JOURNAL : August / Août 2004
Sunday 01/08/04 - Sunday 15/08/04
Hello there everyone ! I'm sitting at Gatwick airport on Tuesday 17th August writing up this journal, whilst waiting for my plane back to Edinburgh. I can't believe that the two weeks in Belgium whizzed by so quickly.
I flew down to Gatwick on the last day of July, so that I could meet up with the other members of the East Grinstead "massive" for our regular pub crawl .... since moving to Scotland three years ago, I think I've only missed a couple of the pub crawls - that tells you something about either (a) my commitment to friends, or (b) my drinking habits ! Anyhow, it was great to catch up with everyone, and hopefully we'll all be meeting up for a curry before I jet off.
So, off to Belgium I went (together with cousin Gary) ... things didn't get off to a good start though, as it took over one and a half hours to check-in. Anyhow, the flight wasn't too bad (apart from no G&Ts being available) and no luggage was lost....
My belgian pal Fred and (little) Jeremy were at Brussels Zaventem airport to pick us up - and after a 45-mins drive, we arrived at the small village of Soye - pronounced Swah, for those of you who don't "parlez" the lingo - where Fred, wife Geraldine and their 3 children (Mathias, Jeremy and Louise) live. Immediately noticed lots of changes to the house and garden, including a fantastic new cover to the whole of the back terrace - that'll come in handy if it rains.
Monday (2nd) was spent at home relaxing - a hot day, so we made use of Fred's new swimming pool. Well, probably best to describe it as a swimming "pond", but still olympic-sized, and very refreshing.
Tuesday (3rd) - Fred had to work, so Geraldine, Mathias, Jeremy, Gary and I went on a visit to the Blegny Mine, near Liege. I had never been down a mine before - and although it had stopped commercial production some years ago, it was still a strange experience. Didn't feel as claustrophobic as I thought I would - maybe all those hours stuck in the basement safes at Lloyds Bank in Horsham were of benefit after all !
All you need to know, in a plethora of languages : www.blegnymine.be
Wednesday (4th) was a day full of happiness. Actually, I should say "Happiness". This was the title of the book I read from cover to cover (thanks for the recommendation Ross) - written by Will Ferguson (and available from all good booksellers, priced just £6.99) - it's a good story, and a pointed reflection on the world of publishing and those irritating self-help books, and how (if allowed) things can get a bit out of hand. The day was finished off with a BBQ.
Thursday (5th) - Fred, Gary and I went off to do some go-karting - something we've done on most of our recent holidays together. Went to a different track this time (near Marche en Famenne) - watched a race of semi-professionals first, and then had a great time trying to emulate our racing idols (me Shergar, rather than Schumacher!). Gary won... although I would have forgotten this fact, had Gary not mentioned it one or two (or more) times afterwards !
Friday (6th) - Another day at home, spending time in the garden. Lots of opportunities to run around with the children (for Gary), and lots of opportunities for siestas (for me!). Joined later that day by friends Michael & Claudine (and their son Louis) - spag bol on the terrace, followed by a few games of badminton. No wind (which helped) but no light either (which didn't help). Great laugh.
Saturday (7th) - Gary and I borrowed Geraldine's car - a Renault Twingo - and went into Namur, which is the nearest big town. Managed to find an internet cafe, so did a few e-mails and updates. Did all our "messages", and then got back to the car park. Sat in the car for a few seconds, before realising that it wasn't in fact Geraldine's car !! An identical Twingo had been parked and left unlocked a few spaces away from Geraldine's ... I don't think we were spotted. Decided not to nick the radio (or the cuddly toy off the dashboard) - and made a hasty exit.
Sunday (8th) - Michael and Claudine kindly invited all of us over to their house for a lunchtime BBQ. It was a relaxing afternoon (well, I was able to relax after I was "forced" to give a recital on the recorder - son Louis was learning, and Fred happened to mention.....!). Whilst the children played in the pool, us grown-ups got competitive with a game of Petanque. On the way back to the house, Geraldine pretended to push Claudine into the kid's pool. (Un)fortunately, after a bit of a struggle, Claudine "accidentally" knocked Geraldine fully-clothed into the water. Everyone collapsed laughing whilst Geraldine extracted herself, absolutely soaked through.
Monday (9th) - Visit to Brussels by train today with my two godsons (i.e. cousin Gary and little Jeremy). Managed to find the Grand Square and the Mannekin Pis without too much trouble - and Jeremy managed to find a shop that sold Spiderman goodies without too much trouble either ! After a quick lunch, we took the metro over to Bruparck, where (having previously been to the Atomium) we took the chance to go round "Mini-Europe" - miniature replicas of famous (and not so famous) European buildings and landmarks. Hot day. The metro could do with better air conditioning !
Tuesday (10th) - In order to add a further country to our list of "been there" places, Gary and I decided to go away for a day/night to ....
Later I remembered that Luxembourg was technically a grand-duchy rather than a country, but it's not like me to be picky !
Stopped at a little village called Esch-sur-Sure (I'm sur that's how you spell it), before making our way to Luxembourg city.
A heavy thunderstorm made the driving a bit tricky, as the volume of rain made it hard to see many of the road markings. However, despite this minor hazard, we achieved a good drive round the city to get our bearings - although to be fair, it's not the biggest place in the world. Found a few hotels, but clearly these were not priced to suit our budget (just a TAD too dear at 375 euros a night, excluding breakfast!). Decided to make our way out towards the airport, where we booked into the more affordable IBIS hotel. We were able to catch up on news thanks to the BBC World news channel - found out about the leak at a Japanese nuclear reactor (strangely, when I subsequently returned to the UK, no-one had heard this somewhat disturbing news). If your sushi starts glowing, don't say I didn't warn you ....
Wednesday (11th) - Spent the morning exploring the old city, including the "casements" (battlements) and the cathedral. Great views, as a lot of the city is built on two hills straddling a valley (come to think of it, aren't most valleys straddled by two hills ?!).
Went on to the town of Ettelbruck, and spent an hour at the General Patton Memorial Museum. (Gen.Patton was WWII commander of the 3rd US Army, whose troops liberated the town on Christmas Day in 1944). Most of the displays were accompanied by English translations, which was helpful, as although much was in French, a heck of a lot of the items (such as posters etc) were in German, and I only did a year of German at school - and that was a VERY long time ago. Seems that pieces of planes, guns etc are still being found in the countryside all around the area.
Still working our way back to Belgium, we then stopped off to have a look round the medieval castle at Bourscheid. Good excuse too for an ice cream, as it was another scorching afternoon.
For more pictures/info, click on this link (www.bourscheid.net)
Then, a simple drive back up the N4 - home for a swim and a "chinois".
Thursday (12th) - Had to visit the doctor this morning. A small surgery at the back of a garage. C'est Belge !
A week ago, I noticed that a patch of hair had disappeared off my left leg .... which I (and Geraldine) had put down to a reaction from a mosquito bite I had received in the middle of the offending area. However, last night, a similar gap had appeared on my right leg.
Docteur Etienne Dubois was very good about it - asked me lots of questions etc about any medicines I was taking or any allergies I was aware of ... however, it turned out that there was no adverse reaction to any insect bite. No. Something a little more straightforward. Something just a little more stupid ! Turns out that my leg had been scraping on the rough side of the pool/pond, and this had been the cause of my increasing baldness. (Fred's pool is now officially sponsored by Gillette). I think it gave the doctor a good chuckle, as he waived his normal 18 Euros consultation fee. You will (of course) be pleased to know that the hair is now returning.
Great day at home with the children, and then we all went off to the local Mexican restaurant where Gary treated us all to a very nice meal. (This I think was the highlight of the 2 weeks for Jeremy, as he apparently hadn't stopped talking about the place since we had all gone there as a group during the previous year's holiday).
Friday (13th - or 12a for any of you who might be superstitious?) - Went back to Namur, this time making doubly sure that I got into the right car.
Spent the rest of the day at home. By this time, I had finished my other holiday book. Bill Bryson (he of the witty travel book fame) wrote "Mother Tongue" in 1990 - if you are at all interested in the quirkyness of the English language, please do try and get hold of a copy - very entertaining. And a bargain in paperback at only £7.99! I guarantee that you will find it amusing, and positive that you will find out things that you didn't know about the language you speak.
Finished off the day by playing Petanque with neighbours Sylvie & Eric outside the front of their house - floodlit, so at least we could see what we were doing (unlike the previous attempt at nighttime badminton!)
Saturday (14th) - The three children went off to their granny Nicole's for the afternoon/night. This gave the grown-ups the opportunity for some 10-pin bowling (unlike the go-karting, I won - not that I'm boasting!), and then the chance to go out for the evening for dinner.
Discovered a new restaurant to be added to my favourites - 'Le Mas des Cigales' at the next-door village of Floriffoux. (ADVERT : You can e-mail them for info at firstname.lastname@example.org - or phone them on 0032 81444847 - note that they close on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and all day on Wednesday)
Sadly, I forgot to photograph the lobster for this website (oops), but Fred and I can confirm that it was delicious.
Sunday (15th) - Jeremy was very sad today as he wouldn't be seeing Jeremy for many months - (it doesn't matter which way round you put the two Jeremys in that sentence - it reads the same both ways). Anyhow, the two Jeremys went for a good walk round the village, before the bigger of the two packed his case.
We all eventually said our Au Revoirs. Strange this time, bearing in mind I won't be back for ages. You can probably guess by now that my Belgian "family" mean a great deal to me.
Fred (with Jeremy and Louise) dropped us off at the airport - a fairly uneventful flight home to England (still no G&Ts available) with only a few minor bumps - and met at Gatwick by Gary's parents.
Flew back to Scotland 17th Aug - good to get back home, but with plenty of happy memories of another great holiday.
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014