A Travellerspoint blog


Friday - 2011-08-05

OK, I have to admit, I'm now in Feutreventura, and it's Wednesday, So I'm catching up on a weeks worth of Blog. OK Girls the requirement is now communication once a week (preferred), once a fortnight (mandatory).
The last night was spend at a wine fare' (an 'old people festival' according to Alex). I got 2 sweet wines for the girls and a dry white for myself. Alex's comment was that the wine was almost too sweet!! I can't win. For me the european wines are different to the Australian ones, but I don't think it would take too long to make the transition. We also tried the Ulrige(?) bar in the Altstadt, Alex drank about 1/2 of her beer in protest to my response to her 'old people festival' comment. Olivia managed just a mouthful The problem is that their beer is the only beer they sell, so staying for a meal was our of the question. Finally we ended up at the 'Irish Bar' where apparently my sister Irene worked many years ago.
I got up early and visited the local bread shop to get some traditional rolls (plain and pre made) to take back to the girls for breakfast which we had with some left over pate we had purchased the day before in Namure(?).
The walk from the hotel to the Altstadt took about 40 minutes, which we all welcomed, given the quantity of food we seemed to be consuming, and also made us feel less guilty. I recalled seeing a mechanical display clock, where there was a circular display of moving brightly coloured actors. We asked at the tourist information, and were given instructions on how to get to 'taylors lane' (schneiderw???strass), with displays at 15:00 and 18:00. I also wanted go to to the statute of the boys doing the cartwheels. Many years go we were there and a couple of young boys were performing for the tourists. My Dad asked them if they could do hand stands. 'of couse we can' was their reply. OK 5 marks (the german currency before the Euro) says my dad getting the cine camera ready (cine - a video that takes film). The next thing we know the boys are upright on their hands, and gravity is emptying their pockets. It was a very very funny scene. There were no young lads around today, and the statute is not surrounded with lovely trees and a cafe.
We took a 2 hour Rheine cruise that was interesting. The spire of the cathedral has a very pronounced twist and laen to it. Accoding to legend the tower will straighten when a true virgin gets married in the cathedral - it could be a very long wait. Ater the curise we went to see the mechanical clock. Interesting but a disappointment. An old cobbler pops out for about 3 minutes and shuffles his arms. Not quite the graphic display I remembered. We went back to the river bank and one of the cafes, where we watched the Blunderleig' soccor - Dusseldorf V's ???. The atmosphere was really great, the weather was a typical beautiful warm eurpoean evening, and Dusseldorf won (2-1 if I recall correctly).

Posted by peter.dudley 17:00 Archived in Germany

Mons, Belgium to Dusseldorf, Germany

Thursday - 2011-08-04

I think we all felt a little pigged out yesterday. so much so that supper consisted of a milkshake for the girls and a beer for me. We discovered an open internet connection at the accomodation and had been trying to upload some video. I'm sure the person concerened know that something was happening, but maybe had no idea what. The signal was VERY strong, but the hotel right at the edge of a very small village. Everyso often the link would go down and the YouTube upload fail. We have been able to upload a few video's - search YouTube ofr 'tubepcd trip uk2011', i think that will find them. This mornign we uploaded a couple more as the link was back up. When the person good enough to grant us the internet access finally severed the link it was time to hit the road. We have been collecting thimbles 9for Camilla) and shot glasses for Alex, but the touristy souvineer shops in Mons were all closed. We stopped in Namour for coffee, grabbed some baguettes, pate and ham (with herbs), we still had some cheese from a few days ago. I managed to find the thimble, but Alex didnot find her shot glass. When she comes back next month she will try agian (Brussels is sure to have one).
Breakfast has been Special K out of plastic containers, that the girls will take on their travels. What we have not been able to find anywhere is fresh milk, not even the fresh pasturised stuff. It's ALL long life. Interestingly we have not been able to findany kind of flavoured milk either. May be we need to be looking for a different kind of shop. Finding milk suitable for Tea has been impossible - almost as difficult as finding Tes.
We managed to get to Germany with no issues and stopped for lunch about 40km from Dusseldorf. The ham and pates taste so different from Australia, full of flavour and texture. Ripping off s piece of baguette, spreading some pate has such a different ambiance, and with that a different experience and taste. I'm sure doing the same ting in Melbourne will bring back wonderful memories of my Europe 2011 holiday.
Finding the hotel was OK. The 2 maps we had just did not seem to line up, but after popping into the InterContinental we had a set of instructions, and importantly knew where we were. We were close, but going inthe opposite direction.
The Hotel Schaum is fractionally more upmarket to the one in Mons (Tertre). The internet is available, but not working. The wardrobe was still being put together when we arrived. How difficult is it to stuff up IKEA packs - well they seem to have managed. Still it is a nice room, in the middle of being refurbished, as is the rest of the hotel. I'm sure in a year or 2 it will have earned it's 2 stars - the minimum offered. We are off to the AltStdate for the evening.

Posted by peter.dudley 17:00 Archived in Belgium

Arras, France to Mons, Belgium

Tuesday & Wednesday

rain 22 °C

Having checked out of the Hotel in Arras we found a coffee shop and a boulangeri (?) where we got breakfast. I'm hanging out for an endless mug of TEA, I may have to wait until we get to Karen & Williams. That said coffee back in Melbourne will never taste as good as in France. They know how to do coffee. From there we went to the 'The Wellington Quarry' which had been recommended by a number of people in Arras. These chalk / limestone caves had been in use for many decades around the Arras area, and were quarried for their stone, used to make the local buildings. During WW1 the New Zealanders spent a year digging them out further for an assult by 20,000 men on the german lines. The entrances were dug to within meters of the german lines and packed with explosives. Then at 5am on the day, 20,000 men exited via 20 or so exits to suprise the germans. These men had spent the previous 8 days underground. The logistics of this effort over the year would have been huge. Unfortunatly as was so often the case in WW1 the 'generals' made a number of bad decisions and the result was not as effective as expected, the germans were able to bring up reenforcements the following day. Had the guys been allowed to carry on the difference would have been massive. Oh, and these 20,000 men were a diversion, for a major push elsewhere. Thats a lrge number of men to comitt to a 'diversion'. The visit is one I'd recommend to any one in the area. In fact the pre WW1 history and the WW2 history of this town is equally impressive. Yes, Arras is one place I would visit again.
We then drove to Mons in Belgium. Mons is a place I have heard of many times in the military, and so had great expectations. I'm disappointed. I really did expect there to be much more information relating to both world wars, but there is very little. Not just in Mons, but the whle way along the journey so far. I'm not sure if after the wars people just wanted to forget and move on, or if the political environment did not support the historical aspects. Maybe in the rebuilding period the materials were too valuable to preserve and needed to be put to better use.
Mons is a very picturesque town. The main square is surrounded with Cafes and resturants where we have spent much of our time. A little like France many of the shops are closed. We did find some free internet and even managed to Skype session with Olivia's parents. With Millie we were not that successful. I think havng a WiFi link at both ends may have been part of the problem. Certainly ours was very weak.
This afternoon we went for a little drive and ended up The Grand Hornu, originally a colliery, not the Museum for Contemporary Art. It tries to combine it's history of the industrial era, with modern art and even more modern technology. An interesting combination. Given I don't 'get' art I feel that it's focus is more on the art side than it's historical significance. The history consists of a self guided walk with and audio guide, where as the art seemed pervasive with all kinds of arty folf available to help you out. I had a look at one exhibition, where by you trace and initial photo, 20 times, each tracing being a tracing of the one before, then you thow away the first 19, and give the 20th one a name. You then repeat that, using the same original photo. You stop after 8 hours (signifying the length of the indusrtial day), and more the resulting set of traces. I'm sorry,but I don't 'get it'.

Posted by peter.dudley 09:25 Archived in Belgium

Arras, France

'Rest Day' Monday

sunny 18 °C

As you would expect I awoke early whilst the girls slept in. Hopefully the jet lag will not be too bad. The first night in Arras we went to 'Au Bureau' (The Office).
First European Bier in a very long time

First European Bier in a very long time

Olivia enjoying a drink in Arras

Olivia enjoying a drink in Arras

Alex enjoying a drink.

Alex enjoying a drink.

The bier was great, but just what we can get in Oz. They all seem to sell the same Leffe, in 3 variations - 'standard', 'Ruby' and 'Brun', and 4 different sizes, 25cl, 33cl, 50cl & 100cl. The meal was OK, nothing that different from home, however we did have fun trying to interpret the menu. We worked out there was a 'Horse Burger' which I ordered thinking I was getting something different, Well it's a french term for a 'burger with an egg'. So much for being adventurous. We did however force ourselves to have Creme Brule and Tira Misu for dessert. The Creme Brule was OK, not as good as Matthews, but the Tira Misu was 'to die for', the coffee was light, chilled and full of flavour. Creme Brulee & Tir Misu

Creme Brulee & Tir Misu

It was a reasonably early night for us all. At 2am Alex came over and gave me a jab in the side. My snoring was keeping her awake, she tells me that she did not get back to sleep until 4am (this brought back memories of Irene and I in Dusseldorf many years ago).
On Monday we went out trying to find breakfast. The Boulangerie's sell heaps of sweet pastries, buns etc and bread & croissants, but nothing savoury. Everywhere people were walking around with baguettes and the like under their arms - all a classic french look. It turns out that Monday morning is their 1/2 day closing and very little is open. It's also the time of year that all the french go on holiday, so even less is open. The good side is that they appear to have taken the opportunity to relay some of the cobble roads around the area where we are staying. It's very labour intensive, but great to see that such skills and talent are being maintained by these craftsmen. Eventually we had a coffle (that was strong and most welcome) and grazed on a couple of croissants, and a loaf of bread made with butter. Olivia picked it when she said it was like the sweet Chinese bread.
Their is a tourist walk that we tried to follow, and failed. You can take a guided tour (for a cost) but we tried going it alone. I'm fairly sure we ended up at the local institute for the Deaf and Mute from many years ago - the local 'loony bin'. The Cathedral was very imposing from the outside, we didn't feel inclined to go in, but maybe we should have - perhaps next time. For lunch Olivia and & had a Kebab. Now I have suggested to the girls that they need to be adventurous, most of the time it will not kill so. Well this was adventurous, it was very different, and seemed to have bacon in it. I'm not sure these flavours (lamb and bacon) really go together.
In the afternoon Alex and Olivia visited the Bovrs, they are underground caves from where they mined chalk used to construct all the buildings. The mine was closed in 1912 as it was undermining the local market. In the mean time Peter played with technology. Alex knew that something 'bad' had happened to the memory cards containing her photos. Sure had. The card appeared blank, totally blank, but there were 485 photo's on it and OVER 400 viruses!!!! Somehow I managed to recover all the photos and we have scrubbed the cards clean.
The town of Arras was totally destroyed during WW1 and was totally rebuilt afterwards. Whilst I sure it lose some of the character that have developed since the middle ages (about 1400), the current vista brings it's own character. The squares are surrounded by 4 story high houses on one long terrace and they are all of the same style. there are minor variations in terms of their decoration, but to all intents they are identical. One other thing that struck me was the 'main square' in my mind a town had a main square that was the focal point. At least that had been my impression from TV, cinema and the like, until now. Arras has many 'squares' each with it's own set of bordering terraces. It was not difficult to imagine the Resistance during WW2 hiding in the narrow alley ways. It would have caused an adrenaline rush for both sides.
Later in the afternoon we walked to 'Place De Victor Hugo' (the guys who wrote Les Miserables). Turned ut to be a quaint 'square' only it was circular with a fountain in the middle. A bit of a disappointment! There are a few photos somewhere.
Monday night we tried a different resturant, again we struggled with the menu and again the meals were no different to anywhere else. I'm struggeling to find the true cuisine of Franch.
Alex managed to sleep through the night. Olivia has worked out how to keep her iPod ear plugs in over night so has not been bothered by my snoring!

Posted by peter.dudley 23:56 Archived in France

The Internet for Travellers

My thoughts

sunny 27 °C

Here are a few tips for those who would like to use the Internet whilst travelling. Especially through Europe. Back in Oz we pay what we believe to be an arm and a leg for the Internet. Certainly what we are being told by 'those who know' is that the cost we pay for Internet access is higher than almost everywhere else in the world.

Lets look at a few things I have discovered. It is not possible to purchase a SIM card (Phone or Broadband) that covers Europe, sure you can Roam with the cards paying the usual inflated prices when you roam. However all the companies (Orange, Vodaphone, etc) all have a presence in each country. No - if you want to keep you costs down you have to stop every 3 hours as you travel from country to country and buy a new SIM card. How stupid is that? Imaging driving from Melbourne to Sydnay and stopping 4 times to buy a new SIM for the area you are travelling through. We don't stop that often for petrol or the toilet.

There is one company that has a reasonable pricing plan (droam.nl) that comes close to what I wanted, but they must deliver the WiFi device to an address and I only found out about them too late to get it sent to somewhere in the UK, that Alex could then collect. Back in Oz, one SIM card covers the whole continent. Do we pay extra for that convenience? Yes we sure do, but it's a price I'm happy to pay. Not everyone sits at home with a fixed broad band conenction and never gets out. Some of us want to get out and experience the world, and would like to take the modern technology with us.

But I hear you say, there's free WiFi everywhere. Is there? At Melbourne and Brunai airports you have to pay to use the internet, or at least make a purchase. At the Eutotunnel terminal at Folkestone, I was informed that whilst it was available and free, it can only handle so many connections, and with it being school holidays all the children take the connections to facebook each other (usually in the same car, or the one behind), and the chances of getting on were very slim. 'just keep trying' was their best offer. At hotels and cafe's there are restrictions on time (15 minutes here in Arras), volume (200mb / 24 hours), and technology (no VPN's for me to connect to my computers back in Melbourne). Give me my Telstra Broadband $150 for 15Gb anywhere there is a connection, anytime! Maybe things aint so bad in Oz?

Posted by peter.dudley 06:57 Archived in France

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