Tag Archives: Russia

Saturday 7th July 2018 – ONE OF THESE DAYS …

… I’ll have a decent night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That tells us a couple of things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belgium is a fascinating country.

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

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

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

As a result, some substantial development took place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I choose my friends carefully as you know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 17th February 2017 – I’VE BEEN OUT …

brussels gare du nord train namur belgium february fevrier 2017… and about today, but eve though I ended up taking four different trains, what with one thing or another I was only able to take one photograph of them. This is the train that took me from Brussels Gare du Nord to Brussels Schuman

If you notice the sign to the right of the train, you’ll see that it’s running 7 minutes late. That’s certainly a rare event here in Belgium, and it was my good luck because had it been on time I would have missed it and been obliged to wait for another half-hour

I had a reasonable night’s sleep just for a change, and at breakfast I was joined by my neightbour. He’s a Russian from Yekaterinburg in Siberia and he wanted a good chat. I’m never at my best first thing in the morning and having a chat at that time in the morning is the last thing on mine.

european commission berlaymont schuman brussels belgium february fevrier 2017I alighted at Brussels Schuman, underneath the Berlaymont Building over there, and went off to chat to the people in the Public Transport Office.

All of the tickets and the methods of payment for the public transport in the city and as I shall be using the public transport quite a lot in the near future, I need to be up-to-date with what is happening.

The routes have changed too, and yet Bane of Britain here forgot to ask for an up-to-date public transport map, didn’t he?

european commission berlaymont schuman brussels belgium february fevrier 2017Once I’d organised myself at the Public Transport Office, I went off to my bank (this isn’t it, by the way). I told you the other day about my bank card issues – they couldn’t sort it out and the bank round the corner from my hostel so I had to come here to do it.

However, they couldn’t do anything about it either, so I’ve had to order some new cards – because my credit card from here is overdue here too.

european commission berlaymont schuman brussels belgium february fevrier 2017They are going to hang on to them for a while until I’m settled in my new abode, wherever ( and whenever – that might be. No point in posting them to Virlet right now.

We also had a go at trying to set me up for phone banking. But that was a hopeless task. We were there for over half an hour while they tried to download the Application to my mobile phone, but without any luck.

I shall have to try it some other time, and hope that it’s all self-explanatory.

council of ministers european union justus lipsius building rond point schuman brussels belgium february fevrier 2017That’s the Justus Lipsius Building, the home of the Council of Ministers of the European Union, and that’s where I spend nine and a half of the happiest years of my life

This was the reason why I had come here. My time at the hospital is coming to an end and I need to have my paperwork up to date and make plans for my future.

My former employers have a good social welfare department and seeing as I’m in the vicinity I ought to be taking full advantage of it.

We had another exciting incident at the security check. They discovered my knife – the one that I keep in my backpack for making my butties when I’m on my travels. They kept it back and told me that I could reclaim it on my departure.

It’s not the same as all those years ago, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, when I passed through the security barrier at an EU meeting in Luxembourg. They gave me a basket in which to put all of my metal while I passed through the security screen, and so I put my butty knife in there, went through the screen, and they then handed back to me all of my metal objects to take into the meeting, including my butty knife.

So much for security.

The meeting was quite productive in certain respects, but not too much in other respects. Nevertheless, I ended up with some good advice, a few tips and hints, and an enormous packet of papers to add to the pile that I already have.

Even more good news is that the Medical Service now has a public office where I can go for advice, to have an on-line accounting service set up for me and all of that, but as regular readers of this rubbish will be well aware, it’s closed after lunch on Fridays and I wouldn’t have time to get there now before it closes

residence palace rue de la loi 155 brussels belgium february fevrier 2017Back outside, I went for a little walk around the Rue de la Loi. That’s a street that I know backwards, having worked in it for so long, but it hasn’t half changed and I no longer recognise it.

The Residence Palace, the beautiful Art-Deco building next door to Justus Lipsius and which was allegedly the headquarters of the German Army in Belgium in World War II has been demolished and this hideous monstrosity has been erected in its place.

It’s absolutely ghastly

brussels belgium february fevrier 2017I headed back to the station, calling back at the Berlaymont Building again to take a photograph of the sign on the wall. I don’t actually have a photograph of this and it’s high time that I added one into my collection.

And it was here that I had another good idea and went for a little walk in the rain. There are things that will be happening here in a couple of weeks time and the presence of the European Institutions is a vital part of any young person’s education. People should take full advantage of it

My perambulations took me past the European Parliament building. This is a really difficult building to photograph as it’s hemmed in by other large buildings and there isn’t a clear shot of it.

berlin wall brussels belgium february fevrier 2017But outside is a fragment of the Berlin Wall that was brought here after the opening up of the city.

There’s a plaque on it that says
“in honour of the victims of dictatorial regimes and as a symbol of the European people’s commitment to peace, freedom and democracy”
and it’s something that a few countries busily building walls around themselves, whether virtual walls or physical walls, will do well to remember.

And if the European Union had any pride, honour and dignity, it would be repeating these words as often as possible in its encounters with this new wave of fascist dictators before it is too late.

The Gare Luxembourg is next to the European Parliament and there I caught a train back to the Gare du Midi

express bus to casablanca brussels belgium february fevrier 2017I went for a prowl around outside to look for a fritkot as I was starving, and this caught my eye. It’s the express bus to Casablanca in Morocco and it’s one of those trips that I have always promised myself that i would do one day, although I might have missed my window of opportunity.

What’s particularly exciting about it though is the trailer that the bus will be pulling. There’s a gas oven there about to be loaded together with a pile of other stuff, bags, packages, all sorts.

It’s not quite goats and sheep of course but nevertheless it shows that the recycling economy and the recup, the system of recovering unwanted household assets, is still working fine.

After lunch I walked back to the Gare du Midi and stepped onto the platform and right onto a Leuven train which was waiting at the platform. It departed almost immediately and we were back at Leuven by 16:00.

For some unknown reason I fancied an ice cream, but all of my favourite ice cream places were closed. I eventually found one but the selection of vegan sorbets wasn’t all that exciting.

workmen in tree leuven belgium february fevrier 2017Walking back here, I came across something exciting. We had a couple of workmen on one of those lifting platforms doing something to a tree.

I’m not sure what it is that they are doing, but it’s somethign to do with a chain of decorative lights that is strung up there.

Talking it down, or putting it up? I have no idea. But it gave me something to think about.

Back here, I crashed out as you might expect. I’d been out and walked miles too.

But I was awake for tea time anyway, and the final portion of my kidney bean whatsit was excellent, especially washed down with pineapple rings and vegan sorbet.

So now it’s another early night. Part II of my mega-adventurous weekend is tomorrow and I need to be on form.

Friday 8th January 2010 – today was the day …

heavy snow les guis virlet puy de dome france…when my morale, which has been slowly ebbing away for this last couple of weeks, finally disappeared.

I didn’t wake up until the alarm went off (just for a change) and there was no way I was going to get out of bed early. And, as usual, despite the clear starry skies last night, today was clouded over – a heavy hanging cloud was clinging to the side of the mountain.

We’d had snow too, so that involved a shin up onto the roof and a clearing of the solar panels – not that I needed to bother because I’ve had the impressive total of 1.1 amp-hours today!

But none of that is what has done in my morale though. And I can cope with frozen tea towels and frozen ordinary towels and frozen washing-up water and frozen water butts and even frozen lettuce – what did it for me firstly was going into the fridge (that has been switched off for over a month) and finding that my lunchtine tomato was frozen solid. That was bad enough but then while making the coffee there must have been some ice under the seal in the coffee percolator because halfway through the coffee routine the steam pressure blew the coffee all over the verandah. With the ice melted I could tighten up the seal but of course with it being warm it went up too tight and as I tried to undo it later I broke the handle on the machine. One of the reasons that Napoleon’s onslaught on Russia failed was that the severe winter caused all of the items made of tin to become brittle – and I can see what they mean now.

But I also spilt some coffee while I was doing all of this and when I turned my attention back to the spill, it had frozen solid. Today is the first day since I have been keeping records that the temperature in the verandah has not risen above zero all day.

This morning I carried on doing a few odd jobs and then started to measure up another vertical for the first floor and cut the let in the floor beam. I dunno where the morning went but that was all I did. This afternoon with my heart no longer in anything I started to put some insulation under the floor of the attic to help keep in the warmth. But it was flaming freezing and everywhere had gone dark and there was stuff all over the floor and I didn’t feel like tidying up so at 16:30 I packed up and came in – and crashed out again for an hour.

 heavy snowfall les guis virlet auvergne puy de dome franceI rang the baker too – she comes to deliver to me on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but she also has a round on Saturday so I wanted to order some bread as I’ve no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. “It depends if I can make it with this weather” she said – which totally puzzled me as the postie had been this morning. But when I went downstairs to make tea later (some tinned stuff – I wasn’t going to hang around down there in THAT weather) I saw what she meant. In the few hours that I had been upstairs it had snowed like hell and was still chucking it down. There’s about a foot of snow now, so I suppose I won’t get my bread tomorrow either.

Wednesday 16th December 2009 – The Stairway to Heaven …

stairway to heaven stairs to attic first floor les guis virlet pionsat puy de dome france… now has five steps in it! I started this morning to fit the second upright and much to my surprise and amazement it was in in about 15 minutes. It didn’t need much shaping at all.

That made me feel so much better than I was yesterday – even more so after I’d fitted the rails for the two extra steps, and once the treads were in then it was better still.

I’ve made a start on fitting one of the uprights for the final row – the one where the turn will be in the staircase – but once again I ran out of light. If I hadn’t missed my aim when employing Ashley (my rather large wooden mallet) to fasten one of the beams and I’d have hit the beam that I was aiming for, I might have had some electric light. Guaranteed for 40,000 hours, these LED lightbulbs, but I’m sure the guarantee must exclude being wallopped to smithereens by a wooden mallet.

And I suppose that had I heard the alarm at 08:00 this morning instead of sleeping through until 10:00 I might have fitted the new uprights long before it went dark.

Mind you, a strange thing happened today. Round about 13:30 this weird golden object appeared in the sky. It only stayed around for about 15 minutes and then it started snowing again. I wonder what it was. I have vague memories of seeing something similar but it was so long ago that I can’t remember what it was.

In other news, have you seen the latest headlines? NATO has gone cap-in-hand to the Russkies to beg them to lend some helicopters to use in Afghanistan to crush the Taliban.

Of course, back in the old days those of you with long memories will recall that NATO armed the Mujahadeen (which was what the Taliban was called in those days) to attack the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan after the Russkies had invaded that country. And now NATO, having invaded Afghanistan in its turn, is begging the Russkies to come and help them fight against the Mujahadeen (or Taliban) that is armed with the weapons that NATO gave them all those years ago.

NATO’s humiliation must now be complete. Are there any further depths that the west can plumb in this disgraceful and obscene invasion?