Sunday, 27 September 2009

Holiday Diary Part 1 (Eurostar and Brussels day 1)

As I wrote a daily diary whilst we were on holiday, it seems to make sense for me to put a good chunk of it up here, rather than rewrite it, and take another couple of months to get everything sorted out! Note that these posts were written as we went along (often a couple of times a day)...

There are photos to accompany the next few posts, and I will get them uploaded, but I am currently blogging from my in-laws garden (I love netbooks and wireless connections!), and the photos are on our PC back at home...

So - let us begin with:

7th September (Monday)

We are currently on the Eurostar to Brussels – very excited – I've never been on the Eurostar, nor to Brussels (nor to Paris, our destination on Wednesday) before. Loads of new experiences to come!

It has already been an interesting start to the holiday – we came up to London on Saturday morning to stay with Uncle Simon; I had a TKD seminar in Stevenage to go to on Sunday, and it was a convenient stopping point, as well as being lovely to be able to impose on Simon and get to see him and Anneli (quite possibly for the last time for any length of time before we go to NZ – we are going to be seeing Simon briefly next Sunday as he has very kindly offered to look after my TKD kit whilst we are away). We had a lovely time on Saturday – a very easy journey to London and across to Finsbury Park, with a walk up to Ali Pali after lunch (rather sadly the sun that had so beautifully illuminated the transmitter aerial whilst we were having lunch (Simon has a great view from his window!) had disappeared by the time we got out); we were probably walking for about an hour and a half through the shops of Crouch End and back up to the Palace Park. It was so nice to be able to see the green spaces being used by so many people (Simon pointing out that there weren't that many of them about, so therefore people did use those that they had access to).

In the evening, we went out to an Iranian restaurant, which was interesting – they use a lot of fruit in their cooking – John had a chicken risotto with orange, and my risotto came with pomegranate seeds (it had been billed as “with forest fruits” - we weren't sure how foresty pomegranates are...) - very nice, but really rather oversweet for a main course – although the plate wasn't piled overly high, I found myself completely full by the time I'd gotten half way through! (and it was a genuine full – I wasn't feeling hungry again by the end of the evening) After the meal, we headed over to a chapel in Islington, which, although being used as a church during the week, has regular comedy club nights. It is a gorgeous venue, although the acoustics were a bit bad for two of the comedians who had a slight tendency to rush their words – the manic comedy probably fine if you were at the front, but we were sat up at the back in the gallery and there was a lot of echoing by the time that the words (and songs – we had two musical comedians) reached us. But the other two billed comedians and the compere were excellent – not holding your sides funny, but a great laugh. It was slightly surreal realising that this was a place of worship (even though I have no great feelings either way), and the visiting comedians also thought so – they all made either reference to church services or did a brief “Sorry, God” as part of their act. But then my thought was that if there is a God, then that deity (I'm not going to do the incredibly patronising s/he thing – why would a God have a gender?) would rather enjoy the fact that people were laughing and enjoying themselves – places of worship are far too solemn!

The evening was slightly marred when we got back by my discovering that I'd left my dobok back in Bristol – this was at about 1am, and there was no conceivable way that I could get home to Bristol to pick it and then back to London and then Stevenage in time for the training the next day. This did lead to a rather broken night's sleep (even though my fairly fatalistic conscious brain had concluded that, aside from the text that I had sent to Kerry asking whether she had a spare one I could borrow, there was nothing I could do about the situation, my sub-conscious was going to beat me up about it all night!), before I received the text the next day from Kerry saying that yes, she had a spare dobok that she had got for another club member, and it happened to be in my size.

(I believe we are currently going through the Channel Tunnel – no announcement about it, but we were definitely on the south coast about 10 minutes ago (a carved white horse on the hill), and we have been going through a tunnel ever since...)

The TKD course was brilliant! It was led by Grand Master Choi (pronounced Che, which did confuse me for a while...) and Grand Master Wheatley (an Irish chap who had very floppy hair – not quite a comb over, but enough that it went completely wild with a life of its own when he was demonstrating moves!) - and was a very intensive class. There were approximately 230 of us there, from yellow belt up to 6th Dan black belt, and all ages from about 8 through to mid 60s (one of the 6th Dans was one of the people who introduced TKD to Ireland in 1968). The theme of the course was power – how to get more power into both our attacks and our blocks (which would then be a form of attack in themselves, though I'm still quite intrigued by the idea of being able to break someone's leg or arm with a block. I could definitely see it happening when the Grand Masters were doing it, but couldn't see that it would ever be that I could get to that stage! But you never know – I'm still very much a beginner at all of this!). There was also a touch of the philosophy, and a little bit of the politics. It was really rather exhausting – even doing the very basic patterns with the power that they were expecting us to left me breathless and my heart thumping (which was what they wanted – they effectively said that one should be so exhausted from doing one pattern that you shouldn't be able to then go on to do another straight away). It was also quite difficult to sit cross legged (particularly with both my ankle and knee strapped up) as the carpeted floor was actually quite uncomfortable for 20 minutes at a time!

(Now have crossed the Channel – that really didn't take long at all! Possibly 20 minutes!)

But I think that I learnt a great deal, and it was definitely worth the £45 just to gain the insight and the workout! Hopefully I will be able to carry it forward into my everyday TKD (although I'm going to have to put a lot of personal practice in as I'm not going to be training now till the beginning of October – we have so much travelling to do and it all happens on a Sunday!) I'm starting to stiffen up a bit now though, particularly in my back!

Then off down to St Pancras this morning – a very easy journey from Finsbury Park – it's only two stops down the line – and onto the Eurostar.

You can tell that we have crossed over into France now – the sky is blue and there are only wispy clouds The fields are a post-summer brown interspersed with a few green crops (possibly cabbage?) The other (teeny-tiny) clue was that the announcement as soon as we came out of the tunnel (advertising the Brussels metro system) started off in French then into Dutch (possibly Flemish) and the English translation came third... Not that I'm complaining – I would really love the opportunity to improve my French this week!

Later – about 9.30 pm (Brussels time (herein referred to as BT). It has been a brilliant day. A little bit of mild stress as we got going towards the B&B as we couldn't find our initial road to start off with (following Google Directions), and John has a slightly inflamed tendon, which wasn't helped by our bag bumping into his feet. It probably took us about half an hour in the end to get to the Hotel Rembrandt. After being greeted by the hotelier (who understood my French – very pleased about that :-) ) and finding our room (up a very teeny lift – we elected not to take the winding staircase with our big holdall!), we headed out into the streets of Brussels to find our lunch (though as it was now about 3.00, we probably couldn't term it “lunch” any more!). After a little bit of wandering, we found ourself a waffle stand and had a couple of Belgian waffles. Hunger assuaged, we then found our way to the Place Royale, a square which not only had the tourist centre, but also the Magritte museum and the Museum of Instruments (both closed as it was a Monday). We picked up our Brussels cards (prebought), which will give us free entry to the museums, plus free rides on all the public transport in the city. We spent quite a while studying the maps that came with the card, then, as we started to leave the tourist information centre, we were told that they had an exhibition of Brussels up the lift. So, of course, we had to go and have a look! There was a clever greenscreen room where we could overlay a shot of ourselves with scenery of Brussels and then email out to people. As it didn't let you put a message on it, we weren't sure exactly what it would send, so we just sent a couple of shots to my email... We then met a very enthusiastic guide (again, he understood our French, but switched to English after asking whether we were Belgian!) who wanted to show us everything that was there... He was very eager that we understood what was available in every room, then would go away, only to come back again a few minutes later as we moved on to the next (I suspect he might have been a trifle bored!) Rather sadly (as there was actually quite a lot more that I wanted to see – whilst some of it was a bit odd, there were some lovely pieces, particularly a series of what looked like lamps hanging down from the ceiling to about waist height, which you lifted up, and some started playing music (at a quiet level – you did have to hold them up to your ear to hear), others played short films), he did come back at about quarter to six to tell us that the exhibition was about to shut, and that the lights were going to go off automatically in about five minutes. He did then want to show us other bits of the museum, despite the fact that they were closing! It took assurances that we'd go back the next day (though fortunately, he isn't working tomorrow, so if we aren't able to get there (we do have five museums planned!), he isn't going to know) before he accepted that we were going to leave!

We then had a lovely wander about, looking at some of the glorious architecture of Brussels. It is a a real mixture of styles from 17/18C through industrial blocks to modern (pretty). There hasn't been an apparent attempt to blend the architecture, but the mish mash really does work, I think mainly because the modern stuff really is pretty. Unfortunately, we are a couple of weeks too early for the Mont des Art which is a square which is being completely redesigned for a grand opening on the 20th Sept. It is already looking amazing (though the lift / escalator area, which, although you could go through the doors, you couldn't go down in, was all in glass, and even though it was getting on for evening, it was like a greenhouse in there!), and it is a bit of a shame that we won't get to see the completed area. We started to feel that it was getting on for supper time (given that we'd only had a waffle each since breakfast at Simon's at 9), and started looking for restaurants. For some reason, there does seem to be a preponderance of Italians round the area that we were walking through, and, as I'm avoiding too much wheat for the sake of my stomach, I really didn't fancy pizza nor pasta. Neither was I particularly enthused by the Lebanese restaurant which had on its menu “meat kebabs”. I really do prefer to know what kind of meat I am eating! So we ended up at Moshi-Moshi, a Japanese restaurant which had the majority of its seating outside. It was a glorious evening, probably still about 25 degrees (I wasn't feeling the need for a jumper at all, and I normally start feeling the chill on my arms once it dips to 20 C). The food was delicious, and we were able to have a (complementary) starter, main course, dessert and three glasses of wine (John had two...) for E45 including a E5 tip. The desserts were interesting to say the least – Green tea ice-cream, which was wrapped in a very odd suet-like case (probably a flour base), and what was described as a spongy gateau with a green tea sirop inside. However, it probably had a high gelatine base to it – it wasn't exactly a sponge cake, but more of a sticky sweet. Interesting flavour and texture! I'm glad I've had it, but I don't think I'll have it again...

Then, after a look at their national monument; a very tall pillar which celebrated the creation of Belgium in 1830, plus the tomb of the unknown soldier for 1914-18, the war memorial for 1940-45 and a tribute to those who had died in the cause of peace; we started to make our way back up to the hotel. There are loads of urban murals about, and I've tried to get some pics of them – I'm not sure whether they are graffiti or council sanctioned, but they are glorious! We headed through a lovely Park (not sure whether it was a park of peace, or just dedicated to it), which had hidden Victorian and modern sculptures, as well as some very noisy magpies coming in to roost!

Back in the hotel room now, having made a fuss of the hotel cat and made our rough plans for tomorrow. These do include 5 museums (Museum of Instruments, Magritte, Comics, Atomium and the Toone museum (which appears to be dedicated to puppets) in the evening). Whether we get them all done remains to be seen, but it is a good plan! And now, even though it is merely 10.15 BT, it is time for bed...

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