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Sunday 13th February 2022 – I DON’T EVER …

… want to have to do that again! NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET has got nothing on this!

But anyway, last night I was in bed by 22:00 with the alarm set for 05:00 and hoping to have a good sleep.

But that was some hope because I was off on my travels during the night and I must have gone so far that I really don’t know how I had any sleep at all.

At some point I was with a girl who has featured on several occasions in the past, usually with her brother who was a friend of mine and who both lived on a farm, but tonight she was with another girl – I don’t know who she was but I know that I know her. We were tidying up a pile of stuff, just generally chatting. The farmer’s daughter had to go out for something that just left me and this girl. The conversation turned round to that girl and me. I said that I don’t want anything to happen to her because I’m rather fond of her. This girl was rather surprised so I said “yes but I thought that most people knew that”. She asked if our farmer’s daughter knew that and I replied “of course she did”. “What did she do?”. “Nothing” I replied. “She had her own life to live etc”. I explained that we’d been out once or twice. She asked “what was she doing?” I said “it was just like this”. “Any snogging?” she asked. I replied “no unfortunately”. “Why on earth not?”. “I didn’t want to drive her away”. She wanted to know if she was married with kids. I replied that she was and had 2 kids. The conversation just drifted around like that. I thought that the farmer’s daughter would only be gone for a few minutes but it must have been ages that we were having this chat.

And before anyone grasps the wrong end of the stick, the fact that she is a farmer’s daughter has nothing whatever to do with Deep Purple.

Finally I was in the Army last night, looking through a pile of files and lists. No matter how hard I looked, all I could find were details of an assignment to the Entertainment Unit. They were all put in an envelope ready to be sent off to some kind of competition or show or something. There were all people there, including Jimmy Clitheroe but I couldn’t find anything in these service records and service history at all. This was really annoying. In the end there was a sergeant there who was responsible for the paperwork. I asked him and he pointed to these envelopes and said “but it’s all there”. I shouted that it wasn’t. I said that all it was was these application forms for this concert thing. I picked them up and dropped them in the bin. I told him precisely and in no uncertain terms exactly what I wanted. He started to go through the filing cabinet trying to find all this information.

Wherever did I find the time to go to sleep?

It didn’t take me long to tidy up and I decided not to make any sandwiches because I only get into trouble when I eat them and I’ll be home in time for a late lunch. So at 05:30 I had already handed in the key and was well off down the road.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022As I approached the railway station I went to have a look at the Martelarenplein.

We’ve seen this now every month for the last I don’t know how many years and and I have to say that for the last half-dozen or so months there seems to be very little, if any improvement.

Just like every building project in Belgium, they are really taking their time with this and at the rate that they are going, I reckon that I’ll be finished long before they are here.

05:50 when I arrived at the railway station so I had 19 minutes to wait in the freezing cold and wind before my train came in.

class AM96 electric multiple unit gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022The train this morning is the 06:09 from Landen to De Panne via Brussels Airport and the City Centre.

Today it’s one of the AM96 electric multiple units. Fairly modern, quite clean and comfortable and I’m quite happy to be aboard one of these.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I have mentioned their unique features before. When a train is made up of two trainsets, the rubber ring makes an airtight seal around the join and the drivers’ cabs swivel round out of the way so that you can walk from one trainset to the next.

We arrived at Bruxelles-Midi at 06:49, 28 minutes before my train to Lille. And this was when disaster stuck. There on the sign was “07:17 to Strasbourg via Lille cancelled”.

That was certainly a tragedy. With it being a weekend, the 07:47 direct to Paris doesn’t run either so that was that.

At the ticket office they proposed the following itinerary –

  • 08:17 to Lille Europe arriving 08:51
  • 10:42 from Lille Flandre to Paris Gare du Nord arriving 11:48
  • 12:59 Paris St Lazare to Lison arriving 15:31
  • 15:52 Lison to Granville arriving 16:43

Only three hours later than usual.

But if anyone thinks that I’m going to be waiting for almost two hours on a draughty, freezing cold railway station in Lille they are mistaken. I have another plan. But in the meantime I went to buy some food from Carrefour. I have a feeling that I might need it at this rate.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4525 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022Wherever I go, it has to start with the 08:17 to Montpelier via Lille

It’s one of the PBA (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) TGV Reseau 38000 trainsets and when I boarded it I could see exactly why my train had been cancelled. Two trainloads of people were “squeezed” into this one and it was still empty. I don’t suppose that they considered it worth their while to run the earlier one if it only had half the number on board that this one had.

There are a couple of small seats stuck in a corner by the baggage racks so I grabbed one of those and settled down while the train shot off into the void.

When it reached Lille Europe, I stayed on board. Next stop is Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and from there is a Reseau Express Regional (RER) D train that goes into the city centre and out to Orly. I can alight at Denfert-Rochereau which is 5 stops and 40 minutes away, and then it’s 3 stops on the traditional metro to Gare Montparnasse.

The chances are that with a good run I could still catch my 10:59 train to Granville.

So at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport I hurtled off the train and up to the RER platforms on the level above to find “No RER Service today to Paris”.

That’s all I needed.

Plan C involved legging it right across Terminal 2 (which is enormous) to the other side and the express buses that go to the Stade de France RER station. That’s on RER line D so I need to change at Chatelet. I would lose 5 minutes but who knows?

Strangely enough, whenever I’m at Terminal 2, I ALWAYS SEEM TO BE REQUIRED TO RUN.

airport express coach stade de france paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022at Gate 2F I leapt on board a waiting coach and we shot off round and round the ragged rock until we finally found the exit that took us out onto the motorway and into northern Paris.

And there we hit a pile of roadworks and a long queue of traffic and I watched the time on my fitbit melt slowly away as we tried to jostle our way into the only lane that was moving.

We eventually made it to the Stade de France railway station. My train was to leave Montparnasse at 10:59 and as I alighted from the bus it was 10:59 precisely.

Never mind, it was a good try. At least, with all of the running around that I had to do I must have lost a good few kilos.

train RER D gare de stade de france paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022Now that I’m here I may as well push on.

Down on the platform I waited for the train to come in. The next stop is the Gare du Nord anyway and that gives me plenty of opportunity to work out something else. There has to be a Plan D somewhere.

At the Gare du Nord I didn’t even come up into the daylight. Here is RER line E and the terminus of that is at Gare St Lazare (well, near enough anyway) so I may as well see what gives there.

printemps department store rue caumartin paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022Where the RER station emerges into the street is right at the back of the Printemps Department Store.

Round at the front is the Boulevard Haussman where you find the headquarters of SPECTRE and several other extremely exclusive premises. But as you might expect, I’m not going that way. I’m going in the opposite direction.

There may be a considerable amount of time to spare but I’m not going to go for a look around in Printemps. It’s the kind of place where people like us need a credit account in order to simply look in the window.

gare st lazare paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022When I was here last I didn’t have too much time to take a photo of the Gare St Lazare so here we are. We can see the clocks that we saw last time outside the building but from a different perspective.

And here, I had my only slice of luck today.

When I arrived I noticed that there was a train to Caen at 11:59, one hour earlier than the one to Cherbourg on which they had booked me. Now if there would be a train from Caen to Rennes that connects with it, I will be à la maison and sec as they say around here.

Sure enough, the train arrives in Caen at 13:58 and at 14:10 there’s a train departing for Rennes so I sallied forth into the ticket office with right and a certificate of cancellation on my side.

Bombardier Regio 2N 56670 caen normandy france Eric Hall photo February 2022Just by way of a change I met a very pleasant and helpful SNCF ticket agent who took one look at all of my paperwork (Government officials on the mainland LOVE paperwork and rubber stamps) and issued me with a ticket for the earlier train.

It’s one of the really comfortable and quick Bombardier Regio 2N electric double-deckers. I was in the front coach upstairs with about 2 other people so I could settle down with my bread rolls and have a crafty nibble.

When the ticket collector came round I showed him my original ticket and gave him all of the rest of the paperwork that I had and he hardly bothered to check them. I went back to eating my bread rolls and listening to Hawkwind again.

And I still think that the violin solo on STEPPENWOLF is one of the best that has ever been recorded.

Bombardier B82650 84555 gec alstom regiolis gare de granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022And here I am at Granville. My train is the Bombardier B825 on the left.

When I arrived at Caen it was already in and raring to go. It was quite full too and there are no luggage facilities, seeing as it’s a cross-country train. But I struggled aboard and eventually found somewhere for my suitcase and me.

There is no electricity on board these trains so I didn’t switch on the laptop. All the way to Granville I listened to COLOSSEUM LIVE on the telephone.

As I explained a while ago, I usually encounter interesting young ladies in peculiar situations whenever I listen to this album, such as in the High Arctic in 2018 and again a year later on the same ship in the same seat in the same place when I had two of the strangest encounters that I have ever had in modern times.

Today though, I’ve already had so many strange encounters, one way or another, that I probably wouldn’t have noticed another one by this time.

It’s no surprise that I dozed off for 10 minutes on the way home. And I immediately went off on a little wander. I was with another taxi driver and we were talking to a third. He had had the right to an engine in compensation for something but his wife at the time was now living with yet a fourth taxi driver and he had received this engine. He had fitted it into his car, “the T-reg”. I was surprised that after all of these years he was now back on the road but the reply was yes, it’s called “Creamony Cars” or something like that

Here at Granville on the right is the train that I should have caught. It beat me here (assuming that it was on time) by about 2 hours. And I don’t suppose that that was too bad because there was a moment when I was standing in front of the sign at the RER station at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport that I thought that I would never arrive at all.

The walk through the town was a nightmare. Even going down the hill was agony.

harbour gates closing port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022Climbing back up the hill up to my rock was even worse and it took me an age.

During one of my rather too frequent pauses during my climb I looked down at the harbour to see what was happening and I was lucky enough to see the red warning light flashing and the gates slowly closing.

So whoever might have been in the harbour loading up has now long gone and I won’t know who they are.

It was like Ice Station Zebra in here too when I arrived but ask me if I care. I made a coffee and collapsed into my chair.

No pizza tonight. I was too late to take some dough out of the freezer and it wouldn’t defrost so I had potatoes, veg and vegan sausage with vegan cheese sauce. It was lovely too.

Tomorrow is usually when I set an alarm for 06:00 and spend the day working on the radio but if anyone thinks that I’m doing that then they are mistaken. I’m going to bed and going to sleep until I awaken and hard luck on anyone who expects me to do anything. I’ve had a harrowing day.

Mind you, that could all change if TOTGA, Castor and/or Zero invite me to come with them for a midnight ramble. Imagine my sharing a room with Zero the other night and she not being there!

Saturday 18th December 2021 – THAT WAS A LONG …

… day today.

It wasn’t just the 05:00 start that killed me off, it was the bad night that I’d had to go with it.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I have said that I won’t talk about my bad nights, but this was a bad night with a reason – not a psychological bad night. There were people shouting and screaming in the building, dogs barking, through the night and all of that kind of thing.

When the alarm went off at 05:00 I was actually already awake. But I must have been asleep at some point because there’s yet more stuff on the dictaphone. There was something about a group of us doing things with rocks, wrapping them up, something like that. We were all in individual groups doing that but I can’t remember any more about this. I awoke at the wrong time

Later on, a group of us had gone to live in South America. We were wondering what to do. I came across something about scrap vehicles and ended up with a MkIII P100 pickup and an old scrap MkIII saloon so I said “well, I’m in business” and I used this P100 pickup to tow the MkIII saloon away. Then we were exploring these abandoned villages trying to find a place where we could settle down and live. There was some discussion going on about the group “The Band” in some bar somewhere, about how they had been an acoustic band but at some time in 1971 had gone over to play electric. I thought to myself that that was they listening to them but that was probably due to the fact that they hadn’t had any electricity until that moment and that was when they were connected to the grid.

So there I was, leaving my bed at 05:00 and by 05:30 I’d tidied up, packed, made my lunch and about to set out of the door.

By 05:55 I was on the station at Leuven, to find that the 06:08 that I caught last time was cancelled due to work on the line. However there is a train a few minutes later that goes via the airport so I took that one instead.

There was a few minutes of embarrassment when my telephone wouldn’t pick up an internet signal. However I eventually made it work which was just as well because all of my tickets are on there these days (I’ve gone paperless) and I’d be in all kinds of problems if there’s no internet connection on my phone.

At Brussels I had plenty of time so I had a good wander around the station before heading off to board my train to Paris. And we had phone issues here too.

After I’d sat down and was waiting for the train to depart, a girl struggled onto the station with a small suitcase which was the heaviest that I have ever seen. She couldn’t lift it onto the rack and someone had to help her and I bet that he regretted it.

Once we’d set off I dozed for much of the way to Paris which is no surprise after the night that I’d had. And we arrived on time and I was on a metro train within minutes too.

The walk down the street in Paris from the metro to Gare Montparnasse is definitely much easier than going through the labyrinth – so much so that I hardly realised that I’d done it.

But the station was heaving. Schools have now broken up and everyone is travelling to their holiday home. Our train was packed with Parisians heading for the coast and bringing their virus with them. Watch the figures here shoot up this next few weeks.

Just before the train pulled out, onto the train staggered the girl with the suitcase and that was when I found out that she was to sit next to me – and when I found out how heavy her suitcase was too.

She was going to Granville to stay with her boyfriend so we had a chat for part of the way and for the rest she dozed off while I carried on reading the Flatey Book and the account therein of Leif Ericson’s voyage to North America.

On the way home I popped into Carrefour for some mushrooms for my pizza (which I almost left behind in the shop) and then came home. The climb up the hill was agony and I had to make several stops. But I’m pretty much loaded up with all of the vegan food that I need over the Festive period.

Back here I fell into my chair and couldn’t move for several hours. Luckily there was a football match to keep me occupied – TNS v Penybont. TNS won the game 3-2 but Penybont had plenty of chances to score more than they did. And they might even have done so had the referee awarded after 11 minutes the penalty that I would have awarded them had I been refereeing.

Tea was a couple more of those small vegan burgers in breadcrumbs and then I came back here and fell into my chair again. If I manage to wake up again I might find the strength to stagger into bed at some point but I dunno.

Sunday 15th December 2019 – AND FINALLY …

… I made it back home.

And the journey was exciting, but nothing like as exciting as the outward trip.

Once again last night I was in bed early with every intention of watching a film. But before I went to do so, I carried on listening to the radio programme to which I had been listening before I slipped beneath the sheets.

And that’s how I found myself a couple of hours later. Out like a light of course. So I switched off the laptop and went back to sleep.

During the night there had been a few voyages. And strange ones they were too.

There was a fancy dress party taking place and I had decided to go as a woman, don’t ask me why because I don’t have a clue either. I had the dress and tights everything like that and I went out all dressed up and people were looking at me rather strangely as you could imagine. But I ran out of time and didn’t have the make-up so I had to do without the make-up which spoiled the whole effect as you can imagine. But I went outside and there were all these people outside, cheering me on, men were pretending to chat me up, so on. There was Malcolm Madeley (!) and he clearly didn’t recognise me, something like that and he made some kind of offensive remark. I said “you want to get a grip, Malcolm” to which he suddenly stopped and disappeared. He realised that it was me. I had to walk round to Aunt Mary’s. I knocked on her door and the guy who was with her who was a guy a lot younger than she was but was something to do with our family from somewhere or other and these two little kids about 3 or 4 came out. We were talking about some kind of court case involving these kids. Aunt Mary was saying “well now they are here it’s only 5 weeks to go before this case”. But as these kids walked out of the step there was this pram coming the other way. It hit them and they flew through the air and actually landed on top of the pram. I thought “these kids are going to get hurt. They are always doing these kinds of thing, always getting hurt, all kinds of stupid accidents, breaking their arms, breaking their legs, something. But this time they were all right which was quite a surprise. Then we had to hobble off – me hobbling on my high-heeled shoes back towards picking up my car to go to this do again but it was this thing with the kids that was so surprising. And I’ve no idea what that was all about at all.
Later that night I was with someone last night and it might have been Nerina but it might not and we were in Northern Wyoming, somewhere like that. On our way to visit some battleground, somewhere like that of the Native Americans. The road was a really difficult road. It started off being a decent road but was all gravelly, a dirt road as you might expect. We were behind this lorry and there was a car coming the other way, a big jeep-type thing swerving in and out of the traffic and he nearly hit us going past this lorry. We were wide-eyed about that. The GPS was talking to us about this road, giving us a talk. We suddenly breated the brow of this hill and came to where all these dressed stones were, in a pile like some kind of wall. It was telling us that this was where the fort was this was the barbecue was, all this kind of thing .We dropped down the hill into the village by the river and there were ancient railway locomotives on display there. We went inside the museum and there were all beds there with people sleeping in them like they might have done 100 years ago, 2 or 3 to a bed, babies in the bed, all this kind of thing and newspaper reports about “how my parents are going back to the UK after visiting us”. It turned out that we were now in Newfoundland and Labrador for some unknown reason and we were giving a tour of this museum with all of these toys and artefacts going back 100 years or something and life must have been really primitive for people living there in those days. So we had a tour of this museum with these old toys and old dirty beds and dirty people sleeping in them and I remember saying to whoever I was with that we ought to be going as we have a lot to do and in any case I wanted to see these old steam locomotives but she was busy engaged there talking to people and she didn’t really want to come away.

But despite all of this, I was soon up and about when the alarm went off at 06:00. Beat the second alarm by a country mile.

First task was to make my butties because I had a feeling that this was going to be a long day. Tidying up everything and packing my bags and collecting up my shopping, I headed out for the station.

am96 multiple unit gare de louvain leuven railway station belgium december 2019I arrived at the railway station about 06:50 and didn’t have long to wait for a train.

There was a direct train at about 07:20 direct to Brussels but there was an earlier one from Genk at 07:08 that goes via the airport and on the basis that a bird in the hand is worth any number in the bush I leapt aboard that one.

It’s one of the AM96 multiple units built by Bombardier and delivery to the SNCB started in 1996. They have a peculiar characteristic in that the driver’s cab pivots round 90° so that when two or more of these multiple units are coupled together, the passengers can go through from one unit to the next.

My train to Paris was at 08:43 so I had about an hour to kill. I drew some cash out of the bank and then bought my raisin buns for breakfast from Carrefour.

Thalys PBKA 4302 gare du midi brussels belgium december 2019 I didn’t have to wait long because the train came in quite early and we were ushered up to the platform.

It’s one of the Belgian SNCB PBKA (Paris Brussels Cologne Amsterdam) train sets, number 4302 upon which we have travelled on previous occasions. These PBKA train sets are becoming somewhat long in the tooth these days, being first delivered in 1995, but they still rattle along at an impressive 300 kilometres per hour when there’s nothing in the way to slow them down.

While we were waiting to move off, I had a quick look on the internet. The 13:54 to Granville was still down as running so I hoped that it would still be listed by the time I reached Montparnasse.

Bang on time we were, pulling into the Gare du Nord. I wandered over to the SNCF offices where they checked the trains. The 13:54 is still listed as running for the moment, but there’s nothing else going anywhere near Granville now for the rest of the day so it’s that one or nothing.

The girl stamped my ticket to Caen to effectively prove that I’d been to the SNCF offices (one thing that I’ve learnt since living in Europe is that European officials love paperwork and rubber stamps so you should never ever miss out on an opportunity to have a rubber stamp put on a document whenever there’s a crisis looming).

hotel terminus nord rue de dunkerque paris franceWell over three hours to go before my train, and the day wasn’t too bad out there so I decided to walk.

Unleashing the big Nikon D500 I took a test shot of the big hotel, the Hotel Terminus Nord, just across the road from the station.

There is also this rather bizarre statue here too, just outside the station and I’ve absolutely no idea what it’s supposed to represent. I imagine that it’s some kind of winged beast, but that’s about it.

river seine paris franceAccording to the route map that I consulted prior to setting off it was something like 5.5 kilometres as the crow flies between the Gare du Nord and the Gare Montparnasse.

But the way that I was planning to go, it worked out (I checked later on the fitbit) at 7.5 kilometres because I wasn’t going to miss out on a few of the sights while I was in the vicinity. Paris isn’t my favourite city – far from it in fact – but there are still places to see that ought not to be missed.

notre dame paris franceLike Notre Dame for example.

It’s been years since I’ve seen it and it doesn’t half look different now. On 15th April 2019 it caught fire and was very badly damaged. The roof has gone and it took the spire with it. It’s really in a sad condition like now and so here’s hoping that like a phoenix it will rise again from the ashes.

The estimates are that it will cost billions of Euros to restore it, although a considerable part of that money will be to restore parts of the cathedral that were in poor condition prior to the fire.

motor bike sidecar rue de buci paris franceAcross the Pont Neuf or “Bridge number 9” we’re in the Latin Quarter, so puer amat mensam to you, hey?

My intention was to go for a wander around for half an hour but I completely forgot, being sidetracked by this beautiful outfit here. A horizontal twin motorbike, which might have been an elderly BMW or a more modern Urals or Cossack, with a very period sidecar attached.

It’s not the kind of thing that you see on the streets every day and it took me completely by surprise.

inflatable polar bears boulevard st germain paris franceSomething else that took me by surprise was on the corner of the Boulevard St Germain.

It goes without saying that on my travels I’ve seen plenty of polar bears, but never one on a street corner in Paris. We’ve seen actresses standing over the air grids of the Paris Metro and seen their skirts disappear in the updraught, but an inflatable polar bear family is something else.

It made me quite nostalgic for the High Arctic and I wonder how I’m going to get there next year, having had a little disagreement with some people

tour de montparnasse rue de rennes paris franceBy now I was starting to flag a little, so it was with an enormous sigh of relief that I caught sight of the Tour de Montparnasse at the end of the street as I rounded the corner into the rue de Rennes.

It seems to have slipped my mind to mention that I was not actually travelling light today. I had my rucksack which was quite heavy anyway with this and that, and a carrier bag with with a pile of heavy shopping in it.

And even though I can see the Tour de Montparnasse, my walk is far from over. The railway station is a good few hundred yards behind the tower and then I have this enormously long hike all the way down the station to reach the Vaugirard annexe.

electric vehicle charging points rue de rennes paris franceWalking down the rue de Rennes I came across this wonderful sight.

Definitely a sign of the times, this is. With the European Union promising to phase out the manufacture of the internal combustion engine by 2040, there needs to be more electric vehicles on the streets. But there won’t be unless the authorities provide places where the owners can recharge them.

And so this charging station here shows how far along that road the French authorities are in this respect – in great contrast to how they are in several other countries, including the UK.

gare montparnasse boulevard de vaugirard paris franceOn that shocking note I went past the Tour de Montparnasse and there in the distance behind it is the Gare Montparnasse.

The original station, the one where the Granville train failed to stop all those years ago and went hurling across the concourse and out of the end wall into the street, was actually on the site of the tower. And that explains why when the metro from the Gare du Nord throws me out at the “Montparnasse” metro station, I still have this very long underground walk to the Montparnasse railway station.

Yes, they moved the railway station but they didn’t move the metro station with it

Looking at my watch, it was 12:00 or thereabouts when I reached the Gare Montparnasse. 90 minutes or so it had taken me, and that was really impressive considering that I’m not at all well and I had my heavy load to lug around with me.

Mind you, it’s not something that I want to do too often because I was pretty nigh exhausted after that. I was pretty much at it non-stop, without a rest. Next time I do it, if there is a next time there will have to be a pause-café somewhere along the route.

There was a long wait for the train but we were allowed on board earlier then usual. And so we had a longer wait for the train to leave, seeing as its start was delayed by 15 minutes.

Without a ticket I had to sit anywhere in a vacant seat. And so of course it goes without saying that it was reserved to someone else so I had to move.

The ticket collector came by so we had a chat about my ticket, in a delightful conversation where I spoke in French and he replied in English.

alstom regiolis gare de granville railway station manche normandy franceAnd that was one thing.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that having gone for time after time after time in the past without having my ticket checked, it was checked on every train today. Probably a grève de zèle or “work to rule” going on too. So it was just as well that I’d been to the SNCF office to declare myself a “stranded traveller” and have my ticket rubber-stamped by an official.

After all of that I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we reached Vire. And we pulled into Granville bang-on time despite the extra stops that we had and the 15-minute delay.

thora port de granville harbour manche normandy franceHaving left the station and feeling surprisingly fit considering my long walk today, I walked back through the town to the apartment.

While I was going up the rue des Juifs I looked over the wall and there tied up at the unloading quay is our old friend Thora. She’s come in on another trip from the Channel Islands.

This evening I’ve not done much. Finished off the falafel with some veg and cheese sause, and I declined the opportunity to go for a walk. I reckon that with 162% of my daily activity carried out, I’ve done enough. No wonder I was exhausted.

But now I can’t sleep. So I’ll probably be awake for ages but we’ll see how it hangs out. I have a busy day tomorrow.

And as an aside, there were plenty more photos from where these came from that haven’t made it onto this page. If you want to see them, which I hope you do, you need to go to THIS PAGE.

Thursday 24th October 2019 – THAT VEGAN PIE …

… that I made just before leaving on my Trans-Atlantic voyage back in June, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, well, it’s absolutely delicious. I had my first slice of it today.

With jacket potatoes peas and carrots too, followed by a real and proper rice pudding, complete with skin. Yes, I had the oven on today so I may as well fill it, hey?

I went to the shops to buy some more stuff like carrots, of which I have run out. But not this morning though. Ohh no!

And for two reasons, the second of which was that this morning it was teeming down with rain and I wouldn’t send a dog out in that kind of weather, never mind myself.

But the first reason was much more realistic. In fact, I slept right through the alarms and didn’t stock my leg out of bed until about 10:30. That didn’t leave me much time.

Mind you, there’s a very good reason for the late awakening. I was wrestling with a rather knotty problem in Javascript and I was determined that I was going to crack on and resolve it regardless.

By the time that I was in a position to shout “Eureka” it was … errr … 03:10 and I didn’t even go to bed them but had one or two other things to do.

Nevertheless I was pleased that I had broken the back of the Javascript issue. That has cheered me up no end and I can move forward.

This morning after a very late breakfast I attended to a few issues on here.

The first issue is that with my dramatically-increased readership, most of whom come from the other side of the Atlantic, I seem to have fallen foul of the Federal Trade Commission in the USA.

Apparently I have to make a formal statement that I receive commissions from Amazon when someone purchases something using the links from my site.

Last year, I earned a total of about $30:00, which doesn’t even pay for two months’ worth of web hosting but nevertheless, there are no exceptions on small amounts.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that every few weeks I make mention of it on these pages to remind everyone to help me out by using my links to order stuff, but apparently that’s not sufficient. A formal statement is required.

So if you look carefully, you’ll notice that there’s an extra link above the title bar and the little yellow box to the right has increased somewhat in size, with extra text

Having dealt with that issue, it was time to stop for lunch.

No tomatoes and no hummus either, but there was some carrot soup in the freezer, left over from about two years ago, and it doesn’t keep for ever. So into the saucepan it went with a little extra water and some small pasta elbows.

And it was just as delicious as it was when I made it.

After that, I walked on up to LIDL. And the new keen, lean me strode out up the hill with no real effort. Losing that 8kgs has made me feel so much better and I’m pleased about that.

With no Caliburn for at least another fortnight I had to do a big shopping and maul it all by hand back home again. Two large bags full and although it was something of a struggle I made it home with no real complications. And as a reward I allowed myself a second coffee.

But I’ll stride out on Saturday to LIDL too for more goodies. I’ll keep on doing that every couple of days for now.

One thing that I should have mentioned is that I’ve had a letter from the hospital. My next appointment is on 15th November. That accords with the four-weekly routine which, while inconvenient and I wish that they would stretch it out, means that they didn’t find anything in all of these extra tests to worry them unduly.

But AT LAST I seem to have been able to arrange my appointments for a Friday. That’s much more interesting for me, not the least reason being that I can go to the shops and buy food for breakfast and the like when I arrive on Thursday which I couldn’t do when my appointments were on Monday so I arrived on a Sunday.

It was killing me, having to pack all of my food in on the train.

I mentioned to a few people that I would be there for the whole of that weekend and it looks as if a few of my friends are going to be coming along to Leuven for that weekend. If you happen to be free for that weekend and can make it to Leuven (an excellent rail service from Brussels National Airport 20 minutes away) let me know.

Now that I have a “contact me” button down in the bottom right corner of the screen you don’t even have to post a comment!

Tea was, as I mentioned, pie and potatoes followed by rice pudding. And then a very lonely late-night walk (because I was very late with tea) around the headland.

So what was I doing that was making me late?

Wrestling with yet another knotty Javascript problem. But I did keep at it until I was able to achieve the breakthrough. Now, I’m just a couple of inches away from being able to make a simple javascript menu that I can transport onto each of my web pages rather than having to make a menu for each individual page.

I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I’ll tell you tomorrow. That’s because I’m going to crack on and work on it.

Chocks away!

Thursday 17th October 2019 – WHEN I WAS LOOKING …

… at my flight and trying to reserve a seat, I remember looking at the rows and rows of seats available and thinking to myself “this must be a flaming big ‘plane with all this room on it”

And much to my surprise, when i was walking down the ramp I noticed on the side of our aeroplane “Boeing 787 Dreamliner”. Boeing’s new flagship aeroplane, and I don’t recall ever having flown on one of these before. My luck seems to be in, for once.

The cabin crew were super-efficient. Although we had had a long wait, we were ushered in, seated and we were off taxiing down the runway in a matter of just a couple of minutes. Quickest loading and departure I’ve ever had.

Just two of us on a row of seats meant for three. My companion was a Francophone Canadian woman in her 40s I reckon, very friendly and with a good sense of humour. We got on quite well although she was a “mobile” passenger, needing to get up and move about on regular occasions, usually just after I had dozed off to sleep.

Mind you, there wasn’t much opportunity for sleep. That was a flight that I will remember for quite a while. I don’t think that I have ever encountered such astonishing turbulence over such a length of time. We were being tossed around like corks and at one time I think even I was praying to Mecca (it’s the first flight that I’ve ever been on where Mecca was shown as a destination on the flight direction screen). My poor travelling companion felt the worst of it too.

Vegan meals on offer too and that was quite pleasant. I’m rather wary of some flights – I’ve had far too many failures in the past. But my ratatouille and rice was quite acceptable. I turned down the coffee though. I’m having enough sleep issues as it is.

I suppose that I must have dozed off here and there because I was awoken by the arrival of breakfast. Bread and jam (with coffee and orange juice) and that filled a nice little hole.

Eventually we touched down – in Casablanca, Morocco!

And I bet that you are all wondering just WHAT I’m doing in North Africa!

The fact is that with having left my booking for the return flight rather late, the “direct” prices are just totally absurd. And with it being merely a “one-way” booking, there’s an opportunity to look around all different companies and sites to see who has the best deal on connections on scheduled flights. There was a whole batch of them too at prices that, while not exactly a bargain, were much less expensive than the direct price. And it’s not as if I’m in any particular hurry.

And so I had a good look around to see whether there was a connection proposed at anywhere exotic or anywhere where I had never been before.

Sure enough, Casablanca looked a good choice to me, so here I am.

We had to pass through Security, and then a four-hour wait. But that time passes quite quickly, especially when you are tired and close your eyes for … errr .. a short while. But close them I did.

Our plane back to Brussels wasn’t particularly full so we could spread out at the back. I had rice and veg for lunch too and that was delicious.

The flight was uneventful and we touched down in Brussels bang on time. And all in all, I’ll fly with Royal Air Maroc any day of the week. I’d had good service all the way from Montreal.

The joys of flying in on a scheduled flight from North Africa is that I was the only passenger in the “European Union” queue so I was straight through. I had a fight with the railway ticket machine and then collected my suitcase. Just as I set foot on the platform a train for Brussels pulled in so I piled on board and headed for the city.

For a change, I’m in a new hotel. I’ve never stayed here before but my regular one is booked up. This one is clean and modern, but cheap with no lift (so the receptionist had to carry my suitcase upstairs – all 19.7 kilos of it). I’ve stayed in many worse hotels than this, and for much more money too, although the internet is rubbish. And the huge damp patch on the wall behind the shower is rather worrying.

Back to the Delhaize at the station for a salad and now I’m ready for bed. Hospital tomorrow. I wonder what they are going to tell me.

Sunday 30th June 2019 – SO HERE WE ALL ARE …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but sitting in the bedroom of a relatively comfortable hotel in, would you believe, Aberdeen.

And how unhappy am I?

Having made a special enquiry, and had it specially confirmed, that there was a hotel shuttle bus, necessary in view of the amount of luggage that I have and the state of my knee, I telephoned the hotel when I arrived at the airport only to be told “we don’t have a driver on tonight”.

So I had to hobble, dragging my load behind me, for about a mile up the steep hill to the hotel.

On arrival, in quite some distress with my breathing problems and the like, I was given a room on the second floor (despite having asked for a low floor) – and there’s no lift. So I had to drag my load up two flights of stairs.

As you can see, despite the fact that this nice modern hotel could be such good value for money (very rare in the UK)if it were to have staff and management wh actually cared about the customers, here’s one very unhappy bunny.

And the UK? I have said (on many occasions) that I would never ever set foot in this accursed country again, but needs must when the devil drives.

With it being Sunday morning I was hoping to have my usual Sunday lie-in but after last night’s quite dramatic crashing-out, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all by sitting bolt-upright at 06:44. Not what I intended at all.

Plenty of time to go off on a nocturnal ramble.

I was doing a coach tour again last night, down in the South of France and I was picking up passengers all over the place. I couldn’t find the paperwork for the moment telling me who and where I was picking folk up. So I was doing as fast as I can, and ending up at the final stop I was one person short. So I wondered where on earth I’d got this one person short. While I was waiting I was chatting to people and some woman came up to me to ask me what I thought of the passengers – what I thought of this woman, what I thought of that man. Despite my being very non-committal which I always tried my best to be I was shaking my head and pulling a face at some of them. I certainly hadn’t intended to do that. Eventually I found the piece of paper and found that I had left three people behind at Dijon and that was over an hour back. I thought “how am I going to explain this?” because I’d have to ring up the company to say that I didn’t get them and if I had the paperwork I could have done that. But Dijon is this thing and I might have to go all the way back and upset all of the passengers before I’d even started. One woman pulled the voyage list that I had to read it and of course i had to pull it back before she could as passengers aren’t supposed to read the voyage list with everyone’s name and address on it.
Later on I’d been in Crewe last night with Margaret Armstrong’s old Ford Cortina and parked it up in Bedford Street. I’d walked through the alleyway round all the backs of the houses round the back of Chambers Street and Catherine Street and all of those places, walking for a while around there. There were all kinds of exciting things round there, round Gresty Road where My sister used to live it had all been transformed with some kind of building built onto the backs of the houses over the back yards, and a derelict house that I had once looked at, that was all derelict too and the roof and attic too of this “new build” extension. And some weird semi-detached houses, quite modern design all covered in ivy, and some older semi-detached houses derelict and bricked up. Unkempt gardens and all kinds of things like that. There was a girl there, walking in my direction back to the car, on the phone so I passed her once, she passed me and I passed her again. As I got to the car she came over to me “you’ve got the zodiacs, haven’t you?” I said that they are actually on board the ship and that’s off the coast of Scotland at the moment”. “Well I want to make the white cloth to throw over them” So I said that I would get the measurements the next time that I’m up there, which will be in a couple of weeks’ time..

Firstly though, I had to find my medication. But I’ve packed it so well that it remains well and truly packed and I probably shan’t find it until I return home, whenever that might be, because now that I have my French Carte de Sejour I’m not in any hurry to go home.

After breakfast I attacked yesterday’s blog and then went out to the station. Now 09:30 so Subway should be open to buy something for lunch, and to buy my rail ticket. But much to my surprise, Subway was closed. And none of my raisin buns in Carrefour either so instead I had to go back down into the bowels of the station to the Delhaize and that came up trumps with a vegan falafel salad, demi-baguette and a fruit mixture thing. The guy at the till even found me a plastic cutlery set to eat it with.

So on the way back out, Subway was just opening up. That’ll teach them!

Back at the hotel I collected up everything, organised myself, grabbed my stuff and went off to pay for my two breakfasts. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I’ve paid the booking agency in advance for a couple of breakfasts in a couple of places, only for the hotel to have “no trace” of the breakfast payment. So now I pay on-site if I’m breakfasting.

Down to Brussels-Midi station in time to leap aboard a Nederlandse Spoorwegen train to Amsterdam via the airport. It threw me out here. And here I am, in the departure lounge of Brussels Zaventam Airport, waiting for an aeroplane. And I hope that the Big Old Jet Airliner will carry me far away.

I eventually found the flight desk, which was not yet open and so I had a lengthy wait, spent talking to a couple from Australia and a young guy who looked like a Pacific islander from Baltimore.

Check-in was quite straightforward and Security even more straightforward. If only it would be as simple as this in other airports. Now I’m sitting quietly waiting to find out which terminal my flight will dock at, and I’m clearly in Travelling Mode because I’m listening to Colosseum Liveand I’ll probably follow it up by listening to On The Road by Traffic. My two favourite travelling albums.

We we were eventually called to our aeroplane. It was now moored at gate A60 at the far end of the terminal from where I was so I had something of a hike, which will probably do me good anyway.

I didn’t have long to wait and much to my surprise we were very quick in boarding the ‘plane. There were only a handful of empty seats but it was only a small ‘plane. I asked the stewardess if it was a Fokker and she replied “no, it’s quite well-behaved”. But I made a note of its registration – PH-EXT. That tells me that It’s an Embraer 190.

The name of the stewardess was Suske so I asked her what she had done with Schanulleke. But as Kenneth Williams and Alfred Hitchcock once said, and as I have repeated on many occasions, “it’s a waste of time telling jokes to foreigners”.

Once the ‘plane took off I switched on the laptop, put it onto flight mode, and started to listen to “Lost Angeles” once more. But it was quite pointless because no sooner had it all fired up than I had to switch off because we had gone into the arrivals path. In fact, I think that we spent more time manoeuvring on the ground than we spent in the air.

It’s not all that far to Schiphol from Zaventem and I could have gone by TGV from Bruxelles-Midi but believe it or not, it would have worked out more expensive. And that’s something that I don’t understand.

And I’m pretty annoyed because I have to wait 5 hours or so for a connection. There was a flight that went my way that took off 5 minutes before we landed but, would you believe, it was delayed and I could in theory have gone on that had I realised and run for it.

So now I have to wait. I sat and ate my delicious falafel salad and bread.

To reach my flight I had to pass through passport control and for some reason I was grabbed for a security check. I always have bad experiences at Schiphol, as I remember from last time.

I was given the “works” and was preparing myself for the cavity search when they suddenly found what had drawn their attention to me. “No, those aren’t bullets in a magazine. They are AAA batteries in a battery holder”.

It was weird at the terminal. People were actually locked into their departure lounge and if you weren’t on that particular flight you were locked outside. I had to wait for ages until the departure lounge cleared and they tidied it up before I was allowed in.

In the meantime they had changed departure lounges without saying anything and I almost found myself going to Glasgow. I had to hurry along down the corridor.

The place to Aberdeen was packed, and it was a big plane too. PH-BGK, a Boeing 737 called Noordse Stormvogel . They asked for volunteers to send their hand luggage into the hold and I volunteered. Less to have to carry around.

And it seemed that everyone knew each other. Probably Shell oil workers flying back to the platforms after a weekend off.

We had to wait for 20 minutes too. There was a connection that arrived late and some of our passengers were on it. And then when they arrived, we had to wait again for a free slot. However, we arrived in Aberdeen only a few minutes late.

Immigration was relatively painless and our bags were already out when we arrived in the hall.

And then I had my issues with the hotel.

Once installed in my room I had a nice, welcome shower and washed my rather sweaty undies, and now I’m off to bed. I’ve had enough of today. And this might be the last you’ll hear from me for a while, so don’t be disappointed. Check back regularly until normal service will be resumed.

Monday 1st October 2018 – A NEW MONTH …

… an old continent.

Here am I, back again in Europe. Those five weeks just … errr … flew by, didn’t they?

But back on my aeroplane and I must have gone to sleep at some point (although it didn’t much feel like it) because I remember waking up when they brought the morning coffee around.

ETA on takeoff was 08:20 and at 08:20 we were rolling to a halt at the end of the runway ready to turn round and taxi to the terminal. After a few thousand miles and over 6 hours in the air that’s what I call good timing.

It wasn’t possible to take a pic of the plane so you’ll have to do without knowing anything about it. And my first stop was the gentleman’s rest room -and you won’t want to know too much about that either.

Long queues at immigration but actually passing the policemen there was quick and easy. Not much of a wait for the suitcases either, and I was on the train into Brussels just an hour after landing.

At the Hotel Midi-Zuid by 10:00 and my room was not ready (no surprise here) but in contrast to Montreal, I was invited to wait.

11:00 saw my lying on the bed in my little single room. Very well furnished and equipped seeing as it’s an economy place. I do like it here.

Most of the day was spent drifting in and out of sleep which is hardly a surprise seeing as how tired I was.

I was off on my travels too, watching a guy try to launch himself into the water in a kayak, but only getting his feet wet. I commiserated with him but he said that he’d been in shallower water than this. Some other people were in here messing around in a miniature car ferry and at a certain moment, this kayaker, the ferry and a few other things were in perfect alignment to make a really good shot but I didn’t have my camera ready. So I was trying to choreograph them when a naval vessel came on the scene and interrupted us, rather like Knud Rasmussen had at Iliussat the other week. I had to reverse my boat and tuck into a side alley but being confused about the controls with going backwards, I opened the throttle wide by mistake and crashed my boat into a bollard.

A phone call disturbed me, but I fell asleep again before I could answer it. But later managed a shower and to wash my clothes.

Tea – I did manage tea – was a bowl of lentils with bread and chips (we’re in Belgium of course). And back here later I booked my trains and made arrangements to meet Alison tomorrow evening.

Now it’s bedtime. Despite all of my sleep today, I’m still exhausted. I need a good sleep.

Tuesday 29th August 2018 – NO PRIZES …

gare viger montreal canada august aout 2018… for guessing where I am when you see this beautiful building, are there?

A place on this morning’s flight from Brussels to Montreal miraculously freed when a passenger was declined boarding due to incorrect paperwork (this new visa system is causing chaos) and so I was bundled aboard.

and you won’t have much more luck than that, will you?

But whose silly idea was it to set the alarm for 05:20 this morning? And for the repeater to go off at 05:30?

And what was even more surprising was that I actually made it out of bed at 05:30 too. I must be improving!

First off was the medication. That’s important. And then to start the packing. It didn’t take long to do that and so a shower and good scrub was next.

Breakfast was the rest of the orange juice from last night, a mug of coffee (having those little tubes of coffee in my travel pouch is really a good idea) and one of those cheese baps that I made last night too.

Taking my leave of the hotel staff I hit the streets to the station and bought my ticket for the airport. There was an announcement that there was a train ready to leave so I made it up onto the platform where there was a Nederlands Spoorwegen train for Den Haag. I’ve never been on a Dutch train before so this was another new experience.

The airport was the usual chaos. I’m booked on a Brussels Airlines flight – SN Brussels Airlines, the successor to the legendary SABENA, or “Such A Bad Experience – Never Again!” and that’s enough to give anyone the collywobbles when flying the Atlantic.

But when I presented myself at the check-in, they denied that there was such a flight. After much binding in the marsh I discovered that it was a code share and the flight was organised by Air Canada.

A big sigh of relief.

At the Air Canada desk there was a long queue. It seems that they weren’t ready for us. So we waited. And waited. And waited.

score in your local store brussels airport Zaventam belgium august aout 2018At least it gave me plenty of time to admire the adverts on the television screen broadcasting to the waiting masses.

I have to admit that I quite liked this advert. The last time that I tried anything similar though, I was asked to leave the shop. It might be the in thing to do in Flanders, but not anywhere else.

It did remind me of the story that I heard about the alcoholic who saw the advert “Drink Canada Dry” – so he’s on his way.

Eventually they opened the gate and we filed in, and then we had to wait again while the staff at check-in discussed last night’s television programmes, applied their make-up, and squirted perfume under their armpits (and I bet that you think that I am joking too).

But we were soon checked in. No aisle seat for me again, which is a shame, no matter how had I pleaded. Some times, I really am a miserable pleader.

After all that I have said in the past, going through security today was surprisingly painless. Just the odd glitch here and there, with the queues controlled by a woman who had clearly been bullied quite severely as a child and was thus determined to wreak her revenge on everyone else.

The automatic passport reader was fun too. With all of the messing about, it would have been far quicker to have checked them by hand. With all of this totally senseless automation, no wonder that there is rampant unemployment in the Western World.

duty free shop brussels airport zaventam belgium august aout 2018A few years ago I made the point about how at Zurich Airport all of the passengers are directed, once they have gone through all of the formalities, to their gates via the Duty-Free shop.

And with the airport here at Brussels having been substantially modified following the events of 22nd March 2016, this is exactly what happens here these days too.

They never miss an opportunity.

air canada airbus 330-300 c-GFAF pierre l trudeau airport montreal canada august aout 2018Our aeroplane for the flight is, would you believe – an Airbus A330-300.

One of the earliest twin-engined long-haul jets, this one is one of the earliest examples – c-GFAF, serial number 277, built in 1999 and delivered to Air Canada in 2000.

And never mind Air Transat – we were all crammed in here like sardines too and it was really uncomfortable. Not the seats – they were fine – but the lack of room that we had to stretch out.

They even managed a vegan meal for me, which was most impressive and easily the best that I’ve had on a flight. A chick-pea starter followed by a black bean casserole with rice, and an Alpro soya dessert for pudding.

They weren’t very good with the in-flight drinks though and I have a raging thirst these days. But luckily they had one of these charity things in the airport and were selling bottles of water for €1:00. I had bought two just for this kind of emergency.

Another disappointment was the brat. A child of about 3 just a couple of rows away from me who decided to scream for a couple of hours during the flight. King Herod had the right idea, that’s all that I can say.

It stopped me sleeping, but not so the woman sitting next to me (the wife of the man who had been thrown off, hence I know all about the story). She had a good sleep for a couple of hours during the flight, most of it spent reclining against my arm.

She was lucky though. The non-stop turbulence that we had would have been enough to stop me sleeping, had the brat not obliged.

All of the paperwork requirements for entry have been abolished at the airport. Now you fill it all in on an electronic screen, of which there are about 500 in the arrivals lounge.

I imagined that this would take hours, but our fright was the first transatlantic fight to arrive and we were done in minutes. Even the border police were friendly and helpful.

Has there been a revolution in Canada?

The usual 30-minute wait for the baggage (probably because we were through Immigration so quickly) and then out into the airport.

The price of a three-day transport ticket has increased (to $19:00) and you have to pay $6:00 for an oyster card thing. And there’s a new system for the 747 bus to the town, which now takes three times the personnel and three times the wait, with three times as much confusion.

There was a little group of us, two Septics and a young French guy, having a good chat. Mr Septic was telling some real whoppers (much to the chagrin of Mrs Septic who went to sit elsewhere) so I delighted in telling him some real whoppers in return.

I leapt off the bus at Berri-UQAM into the oppressive, clammy heat and headed round the corner to my hotel. My usual one is booked up but the one next door – the Hotel Elegant – had some rooms (I’d checked on the internet in Brussels and booked one) so I went there instead.

It’s a typical “rue St Herbert” hotel – cheap and basic and seen better days – but it’s central. That’s important. If I’m out at an airport hotel or somewhere and overwhelmed by sleep, I can’t get back to crash out.

A shower to cool me off (and to wash my clothes) and a brief crash out for an hour or so, and a chat to Josée, and I was back out again.

The streets were soaking wet too. I thought that it had looked a bit stormy when I arrived, but while I was deep in the arms of Morpheus just now, we must have got the lot.

building work rue st hubert montreal canada august aout 2018First stop was to buy some root beer of course, but on the way to the IGA supermarket, something that I saw (or rather, didn’t see) made me pull up.

I can’t remember what was here now, but whatever it was has now long-gone and they are digging some immense foundations for something else to rise out of the ashes.

Meantime, I’d hate to be living next-door.

poutine montreal canada august aout 2018Something else cheered me up too;

I think that Poutine is the most disgusting stuff on the planet. It’s chips with grated cheese on top and all smothered in gravy. And how anyone can eat it I really don’t know.

And so the world-famous place in Montreal that advertises “more than 30 types of poutine – and create your own too” has now closed down and is up for sale.

That’s what I call good news.

Even better news is that next door a Lebanese restaurant has opened. And it sells falafel too. So I won’t have to walk far for tea any more.

centre hospitalier jacques viger 1051 rue st hubert montreal canada august aout 2018During all the time that I’ve been wandering up and down Montreal, I’m surprised that I’ve never noticed this building before.

It’s on the corner of the Rue St Hubert and the Rue de la Gauchetière, and it’s formerly the Centre Hospitalier Jacques Viger

If you’re thinking, as I am, that it’s a beautiful building, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s on the Register of Historic Places – not that that counts for much.

gare viger montreal canada august aout 2018On the subject of historic places, just down the road is, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in Montreal.

This is the famous Gare Viger, built as the flagship railway station for Montreal by Canadian Pacific.

All of the passenger trains from further east used to come here, but overnight the Canadian Pacific hacked off its passenger services east of Montreal and abandoned it to the elements.

gare viger montreal canada august aout 2018Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we regularly visited it in its derelict state, and expressed concerns for its future.

However, no need to worry quite yet. It’s been renovated and is being let as offices.

Several tenants seem to have already moved in and there are signs that more are going to follow.

Where do ships go when they are feeling poorly?

That’s right. They go to the doc(K)s.

And here in Montreal we are lucky in that there are loads of docks to visit down on the St Lawrence.

Not as many as there used to be of course, and regular readers of this rubbish will recall having visited a great many abandoned docks with me in the past.

Not much going on in the ones close to hand unfortunately.

oakglen port de montreal st lawrence river canada august aout 2018But our old friend Manitoba, moored up in this spot for a couple of years, has gone.

She was moved to Sorel in November last year and he er place has been taken by a very sad and sorry-looking Oakglen – a ship that I am convinced that we’ve seen before but I can’t for the life of me remember when or where.

She’s been here since 1st July and doesn’t look as if she’s going anywhere any time soon.

A bulk carrier of 38,000 tonnes or so, she was built as long ago as 1980 so she probably needs a rest.

old docks vieux port montreal canada august aout 2018That’s all the excitement that there was in the docks, so I just wandered around and admired the view.

It was getting late by now and I wasn’t feeling hungry. I’d made some butties to eat on the aeroplane if I couldn’t get a meal, and so as not to waste them I’d eaten them in the hotel.

But it’s a long time until breakfast so I went into a fast-food place in the rue St Catherine Est. They didn’t have chips so I had a plate of sweet potatoes. And they were quite nice too.

Back here, it was still early, and still hot too. But that didn’t stop me.

I had another shower (the third of the day and isn’t that a record too?) and crashed out on the bed.

That was that.

Wednesday 25th April 2018 – I DON’T KNOW …

… whose silly idea this was but a flight at 06:15 in the morning should have given me a clue.

And so it was with a really heavy heart that I hauled myself out of my stinking pit at … errr … 02:00 following the cacophony of alarms and people knocking at the door.

But still I’d had plenty of time to go off on a journey during the night.

I was living in a village with a group of North Africans and the old lady of the village who had been wandering around came to see me in the house where I was living and then wandered away. In this village were two cows and they were both having some kind of psychological issues so I had to go to see an animal psychiatrist to make an appointment for one of them. So we had a little chat about this cow and then I decided that I would go home. But this cow decided that it would follow me and I don’t get on very well with large animals as regular readers of this rubbish will recall so I was rather put out by this. I had to dash home, reach the safety of the inside, lock the door and then park up a revolving door so that entry would be impossible but I could still get in and out of the house – something that was very complicated. And I had to do it pretty quickly too as I didn’t want to have a confrontation with this cow. But as I was trying to arrange the revolving door all of the villagers turned up. They had heard somehow that the old lady had been here and they wanted to come in to talk to her. But of course she wasn’t here, and I was wondering how I could tell them without arousing their anger or suspicions because I could see that although they looked reasonably good-natured, the wrong kind of word in the wrong kind of place could really upset them and we could have an “incident” here. It was all starting to become rather worrying.

The bus was due to leave at 02:41 so I had reckoned on it being here round about 03:15, so no-one was more surprised than me to find it outside the hotel when I hit the foyer at 02:15. Any chance of picking up some food at the all-night bar at the side of the pool promptly evaporated.

We were crammed like sardines into the bus – not a spare seat anywhere – and it took a mere 40 minutes to reach the airport on the way back. We must have come to the hotel via the scenic route.

Just by way of a change, I was one of the first to check in and was thus rewarded with an aisle seat. And passing security was something else. Bells and buzzers going off like nobody’s business but no-one seemed to care at all. That’s what I call a “progressive” attitude.

Take-off was timed for 06:15 but by that time we were probably already 500 feet off the ground. The plane was up there with us too and I for one am not at all used to this idea of people being early – especially in countries that are much more laid-back and in which time is of lesser importance than elsewhere.

We were in another elderly Airbus A320 that had Spanish signs plastered all over it, presumably from a previous employment, and which could have done with a really good clean, especially in the bathroom, of which only two out of three were working.

I had another seat up at the front against the aisle which was just as well because these Nouvelair jets are all rather like sardine tins and we are crammed in tightly. But then, as I have said before, it’s not as if we are going across the Atlantic on it, and the lack of comfort is adequately reflected in the lack of price.

We were served a breakfast – of an omelette and there was once more no vegan option despite my having requested one. But that’s not new, is it? What is new though is that I had missed my opportunity to stock up on stuff from the all-night restaurant.

At Brussels Airport I was first off the aeroplane, and by a long way too. And first at the baggage carousel too. Even more surprisingly I was down in the bowels of the station just as a train to the city was about to leave, so I hopped aboard.

But it was all to no avail because it pulled into Bruxelles-Midi at 11:15, just two minutes after the TGV that I usually catch had pulled out. And there was a wait of an hour and a half for the next one. I must say that I hadn’t expected to be on the 11:13 at all, but it was such a disappointment to be so near and yet so far.

At least it gave me enough time to go to the supermarket for a baguette for lunch and to pick up some of the nice raisin buns that they have. Remember that I had had no breakfast and I’d already been on the go for … errr … nine hours.

TGV gare du nord paris franceThe TGV was pretty full and I seemed to have been given a seat next to the person who had all of the luggage. And he was most upset about having to move it, and even more upset when I told him where to stick it.

Not too many people these days seem to know how to use the luggage racks in the train.

You’re probably wondering what the yellow box is in the foreground of this photo.

There are several of them scattered about all over the SNCF railway stations in France. They are called composteurs and you stick your ticket in there to composter it before you board the train.

What the machine does is to insert a time and date stamp on your ticket so that you can’t claim a refund on it as “unused” at a later date. And it’s an offence to travel on the SNCF with an uncomposted ticket.

There’s always an announcement as the train is pulling out of the station to the effect that “if you have forgotten to composter your ticket, please see the conductor immediately”. He’ll growl at you and stamp it by hand, but he’ll do much more than growl at you if he catches you before you catch him.

I didn’t get much of a sleep on board the train, and that was a disappointment. I’ll probably catch up with it later but at a most inconvenient time, I suppose.

Travelling through Paris was pretty straightforward. Line 5 to the Gare de l’Est and then Line 4 down to Montparnasse. But it’s a nightmare trying to get to the ticket office in the station there but it’s even worse just now because they are carrying out renovations there and building a commercial centre.

And the queue for tickets! It took ages to work our way down it to the front – and to find that the next train is the 16:43. There was an earlier way to get to Granville, going on the TGV to Rennes and then on the train to Caen but leaving at some tiny wayside station and catching the bus. But that’s like going in a big letter “Z” and costs a fortune, not to mention all of the effort.

So I went down to the platform for my train and made my butties instead, fighting off the pigeons.

SNCF gare de granville railway station manche normandy franceThe train that we should have caught is the “return” from Argentan but that was running 50 minutes late so they prepared an idle multiple-unit standing in a vacant platform. Even so, we were still 20 minutes late leaving. And as it was a 6-car unit instead of a 12-car unit we were crammed in there like sardines too.

As the train emptied out I finally managed to doze off. But not for long though – only about 10 minutes I reckon.

I can see that I shall be paying for all of my efforts in due course

We arrived back at Granville bang on time – the driver must have done well to catch up the missing 20 minutes along the way. But it was a long, sad, weary way back home dragging my suitcase behind me up the hill and with the pain in my legs.

It’s good to be back home, as Barry Hay once famously sang, but I would much rather be in Tunisia. It took me a couple of hours to sort myself out and then I made some tea out of a tin.

But what an effort? What a surprise? Who would have ever thought that I would have made it to the desert?

They say that the best things come as a complete surprise and this is certainly true.

I’m now off to bed. With no alarm call either. Just watch me wke up at 05:00 tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 18th April 2018 – AND AN EARLY START …

… it was in the morning too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

airbus a320 brussels airport zaventem belgiumI’d been very lucky checking in. I used the old “bad leg” ploy (actually, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, I do have issues with my leg) and was given an aisle seat, which was just as well because the plane was packed out with not a free seat anywhere. I had literally had the last ticket on the flight – as the Travel Agent had said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

raincloud enfida hammamet airport tunisia north africaI’d been saying for a while that the weather in Europe had been depressing all winter and how I wanted to go to the desert. Well, this was the best that I could do at short notice.

And while the weather in Western Europe had improved this last while, it seemed as if I had brought the bad weathe rover here with me.

There we were, loading ourselves up into the tour buses on the edge of the desert and in the background was this dirty black cloud hovering about quite ominously.

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

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

Local farmers will be paying me a fortune to keep on coming back to the country, whereas the local Tourist Board will be denying me admisssion

péage motorway tunisia africaOnto the motorway where tractors, bicycles and carts drawn by horses are prohibited.

But not herds of sheep and goats, so it seems. We would regularly pass a herd of sheep and/or goats, complete with shepherd and/or goatherd, on the hard shoulder nibbling away at what passes for greenery around here.

That’s the sheep and/or goats of course, not the shepherd and/or goatherd, although one never knows, of course.

péage motorway tunisia africaIn fact, it’s all very much as you might imagine that it would have been back in Biblical days.

Even the motor vehicles. And yes, they did have cars, and even motorcycles back in Biblical days.

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

university sousse tunisia africaSousse has always been one of the towns that I have wanted to visit, and for no other reason than the fact that I had actually heard about the place.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go through the city itself, but round the outskirts where we were driven past the big University here.

But no matter. I’m sure that I can work out a way of going for a day out in the city once I get my bearings about the place

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

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

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

We were treated to a little cabaret by the … err … “Enjoyment Team” when we arrived and that, I’m afraid, got me off on the wrong foot.

hotel sunconnect one sqanes tunisia africaI’m the wrong person to come on one of these tours because with having worked in the tourist industry for as long as I did, I’m immensely cynical about this kind of thing. I just wanted to get to my room.

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

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

hotel sunconnect one sqanes tunisia africaAnd there really is a balcony, and there really is a sea view – and a proper sea view at that too, just as I had been promised. None of your craning your neck around a corner and leaning out dangerously, like you would get in many other hotels.

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

And then I … errr … had a little relax. It’s been a long day so far

swimming pools hotel sunconnect one sqanes tunisia africaOnce I’d rejoined the Land of the Living I could go for another good look out of my window.

And it seems as if the sea isn’t the only attraction here either. There’s a whole series of swimming pools and I can see three of them – two just down there and one under cover that you can’t see – from my window.

Mind you, it’ll need to be warmer than this before I’m enticed into the pool. I can’t believe my bad luck with the weather.

monastir tunisia africaWe came through Sousse on the way here, but we are actually in a town called Sqanes, which is on the outskirts of the city of Monastir.

That’s Monastir, right down there. And although it’s quite an interesting city, the seaport isn’t up to all that much.

And it’s for that reason that if I have the chance, I’ll be heading to Sousse for a day trip. The port there is one of the largest in Tunisia with a busy railway freight line into the desert.

That should provide some good opportunities.

oil rig mediterranean sea tunisia africaThe production of oil is a big thing in North Africa and Tunisia has some at its disposal.

And in the days of a tight economy, exploration has expanded and underneath the sea has been targeted as a likely source – hence the oil rig that I can see from my window.

It’s quite a way out from the shore, but it’s amazing what you can do with a decent telephoto lens and a good graphics program.

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

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

Tomorrow it’s the beach!

Monday 6th March 2017 – I PAID …

… for all of this effort over the last few days.

Despite the bad night and waking up at 06:00, I was down for breakfast at 07:00 feeling fairly okay. But coming back I was overwhelmed, as if the exercise was too much, and I had to go and lie down, aching all over and feeling really bad.

Nevertheless I made it down to pick up Hannah but I clearly wasn’t on form. We took the main-line train to the European Parliament where she went off for her guided tour. Being young, Canadian and still a student, she needs to make her CV as impressive and completely different from anyone else’s if she wants to have a good job, and so I pulled a few strings the other week and managed to organise a guided tour around the Parliament.

I wasn’t up to it and so I rode herd on the luggage and read a book.

When she returned, she noticed my distress and decided that we may as well go to the airport then rather than a couple of hours later. And so we walked up to Schuman, I picked up my bank cards, and then leapt on board the Express bus (with a certain amount of confusion about the pricing structure).

Once Hannah had disappeared into the bowels of the airport I headed back for the bus to Leuven. There are two per hour, at … errr … 33 minutes past and … errr … 35 minutes past. How about that for planning? And none of them goes via the hospital.

I ended up at the station and I nipped off to find the Ibis Budget, seeing as how I really was feeling bad. But for some reason or other it was … errr … €74 tonight. Why is that?

Instead, I took a bus up to the hospital, liberated my discharge papers, sorted out my medicines, and then headed for Caliburn. And we hit the road.

I’ve ended up in a B&B near Arlon on the Luxembourg border. It’s cheap but good. There’s no food in the vicinity so I had to drive about 100 miles to find a fritkot.

Now I’m off to bed. I deserve it. I hope that I feel better tomorrow.

Friday 3rd March 2017 – PHEW!

I’m totally exhausted!

That was a horrible night, that was. It took me ages to go off to sleep and I forget how many times that I awoke. I had a rather disturbing voyage during the night, and you don’t want to hear about it as you are probably eating your tea by now.

A shower brought me round and then down to breakfast. I was second down but at least my window seat was free. Not that it did me much good because there was no-one walking by. I wasn’t all that hungry either.

Back up in my room I had a chat with Alison and Hannah on the internet, packed my new suitcase (which is actually bigger than the old one) and hit the streets. The old suitcase was consigned to the vuilnisbakje at the hotel, which is a shame because it would still be useful for storing stuff, but it can’t be helped. I don’t want to drag that about with me everywhere.

At the railway station I had a stroke of luck as well. I’d bought my ticket for the 10:08 train to the airport, changing at Gent St Pieters, but as I rounded the corner into the train shed, they were just announcing the departure of the 09:40 direct to Brussels. That made much more sense to me as it gave me many more airport options – and so I leapt aboard.

gare du midi bruxelles belgium march mars 2017That was an easy route into Brussels, to be sure, without changing trains – or even seats – and I was in good time too. I could dash across to the hotel – the Hotel Midi-Zuid – where I’ll be for the next few days.

My room wasn’t ready, which was no surprise at all at 11:00, but they had a consigne where I could leave my luggage. And that was what I was really after. Having done that, I headed back to the Gare du Midi and hopped on the next train to the Airport at Zaventem.

I had to wait for a while but soon enough my niece’s daughter Hannah appeared. She’s from Canada of course but she’s on a student exchange right now in Madrid. There was a cheap flight opportunity to Brussels this weekend, and this is the reason why I’ve been hanging around.

We were on the train back to Brussels and back to the Hotel Midi-Zuid. Hannah’s room was ready but mine wasn’t, but never mind. Hannah was soon down, and we went off for a walk.

place du sablon bruxelles belgium march mars 2017Our route was the old coach driving route that I used to do around the city centre, but with a couple of short pedestrian refinements. Stops for a couple of coffees here and there, a visit to the odd museum or two, and then a meal, and we were back here by 21:00, totally exhausted and I’ll pay for this effort, that’s for sure.

So I’m going to have an early night to give my legs a chance to ease off. I’ll have a shower later to help me to relax and then I’ll feel so much better. But right now, I’m putting my feet up.

Saturday 3rd December 2016 – AND IF YOU THINK …

… that the last couple of nights were bad, you ain’t seen nuffink yet. Because there I was, it was 06:30, and I was still wide-awake. I just couldn’t drop off at all, and I’ve no idea why.

But I must have done shortly after that. And I heard the alarm go off at 07:00, and the next one at 07:15, but that was nothing like enough to make me leave my bed. Instead, I breakfasted at something like … errr … 10:30.

vegan cooking van leuven market belgium october octobre 2016I was up in town a little later to buy some stuff for my butties. And here I had a big surprise.

There was a new van on there and it seemed to be advertising home bakery products, including bio, lactose-free, gluten-free and vegan products.

I had quite a chat with the owner and he pointed out to me the products that he had which were vegan. There were two varieties of cake that you buy by the slice and some biscuits too. That was so exciting.

He’s here every Saturday so I shall be frequenting him when I come back.

After lunch, I had a shower and a clean up ready for Alison coming round. We went down the road to the café for a coffee and a good chat about this and that, all that’s happened to us for the last couple of weeks.

train railway station leuven belgium october octobre 2016Alison ran me down to the railway station afterwards where I bought my ticket.

OH Leuven are playing away tonight against AFC Tubize. Tubize is a town that I have never visted and of course I’ve certainly never seen the football club play. Apart from that, as I said to Alison, I ought to get out more often and connect with the real word every now and again, and going to the football is one way of doing it.

The ground is a good 20 minute stroll south of the railway station and, would you believe it, there’s no fritkot between the town centre and the ground that I could see. That meant that I had to do without my tea. But isn’t that astonishing?

stade leburton afc tubize belgium october octobre 2016The ground is a modern two-sided wonder with a couple of concrete stands with basic seat forms put on there. Underneath the stand where I’m sitting is a long hall with a pie hut inside and the players’ changing rooms and the like. It’s all very basic.

It cst me €15 for a seat which wasn’t so bad, but actually finding my place was something else. The security guards clearly didn’t know the stadium all that well and I was sent from pillar to post before I found the correct entrance.

stade leburton afc tubize belgium october octobre 2016I suppose that a good number of other people had difficulty finding the ground too, because I don’t think that I’ve ever seen such an empty stadium at this level of football. At a rough estimate of what I could see, there can’t have been 1500 people in the ground for this match. 100 away supporters if they were lucky.

The Kop for the home fans is a little standing area on the far side -capacity about 500 I suppose and maybe 120 people in it. They made a bit of noise I suppose, but it wasn’t anything to be worked up about.

stade leburton afc tubize belgium october octobre 2016There’s another small stand behind the goal, out of shot to the left. That maybe has room for 700 people I suppose but it was empty and closed off.

It’s not quite a one-sided wonder that you might find in Scottish lower-league football but it’s not far off. One of those places where they set out with the best intentions and then ran out of money.

As for the match itself, the first half was pretty uneventful. Both sides had their chances, including a shot from an AFC Tubize player that hit the post, rolled along the goal-line and back into play, with Gillekens in the Leuven goal totally flat-footed.

But there were a few strange decisions out there. The OH Leuven n°10 was being kicked, pushed, dragged and swatted off the ball by the defenders and never a foul was awarded despite how much protesting he did; It totally astonished me.

And when he was booked for complaining too much, I really did feel for him.

At half-time, I went down for a hot drink. I dunno what they flavoured my hot water with, but at €2:00 it was flaming expensive

The second half was a little more lively at first, and OH Leuven took the lead. They have a centre-forward called Casagolda who somehow has always flattered to deceive. But today, he had a really good game, living up to his promise. as a Tubize player dallied on the ball à la Pionsat defence, ha was harried out of it and Casagolda whacked it into the net.

The game them came alive and we had about 25 minutes of exciting football and it was a shame that the match couldn’t have been played like this all the time.

OH Leuven scored a second with about 15 minutes to go, and they hit the bar and had another cleared off the line too. As it finished, they thoroughly deserved the victory.

I walked back into town looking for a fritkot. I photo-bombed a group photo and so was invited to be formally included in it, which was good fun, and then carried on my search.

eglise st gertrude church tubize belgium october octobre 2016I walked past the really beautiful Church of St Gertrude and eventually came across a fritkot on the way out of town. a big bag of chips and garlic sauce was beautiful and as I sauntered back to the railway station I noticed that if I had come out of the station building via the second door, I would have been right by a fritkot.


The train brought me to Brussels-Midi and then we had more excitement as our train to Leuven via the Airport arrived at the wrong platform and we all had to run for it.

By 0045, freezing cold, I was back in my little room in my hostel. I’d had a lovely day out with good company, and now I’ll have a good night’s sleep ready for my trip tomorrow.

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.

Thursday 9th October 2014 – WELL, I WAS RIGHT ABOUT ONE THING.

I missed the connection at Brussels.

And not by 5 or 10 minutes either, but by a whopping couple of hours too. It took all night to evacuate this ill person and her baggage and we were about a couple of hours late before we took to the sky.

The flight itself and the food were excellent but the in-flight entertainment was rather rubbish. There wasn’t a single film that I was interested in seeing. On the Sports Channel however there was the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany from 2014- the match where in a devastating spell of just 6 minutes half-way through the first half the Germans totally demolished the Brazilians.

At Brussels, those of us with onward journeys to attend to had to regroup in order to see what they airline had in store for us. For me, they could move me onwards to Paris via … errrr … Frankfurt am Main. That was clearly out of the question. However, there was one person who was flying on to Lyon and so that gave me an idea. When I was at Montreal I heard them call an Air Transat flight to Lyon and while I’m not overly impressed with Air Transat, I still put into the back of my mind the idea to go around to the airport at Lyon to see what I could see and to spy out the land.

This seemed like the opportunity and so I made the appropriate noises at the airport staff. There was indeed flight to Lyon but at 17:00 in the afternoon, meaning that I had 5 hours to kill. A meal voucher for €16:00 to compensate me in part for the inconvenience meant that I could have a meal but even that voucher only made a slight hole in the price of the meal, prices in Belgium being what they are. But nevertheless, the choices of meal here seem to be better than what was on offer when I was stranded at Paris Charles de Gaulle last year.

zaventam brussels national airport belgium october 2014For the rest of my stay in Brussels, I also took the opportunity to go for a wander around the airport, inside and outside. It’s been a long time, 9 years in fact, since I’ve been here and there was a time when I was here a couple of times a week, back in the good old days.

So braving the horrendous weather outside, because it really was bad outside, I went for a look around.

zaventam brussels national airport belgium october 2014There have been some tremendous changes to the airport in this time. Outside, there’s an enormous amount of redevelopment and much of the old building is being swept away and replaced ith more modern stuff.

There have been even more changes inside the place. A huge programme of expansion has taken place with all kinds of new terminals and departure gates and I do have to admit that it is quite a significant leg-up from how it all used to be in the past.

The plane to Lyon was one of these small 70-seater things with about 40 passengers on it. The flight took a quite reasonable 75 minutes which wasn’t bad at all, even if there was no special meal for me. That came as no surprise seeing as how I’d chopped and changed from one flight to another – it can’t be helped. I was glad that I had had a meal at Zaventam. And descending into Lyon through a thunderstorm, we were being tossed around like a cork on the ocean. Not for the faint-hearted, this descent.

Lyon was a very nice airport, quite modern and up-to-date, and the tram connection to town, quite shockingly expensive at €15:70, was nevertheless straighforward and direct, to right opposite the main railway station in town. No issues whatever with this at all (apart from the cost of course).

The ticket for the train to Riom cost a mere €16:00 with my senior citizen’s railcard (and that puts into perspective the astonishing price of the tram ticket) but there was a wait of 100 minutes for my train. No mind – it gave me an opportunity to look around outside the station. In the square behind the railway station there were all kinds of food shops, including a Subway sandwich store so I grabbed a foot-long vegetarian and orange juice there – that was tea sorted out.

Further investigation revealed that just a 10-minute stagger away from here is one of these Premier Class tourist hotels. A modern unit-type hotel with en-suite facilities.

So the verdict on Lyon as a departure point for Montreal? Well, even if the only flight offered is an Air Transat service, then I am no longer going to struggle all of the way out to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Apart from the tram fare, everything else that I would need is right here in front of me at Lyon, much more so than at the airport hotels in Paris. There will also be a saving of over €200 on my travelling costs and that, dear reader, is all that you need to know.

The train to Riom presented no problems whatever, and Terry was there to meet me at the station. Liz and Terry offered me a bed for the night, for which I was extremely grateful, and I was out like a light. It had been a long day.