Europe Trip 2018

Belgium – France

We crossed the border into Belgium on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels. It was pretty uneventful. A couple of officials checked our passports. That was it!

It wasn’t a long walk from the train station to our hotel but it was a bit tricky – cobblestones and luggage wheels do not make a good combination! But it was worth the effort, Hotel Mozart was just amazing!

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Getting to breakfast was an adventure in itself. It was served in the basement, which was accessed via spiral staircases from the ground floor. Our room was on the third floor and the lift only went down as far as Reception, but then only if Brian kicked the door in the right spot. Other times he would have to go down the stairs and send the lift up to me.

Brussels surprised me. It was vibrant with a holiday atmosphere. Not what I expected. It has a great selection of grand buildings, cathedrals, parks, Manneken Pis – the Peeing Boy – and a magnificent plaza with gilded buildings that shone in the sunlight and at night were illuminated with coloured lights. There’s a wide variety of eateries in the square, the streets and the laneways, all offering alfresco dining with entertainment provided by a band of street musicians. We enjoyed Lebanese at La Perle du Liban and Greek at Makonos in our street and at El Greco on the plaza; and sampled various beers along the way!

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Bruge

We had a day trip to Bruge by train.

The highlight was visiting Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child at the Church of Our Lady, Saint Salvadore’s Cathedral.

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It was Market Day so the square was quite crowded. We had lunch at Sintamandje on a quaint cobblestoned laneway before exploring the rest of the canal town including a statue of Jan Van Eyck, ‘Skyscraper’ the Bruges Whale made from plastic waste from the seas and oceans of the world and Beaterio with its swans and a nuns’ priory.

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Next morning we reluctantly handed in the key and trudged back up the cobblestones to catch the train to Ypres.

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Ypres

Ypres is also spelt Ieper and pronounced by our tour guide like the sound of a whisper ‘i-pe’ – the  i as in ‘it’ and the pe as in ‘pet’ .

It is the home of the Menin Gate which used to be guarded by two lion statues, since presented to Australia and relocated to the Australian War Memorial Canberra. The Last Post ceremony is held there nightly at 8.00 pm and on our first night there the Australian cricket team participated in the wreath laying.

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On our second day we visited In Flanders Fields Museum, an excellent interactive experience providing an insight to the realities of war and the people impacted by it.

 

We followed this with an Ypres Salient guided tour of nearby battlefields, cemeteries and places of interest such as Hill 60, Caterpillar Crater, Pool of Peace, Bayernwald German trenches, 1914 Christmas Truce Memorials and Hyde Park Memorial. André, our guide and driver from Over the Top Tours, provided insightful, knowledgeable commentary.

 

The drenching rain lent itself to the sombre nature of the day.

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As we walked back to the bus at one of the sites, our guide André picked up the shell of a bomb from the edge of a field we were passing, just by the side of the road. Farmers continue to find such items when they plough their fields. They just place them by the road and the authorities collect them. Its all part of their normal routine.

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We finished off our stay with a meal and a beer  in a local café before taking in the Last Post again.

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Farewell Flanders Fields, farewell Ieper!

Lille

We has a two-night weekend stay in Citadines Apart’ Hotel Lille.

We explored the old town on the Saturday. It was bustling – people everywhere!

 

The next day it was the complete opposite. No Sunday trading here! No crowds of  people! It made it easy for us to continue exploring though: Saint Maurice Church, Porte de Paris, Hotel de Ville, an Ola Cuba exhibition in an old railway station and the Citadel.

 

 

 

 

It was a lovely couple of days, especially considering it was a mistake. I was supposed to book us into Amiens, so that’s where were heading next.

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Back to Ireland – 5 April 18 June 2018 cont – England and Scotland

 

Scotland

Wallace statue

Wallace statue, Stirling Castle

After a Full English Breakfast we got back on the road and drove to Stirling Castle.

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Wallace Monument

We could see the Wallace Monument in the distance but drove around in circles for ages trying unsuccessfully to find the turn-off to it. We gave up and continued on to the Falkirk Wheel, an enormous structure that moves boats between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal.

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Here’s a slideshow of the wheel in motion:

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From the Wheel we drove to Falkirk town and negotiated our way through a very complex one-way system to our hotel, probably the worst place we stayed in throughout our overseas trip. The website had warned that the lift didn’t service all floors, in fact it didn’t service any. It was out of order due to a brawl the night before! That will give you some insight as to the class of hotel I’d booked us into. Our room was up several flights of stairs, interspersed with long corridors, badly lit with sensor lights not all of which worked. The white towels were grey and threadbare, the heating was temperamental and the bathroom flooded in the middle of the night. When reception wasn’t staffed you had to go into the bar for service. It stank! Fortunately we only had to spend one night there.

We had a walk around the town and found somewhere to have dinner, the Orchard Hotel, where the food was tasty and the staff were friendly and renewed our faith in Scottish hospitality.

After that we went to Helix Park to see the Kelpies. These are amazing, giant, metal horse-head structures that are illuminated at night. Normally you can do a tour to see the structures from the inside, but there was a crew recording a TV show when we were there so the tours weren’t operating.

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Helix Park is a vast community-use space incorporating wetlands, canals, the Kelpies and the Wheel.

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We drove to Edinburgh the next day. We parked in the city and walked up to the castle, then down through the gardens. I looked for the floral clock I’d seen there about 40 years ago but it was too early in the season so it hadn’t been planted yet.

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Next, back to England.

Sydney break before the big drive home

It was lovely to be back with family, even if it was just for the weekend.


We had a domestic day on the Saturday, going to Chattswood shopping and unsuccessfully trying to get my iPad problem sorted. By this stage the battery was so swollen I was advised not to use it all because it was in danger of exploding and killing us with the lethal gas it would emit. This is one of the reasons my blog is so far behind.

Sunday the weather was unpredictable and windy. We ended up going to Manly Dam in the afternoon where we were treated to a black swan courtship performance.