Category Archives: Belgium

Pretty Belgian Houses: 365-9

 

Pretty Belgian Houses

Pretty Belgian Houses

Thursday was my first failure on the taking a daily photo front. Oops. In my defence I went to a work-related meeting after spending all day at work, and said meeting went on longer than expected and when I got home at bedtime I didn’t feel like I’d had much material to work with. I wanted to avoid posting similar photo-subjects too close together, so rummaging round the house for random objects to snap was out, as were cats for the same reason. With hindsight I could perhaps have taken a picture of my work bag, but for me, this project is about my outside-of-work life, so I decided to sleep on the decision instead.

Three days later and I’m still not a hundred percent sure what my preferred option would be if this situation crops up again, but I’m hoping that’ll become clearer as time goes on, and also easier to avoid in the first place. To paraphrase the Boy Scouts, I need to be prepared for these eventualities!

But, for now, I’m going to cheat. Just a little bit. Above is a photo that I took in Brussels last spring (yes, I know it’s Belgium and I was in Belgium last weekend, but that was Lier, so it’s different. Definitely). I’m choosing this photo because firstly, you can’t go wrong with Belgium, and secondly this was one of three of mine that were spotted on Flickr by a chap called Geno Malkiewicz, and on Thursday he asked me for permission to use them in a book he is editing about his great uncle’s experience in Europe in the Second World War, and his return 55 years later in search of his Belgian sweetheart. Which I thought was nice. Here’s one of the others he asked to use:

No Glove No Love

No Glove No Love

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Early Morning Geekery: 365-6

Good morning Antwerp

Good morning Antwerp

Another noisy photo today but it was 5am in Belgium (4am UK time) and I only had my phone handy for taking photos with.

I like fonts, especially these retro “N”s, and find them really evocative of the continent and the Art-Deco style. I also like travelling by train, so all in all the early start had its bonuses. A nice little typical European station to set me up for the day.

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Leftwing Propaganda: 365-5

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Over lunch today at my Belgian friend Veerle’s house in the Flanders region, we were discussing what to do in the afternoon. Veerle mentioned that there was a war cemetery less than five minutes’ walk from her house which she had never been to, and given our keenness for exploring and the fun of being a “Home Tourist”, we decided to pay it a visit.

Coincidentally (or not, as 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and the accompanying media and tourist board excitement), I had meant to ask Veerle about the Flanders fields of The Great War and to think about visiting. Over Christmas, I had watched not only TV channel Dave‘s favourite ever Blackadder episodes, which included the poignant and heartbreaking final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, but also the film Joyeux Noël, a French film about the Christmas truce in the trenches in 1914, which, I think, powerfully portrays the humanity of the soldiers and the removed-from-reality attitudes and callous propaganda of their respective leaders and home countries. It’s in fact the vivid messages of this film (the same messages that are contained in Blackadder Goes Forth) that immediately sprang to mind, when I heard that Michael Gove had this week labelled Blackadder as left-wing anti-war propaganda and dismissed its use by teachers in the classroom. Ironic then, that these films are in fact depicting the humanitarian consequences of the right-wing propaganda of the time, that helped keep Europe at war for so long.

I realised that on my travels I have visited numerous memorials to the holocaust and victims of the Second World War, and various World War 2 museums, but never those of the First. I felt this was something I wanted to address, if nothing else than to acknowledge the droves of men who were killed fighting for their countries, and dedicate some of my time to their memory and loss.

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

So it’s serendipitous perhaps that I am here this weekend. The Lier Commonwealth War Graves house the last resting places of Belgian, British and Canadian soldiers of both the First and Second World Wars. There are memorials to the fallen who have never been identified. The Belgian flag flies proudly amongst the silent gravestones. Each stone succinctly and strikingly tells a story. It is heartbreaking, and a place Mr Gove could learn much from.

Victor Lambiotte. Soldier. Born at Tamines 25th September 1893. Died for Belgium 6th October 1914

Victor Lambiotte. Soldier. Born at Tamines 25th September 1893. Died for Belgium 6th October 1914

Unknown Military. Died for Belgium.

Unknown Military. Died for Belgium.

Pte SA Duckett, aged 19

Pte SA Duckett. 26th September 1944. Age 19. “In memory of our dear son. At the going down of the sun, and the morning, we remember”

A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. October 1944. Known unto God.

A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. October 1944. Known unto God.

 

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Light Rain: 365-4

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I am visiting a friend who lives in Belgium this weekend, for a much-needed getaway. Her city, Lier, is so pretty, even in the rain.

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Four Countries in One Day

So I guess we’re off to Brussels then?

Not ones to skimp on starting out as we mean to go on, we took in not one, but four countries our first day of our exploration of Europe from London to Istanbul. Cue some Crowded House please.

Some of you may think counting the UK and London as one of these is cheating, but we started out there so it counts in my book. We’d also never been on the Eurostar before or indeed through the Channel Tunnel so that was an adventure long coming. Unfortunately it started off badly – despite us diligently checking in on time so we could take pics of the always stupendous St Pancras station…:

“The Goodbye” at St Pancras station

…we were told to stand in the naughty corner to finish our coffees before putting out bags through xray, then found we had to wait in the “lounge” with only overpriced breakfast from just 2 different shops available. And of course the train was running late. All this makes me so proud of Britain..!

I can’t complain though as it was so early that I wasn’t functioning properly either, as after looking at this departures sign I temporarily forgot that Paris had a Disneyland and wondered how on earth the train was going to take people to California… (still looks cool though I think).

Mickey Mouse departures

So, overzealous and underefficient country number one out of the way (it’s interesting to note that I am now writing from Vienna having passed through France, Belgium, Germany and into Austria that the UK is still the only one where I’ve had to show my passport or have my luggage checked in any way – Daily Mail readers will be in outrage I’m sure but you know what? It’s nice to be trusted the same way as when I travel from Leeds to London), we whizzed through northern France and into Brussels, the capital of Belgium.

Veerle and me looking (and feeling) really cold, despite our Icelandic outerwear..

My fabulous and effortlessly classy friend Veerle, who I met at Airwaves and who works in Brussels, met us to took us a lovely cafe called Zebra for lunch (I had traditional chicory soup and properly minty tea with fresh as well as dried mint tea leaves), while we gawped at the colourful continental cafe’s clientele.

Minty Minty The

Zebra Cafe

She also directed us to all the sights we’d be able to cram in in 4 hours, so off we wandered to the Grand-Place, the incredibly pretty central square that was rebuilt by the city’s merchants guilds following its destruction by Louis XIV in 1695.

Le Grand-Place

Here we almost immediately were approached by a friendly chap with a big Nikon round his neck called Raffaele. He is a German photo-artist and is in the process of collecting thousands of photos of different people’s faces to print and use as 6×4″ sized “pixels” to make one giant face.

Raffaele

Apparently we seemed like cool people and he wanted our pictures for his project, which was fine by us and we happily obliged, because we’re generally attention seekers. He told us he was in Brussels to judge a Warhammer miniature design competition, which I was completely clueless about but when my travelling companion Dave walked past Brussels’ branch of Games Workshop and saw these in the window, everything suddenly became clear!

Closet Warhammer fan Dave

No visit to Brussels is complete without a Belgian waffle (check me out ordering one in French with no help!), some Belgian beer (ours was brewed by monks and found its way to us via the local supermarket for consumption on the sleeper train), and a quick gawp at the Mannekin-Pis, a foot-high naked cupid sculpture that forms a fountain in central Brussels. I think you can probably guess where the water comes out. It’s not much to look at in itself, so here is a picture of Japanese schoolchildren posing in front of it, an equally traditional site in Brussels, and much easier to find than the statue itself for obvious reasons:

Japanese Tourists are a major attraction in Brussels

Our train to Cologne was about to leave though so off we popped Deutschlandwards. We didn’t have a stop in Germany but we did manage to see two sights which are helpfully within the station. Firstly the Cathedral which I didn’t expect to be virtually touching the front of the Bahnhof, and secondly this fairly gigantic retro neon homage to the reason why Köln (Cologne) is famous to most of us – Eau de Cologne:

The 4711

From Cologne we caught the sleeper to Vienna. We found our couchettes and found that we were sharing with a very friendly Russian guy named Youri, who offered us beer almost immediately. We could tell this was going to be the beginning of beautiful friendship! Youri had studied in Germany for 6 years and thus spoke great German – but no English, as he explained that during the Cold War Russia banned the teaching of English in schools, an idea he clearly thought was pretty damaging to Russian integration to the rest of the world, and frustrating to himself. Dave speaks only English so this posed a problem – or did it? Enter my unused-for-20-years German language skills! It turns out I can remember a pretty decent amount of what I learnt at school and I really enjoyed translating for the pair of them and thinking of roundabout ways to explain simple concepts when I couldn’t remember the crucial word in the sentence. Much fun! (I’m a geek though remember..)

Dave meets Youri and learns some German

We also learnt that Youri loves meeting people and saw us take the picture at Cologne station (the one above, scroll back up if you need to..). This apparently was enough for him to think we were pretty cool foreigners and not “boring Germans” (his words not mine!), so that earnt us our second lot of cool points for the day! (This has never happened before nor is likely to again so please forgive me for keeping tally).

Youri was also particularly excited to see Dave produce his Lomo-LC-A+ with an instant photo back, for two reasons – firstly of course the LC-A+ LOMO is originally a Russian camera and better known in his home country as the Diplomat camera Putin publicised as accessible for all. The second reason was that Youri’s brother, like Dave, is a Lomography obsessive, which I suspect will be the start of a worldwide lomo-penpals-of-Dave brotherhood, and quite rightly so if you like pretty pictures. Happy coincidences all round!

Sleeper car camera party

So, nicely stuck experimenting with German vocabulary, and not so nicely stuck with a touch of wobbly-headed landsickness after having been on a train for 14 hours – it’s onward to Vienna!

Days since leaving the UK: 1

Kilometres travelled so far by main train journeys: I’ll have to add this up later, my brain hurts! 328+219+915= 1462

Countries travelled through so far: 4

Cities visited: 3

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Filed under Belgium, Europe, France, Germany, Railways, Travel, UK