Sunday, 28 June 2009

refuge from the thronging crowds

Brugge lives up to its reputation of being jam-packed with people on the weekend. You'd have needed a shoe horn to fit anyone else in yesterday. While wrestling our way onward we spotted a Kempinski Hotel down a narrow cobblestone laneway. A minute later we were in spacious air-conditioned luxury.

The building is a 15th century residence which has been refurbished beautifully. Fun art is a theme. The bar has a sculpture of a giant set of paintbrushes as well as several paintings of musicians which combine paint and brass. The most amusing though is the giant red poodle in the manicured gardens.

Friday, 26 June 2009

planes, trains and automobiles

We had a day of varied transport. An uneventful automobile trip to the airport was followed by a cattle-class flight across Europe to Paris. The plane took off late so we were at the airport for over 4 hours. On the bright side the Air-France crew got us safely to our first destination. We arrived rather later though and had to hot tail it out of there to make our connecting train. What was reputed to be a 100 metre stroll turned out to be a one kilometre fast paced limp. We leapt on the train as it was pulling out and made it to Brussels. After a quick brekky we headed for the train to Brugge. I think that they pinched a train from India and plonked it in Belgium for the day. People were standing cheek to jowl, hundreds were hanging out windows and others and their cows were strapped to the top of the vehicle as the train laboured and grunted under the weight of cows, baggage and people. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but it was close.

Brugge was a thriving and important seaport until the 16th century. Interestingly many of the buildings were rebuilt to original specifications in the 18th century. They made it all a bit more gothic than it had been to start with so now it's ubergothic.

This was outside the Gruuthuse museum. Apparently 'gruut' or 'gruit' was a herb that was used in beer. Mr Gruut had a monopoly on it and made a killing. When gruit was replaced by hops, Gruut was given the right to tax the brewers and managed to make even more money. How the rich do prosper!

This is the view from the top of the brewery.

Belgium is reputed to be have the best beer in the world, or so the Belgians say. Aussies would dispute that. Anyhow, in respect of our hosts I had to have a beer. Normally I get the glass to my face and back out. The yeasty fragrance is too much for me. But, being a good tourist, I gave it a go. It wasn't completely disgusting.

Brugge is quite lovely with its cobblestone streets, lovely old buildings and canals. It's a bit reminiscent of both Amsterdam and Venice, but at the same time it is quite different.

This pic is simply a case of playing with focus. I like it so I thought I'd chuck it in.

Monday, 22 June 2009

mussels and chips are fine by me

There are many enjoyable aspects of a holiday; the sights, the colours, the sounds, the smells and the strangeness of the places you visit amongst them. I think though that one of the best elements is the opportunity to reinvent yourself. No-one knows you. You don't know them. It's a relatively clean slate. I don't need to be the shy introvert. I can be the confident extrovert. I can be lazy, energetic, dull, excitable ... anything I like.

Hmmm. On the other hand, I'm going to be taking my gammy foot with me. And ... can you go to Belgium and enjoy mussels, chips and beer if you don't like beer? Can you start liking beer? Do you want to start liking beer?

Well that's obviously a question of earth-shattering importance that I'm going to have to answer in the next few days.

hospitals yet again

I'm walking through the a shopping centre without a care. All is well with the world. Suddenly with the next footfall I'm writhing in pain. Each footstep is incredibly difficult. I limp across the shopping centre, along a passage, out a door, across a carpark and into the car. As I do I realise that the pain is in the exact parts of my foot that hurt two years ago when I fell and sprained my ankle. It took me months to recover from that injury ... and here it is again out of the blue.

I limp off to see an orthopedic surgeon as last time it was suggested that I may have broken a bone in my foot. He quickly tells me that despite the pain and despite the swelling, there's absolutely nothing wrong with my foot. What I am feeling is referred pain from a problem with the lower back. As strange as it sounds, I come to terms with that.

A few days later I manage to get an appointment to see a brilliant osteopath in Dubai. Upon hearing my story he doubts the accuracy of the diagnosis. The upshot is that he is sure that the pain I am feeling in my foot is a result of injuries to ligaments and tendons. My back is fine. I look down to see that he is wearing a hard plastic boot; the same one he wore when I visited him two months earlier. He fell off his motorbike and fractured several bones when the bike landed on top of him. I figure he knows about foot pain!

So here I am about to set off on a walking tour of Europe with a gammy foot. Or is it a gammy back? I'm going with the foot.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

you've gotta love banks

Well you know it's a funny thing. A year ago I was blogging and grumping about banks here in Al Ain. We were about to do a grand tour of Europe and had applied for an HSBC card. All was going well. The card was approved and we'd received it, but when I decided to test it, it didn't work - declined. That was a great start! I rang the bank. Yes, I'd activated it. Yes, I'd done X, Y and Z. It turns out the bank had cancelled the card for some, still mysterious, reason. It took us several days to figure out that this had happened. After making umpteen phone calls, in desperation, we ended up going to see the bank manager, who was a very nice young-ish Emirati man. With his assistance we finally got the account reinstated and received a replacement card the night before we took off for Europe. This was a great relief to us on the eve of our holiday.

Well, as it happens we are about to head off on holidays again and true to form HSBC have decided that now would be a good time to mess us around again. Our credit card, which had a 35,000 dh limit has just dropped to a 600 dh limit. 600 dh? They have to be joking. It turns out that they reduced our credit limit because we haven't been using the card. Apparently one has to use 1000 dh per month to maintain the limit. Not that we were ever told that, it must be in the extra-fine print. Of course it's not possible for the bank to adjust the limit up again, but if we keep the card at the 600 dh max for six months, they'll review the situation and may adjust our credit upwards. That's so helpful. I am completely underwhelmed!

Cards are now cancelled and we're not in a hurry to have dealings with HSBC again!