road – near where the Hunters Lodge is. So I went down past Nerina’s but she wasn’t there, and I got to this house. I knocked on the door but no-one came. It was a bungalow and the front door was at the side of it. I put my head into the garage but there was nothing in there but I was tempted to go for a really good look around, which I did. When I came out I bumped into a couple who were most surprised to see me. I was most surprised to see them – it didn’t half look suspicious. I explained what I was doing. The guy started to be really aggressive in a light-hearted, funny way saying things like “when they said this kind of thing to Clement Freud on 20 Questions he became most upset, things like that. This went on for a couple of minutes. I ended up being cornered by this man and woman. She was telling me all about the stuff that he was building but e guy was being all aggresssive. Suddenly they ushered me into the house. There in the living room was a load of people all wearing black, motorbike types in black t-shirts, black leather waistcoats and so on and they had all kinds of things in there like cars that were turning into circus attractions, that kind of thing, all together. Someone I knew who was a friend of mine, either my former friend from Stoke on Trent or Rhys (yes, you have a mention, Rhys), said something about having to go and tax his motorbike. I made some kind of comment about my motorbike needing taxing as well, even though it wasn’t MoT’d. That’s where it ended.

The hospital tomorrow, and they are going to be checking my heart. At least I have one, which shows that I’m not a Tory. And I’m thankful for that.

Saturday 24th April 2021 – THERE ARE MANY …

… things in this life that I don’t understand. And the older that I become, the more I realise that the less and less I actually do understand.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that a few weeks ago I was going through a phase of not being able to haul myself out of bed at any price regardless of however many alarms that I set and how loud and for how long I set them.

On Thursday I switched off the alarms so that I could have a lie-in and then on Thursday night before going to bed, I switched them back on.

The chattering birds outside my window, helped by the rattling fridge downstairs, awoke me at about 05:20. And not being able to go back to sleep, I lay awake waiting for the 06:00 alarm.

When I checked the time again, it was actually 06:10 and the alarms hadn’t gone off. It seems that last night I’d set them for 08:00 in error. And had I not been awake and instead slept right through to when the alarms would have actually gone off, I’d have missed my train home.

So what would have been the odds on that in similar circumstances a couple of weeks ago?

And this is what I just don’t understand – that I can actually do it when I have to so why can’t I do it when I don’t have to?

But anyway, there I was, up and about on time so I tidied everything up, made my sandwiches, packed up and headed off for the railway station.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric HallHere’s something that is extremely interesting.

Something else that regular readers of this rubbish will recall that not long after I came to live in Leuven in 2016 they closed off the Martelarenplein outside the railway station in order to completely refurbish it. And since then, it’s been all fenced off and the fences covered with tarpaulins so it’s impossible to see through it.

This morning though, some of the tarpaulin covering has been taken away and it’s now actually possible to see what they have been doing for all of this time.

And to be quite honest, it really doesn’t look all that different than it did before, although I do have to say that judging by how the place appears right now, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Another project around the town that has gone on far longer than it ought to have done.

So on the station, I didn’t have to wait too long for my train to come in.

automotrice am96 multiple unit 543 gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric HallThe train that I’m catching this morning is the 08:19 to the Belgian coast, calling at the Airport, and then the city centre before it clears off coastwards.

Just for a change, it’s not one of the depressing and dirty AM80 units but a much more modern AM96, the type with the rubber bellows and the swivelling drivers’ cabs. Bang on time it was when it pulled in and it pulled out on time too.

When we arrived in Brussels I still had 90 minutes to wait before my train came in so I went and sat in the main concourse for a while.

Once I’d worked out where my train would be arriving (there’s only a choice of 2 platforms for the Thalys and the train to Amsterdam pulled into one of them) I went up there to wait.

A few minutes later I was joined by a young lady. “This platform is quite big and lonely and there aren’t many people about” she said. “Would you mind if I waited near you? I’d feel safer”? She clearly didn’t know me very well.

Thalys PBKA 4331 gare de brussels midi railway station belgium  Eric HallSoon enough, a train pulled into the station at my platform.

It’s one of the PBKA (Paris – Brussels – Cologne – Amsterdam) units, number 4331, a nice clean and shiny one just out of the carriage wash. But it only had 8 carriages, numbered 1-8 which didn’t really suit me because I had a seat in carriage number 18.

My lady-friend had a seat in carriage 8 so she cleared off to board the train and take her seat. I had a few enquiries to make, such as to go and find an arrivals board to find out what trains were due to arrive in the very near future. That should tell me everything that I need to know.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4536 coupling up to Thalys PBKA 4331 gare de brussels midi railway station belgium Eric HallAnd I was quite right too. 5 minutes before my train was due to depart, a TGV was coming into the station from Amsterdam. And sure enough it pulled up at this platform and I had the pleasure of watching them couple up two trainsets together.

This one is one of the PBA (Paris – Brussels – Amsterdam) Reseau 38000 tri-volt trainsets, number 4536, and once it was all coupled up I could take my seat in carriage 18. It was really busy too which is no surprise seeing as it’s the only train to Paris this morning and I’m not sure whether there will be one in the afternoon either.

We set out bang on time and arrived bang on time in Paris too, and there the passengers had to run the gauntlet of a police barrage, checking papers.

Although I don’t have a valid Covid test result, I’ve been out of the country for less than 72 hours and have a Carte de Séjour to prove my address and residence status, so I didn’t have a problem. A really good plan, that, to apply for my Carte de Séjour when I did.

And I’ll tell you something else as well, and that is that the gendarmette who questioned me at the station can detain me for further questioning any time she likes. Actually, I should be being paid by the police force, judging by the number of times that I’ve had to help them with their enquiries.

The metro was quite rapid and when I arrived at Montparnasse I even managed to find a seat, which was just as well because I had a wait of about 90 minutes for my train. I could eat my butties in comfort.

82694 Bombardier B82500 84559 GEC Alstom Regiolis gare de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIt was a 6-carriage train (the one on the right, not the Bombardier B82500 on the left) to Granville and it was packed.

Even worse, there were no reserved seats. But I was one of the lucky ones in that I didn’t have a neighbour so I could fall asleep and drop my laptop on the floor in comfort.

We were held up somewhere in the countryside by electrical current issues but we made up the missing minutes as we hurtled down the line towards the coast.

And when we arrived, actually a couple of minutes early, we’d somehow managed to throw out most of the passengers and there weren’t all that many of us left.

When I’d left Leuven this morning it was pretty cold but here in Granville we were having a heatwave and I had to strip off to walk home, down the steps and through the park.

citroen ami electric car parc de val es fleurs Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIn the past we’ve seen some pretty awful and horrible-looking cars but this is one that really takes the biscuit.

It’s a Citroen Ami all-electric car and I do have to say that it’s one of the most hideous that I’ve ever seen.

The climb up the Rue des Juifs was rather painful in the heat and seeing as I’m not feeling myself right now, I had to stop for a breather half-way up the hill and that’s not like me at all. And I can’t blame the shopping that I was carrying because I’ve come up the hill with much more than this.

Having put the cold stuff away I came in here to watch this evening’s football.

And this was the match of the season – TNS, top of the table, against Connah’s Quay Nomads in second place. The Nomads do have some quality but they aren’t consistent enough to do it every week, whereas TNS are like a well-oiled machine and tick over quite smoothly.

Ordinarily we might be expecting a tight game but Nomads have been known to crumble at the most inappropriate times so I don’t think that too many neutral supporters would have had their money on the Nomads.

But while you always find the odd player here and there who has a bad game, it’s very rare to find half a dozen who are having a poor performance all at the same time. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the TNS centre-half pairing of Blaine Hudson and Ryan Astles were having a nightmare match.

Despite having 60% of the ball TNS never really did much with it and Connah’s Quay simply swept them aside. Michael Wilde, a player released by TNS a few seasons ago, scored a hat-trick and Jamie Insall scored a fourth while Astles and Hudson stood around watching them.

In the end TNS had 5 strikers on the field and while they did manage to score one early in the game, they never ever looked likely to trouble the Nomads back line and when they were awarded a penalty towards the end of the game, Oliver Byrne in the Nomads goal saved it quite comfortably.

It’s been about 20 years since I’ve been watching the Welsh Premier League and I have never ever seen TNS play so badly as they did today, although a lot of the credit should go to the Nomads back 4 and Callum Morris just in front of them who stopped almost everything that TNS tried to do.

One thing that I forgot to do until later was to listen to the dictaphone to see where I’d been during the night. I’d started out with a former friend of mine and we were in Nantwich, Crewe Road end, going to visit some people. There were two girls there talking away and the guy was some kind of electronics guy and his house was a total tip worse than mine and there was stuff everywhere – all bits and pieces for making radios and so on. These 2 girls were young teenage girls busy talking away and at a certain moment I said to one of them “what language are you speaking? Is it Welsh”? They replied “no, it’s Slovensko”. So I asked “Slovene”? and they replied “no” so I asked “Slovak”? and they said “no” so we agreed that they were talking Czech. I was intrigued to know what they were doing while they were looking at all these bits and pieces. At the end of the road I looked out and there was an old guy on a walkframe, delivering the newspapers. It looked as if he had a paper round. I thought “it’s one way of keeping busy when you are old”. I went off into my shed, rooting around for something. There were all these old people standing around, not saying or doing anything, just standing there and it was making me feel uncomfortable. I of these 2 girls came in and she asked me for something. I couldn’t remember what it was she asked me but she saw it while I was searching through stuff so I let her have one. The other one came in and asked “where’s mine”? So I had to find one for her as well. I told her to make sure that she used it otherwise I’d be wanting it back.

Later on I was in Winsford with my father and a few other people, and Denise was there (as if that was ever likely to happen). One of my sisters was talking to Denise about operations, telling her about how she should have had a breast cancer operation a long time ago. Paul Ross rang up but my father was on the other phone so he couldn’t speak to him. Paul Ross came round and said that yesterday evening Dave Clark had died. We worked out that since Christmas we’d had 4 deaths in the immediate close circle and it was enough to make you wonder who was going to be next. Everyone looked at me but I said “as far as I’m concerned, it’s the creaky gate that hangs the longest, isn’t it”?

Anyway, now I’m off to make some sourdough mix and then I’m going to bed. No alarm in the morning and quite right too as I deserve a lie-in after my efforts today.

Wednesday 24th March 2021 – WHAT A HORRIBLE …

… day I’ve had today.

Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong today and I’m thoroughly fed up. Instead of arriving at my room at round about 16:30 it was 20:45 when I limped miserably through the door.

The day started off OK with me being out of bed just after the first alarm and I even had a shower and fed the ginger and the sourdough. For some reason though I didn’t do any tidying up. I just didn’t feel like it and that was the start of the day going wrong.

But anyway I set off into town and the railway station.

unloading lorry port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that yesterday we saw a lorry at the loading bay in the inner port dropping off a pile of stuff.

This morning there was another one there dropping off another big load of stuff down there, as I noticed as I walked past. It’s almost a certainty that one of the Jersey freighters is on its way in and my money is on it being Normandy Trader.

Having observed it all for a few minutes I headed off down the hill and through the town, going the back way to the railway station again.

84563 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallMy train was already in the station when I arrived so I clambered aboard. Today, it was just 6 carriages, not twelve as usual, and it was pretty empty.

And then all our problems began.

We ground to a halt somewhere along the way and sat there for 50 minutes. It seemed that a car had tried to beat the barrier of a level crossing but failed. We had to wait until they had come along to drag the car away before we could proceed.

As a result, we were an hour late arriving in Paris Montparnasse and I had missed my connectons to Belgium.

And here things became even worse. As I was going down an escalator my legs simply gave way underneath me and I fell heavily to the ground. And I didn’t even have the strength in my legs to pick myself up. A couple of passers-by had to help me very shakily to my feet.

The pain in my right leg right now tells me that my right knee has collapsed.

Having missed the 13:15 to Lille, the next train was at 15:42 and that filled me full of despair. This is what happens when you try to travel in the middle of a pandemic.

TGV Reseau 213 gare du nord paris France Eric HallIt was necessary to wait almost 2 hours, two hours that I couldn’t really spare, before we could board our train.

It’s one of the TGV Reseau double-decker units on which we travel quite regularly to Lille. This train wasn’t particularly busy either and everyone had a seat to themselves. It left Paris a few minutes late but pushed on quite rapidly and we made up the time. We arrived in Lille Flanders railway station bang on time.

Now I had to walk across town to the Lille Europe railway station and in my state I wasn’t looking forward to that. It was something of a disreputable stagger down the street for my part.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4518 gare lille europe France Eric HallThis is the front end of the train that I was going to catch to Brussels. It was two units coupled together and I was in the rear one.

And I was really glad to see it because I discovered to my dismay at Lille Europe that my next train out of Lille Europe to Brussels was at 18:11. A wait of about 80 minutes. That wasn’t at all what I wanted to hear but there was nothing whatever that I could do.

When I was in Paris I’d looked to see if there was a “Thalys” direct to Brussels. Indeed there was but that meant waiting around at Paris even longer and an extra cost of €68:00 to save about 20 minutes.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4510 France Eric HallAnyway, my train turned up on time.

Like the front end, the rear end is another one of the PBKA Reseau 38000 units. I suppose that they have been decanted onto this route seeing as much of the TGV network has closed down under the new Covid restrictions.

This train was quite empty too. Despite it being the only train for several hours, it was almost empty too. I had a nice little sleep on board for 20 minutes until we arrived in Brussels and I awoke with rather a start as we pulled into the Gare du Midi.

Being now hopelessly late I had a look in the tow supermarkets in the station for some food as I was in no state to walk all the way down to the ones in Luven later and they would probably be closed by the time that I arrive.

But with nothing at all that I could buy so I went up to catch my train the Leuven.

multiple unit am80 automotrice gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallIt’s another one of these disreputable AM 80 automotrice multiple units that must be the next sets to go for the chop, old, dirty and graffiti-ridden as they are.

But it was on time, such as it was, and brought me on time into Leuven where negotiating the steps in the station was not the easiest thing that I have done.

Luckily the chip shop around the corner was open so I grabbed a bag of chips and headed for my room. And here I had to wrestle with the door of the safe in order to extract my key. It was not easy as the combination did not accord with the one that they sent me.

But in the words of Marshall MacMahon, “j’y suis, j’y reste” – “here I am and here I’m staying”. I’m not up to going anywhere right now as I’m in agony and I’ll have to do better than this tomorrow if I’m going to make it to the hospital

There’s shopping to do to and I’ve no idea how I’m going to manage this. All will come clearer tomorrow after I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’m going for that right now.

In fact I had to wait until the following morning before i could listen to the dictaphone to see where I’d been during the night. I started off with Marianne going to North America. I pulled up on the airport car park like we would do every 4 weeks when we went. The first thing that we noticed was that there were 2 cars, an MGB sports car and another one that were there the last time that we went. Marianne said “ohh look! There they are again”. “Yes, they are probably saying the same thing about us”. We went into the airport, sat down and had to wait. I noticed that there were a couple of other couples whom we knew by sight who had been with us on previous voyages there. Marianne asked for a breakfast so I went to find the cafe kind of place. They made some toast and a couple of other things and some coffee and I had a slice of toast as well. I took them back out and dropped them on the table but she wasn’t there. She was off doing something. I put the stuff on the table and went to the bathroom. In there I met 1 of the guys whom I’d just mentioned who’d been with us before, and we had a little chat. I looked in the mirror. My hair was overgrown, needed cutting and I was dressed so untidily, shirt and tie everywhere. I thought “God I really could have done with tidying myself up before I’d come away but it’s too late to worry about that now. I went back outside and Marianne had this huge fried breakfast, mushrooms, bacon and egg, beans, sausages, everything and I wondered where on earth she’s got that from. But she was there tucking into this breakfast.

Later I was in New York going to pick up THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR. The night before, I’d met a couple of people, I’d been staying in a …. and so on. We all had to bring our baggage around on board ship the next day. The next morning I was up early and I bumped into a young Japanese American boy who had flown in from South Africa. We had had a chat about the flights to South Africa, all kinds of things. There was a third person who was not actually going with us on this trip. The 2 of us, we set out to go somewhere. Off we went and walked around the town a little looking at the sights. We somehow became separated – he wandered off with this other person. I thought that I had better start back to the ship. I couldn’t realise or remember what time I had to be back. I had this feeling that I was going to be horribly late so I started o panic a little. I ended up in Crewe at the top end of Victoria Street thinking to myself that I would have to get to the boat. it was just them that Julie Driscoll started to sing “Wheel’s On Fire”. As I was walking down Victoria Street I could hear that song playing.

Before that there had been something about the Army. A couple of us had been in the Army and we’d been rounded up to go somewhere. We weren’t particularly military and the Sergeant-Major who was with us was a bit of a swine. It was quite obvious that we were rubbing each other up the wrong way with the way that we were behaving because we had no military precision whatsoever and he was extremely annoyed by this. The place was a total tip and we wanted it tidying up but it was one of those places that was so untidy that we didn’t know where to start. When we first got to this place there was a girl there and we helped her with one or two things and then she went. Then it came round to the time ready to go early in the morning so we started to tidy up. There was some kind of hoist or breaker that we had to bring upstairs. We went downstairs to look for it but down there was even worse with tools and machinery everywhere. We couldn’t find what we were looking for. There were a few things that might possibly have been it but he didn’t seem to think that they were. This ended up being rather a hunt for this rather than a tidy-up. This girl came in and asked if anyone could fix a light for her because the plug wouldn’t reach. The Sergeant and I went to do it. We managed to find an extension cable that we had to cut into 2. This place was just not being tidied up and it was now 17:00 and the next group of people would be arriving imminently. We didn’t have this place tidied at all and it was really looking a mess.

Saturday 2nd January – I MANAGED TO …

… beat the third alarm out of bed this morning.

Mind you, I have to admit that I cheated somewhat. Not having gone to bed until late and needing to be on form, I reset the alarms to start at 08:00 instead of 06:00. I reckoned that that was a reasonable compromise, what with one thing and another.

First thing that I did was to have a listen to the dictaphone to see if I’d been anywhere during the night. In fact I’d been in Shavington but it quickly transformed itself into Crewe. There was a fire in the outskirts and it was slowly heading into town. We had things to do, we had to sit down there and I wanted to watch a football match or listen to one on the radio. We were making our way into this big building but it was clear that the flames were starting to get worse and I noticed in the end that I was the only one in there. Then someone else came round, a woman with a few things . I had a feeling that if I stopped she would stop too and that was going to be a bit silly so I explained to her about how dangerous the fire was going to be. In the end we went outside and there were a few people outside co-ordinating rescue efforts. One of the guys from the radio was in charge. We stood and watched for a couple of minutes then slowly picked up our things and moved away as we heard that the fire had now reached the outskirts of Crewe round Davenport Avenue and Nantwich Road. We moved away and I had the satisfaction in seeing that I was the last one to gather up my stuff and move away and I checked to make sure that everything was clear before we did so. It reminded me of a General and his troops retreating and how the General ought to be the last and making sure that the way was clear in order to do so just like in the Army.

In connection with the fire, later on in the night 3 objects came up for auction. There was a soldier’s compass, a soldier’s badge and a 3rd thing that I can’t remember what it was. I remember thinking that these would have come in handy if we had been in the fire and these were available. This was where the fire dream came in at this point just here and now and we found ourselves back in Shavington on the corner between Edwards Avenue and Edwards Close with this burnt and blackened paper shredded and flying around.

The next task was the Welsh homework. No matter what, I have to keep up to date with that. It didn’t take me all that long although it’s bcoming more and more complicated and took quite some research. Interestingly, we aren’t now being asked to asnwer questions, we are being asked to come up with questions to ask.

Afer a shower, I made some sandwiches and then, gathering them up, I headed off to the Railway Station.

sncb am96 558 gare de leuven station belgium Eric HallWhile I was waiting for my train to Brussels I was eating my sandwiches on the platform. And hence I was taken completely by surprise when the train came in early.

Our train today is one of the strange AM96 multiple units. When one trainset is coupled to another the rubber bellows make a perfect seal, and the drivers’ cabs at the join tilt round 90° so that passengers can walk from one trainset to another.

Our train pulled into Brussels Central Station bang on time, and walking up the steps I met my friend Esi.

Esi and I studied together and University when we both lived in Brussels years ago but she went back to Wales and I went on to France after we graduated. We’ve met up a couple of times since then when our paths have crossed in Brussels but earlier last year when Brexit became a reality she moved back to Belgium to cement her European rights.

The two of us went for a walk around the park opposite the Royal Palace where we chatted about our different adventures since we last met, and then went off to the Belvue Museum in the Place du Palais to meet one of her friends and then for a walk around the museum.

old cars fn 4 cylinder motorcycle belvue museum place du palais brussels belgium Eric HallThe museum is a fascinating place to visit. It’s all about the history of the country of Belgium since it won its independence in 1830.

There was plenty to see in there and I could have spent a lot longer in there than our alloted time slot. But for me, the pride of the place was this gorgeous FN 4. It’s the world’s first 4-cylinder in-line motorbike – block 4s and V4s had been made previously – and was made between 1905 and 1914.

This is a later one rather than an earlier one – you can tell that by the rear brake. This is a drum brake whereas the earlier ones had rim brakes rather like a pushbike.

Interestingly, to start it up, you had to pedal it until the engine fired up. No kickstart.

rue royale brussels belgium Eric HallOne of the more interesting things to see is the view from out of one of the windows.

This view is right up the Rue Royale, past the park where we walked just now, all the way past the old Jardin Botanique and all the way down to the Église Royale Sainte-Marie de Schaerbeek, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city but now sadly delapidated and more-or-less abandoned despite the fact that it was renovated 30 years ago.

After the museum, Esi had a few things to do so the three of us walked around the city running errands. We stopped for a coffee in the Central Station and then like the Knights of the Round Table, we went our separate ways.

sncb am08 08194 gare de leuven station belgium Eric HallAs regular readers of this rubbish will recall, there are 4 expresses every hour from Brussels to Leuven. However they are all bunched pretty much together and then there’s a long gap.

There is however a semi-urban stopping train that runs across the Metropolitan area and terminates at Leuven. We’ve caught it a few times when we went to watch the football at Tubize and one of them pulled into Central Station just at the right moment. It’s one of the modern class AM08 multiple units that was just coming into service as I left the city.

When it pulled up in the station we all piled out and I headed off back home to my digs, having first stopped to take a photo of the train

christmas lights bondgenotenlaan leuven belgium Eric HallWell, in actual fact, I didn’t head off hiome. I had a few things to do first.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that the other evening when I was wandering around the city in the dark, I took a photo of the Bondgenotenlaan from the Rector de Somerplein looking down to the railway station. Tonight, seeing as I was standing outside the railway station in the Martelarenplein, I could take a photo of the Bondgenotenlaan looking back down to where I was the other night.

Right down the far end of the street we can see the lights of the Stadhuis – the Town Hall – in the Grote Markt.

christmas lights tiensevest leuven belgium Eric HallWhile I was here in the Martelarenplein I had a good look around the neighbourhood to see what else I could see.

Where I’m standing now is on an overbridge that crosses the ring road – the Tiensevest – that is emerging from a tunnel underground. It’s one of the main throroughfares of the city with the railway station to my left and so just the kind fo place that you would expect to be brightly illuminated to welcome visitors to the city, but once again, it’s quite depressingly banal.

All in all, I’m rather disappointed with the Christmas decorations this year, not just in leuven but in just about everywhere that I have visited.

gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric HallTurning round further to my left there was a view between the buildings to the eastern end of the train shed of the station.

Behind it, there’s one of the hotels in the vicinity of the station and then a couple of office blocks. This is the area where it all happens.

Back at my little room it was teatime so I made a plate of pasta and vegetables and chick peas with tomato sauce. But just as I was sitting down to start my notes, Rosemary rang me up for a chat and we ended up being on the phone together for 1 hour and 38 minutes.

There was now some packing to do and then I have to go to bed as son as I can because I have to get up at 05:00 and you know how I feel about that these days.

As for my notes, they’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday 28th December 2020 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but pretty near enough. I’m curled up around a radiator in my little home from home in Leuven where I’ll be staying until Sunday.

And much as I like Leuven, it’s a pretty dismal state of affairs because firstly Alison is stranded in the UK by the new Covid rules and my appointment has now been pushed back until Thursday as I discovered today. So I could really have spent an extra two days at home, travelled on Wednesday and come home on Saturday thus saving a third day out.

But you live and learn.

What else you learn the longer that you live is that you can do it when you really try and so not only did I beat the third alarm, I was up and out of bed and running around while the 1st alarm was still ringing. And so plenty of time to tidy up, have a shower, take out the rubbish, back up the computer, send off a pile of radio files, make some sandwiches for lunch and cut a large slice of fruit bread to take with me for breakfast – pretty good and nourishing stuff, this fruit bread.

Tons of stuff on the dictaphone too, And what surprised me was that I was able to leave the bed so early with all of this going on. I’m surprised that I’d even made it back home.

I was having to make tea for Marianne last night and the guy she was having to sit with who was ill so I made them a kind of roast dinner as best as I could which didn’t look too bad. But I realised that on his plate I’d forgotten the gravy so I mixed up a white sauce and put it on his plate and went to add the gravy powder to mix in, but first I added chocolate powder. I thought “that will never do” so I scraped it off the plate and put another lot on. The next thing that I tried to put on was coffee powder and hat didn’t work either. It took about 3 or 4 goes for me to actually get his sauce right
Before that, I’d been out for a walk and there were a couple of people loitering around so we had a bit of an ad-hoc game of football and it was quite pleasurable. I came back into the house. Later on that evening when I was writing up my notes I couldn’t settle and I couldn’t make myself comfortable, moving from 1 chair to the next and 1 machine to the next, then trying to find some paper to write it out in longhand. In the end I settled on a shorthand notes reporter’s diary but found out that it was full. All the time my brother was asking me questions about this and that and I was trying to answer him as well, and I was trying to write out this report and I wanted to embellish it, to make it look a lot more than it is but I could never do it. I was getting so confused by the fact that I just couldn’t get comfortable and couldn’t make a start and couldn’t get anywhere with this
Art one time a girl dresses as a ballerina appeared on the scene and you could see according to the effort that she was putting into it and the way that she was walking and holding herself that it was a great big effort. I hoped that she would hold out physically and with the virus because it would be very sad if she were to succumb to it with all of this effort.
Later on I had to go and pick up Alvin from Hampton Close. I had my motorbike, my old CX and I decided that i’d go and pick him up. That went OK for a while until I got to Chester and I thought that I’d better programe the route to Hampton Close on my GPS because it’s years since I’ve been there. I spent ages fiddling around trying to make the GPS work. I had to drop off something at someone’s place and coming back I couldn’t make the GPS work. It took ages with all of this messing about to get it to go. The bracket broke off it and when I made it work I couldn’t programme it. It was all a nightmare, this journey was for some reason. Suddenly it worked and it was 18 minutes to there but I only had 15 minutes left but I thought that that’s not too much of a problem. He’s not going to be that concerned. Then I noticed on the back of the butty box the L plates had all faded off and you couldn’t read that it was an L plate. I was worrying about that for a while but suddenly realised that I didn’t need L plates on it because I had a full licence. Yes, I had to post off Ann’s present, that’s why I’d stopped and had to take it to the post office. Then Alvin came. he was there. I told him the story of my adventures which he thought was hilarious. We mounted the bike ready to move off to wherever we were going to next.

I’d gone out for a walk and I was the other side of Sandbach close to the motorway. I’d taken the wrong route which I’d taken before which was a dead end and I had to retrace all my steps. This time though I thought that I’d push on and climb up this embankment at the side of the motorway into a field and walk along the field at the edge There’s bound to be a bridge that goes over at some point I walked on and by now the motorway had transformed into a canal so I was walking along the towpath of an abandoned canal. It gradually came into a little village. I was really enjoying this walk and thought that this is going to end bu around Middlewich way. It’s a long way home but it will be really nice and i’ll stop for an ice cream. I walked through this little village. There was a shop there with its shutters half down. I thought an ice cream would be nice but i’ll push on to the next village. At this point there was some guy messing around in the road. He couldn’t make up his mind whether to go left or right so I swerved round him, making some kind of remark but banged my hip on a parked car. he didn’t say anything aboutt hat but he was going on and on about what he was doing. So I dropped in that I was working on the radio and things that I was doing that I’d inflated. Then he had to go and sort out a puncture in his car so I took him as a passenger in mine which was strange because I’d been walking up to this point. There were 3 of us in the end in this car. He was still going on about his radio and I was still going on about mine. He was saying “that’s a fine hobby to have”. I said “it’s a bit more than a hobby”. We reached Middlewich in the end and he told me where he wanted me to drop him off. he asked how much he owed me for the ride. I replied “nothing. I hope that someone would do the same for me some day if I ever need it”.

But the walk around Sandbach and Middlewich reminded me of a walk that I’d been on during a nocturnal ramble when I’d set out to walk from Chester to Nantwich via, of all places, Wrexham. Or as the skunk said when the wind changed – “it all comes back to me now”.

christmas lights rue lecampion Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallHaving organised myself as much as I could, I headed out for the railway station.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we haven’t as yet seen the town’s Christmas light in all their glory but this morning they were illuminated. My route took me up the Rue Lecampion and we can see here exactly what they have done as far as this street goes.

In fact, it’s all rather underwhelming, isn’t it? I can recall the decorations from last year being so much better than these. It looks as if the town has been on an economy drive this year.

christmas lights place generale de gaulle Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallA few days ago in the daylight we had a trip around the back of the kiddies’ roundabout in the Place Generale de Gaulle to see what they had been doing there.

This morning, the Christmas lights were illuminated here too and we can see how they are getting on now. On the left illuminated by a pink light is supposed to be a wooden polar bear, and I suppose that a blind man would be pleased to see it. And strangely enough, a couple of Christmas trees further along weren’t lit up at all. That’s a strange decision.

The newspaper offices at the end of the street are all rather garish and somewhat tasteless but I don’t suppose that there is any particular reason for them to bother themselves too much.

christmas lights cours jonville Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallFinally, I walked along the Cours Jonville.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that a few weeks ago we saw the electricians stringing up the light in the trees down here with a cherry picker. With the lights being on, we can see their handiwork today. It’s all nice, bright and airy, but it doesn’t exactly inspire the imagination, does it? The could have done much more than this with the facilities that they have.

But I wasn’t going to hang about and argue. By now the rain had started again so I pushed off towards the railway station. And the farther I went, the more and the harder the rain fell.

gec Alstom Regiolis 84574 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallBy the time that I reached the railway station I resembled something like a haggard, drowned rat. But at least my train was already in the platform so once I’d stamped my ticket I was able to clamber aboard and find my seat.

Today I was right by the rest room and right in front of the luggage rack so it was something of a convenient seat. No-one sitting next to me either so I could eat my fruit bread and fruit in comparative quiet and luxury.

To while away the journey I uploaded all of the backup files that I’d done this morning and then started to go through to identify duplicate files and remove the earlier versions

snow near vire Normandy France Eric HallIf you think that the rain that we were having was pretty rough, we weren’t having it as rough as some people were.

By the time that our train reached the region in between Vire and Argentan the heavy rain had turned to snow and thrre was a lovely white colour in the fields all around the train as we sped on to Paris. It didn’t hold my attention for very long though because I dozed off to sleep. And when I awoke again near Versailles we had long-since left it behind.

We reached Paris more or less on time and compared to how it has been just recently, it was quite busy. And we had to wait a while for a Metro which was something of a surprise.

And somewhere along the route a couple of cleaners climbed into the train with a cleaning machine the size of a small zamboni. That disrupted everyone on board.

TGV Reseau Duplex 213 gare du Nord Paris France Eric HallWe arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris with plenty of time to spare and I was luck enough to find a seat straight away where I could sit in comparative comfort until our train was called. These big French mainline stations are draughty, windswept affairs with very little public seating.

Today’s train is one of the usual TGV Reseau Duplex double-decker trains, old but comfortable and rattle along at a rapid rate of knots towards Lille. it was crowded too, although once again I was lucky enough to have a double seat all to myself so that I could eat my sandwiches in comfort.

And that bread that I made the other day is delicious. And furthermore, there’s half a loaf awaiting me in the freezer for when I return, along with the leftover frozen leeks, broccoli and endives.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4525 Gare du Midi Brussels Belgium Eric HallWe were a few minutes late arriving in Lille Flandres Railway Station so we had something of a scramble across town to the Lille Europe railway station for the TGV coming from the Midi that was going to take us on to Brussels.

By the time we arrived, the train was already in the station so making sure this time that it was in fact the correct train, I dashed on board to grab my seat. This time I wasn’t quite as lucky. I had a neighbour which meant that unfortunately I wasn’t able to spread myself out very much.

One thing that I forgot to do with this one was to check the times so I couldn’t tell how the journey went. But it passed off without any incident.

multiple unit automotrice AM80 303 Gare du Midi Brussels Belgium Eric HallArriving in Brussels I was in time for the 15:37 to Leuven and Liège. That was late pulling into the station and with a technician scrambling around in the drivers cab, it was very much later pulling out.

It’s one of the old, dirty graffiti-ridden AM80 multiple units and it’s high time that these relics of a bygone age were put out to grass somewhere but it brought us into Leuven and now that the rain had stopped I had a nice walk down to my hotel in the Dekenstraat.

For a change they’ve put me in a different room than usual, but it’s still an upgrade so I’m not complaining. And there was a little Christmas present for me too which was a lovely little touch.

Later on I went to the Carrefour and stocked up with shopping, but I forgot a few things like the vegan mayonnaise so I’ll have to go again. And I failed to notice that the tinned apricots didn’t have a ring-pull so I had to hack my way in as best as I could.

Having fallen asleep already while typing out my notes, I’m off to bed. No alarm – I’m having a lie in tomorrow. And then I have several days of Welsh homework to catch up with. There will be the dictaphone notes too, and another trip to the shops for the stuff that I forgot so it isn’t actually going to be very much of a day of rest

Sunday 23rd December 2018 – SO THAT’S ANOTHER .

… thing crossed off my list of things to do.

Back in the early 1970s when I first started coming over to Oostende, I was always puzzled by the train that was waiting at the station for the passengers. Its destination was always Welkenraedt and I didn’t have a clue where Welkenraedt was.

gare welkenraedt belgiumA little later I had a look for where Welkenraedt might be. It’s a small town nestled in the Ardennes miles from anywhere.

That puzzled me even more as to why the boat trains from Oostende would be going there.
I eventually found the reason. It’s a junction station where lines from Spa and from Eupen come in.

But more importantly, it’s the last station of any importance before the German border. The electricity current in Germany used to be different to that in Belgium, so that was where the Belgian engine came off, and then a German locomotive would be attached to take the train on into Europe.

gare welkenraedt belgiumAlison and I went to Welkenraedt on one of our excursions out back in July to see what was going on. But it was always my ambition, strange though it might seem, to change trains there.

So here I am, on a windswept, soaking wet freezing platform huddled under a tiny shelter at Welkenraedt in the middle of winter waiting for a train to come in.

And no coffee for miles around either

bondgenotenlaan leuven louvain belgiumDespite it being Sunday I’d left the alarm connected and at 06:00 it duly rang. No breakfast, no medication, just packing my backpack and then out into the dark, stopping off on the way to take a few photos of around the station area because I had plenty of time..

At 07:24 the train to Eupen came into the station and I leapt aboard. And at Welkenraedt I hopped out. These days the trains don’t go on into Europe but go round to Eupen.

We had to wait for a diesel multiple-unit to come rattling in from Spa.

automotrice sncb 644 653 gare welkenraedt belgiumWe didn’t have long to wait until this filthy, dirty disreputable ancient thing came staggering into the station.

Old, covered in grafitti and all kinds of things, and the train was even worse. I’d be ashamed to be seen in something like this, and the idea that the SNCB would be content to send such a machine into a foreign country where it could be compared with the pristine stuff on offer over there is an absurdity to say the least.

But here it was and here I was. So I climbed aboard and rattled off into Germany.

hauptbahnhof aachen germanyHere I am finally in Germany, in Aachen in fact, at the Hauptbahnhof.

I have to change trains here, and there’s a wait of about 20 minutes for my connection, so there is plenty of time for breakfast.

German bread is probably the best in the world and so a couple of bread rolls of different varieties and a coffee were just what the doctor ordered.

hauptbahnhof cologne koln germanyMy next train was already in the station. A newish double-decker that put the SNCB offering to shame. This rolled off out of the station, 10 seconds late, and an hour later, I was in Koln.

That was where I took this photograph, by the way.

Interestingly, the announcements on the train were in German followed by English. I imagined what might be the response from the xenophobic racist Brexiters if this kind of cosmopolitanism were ever to happen in the UK.

cathedral cologne koln germanyIt’s years since I’ve been to Koln. About 2007 if my memory serves me correctly.

Looking for something to do to pass the time, I’d been idly scanning through the SNCB website and I found that a voyage by train from Leuven to Köln and return would cost me a mere €68:00 – that’s a four-hundred kilometre round trip.

With nothing much happening in Belgium, I decided to come for a day out.

cathedral bahnhofsvorplatz cologne koln germanyI spent a couple of hours wandering around the city, visiting all of the places that I had visited on my previous trips. But at midday I had to return to the cathedral.

When I was chair of the North European Regional Forum of Open University students, one of the committee members lived here in Koln. And by coincidence she was a big friend of my old friend Liz. Hence the regular visits to Koln. Jackie and I hadn’t seen each other since those days, but she had heard that I was coming to Koln and we were going to meet for lunch.

It was at that moment that the heavens opened. As I picked my way through the crowds I was becoming wetter and wetter, and so I was glad to meet Jackie and go for a coffee.

When the rain eased off a little we headed off into the town and an Italian restaurant. It was a strange place for an Italian restaurant. They wouldn’t do me a plate of vegetables with pasta and tomato sauce. I got the pasta and the tomato sauce, but they couldn’t do the vegetables. That can only mean one thing, as I’m sure that the more astute readers will realise.

christmas market markt der engel neumarkt cologne koln germanyBy now the rain was coming down even worse, but we headed off regardless. Down the main shopping street and through a couple of the Christmas markets, looking at the products on sale.

We ended up at a hot drinks stall. Jackie had a gluhwein and I had a hot cocktail. The mugs were beautiful so we forewent the deposit and I took them away in my backpack.

Jackie’s partner came down to meet us. They were off to a carol concert at the end of the afternoon so I said goodbye

barge river rhine deutzerbrucke cologne koln germanyNow on my own, I retraced my steps back through the markets and down to the River Rhine, thinking that I could have done with a good Rhinecoat.

I walked up along the side of the river and then up the steps to the Hohenzollern Bridge – the huge railway bridge with a pedestrian footpath that straddles the river.

It was a dismal dreary walk in the dark and the rain but even so, it’s good to stand there in mid-stream and watch the fleets of barges and cruise ships passing by underneath.

breslauerplatz hauptbahnhof cologne koln germanyEventually I found myself back at the railway station. And to my dismay, the rear of the station has all been cleared up and modernised and the excellent fritkot that I remembered from the past has been swept away.

Nevertheless I did manage to fit myself up with some food. Back inside the station, I found a Thai restaurant in the subterranean shopping gallery that had a range of vegetarian and vegan food.

I had a stir-fry tofu with rice and it was really good.

dbag class 146 locomotive hauptbahnhof cologne koln germanyMy train was a few minutes early and already in the platform. To my surprise it was pulled by the same locomotive that had brought me out.

I hopped aboard and grabbed myself a comfortable seat. And here I had an interesting encounter with a German ticket-collector. It had been so wet that the damp atmosphere had caused the ink on my rail ticket to run and he couldn’t read it.

In the end, reason prevailed.

automotrice sncb 644 653 gare welkenraedt belgiumAnother wait at Aachen for an even more disreputable Belgian multiple-unit. And which, surprisingly (or maybe not) it was likewise the same one that had brought me out.

There was graffiti all over the inside of the train and rubbish strewn all over the floor. Not a very good advert for the SNCB, sending atrain like this across the border into foreign parts.

And then another wait on the cold and wet at Welkenraedt for my train back to Leuven.

So now, I’m back home, looking and feeling like one more haggard, drowned rat, although I had no idea where I would find one more haggard drowned rat at this time of night.

And straight off to bed because I have the hospital in the morning and I need to be on form.

On my travels today, I took well over 100 photos. Some are in the text and some more below.

But if you want to see the rest, I’ve prepared a web page where you can see them in all their sodding and dripping glory, such as it was.

christmas lights tiensevest leuven louvain belgium
christmas lights tiensevest leuven louvain belgium

christmas lights tiensevest leuven louvain belgium
christmas lights tiensevest leuven louvain belgium

martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium
martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium

railway station war memorial martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium
railway station war memorial martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium

war memorial railway station martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium
war memorial railway station martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium

war memorial martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium
war memorial martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium

railway station martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium
railway station martelarenplein leuven louvain belgium

train station leuven louvain belgium
train station leuven louvain belgium

hauptbahnhof aachen germany
hauptbahnhof aachen germany

hauptbahnhof aachen germany
hauptbahnhof aachen germany

automotrice sncb 644 653 hauptbahnhof aachen germany
automotrice sncb 644 653 hauptbahnhof aachen germany