Tag Archives: mechelen

Saturday 25th February 2017 – IT’S THE START …

crocus krokus botanical garden kruidtuin jardin botanique leuven belgium february fevrier 2017 … of the Krokusvakantie here in Belgium this week. That’s the school half-term, and while it might be known as “Carnaval” in the French-speaking areas of the country, you can see why it has its name around here in Flanders, can’t you?

On my travels and I had a walk back from Caliburn through the Kruidtuin – the Botanical Gardens here in Leuven and the flowers are well and truly blooming today, aren’t they?

If you ask me what kind of flowers they are, I would say that they were mauve ones, because I know nothing whatever abut flowers, so they might not even be crocuses at all, but whatever they are, they are quite prettu.

So what was I doing at Caliburn then? And not once today but twice too.

In fact, I’ve made a start on emptying my room out reading for (hopefully) leaving on Tuesday if all goes according to plan.

new facade brusselsestraat leuven belgium february fevrier 2017But first surprise of the day was that the crane on the corner of the Brusselsestraat and the Kruisstraat has now disappeared. Work seems to have finished on the facade of the building across the road.

And what a good job they seem to have made of it too. I imagine that they’ve re-pointed the brickwork and sealed the joints underneath the roof, and now they’ve added some tiles to the wall to weatherproof it.

All in all, it loks very impressive from here

And so after yet another bad night, I was once more alone at breakfast (which suite me fine) although my garrulous Dutch/Russian friend did stick his head around the corner to make himself a coffee – I really am not up to social conversation at 07:00.

But after a relax downstairs in my room, I set to work.

It was a case of going through everything that I have here and deciding upon its priority – am I likely to be using it between now and a week on Tuesday (and there are reasons for this particular date)? And if not, I started to load it up into a couple of IKEA bags that I had lying around. That includes most of the food for a start – no reason for most of that to be hanging around for a start. And books, and bottles of pop and the like. I remember thinking when I was in Sedan back in November that I would buy just enough stuff for the first month of my stay. Here I am, three months in, and I haven’t eaten half of it.

Once I was loaded up, I set off to Caliburn to deposit it all, and then down to the Carfefour by the football ground for the stuff for pizza night tomorrow.

A little deviation (and I’m always up for a little deviation as you know) through the Kruidtuin to see the crocuses and then back here, via the Supermarket on the corner. And there’s a thing – there were plenty of black plastic boxes of the sort that I had been liberating, but all stacked up neatly at the back of the warehouse. My response is that if they don’t want people to liberate them, they shouldn’t leave them outside by the bins.

After lunch, we had another session of loading up the IKEA bags, and then after a brief pause I went back down to Caliburn with the stuff and deposited it there.

While I had been having a relax just now, I was idly scanning the internet. And something that I saw gave me an idea – I have plenty of ideas, don’t I? Furthermore, a little research on the internet proved that it was a feasible proposition too. Thus I had a quick coffee, and hit the streets.

sncb electric multiple unit Antwerp Berchem railway station belgium february fevrier 2017Here I am, at the Antwerp Berchem railway station on the south side of the city, waiting for the train to Gent and Oostende which is just a-cumen in.

But I’m not going to either of these places.

Somewhere just after St Niklaas is the small town of Lokeren. It’s a place that I’ve never ever visited before and seeing as how I’m hoping to be on my way in early course, now seemed to be the right kind of time to deal with that issue

No derailments today – we were in luck – but we had to take a different track out of the station. My luck was in, for this one took us close to the carriage sidings and I had a good view of something that had caught my eye away in the distance on several occasions.

elderly vintage diesel sncb multiple unit leuven belgium february fevrier 2017It’s actually a very sorry example of the first-generation Continental multiple units, one of the ones that you used to see painted red and cream that used to wander over the French SNCF and presumably Belgian SNCB rail networks in the &950s

Mind you, this is just one of the driving carriages of a multiple unit set and it has long-since lost the colours that it might have carried on the SNCB. But it’s beautiful all the same and I wonder what it’s doing here.

And more to the point, why no-one has seen fit to rescue it. I’d take it home with me in a heartbeat.

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017No prizes for guessing why I’ve come to Lokeren, is there?

I owe myself a football match from last weekend, what with the train derailment in Leuven, this match is a Belgian Jupiler Pro League (the equivalent of a Premier League match).

I’ve never been to Lokeren, never seen either of the clubs play, and KAS Eupen was on of the teams on my list of clubs to see

The ground is only a 20-minute walk from the railway station, and that means that if I exert myself and the game finishes on time, I could catch the 22:17 to St Niklaas, change for a train to Mechelen, and then catch a train from there to Brussels and then on to Leuven.

If I missed it, there is a train at 23:11 in the other direction to Gent St Pieters and then the last train from there to Leuven, getting me back to the railway station at Leuven at about 01:00.

That sounded like a plan.

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017I found the Daknamstadion easily enough – it was quite straightforward, rather like the walk that we have made so often to het Lisp at Lier. And the stadium resembled that at Lier too. They must order them off the peg or something like that, I reckon.

I had a cheap seat (€18:00 for a Premier League match) behind the goal, but in a corner where I wouldn’t be hemmed in by chanting supporters.

But they were up at the far end in the standing bit, with the away supporters right next to them. That’s bizarre crowd segregation, I can say.

mascot daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017But … tragedy! We had the mascot, not that he was up to very much of course, but there were no cheerleaders!

All this way on the train and not a single cheerleader to be seen anywhere. how disappointing is that? I had a good mind to go and ask for my money back.

But at least it’s a Premier League match, so entertainment and excitement was sure to be guaranteed, wasn’t it?

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017But right from the kick-off, I could tell that this match was going to be something completely different.

Because if ever there are two more inept teams as these playing anywhere in the top flight of any football league anywhere else in the world (and I include Rockall and the Lofoten Islands in this) I just wouldn’t believe it.

These two teams were totally clueless from start to finish, and I mean every word of that. If this was a Premier League match, then God help them all

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017KAS eupen had a player sent off after about 20 minutes – what for, I couldn’t really see. And KSC Lokeren scored a penalty during the match – a rather strict penalty if you ask me.

But KAS Eupen scored two goals, even being 1 man down. And that’s not an idication of how good they were, it’s an indication of how totally inept KSC Lokeren were.

KAS Eupen’s two goals were a breakaway down the wing, a cross into the centre and a rather hopeful volley from about 20 yards out, and a ricochet off the referee that dropped nicely for an Eupen player to hoist over the wall into space where there was a team-mate running on

daknamstadion KSC Lokeren KAS Eupen belgium 25 february fevrier 2017KAS Eupen hit the post too, and their keeper made five or six magnificent saves too.

In fact, the KAS Eupen keeper, Hendrik Van Crombrugge, was by far and away the best player on the pitch. The KSC Lokeren n°14, Mehdi Terki, had a good game, but I wouldn’t have given you twopence for the remainder.

And if you want to see the … errr … highlights of the match, they are now on-line. But it beats me how they managed to find 8 minutes of them. I’m on the far right of the screen at 04:34 – in the bright yellow coat.

Despite the late start ond the 4 minutes of injury time, I put on such a turn of speed that not only was I comortably in time for the 22:17, the earlier 22:11 for Gent St Pieters. I hopped on board – and wasn’t that a fatal mistake?

Yes, everyone would expect that with almost all trains running at one-hour intervals, then all trains would run at one-hour intervals. That is almost true, and the only exception is the express train from Oostende across to Welkenraedt (that goes through Leuven), and that runs at 90-minute intervals. And so the train that I had caught arrived in Gent 20 minutes after the previous one had left, and the next one was the one that I would have caught had I come here on the 23:11 from Lokeren. In other words, being early at Lokeren station had made me as late as it is possible to be.

gent st pieters railway station belgium 25 february fevrier 2017So here I was in Gent, stranded yet again with well over an hour to wait for the train. At least it gave me an opportunity to go for a stroll around in the late evening.

The station really does look magnificent in the urban light, like most of these beautiful Victorian piles, except that it isn’t a Victorian pile. The railway station that was here was nothing spectacular, apparently, but when they announced that they would be holding the 1913 World’s Fair here, they designed and built a railway station building to suit the aims and the ambitions of the Fair

gent st pieters railway station belgium 25 february fevrier 2017The interior is fairly spectacular, had it been allowed to settle in its own surroundings, but it was partitioned off into shops, full of coin machines and people sleeping all over the place. I was rather disappointed.

I sat there with the bag of fritjes that I had bought from the fritkot across the square until my train arrived.

It was almost 01:00 when I arrived at the station here, and about 01:45 when I returned here. Cold, tired and exhausted.

I went straight to bed, and straight to sleep too. It was late.

Thursday 17th November 2016 – I THINK THAT I HAVE MADE A MISTAKE …

hostellerie la sapiniere vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016… with this hotel.

It looks really impressive from the outside, that’s for sure. But inside is a totally different story.

It’s a really bad parody of a 1960s coach-tour holiday hotel. The ground floor is crammed – and I do mean crammed – with furniture, much of which dates from the 1950s and looks as if it’s been sat on by Hattie Jacques for every day of that time.

hostellerie la sapiniere vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016There’s a 1970s-style radiogram complete with multi-stack record player, all covered in dust, stuck in a corner just like something out of a time-warp. And the endless tape of early-70s bubblegum music does nothing whatever to dispel the image.

And not only that, the owners have a little brat of about 4 who is the noisiest little brat that I have ever heard, and how no-one has gone out to drown him before now I really do not understand. and it’s now 22:48 as I type, and the brat is still not in bed. It’s a disgrace.

Yes, I’m still here at this time, and there’s a reason for this. There’s no internet in the bedrooms, only down in the bar. And it’s the worst internet connection that I have ever encountered. It makes mine back in the Auvergne look like lightning. I’ve been here for hours trying to do what normally takes 20 minutes to do back at home.

The room is as you would expect. It’s clean and tidy but it’s long-since passed its sell-by date. I have a bath and a shower attachment, but no shower curtain and so I’ll drown the place out before too long.

The place is also full of Dutch pensioners. all of the signs are in Dutch too, so that tells you what the place is really like.

The good side is that I’m paying just €40 per night for bed and breakfast, and I have no real complaint about the breakfast. But that’s it. I’m really disappointed by all of this.

But at least I managed yet another “sleep of the dead” last night. Out like a light and I remember absolutely nothing at all.

Except of course that I had been on my travels. It had been a “Men from the Ministry” episode where N°1 and N°2 had gone off to a meeting and I had remained behind to cook tea. I made a curry, although there wasn’t much to make it with and ended up having to use bean sprouts. Eventually n°2 came back and we waited and waited for n°1 to come back. When he finally arrived he insisted that n°2 make him some sandwiches immediately. At that I exploded, After all that I had done to make the food and after all the waiting around that we had done and there he was issuing all the orders like this and all the food that I stayed behind to cook was now heading for the bin.

Downstairs for breakfast afterwards (it doesn’t start until 08:00) and then back to my room for a few hours until the cleaners threw me out. That’s when I came down here to discover exactly how bad the internet really is.

vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016As for the village of Vresse sur Samois, it looks very pretty from up here and quite rightly so. But there’s another story to tell about it.

  • The boulangerie? Closed!
  • The bank? Closed!
  • The Post Office? Closed!
  • The grocery shop? Closed!

vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016There are several hotels that have closed down and are up for sale too.

There’s a hotel that does pizzas, a butchers that is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and a fritkot that is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

I had to drive about 8 miles until I found a boulangerie and they had next-to-nothing in the way of bread either.

le belge steam locomotive cockerill seraing vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016One thing that the town does have going for it is Le Belge. Le Belge was a locomotive built in 1835 by Cockerill’s of Seraing for the Brussels-Mechelen railway (the first modern railway line in mainland Europe)

She was the first locomotive to be built in Belgium – all of the previous ones used in the country were built by Stephenson’s in the UK

le belge steam locomotive cockerill seraing vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016This isn’t of course the original – that’s long-been transformed into a couple of dozen baked-bean tins. It’s not even a replica as such – that’s in the railway museum in Schaerbeek.

This is actually a clever reconstruction, built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Belgian independence, and although you might not believe it, it’s actually made of wood.

And why it’s here in Vresse-sur-Samois? I’ve really no idea at all.

ford old road vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016I went for a good walk around the town, and to be honest it didn’t take me all that long because neautiful though the place might be, there isn’t all that much to see here.

I did find something that looked as if at one time it might have been a ford across a tributary of the Semois. it has allof the characteristics to me. But the road on this side of the river looks as if it’s been abandoned for a century or more.

calibuen bridge vresse sur semois belgium october octobre 2016There’s a magnificent bridge across the Semois just here – a real work of art. and it looks to me as if it’s a widened modern reconstruction of a much older bridge. There are quite a few traces of a much older construxtion having been worked into it.

And there’s Caliburn just down there to the right, parked up by the water’s edge. He’s certainly enjoying his couple of weeks out and about. and who can blame him after having been cooped up in that hangar in Leuven?

I crashed out after I came back here, and then I needed to think about food. Having had butties for lunch, I’ve had butties for tea too and this is likely to be a regular occurrence. And having dealt with the major issues of the hotel and its scabby internet connection I’m off to bed.

I hope that I have as good a rest tonight as I had last night.

Saturday 12th November 2016 – I HAD A NICE …

… four hours out with Alison today.

She came round at about 11:00 and we went off to the good cafe down the street for a coffee and a chat. We were there for quite some time too.

Once we’d finished we went for a walk to look at a couple of shops and then went down the road to the ALDI where Alison did some of her shopping. And then over the road to Spit, the huge Charity Shop just there. And there was tons of good stuff in there too, much of which is at a decent price. I could quite happily furnish a small apartment from there.

There’s a Troc in the vicinity too, somewhere in between Leuven and Mechelen. The prices in there though are totally ridiculous, even though the stuff looks really good quality. But here’s something that you can buy me for Christmas if you can’t think of anything better – they had a late Medieval suit of armour in there. Wouldn’t that look nice standing up in the corner of my house? But €895 was a bit ridiculous really, although nothing like as ridiculous as the €12,500 they wanted for a bronze fountain that looked like a good well.

Alison took me later to the English shop. There’s a fish and chips van that parks up there a couple of days a week but that wasn’t what excited me. They had vegan pies which will go down nicely with some new potatoes and vegetables, but the highlight was definitely the vegan mince pies. I’ll be back there a few days before Christmas, that’s for sure.

On the way back I picked up a baguette at the Carrefour by the football ground and had lunch once I returned. following that I did some more research for my web pages on Labrador. I’ve found a couple of really good sites of interest on the internet – one that lists every known community in Labrador in about 1910 and the access port where appropriate (and there’s tons of interesting stuff on there) and secondly, an interactive map that shows the location of almost every known geographical feature in Labrador. I could really lose myself in those sites.

For tea it was pasta with a tin of chick peas and vegetables and tomato sauce. and then a nice relaxing evening.

This afternoon I’d crashed out for an hour or so but that is probably something to do with the disturbed night that I’d had. It took me ages to drop off to sleep and when I finally did, I was up and down several times too.

I’d been on my travels too, out to the Coasts of Labrador where there was a very narrow strip of land in bewteen the cliffs that narrowed even more just where I had to cross over the mouth of a small river. There was a young teenage girl with me too, rather like a girl with whom I’d had a lengthy discussion once when I was out on the North Shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence in May 2012. Although what she was doing suddenly making an appearance I have no idea.

Sunday 16th October 2016 – OOOH LOOK!

sncb multiple unit antwerp central station belgium october octobre 2016It’s a train! And it’s not in Leuven station either, is it?

Yes, I’ve been out and about today, and on my travels too. Nothing like a nice afternoon out, a change of scenery, a change of ideas and all of that. And to somewhere that I haven’t been for ages and which I quite like too.

Doesn’t this all make a change?

All in all, it was a really good day up to a certain point. Especially as I’d had a really good night’s sleep.

I was in bed reasonably early last night (something like 22:30 if I remember correctly) and more-or-less straight asleep. And the next thing that I remember was that it was 06:45. That was totally painless – I’ll tell you that. I’d been on my travels as well but don’t ask me where I went and what I did because I remember nothing at all.

And by 08:15 I’d breakfasted and even been down the road to the boulanger for my Sunday baguette. That’s what I call “organised”. I spent the rest of the morning working on my blog and by the time that I’d finished, it was completely up-to-date.

That on its own deserved a reward. And it was a beautiful day too, with not a cloud in the sky.

And so I hit the streets.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Belgium (yes, I’m still in Belgium) and I bet that you won’t know as what it serves until I tell you. You’ll never guess.

It’s not a palace, a court of an art gallery or a museum, but it is in fact a railway station – one of the most beautiful in the world. Antwerp Central railway station it is, and it’s a monument to everything that is great and good about Belgian architecture.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016It took 10 years to build – from 1895 to 1905 – and replaced the original railway station that had been the terminus of one of the very first railway lines in the country.

And although you might not think so, it was hit by a German V2 rocket during World War II. While no significant damage appeared to have been caused, the shock waves from the blast had undermined the stability of the roof, which then in the early 1980s started to sag alarmingly.

glass roof antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016The roof of the train shed is one of the most magnificent parts of a most magnificent building. It covers 12,000m² and was designed by Clément van Bogaert. To have demolished it (or even to have demolished the station, which at one time was being seriously discussed) would have been nothing short of an act of deliberate vandalism.

But wiser heads prevailed.The station was closed for a short while in the late 1980s and the glass was replaced by polycarbonate, which is about half of the weight of the glass and which seems to have resolved the problem.

We have seen on our travels around the Northern hemisphere some totally disgraceful acts of vandalism as classic railway stations have been butchered or even demolished to make way for the 21st Century.

antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016Here in the Antwerp Central Railway station, they have been solving the problem of expansion in a way that is so simple and so straightforward that it’s a wonder that no other railway network or modern architect has tried it.

What they did was simply to expand downwards. The railway station is built on four levels – the newest and most modern level, to accommodate the TGVs, is on the fourth level down. It’s all so simple, isn’t it?

I went outside into the sunshine, because it really was a nice day. Here, I’m in the Meir

meir antwerp central railway station belgium october octobre 2016But we can’t go off down the Meir without looking backwards at this gorgeous building. yes, you’ve guessed – it’s the Antwerp Central Station again, designed by Louis Delacenserie, the city architect of Bruges and who was responsible for the restoration of the magnificent buildings in that city. And you can see why I’ve placed the station so highly on my list of magnificent buildings.

And if you look carefully at the plaque just above the entrance arch, you’ll see (although you can’t see it in this photo) the word Middenstatie – Middle Station in Flemish. That’s the original name of the Railway Station.

And then I had a sudden shock. I’d noticed the time. I’d been so engrossed in what I was doing with the Central Station that I had completely overlooked the real purpose of my visit to the city.

I needed the tram 5, and I had worked out the route that it took, and so I headed off to a nearby tram stop to wait.

And wait

And wait.

And wait.

underground tram network metro antwerp belgium october octobre 2016Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration. I walked around the corner and there was a flight of stairs leading down. I hadn’t realised this, and how I ground my teeth when I had worked it out, that trams 2,3,5 and 6 are called the “Metro” and they run through the city underground – not on the surface where I had been waiting.

And so about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to be, I finally discovered the underground metro system and then had to wait 10 minutes for my tram.

Damn and blast!

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016And here I am in Deurne, on the outskirts of the city. And this is the Bosuilstadion, the home of Royal Antwerp Football Club.

This was my destination for this afternoon and I’ve finally made it, 20 minutes after kick-off. And my odyssey isn’t over yet, because being so late, all of the ticket booths are closed.

A steward directed me to an office where I had to argue my way into the ground (I’m impressed with how much my Flemish is improving) and I ended up having to pay €25:00 for en expensive seat. They wouldn’t let me into the cheap seats.

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016And by the time that I finally entered the ground, I’d missed almost all of the first half. and I’d missed two goals too. 1-1 it was when I finally took my seat.

All of that I’d missed, and for €25:00 too. I fancied a cup of coffee after all of my exertions, but the unexpected €10:00 over what admission to the cheap seats would have cost me had cleaned me out.

I was not having a very good day today.

OH Leuven bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club deurne belgium october octobre 2016I didn’t mention that the reason for my coming here was that OH Leuven was playing away against Royal Antwerp. That’s them in the black strip – Royal Antwerp in the white and red.

I’ve been without my football fix for two months now and the easy accessibility of trains, the proximity of Antwerp to Leuven and the glorious weather was more than enough to entice me out of my cocoon to watch the action, such a sit might have been.

bosuilstadion royal antwerp football club fans celebrate second goal OH Leuven Deurne belgium october octobre 2016The Royal Antwerp fans are very happy – letting off a red smoke bomb and waving a huge club flag about.

And so they ought to be, too. They’ve just scored a second goal, a goal that turns out to be the decisive, winning goal.

And at the final whistle, It occurs to me that I have never ever seen OH Leuven do anything else except lose. I must be the Kiss of Death to OH Leuven.

In fact, from what I saw of the game, it was pretty miserable. There wasn’t much in the way of excitement and the goalkeepers didn’t really have to do all that much. The Royal Antwerp keeper was the busier of the two but he wasn’t really under all that much pressure.

Royal Antwerp had a player, the squad n°55, who was an exciting player when he had the ball. He looked the best player on the pitch at certain moments, but he only seemed to work in fits and starts and it didn’t seem to me as if he was all that keen to run and chase around when he didn’t have the ball – not that I would know all that much about it.

magnificent buildings meir antwerp belgium october octobre 2016I caught the tram back into the city and decanted myself out into the Meir. The Meir is the main shopping street of the city and where everything in the city goes on, and it’s also where there are some really magnificent buildings here.

I was lucky in that it hadn’t gone quite dark by this time, so the camera on my mobile phone could cope with the situation, such as taking a photo of the big Inno Department Store here, with the much-more banal Delhaize supermarket in the foreground.

meir antwerp belgium october octobre 2016My idea of a late evening wandering around the city taking some photographs came to a rather dramatic halt as the light disappeared.

Had I had the Nikon D5000 with me, it wouldn’t have been too much of an issue but cameras like that aren’t allowed in football grounds in Belgium so I hadn’t brought it with me – relying instead on the camera on the telephone, which doesn’t work very well in situations like this.

Instead, I went to sort out some cash and then went for something to eat. It’s Sunday, pizza night, I had bought some vegan cheese the other day and I’d seen a very democratic pizza place on my travels. It was run by real Italians too, and I ended up speaking Italian to them – and it’s been a long time … "two years ago last summer when you were in the Alto Adige in fact" – ed … since I’ve done that.

Brought back a few memories, that did. I must go off to Italy again.

multiple unit antwerp central station belgium october octobre 2016Down in the bowels of the station I waited for my train back to Leuven. I’d come on the line via Brussels Airport and Mechelen, so I decided to go back on the line via Lier and Aarschot.

Not that it would make any difference because it was pitch black outside at this time of night and I couldn’t see a thing.

The train was packed when we set off, and as the journey progressed, more and more people crowded in. 99% of the people on board were students, dragging their suitcases behind them. Leuven is world-famous for its University, which is huge, and I imagine that all of these students have been home for the weekend and are now heading back to their kots.

It can’t have been unexpected because the train had been extended from the normal size to accommodate the crowds. So much so that there was an announcement “for those of you alighting from the train at Heverlee, DO NOT travel in the first four carriages. Presumably they don’t fit alongside the platform there.

town hall leuven belgium october octobre 2016The train pulled into the Station and the train disgorged about 99% of its passengers. And like a huge tidal wave, they all swarmed up the main drag into town, dragging their suitcases behind them.

People were dropping off the end of the wave the further towards the town centre we advanced, but there was still quite a crowd as we passed the beautiful Leuven Town Hall, all lit up in the night.

And when I finally reached my hostel and installed myself in my little room, I could still hear the rolling suitcases rattling by.

So here I am now, back at home, tired out and spent up. It’s been an exhausting day and I’m spent up – and not for very much good purpose either as I’d missed almost half of my football match.

But never mind – I’ve had a nice afternoon out, even if the photos don’t do the journey any justice. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take the Nikon and had to rely on the camera on the telephone, but I’ve done the best that I can.

I hope that you all enjoy it.

Wednesday 23rd March 2016 – BACK ON THE ROAD

So here I am again – hitting the road to the Netherlands coast in West-Zeeland – the bit that’s to the western side of the Scheldt estuary. I’ve never set foot in this bit before so I’m determined to put that right – not the least of reasons being that we haven’t had a Ship of the Day since last October and up there in the Wester-Schelde you can see these huge 300,000 tonne supertankers and container ships making complicated manoeuvres just hundreds of yards offshore as they line themselves up for the entrance to the harbour at Antwerp.

Years ago, there used to be a vehicle ferry across the river to Vlissingen but that’s now closed and replaced by a tunnel. We are told by Wikipedia that it is a “bored tunnel” and so Strawberry Moose, Caliburn and I have decided to go there to cheer it up and bring it some excitement.

So having now decided on my seaside trip, I’m awoken today not by the birds chirping under the eaves but a torrential rainstorm cascading down onto the roof. And that awoke me from a very deep reverie.I had been off in the mountains of Tennessee or Kentucky last night, some time back in the 1920s or 30s and I met a girl called Lousey (that’s pronounced “Luzie” by the way). She was very young and blond but was in what we would 50 years ago have called an “irregular union” with a boy only a couple of years older than she was, and they were living in a cabin with Lousey’s mother. Someone had called a priest, or maybe a Justice of the Peace down to this village to discuss this “irregular union”. It turned out, following an inquiry, that this boy and girl were in fact living together but the boy was a scavenger of scrap metal and donated the income from this into the household. He was thus deemed to be supporting Lousey the best he could despite his limited abilities. Accordingly, this relationship was deemed by the judge or the priest to be exceptionally a “regular union”, despite the extreme youth of the two people involved. We drifted on from there down a street called Losey Road, which we were told was named after this girl, and at the top of the road there was some kind of queue involving all of the people from the village. I was with someone, who might have been Liz but I can’t remember now. I had a small bottle of sun-cream and so I put a small amount on my hands and started to rub it into the skin. Lousey was just in front of me and she had the same kind of cream and was doing the same thing. She noticed that I was only using a little bit so she pulled a face, laughed and said that she used tons more of the stuff when she did it. I showed her my jar and replied that I only had this small jar and there wasn’t much left. If I had more I would use ten times as much and I’d rub it all over me. Everyone in the queue except Lousey and my companion burst out laughing because they had seen a double-entendre in my remark but my companion turned round to Lousey and said “would you swallow that, Lousey?” meaning the remark that I had made. By now, everyone else, including me but excluding my companion and Lousey, was rolling aound on the floor in fits of laughter about this even more outrageous double-entendre that had gone clean over the heads of my companion and of Lousey.

Downstairs, Alison had already gone to work so I had my breakfast and said goodbye to Brian, thanking him for all of his hospitality, and then I hit the road.

I missed my turning into Leuven, ended up going by Nossegem instead, following the signs for Machelen instead of Mechelen and then being stuck on the Antwerp motorway due to a road accident, being unable to exit for the turning to St Niklaas. It really was not my lucky day.

But I am going to have to change my stereotyped ideas about the Netherlands and write a different script. I ended up in a “Jumbo” supermarket in Breskens which sold, inter alia a non-alcoholic drink called Raak Campagne Pils. One look at the label told me what this might be, and one sip out of the bottle later that night told me what it was. It was indeed the nearest thing that we can buy in Europe to Canadian Root Beer so now I am properly set up. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say. What I mean by my comments is that here in the “Jumbo” there was a bench for customers to sit, and we had free wi-fi, free coffee and free biscuits and I’ve never ever had anything like this anywhere else.

finnlines ro ro freight carrier wester scheldte vlissingen antwerpOn the beach at Breskens, we could peer through the rain and see right across the river to Vlissingen and the huge Finnlines ro-ro freight carrier that runs a regular service between Antwerp and Helsinki.

If that doesn’t qualify for a ship of the week, I dunno what will because this thing is huge, and I do mean huge.

Mind you, it had plenty of competition including an MSC container ship that was coming up behind it, which I didn’t photograph, for reasons which will soon become apparent.

sonche trader cadzand wester scheldt antwerpFirstly, I was distracted by this monster turning into the river at Cadzand.

This is the Sonche Trader, built in 2009 of 53,000 tonnes and flying the flag of Liberia. she’s coming in from Callao in Peru via several other ports. Her last port of call was Rotterdam, although it might not look like it.

And as I turned my attention to the MSC container ship, it was here that I was distracted once more because I had a phone call.

One thing that I do like about being a dazzling European cosmopolite … "did you forget “modest”?" – ed … is that here I am heading south to north via several different countries, and I have another dazzling European cosmopolite friend heading east to west through several other different countries, and our paths dramatically cross.

hans field selfie ted ferry terminal zeebrugge belgiumAnd so half an hour later, Strawberry Moose and I are in the ferry terminal in Zeebrugge, Belgium, having a coffee and a chat with my friend Hans and his travelling companion, Selfie Ted.

They are travelling from their home in Munich on his way to the UK to see family. You’ve no idea just how small the world is, and regular status updates of your social networking sites, so that your friends can see where you are, make it even smaller still

pauls hotel duinbergen knokke heist belgiumIronically, before I drove up to Belgium I was planning on coming up on the train, and if I had a few days spare, like now, I had planned to come to Knokke-Heist to stay.

And when you are feeling tired and ill and you need to stop, you find the first available hotel regardless of price. And so here I am, in Knokke-Heist of all places, at a shabby-gentille hotel at €70:00, breakfast included, and for Europe, I’m quite satisfied with what I received.

Surprisingly, there’s no fritkot in the vicinity because I went for a slow walk to look around, and I’m not taking the van out to go to look. A packet of biscuits (and my root beer) will do me for tonight.

Tomorrow, we’ll hit the bored tunnel, cheer it up and then go off to Zouteland on the island of Walcheren to see what we can find.

Saturday 2nd November 2013 – WHEN THE ALARM WENT OFF THIS MORNING …

… I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Somehow I couldn’t summon up the energy to leave my comfy little bed here.

And when I finally did wake up, I decided that I would have something of an informal day of rest and not do too much. That was the cue for coffee in bed and a James Bond film, together with a good book.

That took me through until lunchtime and then I nipped out to the local shops for the baguette and the bits and pieces that I shall need for the journey home next week. Hard to think that this is effectively my final shopping expedition in Brussels, although I’ve said things like that before.

This evening, I went out again. No football in the Netherlands border area this evening, and none in the German border area either. There was however a match at the Argosstadionachterdekaserne, the home of KV Mechelen, where the home team was to entertain Zulte-Waregem.

Argosstadionachterdekaserne kv mechelen zulte waregem 2 novembre 2013 belgium jupiler leaguePeople, including Yours Truly, do say that Belgians have no sense of humour, but you would be forgiven for thinking differently when you see the sign over the entrance gate to the stadium. You can tell that KV Mechelen aren’t doing so well in the league at the moment.

But the stadium itself, which must qualify for having one of the longest names in mainstream football, wasn’t easy to find. It was hemmed in right in the middle of an area of what would be in the UK some kind of Victorian working-class terraced housing and it did remind me of going to a football match in the UK back in the good old days of when all stadia used to be like this.

There was however some easy – and free – parking on the old railway goods yard about 500 metres away, and there were even a couple of marshalls to help everyone. Long time since I’ve seen this kind of thing.

The next thing was something of a shock though – unlike at Breda in the Netherlands last week, the stadium doesn’t accept payments by card – it’s cash only. And I wish now that I had paid with a card at the supermarket this afternoon rather than with cash. The nearest cash point was 1500 metres away, so I was told, and me with a bad foot too after my exploits with the coffee table earlier in the week. I didn’t need any of this. Mind you it was a good job that I arrived early.

Argosstadionachterdekaserne kv mechelen zulte waregem 2 novembre 2013 belgium jupiler league
So having procured a ticket, at €16:00, it was into the ground. And this was a surprise as well. A First Division game in one of Europe’s leading national leagues and the stadium had probably over 50% of its capacity as standing. When was the last time that you ever heard of this?

And as for the stadium itself, you can tell that they’ve never heard of the Taylor Report in Belgium either because this place wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in England following the report on the condition of English football grounds after the fire at Bradford City. It really was like stepping back in time to the early 1970s in English football and you have no idea how comfortable it felt to be standing up on the terraces.

Argosstadionachterdekaserne kv mechelen zulte waregem 2 novembre 2013 belgium jupiler leagueBut I don’t care what anyone in authority has to say – the fans are totally correct in their opinion of all-seater stadia. With so many standees in the ground, the atmosphere really was electric for the entire 90 minutes and the Mechelen fans must be the noisiest that I have ever heard at a modern football match.

The Powers That Be want everyone to be seated at a football match as in a theatre or a cinema, and give polite applause whenever someone does anything merit-worthy and to keep quiet the rest of the game. That is total nonsense and is what has ruined the game as a spectator sport. Football is all about noise and atmosphere, 90 minutes of bedlam on the terraces, and you can’t do that sitting down. And it’s not just about the merit-worthy actions either. When Zulte-Waregem’s n°3 went down rather too easily and for far too long right under the referee’s nose and on the “popular side” after a challenge early in the game, the Mechelen fans were on his back for the rest of the match with whistles, jeers and abuse to such an extent that his captain swapped him over to the other, more sedate side of the field.

THAT is what real football is about.

People might think that that is being grossly unfair to the footballers concerned. Four or five years ago I remember Craig Bellamy being quite upset about the abuse that he was receiving from the crowd. Firstly, I don’t ever recall him complaining or being upset when the fans of his team were dishing it out to an opposing footballer, and secondly, I will gladly go and stand out in the middle of a football pitch for a whole 90 minutes and let 30,000 people hurl as much abuse as they like about me and my family for only 25% of the money that he is on.

Argosstadionachterdekaserne kv mechelen zulte waregem 2 novembre 2013 belgium jupiler leagueAs for the football however, we had a torrential rainstorm and a 2-2 draw, the result being a fair reflection of the balance of the play. And the best player on the field was the Zulte-Waregem centre-forward who scored both his team’s goals. A different class of player than the others on the field.

I’d seen a Turkish Fritkot on my way into town and so I stopped off there and, sure enough, they conjured up a plate of falafel and fritjes. I enjoyed them too, especially as I felt that I had earned them. I’ll miss all of that when I leave. But I’ll have to come back ina couple of weeks though – there’s a book sale in the car park and I must add to my collection a copy of “Honkie and Ponkie On The Moon”.

I’m depressed though about how much Vlaams I’ve forgotten, I really am. I must do something about this.

Saturday 26th October 2013 – I REMEMBER …

… back to 2004 when I was ill and thinking that I ought to develop a new interest, that the subject of footy first came up. Brussels is ideally situated for being a Northern European footy fan and I do remember thinking that as Belgium and France are rather boring in that respect, I ought to cast my net a little further afield.

Dutch football fans are well-known for their passion and ardour and as the town of Breda is easy to get to from here on public transport (change trains at Antwerpen), then NAC came onto the radar. However, times changed, and things changed, and I changed, and that was that. Nevertheless, it was always something that turned around in the back of my mind.

Dutch football has some very interestingly-named teams such as Willem III, Heracles and Top Oss, but pride of place has to go to the enigmatically-named Go Ahead Eagles. Any team with a name like that deserves to be supported. And so imagine my surprise this morning when, over a cup of coffee, I glanced at the footy fixtures and found that the Eagles were playing away this evening – at NAC Breda!

So early this afternoon after lunch I leapt into Caliburn and shot off up the motorway as far as Weerde (I really ought to live in a town with a name like that – second only to the town of Silly of course) when I realised that I didn’t have my passport (I seem to be making a habit of this).

Back on my way to Antwerpen I encountered a Carrefour at Mechelen so I was even able to do a pile of shopping, and after that, with Golden Earring playing on Caliburn’s music centre in honour of my Going Dutch, I eventually arrived at the ground.

stadion rat verlegh NAC Breda netherlands eredivisieNice and modern, which many purists (including Yours Truly) will think is a pity, but with plenty of space around it and plenty of parking too which makes a pleasant change.

Buying a ticket for an Eredivisie match is not easy. You need to have a Dutch FA clubcard to but a ticket for the match. if you don’t have one, which of course I don’t, you need to produce a national identity card, which I don’t have either, or else produce a passport, which I did have, so it was a good job that I remembered to go back and fetch it. But just €15 (that’s £12) for a ticket is an absolute bargain to watch a 1st-tier match in a keenly-fought domestic league.

Next stop was to buy some food. I left Caliburn (who has never been to the Netherlands before, by the way, so there’s a first) at the Stadion Rat Verlegh (a delightful name) and went on foot to the centre, and I’m glad that I did because I stumbled once more upon something quite exciting that I would otherwise have missed.

fokker 100 scrapyard breda netherlandsThis is a Fokker 100 of the late 1980s or early 1990s and what it is doing here as an advert for a scrapyard I really have no idea. This isn’t the first one that we have seen either, for those of you with very long memories will recall the Andover that sat on top of a scrapyard at Ettiley Heath, at the back of Sandbach, for a while. But anyway, here it is and here it sits, and here it will probably stay until the price of scrap aluminium rises again.

It did rather remind me of that delightful story about the old World War I pilot reliving one of his battles during a live television interview.
“There I was, at 8,000 feet, all on my own, and suddenly these five German Fokkers appeared out of a cloud, right in front of me”
“I should mention, for the benefit of our younger viewers” said the interviewer “that a Fokker is a type of German aeroplane”
“Thats right!” ejaculated our hero. “These Fokkers were Albatroses”

historic building medieval centre breda netherlandsSo I eventually made it into town, following my nose which was quite interested in the smell of chips that it was detecting.

This brought me to a little square just on the edge of the old medieval centre and here was a beautiful historic building. I’ve absolutely no idea what it might be although it looks like an ersatz town hall or school building of the late 19th Century when the Dutch ran out of inspiration. However, I could be completely wrong about this and nothing would surprise me.

Here I was distracted as two pizza delivery motorcyclists burst out of an alleyway and headed off in different directions. That gave me a clue and so I headed into the alleyway and found myself at the back of a takeaway pizza lace. My takeaway Vegetarian with my own vegan cheese (I always come prepared) was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

public urinal Breda NetherlandsOn the way back to the stadium in the dark, wishing that I had come here much earlier to properly explore the town, I encountered this object, right outside the football ground as you,might expect one such object to be. Whatever its proper name might be, I was told that the locals refer to it as the p155 house, and for very good reason too as you can see.

In fact I made very good use of it. I must stop drinking all of this flavoured water while I’m driving. It’s doing me no good at all, I tell you that. I’m not sure how I would have coped had I not found this artefact. It’s certainly a novel way to spend 1.2 centimes.

Mind you, it’s a bit disconcerting having to resort to something like this in front of a crowd of about 17,000 people trying to get into the Stadion Rat Verlegh. I mean, I didn’t want to give them all an inferiority complex.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013But that’s enough of me talking rubbish. Let’s concentrate on the football.

Tyhe quality was rather … errr … less than I was expecting for an Eredivisie match. NAC were, well, about average I suppose but Go Ahead Eagles were thoroughly awful and how they were in one place higher than the home side before the kick-off I really do not know. They had a central defence pairing of Lord Lucan and Martin Bormann and for the second quarter of the game they were quite simply torn to shreds. Its no exaggeration to say that 4-0 at half-time, all the goals coming in that 20-odd minute spell, was something of an understatement.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013It will also come as no surprise to anyone reading this that the second half was a totally different game. Naive followers of the sport would expect the second half to begin with the Eagles having their heads buried in their boots and a bouyant bunch of Breda boyos bouncing out to run up a cricket score (mind you, 4-0 IS a cricket score when England are batting).

But no, Breda had gone right off the boil and were content to play exhibition football for a while, passing the ball around amongst themselves instead of going for the jugular.

This of course gave the Eagles some kind of respite and a couple of times they snatched the ball away and went racing off down the ptch to give the Breda defence some VERY ANXIOUS moments indeed. I remember thinking that if the Eagles scored twice (which they could so easily have done), there would have been an almighty panic in the Breda side and anything could happen.

stadion rat verlegh nac breda go ahead eagles deventer netherlands eredivisie 26 october 2013However the Breda defence stood firm and with just two or three minutes to go, they managed to pot a fifth goal to calm what was clearly becoming a jittery Breda performance. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a side winning 4-0 look so nervous.

But I really don’t know why teams like this do this kind of thing. 4-0 up and looking good, and then going on the defensive for 45 minutes. They should have carried on with the allout attack, been 6-0 up after the hour, and then gone on to bury this team, instead of giving them a few easy chances to get back into the game. Really bad planning, this, and I would have kicked the players all around the stadium. A tight mid-table finish means that goal difference is all important when it comes to doling out the prize money at the end of the season and whenever you are given the opportunity, which doesn’t arrive very often for clubs like this, you should be going for the throat;

And on that note, I went home. Another one of my … errr … goals in life accomplished.