Day 24 – Paris – it was supposed to be an easy day!

Today was meant to be an easy day, a bit of mindless wandering, tick a few things off the list, a bit of shopping, maybe somebody might buy me a Fathers Day present?

Maybe?

A late breakfast, this is good as Genelle’s mobile rang at 3.30am, some scamming mob trying us on, and to be sure Genelle called our bank to confirm nobody had been in doing stuff in our accounts that they shouldn’t be doing, all confirmed as Ok, then try to get back to sleep?

We wander out to Boulevard St Germaine, to the North Face shop and Mark buys himself a Paris momento, then we walk over the Seine, twice, that’s because of the island in the middle, to get to Rue De Rivoli and my bit of shopping at C&A. I’m happy to say that I’ve bought my summer wardrobe from Paris for €70, Mark also buys a pair of jeans and Genelle a pair of socks. A f….g miracle, maybe the stuff wasn’t expensive enough for her? As we leave C&A I set off the alarm, get the full security check and search ” welcerrm to Pariii mon deu, now ferrrk ouf back to Ostralee……”, don’t you feel welcome sometimes. Mark gets the same treatment but he’s bigger than me and the security bloke and gets straight through.

We wander into Les Halles area, don’t know Les and certainly don’t know the Halles family ( that’s a joke!), anyway it’s warmed up a bit and I’m happy I chose to drag out the shorts for the first time of the trip but I figure that it’s looking like rain tomorrow and they might not get another run. The sky is a little grey, it’s pretty muggy, and while it’s only 26 degrees, it feels warm until you get into the shade or pick up a breeze. Good news, the streets are almost free of school age children, the place is a lot more civilised.

We find a little Italian cafe for lunch, the 2 pizzas are great, Genelle though she liked the sound of one but the prosciutto threw her a little so I had to eat it all by myself with liberal splashes of a chilli olive oil, delicious! The Peroni washes it down nicely.

Now a big challenge, we walk a fair way into the gay area to a “rugby” shop, but I’m not sure what sort of footy these lot play, so we then Metro it up to Sacre Coer at Mont Martre, a few changes of trains and the Navigator ( not navigating today) gets a bit winded with the up hill and down dale train changes and needs the puffer, I’m struggling but don’t try to show it, Mark watches out for his mother with a concerned look. The Metro station Abesses exit is about 10000 steps to get out, it’s exhausting, a tip for anyone with bung knees, legs or lungs, there is no lift, so suck it up buttercup.

The funicular up to the church is one Metro ticket ( €1.45 each) and its well worth it the steps are many and steep up to the church. It’s a great view over the city but the church is something I’ve been to twice so I hold the bags and sit outside watching the gypsy drink sellers and African Eiffel Tower marketers ply their trade.

We wander down the hill, it’s not a long way to Pigalle which is the red light area, then down past the sex paraphernalia shops and live sex shows towards the Moulin Rouge, the area full of tourists and tarts. The park area in the middle of the main road between Pigalle Metro and Blanche Metro has a lot of suspect looking young men trying to make eye contact, I might have a hotel room next to Diane but I’m not the least bit interested chaps.

A quick Metro trip, 2 stops only keeps the Navigator happy, we’re off at Mauberte Mutuale Metro , a quick walk up to a little shop off Boulevard St Germaine called Mr Rugby and I find my Fathers Day present, it’s a Stade Du Paris Rugby polo shirt, I now have one for every time I’ve been to Paris, that’s 4 or 5 now I think? I support French Rugby, I like eye gouging, kicking, shoulder shrugging with upturned hands “whaat are you talking about ref ? ” French rugger buggers.

We amble back to Rue de Ecole and the Familia Hotel at 7pm for a rest before dinner , our last evening in Paris for 2018. Now that’s an easy day, coulda fooled me!

A big decision, dinner, what will the Navigator and Mark eat? As the sky in the north darkens, I’ve finished the can of Heineken and I think Bonvivant Bar and Restaurant about 20 meters from the Hotel looks like it might win the votes tonight.

TIP – use the Metro in Paris, it’s easy, you need to know the end station name and then work out the trip plan, there are a few apps that help plan the trips and the best way is buy a cannet of 10 tickets ( you buy them at the Metro stations, can only buy with a credit card, 1 x ticket = €1.90 but a cannet of 10 costs €14.90) each trip on the Metro costs 1 ticket as long as you don’t exit “Sortie” the Metro system) have a go and get the hang of it.

Dinner on Rue Monge fills the tank again and it’s 10pm back to the hotel for the pack. Tomorrow we’re on the Eurostar to London Town.

Au revoir from Paris 2018

Paul

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Day 23 – Paris – Sunday – Fathers Day 2018

Today is Fathers Day and the present, “Get out of Bed! We have to get going you lazy bastard!”

At 7.30 we’re down at breakfast, at 8 we’re at Cardinal Lemoine Metro Station with our € 7 each return ticket to Versailles Palace and Gardens, and we’re on our way to Javel station for a change to a RER train to Versailles. Everything goes to plan and we arrive at Versailles in about 45 minutes, walk for about 10 minutes and we’re at the Palace. The crowds are lining up for the Palace but we can get into the Jardins ( gardens) and they are pretty quiet so we take that option with the plan to come back to the Palace when it’s quieter later on.

The Versailles Gardens are absolutely spectacular ( Dudley Conn – if you’re reading this ) they would be 100’s if not 1000’s of acres and today they are running the fountains to music. We wander for ages in amongst dark covered hedges, around fountains old and new ( old = 300 years) Versailles was built by Louis XIV the Sun King, the syphlitic playboy king with many mistresses and the life of luxury that is difficult to imagine. His excesses led to the Revolution and the Storming of the Bastille ( to get ammunition and guns) by the peasants who had had enough of the frivolous frippery of Louis’s reign. The gardens are vast, precise, beautiful and a joy to wander in. The Palace, when we get there later is excessive, grand, gold everything, and warm, the day is warm and they don’t have the windows open and there are thousands of people going through the building. Genelle is getting a little warm as well when people push into lines ahead of us, and she’s right they are ignorant mongrels and need a smack down the forehead with a lump of 4 x 2 but that might not end well in a foreign country where the police and military are everywhere and the eee aww of sirens in the streets are constant. She restrains herself and secretly seeths silently. The Hall of Mirrors is spectacular and would have impressed many foreign dignitaries and military leaders in its day, and probably would do today as well but I guess the tourist dollar rules.

We’re finally finished with Versailles. Genelle and I were here 10 years ago but we didn’t look at the gardens so I’m glad we did that but the Palace I think I’m done with.

It’s a slow warm walk back to the train station, some fluids management is needed before we get on the train, the 26 degrees feels like about 35 at home, maybe it’s just the cobblestones and lack of trees when you get out of the gardens?

Instead of coming back to the hotel we Metro it into a station we haven’t been before La Tour Marburg station where we find a little bar/ cafe for a lovely lunch, Genelle has a really nice tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad and crepe, Mark a spag bol and I get a lasagna, we then wander to the Military Museum and Napoleons tomb. In the early 1800’s Napoleon taught the world a bit about military strategy by conquering most of Europe, but like all people who try this stuff on, sooner or later it all comes undone, sometimes it comes undone twice, but he made the French Proud until the Battle of Waterloo and the Germans and a lot of other countries as well joined England and Napoleons day was done. But after he was exiled they still returned his body home after he died to be interred as a hero in the grand building he lays in. After the tomb we do a quick recce of the Military Museum and get the Metro back to the Latin Quarter to get shoes off, and rest. It’s been about 10 hours since we left this morning when we get back and I think tomorrow is going to have to be a quiet day for me.

Any history teachers reading this and have any problems with my interpretations, please keep you comments to yourselves, this is just my unvivid recollections of high school history and yes I could be a little wrong with some stuff, I admit that. Press on Paul, don’t let your inferiority complex get to you!

Rue De Ecoles in the Latin Quarter ( 5th Arondisment) is humming like a Sunday afternoon in Paris, ( you say – what’s he on, it is Sunday afternoon in Paris you soppy bugger!) the sidewalk cafes are spilling on to the street, there is a happy buzz about the place. Genelle buys ice creams and she shouts me a can of Heineken ( a wonder given the bad press I give her). We bust into Marks room with the balcony and take over, the beer is great, my feet hurt less, the sun is setting on a beautiful warm Paris day. While I sip my beer Mark & Genelle sit on the bed with the nice breeze blowing in watching a French movie, in French, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Fathers Day 2018 has been a good day

Cheers from Paris

Paul

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Day 22 – Paris

The day is pleasant, and it’s probably going to be warmer as the sun moves west. We have the €7 breakfast at the hotel to get the day started.

An interesting thing, last night we met one of neighbours on level 5, his/her name is Dianne, she or he’s taller than me, I reckon 6’3″ maybe, he’s decked out nicely, hair done nicely with lippy on, I squeeze in the tiny lift with Diane and there’s no issues, so at breakfast I acknowledge her and say ” morning…..Diane” and feel ok with that. Diane is from Chicago.

The Navigator and Mark head of on their Bikeabout cycling tour of Paris at 10am. I leave them at Charlemagne’s statue outside Notre Dame and wander the streets up to Rue de Rivoli, back over to Saint Michele, where I catch Mark at the rear of the group riding, he didn’t see me as the crowds were building.

I have a coffee at a sidewalk cafe, do a bit of crowd watching, some might say perving, but it’s all innocent, it really is. And how can you resist watching all the beautiful people on a late summer day in Paris?

I finally meet up with the cyclists. The news is not that flash, the Navigator had a crash before their trip actually started, apparently she put her bag in the basket, but it was too heavy and sitting on one side it directed her into the curb and she came down on her hand and leg. Fancy that, Genelle’s bag being too heavy! Anyway Mark said he was the first at the scene of the accident, and saved her from further damage and embarrassment, and kept himself in the will. Of course she was not at fault, it was the bags fault for being too heavy, go figure that out!

The rest of the trip went alright and she was happy that 2 Kiwis in their group jammed their brakes on too hard and went over the handlebars into to tarmac. I’m guessing that if they’d had a heavy bag behind them ( something like the weight of Genelle’s) then they would have been weighted correctly and not crashed.

She shows bravery and we wander along the Seine looking for a sports shop I first bought a polo shirt 10 years ago when we met up with Dale and Carol Murray in Paris one afternoon, but sadly the shop is gone, I was last there 2 years ago, but it looks like it’s been replaced by a scooter hire place or a souvenir shop. So a late lunch beckons.

We sit in a little bar/ cafe, order some food and drinks, and while away an hour or so, the food is slow coming but good when it does finally arrive. We wander up through the alleys of St Germaine du Prix, up the hill, around via the Pantheon, down the hill, up Rue Monge and back to Rue de Ecole where we are housed. Marks got his new room thanks to the Navigators negotiations and harsh looks this morning, it’s a balcony room on the same floor as us, great room, just reward for watching out for his mother today and making sure she didn’t endanger anyone else in the Parisien traffic.

Back at Familia Hotel we rest our feet and ankles before we work out what to do for dinner.

So dinner is decided, we head around the corner up to Rue Monge, opposite Cardinal Lemoine Metro station, the bar/ cafe/ restaurant is called Le Petit Cardinal, the veal is good and I have a board special of fish and a salsa, pepper mix which is delicious, washed down with a Heineken.

We walk through the streets, eventually trying to see if we can get into the Jardin gardens, but they are locked, so we meander towards the sound of music on the banks of the Seine and in amongst the beautiful gardens on the river we find a big group of people salsa dancing, then not far away another group dancing a mix of stuff, then some old time rock and rollers, all very good dancers, hefty praise from a double left footed non dancing invalid. There is a mix of ages, a mix of skin colours, some can really dance and some try hard, it’s wonderful and it’s very safe, well lit with great music. There’s even a live band playing down right on the Seine waters. Apparently this happens every Saturday night over summer and if I’m right this is the last night of summer, I reckon there would be thousands of people. Fantastic!

It’s not far from our hotel, so we wander back in about 10pm with really sore feet, contemplating bed.

Tomorrow is the Palace of Versailles and then back to check out Napoleons tomb, another busy day, but I feel Monday is going to be a bit of a quieter day for us.

Must remember to call Dad for Fathers Day tomorrow.

Cheers from Paris

Paul

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Day 21 – Brugge In Belgium then a night train to Paris

Day 21, it’s Friday and it’s the last day of the European school holidays, that’s good news, but it’s bad news for today and the week-end with thousand is kids and their parents trying to squeeze to last bits of life out of the holidays.

After yesterday’s big day for all of us we do sleep in a little, until the Navigator gets motivated and has looked at Facebook and realised that it’s 9.30 and we should get a move on. As we get out of the lift there’s a gentle hum, as we get to the foyer of the hotel it’s a loud chatter, almost a roar actually. There is a women’s health conference, and it’s full of women with lanyards around their necks, blocking the way out, ignorance in their own importance, and a few token men, poor bastards must be ushers or something, anyway Paul best to stop there, to keep muttering could lead to repercussions.

Bags packed, stored at the hotel and we walk down town for breakfast. A little place at €8.50 gets us freshly squeezed orange juice, a croissant, a piece of multi grain bread with butter and jam and a coffee/tea/hot chocolate and it all comes with a pleasant waitress.

We wander down to the canals, around the canals, over the canals, searching for the “F…..g swans” from the movie “In Brugge” and all we see is tourist boats full of f….g tourists, no f….g swans, what gives? Eventually we find some swans, who spend most of their time preening their feathers and hardly any time gracefully swimming in the canals, not very swanlike if you ask me, I’m thinking of complying to the Brugge tourist people, they need to have a little fireside chat to their swans otherwise I mightn’t come back.

Unfortunately there are thousands of tourists around the canals, and these are the that aren’t in boats, they are walking around clogging up the footpaths with their French and German accents, lots of Americans ( pick them up a block away they are that loud), and poms in t shirts soaking up the balmy 20 degree heatwave in Belgium. This doesn’t deter the navigator from a little shopping though. We check out a beautiful church that has Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, the only sculpture of his that’s out of Italy, it’s in Carrara marble, not big but worth seeing.

We drop some of Tim’s ashes into the canal, these will end up in the North Sea, so a little adventure there for him.

At 4pm we wander back to the hotel, use the facilities ( Newsflash for the Bowel Queens – things are working fine!), and walk to the train station. It’s about a 15 minute walk, the Navigator struggles a bit, it gets a bit warm, tries to make the odd wrong turn, but Mark hangs back and watches out for her.

The 4.58 train the Brussels Midi ( tip for any one travelling Brussels Midi is the main train station not Brussels Centrum), the train is pretty full so we wait until we get to Ghent to get a seat. Just as well we do as about 30 French 10-12 year olds get on the train in our carriage at Ghent looking for seat, then when we get to Brussels we strategically place Genelle in front to move them out of the way with a withering glare if needed, followed by Mark to pick them up and throw them if they get smart and me last to settle the peace with any distraught mothers. This works, the glare I mean, because the path to the platform is clear for us. (Do you think I make this stuff up?)

Tip – if travelling to Brugge by train book the First Class tickets as then you will get a seat between Brussels and Brugge, maybe you will have to do the whole trip 1st Class to get that section. First Class are the carriages with yellow stripes on the top of the windows.

The second thing to do is work out where your carriage pulls up, usually means asking one of the train staff, in our case the Thalys people who wander by occasionally on the platform.

The wait at Brussels Midi ( or Zuid is the local lingo, Flemish I think) is taken up with a little food, a little window shopping, it’s a big train station with 22 platforms so there are plenty of shops. Our train is leaving at 8.13pm so we have a little time to kill. Soon we find Platform 6B is our platform and wait with the crowd, we’re given a bum steer by a bloke in uniform as to where carriage 17 will stop so it’s a little hustle to get down the front where it’s located, when we get on the baggage spots are nearly full, Genelle is loiteringing in the doorway as I try to sort the bags out, I think unwittingly blocking people from getting on the train, and the female guard gives the hurry up to get out of the way as the doors ar closing and people need to get on. I stowe Marks and my bag, they are less full (there’s diplomacy for you!) and Genelle’s has to come down to where our seat is, it’s a little tense with the navigator. We find our seats in a pretty full train, and we ie the train, slide away from Brussels quietly, in no time at all we’re sitting at 160 kph and then not much later a much faster speed.

The trip from Brussels to Paris on this train is 1 hour 20 minutes, 3 hours if you’re driving according to Google Maps so the train is a fast and efficient way to travel. As the sun sets in the west we glide into France, how do I know you might ask, well my Lyca mobile SIM card tells me we’re in France with a text message relating to settings on the phone. There are lights flashing on the horizon from lots of wind turbines, looks funny with the silhouette of village church steeples with the shapes of the wind turbines blended in.

The City of Light arrives and we get off the train, Mark is the advance party and main bags are off, Genelle and I are off a bit after that. We take the wrong exit and miss the official taxi line, we know that now but we get a taxi and I reckon we get ripped off, BUT, we do get to the hotel. TIP – find the official Taxi line and get the meter turned on in Paris, the shoulder shrug and downturned French look when you suggest rip off is a bit disconcerting at 10 o’clock after a long day. Anyway, one for the future but geeez I hate that feeling that you think you’ve been ripped off but you’re not sure.

The Hotel La Familia have f….d up the booking, Genelle thinks, and we have 2 rooms but they aren’t exactly what we wanted, but it’s a bed and it’s Paris and it’s busy busy busy, so it’s better than the street. They’ll have her to deal with tomorrow, poor buggers won’t know what’s hit them.

More on Paris tomorrow, after Genelle for a Bike About bicycle tour of Paris tomorrow, let’s see how much stress that gives her, anyway for tonight Auvoir

Paul

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Day 21 – Thursday – The Battlefields of Flanders in Belgium

Today a journey to one of the most blood soaked areas of soil on earth.

A well known poem by John McRae, written after a friend was killed in the 2nd Battle of Ypres

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.   Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

…………………………………………………………

A group of about 23 are doing the trip with Quasimodo Tours today, a mixture of Australians, English and Americans. 9am and everyone is a little quiet, waiting to break the ice, waiting for somebody else to start a conversation. I’m sitting up the back of the bus and near a couple from central Victoria and an American friend, we have a chat while Phillipe ( our host for the day) starts to brief us on what we are doing and seeing today.

The first stop after about 1/2 to 3/4 driving is at a German war cemetery, it’s dark stone and shady leafy grounds give it a bleak feel. It’s a sobering start to the day, but apparently there are not many German cemeteries in the area, they really don’t acknowledge the war took place and the result they got. We move on to a Canadian memorial where it remembers in particular the first casualties from gas in the war, some 1200 Canadians died from compressed chlorine gas, but we do find out that the allies then also did use gas as well. Two wrongs don’t make a right, or so they say.

We visit Polygon Wood whee there is another Commonwealth Cemetery and a Memorial to the Australian 5th Battalion, even thought the 4th Battalion also fought there. We’re also on the infamous Menin Road and have lunch at the Hooge Crater Museum. We then check out the preserved battlefield of Hill 60 from the Battle of Messines where Australian tunnellers blew the hill up and vaporised 10,000 German soldiers in a instant. There is a movie called Beneath Hill 60 based on an officers diary made by Australians that has done quite well. The craters are all obvious and there is an English machine gun pill box built on top of a German pillbox facing east defending Messines ridge and Ypres. We also visit Tyne Kot cemetery. We visit the field dressing station where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Field, and where the youngest soldier killed on the allied side is buried, he was 15 years old.

We head into Ypres and check out the Menin Gate memorial where they have been doing a last post ceremony every year at 8pm since 1928 after they rebuilt Ypres. Ypres and most of Flanders was flattened , hardly a tree or building left standing so everything you see in this area is built after 1918, although they used the old bricks and stone and the buildings look very old. Ypres is a beautiful city.

Before the last post I’m cheauffered (sic) out out to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery to try and find one of my relatives graves. I do find the grave of Stanley COOMBES who was wounded and died on 12th October on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele. He was in 45th Battalion on the 4th Division. The Battle was also known as the 3rd Battle of Ypres and Passchendaele lay on the last ridge of Ypres which was vital to defending the supply system for the German Army. Also there is a list of all the unknown soldiers listed on the Menin Gate memorial, there on Panel 59 is Alfred COOMBES, 34th Battalion of the 3rd Division, who died 7th June 1917 on the first day of 5he Battle of Messines. Another cousin Arthur COOMBES of 1st Battalion, 1st Division who was killed at Poziers is remembered.

Of 5 COOMBES family members, cousins and uncles with 1 set of brothers, all cousins of my grandmother, who went to the war, only 2 returned.

The last post ceremony at Menin Gate is very moving, a huge crowd, and a choir from Kent in England is spectacular, and they do this every day! The last post is absolutely breathtaking and there is only silence between the bugles and the choir, truly worth the effort to see.

I’m dusted, it’s been a long day for me, a black Mercedes brings me and a couple of others back to Brugge from Ypres.

There’s nothing remotely funny I can relate to about what I did today. The Flanders war area is remarkably small, there are cemeteries every where, they are still digging up about 120 tonnes of unexploded ordinance every year just in Flanders, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do an exceptional job, the cemeteries and memorials are looked after so well. The scale of death from the meat grinder that was WW I is breathtaking. And the Somme area in France is very close, the war in Europe was mostly condensed to these 2 small areas.

Meanwhile Genelle and Mark went on a Segway Tour of Brugge, apparently she was so good on the machine that her and Mark were allowed special privileges like heading, at pace, out to see an old windmill. Wonder if she got it airborn like she gets the car in our driveway! Surprise, she also checked the shops out, no evidence of purchases yet, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Cheers from Brugge in Belgium

Paul

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Day 20 – Part 2 – the journey Brussels to Bruggej

Confusion reigns at Brussels Midi train station, have we got the right station asks the navigator with a concerned look on her face, Mark quietly advises ” we don’t know either but we’re pretty sure it’s right and we’ll find out, so it’s all ok”. Well spoken.

It is right and Google Maps points us to platform 15 for the train to Brugge, it doesn’t say Brugge but it’s one of the stops, it takes some convincing, she consults a local looking at the board, he confirms we are right and the train is 8 minutes late – happy days but the navigator still shows signs of doubt.

In the rush for the train we don’t get a seat and if we did we couldn’t watch our bags so we stay in the section near the doors, which is ok until I nearly take out Genelle when the train jerks. At Ghent the carriage empties and we get a seat for the last 1/2 hour. Brugge is a very modern train station, 10 platforms and we / me manage to find the right exit, the navigator is astonished!

Google Maps gets us to the NH hotel, we get our room sorted and then go for a walk in the drizzle to find our different assignments for tomorrow. The navigator true to form turns left outside the hotel door arguing the lift was left, Mark and I calmly turn right find the lift – no words need to be spoken. We find out where we have to go and then find a funky place called Mr Spaghetti, it’s humming, mostly young people, reasonable prices, good Belgium beer, good service, it’s a spaghetti only place and they handle Genelle when she says Spag bol but hold the spaghetti. We all leave satisfied. A great idea for Dubbo.

Bruges is a World Heritage site, a beautiful old town , regarded as the best preserved medieval town in Europe with a spectacular cathedral. It was featured in the Colin Farrell movie In Bruge, that has I think Michaelangelos only sculpture outside Italy – a Madonna and Child. The shopping area is quiet but I think Genelle could do some damage there, if the Segway doesn’t throw her off. More on that tomorrow.

Cheers for the 2nd time today

Paul

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Day – 20 – Amsterdam am Brügge pm

I’m sitting at the railway station

Got a ticket for my destination oooh ooh

……. bits missing

And every stop is neatly planned

For a poet and a one man band.

( Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound)

Good way to start a song, I’m sitting alone on Platform 15 at Amsterdam Centraal Train Station waiting or the Thalys 9996 to Brussels, the Navigator and Mark have gone downstairs to the shops hunting for last minute bargains and doing some fluids management, after walking for about a kilometre along the Platform to the spot where Car 37 should pull up this is needed. We’re early, a small miracle, but we’re ready for the next leg of the trip however small it might be.

This morning was a late rise, after a long day walking yesterday and no appointment for anything this morning, I’m happy about that, my feet and ankles are happy as well.

We wander out into a coolish grey morning, just warm enough for a bit more than a t shirt. The dirty canal water is glistening, it’s quiet in our area on the edge of Jordaan so we wander the streets canals and alley ways and find a cafe for breakfast ( not a coffee shop). A few minor purchases for the blokes and the Navigator buys a “small” ring in a groovy little shop run by a pretty girl, so we buy a few other bits and pieces. She’s thinking of travelling to India on a combined holiday and work thing, so I offer a few bits of advice on what to look out for.

I buy a CD of an artist I’ve never heard of before + a wallet, my major purchases so far other than the bottle of Jameson’s in Dublin which was the most expensive purchase so far, for me anyway.

We wander the streets, it’s growing on me Amsterdam and I think I’d like to come back again but for a much longer stay. It’s sort of like Berlin in that it takes time to warm to, then you get over the red light area and the tourist areas packed with people and find the tree lined canals, the houseboats, the little shops with designer stuff like sheep skin stubby and wine bottle holders and other stuff they say is Dutch designed paraphernalia.

Our hotel – The Hotel Sebastian’s, is a groovy little place, we have a lovely room with a garden view, it’s slightly cramped with 3 of us but thankfully, as far as I’m aware anyway, there is minimal farting, belching or obnoxious behaviour. There is however a little snoring from all 3 of us, and the worst part is the gruesome movie Genelle is watching about people committing suicide on a tv show that Mark and I hate with a passion and she won’t turn to another channel.

We wind our way back to the hotel, get our bags out of storeage after a quick pit stop and slowly wend our way to Amsterdam Centraal Train Station. The closer we get the more people and bikes we encounter. And now I’m where I started this post, sitting at the railway station.

The train leaves on time, we’re in the right spot to get on carriage 37 and we find our seats easily. The Thalys train is very comfortable, very fast and in no time we’re in Rotterdam only to hear the news that there is a problem with the high speed rail and wet being detoured and will be 30 minutes later than planned into Brussels.

The navigator is worried about the connection but still worried about the fact that our ticket doesn’t say it covers the leg from Brussels to Brugge, although we’ve been assured that international trips into Brussels automatically cover this leg, we’ll see what happens.

The country from Amsterdam to Rotterdam is flat, productive looking land, it’s grey and looks like it’s drizzling outside.

As we get closer to Rotterdam the rain gets heavier outside, and the conductor arrives to check our tickets and deal with the navigator and her concerns regarding the Brussels – Brugge leg. He is a jovial chap, and handles the navigator well, she seems satisfied that we do indeedy have a ticket which says “ABS” which means that we can go to “Any Belgium Station” , which means he’s safe, Sonya is safe and Mark and I will be saved lots of “I told ya there’d be a problem….” listening. Thank goodness for this! Now she starts planning tomorrow’s shopping and getting ready for her and Mark to do their Segway tour while I’m off at the Flanders ( Belgium) battlefields of WW I checking out where 5 of the COOMBES family ( relatives on the REID side and also relatives by marriage on the Lyon side of my family) served and 2 died ( 1 in the Battle of Passchendael and one in the Battle of Messines with another being killed in the Somme (France) in the Battle of Poziers. The 2 that returned home – 1 was invalided back because of sickness and the other was wounded a few times and came back to end up an alcoholic, never marrying and was called “Old Soldier”. I have a poppy to put at Menin Gate memorial if I can find the memorial for Alfred COOMBES, this was given by my cousin in law Caroline Coombes who was involved in making poppies uses at the 100 year celebration at Villers Bretoneaux this year.

We’re in Antwerp and the train is now 40 minutes late. Nothing we can do, we just have to go with the flow unlike our neighbours in the train who are going to miss a link with the Eurostar to London.

Ciao for now from the train, next post might be later tonight once we’ve done a reccon mission in Brugge

Cheers

Paul

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