Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The hottest day of the year

I did a grand tour of Belgian traffic jams today. The first on was at Rue Belliard, where it took twenty minutes to make the 500m from Arts-Loi to the tunnel because they have narrowed the five lane road to two lanes. --AVOID Indefinitely--.  The second was on the A40 where it took forty minutes to make two kilometres on the highway - though it was not at all evident whether that was due to an accident or what. I realised it might be a long wait when I saw first aid squads giving out water (in bags labelled 'civil emergency drinking water';) to people stuck in the 33 degree heat.   I was grateful for that - as I had just finshed mine before hitting the queue.  That was a thoughtful and inclusive gesture but also perhaps symptomatic that the Belgians recognise that they don't manage their motorways very well.  There were overheated cars stranded on the hard shoulder every 200m or so. 
On the upside I helped a friend move - under a stressful timetable - and got to do my first natural water swim this year (sharing the pool with goldfish and dragonflies! :-). Hopefully the first of many.   I came home with 'van driver's tan': a reddish brown left arm and a white right one.  Can anyone lend me a right hand drive car for the weekend so I can get the balance right???

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Urban wildlife

I've been neglecting 'my garden' this year.  The courtyard I planted up so lovingly three years ago is not quite gone to rack and ruin - just not not receiving the maintainance that it deserves (though my landscape architect neighbours said I chose the plants and planted up the courtard well :-) .
The last 2-3 days I have  been paying it more attention. Each time I have seen a blackbird flying in or out of the ferns that I bought back from Cornwall three years ago which are now well established.  It's a rare treat to see a blackbird in Brussels.  Guess she's built a nest there and that I should continue to beningly neglect the garden for the summer - unless until the chicks are fledged. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Pictures in a gallery

I was at the Chagall retrospective at the Musée des Beaux Artes yesterday. I was really impressed. I was familiar with some of his work but was not aware of the scope and depth of his work. And he did a lot as he lived to be almost 100 years old.  The audio guide was really useful in explianing the contexts of his work - the outbrek of war, his time in France etc.) and the symbology he employed. 

Highly recommended if you are in Brussels in the coming weeks.  But hurry! It's only on for two more weeks. And go as early as you can. It was already crowded by midday.  
This is a portion of one of his later works called the rainbow – when he appears to have found some peace.  

And here's a link to some of the images on display  

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Traveller's Tips

I wrote this stub almost a year ago - and then forgot about it.  Some of these tips related specifically to my SE Asian experience - others are more general and universal.  Feedback, ammendments and additions most welcome.

I was ‘on the road’ for more than my fair share in 2013/14. Here’s a few tricks I picked up on the way. 
  1. Always keep a card and/or US$100/ €100 in a safe, separate, place (e.g.  a different pocket on money belt when you are travelling) in case, through stupidity or malfeasance, you lose your pocket book/wallet, etc. Also a photocopy of your passport / ID card, credit and debit cards and health insurance and their emergency numbers can prove very useful.  When going out at night carry a photocopy of your passport and only as much money as you plan spending.  Try to carry a few low denomination hard currency bills (1 $ or 5 Euro). If you are going outside of Europe do let your bank know – otherwise you may not be able to draw out any cash from any machine!
  2. Get to know (and remember) the name of your hotel receptionist / porter. This pays big time and both ways!  It makes them feel like recognised people, rather than just cogs in the global tourist machine and it can pay dividends if you have a problems that need solving – they remember you as someone who is interested in them as a person.
  3. The ‘posher’ the hotel - the less interactivity
  4. Try to avoid eating in places on the main ‘walking street’ or on the 'Grand Place'.  They are for the ‘vous-m’avez vue?’ set.  Root around the back streets just around the corner. You will invariably find better food and better service - at a much lower price. 
  5. Don’t do drugs (except in very safe environments). It exposes to you to police and mafia scams
  6. If staying any length of time buy a local SIM card and put in an old phone.  It makes local calls that much easier.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Barefoot Walking Outdoors

I  just (yesterday) finished reading Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.  In one section he writes about the joys and perils of bareoot walking.  I was reminded how long it was since I have walked barefoot outside so gave it a try again when I found myself in the woods near Tremelo last weekend.  It was refreshing.   And the book is highly recommended too.

Monday, 4 May 2015

In the gallery - again

Went to the Henri - Cartier Bresson expo at the Belgian Museum of Jewish History yesterday.  Great show - aside from being an excellent photographer he was witness to many of the key events of the 20th Century - from the Spanish Civil war, through the liberation of Dachau, the communist victory in China,  the independence of India, Paris '68, the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements in the USA and much more.  He got to photograph Picasso, de Gaulle, Marilyn Monroe, Eisenhower, Gandhi (the day before he was assassinated), the Mountbattens  and so many other iconic figures of the 20th Century. A rich life well lived, although I always thought (and still think)  his best work was of street life in his adopted home city of Paris (see below).  In all a highly recomended show.

Getting in was a bit creepy - the museum was the scene of a fatal shooting last year in which four people were killed.  Getting in there now is like flying - full scan as you enter (but, then, that's the same at my local library these days) and four highly-armed army guards outside (the library doesn't have those).

After the Bresson expo I watched a harrowing film about the deportation of Jews from Belgium between 1942 and 1944 - detailig every train that deported more than 25,000 Jews from Belgium to Auschtwitz. Very few survived.  The whole video was particularly harrowing to me as some of the street scenes of the places where the Jewish community lived and were rounded up in the middle of the night are places where I regularly  shop.  One elderly Jewish guy described all the shops and houses in one street where his friends were taken from, half way through the interview he turned away from the camera, broke down and cried.

Tomorrow is freedom day in Wageningen: the place where the German army surrendered in the Netherlands.  There's a parade, a fly past and a big party.  I shan't be going this year - but think I will set aside a few minutes silence in memory of the Holocaust and pray that such a thing will never occur again.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

In the gallery

An installation by Valerie Oka, seen at the closing day of a (generally disappointing) show at the Wiels gallery.

For those who don't read French the text reads 'do you think I'll be a better fuck because I'm black?'  

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Name that reptile

Out walking in the Ardennes last weekend - one of our number spotted this bright yellow and black creature basking on the tamac road.  Does anyone know what it is? And is it native or an escapee?   It looks like it belongs in a tropical rain forest

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

testing my tablet link

Testing  my tablet link. It actually works. I'm chuffed.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Guess which South Asian country will never see a Euro cent from this traveller?  Your beaches may be pristine, your cuisine to die for, your girls pretty, yet your respect for human rights is unworthy of any civilized country in the 21st Century.