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Wednesday 1st March 2023 – THAT WAS A …

… loooooooooooooooooooong day today.

14 hours I was on the road in total, give or take a few minutes. I left my home at about 07:10 and arrived in Leuven at just about 21:00.

Yes, I’m in Leuven. I’ve heard nothing from the heart people and nothing from the people who are dealing with my cancer, but regardless, the kidney people contacted me for an appointment.

Not that I’m all that bothered, because as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, after the events of October and November I’m pretty-much resigned to the inevitable, but I was interested in seeing, as well as I could, how I could cope with the travelling.

And so having gone to bed rather early last night, I was up with the lark at 06:00 and made some sandwiches and so on, and did a little organising.

Plenty of stuff on the dictaphone last night. My mother was a policewoman last night. She was interrogating a suspect or witness or something similar but was doing it at home. This was dragging on into the night and we as kids couldn’t go to sleep. In the end there was no real point going to bed so we were just sitting up waiting for her to finish. But it just went on and on. We’d go in regularly to ask how she was doing. She said that she wasn’t ready yet. We’d go in to pick a banana or something to eat. In the end one of my sisters went in. My mother said quite sharply that it wasn’t going to be finished before 05:00. This was the final straw as far as we were concerned. That was a ridiculous time for children to be still up and about waiting for their mother to finish her work.

This dream continued later on. We were crying out for toilet paper or tissues etc. Some guy came into the apartment where we were living with his arms full of rolls of toilet paper and just dumped it on the floor in one of the rooms and then left. We kids had to go in there to sort out what he’s just brought and check what we had then organise the bathroom with it.

Plus tard nous avons eu l’idée de reintégrer le chasson dans la famille qu’on a du faire alors le chef s’est adapté assez rapidement et le chat de la famille est poussé en dehos du groupe alors celà a provoqué une investigation comment on a fait commencer et c’est à ce moment-là qu’on a eu la série de la pied d’entre nous

So, a dream in French yet again. And I haven’t translated it because it’s total nonsense that makes no sense whatsoever.

Just after 07:00 I headed for the hills and Caliburn and we drove to the station where I was lucky enough to find a parking space almost right outside the door.

When the train came in, I headed off in the direction of Rennes, but only as far as Avranches where I alighted. Public transport is so messed up here that you end up going all round the Wrekin to get anywhere.

The bus came in at 08:55 and we drove through the snow (yes, the snow!) and ended up in Caen where we had a half-hour wait for the next bus. This was packed to the gunwhales but I found a seat eventually and we roared off to the big underground bus station at Bercy in Paris.

This time a wait of 45 minutes before the next bus came in. This was likewise packed but the driver made sure that I had a comfortable place by the door. We called at the airport and then all the way to Brussels, making a stop at a service station where I grabbed a coffee.

Stuck in the traffic for ages, we eventually arrived in Brussels rather later than planned so I’d missed the train that I wanted and had to catch a later train. The escalator up to the platform wasn’t working so I had a long walk to find the lift.

The train was a push-me-pull-you double-decker and climbing into these proved to be quite difficult as the steps in are quite high. I had quite a bit of difficulty and it was extremely awkward.

Having eaten my sandwiches on the way to Paris, I tucked into my potatoes and lentils on the train and that was a really good plan because they went down a treat.

Leaving the train at Leuven was difficult too but I managed in the end.

The hotel where I’m staying must have been wonderful 100 years ago. It’s certainly seen better days. It’s not one of my usual haunts but it’s right outside the railway station so I don’t have far to stagger. It’s expensive too, hence I’m only staying for two nights and coming home on Friday.

And the verdict?

It’s quite difficult and I’m glad that I did bring two crutches, not just one. When things are on the level I’m fine and I could in theory go for miles but carrying a backpack up hills and steps is quite complicated and I have real difficulty trying to carry a coffee cup too.

At one point I was thinking that I might be ready for another adventure with backpack and airline ticket but having done all this today, maybe I’ll leave it a while before making more plans.

But I got here, and that’s a miracle in itself

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 20th March 2021 – I’VE HAD SOMETHING …

… of an aviation day today. There was a whole host of activity in the air this afternoon.

Boeing 777-328(ER) F-GSQL english channel Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIt seems that despite everything the long-haul transatlantic flights are back again and there were quite a few in the air over here. While I was out on my afternoon walk this one flew by over the English Channel at 18,000 feet slowly gaining height.

This is Air France flight AF54 flying from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Washington DC. The aeroplane is a Boeing 777-328(ER) registration F-GSQL. She’s quite an elderly machine by modern standards, having first flown in January 2006.

And her claim to fame is that she has two engines that were manufactured by my former employers, General Electric, although I don’t claim to have anything to do with them.

vans rv-4 f-paur point du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallAnd if that isn’t enough to be going on with, there was plenty more out there too.

This delightful multicoloured aeroplane is a Vans RV-4 registration number F-PAUR. These are kit-built aeroplanes supplied with Lycoming engines and you assemble them yourself. This one was assembled by someone called Joël Benete and took to the air on 9th March 1993, just one of about 1500 assembled since 1979.

She flew from Granville in a south-south-easterly direction and seems at this moment to be somewhere in the foothills of the Alps, not having moved for a couple of hours although there’s no airport around where she is.

When my alarm went off this morning I flew pretty quickly too, out of bed as the first alarm was still ringing. I have plenty to do today.

Not going to the shops though. I’m off to Leuven early Wednesday morning and so I’ll be eating what’s lying around here until I go. I have a hard enough time keeping food fresh here when I’m here to eat it.

I had the medication and then came back to have a listen to the dictaphone to see where I’d been during the night.

There was something about a group of British soldiers who had been imprisoned and brutalised, I’m not sure what they were doing or what had been done to them but this involved going on a trip to northern Scotland so we were going to fit in a visit to an ex-friend of mine on our way up. This involved driving all the way over the Pennines to the far north and turning right at Richmond and all that way north. A question of a shopping trip came up while we were away. Someone said that the south of France was the place to go so after we had dealt with this problem to the north we would head to the south od France. I thought to myself “this is a long way to be going in a day from here to the north and then down to the south of France” but I wasn’t too keen. I thought that it would have been better to have gone to the south of France first but I didn’t say anything. I thought to myself that I didn’t really want to do this and the fact that we were running so late would make it impossible anyway so I’ll just do it like they are telling me to do”. The question of a car came up. We decided that it would have to have 4 seats and 4 doors. Someone suggested “if the 2 of you are going why don’t you tale so-and-so’s mother?” I thought “she’s really going to enjoy this long trip sitting for hours in a car while we dash from the far north of England to the south of France but never mind, we’ll do it if that’s what hey want”.

Later on I was with another ex-friend of mine in Stoke on Trent and he was telling me about how he had no money and how even his wife’s sister had stopped paying some of his bills and so on. He said that I could stay there but I have to fend for myself because they can’t provide any food. I said “that’s not a problem”. For lunch I just had some dry bread off a baguette and I’d go out and buy some bread in the afternoon because it was pouring down now and I wasn’t really going anywhere. Later on in the afternoon I went outside for a walk and he and his wife came outside and said “come on, we’re ready”. There were cars parked everywhere, it was a new house that they had but there were cars parked all over the place. We had to manoeuvre one around and drive it from off the kerb inside where another one had been parked and onto the street. Just then a yellow van went past. He was obviously afraid that my friend was going to hit him so he shouted out a pile of abuse. We took no notice and parked this car up. Then the 3 of us walked into town. One of the girls, I can’t remember who she was but she was a small woman, she said that she had to go and fetch something. I said “I’ll come with you if you like” so she replied “OK”. She, someone else and I went into the lift and went downstairs. It was like a street market with all street market vendors selling their stuff. They had cameras marked “Ferrari”, all this kind of thing, in a kind of camouflage design. Trying to drag the kids out of there would have been really difficult. We were going to the theatre apparently and we needed badges to get in but this girl and I, we didn’t have them. She was going on about how all of the others were going to get into the theatre and we’ll end up having to pay again because we don’t have our badges. There had been some talk earlier about badges and I had a badge, a Boy Scouts badge. My friend and his wife were surprised because they knew that I had qualified but they didn’t know that I’d had it yet. I showed them but it was only very small. Another thing that he and I had been discussing was retirement, how we didn’t miss our old job. I said “I still think about it all the time, the horrible people which whom we worked”. He replied that he could do better than that and drew back the curtains. From his living room window you could see the building where we had worked, right across the valley.

What was so disappointing about this was that having had him and his wife accompanying me on a nocturnal ramble, where was Zero who has accompanied me on many a nocturnal ramble over the years – probably my most regular companion even if she hasn’t featured as much in these voyages as she did at one time?

That’s the kind of thing that fills me with dismay.

After all of that I sat down and started on the photos from Greenland. And after a Herculean effort this morning, right the way up to lunchtime, I’m now in a hotel in Toronto. Yes, I’ve finished all of the Greenland photos, all …gulp … 2330 of them.

That was a marathon session and no mistake

All that remains now is for me to finish off the final week when I was in North Dakota and then I can attack the 5000-odd from August 2019. That’s going to be something of a labour of love and no mistake.

After lunch I went out for my afternoon walk. And there was a reason for being out there earier than usual, which you will find out if you read on.

beach rue du nord plat gousset donville les bains Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallBut retournons à nos moutons as they say around here, you’ve already seen the sky in those earlier aeroplane photos so you know the kind of day that we are having right now.

Despite the fact that it’s fairly cold and there’s something of a wind outside, we are having the best day of the year so far, at least, as far as sunshine goes. It’s gorgeous out here and it really is a surprise that there didn’t seem to be too many people about right now.

The beach is practically empty and that’s unusual in this kind of weather because even though there’s not much beach to be on, it’s a weekend and we are expecting a mass of Parisian second-home owners selfishly fleeing the new curfew in Paris and bringing the virus with them to infect all of us.

joly france english channel ile de chausey Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallBut that’s probably where all of the tourists and second-home owners are at the moment and why they aren’t on the beach.

While I was looking out to sea I noticed something moving way out in the English Channel on its way to the Ile de Chausey so I took a photo with the aim of cropping and enlarging it when I returned home.

Sure enough, when I did that later I could see that it’s one of the Joly France ferries that plies between the port here and the Ile de Chausey. They’ve been quite quiet of late and haven’t seemed to be doing much work, but the Parisians fleeing the lockdown has probably caused a rise in demand for the service.

There are plenty of holiday homes on the island and those who can afford to rent one will have done so to escape the effects of the virus and the lockdown.

Druine D-5 f-pvqn pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere have already been a few photos of aeroplanes that i’ve posted so far this afternoon, and I haven’t finished yet.

This aeroplane is F-PVQN and that tells me that she’s a Druine D-5. The rather elderly design tells us that she’s something special, and it turns out that it’s yet another kit-built aeroplane with a design from the 1950s. I don’t know how old she is but she’s construction number 09 and I’ve seen photos of her at the Paris Air Show in 1977 so she’s getting on a bit.

She hasn’t filed a flight plan so I can’t say where she’s going, and she doesn’t seem to have a radio beacon as she didn’t show up on my flight radar.

naabsa fishing boats fish processing plant port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallJust recently we’ve been seeing the odd fishing boat or two left high and dry by the tide over at the Fish processing Plant.

There was one there yesterday but they seem to have multiplied overnight, naughty little beasts, because there are three of them there this afternoon and I really have no idea why.

After my little walk around the headland it was time to scurry back to my bolt-hole here and make myself a coffee, and then settle down in front of the computer because the football had an early kick-off this afternoon, and we were treated to Bala Town v Caernarfon.

Bala Town are quite an attractive team to watch and have plenty of skill but while Caernarfon have nothing like the same amount of skill, they are actually the only team that play in the Welsh Premier League that actually play like a team rather than a collection of 11 assorted players.

Today was no exception because while Bala have a couple of dangerous attackers in Chris Venables and Will Evans and had the lion’s share of the first half, Caernarfon’s centre-backs snuffed Venables and Evans right out of the game. At half-time Bala were 1-0 up and that was the result of a deflected shot that Tibbetts in the Caernarfon goal would otherwise have saved.

In the second half Caernarfon played with much more confidence going forward and equalised after 10 minutes or so. The game then swung either way until with about 15 minutes to go Mike Hayes broke through and fired low into the corner of Bala’s goal for the winner. How he must have enjoyed scoring a goal against the club that released him last summer.

So a surprise win for Caernarfon in what was a thoroughly enjoyable match played in what was a really good spirit. A fine example for the League

After that I did some more work on my Central Europe trip last summer and then went for tea. In an effort to deal with some of the backlog of food I made a quick potato and mushroom curry, followed by the last of the apple pie.

Now I’m off to bed because I’m pretty much exhausted after today and I still haven’t given the living room a second go. So i’m hoping that a decent sleep and a good lie-in will see me right. Although I have a suspicion that it will take much more than that to see me right.

Tuesday 6th October 2020 – REGULAR READERS …

Vegan Pizza Dominos Leuven Belgium Eric Hall… of this rubbish will recall that LAST YEAR IN MONTREAL I came across a pizza place that had started to sell vegan pizzas as a mainstream meal.

Here I am in Leuven tonight, and what do I find but that another, different pizza chain is now offering the same. It’s most unlikely that I’ll be able to find them in France, with France about 100 years behind in this respect and Leuven is likely to be in the forefront, having such a huge student population as it does, but it’s certainly progress.

The only downside of this is that I didn’t see the notice until after I’d bought the food for my stay here for the next few days. Had I seen it earlier, I would have changed my meal plans. This kind of thing needs encouragement.

What also needs encouragement is my early starts in the morning. Another day where I was out of bed, up and definitely about this time, long before the third alarm went off. First task was to release the gas in the Kefir, and second was to feed the sourdough. It’s like having household pets in here now and that was something from which I have been trying to escape. The idea of having ties like this of any kind is not part of the plan.

So having loaded the working files onto the portable hard drive, done the washing up, had a shower, taken out the rubbish and bleached the sinks, shower and toilet and finished the packing, I hit the streets.

Trawler Port de Granville Harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallLast night, the day’s photographs finished with trawlers unloading at the Fish Processing Plant.

So today we start as we mean to go on with a carbon-copy of last night’s photograph, except of course that it’s somewhat lighter right now. And there’s a trawler manoeuvring around in the harbour too. Although the harbour gates are closed, the tide is well on its way in and so I imagine that the gates are about to open and the trawler is ready to leave.

And so I headed off towards the railway station. It was windy, but nothing like as windy as it has been, and the weather was doing its best to rain. It’s a good job that I’d prepared by wearing the correct clothes.

84565 GEC Alstom Regiolis Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere was still half an hour to go before departure time when I arrived at the Railway Station.

And here we have a disaster. The coffee machine is out of order. I’m not drinking very much coffee these days but I still fancied a cup this morning due to my early and somewhat energetic start. The train, a GEC Alstom Regiolis, was already in at the platform so I was able to board it, find my seat and settle myself down in comfort.

Somewhere along the route I was joined by a miserable, bad-tempered old woman who had clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed and who moaned all the way to Paris. And for the first time ever, I managed to go for most of the way without crashing out. Just 10 minutes or so. I was able to do quite a bit of work.

One of the jobs that I did was to listen to the dictaphone. I was with someone last night – it might even have been Castor I dunno. It started off with meeting somewhere – we had to meet and I had to go on back to my digs. I’d looked at a couple of digs and wasn’t really keen on them but the 3rd one was OK so I’d booked in there. Then I had to go out to meet whoever it was. It turned out that 1st of all it was yet another boy from my school days and we met in Claughton Avenue. I said that we had better go to check to make sure that my car was still there because I’d left it there a day or so ago. It was the old Ford Escort that I’d had. We walked down the whole length of the street looking for this Escort but it wasn’t there any more. I thought that either we were in the wrong street or someone has pinched it. If it’d been pinched, it’s been pinched and it’s far too late to do anything about it now. It was all about worrying about a car or worrying about a bike When we got to the end there was a bike rack with a pile of bikes and someone in charge The guy whom I was with picked up a bike and sat on it as if to cycle off Some old guy who was in charge said “put that back! It’s not yours!” My companion replied “ohh yes it is!” so we had this “no it isn’t – yes it is” bit and in the end he said “no it isn’t” and handed the bike back. The old guy said “thank you very much”. By now the situation had advanced and I was with Castor – it could have been Castor, it could have been anyone. We’d come out of a huge building complex type of thing and we had to go home to where my digs were. I said “come this way” and she replied “no, it’s this way”. She wanted us to go in exactly the opposite direction but I was insisting that it was my way and she was insisting that it was her way She’s had a bit to drink and was a bit unsteady on her feet so in the end I guided her back In the end we ended up somewhere walking home and I suddenly realised that you needed a special code to get into the building where I was staying and I didn’t have that code I thought “how am I going to manage that?” To make it worse, whoever I was with decided that she wanted to stay the night with me I thought that ordinarily this would really be my lucky night but how am I going to manage this if I can’t get into my building? I supposed that I could conceivably go and find a room for us in a hotel but it was now something like 02:00 and what hotels with rooms would be open at this time of night? We were on foot so we couldn’t go far. It all became really confusing as well as being a really feverish night again

It’s a common, recurring theme, isn’t it? Here I am, with the bird on my plate and just as I’m about to get my fork stuck in it, something always comes up to spike my guns. Story of my life, I suppose. And Castor too!

A little later I was back in a similar kind of situation and a similar kind of situation running a chocolate factory and mixing chocolate. There was some kind of dispute about the recipe and in the end she chose one. We were busy making it and we got a couple of blocks to take back to the hotel where we were staying to try them out.

Exterior Entrance Gare du Nord Paris France Eric HallOur train arrived in the Gare Montparnasse about 2 minutes late but the Metro trip was rapid and straightforward. Some people didn’t find it that easy though. There was a barrage of ticket inspectors checking everyone’s tickets and a few people fell foul of them.

When I arrived at the Gare du Nord I had half an hour before my train was due to leave so I went for a walk around outside. One thing that I do like about the Paris Metro is the beautiful art-deco work of the entrances. This one, across the road from the railway station, is a typical example.

There were not very many people at all in this photo, which is not what you expect outside the Gare du Nord. In fact, one thing that I did notice was that the Metro was much quieter than usual and the station was quite empty. This virus is certainly affecting the business habits of the inhabitants of the city.

Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallAnother thing that I noticed was that outside the Gare du Nord thee was a placard saying that planning permission had been obtained for various alterations.

The work that is planned to be carried out is quite extensive and substantial. It’s going to change the aspect of the railway station quite considerably and that’s a shame because the station is a beautiful building and a rare survival of decent 19th Century railway architecture.

Somewhere here and there I have a few photos of the exterior of the railway station but I don’t have one of this angle here. I reckon that I had better take one to add to the collection just in case they are really going to alter it in any major way and we might not ever see it again.

TGV Duplex Inoui 218 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallBack inside the station there was still 20 minutes to go before the train was to depart. I wasn’t going to loiter around outside too long because it was raining and it’s dryer inside.

There was already a train parked in our platform. It was one of the TGV duplex trains, built by Alstom and are getting on for 25 years old now. But nevertheless, they are still very comfortable and very rapid too.

We weren’t allowed on board yet so we had to wait around for another 10 minutes before we were allowed on board. During that time they were loading up the train with the foodstuffs and drink for the journey. I’m not quite sure why because it’s not as if it’s actually a long way to Lille on a TGV.

TGV Duplex Inoui 214 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallThey eventually allowed us through towards the train. This train set consists of two units joined together and my seat was is in the farthest unit.

We actually left on time and hurtled off into the wild blue yonder at 300Km/H. The train was actually half-empty, which was something of a surprise. Like I said earlier, people’s habits are changing.

Our train arrived in Lille-Flandres 5 minutes late, and then there was the hike down the road to the Lille-Europe railway station. The rain had stopped by now so it was a really pleasant walk down there, although I had to get a wiggle on because they don’t allow you very much time to make the journey and there isn’t a shuttle-bus or anything to connect up the stations.

TGV Lille Europe France Eric HallNegotiating the layabouts with their savage dogs at the entrance, I made my way into the station. Still 5 minutes to go before my train was due to arrive which was just as well because the singing was wrong in the station and I had to walk almost the full length of the platform to where I had to board.

Bang on time, our train came in. It’s the TGV that comes from Montpelier and when I lived in the Auvergne I used to catch it quite regularly from Lyon when I was flying out to North America from Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Arriving on time, leaving on time, and reaching its destination, Bruxelles-Midi, bang on time too. This isn’t the SNCF as we know it. There’s a story that goes around France about how kids spend all of their maths lessons working out train arrivals and departures, and then when they start their working life they encounter the SNCF …

SNCB Siemens Class 18 electric locomotice Brussels Gare du Midi Belgium Eric HallHaving arrived in Brussels, I didn’t have to go too far or wait too long for my train to Leuven. It was due to come in at the next platform.

This is the express from the Belgian coast to Welkenraedt on the German border. It’ one of the Siemens Type 18 Electrics, about 12 or 15 years old and designed by Chris “Failing” Grayling. Consequently they came with a great many problems and Siemens had to pay a hefty fine. Once they were eventually put right they’ve proved to be the backbone of the SNCB’s express passenger service.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall by the way that there’s a story to Welkenraedt and WE’VE BEEN THERE to find out about it.

We arrived in Leuven on time (I’m not used to this) and I was soon installed in my room here. One of the benefits of being a regular here is that when there’s room, I am given a free upgrade and as it’s quiet, I have a duplex apartment.

Down at Carrefour to do my shopping, past the pizza place, and then back to here for tea (falafel burger and pasta followed by fruit salad and vegan sorbet) and to watch the football. Connah’s Quay Nomads in a torrential rainstorm against Caernarfon Town.

In the first half, it was all one-way traffic towards the Caernarfon goal. Caernarfon only made it into the Nomads’ penalty area once so you will not be at all surprised to learn that the half-time score was Nomads 0, Cofis 1. Such is the nature of Welsh Football.

The second half was a much more even contest but the Nomads were playing with the rainstorm pushing them forward and they ran out 3-1 winners in the end , 2 goals of which were scored by the centre-half Priestly Farquarson who was pushing up behind the attackers on several occasions and relying on his pace (because he is quick) to get him back.

It was however quite quaint to see, every time the game stopped, a hand come round the front of the camera with a cloth and clean the lens of the rain that was soaking it. That brings back many memories from a less-sophisticated past.

Sunday 17th February 2019 – WHAT A BEAUTIFUL …

… day today.

Shame that I had to spend much of it sitting about on the Gare du Nord in Paris.

The mystery of why my train was cancelled was revealed today, and I really ought to stop myself from being so cynical. Apparently some workmen digging a hole by the side of the railway line during the week had come across an unexploded bomb from World War II.

It was still viable and so it needed to be defused. This had been programmed for Sunday morning and the entire neighbourhood had been evacuated and all of the trains stopped while the bomb squad defused it.

My suggesting that they run a Eurostar full of Brits past the bomb to make it explode was greeted with a great deal of support by the railway staff, but was not (unfortunately) put into practice.

For once in my life I had leapt out of bed with alacrity (and you all thought that I slept alone!) when the alarm went off.

And without my breakfast and without my medication, I attacked the packing, making sandwiches and the tidying up. As well as doing a back-up on the big computer. I also copied a pile of updated files onto the USB key that I take with me when I travel.

brocante place charles de gaulle granville manche normandy franceOff into town with my heavy load – I don’t know why I need so much stuff just for a couple of days, and past the Place General de Gaulle.

Here, they were setting up a brocante for the day. They always seem to have them when I’m either not here or on my way out.

And when I have been here to attend, there’s never been anything actually worth buying.

aux dames de france rue couraye granville manche normandy franceMy route to the railway station takes me from the Place General de Gaulle up the rue Couraye.

I’ve seen this building before but I’ve never really taken much notice of the facade above the shop window.

It seems that this has been a ladies’ outfitters since it was built, judging by the inscription in the concrete work above the first-floor windows.

gec alstom regiolis gare de granville manche normandy franceThe train wasn’t in when I arrived so I had a coffee and a sit-down outside. It was a pleasant morning for the time of the year. No-one would ever have said the middle of February

Once the train pulled in, we all piled aboard, me clutching the coffee that I had bought from the machine.

Drinking the coffee and nibbling away on the biscuits that I had bought for breakfast, off we set. And for a couple of hours I had a comfortable sleep on board – just a little tossing and turning here and there.

eiffel tower paris franceDuring all of the time that I’ve been travelling this line, I’ve never really managed a good photograph of the Eiffel Tower.

Today, thought, the conditions were perfect and I finally managed to take a good photo of it.

And in thz background to the right on the crest of the hill you can see the Eglise Sacré Coeur away on Montmartre.

The metro though Paris was crowded today, but it was a strangely deserted Gare du Nord to which I arrived. Just a few people about and only two people in the queue for metro tickets. So seeing that I’m running out, I took the opportunity to buy another packet of 10 tickets.

In the Thalys office they wouldn’t put me on an earlier train – for the simple reason that there wasn’t one.

There was another Thalys on charter to a private group and the girl telephoned to see if I could go on it. The reply on the phone was “yes” – but at the gate it was “no”. So we had a big discussion about that.

4343 Thalys TGV PBKA gare du nord paris franceAnd as it happens, it didn’t make any difference anyway because nothing was moving until 15:00.

Eventually I was ushered onto the TGV anyway, and at 15:01 we hit the rails. What surprised me about that was that the train was half-empty. It seems that everyone had been turned away or decided not to travel.

Another thing that surprised me was that we didn’t seem to take the usual route either. It looked completely different until after Charles de Gaulle Airport.

push me pull you gare de bruxelles midi leuven belgiumAt Brussels I had a wait for my train, so I went to the shop for something for pudding and a bottle of water. I always seem to develop quite a thirst when I’m in Leuven.

The train that brought me from Brussels to Leuven was heaving. It was one of the “push-me-pull-u” express trains from Oostende and there were kids all over it brandishing sand-encrusted buckets and spades.

They had clearly been enjoying themselves in the fine weather – and who could blame them?

I took the lift up to the gallery to walk across the railway lines, only to find that the lift on the other side was out of order. So I had to go back down again and brave the subterranean passage.

Here at my little hotel complex I had rather a surprising conversation with the manager.
“There’s something that I’ve always been meaning to ask you. Didn’t you used to play in a rock band years ago? Your name looks quite familiar”.

Now I can’t remember what I was doing even half an hour ago. So I’m bewildered how come some Flemish guy might remember my name from the only time my name ever appeared in the Music press – when I played bass for a well-known drummer from Wales in an ad-hoc band that played for just one night at Crewe Teachers’ Training College in 1976 or 77.

Having had a good sleep on the train I wasn’t really all that tired so much to my own surprise I didn’t crash out on the bed. Instead, I had a few things to do.

university library herbert hooverplein leuven belgiumA little later I went for a walk into town for my pizza. After all, it IS Sunday.

Walking past the Herbert Hooverplein, the University library looked splendid, all illuminated in the dark. And with no-one around to spoil my view.

It was just inviting to be photographed and so I duly obliged.

Having had tea now, it might only be 22:00 but this is probably the cue for an early night. I need to catch upon my sleep and save my strength for the battle ahead tomorrow.

Thursday 12th October 2017 – I HAD AN INTERESTING …

… flight back from Canada. Playing “Bejeweled” all the way across the Atlantic.

That’s not a polite way to say that the in-flight entertainment was total garbage either. I mean – it was, but once I found the “games” section of the things, I didn’t bother too much about the rest.

And never mind my worries about not having a special meal either. The two options of food offered on board was either chicken or … pasta with vegetables in a tomato sauce – with no cheese.

Sleep wasn’t too much of an issue either – I just had a fitful doze here and there and that was really my lot.

air canada flight paris charles de gaulle airport france Octobre october 2017It seems that Air Canada is having issues with the landing fees at Charles de Gaulle airport too.

Admittedly we were considerably early in landing, thanks to a helpful tail wind, but we ended up moored on the concrete apron and having to be bussed over to the terminal.

And just two passport control officers at the “EU” desk to screen us. But they weren’t too bothered about much and we were soon through.

The baggage was reasonably quickly out too so I was able to make good my escape. On the way out I was accosted by a couple of pirate taxi drivers. “Do I have the word ‘idiot’ tattooed on my forehead?” I growled.

10:30 was when I made it to the railway station – that has to be something of a new record. And my train from Paris to Brussels was at 14:35. A mere 4 hours to get into the city.

But – wait! There’s a train from here direct to Brussels at 11:07!

TGV paris charles de gaulle brussels belgium Octobre october 2017My ticket is not refundable, and it’s more expensive than I was expecting.

But sodomisez ça pour un jeu de soldats! as they say around here. I’m not struggling all the way into Paris and hanging around on a draughty station for several hours.

The moral of this story is – don’t book your ticket from the airport “on-line”. Wait until you arrive and then do it. It works out cheaper in the long run.

When the train was called we all trooped off to the gate, to be turned away by a security guy. “You have to use the other gate”
“Why’s that?” called out Our Hero
“Because over there they are controlling the passengers”
“So what are you doing then?”.

I ended up in the company of a woman who needed help to find her seat. She told me that she was from Russia, to which I replied “Ja ne gavariou nichivo pa-Russki”, which always helps in moments like this.

So, by 13:00, instead of still having ages to wait on a draughty station 320 kilometres away in Paris, I was banging on the door of my hotel.

And “banging” too, because it was all locked up, in darkness, with “FULL” on the door.

Eventually, the manager appeared.
“Sorry, we’re full” he explained, which with the Hotel in total darkness looked totally unlikely.
“I’ve a booking here!”
“Ohhh yes – you must be Mr Hall”.
Manager takes me to a hotel down the street – a much better one than the one where I am supposed to be staying.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience. You’ll need to stay here tonight. But you’ll be back with us tomorrow”
Manager retreats into the total darkness of his hotel.

So what’s going on here then? Knowing the usual kind of places where I stay when i’m on my travels, my money is on a Police raid.

The Hotel de France is quite nice, and so it goes without saying at all that the first thing that I did when I arrived was to crash out. And that was that for … errr …some time.

Later on I went to the café around the corner and had a bowl of lentils, some bread and chips for tea. And the thing about that was that they had the TV on. And being in this particular little corner of Brussels I was entertained by watching RAJA Casablanca beat FUS Rabat in the Moroccan Cup.

concrete lego pieces Octobre october 2017I went down to the all-night supermarket in the Gare du Midi for a bottle of pop and some food for breakfast, and encountered these giant lego bricks or jigsaw pieces all over the place.

They are probably road-closers or something like that actually, but my imagination had endless moments of fun imagining builders in giant cranes amusing themselves with these lumps of concrete, building all kinds of things.

Keep them out of mischief for days.

Back here, I sat on the edge of the bed pondering my next move, and the next thing that I remember was that it was 23:00. i’d been out for about 90 minutes.

Well out too. I wasn’t going anywhere else so I curled up under the comfortable sheets. I needed it too.

Tuesday 15th August 2017 – WHAT A NIGHTMARE!

“Start as you mean to go on” say I.

And so the usual performance at 04:00 this morning aroused me from my stinking pit. No idea what the neighbours are doing at that time of morning, but never mind.

And I saw from the fitbit (because I had another shower this morning) that I’d been awake a couple of other times during the night too. So all in all it wasn’t a good start to the day.

But it could have been worse. I could have been the two policemen in the Volkswagen van who thought it cool to jump the red light outside the building just as a motorist coming the other way decided to race the orange light. They will be sorting out that mess for quite a while, I imagine.

It’s only me though who could nip out across the road to the boulangerie for some bread for lunch and forget to take his money with him. Luckily there was some Moroccan bread at ?0:50, an amount which corresponded quite nicely with the small change that I had in my pocket.

But do you ever get the feeling that it’s not going to be one of your days?

We eventually managed to come to some agreement over the hotel room for when I come back. I arranged the room at the price that I’d paid for the room just now and I’m okay with that. Smallest room in the building but it’s not a problem, and neither is the price at just ?55 per night for a city centre hotel just a stone’s throw away from the station.

Having organised that, I headed off down to the Gare du Midi for my train.

TGV brussels gare du midi lille aout august 2017The first TGV took me to Lille Europe. It was one of the older generations of TGV so we were rather cramped and it was not as comfortable as it might have been.

However, I was one of the first on so there was no problem about finding luggage space – something which can be an issue on these trains.

And my seat was right by the door too so I was one of the first off when we arrived.

tgv lille europe aout august 2017

We then had a wait at Lille Europe for my next train. And no-one was more surprised that I was to note that it was the double-decker to Marseille that had set out from … errr … Brussels 50 minutes later than the one that I had caught.

So what that was all about I really have no idea – why they couldn’t have stuck me on that one to travel direct, but I have noticed some … errr … anomalies with the SNCF booking site. Like the 7 minutes that it’s allowing me on the way back to negotiate the entire length and breadth of Paris Gare du Nord.

No electricity on this train, and we were all packed in, although with it being one of the new generations there was plenty of room to stretch out. And everyone was for some reason stressed out and irritable when we had to alight and the squabbles over unloading the baggage were something that I hadn’t seen for a while

Terminal 2 at Paris Charles de Gaulle is immense and it took a while for me to work out where I needed to be. But once I arrived, this was when the real problems arose.

Since 1st November 2016 passengers to Canada have needed a visa – such is the craven fashion that the Canadian authorities have surrendered to the Americans south of the border. Of course, with nothing having been said, Your Truly didn’t have one.

Neither did so many other people either, and there was a crew on duty to help passengers apply. Mind you, the female receptionist was far more interested in flirting with the male security guard than she was with dealing with stressed-out passengers, so you can imagine just how quickly this all descended into chaos.

Several bouts of sharp words – not all of them from me either – passed between the passengers and this girl and it took well over an hour for her to deal with what should have been a relatively simple matter. But in the end I was armed with an entry visa to Canada. And she won’t forget me in a hurry

We had the usual total nonsense at the “security” and I shan’t go into too many details because I’ve told you all about it so many times. There’s a couple of people there who aren’t going to forget me in a hurry either.

air canada flight 885 15 aout august 2017At the gate I had to … errr … negotiate in order to have an aisle seat. But the aeroplane had the last laugh in this respect because ONCE AGAIN the brassards had forgotten my special meal. There was a steward on the plane who tried to be funny with me about it, and he’s not going to forget me in a hurry too.

If I keep on giving people a piece of my mind like this, I’m not going to have much left by the time that I arrive in Montreal.

That is – if we ever arrive in Montreal because the plane was 50 minutes taking off, and very little of that was actually my fault.

Mind you, it would be wrong to say that I was … errr … unprepared for this. I’ve travelled with Air Canada before, haven’t I? The quinoa salad and Moroccan bread followed by the leftover fruit, with some of Alison’s crisps for a mid-air snack went down vert nicely.

To calm myself down I went to watch a film on the laptop (the in-fight entertainment is total rubbish) and found that the electricity supply seems to be set up for North American plugs only. And there I am with a North-American cable for my laptop power-pack, and it’s in the suitcase in the hold isn’t it?

Definitely not my day.

air canqda flight 885 15 aout august 2017We were actually on time arriving at Montreal which was good news. The bad news was that there wasn’t a gate for us and so we had to sit for over half an hour until something was cleared. And that annoyed me intensely as you might imagine.

Much to my (and to everyone else’s) astonishment, there was hardly a queue at the Immigration desks and I’ve never had to wait for such a short space of time before being called up. And here the fun began again.

No trace of my visa, apparently. “But of course I have a visa” I wailed. How else zould I have been allowed to board the flight?”

So I had to connect my mobile phone, and that took much longer than it might otherwise have done too – not helped by the fact that I had switched it on to “flight” mode while I was on the aeroplane, and sure enough my Visa came up.

Or, at least, a Visa came up. But it wasn’t mine. That stupid girl at Charles de Gaulle had typed in my name incorrectly with the family name in place of the given name and vice versa. So that led to another round of arguments.

Eventually; after what can only be described as “considerable discussion” I was allowed through, but by now you can imagine the state in which I was. One exceedingly unhappy bunny here.

“Baggage at Carousel 6” was the notice, and so I queued at Carousel 6. And queued and queued.

After about half an hour of this I was pretty fed up as you can imagine. It’s a large suitcase (but not that large) so I wandered over to the oversize carousel to see if it might be there.

No luck there either so I wandered back to carousel 6. And queued and queued.

Something out of the corner of my eye made me turn round – and there on carousel 4 was my suitcase – and the suitcases of plenty of others who were likewise waiting. No idea how long it had been going around there but there it was – so I grabbed it and shot off out of the blasted place.

Getting my bus ticket was straightforward – and would have been even more straightforward had I not left my Canadian money in the suitcase instead of in the rucksack which was where I had originally placed it (I wondered this morning why I’d put it in there – now I remember!).

And only Brain of Britain can do this! When I stayed at this hotel before, it was in anticipation of an 05:00 start so I was long-gone before breakfast. And so it seems that I have managed to book myself into the only hotel in the whole of Montreal that doesn’t do breakfast.

And wandering around the city a little later in the evening, the nearest Tim Horton’s is quite some distance away. This isn’t so good, is it?

gay village rue st catherine est montreal quebec canada aout august 2017At least it was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed my stroll, even if it was quite late in real terms. I’m just around the corner from the “rue St Catherine Est” which is the “Gay Village” of Montreal so I was expecting it to be crowded with people.

But not so. No idea where everyone was, but in any case I decided to bugger off quite sharpish back to my hotel, finish off the quinoa salad and bread and have a good night’s sleep.

I need the sleep and to relax after all of my efforts. You’ve no idea just how stressful it all is doing all of this. I’m a bad traveller anyway and all of the problems that I’ve been having are enough to try the patience of a Saint.

And having given so many people a piece of my mind just recently, I don’t have very much left.

Friday 16th June 2017 – I’VE BEEN SPENDING …

… my money again.

As I might have hinted just now, this place is beginning to look as if someone has been living here for over 6 weeks and not bothered to clean it. I’ve a brush and a mop and bucket, that sort of thing, and that’s clearly inefficient, so seeing as how LeClerc had a cheap bagless vacuum cleaner on sale at just €29:00, that has now joined the assembled multitudes. And I’ll be using it tomorrow too if it all goes according to plan.

It’s Friday and Friday is of course shopping day. And it nearly wasn’t because we had one of those days where I struggled to leave the stinking pit that is my bed. David Bowie had to wake me up again, and it was something of a disorganised stagger to the bathroom.

But the mug of coffee soon brought me round and 10 minutes under a nice warm shower did the rest. I’ve shaved about a month’s growth of beard off too and now I look almost human.

I spent about 90 minutes in LeClerc this morning and actually found everything that I needed (including a vacuum cleaner). And to give you some idea of how the decadent life here in a seaside resort is transforming me into a member of the bourgeoisie, today’s shopping came to not €20:00 or €25:00 as it would in the Auvergne, but €46:71 (and that’s not including the vacuum cleaner either).

Mind you, those melons and those peaches really did look far too nice to leave on the shelves. And I’ve bought stuff to make a tofu and potato pie – to which I shall be setting my hand some time in midweek when the mushroom curry has expired.

Lunch was up on the cliffs overlooking the harbour in the sunshine, and I was there for a good couple of hours with my book. Fatigue drove me inside where, once again, I … errr … relaxed for a while.

But what have I been doing for the rest of the day?

I have in fact been making plans for a-voyaging. My next hospital appointment is sometime round about 14th August, and on the 15th I’m heading for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. No prizes where I’m going, of course. And I’m not going on a bucket-shop airline either but on a flagship carrier – the Luftwaffe … errr … I mean Lufthansa. High time that I had a really decent and comfortable flight across the Atlantic and I’m not still fighting World War II like most Brits seem to be.

I will however see if we can make a diversion to do a bombing run over Drowning Street and Westminster.

What is sad is that there is no longer a direct flight from Brussels to Montreal (at least, ther emight be but when we started getting into the “well into four figures” prices I gave up looking). I could fly via, of all places, Nice, and I might have been tempted seeing as it was actually a cheap option, but it didn’t arrive in Nice until 22:35 and that’s precious little time to organise a hotel and the like

So tomorrow, there’s all the rest to do. Hotels, trains and buses, because I’m going to be there for 2 months. 2 months between each hospital visit and I intend to make the most of it.

Tuesday 13th June 2017 – SO HAVING SLEPT …

… the Sleep Of The Dead until all of about 05:00, I was quickly up and about and under the shower for a good soaking. And having finally attacked the half-baguette and the jam that I had bought the other day, I was ready for anything.

Yes, quite!

Packing was exciting. I’m sure that I’m taking back more than I went out with, not including the two pairs of trousers. And so ramming it into the rucksack and the shopping bag was … errr … exciting. I wish that I had brought a larger bag with me now.

I was out early to the station because there’s a supermarket at the back where I was going to buy some lunch stuff (no tomatoes unfortunately because Bane of Britain seems to have forgotten to bring the sharp knife that lives in his rucksack pocket) but the presence of an express direct to Brussels-Midi on the platform prompted me to change my mind, and I legged it up the stairs mucho-el-rapido.

Early in Brussels, I went to see if I could change my TGV ticket for one on the earlier train. For some reason, the SNCF on-line booking doesn’t recognise the 10:13 TGV and instead books me on the 11:13. That just gives me an hour or so to perform the Traversée de Paris and that’s pretty tight, especially when I don’t have Bourvil to carry my suitcases for me.

Luckily there was a place on the earlier train. One day there won’t be, and that will be the day that there will be perturbations on the Metro or the TGV will run late.

There was still a few minutes to spare so I popped to the Carrefour on the station and bought a baguette, a couple of pears and a bottle of water. It’s going to be a long, hot day.

TGV Brussels mdid paris gare du nord franceThe train pulled in a couple of minutes early and much to my surprise the door to my carriage was exactly where I was standing, so I was second on board.

And heaving – there wasn’t room to swing a cat, and the poor moggy that was in the carry-basket of the person in front of me had to stay cooped up.

We did have a moment of excitement though, when my baguette slid off the overhead rail and almost fell down the cleavage of the woman in front. She stuck it back on the rack, and bent it too for good measure.

But what’s all this about cleavages just now?

It didn’t take long to cross Paris on the metro, which it never does when you allow plenty of time, and it gave me a good opportunity to go for a little exploration.

There’s a bus from Paris-Montparnasse directly to Charles de Gaulle airport, so I tracked that down and made “certain enquiries”, and the SNCF also has a suitcase collection and delivery service, and that can be extremely advantageous as my health declines. I made “certain enquiries” about that, too.

BB class 15000 507235 SNCF gare paris montparnasse vaugirard franceMy luck was in over at our side of the railway station. Here parked up at of the terminus platforms was a nez cassé, or “broken nose”.

These are the typical French SNCF electric locomotives built in the 1970s as part of the modernisation plans of the SNCF. They took the French railways to a new level, tanking along at a good 100 miles per hour without even drawing breath and despite being supplanted by the TGVs and being over 40 years old, most of them are still in service.

But it’s rare to find them over here. Their usual stamping ground is in the North-East of the country. That’s why I was so surprised to see one.

multiple unit paris montparnasse vaugirard railway station granville manche normandy franceNothing over 40 years old about our conveyance to Granville though. Not even 40 months old, these things.

It was totally heaving too, at least as far as Avranches, and for some reason I couldn’t make myself comfortable which is a change. And I was drifting in and out of sleep all the way up here. I’m not as young as I was. I didn’t do any work of any description, which is not like me as you all know.

But I was glad for the bottle of water because it really was a hot afternoon in the crowded train.

Bang on time we arrived, and so nice was the afternoon that instead of waiting for the bus, I set off to walk home.

sailing ship schooner in harbour granville manche normandy franceClimbing the hill out of town was a struggle so I stopped for five minutes or so to admire the view. And this gorgeous sailing boat is in here today.

No idea of her name, but she seems to be registered in Granville so I shall have to make some further enquiries. But what wouldn’t I give for a lap around the bay in her?

And this reminds me of the story of the sea captain who bought the land at the bottom of a shallow bay in order to create a colony. But while only a mere handful of people expressed an interest, no-one would board his ship.

They all thought that his barque was worse than his bight.

Back here, I crashed out for a while and then made a quick tea out of tins. I wasn’t going to hang about because I really was tired. It took a lot out of me, these three days.

But at least on the train I can do it in three days. Not a chance of that if I were to drive. And it cost me just €195 for the trip. Diesel would have cost me €160, and then we have the autoroute tolls, a hotel each way at the mid-point and all of the stress.

No, going on the train is the way to go without a doubt.

Monday 10th October 2016 – SO HERE I AM …

air transat airbus A330 C-GKTS paris charles de gaulle airport france october octobre 2016… or, rather, here’s my aeroplane. On the hard-standing at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Miles from the terminal of course because I imagine that Air Transat can’t afford the terminal fees.

Not that I’m too bothered of course. I have to pay my own air fare and anything that whittles the price down is fine by me. Remember that my return flight to Canada had cost me less that 40% of the fare of a blue-chip flagship carrier and you can’t say fairer than that.

Our plane was an Airbus 330, registration number C-GKTS. And although she may not look it, she is over 20 years old. Built in 1995 for Dragonair, an airline in Hong Kong, she was bought by Air Transat in 1999. Her build number is 111

I’d had a bad night on the aeroplane. Despite being reasonably comfortable, I couldn’t drop off to sleep and so ended up reading my book for a major part of the flight. The in-flight entertainment was total rubbish. It was dreadful on the way out, and there was exactly the same selection on the way back.

The food too was rubbish, but then I’d expected that. I had my bag of hot cross buns to keep me going.

There were only two immigration officers on duty at the Terminal when we arrived but luckily I was one of the first off the bus, so I didn’t have to wait too long. Mind you, it was a different story for the baggage. It took ages to arrive and mine was one of the last onto the conveyor.

From Terminal 3 I had to go off on my merry, mazy way to the interairport tram that would take me to Terminal 2 and my TGV to Brussels. And here I had some good luck. My flight had been bang on time, which was totally unexpected. So unexpected that when I was making my travel arrangements 6 weeks ago I had booked myself on the 16:07 train to Brussels in order to give myself room to manoeuvre in case we were delayed.

tgv airport paris charles de gaulle france october octobre 2016But there was an earlier train to Brussels, leaving at 13:07, and it was now about 12:20. Down at the SNCF offices I managed to blag my way onto this one (I had to pay a supplement of €13:00 but who cares?). That was an unexpected stroke of good fortune that doesn’t happen to me very often.

The train was bang on time, which is what you might expect in France, and I found myself sharing a table with a guy from Lille and his 4 year old daughter. We all had a good chat as far as Lille, and then I was on my own all the way to Bruxelles-Midi.

local train bruxelles midi station leuven belgium october octobre 2016There was even more good news at Bruxelles-Midi. There was an inter-city train leaving for Welkenraedt in less than 10 minutes. They stop at the main Brussels stations and then express to Leuven, and that suits me fine.

There was plenty of room on the train so I could spread myself out, and I was quite comfortable on my trip to Leuven.

At the station, I took the lift up to the footbridge and that is on the same level as the entrance to my hotel. That’s much easier than having to struggle up several flights of stairs with my luggage.

The IBIS Budget Hotel is quite new. The rooms are tiny but it’s clean and friendly and just €59:00 a night, which isn’t too bad for a city centre hotel. It’s right next door to the station and the bus station, there’s a fritkot across the road and a supermarket down in the basement underneath. What more could any man desire?

First thing that I did when I arrived was to have a nice hot shower. As for the second thing that I did – well, I don’t remember. I crashed out completely. Totally out of it.

I was awake enough in the evening to go across the road to the fritkot. He did me a nice veggie-burger and chips and that filled a hole. The first hot food that I had had for several days by the way.

That was that, really. I’d had a hectic few days with little sleep and I wasn’t feeling too well either. The bed looked quite comfortable and so that was that. I was well away.

Sunday 4th September 2016 – WELL, I NEVER THOUGHT THAT I’D EVER …

… get back here again, but here I am all the same.

And it was really no surprise where I was going, was it? Hands up if you REALLY didn’t guess.

And I’m glad that I’m here because it really was miserable this morning! And I’m not talking about me either. I had a reasonable night’s sleep for a change – just two trips down the corridor, and I ended up awake round about 06:45. But you would never have guessed what time it was – it looked as it if was 04:00 outside – totally dark, grey and miserable. How glad I am to be getting out of this.

No breakfast at the hotel either. It seems to have tightened up considerably on its efficiency from what I saw last night and I reckon that the breakfast cards that I still have from my time as a chauffeur all these years ago might be disallowed these days. But having anticipated this move, I did have some supplies with me – Strawberry Moose hadn’t eaten all of them – and so we had breakfast in my room. The complementary coffee plus the crackers, banana and satsumas out of my suitcase.

After breakfast I had a shower – and the door to the shower cubicle promptly fell off the runners – evidently the previous honeymmoning couple had been far too energetic in the bathroom – and there was no soap in the dispenser in the shower cubicle either. It was clearly not my night in the Comfort Inn, was it?

The shuttle back to the airport was fairly straightforward, although these days they only go to Terminal 2 and you need to take the internal tram-shuttle round to there. And then of course I had to enquire of the direction to the aeroplanes, never having been this way before.

We had all fun and games at the baggage check-in. First of all, my luggage weighed a mere 17.1 kilograms. I’m definitely losing my touch, aren’t I? And then the girl at the check-in dropped my passport into the conveyor. That brought Terminal Three to its knees for a good half an hour. Who needs machine guns and dynamite to paralyse a transport network when Strawberry Moose and Yours Truly are on the loose?

As for the security control, that was the most painless that I have ever encountered. Straight in, straight through and straight out without even a hint of inconvenience and aggression. Quite the reverse in fact – the couple of young people working there actually had a sense of humour and a laugh and joke with the passengers. Other airports and border crossings should take not of this. If every other passage through "Security" was as pleasant as this, every journey would be a pleasure instead of being so stressful.

I’ve complained bitterly about airport security in the past so it’s only correct to give credit when it deserves it;

The aeroplane was late, as you might expect, and we had to be bussed out across the hardstanding because it’s Air Transat again and they can’t afford the full terminal fees. And I know that I said that I would never ever fly Air Transat again but this year, what with my incredibly late booking, the cost of a flagship flight across the Atlantic was well into four figures. With Air Transat it was less than €500 and that’s the cheapest price that I’ve ever had across to Canada in modern times. It might be easier for a lion to swallow his pride than it is for me to do so, but I can do it whenever there’s some of the folding stuff involved.

But Air Transat is going downhill. There wasn’t even a hint of anything on the in-flight entertainment that I wanted to watch, even as a captive viewer. In fact under the heading "Classic Films" there were just three – and they dated from the turn of the century. Hardly what I would call "classic". I ended up listening to music on my phone instead.

The in-flight catering was absolute rubbish too. I’ve never ever eaten so badly on a long-haul flight in all my life. Just a hot wrap of grilled vegetables for lunch and a sort-of pizza slice for tea, and that’s your lot. Mind you, I had been warned about this by someone who actually works for Air Transat, and that was the reason for the extra baguette and butties that I made yesterday.

full length mirror in toilet air transat airbus A330 canada september septembre 2016You may remember – or long term readers of this rubbish my remember – the Air Transat flight from a few years ago with the full-length mirror in the gentleman’s rest-room. And so we had another one on this flight too – which is what looks to be a reasonably-modern Airbus A330 by the way.

There’s clearly a purpose for these mirrors, and I’m sure you come up with your own ideas. For me, all you need is a paintbrush and a pot of varnish and then I can gloss over all of my shortcomings.

And so we headed out well across the Atlantic, our arrival becoming later and later as the headwinds kept pushing us backwards.Our estimatedtimeof arrival, which should have been 13:14 had we taken off on time, became 14:15 aswe left, and ended up at 14:27

Now, reading the notes that I’ve been typing about Air Transat, you might be thinking that I’m pretty well-disillusioned about the airline. But nothing could be further from the truth. Had I had this level of service on a Swissair or Lufthansa flight at €1335, I would have been beyond furious. But just let me remind you that I’ve paid a little more than a third of the price to do the same trip with Air Transat (and that’s not strictly true as Lufthansa wanted me to go via Dusseldorf). Given the situation, I’ve had my money’s worth from Air Transat and I don’t want anyone to think otherwise.

At least it’s not as bad as the legendary Air Fungus flight that set off from Ballyhoo to Montreal – a flight of 2200 miles – and when the pilot discovered after 1800 miles in the air that he didn’t have enough fuel for the remaining 400 miles, he turned round and flew back towards Ballyhoo.

air transat airbus A330 montreal pierre l trudeau airport dorval canada september septembre 2016We eventually arrived, and at a real air terminal too, and I was able to take a photo of the aeroplane. It’s not very good, mainly because I was using the phone camera and I had the sun in my eyes, and you can’t see the serial number of the machine either. But it’s the best that was available.

The queue into Canada was nothing like as bad as last time – only about four perpendicular lines, and with 9 immigration staff on duty we were done and dusted inside half an hour. I took advantage of the pause by emptying my rucksack of all prohibited food items – Canada seems to be becoming more and more keen on this sort of thing. But I was clearly observed nibbling on a forbidden orange or somthing because I was quizzed for a few minutes about any food that might be in my possession and a red cross was put on my entry form.


Next stop was the bus ticket machine. I’m here for three days now, having messed up over this Labour Day thing. I was supposed to do all of my errands tomorrow and move on tomorrow night but it’s Labour Day and so everywhere will be closed down. I can’t do anything now until Tuesday and so I’ll need an extra night at the hotel for a start. A three-day ticket costs $18 and that even includes travel from the airport into the city as often as I would like, and if that’s not good value I don’t know what is.

And I shall have to stop talking to myself too. Someone loitering near the ticket machine came over to me. He said that he was glad to hear another English-speaker and could I sort out a ticket for him. Americans are so lost outside their normal environment and so I was glad to help him.

montreal pierre l trudeau airport dorval canada september septembre 2016And what goes around comes around too because they have changed all of the hotel shuttles too. The gate has moved to upstairs and you need now to phone up for yourbus – there are no longer any tourneés.This was going to be a problem, as I predicted, because my Canadian phone charger doesn’t work and the battery is flat, but a kind man at the information desk lent me his phone and that was quickly organised.

I didn’t have to wait very long either, and the man who picked me up was the same man who has picked me up a few times now so we had a very interesting chat about old times on the drive down here. It’s good to be amongst friends.

comfort inn cote de liesse dorval montreal canada september septembre 2016The hotel is only 5 minutes away from the airport and so I was here in no time flat. I booked my room for an extra night, so much for the best-laid plans of mice and men, andin a change to the advertised programme I’ve also booked a room for the night before I leave Canada.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother and I’d go straight through off the overnight bus onto the overnight plane, but I have to remember that I’m ill and while I might be okay right now, whatever am I going to be like in five weeks time? This is no time for playing fast and loose with my health.

Having done all of the necessary, I went up to my room, liberated Strawberry Moose from his confinement in the suitcase and had a nice relax for a couple of hours, something which involved a couple of cups of coffee.

montreal public transport service bus 202 metro ducollege canada september septembre 2016And then I hit the town. There’s a bus stop right outside the hotel here and having observed from my window the times of the buses that pass by, I didn’t have long to wait. The 202 bus goes past the hotel every half an hour at about 05 and 35, and there’s a bus stop right outside the building.

This is why you always buy your bus ticket at the airport. The hotels along the Côte de Liesse are quite handy for the public transport, but you need to have a ticket handy when you leap on board.

metro train montreal canada september septembre 2016The bus goes down to the DuCollege metro station and that’s about about 30 minutes drive away. Here, you can take the underground into the city centre, or anywhere else that takes your fancy.

Ordinarily I’d go down to the Snowdon metro station and chanhe trains for the Côte des Nieges because there’s my little falafel place and even an excellent Indian restaurant but tonight, as it was early, I had a change of plan. I did change trains but I went all the way to the Jean Talon station instead.

rue jean talon vegetable market montreal canada september septembre 2016Just down the road is the legendary wholesale vegetable market and it’s a stunning place, full of traders and people and the most astonishing vegetables. But everywhere was closing down by the time that I arrived and there were just the private citizens buying up the leftovers. But it’s still a really exciting place to be even at that time of the evening.

From here, I walked down towads the Parc Metro station – the old Canadian Pacific railway terminus that i’ve shown you before. A Metro supermarket came up with a big bottle of epinette, the spruce beer that I love (and I have a fridge in my hotel room too) and I could organise some vegan cheese because it’s Sunday – pizza night.

At the side of the underground station is a pizza place that has always been very good to me in the past. Here I ordered my pizza as well as a bottle of root beer (after all, we are in Canada now) and then I was ready for home. And I didn’t have to wait too long for the bus at DuCollege either which certainly makes a change.

bus 202 cote de liesse dorval montreal canada september septembre 2016Coming back can be something of an issue because it isn’t easy to reach the hotel – there’s a motorway in between the hotel and the return bus route. However a friendly driver can usually be persuaded to stop at the overpass about 800 metres up the road and although it’s a bit of a walk back, it’s much quicker than doing the circular tour.

I was back here by 20:45 and by 21:15 I was cleaned, showered, clothes washed and in this beautifully comfortable bed. And here I’m staying until my name changes to Rip van Eric.

Saturday 3rd September 2016 – ONE OF THE THINGS …

… that is pretty much guaranteed to get my goat is the general unco-operative spirit of people who seem to deliberately set out to obstruct and inconvenience every single one of their fellow human-beings. And I had one of those on the train today from Leuven to Brussels. Here I was, struggling with my mammoth suitcase and there was a family, with pushchairs and all kind of encombrances blocking the passageway, and they simply sat there and watched as I struggled my way down the aisle.

You can tell that I’m leaving Leuven and heading closer to Brussels, on the first leg of my voyage elsewhere.

Despite being thoroughly exhausted after my walk around the city yesterday – so much so that I had an early night, and despite two trips down the corridor, I was awake quite early – round about 06:20 or thereabouts. And I’d been on my travels during the night too – but then again you don’t want to know too much about this seeing as how you are probably eating your breakfast.

After breakfast I packed up and sorted everything out. By the time that I had done this, it was midday and so I went and fetched Caliburn. Strawberry Moose had quite a surprise as I stuffed him into his suitcase, and then I took that up to my room and took down everything that I don’t need. I then took Caliburn back to his little hidey-hole and walked back.

On the way back I bought two baguettes – two being necessary because there is no other way of my obtaining any food tomorrow during the next leg of my journey so I have to make butties. I had lunch and made the butties for tomorrow and then packed my suitcase and sorted out everything that I need.

And here I have had a disaster – I don’t have the charger for my other telephone. Well, I do, but there are two of them and one doesn’t work and it’s the one that doesn’t work that I have managed to bring with me. So this is going to cause a major problem tomorrow late afternoon.

I’d also forgotten the saucepan. I had to wash that and then walk back to Caliburn with it, otherwise I would only forget it. I know that it’s not much good, but it’s the only one that I have at the moment.

And another thing – I’ve solved the mystery of why I always seem to pick up an infection, a heavy cold or cough (or both) when I’m in my room, which goes almost as soon as I leave. The reason for this is that there is about 6 feet of dust and fluff underneath my bed. This cleaner-person just seems to clean where he can see and that’s your lot. No wonder it’s affected me so much.

But, as I have said before, I’m not complaining. I had an important reduction on the room rate due to the time that I was spending there and the price of less than €26 per night, breakfast included, was an excellent deal.

By 16:30 I was ready to leave and so I hit the streets. Dragging the monster suitcase behind me I made it to the bus stop and then on the bus to the station. And despite the difficulties I made it to Brussels all the same. And I got lost in Bruxelles-Midi – it’s all changed since I was last here and what with repairs and renovations and bits closed off, it took me an age to find my way around to the Thalys lounge.

It was 17:15 when I arrived and my train was due to depart at 19:15, and we could board it half an hour earlier, which seemed like a good idea to me. I sat around for a while and then went off in search of food because there won’t be any at all where I’m going tonight. I ended up with a veggie burger and chips and a bottle of pop, quite over-priced (which is only to be expected when you have a captive audience) but wasn’t as disgusting as I was fearing.

Just for a change, I was a mere third on the train and my suitcase, with His Nibs inside, was first on the luggage rack. That’s much more like it than the mad scramble that occurs at Lyon Part-Dieu (which is where this train is heading, incidentally).

Not that it made much difference though, because there was hardly anyone on it. I’ve never been on such an empty TGV – or have I? The one that I took from Lille to Charles de Gaulle a couple of years ago was quite empty, so I recall. It didn’t fill up much more at Lille and we shot off into the sunset from there still pretty-much empty.

At the airport (yes, I’m at the airport) we had the usual half-hour wait for the shuttle bus, and when I finally arrived at my hotel, the hotel had no trace of my booking, even though I had the agency’s confirmation. This led to a very interesting 30 minutes at the reception desk, but luckily the bridal suite hadn’t been booked and so I’m spending the night in 5-Star luxury in an emperor-sized bed. And you can’t say fairer than that, can you?

So an early start tomorrow, and we are off on our travels again. See you soon!

Wednesday 13th July 2016 – I’M BACK …

… in Leuven. My stay back in France didn’t last too long, did it?

I had another good sleep, only having to leave the bed once. Well, twice actually, but seeing that the second time was 05:50, just 10 minutes before the alarm was due to go off, I didn’t bother going back downstairs. Instead, I dressed and went down to make breakfast.

By the time that I had done that, made my butties for lunch and had a shower and change of clothes, it was 07:10 and Terry was ready so we hit the road.

It was a beautiful drive right across France to the Rhône valley and Lyon, and we were there on the outskirts of the city by 09:20. The next 6 kilometres was a different proposition. With the traffic queue that we encountered and then the changes to Lyon’s road network that weren’t shown on Terry’s Satnav, it was 10:10 when we arrived at the station. It’s a good job that we had allowed plenty of time for the journey.

There was however plenty of time for a coffee as the TGV was late arriving. 11:00 was the time of departure, but we finally set off at 11:25. We stopped at Marne la Vallée, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lille as I expected, but also at Haute-Picardie and Arras which I hadn’t realised. Consequently it was 15:30 when we pulled into Bruxelles-Midi.

The journey wasn’t boring though. I did a pile of work on my website, though and I was sitting next to a woman whose father was born in Les Ancizes. We had a lengthy chat about the Auvergne, and she and I set the world to right about the Brexit. It’s not very often that I meet someone who thinks along my lines.

A brief amount of excitement at Bruxelles-Midi was when I bought my ticket for my onward trip to Leuven. I used one of the automatic machines and I received my ticket, plus one from the previous passenger who had clearly forgotten to pick it up. I had to find an information booth to leave it there.

15:56 was my train to Leuven, and by 16:30 I was there on the station. And it was pouring down too. It started almost as soon as we arrived at Charles de Gaulle and had continued for almost all the way. Typical Northern French and Belgian weather.

It soon brightened up though and so I set off for my place of residence. Half an hour’s brisk walk it took me to arrive here and that was carrying a large bag too. That made me think how much my health must have improved. I would never have done this two or three months ago, and round about now i ought to be experiencing a collapsed blood count and expecting a blood transfusion instead.

It’s nice to be back in my little room again, even if I am moving on to another room tomorrow. I grabbed a coffee and sat down for a relax. Tea was rice with lentils peas and carrots and it was delicious too. I must remember to buy some more boulghour tomorrow.

Now, I’m going to have an early night. After my marathon voyage today, I reckon that I’ve earned 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.

Thursday 28th August 2014 – HERE I AM …

tgv lille paris charles de gaulle airport france… hurtling along on the TGV at 300kph on my way to the airport.

It was basically a good plan to stay in Lille. 10 minutes or so from the TGV station along a downhill slope, an alarm call that would have awoken the dead, a decent and copious self-service breakfast and then a pleasant stroll through the morning … errr … rain.

The train was on time too and finding a trolley at the top of the lift meant that I had one of the most relaxing arrivals ever at an airport.

armed soldier patrol airport charles de gaulle paris franceIt wasn’t to last, though. First thing that I encountered was a soldier on patrol, armed with a machine gun.

We all laughed at the Eastern European countries in the 1960s and 1970s with their soldiers patrolling the streets with their weapons at the ready. How Krushchev and Honecker would be laughing up their sleeves if they were ever to see this here on the streets in the West.

Not only that, can you imagine what carnage might happen to innocent bystanders if 600 rounds per minute were ever sprayed at a fleeing suspect? Something like this, I image, only much much worse.

Not only that, we had an unattended bag (did someone forget their wife?). This caused the terminal to be evacuated. I can’t think why – everyone knows that most suicide bombers these days go up with their luggage. “This is a Public Service Announcement – Abdul the Suicide Bomber Has Just Gone Off On Holiday”.

Anyway, it frightens everyone and ratchets the terror up another few notches so that the next wave of restrictions on personal liberties can come into force without any opposition.

We’ve often heard it said that “why didn’t the people in Germany – or in the USSR – or in France in World War II – rise up against their oppressors?” Well, where’s the uprising in the West?

After that, we were treated to the disagreeable spectacle of a girl about 8 years of age being given a pat-down search. I shall refrain from passing any kind of comment whatever about what might be going through the minds of the people who apply for this kind of job. You can think of your own.

At the check-in, I asked for an aisle seat. “Take this for now” said the girl at check-in, and ask at the reception area.

At the reception area, I was told “you need to chat to the people who welcome you on board the plane”.

And at the boarding of the plane, I was told, as indeed you might have expected, “you should have asked at the check-in”. Yes, another nasty letter on the way to Air Canada. You don’t even get this miserable treatment with a bucket shop airline like Air Transat and Ryanair.

air canada boeing 787 dreamliner pierre trudeau airport montreal
Still, the flight was a new Dreamliner 787 and even hemmed in a row of 4 people, I’ve had much worse. A good selection of films (I watched The Desolation of Smaug [2013] and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and there would have been a few others that I would have been happy to see as well.

The vegan meal was excellent too and so I don’t have any complaints on that score either, but they could have been a little more generous with the coffee.

quality hotel dorval montreal canadaI’m staying again at the Quality Inn on the Cote de Liesse in Dorval, just down the road from tha airport. I stayed here last year and so I can pinch that photo.

It’s a nice hotel, not too far from the airport, and the service buses pass by on their way to the Metro, so it suits me fine. Especially as a 3-day pass on the public transport costs just $18:00.

rotten dodge caravan montreal canadaSo last night I went for a walk. Nowhere particular – I just caught the bus and then the Metro to a random station and then walked back some of the way. I didn’t see anything in particular, except this car, to prove that I’m in North America.

I’m not talking about the car itself – you can see them everywhere – but I’m talking about the body rot. When did you last see a car like that? In Europe, I welded a few up like that in the 80s but nothing since.

Anyway, after that, I went to the Cote des Neiges for my assiette falafel and my frozen sorbet next door, and back home.

And just for a change, I got off the bus at the correct bus stop.