Fading Memories

Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Times of Uncertainty
Saturday 17th September - Brussels to London


The day began delightfully at a railway station in Brussels well before sensible people are out of bed, with a Belgian Waffle for breakfast, and continued that way with an equally delightful and terribly British lunch in Wandsworth High Street.

The lead -p to those points of delight had been somewhat more fraught however.  This was the day that our EU visa expired, so we had to be gone.  As we had originally planned to be in Corsica by now, we  had lashed out on fairly flexible Business Class seats on an aeroplane to take us from Ajaccio to Paris and then to London.  When our friend’s illness caused cancellation of those plans, the airline (bless them) agreed to fly us from Paris to London in economy class at no extra cost.

That was all well and good, but the train from Brussels to London was about the same as to Paris, and we could save a day’s worth of travel and visits to two airports as well, so we took the momentous decision to “walk” away from our (now non-changeable because we were already feeling somewhat bruised and what could possibly go wrong(?) tickets.)

Perhaps we could have foreseen the sad demise of the Monarch, and the even sadder last-minute contraction of Covid by our friends, but we hadn’t, and with every seat on every bus and every bed in the whole of the realm unavailable while folk mourned as our Australian PM would say “in his own particular way”,  this leg of our journey was beginning to look a little more adventurous than we would have preferred.  Suffice to say a rather large black hole had appeared in our schedule.

Thankfully Matt and Kathy, who we were hoping to catch up with in a week or two, welcomed us like a long-lost Uncle and Aunt, and our evening ended no less delightfully with them and our little grand-nieces, with an awful lot of catching up still to be done.

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Friday, September 30, 2022

Puzzle
Friday 16th September - Brussels

 The cold and rain of autumn has really been making itself felt over the last few days, and it seems that once one reaches a certain age, traipsing around a strange city in the wet and cold is not as exciting as it once was despite the plethora of sights and attractions awaiting our call.   

Since Brussels has an enormous network of very affordable public transport, the thought of travelling in a heated tram was infinitely more appealing than spending the day in wet joggers.  We have in the past, managed our way around many of the world’s great cities with little fuss, but in the absence of a degree in Brussels transport, the transport maps were puzzling to say the least.

We were looking for line 6 on the tram we thought, and the sign said we were in the right place, but it wasn’t too long before we observed that all the trams on this route were number 81.  We concluded after quite a bit of searching, that the subway was referred to as “the tram” by the nice lady in the hotel giving us mis-directions, and it ran just one story below where we were.   When we did find the correct subway line, we were non-plussed to discover “our” train covered in “do not enter” tape and a plethora of security guards, each of whom was suggesting that we should think about taking a train to somewhere far away from where we wanted to be.

We did get there in the end, to the Museum of Modern Art, and spent far too much time on our feet astonished and a little transfixed by the “Rubik’s Cubism” exhibition by once famed graffiti guy “Space Invader” - Hundreds of pieces constructed entirely of stacked Rubik’s Cubes manipulated to create pointillist style pop images.

We weren’t sure that we really felt like walking the few kilometres back to the hotel because we were on such a high from the artwork, or whether we were just a little gun-shy about tempting fate with the transport network, but we were sure that our shoes would be dry by morning in any case, and it really was quite pleasant out there after all with our raincoats on.


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Taking the Manniken Pis
Thursday 15th September - Brussels

 

Brussels is one of those worldly cities which everyone has heard of but no-one knows seems to know much about.  Oh for sure it is the administrative capital of Europe, and it’s got some quaint old bits and some pretty ones too, but for reasons that are not easily understood, tourists seem to flock to view the “Manniken Pis”, a tiny little bronze statue of a little boy having a wee into a fountain just off the main city square.

As we consider “tourist flocking” to be beneath our station, we had apprised ourselves of neither its history nor exact location so it was with some chagrin that we accidentally stumbled upon it and it’s crowd of admirers.  Perhaps had we known more, the fact that it was clad entirely in a cartoon lion suit would not have been so surprising, but as it was we thought some practical joke was playing out.

We even started looking for the cameras when what we thought was a caricature man in a jacket clearly marked “Official Dresser” began fussing and cleaning around the statue.  As we stood transfixed, he lovingly undressed, bathed and re-dressed the little fellow in a Puerto Rican Boy Scout uniform while a group of dignitaries from that country stood by waiting for an official photo session.

Had we undertaken even the tiniest pre-visit research, we would have known that the Manneken spends a good deal of its time dressed in a manner appropriate to world events or seasons, and there is actually a museum nearby displaying all of the outfits he’s ever worn.

We can’t help but think however, that had we done that, much of the joy of the discovery that we experienced would have been lost.  We are therefore unlikely to change our admittedly hap-hazard methodology for at least the foreseeable future.

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

 

Rain  </br> <small> Wednesday 14th September - Hooge Zwaluwe to Brussels</small>

It turns out that the region around Hooge Zwaluwe and it’s neighbour Drimmelen is yet another place with a large dose of the “pretties”, and we’d had a bit of luck with our accomodation as well, having accidentally chosen a place which had once been the Town Hall.  

Rested, breakfasted, and  mindful that arriving on the Antwerp Ring Road too early, or too late, or perhaps at any other time would result in us contributing to the daily traffic jam, we  set off for an hour or two in exploration mode.  

Exploration was mostly confined to bits we could see without leaving the car as the year’s rain had finally begun to fall and the single digit temperatures came as something of a shock after wearing nought but shorts and tees for the last three months. Every now and then we’d venture out for an ever so short distance from the heating in the mother ship, to explore little villages and felt for all the world as though we were in the Cotswalds, (if the Cotswalds had been made of brick), before scampering back for a bit of artificial warmth.

When we did turn onto the motorway which is near the top of our list of those that provide the least lovable freeway-like experiences on the planet, despite our best efforts our timing was exactly wrong.  We had a little over three hours to travel the eighty kilometres remaining.   In heavy traffic and rain which sometimes lifted a little to allow visibility as far ahead as the cabin of the semi trailer in front, we needed all of that time, but made it happily and in one piece, ready to see what Brussels had on offer for a day or two.   

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A bit of belated planning.
Tuesday 13th September - Engwierum to Dokkum to Hooge Zwaluwe




Some time during the evening yesterday, we realised that our intention to “pop in and visit” Ron and Robin had gone somewhat awry.  It became clear that while we had apparently not overstayed our welcome, we’d completely lost track of the time and it was no longer Sunday afternoon.  .   

Suddenly we realised that if we were to have the car back by the appointed time without having to deal with the enormous stress that a tight deadline would undoubtedly deliver, we should really leave some time today.  Some hasty plans were concocted involving a swap of navigators, a bit of car vs boat cat-and-mouse and a reunion in Dokkum.

Once there although we had decided and were fully committed to moving on, after another gentle exploration of the town, little bit of shopping, a studious avoidance of anywhere that looked as though it was selling apple cake, and a lengthy conversation with a man painting the front door of a house (in the shadow of a windmill) we realised that we hadn’t actually made any decisions as to where perhaps we might arrive by days end.  

We convened a meeting over a plate or four of pepper steak, and using a method derived from “the old pin in the map trick” except without using a pin because we didn’t have a map and no-one would volunteer their phone as a substitute, booked a room in a place called Hooge Zwaluwe that none of us had ever heard of, typed it into the "destination" space in our navigation app, and hoped for the best!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Engwierum the Heck are We?
Monday 12th September - Electra to Engwierum

We have never worked out what it is, but after a couple of weeks or days or sometimes hours of staying in one place, we wake up with an itch than needs to be scratched, the kind that will only go away by moving to somewhere else.

Ron and Robin felt that way this morning, and since we were very much in peripatetic mode and by now almost part fo the ship’s furniture we were more than happy to have seen our last sunrise in Electra.   The fact that it was also the first sunrise we’d seen for quite some time did nothing to persuade us to remain either.

Engwierum might not even be the actual place we eventually stayed after a few hours of cruising across quite large expanses of lake and marshland but it’s close enough for the purposes of this journal.  

Of course this meant that the car was now twenty kilometres further away than most would consider convenient, but the combination of folding electric bicycles, the wondrously simple cycle network that the Netherlands provides, the perfectly flat topography and a pair of ageing males of our species intent on being back in time for pre dinner drinks made for very efficient if not entirely painless work of retrieving it.

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Hard of Herring
Sunday 11th September - Electra to Harlingen and Dokkum




We kind of sort of hadn’t really intended to stay for the day, but someone mentioned that herring might be nice for lunch, and since we all thought that was a splendid idea, and we really aren’t all that far from the sea, (because…. Netherlands) that perhaps we should take a little drive to Harlingen where we were sure to find some fish, perhaps fresh from a fishing boat.

Therefore, not long after breakfast, which as it turns out was not long before morning tea time, we set out on our quest. 

The our first obstacle in our path was the ancient town of Dokkum, with its postcard perfect houses and windmills and bridges, begging us to stop and  have a bit of a wander round.   We dallied for so long that it was almost lunch time before we departed, but having quite possibly eaten enough apple cake with our coffee to keep us sustained for a couple of days, in truth some of the urgency had gone from our original plan.

Finally in Harlingen a little later than is usual for lunch, we discovered that the Sunday crowds had left the town almost bereft of Herring.  Fortunately we did find the last two double servings, which when halved were more than enough for four people at risk of facing charges of apple cake gluttony.  

There is much to see in Harlingen on a Sunday, with the port full of traditional sailing ships in the process  of returning from an equally splendid day out, making a perfect venue for a digestive stroll.   While we may not have seen it all as we ambled away the afternoon, we gave it a very good try, returning to our own (well Ron and Robin’s) boat just as the sun was doing its "slowly sinking in the west" thing.

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