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Wednesday 15th December 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not sitting in a rainbow but sitting in my little room in the Dekenstraat in Leuven. And to my dismay, I haven’t had an upgrade this time.

Still, not that I’ worried too much because apart from the steps up to the second floor here, this little room is much more convenient for me even if it’s smaller.

And there’s still a double bed in here so that if one of the usual suspects from my nocturnal rambles, such as TOTGA, Castor or Zero, puts in an appearance then there will be plenty of room for us to move about

And it won’t be very long before I’m actually in it because I’ve had another difficult day I try my best to have an early night the day before I travel but last night I was chatting to someone on line in what became a very lengthy and involved conversation so i was quite late when I finally crawled into bed

And then, the usual difficulty about going off to sleep meant that whe the alarm went off at 06:00 I was … errr … far from ready.

Preparing to leave was something of a rush as well and I didn’t accomplish anything like as much as I usually do. But I did find out that my icing hasn’t set. Butter (well, vegan margarine) produces a soft icing so I seem to be stuck with that.

What I’ll have to do in the future is to work out how to make hard icing. Like I said, I have a lot to learn aout baking cakes.

Although it was cold and damp this morning, it was better weather than when I was out photographing the Christmas lights and so as it was still dark this morning I re-photographed them. And they do look better in the lighting conditions that we had, as you will find out in due course.

For a change, I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me all the way to Leuven which makes a change.

The train to Paris was on-time and I spent much of the journey sorting out the back-up from the big office computer onto the portable laptop. Having shuffled the music around to shake up the pack, I have to do this on the laptop too.

Having done that, and having had a little doze, I set about doing some work.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I’ve sent in my CV in the hope that it will be picked up by a certain travel company. And in this respect I was collating all of the documents that I’ve collected during my research into the Norse in North America and also the Labrador coast.

Having done that, I’ve started to review the stuff that I have on the Norse and prepare to write a thesis on the subject (as if I don’t have enough to do as it is). I started off by reading the “Flatey Book” and “Hauksbook” – two books from Iceland in the 14th Century that include the earliest written copies of the sagas that recount the Norse voyages to North America.

Following that, I’ll make a start on Carl Rafn’s “Antiquities Americanae”. Written in 1848, it’s the earliest book that takes seriously the Norse Sagas.

Rafn though makes two mistakes in his calculation though.

He puts the Norse settlements in Massachusetts or thereabouts because firstly he works out the sailing distances based on the speed of a Norse longboat. However Leif Ericson didn’t use a longboat. According to the sagas he “bought a boat from a trader” who was freighting goods to Greenland. And it wasn’t until a silted-up river was excavated in Roskilde in 1961 that a Norse freighter, called a knarr was discovered and its sailing characteristics were found to be completely different to a longboat.

Secondly, he calculated the distances based on a day of 24 hours. It seems to me to be totally improbable that the Norse would have been continuing to sail during the hours of darkness in strange waters near an uncharted coast where they wouldn’t know what shoals and other hazards they might encounter.

Another thing that needs to be considered is “what happened when they reached the Gulf of St Lawrence”? With about 200 miles of open sea to cross, they would have been more likely to sail down the St Lawrence keeping the coast to their right where they could see it. In fact, there’s a precedent to this with all of the Basque and Portuguese whalers at the end of the 15th Century who set up their camps along the Labrador coast and then down the Gulf of St Lawrence.

We pulled into Montparnasse 2 minutes early and then I had my delightful stroll down the street to the entrance to the Metro station – much nicer than struggling through the labyrinth down below.

As a result I was early yet again arriving at the Gare du Nord. I reckon that I’m about two metro trains in front of where I would have been.

We left Paris Gare du Nord bang on time but were held up on the way and as a result we were a couple of minutes late arriving at Lille Flandres. Then we had the walk across town to Lille Europe where my train was already in.

At Brussels I had another push-me-pull-you, pushed by an old Class 27 locomotive that took me to Leuven. And I had loads of fun trying to make my phone work to show the nice conductor my e-ticket.

When I alighted at Leuven I nipped to the supermarket at the back of the station for the drink and the bread before making my way down here to my room.

Later on I went down to Delhaize for the shopping and the walk back loaded up was a little easier than it has been of late.

Now that I’ve had my tea I’m off to bed even though it’s early. It’s a tough day travelling all this way and doing all this walking, all 130% of it. And there’s more to do tomorrow with my trip up to the hospital.

Sunday 14th April – LUCKY ME!

I’ve had a free upgrade at the place where I stay when I’m in Leuven. Usually I’m in a small single room (with kitchenette and all facilities of course) but for some reason that I don’t understand, I’ve been given a comfortable duplex apartment and it’s very nice.

I shall have to come here more often.

Last night was a pretty bad night for some reason. I was very late going to bed and once more, I spent most of my night tossing and turning. This isn’t a very good sign for my day tomorrow.

Nevertheless I was out of bed very smartly and attacked the tasks necessary for my trip today to Leuven. Making sandwiches, packing, all these kinds of things. Even a little cleaning. There was still 20 minutes to go before I needed to leave to I took my shower – the one that I missed yesterday.

08:10, I left the apartment and a brisk stroll saw me at the station by 08:35. And I do have to say that “brisk” was the word. Despite having had a really short, bad night, I was feeling quite sprightly for a change.

repairing medieval city wall Boulevard des 2eme et 202eme de Ligne granville manche normandy franceAnd even in sprightly mode I made several stops along the way.

The first stop was in the Boulevard des 2ème et 202ème de Ligne to see how the repairs to the old medieval walls are getting on.

And they seem to be making really good progress and the new stone blocks that they are blending into the existing walls really look quite the part.

They have several sections to go at and it will all be looking quite good when it’s done.

street sweeper rue couraye granville manche normandy franceAnd despite it being early, I wasn’t alone in the street either.

I was being stalked all the way up the rue Couraye by the Sunday morning street cleaner. He was heading on quite nicely, making U-turns and going the wrong way down the one-way street to brush the other side, whether there was another car coming or not.

At least he was useful as some kind of pacemaker to help me on my way.

My cleaner was there at the station so I said “hello”, and then purchased a coffee from the machine. And then waited for the train because it wasn’t in the platform.

gec alsthom regiolis gare de granville manche normandy franceAnd fortune smiled on me too on the train. I had a very charming young companion next to me and although she didn’t have too much to say for herself, it’s the kind of thing that does my ego a great deal of good.

Surprisingly, I stayed awake for most of the trip. I ate my breakfast (crackers and mandarins) and settled down to read Carl Rafn’s Antiquities Americanae.

Written in 1837, its claim to fame is that Rafn was the very first person to take seriously the prospect that the Norse Sagas about the voyages to “Vinland” were actually based on fact and not mere fireside fiction, and he actually set in motion some kind of technical research and calculations to back up his theories.

His theories and calculations were dismissed by later hisotians, most notably by Arthur Reeves who wrote in 1914 “… If less effort had been applied to the dissemination and defence of fantastic speculations, and more to the determination of the exact nature of the facts …” and then proceeded on after 200 or so pages in his book “The Finding of Wineland the Good” to reach almost the same conclusions as those of Rafn.

But today, as we all know because we’ve been there and seen it, tangible evidence of Norse occupation has been discovered in the New World and although it’s not where Rafn expected it to be, my opinion is that the site at L’Anse aux Meadows isn’t Vinland at all but another unrecorded Norse settlement, and Vinland remains to be discovered.

We pulled into Paris Montparnasse-Vaugirard more-or-less bang on time and I strode off through the massed ranks of travellers down to the heaving metro station. There’s a change on the metro there too, because they have now put up crowd control gates on the platform.

The train was crammed to capacity and I had to wait a while before I could find a seat. I sat next to an African woman and her little daughter Adela who proudly told me that she was two years and three months old.

The two of them sang all the way to where I alighted, and I had the pleasure of telling mummy that it made my day to see a little kid so happy.

gare du nord paris franceAlthough it was cold and windy, it was so nice outside that I went for a good walk around outside for a look at what goes on in the vicinity of the station.

And now I know that if ever I forget my butties I won’t be short of something to eat because there were plenty of fast-food shops right in the immediate vicinity.

But seeing as I hadn’t forgotten them, I sat on a bench in the station, surrounded by a group of schoolkids and ate them (the butties, not the kids) and then went for my train.

thalys tgv PBKA series 4300 4322 gare du nord paris franceMy train was another one of the Paris-Brussels-Koln-Amsterdam “PBKA” trainsets.

And as I boarded it, fatigue caught up with me and I travelled all the way to Brussels in a state of blissful subconsciousness, to the strains of Traffic’s On The Road” – one of the top-ten best live albums ever.

My neighbour had boarded the train carrying, of all things a rolled-up carpet. I asked him whether it had run out of fuel, or else why he didn’t just unroll it and travel to Brussels on that.

However, as Kenneth Williams and Alfred Hitchcock once famously remarked, “it’s a waste of time trying to tell jokes to foreigners”.

sncb class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven belgiumAt Brussels my train to Leuven was already in the station so I was able to reap the benefits of having pre-purchased my ticket on the internet. No waiting in a queue for a ticket or finding that the machines are out of order. I just leapt on board.

It was our old friend 1861, and that was crowded too for some reason. There seems to be an awful lot of people travelling today.

I suppose it’s with it being Easter weekend next weekend and everyone is off for their holidays.

I’ve already explained about my change of room, and once I was settled in I had a lengthy talk with Rosemary on the telephone.

toren oude stadsomwalling sint donatuspark leuven belgiumThat took me up to the time to go out and meet Alison. We went off for a vegan burger at the Greenway

Our route there took us through the St Donatus Park where we could admire the Toren Oude Stadsomwalling – the Tower of the Old City Wall.

This wall was started to be built in 1160. It had 31 towers, 11 street gates and 3 water gates. 2740 metres long, it enclosed 40 hectares.

It was superseded in 1360 by another wall roughly where the ring-road is now, and demolition began towards the end of the 18th Century.

There’s still a fair bit remaining, and on our travels we’ve seen quite a bit of it.

mural Jozef Vounckplein leuven belgiumAfter our burger we went for our usual coffee at Kloosters Hotel.

And on our way back to the car, weaving our weary way through the side streets, we came across this really beautiful mural in what I think is the Jozef Vounckplein.

I don’t recall having seen this before.

And good old Alison. While she was at the English Shop yesterday she found some vegan hot cross buns. So now I’m properly prepared for my Good Friday anyway.

On that note, I’ll go upstairs and try out my new bed. I hope that it’s as comfortable as it looks.

gare du nord paris france
gare du nord paris france

gare du nord paris france
gare du nord paris france

Tuesday 7th February 2017 – THAT WAS A BEAUTIFUL …

… tea, that was!

The second helping of my lentil and potato curry was delicious. Rice and carrots in a pan, with the portion of curry reheated in the microwave. Then the rice and carrots were rinsed thoroughly in boiling water, and the whole lot was then steamed for 90 seconds in the microwave.

It was cooked to perfection too. I’ve never ever tasted rice so well-cooked and I shall be doing that again.

Last night was a bad night. It took me ages to drop off to sleep and then we had a bunch or early risers at 06:00 who made enough noise to awaken the dead. And just as I was dropping off, we had another bunch of early risers at 06:30. And then, just as I was dropping off again, the alarm went off.

Breakfast was crowded this morning – four other people in there with me and it’s been a while since I’ve had a breakfast quite like that.

This morning I took it easy. I was meaning to have a shower but somehow I forgot. And by the time that I remembered, the bathroom was cold. The heating switches off here at 09:30 and doesn’t come back on until 17:00/

Later on, I went out for my baguette and came back with a carton of soya milk an another black plastic storage box. There must be 20 in here now and I shall have to consider taking a pile of them down to Caliburn romorrow when I go out to the shops.

crane brusselsestraat kruisstraat leuven belgium february fevrier 2017Now remember on Sunday that I told you about the crane that has mysteriously appeared on the corner of the Kruisstraat and the Brusselsestraat?

Seeing as how I was going out for the baguette, I went for a short stroll along the Brusselsestraat to see if I could see the reason for the machine – I’m moving a little easier too today. And sure enough, I was lucky enough to catch it in action.

There’s a scaffolding up at the side of the house that they are renovating opposite my hostel. That’s been there for a week or so, but it’s now swathed in netting.

crane brusselsestraat kruisstraat leuven belgium february fevrier 2017Down below in a parking space outside the building are a couple of skips. There are some men up there on the scaffolding working on the parapet underneath the roof, loading the debris into the bucket on the crane, which is then descending the debris down to the skip.

I imagine that in a few days time, they’ll be bringing bricks and cement up in the bucket and reconstructing the side wall of the house and the parapet.

This afternoon, I had a chat to Liz on the internet, had a crash out and then started to read Carl Christian Rafn’s papers from 1838 – his presentation of the Antiquitates Americanae.

I’ve not gone too far into them at present, but although Rafn’s calculations are somewhat exaggerated, if not thoroughly optimistic, his arguments up to as far as I have read do make some kind of sense and he can justify to some degree (in fact to a great degree for 1838) his propositions. he certainly didn’t deserve the abuse and vitriol that Reeves heaped upon him 50 or 60 years later, some 20 years before Munn, in his book “Wineland voyages Location of Helluland Markland and Vinland” proposed L’Anse aux Meadows as the site for Vinland.

Tea was nice, as I have said, and now it’s an early night again.

And the temperature is dropping. Minus 4°C is promised for the next few days.

Thursday 2nd February 2017 – WHATEVER HAS HAPPENED …

… to Belgium?

We all know that the problem with the Dutch is that they have no word for gratis, and Belgium is pretty much the same. And so I was astonished today to be given a big two-litre bottle of fizzy pop when I walked into the supermarket on the corner for my baguette this morning.

Apparently they had found a crate of it at the back of the warehouse and the sell-by date was just out. And so they were giving away a bottle free to each of their regular customers. I felt highly honoured.

Last night was another typical night just recently so I won’t describe it to you. I wasn’t awoken at 06:00, just for a change, and I did go on my travels – although all memory of it immediately disappeared the moment I awoke.

And apart from that, I had a shower and a shave today, to make the most of my clean bed, and that was really that. But one thing that I didn’t do was to make tea. I was doing something interesting interesting and forgot. It was 21:45 when I realised what time ot was. I had a quick snack instead.

But my search for a copy of Carl Rafn’s Antiquitates Americanae produced some dividends today. And I can hardly be blamed for not finding it sooner because, being held in an American university, they have translated his name to Charles Rafn. Totally stupid if you ask me, but that’s Americans for you.

Mind you,it’s not done me much good because although I was delighted to see that he wrote bilingually, his book is in Latin and … errr … Danish. It makes me wonder why the Americans wanted to possess it, but there we are.

But all is not lost, because I found a book – in English – called America Discovered in the Tenth Century. This dates from 1838 and is a summary by Rafn of his work, and as far as I can tell, presented to the Royal Societies of Northern Antiquaries.

He’s big on the “Cape Cod Bay” theory, although his nautical calculations are rather exaggerated, he fails to take account of the shifting coastline, and he is, like most people until Munn first tentatively explored the theory in his “Wineland voyages Location of Helluland Markland and Vinland,”, totally unaware of the effects of Global Warming.

It needs hardly to be said that the Norse explorations took place in what was known as the “Medieval Warm” period (not that this is intended by any means to belittle the magnificent voyages that the Norse undertook) and that in the days of Rafn the Northern Hemisphere was still recovering from the effects of the Little Ice Age, with a couple of degrees’ difference in temperature and climate. During this period, the Domesday Book records grapes being grown commercially as far north as mid-Yorkshire. That’s about 500 miles north of the current viable limit and all of this puts the flora and fauna discovered by the Norse in Vinland into a potentially much-different region than where the same might be found today

So now I’m off to bed, early again. Let’s hope I have a good night tonight, and remember where I’ve been.

And I wonder what this free fizzy pop tastes like.

Wednesday 1st February 2017 – UNLESS I’M VERY MUCH MISTAKEN …

… which has happened once, believe it or not, I might have been tentatively offered a job just now.

How bizarre is that?

The landlord came into the building to stock up the supplies for the building (and I’ve had my bedding changed at last!) and we got to talking, like you do … "well, like one of us does" – ed. I told him about the hospital and my plans (such as they are) to leave after my next hospital visit at the end of the month. He started to talk about how long I’ve been there, and how well I know the place, and all of this. I mentioned that I would be looking for a new place to live when I go back to France, and he finished his chat by saying “perhaps I should hire you on”.

Well, it’s been a long time since someone has offered me a job. My immediate response was “why not?”. After all, I need to keep my options open and this might be some kind of solution – you never know.

A bad night last night – it took ages to go off properly to sleep and then we had the 06:00 wake-up. I was alone at breakfast and then I came back down here for a little work on the laptop – and a doze too of course.

I went up to the Delhaize to buy lunch stuff, and of course I forgot everything that was important. I’m going to have to start to make a list, I reckon.

But I did have some more luck in my researches. I’ve tracked down a book entitled Voyages of the Northmen to America. This book, edited by the Reverend Edmund Slafter, dates from 1877 and is very pro-Norse, in contrast to the book Wineland the Good by Reeves, that we discussed last night.

In addition, “Voyages of the Northmen” contains a synopsis of Carl Rafn’s proposition, so derisively dismissed by Reeves.

I’ve not read much of it yet, but it seems from a map on the opening pages that Slafter favours Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts USA as being the site of Vinland. However, Slafter’s proposition seems at first glance from the map (although we’ll see when I read it) to overlook the fact that all of the Outer Banks off the coast have changed dramatically even in our lifetimes, due to storms and currents and the like. It’s very probable that back 1000 years ago Cape Cod Bay was nothing like it is today.

Slafter also acknowledged his sources, and tells us the name of the book written by Rafn. But it’s apparently written in Latin and it’s 45 years since I last seriously spoke any Latin. I shall have to go to Latin America for a crash course.

Puer amat mensam, hey?

Tuesday 31st January 2017 – I WAS RIGHT …

… about the quiet day today.

I went out for the baguette at lunchtime, and I had a crash out for an hour or so this afternoon, and that was my lot.

Mind you, I struck it lucky at the supermarket. There were two black plastic crates in the rubbish bins and so I liberated them on the way back. Together with the one that I liberated yesterday about which I forgot to tell you, that’s three this week and I think that I’m going to have to start to move them all down to Caliburn. I’m not going to be short of crates for packing, am I?

Last night was a bad night. There was a lot of noise in the building again – people coming in late and talking, that kind of thing. Of course, I do realise that the problem lies not with my housemates but with my light sleeping. But it’s still unpleasant.

It didn’t stop me being on my travels though. I was in a pub somewhere and talking was the woman who appeared frequently on “Just a Minute”. Not Andrée Melly or Aimi MacDonald but the other one whatever her name was … "Geraldine Jones, you mean" – ed. One of the subjects on the programme was “Rudd” but she talked on the programme saying that it was actually a suburb of Market Drayton and should be pronounced “Reeth” because until 1640-something, that area was part of Wales and it’s a Welsh word. Consequently it should be pronounced in the Welsh way.

Apart from that, I’ve not done very much. There’s been a big group chat on a page on my social network, discussing a pub – the Headless Woman at Duddon – that we used to visit in the mid-70s (long-gone of course) which held memories for me and in respect of which I had many humorous anecdotes to recount.

As well as that, I found another exciting book on the internet. Dating from the 1890s it’s the very famous “The Finding of Wineland the Good – The History of the Icelandic Discovery of North America” by Arthur Middleton Reeves.

It’s basically a translation of several Norse sagas with commentary by the author, and while I haven’t read much of it yet, he sets out his stall very clearly in the opening few paragraphs.

Remember that it’s 20 years before Munn, and 70 years before L’Anse aux Meadows, and he refers to an author of 1837 by the name of Carl Christian Rafn, who was probably the first academic to take the Norse sagas seriously.

Reeves’ comment on Rafn’s work was that “If less effort had been applied to the dissemination and defence of fantastic speculations, and more to the determination of the exact nature of the facts which have been preserved in the Icelandic records, the discovery should not have failed to be accepted …”.

He continues by saying that “it is difficult to account for the disposition American historians have shown to treat the Icelandic discovery as possible …”

You can see why I’m so eager to discover these old works and to see what modern investigation has uncovered in their respect.

I’m quite looking forward to reading this book. But where can I find the book written by Rafn?

And while we’re on the subject, Happy Up Helly Aa to those of you who are celebrating it.