Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cycling to Syria

In aid of Unicef's Children of Syria Emergency Appeal, a group of cyclists is cycling the 3,284.5 miles from Edinburgh to Syria at the east end of Princes Street over two days.  I encountered them cheerfully setting up yesterday morning on my way to work.  By the time I passed then again on the homeward journey after 6pm they were into the grimly determined phase.  From the map below they seemed to be on the German border, judging by the white dot.

Their fundraising page is here, if you're moved to donate.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Amazing Antwerp

Cathedral of Our Lady

After being bagpiped in Brussels, we did a quick hop by train to Antwerp.    Because this was my daughter's first visit to Antwerp I was determined that I wasn't going to be the annoying mother-with-camera and intrude on our precious time together by photo-bagging.  So although  Antwerp is worthy of a photo at every step, I only have a few glimpses to show you.


We stayed in a self-catering apartment overlooking Vrijdagmarkt, or 'Friday market'.  Unfortunately we weren't there on a Friday, so missed the market, but the square was a microcosm of Antwerp life.  A mix of cafes, residential apartments and one of Antwerp's major museums, daily life went on under our windows.  Most striking of all, life cycled by under our windows - the square was criss-crossed by cyclists at all times of day.  Early morning workers, the husband on the baguette run for breakfast, children being taken to nursery on the back of bikes, business people with laptop cases strapped on the carrier, students pedaling dreamily towards lectures.

Plantin-Moretus Museum
The museum, Plantin-Moretus, is on the right in the shot above.  If you've heard of the Plantin typeface, it was named after the original printer Cristoffel Plantijn, whose home this was.  The printing presses are still there, set up ready to print 440 years later, together with some of the earliest printed books, ancient manuscripts, paintings by Rubens, and all the furnishings of daily 16th century life.  To make up for my lack of photos you can catch a glimpse in this video - although the ferociously elegant 'visitor' skips past the most fascinating manuscripts! 

Downstairs cafe

Below, one of my few words of Dutch, but an important one: 'winkels' means 'shops'.  This is Antwerp Central Station - a cathedral of rail travel from the turn of the last century at ground level, with two futuristic underground levels dating from 2007.

Antwerp station

More transport - a typical Belgian bike.

Typical Belgian bike

If you're lucky enough to visit Antwerp, do consider staying at Aplace apartments.  Decorated in quirky vintage style complete with vinyl records and a ferocious coffee machine which we failed to master despite looking up a tutorial on daughter's phone, our apartment was an absolute delight.  (Edited to say that the coffee machine failure was all ours - we are not a coffee machine family at all.  Our most technical piece of coffee apparatus is like the yellow 'Koffie-Automaat' in the shot below.)

Aplace living room

Aplace kitchen

Aplace dining area and view to square



More my style
I wanted to stay.  For a long time I've thought that if I wasn't British I'd like to be Norwegian or Canadian, but now I have to add Belgian to the list, or more particularly Antwerpish.  I think Dutch is going to have to be one of this autumn's evening classes.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bagpipes in Brussels

At the end of March my daughter and I hopped on the Eurostar for a mother-daughter holiday in Belgium.  I have no Eurostar photos for you, because I was so entranced by the journey that I forgot to take any.  Travelling all the way to Brussels by train was magical.  Just a short hop across the road in London from King's Cross to St Pancras International, a quick passage through security, and then on to the train.  The route from London to the Channel Tunnel goes through Kent, and it was lovely to see this part of the UK. There's still so much more of my country that I want to explore.

We spent the first night in Brussels, just off the Grand Place/Grote Markt. The next day we were returning to our hotel after a quick trip to the English bookshop (daughter having exhausted her reading material on the journey from Edinburgh), when we realised that there was a procession forming.  At first it all seemed very Belgian, with unfamiliar ceremonial uniforms. 

And then suddenly - a pipe band.

Followed by what appeared to be 'anciens combattants' (veterans).

The whole procession congregated in the Grand Place itself. Competition for viewing spots was fierce.  I definitely need to polish up my pushing-to-the-front skills. 

The Belgian police band played, and then the pipe band formed a circle and played Scottish tunes, among them Highland Cathedral and The Bonny Lass of FyvieHearing the pipes far from home made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  No-one around us in the crowd seemed to know what the event was.  I chatted in French to a lady beside me, who said that she wasn't from Brussels herself, but one thing was sure - there was always something going on in Brussels. Very true - just behind the massed flags a joyful same-sex marriage was emerging from the Town Hall.

I leave you with this puzzled piper - any guesses as to what he's thinking?  And if Anni from This is Belgium knows what the event was on 22 March, please tell us!


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