When the current fails

We came home from work and while I went into the toilet and pulled the light switch, Tigger filled the kettle and switched it on. The kettle came on and went off again; the toilet light didn’t even come on.

We tried other light switches and then appliances plugged into power points. None worked. We had to face it: all power was off in the flat.

The obvious thing to try was the light in the common hallway: it worked. The next obvious thing was to see whether our neighbours had power: they did.

Only our power was off.

This recalled a curious incident last Thursday. In almost identical circumstances, the power had gone off. The workmen were in the hallway and I went out and asked whether they had switched off the power for some reason. They denied that it had anything to do with them. So I had phoned Partners’ repairs line (Partners manage Islington’s council properties) and found myself in a queue. Then the power had come back on again by itself so, of course, I hung up the call. Could that incident and today’s be related?

I again rang Partners’ repairs line but before my turn came, the office closed for the day. This meant that I had to call the out-of-hours service. I do this with trepidation because whenever I have called them, I have received the distinct impression that they consider it their first priority to put you off and persuade you to call the daytime service instead.

“Our power has gone off,” I said. “Can you help?”

“Unplug every appliance you have; switch off all the switches on the control board; switch them back on and plug in your appliances one by one. When the power goes off again, the last appliance you plugged in will be the faulty one.”

I was unconvinced by this, but thought I ought at least to try so I rang off and followed the instructions. It made no difference. I rang again.

The woman said, in the tones of a head mistress berating a recalcitrant schoolboy, “I can send someone out but if the problem is your fault, you’ll have to pay the call-out fee which is very expensive because it’s out-of-hours.”

“I did as you said,” I replied, “and nothing works. The lights don’t come on, either.”

“The lights are on a different circuit,” she snapped but that at least seemed to convince her that the problem was a genuine one.

“I’ll send out an emergency electrician…”

“Thank you…”

“…but make sure you stay in. If you’re out when they call you’ll have to pay the call-out fee.”

Yes, right, I’ve lost all power, an electrician is coming to see to the problem and I’m going to bunk off to the pub, aren’t I? Give me a break…

So we settled down to wait. Our downstairs neighbour brought us some candles. Tigger went out for pizza and tea. Oh yes, and for matches to light the candles…

We ate the pizza, drank the tea, lit a candle and sat in the gloaming waiting for the electrician. Time passed. Tigger became bored and then remembered that she had a wind-up radio somewhere. We sat and listened to Mozart, periodically rewinding the radio and wondering whether the electrician would come and if so when.

We decided to wait until 9 pm and then phone the out-of-hours service to ask, ever so politely, whether they were sure that the electrician was coming. At 8:55 Tigger suggested I make the call and I picked up my mobile. It rang: it was the electrician. He wanted to confirm our postcode and it turned out that the helpline had given him the wrong one.

Provided with the correct postcode, the electrician arrived at last, a pleasant young man called Benoit. He checked the control panel and then looked at the bulb holder in the hall. Current was coming into the flat, so why was nothing working.

“There’s your problem,” he declared, pointing at the light fitting with his circuit tester.

“Erm…?

“There’s a break in the neutral wire. Trouble is, it could be anywhere.”

“Oh…, so…”

“So there’s not a lot I can do tonight. We’ll have to wait until the morning and then the whole circuit will have to be checked.”

I told him about the previous incident and that I thought it might be connected with the work being done to replace the back staircase. Benoit bravely climbed down into the hole to take a look but said that he couldn’t see anything suspicious.

“Just one thing, though… I’ll take a look at this before I go.”

“This” was a black connecting box below the control panel. He began undoing the fastening screws.

“Ah!,” said he. “I think we’ve found the problem.”

He later told me that as he undid the screws he heard a sound like a bad contact arcing. He asked where the master switch was and I took him down into the basement to show him. With the current safely turned off, Benoit removed the cover from the connecting box and showed me that there was a loose contact. He carefully tightened it and went down into the basement again to turn the current back on.

Suddenly, the toilet light came on. Hurrah! “We have lights!” I shouted with relief.

Benoit tidied up, wrote his report and got me to sign it. Then he left, saying he had four more jobs to do and that he was on call all night. I said I hoped all his jobs were as easy as this one.

Sitting in near darkness, staring into the candle flame and sipping tea bought from the pub across the road, I had felt rather stressed and miserable. Now I was feeling cheerful and on top of the world again.

This reminded me of an incident some years ago when I was still working in the public library. The power supply had suddenly failed, taking the computer system with it, of course, and leaving us virtually helpless. We had sat around trying to think of any job we could possibly do that did not require either lights or computers. We were told the power would be off for a couple of hours.

A lady approached me and said somewhat dismissively “You English! You get upset when the power goes off for two hours. In my country the power had been off for 25 years.” She swept out and I was never able to find out which country she came from, though I am sure she was telling the truth. This evening, I realized she wasn’t far wrong: it took nothing more than a power failure to turn our lives upside down and make us feel almost as though we were facing the end of the world. All it took was a couple of twists of a screwdriver to restore normality to our world and make us feel happy again.

I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Life's problems | Tagged | 4 Comments

Hollow Ponds

Whipps Cross Roundabout
Whipps Cross Roundabout

If you take a 56 bus from the Angel in the direction of Whipps Cross, this is where it will eventually drop you off: at a big roundabout busy with endless streams of traffic. Why would anyone come here?

Things look better here
Things look better here

But if you walk along Whipps Cross Road, things begin to look a little better. Today the sun had put in an appearance and there was a spring-like feeling in the air.

Buds were bursting
Buds were bursting

There was blossom on bushes and shrubs, and buds were bursting open with new green leaves.

Hollow Ponds
Hollow Ponds

Leave the road behind and cross through a fringe of grass and trees and this is the sight that meets your eyes. Anywhere else, this would probably be called a lake but here it is called Hollow Ponds.

You can go boating, if you feel like it
You can go boating, if you feel like it

The area is well used, especially at weekends. You can go boating, stroll along the paths or sit on the bank and watch the water fowl.

You can walk along the paths
You can walk along the paths

People do feed the birds, of course. It’s probably not a good idea but both people and birds seem used to it so the custom is not likely to change in the near future.

Pigeons feed and fly away
A nervous flock of pigeons

A flock of pigeons lives here. The birds perch in the trees and then drift down in twos and threes to feed. Soon the whole flock is feeding happily and then something spooks them and in a single movement they all fly up, wheel around the pond, and settle in the trees again.

Canada geese greet and meet
Canada geese greet and meet

As we walked around the bank, this pair of Canada geese came forward to meet us. However, as soon as they realized we had no food to give them, they lost interest in us and stalked off.

These graylag geese settled nearby
These graylag geese settled nearby

We spread a rug and sat down beside the water. A pair of graylag geese came and settled nearby. They were not after food and took no notice of us. It was pleasant sitting near them as they groomed and watched what was going on around them.

How to stand on one leg
How to stand on one leg

On our way back to the bus stop, we met the two Canada geese again. This time they were too busy to take any notice of us. They were both standing on one leg grooming. I have noticed this about bird pairs before: they often both act in a way that mirrors each other’s activity.

Beautiful blossom of startling whiteness
Beautiful blossom of startling whiteness

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A hall in Hoxton

We thought we would take a bus somewhere and go for an exploratory walk wherever we decided to get off. On the way to the bus stop, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of smoke in the air (even for London) and a smell of burning rubber.

The culprit
The culprit

The culprit turned out to be this car which was belching evil-smelling smoke. The driver surely cannot have been unaware that there was something wrong.

Hoxton Street Market
Hoxton Street Market

We took the 394, which is a small bus, a single-decker with only one door – unusual for London. From the Angel it follows what seems a strange and erratic course with many turns, travelling along narrow streets, often between tower blocks. We got out in Hoxton Street.

Fine tiled entrance to Bacchus
Fine tiled entrance to Bacchus

Hoxton is a district or parish that is today part of the Borough of Hackney. The name is first recorded in Domesday Book as Hogesdon, suggesting that it comes from the name of a farm (“tun”) owned by someone called Hoc, or similar.

Shop front of Hayes & English, undertakers and monumental masons
Shop front of Hayes & English, undertakers and monumental masons

Hoxton Street is a fairly typical nondescript outer London high street, with businesses and shop fronts dating from many periods but it does possess a market and a few rather interesting buildings.

Hoxton Community Garden
Hoxton Community Garden

It also has a very pretty community garden, though this was unfortunately locked shut and could be photographed only from outside. The clock was apparently salvaged from the Eastern Hospital in Homerton when it was demolished in the early 1980s. The hospital had previously been the Eastern Fever and Small Pox Hospital, but was originally a City of London Union Workhouse, which brings us neatly to the next major feature of Hoxton Street.

St Leonard's "Offices for Relief of the Poor"
St Leonard’s “Offices for Relief of the Poor”

That feature is this building, carrying the name “St Leonard’s Shoreditch” and describing itself as “Offices for the Relief of the Poor”, which was in fact a workhouse, founded in 1863. I believe the upper two floors were added at a later date.

Two-bodied lion
Two-bodied lion

Above the door and the deeply carved numeral “1863”, is a beautifully modelled moulding incorporating a curious two-bodied lion wearing a pensive expression on its face.

Hoxton Hall
Hoxton Hall

We discovered what might be considered to jewel in the collection right at the beginning of our walk. This was Hoxton Hall. Its modest exterior suggests its age but without giving away the building’s purpose. We went in for a look and were fortunate to be allowed to look around. (The photos are a little dark because of the low lighting.)

The multi-level stage
The multi-level stage

Hoxton Hall is in fact a remarkable survival of a galleried music hall. It was built in 1863, not by James MacDonald as is often mistakenly stated, but by James Mortimer, who intended it to be a place of entertainment and instruction for local people. Unfortunately, he did not succeed and by 1865, the premises were being used by a waste paper merchant.

A view from the stage
A view from the stage

It was in 1866 that James MacDonald came upon the scene. He bought the hall and, coming as he did from the Collins Music Hall in Islington, made the theatre thrive. Unfortunately, he too was forced to close down when, because of a police complaint, he was deprived of his licence in 1871.

Original galleries with wrought-iron railings
Original galleries with wrought-iron railings

In 1879, the Hall was taken over by William Noble’s Blue Ribbon gospel temperance movement, imported from the US the year before. This movement in turn ran out of steam in the early 1890s and on the death of W.I. Palmer who had bought the Hall for the Blue Ribbon, ownership passed to a Quaker organization, the Bedford Institute Association, devoted to work among the poor. It is to the Quakers that we owe the preservation of this interesting historical site.

One two two fireplaces (now blocked off)
One two two fireplaces (now blocked off)

Hoxton Hall became the headquarters of the Bedford Institute Association until the middle 1970s when it was taken over by the charity Hoxton Hall Friends and Neighbourhood Centre, in whose care it was able to return to its original theatrical role. Today, Hoxton Hall is a centre for youth arts.

The parish church of St Anne, Hoxton
The parish church of St Anne, Hoxton

From here, we continued walking down towards Shoreditch, discovering a colourful example of public art. (It reminded me irresistibly of the many late medieval representations of the Dance of Death or Danse Macabre. But perhaps that was because I was tired and my back was beginning to ache…)

"I love Hoxton" (and why not?)
“I love Hoxton” (and why not?)

Along the way, we discovered other interesting sights, including some intriguing remnants of times past.

A calm Regent's Canal
A calm Regent’s Canal

For example, we crossed a calm Regent’s Canal which would once have been a lot less calm and a lot busier to judge by the nearby buildings, such as this warehouse or factory belonging to Thos Briggs.

The substantial premises of Thos Briggs
The substantial premises of Thos Briggs

The building to the left is a representative of another feature of this area: high-rise blocks of flats.

Factory doorbell
Factory doorbell

What is now a pleasant little park called Rosemary Gardens, has this clue to its past on the gateway: a doorbell – or perhaps bell-pull – labelled “FACTORY”.

The remains of a weigh bridge
The remains of a weigh bridge

If you walk along the cobbled path (no doubt once the vehicle entrance to the factory yard) you come to what looks like the remains of an old weigh bridge. I wonder when this last weighed a load.

Don't both me - I'm busy
Don’t both me – I’m busy

We stopped for a word with one of the natives but he was too busy to chat. I can understand why: this is a very mixed area and there is a lot to see and think about. We shall need to come back for another look one of these days.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | 2 Comments

Back in London

We arrived home again late yesterday afternoon. We didn’t take time to rest from the journey, however, as we had an important chore to perform: we packed the shopping trolley and the wheelie suitcase and went straight out to do the laundry!

Fortunately, Monday evening is not a popular time to do laundry and we had the launderette and the machines almost to ourselves. While the machines were spinning away, we went across the road to Costa and had coffee.

Later an American gentleman came into the launderette with a small amount of washing. He asked us to explain the functioning of the machines and the coin slot machine, which we were happy to do. He then told us his rather dramatic story.

His daughter is studying at London University and he came over to the UK so that both of them could go on a short trip to Paris. While they were out and about on Sunday, a fire started in the hotel and their room was at the centre of it. All their belongings were destroyed, including their clothes and their passports. About the only consolation was the fact that they were not in the hotel room at the time as, otherwise, who knows how they would have fared?

They had spent the early hours of the morning at the US Embassy obtaining temporary passports in order to return to London. They came back with only the clothes they were wearing but had a change of clothes here in London. That was what he was washing.


The first thing I did this morning was of course to go and fetch Freya from the cattery at the vet’s. They told me that she had been fine and had eaten well without any sign of vomiting (one of Freya’s little weak points). Despite having eaten well, Freya did not hesitate to badger me for food once we were back home, though she did remember to show a little affection as well!

It looks as if the loss of appetite which started the recent chain of events has something to do with her usual food. She now resolutely refuses to eat this, though she happily wolfs down anything else I give her. Perhaps the dry food no longer suits her and that was why she was so often sick. I will have to find a different diet for her.

I will write up our trip over the next few days. I left you some clues as to our destination but I unfortunately made an error. I stated that our destination town was a port. Well, it was once, but no longer. In fact, I think it ceased being a port in about the 15th century! That’ll teach me to be more careful. I have removed the mention of the port from the original post.

The name of the town is Bruges, or Brugge, and it is in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, where Flemish, not French, is spoken. I will have more to say about that in due course.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Bruges 2011 – Day 4

The morning of our return to London is bright and sunny, though with a slight chill on the air. We got up and went for breakfast as usual and then returned to the room for the last time to close our bags and make sure we had packed everything.

The plan is to take the train to Brussels straightaway, deposit our bags in a locker, and explore the city until it is time to check in at Eurostar. Perhaps I will get a belated chance to speak French.

Brussels feels more French to me
Brussels feels more French to me

When we reached the bus stop near the hotel, we found it was closed. This meant we had to set off and find another one, dragging our bags along behind us. This is a chore at the best of times but the Belgian cobbles make it even harder work, not to mention noisier.

The street name signs are in both languages
The street name signs are in both languages

We found a bus stop and enquired of each driver whether the bus went to the station. We were third time lucky. After our experience with the day tickets yesterday, we asked whether we could buy a day ticket here in Bruges and use it in Brussels. Apparently not, the reason being that the Brussels buses are run by a different company.

The train we caught was 10 minutes late and therefore missed its slot, with the result that it had to follow a slow train to Ghent, after which it was able to resume normal running speed. We were glad that we had chosen to go early or we would have been worrying that we were going to miss our connection.

They have public hire bicycles here too
They have public hire bicycles here too

At Brussels we tried without success to make the luggage lockers work but they grumpily refused to operate. In the end, we gave up and took our bags to the left luggage. We would have had to pay more because they charge per item but we managed to stuff Tigger’s bag into my larger one and save money!

Fruit and vegetable market in the Maroccan quarter
Fruit and vegetable market in the Maroccan quarter

We then set out to explore Brussels. By chance we found ourselves in what turned out to be a Moroccan or Middle Eastern district and had mint tea in a Moroccan cafe.

Le Faucon
Le Faucon

I had had a lengthy conversation in French on the train but now I could hear French spoken all around me. We were looking for the cafe where we had had lunch on our Waterloo courier run (La Plume – De Pluim) but didn’t manage to find it. (See A trip to Waterloo.) Instead, we had lunch in a brasserie called  "Le Faucon", which was very French, and where I felt I was in comfortable familiar surroundings.

Familiar surroundings
Familiar surroundings

After lunch we had time to go for another walk. Up the road from the restaurant is the Porte de Hal (Hallepoort), set in a pleasant garden or park.

The medieval (though modified) Porte de Hal
The medieval (though modified) Porte de Hal

The Hal Gate dates from the Middle Ages when Brussels was a fortified town. It was one of seven gates in the inner wall of the city fortifications built in the 14th century. These fortifications, measuring 8 km in length were dismantled in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Hal Gate alone survived because at that time it was used as a prison.

In the 19th century, the Gate became one of the first museums of Belgium and its exterior was modified with the addition of sloping roofs and a neo-Gothic façade. Today it remains as a cherished reminder of Belgium’s past.

The Porte de Hal in its park
The Porte de Hal in its park

The gate is set in a fine park where today people were enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine. Unfortunately for us, though, we had to start back to the station to reclaim our bags and check in for our Eurostar departure.

We had been advised to visit the main centre of Brussels but because we had relatively little time to spare, we didn’t pursue that idea. In the event our visit to the Moroccan area and the Porte de Hal was interesting enough in the time we had. Even so, we left feeling a little cheated because Brussels seemed worth a longer visit. Perhaps we will manage to spend a longer time here on another occasion. I would certainly like to get to know it a little better.

We hope to come to Brussels on a longer visit
We hope to come to Brussels on a longer visit


Our trip to Belgium was a success and we enjoyed it greatly. Tigger organized it all, together with our days out, and made it all fun as she always does.

Apart from passing through Brussels, we spent the whole time in Flanders, the Flemish part of Belgium. Flanders impressed me as a modern, efficient and clean country (very Dutch in that respect) that also keeps a careful eye on the historic and beautiful vestiges of its fascinating past. The people were very kind, helpful and good humoured, and in this respect they added to the pleasure of our stay. They are rightly proud of what they have.

I find it sad that this beautiful and attractive country should be so divided politically and culturally, with the threat of break-up continually being mooted, but whatever the future holds, I am hopeful that the Belgians will face it resolutely and conquer any vicissitudes.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bruges 2011 – Day 3

This is the weekend when the clocks go forward. The hotel thoughtfully put a printed "important message" in our room to remind us. It means that we have an hour’s less sleep. I do wish they would stop messing about with the clocks in this way.

Today we are taking the same train as yesterday but going only half as far – to the city of Ghent, the second of the cities recommended to us by the tourist information office. At the station we again bought a weekend tariff ticket and then had a train within minutes.

The day is overcast, though the sun is trying to break through, and it is again cold.

Collared dove Nesting dove
Collared doves of Ghent station

On arriving at Ghent station we were met by a pair of collared doves who had a nest in the platform canopy.

Colourful decor, Ghent station
Colourful decor, Ghent station

Ghent station is smaller and far less elaborate than Antwerp’s but the concourse is prettily and colourfully painted.

Ghent station's turreted design
Ghent station’s turreted design

The exterior of the station is an unusual turreted design, like a castle, with a tall, off-set clock tower.

Bi-lingual war memorial
Bi-lingual war memorial

The station is not in the more interesting part of town. On arrival, we had to work out which transport would take us to the centre. With a little help from a local, we took a tram, having bought day tickets at a ticket machine. We got out at the Vogelmarkt ("Bird market") and started exploring.

I found it difficult to characterize the style
I found it difficult to characterize the style

At this point Ghent seemed far less picturesque or interesting than Bruges. We saw numbers of large impressive buildings, some old and of traditional pattern, but I found the style hard to characterize. Tigger felt it is more French but I am not so sure about that. It is true that I notice more vestiges of the French language here than in the other two towns but that could simply be a matter of chancing on them here and missing them elsewhere.

Monument to Edward Anseele
Monument to Edward Anseele

As it was Sunday, very little was open and there was a Sunday hush over the whole town. We eventually found a pleasant cafe for a rest and a hot drink. Afterwards we continued walking and eventually came upon the more interesting and picturesque part. For lunch, we found an inexpensive veggie place selling ready prepared foods and a choice of hot soups.

Electric cable with shoes
Electric cable with shoes

In this street, a cable carrying electricity and lights had become a depository for old shoes.

The old Stadhuis with another off-set clock tower
The old Stadhuis with another off-set clock tower

Traditional stepped gables
Traditional stepped gables

While Ghent has its share of traditional stepped gables, many other styles are also in evidence.

This building reminded me of Wedgewood designs
This building reminded me of Wedgewood designs

This building, reminiscent of Wedgewood designs is dated 1706. White relief on a red background creates an elegant as well as colourful finish.

Ghent's well preserved castle
Ghent’s well preserved castle

The Gravensteen Castle (“Castle of the Count”) was first built in the 12th century and still cuts and imposing figure with its well preserved battlements and turrets.

Street view with the Church of Saint Nicholas (Sint-Niklaaskerk)
Street view with the Church of Saint Nicholas (Sint-Niklaaskerk)

As in Bruges, there are plenty of churches in Ghent and plenty of religious iconography, as befits a country where the majority religion is Catholicism, I suppose. A favourite, to contrast the softly feminine Virgin holding the Christ Child, is the violently macho Archangel St Michael.

St Michael swashbuckling as usual
St Michael swashbuckling as usual

He is often shown, as here, waving his sword and trampling on a dragon who supposedly represents Satan.

Monument to the Van Eyck brothers
Monument to the Van Eyck brothers

This monument celebrates Hubert and Jan (or Johannis) Van Eyck, Flemish painters who were born in what is now Belgium. I don’t know why the pair look so snooty unless that’s supposed to be painterly gravitas gone slightly awry.

The Great Cannon (Groot Kanon)
The Great Cannon (Groot Kanon)

A slightly different sort of monument, this one is the Great Cannon, situated in a small square named after it, GrootKanon Plein. I have to admit that I do not know what purpose it served but I bet St Michael would like to get his violent little fingers on it.

These people seem to have the right attitude to monuments
These people seem to have the right attitude to monuments
The figure represents Jacob Van Arteveldt, aka “The Brewer”
(Look him up)

Feeling a little buildinged- and monumented-out, we decided to go for a tram ride. We had, after all, bought day tickets and might as well use them. This is actually a good way to tour the city.

Riding the tram is a good way to see the city
Riding the tram is a good way to see the city

We caught the tram at the castle and went with it to the terminus called Flanders Expo. There we stayed aboard (actually, I dozed off – so much for seeing the city!) while it ran back the other way to Wondelgem. Here we were turfed off but as this place just a suburb, the middle of nowhere, so to speak, we remained with the tram until we were allowed to board again.

Wondelgem or The Middle of Nowhere
Wondelgem or The Middle of Nowhere

By the time we reached the centre again, we were beginning to feel that we had seen and done enough, so we started back towards the station. Refreshments were in order so we made for the station buffet.

Buffet from outside Buffet carving
A sign of things to come

As we approached the buffet, from the pretty windows and carvings, we gained a hint of what was to come.

Tall pillars and painted-dial clock
Tall pillars and painted-dial clock

With its tall pillars and painted-dial clock, the buffet was like something from a past, more elegant, era. There were wall paintings, too, and a colourful tiled ceiling. Despite having been redecorated (perhaps many times) it retains its ancient charm.

The painted walls and lofty build give a "continental" feel to the premises
The painted walls and lofty build give a “continental” feel to the premises

Having had coffee, we decided to stay on for an early supper in these pleasant surroundings. The menu was entirely in Flemish and we sought the assistance of the waiter.

The glazed- tile ceiling
The glazed- tile ceiling

The waiter, it turned out, was the only person we encountered in a service position who had no English at all. He had to fetch two more colleagues who between them managed, with a bit of a struggle, to elucidate the menu for us.

Cycle park - they take their cycling seriously in Ghent
Cycle park – they take their cycling seriously in Ghent

Having finished our meal we saw that a train would depart for Bruges in about 10 minutes and so we hurried to the platform. We were pleased to find it was a double-decked train of the sort that is also common in the Netherlands. Naturally, we chose seats on the upper deck, where you have a better view out.

Chubby cherubs above a corner shop
Chubby cherubs above a corner shop

I think such double-decked trains would help alleviate the chronic congestion problems on the British railways but for that to be possible, bridges and tunnels would need to be raised or tracks lowered and I imagine that the cost would be prohibitive.

Public pump spout
Public pump spout

Back in Bruges, we went to catch the number 16 bus to the hotel. A single journey would cost 2 euros each so Tigger tried the day tickets that we had bought in Ghent. They worked! We got back to the hotel without further expense.

Yet another sad-faced saint (Sint-Veerle)
Yet another sad-faced saint (Sint-Veerle)

Bruges remains the prettiest of the three towns we have visited. The other two have their individual characters and points of interest and are worth a visit, but I think Bruges is over all the most attractive. On the other hand, it is smaller than the others and people keen on nightlife and other activities might prefer other livelier towns.

Coat of arms, Bisschopshuis (Bishop's Palace)
Coat of arms, Bisschopshuis (Bishop’s Palace)

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bruges 2011 – Day 2

Approaching Bruges station
Approaching Bruges station

Today is bright but overcast and chilly. I have reverted to my winter coat.

A quiet corner of the canal
A quiet corner of the canal

Breakfast at the hotel is a buffet with a good selection of foods, cooked or cold. We stocked up well, not knowing how long it would be until lunch!

Terrace of houses dating from 1582
Terrace of houses dating from 1582

We visited tourist information during our ramble yesterday and they were very knowledgeable and helpful. In view of our preferences, they suggested two towns to visit and today we are off the first of these, Antwerp. The hotel is rather a long way from the station but we decided to walk, using the map I had printed from the Web before we left London. Tomorrow I think we will try the bus.

The station was very quiet today (Saturday)
The station was very quiet today (Saturday)

For train travel at the weekend there is a special weekend rate, so it’s worth asking for this or clicking "Weekend" on the ticket machine. Our train arrived promptly at 10:04 and we went aboard. We found a pair of seats at the end of a carriage, near the door. The journey from Bruges to Antwerp takes about an hour and a half. I fell asleep for part of it which made it seem shorter.

Arriving at Antwerpen Centraal
Arriving at Antwerpen Centraal

Our first surprise in Antwerp was the station. It is huge and there are platforms on several levels. The station itself is elaborate and highly decorative. It’s more like a cathedral or prestigious government building than the common conception of a railway station.

Antwerp station concourse
Antwerp station concourse

The architecture of the station is quite magnificent and many people stopped to take photographs or be photographed with it as a background.

These domes are decorative and let in the light
These domes are decorative and let in the light

We spent some time studying the details of the station which was quite overwhelming.

One of the palatial entrance arches
One of the palatial entrance arches

In the square outside the station there were also curious and interesting sights to behold, such as

Lamp base
Lamp base

this ornate base holding a tall lamp, or

A wooden man
A wooden man

a piece of modern art in the form of a wooden man with a window in his chest.

One façade of the station
One façade of the station
(The camel belongs to the nearby zoological gardens)

The town centre where the more important buildings and monuments are to be found is away from the station but at the distance of an easy walk. There were many things to see along the way.

Chinese gate
Chinese gate

As in Bruges, there were religious shrines and symbols.

Religious symbols
Religious symbols

Streets of traditional buildings
Streets of traditional buildings

The Stadhuis (Town Hall)
The Stadhuis (Town Hall)

We reached the Grote Markt (market square) where the Stadhuis (Town Hall) stands.

A striking set of façades
A striking set of façades

We had been feeding our eyes (and our cameras) but now we felt it was time to feed the body.

Lunch!
Lunch!

We had lunch in a small restaurant called De Stadshuys because it was in the square opposite the actual Stadhuis and from here we saw what looked like a 19th century horse bus drawn by two beautiful chestnut horses. It turned out that the bus is a modern replica, not an antique, but even so, it seemed worth going for a ride.

The horse bus
The horse bus

It was cold on the open top deck of the horse bus but there were blankets and these helped. We hoped we might get some good photos from the high vantage point.

A view from the horse bus
A view from the horse bus

The ride lasts 40 minutes and although the speed is about walking pace, it’s a good way to see parts of the town. As in Bruges, many roads in Antwerp are cobbled. While such a surface is long lasting it also gives a bumpy ride and in a horse bus this is additional to the rocking and jerky movement of the vehicle, all of which combines to make it difficult to take photos without blurring.

A stall selling silver goods
A stall selling silver goods

After the horse bus deposited us in front of the Stadshuis again, we continued walking, working our way back towards the station.

Antwerp Zoo
Antwerp Zoo

Near the station is the Antwerp Zoo. This was founded in 1843 (which may explain why the name is displayed in French). I have no idea how good the zoo is as we did not go in.

Tiger mosaic
Tiger mosaic

We found that we had just missed a train to Bruges and had an hour to wait for the next one. This gave us the opportunity to engage in further exploration of the station.

The station operates on three levels
The station operates on three levels

Despite the elegance of the design, the structure is quite complex because the station operates on three levels.

Antwerp station clock
Antwerp station clock

The station clock shows the date of construction as 1905.

While Antwerp shares similarities with Bruges (the inevitable stepped gables were much in evidence) it has its own character. It feels like a bigger, busier town. Some parts of it were dirty and and in need of repair. For people who like the thrum of the city and plenty of night life, it is probably a better choice than Bruges. On a short visit we could not do it justice and it would take much more time to form an adequate view of the town.

By the time our train arrived, there was quite a crowd waiting. Belgians are not shy at pushing forward so there was something of a bun fight to get aboard and find seats.

My impression of Belgian trains is generally positive. The carriages seem wider than those of British trains because the seats are roomier whilst the central aisle probably gains a few centimetres too. One disadvantage is that the platforms at some stations are lower than at others, requiring more of a climb to get aboard. This would make life a little difficult for the elderly and the disabled.

The chilly morning had given way to a cold afternoon and an even colder evening. Arriving back at Bruges, we did not fancy a long walk in the dark from the station back to our hotel. Enquiries revealed that buses 6 and 16 would take us near our hotel. A 6 duly arrived and the driver confirmed the route then, having asked the name of our hotel, not only to told us when we reached our stop but also gave us directions on from there. This fits the general pattern of good humour and helpfulness that has characterized our interactions with the locals since we have been here.

The opulent interior of the Royal Cafe, Antwerp station
The opulent interior of the Royal Cafe, Antwerp station

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