Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 30 -- 33,000 Feet Above the Atlantic a (final entry)

This will be the final blog entry. I expect to upload it when I reach Phoenix this evening, or if I'm too tired, tomorrow morning.

According to the screen in front of me, this United flight has just passed over the west coast of Ireland and is headed out over the Atlantic. We were two hours late leaving Frankfurt due to a problem with the water pressure in the sinks in the toilets. Despite our delay, the problem was not solved, and washing one's hands can be a problem. I only hope that the flight attendants serving me have found a way to wash theirs.

I was supposed to have a few hours to kill in the Washington D.C. Airport, but now, assuming I make my connection at all, it will be very tight. Going through immigration, waiting for my checked suitcase, taking the suitcase through customs, and re-checking it through to Phoenix will take time. (PS/ I made my Phoenix flight, but not with a lot of time to spare.)

Yesterday was a sunny although chilly day in Frankfurt. I started out intending to visit the Goethe Haus and Jewish museums, but I got involved in looking in store windows in the large pedestrian district and never did visit the museums. Well, I did go by the Goethe Haus, but by then I'd had enough of being on foot, so I walked back to the hostel. I went to bed early and got up at 6 a.m., a bit earlier than I had planned, and a half hour later I was on my way to the airport, first by bus to the train station and from there by S-Bahn or suburban train to the airport.

The trip did not go as planned, but despite my sciatica, which kept me from doing the planned pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella, I'm glad I made the trip.  To those of you who have followed this blog, many thanks. It must have made boring reading at times.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28, 2100 -- Frankfurt, Germany

Normally I post to the blog early in the morning European time, but because I had a train to catch from Luxembourg City to Frankfurt am Main in Germany, I sped things up this morning and got out of the hostel early. Bus service to the train station is sparse on Sunday mornings, and today is Sunday. I'll post this when I arrive in Frankfurt, although I'll have to pay for Internet access there. In Luxembourg, it was free.

It turns out that I got to the railroad station in plenty of time. However, I had to change trains in Koblenz, Germany, which should not have been a problem, because I had 18 minutes to make it down the stairs over to another platform, and back up the stairs to catch my second train. However, there was a  problem! The first train was already 17 minutes late before it crossed the German border. The train driver made up some of the time, and when we got to Koblenz, I had four minutes to make the change, just about adequate in the rush of people from the first train who were running trying to make their connections.

I made it up the stairs to the second platform just as the train was pulling in, and to my good fortune, the railroad car where my seat was stopped right in front of me. These InterCity trains stop for only two minutes to let people on and off (1:30 minutes if they're behind schedule), so there's not a lot of time to hunt for your car if you're not on the correct section of the platform when the train arrives.

To wind up this long-winded story, I got on the second train and had almost reached my reserved seat when the train pulled out of the station. I'm sitting on the train writing this now to post later when I arrive in Frankfurt.

Something is going wrong, because the conductor just asked over the PA system if there is a doctor aboard the train. (I never did find out who needed the doctor.)

Yesterday it rained in Luxembourg, so I spent the afternoon indoors working on my Arizona Road Cyclist News newsletter. A young Turkish woman asked if she could sit at the table with me and chat about American politics. That's always a red flag, because most Europeans and almost all Turks picture American politics as being even much worse that it really is.

First she wanted to know why only "Anglo Saxons" were in the American government. I explained that there is no Anglo Saxon identity in the USA, and I called up pictures of Obama's cabinet and showed here that they are a multi-ethic group. Of course people who think in stereotypes aren't dissuaded from their opinions by facts. She then insisted that most Democrats are abandoning the party and joining the Libertarian Party, and after I showed here that the Libertarian Party garnered about four tenths of one percent in the last presidential election, she complained that I wasn't respecting her opinions. I gave up. She had to leave for the airport and her flight back to Istanbul in any case. Why are people's opinions of value if they run contrary to facts. If I have an opinion that the Earth is flat, should it be respected?

Well, we are traveling up the Rhine River Valley, and I should be looking out the window at all of the castles we are passing.  As said, I'll post this when I get to Frankfurt.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 27, 2011 -- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

 Today is my last full day in Luxembourg City. Tomorrow morning I take the train to Frankfurt, Germany, where I will spend two nights before flying to Phoenix on Tuesday. I may be out of Internet contact after tomorrow morning. I seem to remember its being difficult to find an open WiFi connection in Germany, so tomorrow could be my last blog entry until I do the final wrap-up when I arrive in Phoenix.

McDonald's in Germany has free WiFi, of course, but the German McDonald's organization has a strange way of accessing it. When you reach the log-on page, you are required to enter your cell phone number, and the system sends you unique log-on credentials by means of a text message, called SMS (short-message service) in Europe. If you don't have a German cell phone number, you're out of luck.

There's not much to report about my day yesterday. I did some exploring on foot during the morning and spent the afternoon indoors trying to stay out of the rain and dry. It began raining shortly after noon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 26, 2011 -- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

The snorer is gone! There are usually five guys in our dormitory room here in the Luxembourg City youth hostel. Three nights ago, or actually about 1 in the morning, a heavy-set, hairy, middle-aged man arrived as the rest of us were sleeping. He entered the room, slammed the door, and turned on the bright overhead light. Naturally, he woke us all. Being of mean temper, I yelled at him in English to turn off the light and use his flashlight. He obeyed without answering. Well, he turned off the light, opened the door to a hallway a crack, and used the light that entered to make his bed (his bed was right next to the door).

When I awoke early the next morning, he was still asleep. I went downstairs to eat breakfast and take care of some chores in the internet, and when I returned to the room, he had left for the day.

The next night he again came in late and slammed the door but didn't turn on the overhead light. He feel asleep and promptly started snoring loudly. VERY loudly. I attempted to awake him so he would roll off his back and stop snoring first by shaking his bed, then by dangling a wet towel in his face, and finally by grabbing his arm and shaking him vigorously. Nothing worked. He snored through it all. I have never known anyone to sleep so soundly.

To the delight of the rest of us in the room, he left yesterday.

Some of you old-time cyclists may remember Tom Hayes, who used to race in the 1970s. I was delighted this morning to receive an E-mail from him. I hadn't heard from or of Tom in decades.

The weather forecast for yesterday was for thunderstorms. Why do I keep putting faith in the European weather forecasts? The morning brought clear, blue skies that turned to partly cloudy in the afternoon. The late afternoon did bring some very light rain showers, but nothing like the storms that had been forecast.

In the morning I explored more of the fortifications that protected Pfaffenthal from the early Roman times up until World War I. There are so many of them that I keep finding new ones to explore. In the early afternoon I climbed the hill  northwest of the hostel to the area occupied by the modern installations of the European Union. Luxembourg City is the home of the European Court. I was amazed at the number of large high-rise buildings that the Court occupies and by the fact that even more are under construction. They reinforced my prejudice that the European Union government is a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy, a prejudice that is shared by many Europeans.

The following photo, taken looking back after I had left the district, shows a few of those buildings in the distance.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 23, 2011 -- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

The weather forecast for Luxembourg calls for thunderstorms today and tomorrow and rain through the weekend. It's cloudy at the moment (8 a.m. Luxembourg time) with fog on the hills above us.

Yesterday in the early morning I went to the German Military Cemetery, which is only a few hundred meters from the youth hostel. German soldiers who died in both World Wars are buried there. I remember it from when I lived in Europe in my youth and used to visit Luxembourg City. A large group of us would usually go out for a few beers in the evening, and I would usually convince one of the young ladies to visit the cemetery on the way back to the hostel. The cemetery was dark and shielded from public view, of course.




I spent the time from mid-morning until mid-afternoon in the city seeing such sights as the cathedral, the Grand Duke's Palace, where the Grand Duke of Luxembourg conducts official business and receives visiting heads of state. Although the weather had been slightly overcast in the morning, by mid-afternoon the sky had become very black, and it started raining, so I took a bus back to the youth hostel.

Here is a picture of the Palace, which like everything in that part of the city, is crowded in by the surrounding buildings. The palace is the brown building more or less in the center of the photo.




Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 -- Luxembourg City

The temperature in Luxembourg City was in the lower to mid-80s yesterday, something that I found quite pleasant, but the local residents were complaining about the heat. I spoke with a woman from Northern Ireland at breakfast this morning, who said she was going to do all of her sightseeing before noon, because the afternoons are far to hot to be outside.

I am learned a bit more about this Luxembourg City yesterday. The old part of the city down here in the canyon where the youth hostel is located is called Pfaffenthal, which I would translate as "Valley of the Priests." It was once defended by a fortress cut into the rock of the cliffs above it. The fortress, according to a brochure I picked up, consisted at its peak of 23 kilometers or more than 14 miles of underground tunnels. The fortress is called the Casemate in English and French and Die Kasematten in German. According to my dictionary, casemate means a vault or chamber, especially in a rampart, with embrasures for artillery. An embrasure is a loophole through which artillery can be fired. There are certainly plenty of those in the fortifications.

The Casement was conquered several times by different nations through the centuries, and each of the conquerors expanded the tunnel system and fortifications.

I toured the Casemate yesterday. Not all 14 miles of tunnels are open to the public, but there is enough to occupy a few hours, if one wants to see them all. There are also narrow winding staircases going up and down and places where one has to crouch to get through. Although there are openings to the outside where cannon were fired when the Casement was attacked, most of the network of tunnels and staircases would be in total darkness if the electric lights were to fail. I thought of that when I was inside. If there had been a power failure, I might not have been able to make my way out, and I would have had to sit in the dark and wait for rescuers.

Here is a picture of one of the canons that faces an opening that commands a view of the canyon below.



The picture below was taken in the same spot and shows the view from the opening in the rock from which the canyon used to be fired.


Above the casement, there still exist some of the old streets that were part of the old city in centuries gone by, although some of those streets are now paved in asphalt (a few are still of cobblestones). The picture below shows how one of the cobblestone streets, now a pedestrian path blocked off to automobiles, passes below an old building.


To the people who live in Pfaffenthal, it is a great source of pride that the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent some time here and even included a few paragraphs of description in his volume Campagne in Frankreich (Campaign in France) in 1792. The residents of Pfaffenthal erected a plaque in the rear garden of the youth hostel to commemorate Goethe's visit. The plaque quotes Goethe's flattering description of Pfaffenthal with translations of his words into French and English. Here is a picture of that plaque.


The way Blogspot reduces pictures, I doubt if you can zoom in to read the English translation at the right of the plaque, do for those 2 or 3 people who are curious. Here it is, followed by Goethe's original words in German.

The parents of our jovial guide possessed a pretty sloping garden in the Pfaffenthal, which they kindly allowed me to enjoy. The church and the cloister, not far off, truly justify the name of this Elysium, and whereas the spiritual neighborhood would seem to pledge both peace and tranquility to the secular inhabitants, each glance upward towards the heights constantly reminds them of war, violence and destruction.

Nothing could offer a more astonishing vision than the narrow valley serpentining along the river through the midst of all this; the few level places, the heights, whether gently sloping or precipitous, are laid out in gardens, cut into terraces or enlivened with pleasure houses. From there, to the left and right one beholds nothing but the steepest rocks and walls towering high.

Here so much grandeur unites with grace, so much gravity with beauty, that one cannot help but wish that Poussin [ a French classical painter -- JQ] had applied his glorious talent to such places.

The original reads:

 Nun besaßen die Eltern unseres lockeren Führers in dem Pfaffenthal einen artigen abhängigen Garten, dessen Genuß sie mir gern und freundlich überließen. Kirche und Kloster, nicht weit entfernt, rechtfertigen den Namen diese Elysiums, und in dieser geistlichen Nachbarschaft schien auch den weltlichen Bewohnern Ruh und Frieden verheißen, ob sie gleich mit jedem Blick in die Höhe an Krieg, Gewalt und Verderben erinnert wurden.
….
Nichts kann deßhalb einen wunderlichern Anblick gewähren als das mitten durch dieß alles am Flusse sich hinabziehende enge Thal, dessen wenige Flächen, dessen sanft oder steil aufsteigende Höhen zu Gärten angelegt, in Terrassen abgestuft und mit Lusthäusern belebt sind; von wo aus man auf die steilsten Felsen, auf hochgethürmte Mauern rechts und links hinaufschaut.

Hier findet sich so viel Größe mit Anmuth, so viel Ernst mit Lieblichkeit verbunden, daß wohl zu wünschen wäre, Poussin hätte sein herrliches Talent in solchen Räumen bethätigt….

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 23, 2011 -- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg


In Brussels I walked to the train station in the rain in Brussels, but what a difference! When I got to Luxembourg City, it was sunny and quite warm, really like summer! Now that I am about to leave, it appears that summer has finally arrived to Western Europe. In fact, the dormitory room was uncomfortably warm for sleeping last night.

The Central Train Station in Brussels is a madhouse. On each of the tracks, there is a train arriving every few minutes. That means that the traveler has at most a minute or two to hop on the train after it stops, because each train has to leave to make way for the next one.

In the Luxembourg train station, upon my arrival here, I managed to purchase a reasonably cheap ticket to Frankfurt. Trains here are like airlines, there are all sorts of prices, and it pays not to wait too long or the best deals are gone. I spoke German when I bought the ticket and with the bus driver on the bus I took to the hostel, but the language that dominates inside the hostel is English. Everyone who grows up in Luxembourg speaks Luxembourgish, a language that is seldom written, as well as French and German. I'm told that almost everyone also speaks English, although I haven't tried English on the street yet. French is supposedly the written language of choice, although I noticed that one of the local newspapers is written mostly in German with only a few articles in French.

The youth hostel here is beautiful, sparkling clean, roomy, and modern. Decades ago in my youth, I used to stay at the former hostel, which stood on the same site, but the old hostel has been torn down and this new one has been built in its place. The setting was beautiful then, and it is beautiful now. The hostel is located at the bottom of a canyon in the city, right at the base of an old stone railroad viaduct. Not only is the hostel very roomy, including the dorms, but there is a garden out back with swing sets for the kids to play on and tables with umbrellas for the adults. The hostel is modern, spacious, clean, and secure with electronically keyed locks on the dorm room doors and free lockers available in both the dorms and downstairs in the public area.

The following picture is of the viaduct. The corner of a structure at the left of the picture is part of the front patio of the youth hostel.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 22, 2011 -- Last morning in Brussels

Shortly I will be heading to the train station to take the train to Luxembourg, the next-to-the-last stop in Europe before returning home.

Yesterday I succumbed to temptation and again bought an order of Belgian fries with mayonaise. It was the devil who made me do it! I also broke down and tried one of the Belgian waffles. It was delicious! It had cinnamon and sugar baked into it, so it needed no toppings.  As pictured below, the waffles that most Belgians eat are irregularly shaped, have a delicious flavor all by themselves, and are eaten without toppings. The square waffles with toppings are more popular among the tourists.

 
At least after this morning I will be away from the temptation of delicious Belgian food.

Yesterday I visited two districts that are side by side on opposite sides of the North Train Station: the business district and the red-light district. To me it's incongruous that these two districts could exist cheek by jowl. Stranger yet, in the red-light district many of the small grocery shops are owned by Arabs and sell no alcohol. If you want to get laid, no problem, but for goodness sakes don't do anything so sinful as ask for a beer!

In the red-light district, young women sit in storefront windows in their underwear and attempt to attract clients. (Sorry, no pictures.) As you might expect, there were also shops advertising X-rated videos and peep shows.

I did take some pictures of the financial district, however. I heard the buildings referred to as "skyscrapers," a term to which New York
City residents might object. However, the buildings are tall compared to the rest of Brussels. Here are two shots.




I also enjoyed my daily can of Belgian beer and purchased a spare can to drink on the train tomorrow so that I won't have to pay the high prices in the dining car. Aug

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 21, 2011 -- Brussels, Belgium

Today is may last full day in Brussels. Tomorrow I take the train to Luxembourg City, my last stop before Frankfurt and the plane back to Phoenix. Only nine more days until I'm back in Phoenix. I don't know why that should make me happy. My sister E-mails that the afternoons there are still well over 110 degrees with high humidity.

I walked yesterday to an address where the tourist map said there was a brewery offering tours, but there was no brewery there! Did they close it? There were some buildings large enough to house a brewery.

The weather was great for a change, and my left leg was feeling pretty good when I left the hostel yesterday morning, and as a result, I overdid the walking, and I was limping by the time I got back in the afternoon. I did see some sections of the city that I hadn't seen before, however. I resisted the temptation to buy some more Belgium fries from the street vendors. I think I was loosing weight before I got to Brussels, but the food here is so great, that I can't resist trying everything.

The one disappointment is the bread. Many years ago I bicycled across Belgium, and I seem to remember stopping at bakeries in small towns and buying excellent, hearty bread. I seem to remember that one slice was almost a meal in itself. The bread I have eaten in Brussels is this airy, tasteless stuff with a texture like Wonder Bread. I don't like it, and as bread is a main part of the breakfast here, the breakfasts leave me hungry.

I'm limping around this morning, so I'm going to try to take it easy on the leg. -- Jack Quinn

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 20, 2011 -- Brussels, Belgium

Just 10 more days until I'm back in Phoenix.

The ground is wet outside, and it is very chilly, but the sky is clear blue, and it promises to be a good day. I'm beginning to believe that the weather forecast for Brussels is worthless, so I haven't checked it.

It was a very chilly day yesterday after the rainstorms of the evening before. I stayed bundled up all day and still felt the cold. It's incredible that August, normally the hottest month of the year, should be so cold this year. It's more like November than August. I later realized that another reason that I probably felt the chill more is that I have a cold coming on. The symptoms are still mild, but a cold usually hits me hardest the second or third day.

One of the features that one still finds in Brussels, although they seem to be disappearing from other French-speaking European cities, is the open-air pissoir or urinal. This one is located just below the youth hostel where I am staying (that's the youth hostel building behind it.) They give men an opportunity to relieve themselves, not very privately in semi-public view. They are however very convenient, since almost all public toilets, including those in shopping centers and restaurants, charge for using them. The pissoirs make life easier for men, but  they don't solve the problem for the ladies. I have no idea what women do in case of  a urinary emergency.


While I'm on the subject of public urination, one of the sights that all tourists must see when they come to Brussels is the statue of Manneken Pis, pictured below. Manneken Pis is located in the old section of Brussels. Manneken means "little man" in the sense that one would call a boy a "little man," and…well, I allow you to translate the rest on your own. As I was standing there taking this photo with my cell phone camera, I heard a woman's voice behind me say, "I had no idea it was that small!" I assume that she was referring to the statue as a whole and not to any of its individual components.


Brussels is full of beautiful buildings whose construction dates from medieval times to the present. Here are a few examples without comment. 







 The high point of my day yesterday was lunch, which was pure junk food. I bought a paper cone full of fries with mayonnaise. In the U.S., we call potatoes fried in the Belgian style "French fries," but they should properly be called "Belgian fries," because they originated here, and Belgium is still the country where one can buy the best fries. The fries I had today were thicker than the ones typically served in the USA and were golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside with a great flavor. They were definitely not purchased pre-cut and frozen as is the case with most U.S. restaurants. 

The traditional way to eat them is with mayonnaise, not with ketchup. The man who served me, while speaking perfect English, but a big glob of yellowish mayonnaise on top of the potatoes, and it hit the spot. It had a much better flavor than the mayonnaise sold in glass jars in supermarkets in the USA.

Finally, a sad note. The number of people killed by the storm at the rock concert the night before last was not two as previously reported but five. Several others are in critical condition and could die.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

August 19, 2011 -- Brussels, Belgium

I had a pretty stressful day yesterday, as you can see in the following picture.

This one of my favorite traveling pastimes.

Well, to tell the truth, that picture was taken in the afternoon after I decided that I had probably been walking more than I should on my bum leg. So, I purchased a can of beer (the small shops here have dozens of brands of Belgium beer, and every shop has a different selection, so  I plan to try a different brand of beer every afternoon) and sat down in a pleasant park to sip the beer and read one of the books I have going on my Kindle.

There were a lot tourist buses parked near the park, and I found this one that apparently belongs to an illiterate. You would think that if there is one word in the English language that people knew how to spell, this would be that word.

Why can't people learn to spell simple words?

Yesterday started out cloudy and chilly, and some very light rain even fell in the morning. The afternoon was very warm, motivating more people than just be to find a spot in the shade in one of the city's parks. In the evening, when I was safely indoors, there were heavy thunderstorms, despite the fact that the forecast had been for partially sunny skies with no mention of rain. It was of course during the heavy downpour that the cyclists staying at the hostel arrived, soaking wet. Two women, who I think work at the hostel, pedaled in, each with a child seat and a small child on the back of the bike. The kids thought it was great fun to be drenched from head to foot.


However, on a sadder note, I read this morning on the Website of the French newspaper Le Monde that the storm killed two attendees at a rock concert elsewhere here in Northern Belgium.


As I wrote yesterday, Belgium has a language war going between the Dutch and French speakers. The Dutch would just as soon divide the country in half and declare independence, but no one can figure out to do with Brussels, which as I also wrote, is a largely French-speaking island in Dutch-speaking territory. A lot of businesses and other organizations are solving the problem by ignoring both Dutch and French and putting up signs exclusively in English. Here, for example, is an information booth that I ran across today. In France, the sign on the side of the booth would definitely be in French.

English is taking over in Brussels
Among other sections of the city, I visited "Little Africa" yesterday, a section of the city where most of the residents are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The little grocery stores in the neighborhood had some pretty wicked-looking peppers on display among the other fruits and vegetables out front, but the main business in the neighborhood was women's hair-dressing salons. I have read that many of the African women spend hours sitting in one of the chairs in a saloon getting one of those complex hairdos that so many of them sport.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011 -- Brussels, Belgium

This is a great city! If I could afford it, I would love to live here.  I'm enthralled!

The train from Lille to Brussels was a half-hour late, quite a bit when one considers that the high-speed train takes only 35 minutes to get here from Lille. When I arrived at the Brussels train station, I had a ticket to pick up that I had bought on the Internet for the next leg of my journey to Luxembourg in five days. I went to one of the ticket areas, where a receptionist with a name tag that read "Inge" (same name as my daughter) asked me in French what I wanted. I stupidly asked, " Parlez-vous anglais ?  She answered, "Of course I speak English!" as if that were one of the stupidest questions I could have asked. Sorry, but I just came from France, and if you can't speak French there, you have a rough time of it. In Brussels, pick your language.

I got my ticket, and everyone I spoke to spoke perfect English, although at times with a slight accent. I knew which bus to take to the hostel, and when I got off at the correct stop, I looked around trying to figure out where the hostel was. It turns out it was on a side street just a few doors away.

The guy at the reception spoke very vernacular English with an American accent tinged with the slightest touch of British. If I didn't know better, I could swear he is a native English speaker, but his native language is actually Dutch. He told me he spoke Spanish, and I thought I had him. Most people in northern and central Europe who claim to speak Spanish know only the few words that they remember from school, and when I speak to them in Spanish, they struggle to reply. However, he replied in perfect Spanish that he had worked in Barcelona, and I'll be damned if his Spanish didn't sound to me like that spoken in that city!

I sprang for the evening meal at the youth hostel, 10.40 euros or about $15, which I considered a bit expensive compared to what I could have thrown together on my own, but the meal was to die for! I have never eaten so well in Europe before, and there was even a bottle of chipotle sauce on the table to spice up my soup. The desert consisted of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, probably the best I have ever eaten, served on top of two Belgian crepes. Even the vegetables, just carrot slices, were so well spiced as to be delicious, and the potatoes were cooked with some sort of exquisitely tasting cheese. I could write an entire blog on the food here.

I took a walk around the neighborhood, and there are many shops specializing in one type of food. One was a biscuiterie or cookie shop, but the cookies looked like nothing I have ever seen before. Those ain't no Oreo! The chocolate shops, and I looked in the windows of several, had incredible creations of chocolate such as chocolate covered strawberries served in a cone made of a waffle. One shop sold only different varieties of macaroons. For about 30 bucks you could buy an assortment of them that looked too good to eat. OK, out of my price range, but window shopping is free.

Brussels is supposedly a French-speaking island in a sea of Dutch-speaking surroundings. The three official languages of Belgium are Dutch, French, and German, although German is spoken natively by a small minority. However, due to the fact that Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, there is a lot of English spoken. For example, many of the shops have signs in English only, and I heard a lot of English in the street spoken by people to whom it was obviously a second language.

By the way, it is quite warm and pleasant here. This is the first really nice weather I have experienced in over a month. Rain is forecast early next week, but lets worry about next week when it gets here. The only problem I'm going to have today is trying not to walk to much on my leg with the sciatic leg injury. There is so much to see here, and it is best seen on foot.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 17, 2011 -- Last day in Lille, France

This is my last partial day in Lille. This afternoon I take the train to Brussels, where I have booked a room to stay in the Flemish hostel. There seem to be two of everything in Belgium: one of the French-speaking Walloons and one for the Dutch-speaking Flemish.

Yesterday was another nice day in Lille by the standards of this lousy European summer, meaning it didn't rain (OK, there was a light sprinkle) and it was warm enough in the afternoon to be outside without a jacket or sweater.

I had three roommates last night. One is an Iranian who is working on a master's degree in Finland. He is studying in English, of course, and speaks no Finish or Swedish. A second roommate is French, with whom I spoke only briefly, and I don't know where the third one is from. He was asleep when I went into the room yesterday afternoon, he went out late with the Frenchman, and the two came in at 1 a.m. When I awoke this morning at 6:30, he was gone.

By the way, this youth hostel has a cat who thinks that she owns the place. She is looking at me accusingly at the moment, because I sat down near her and disturbed her sleep.

I took no pictures yesterday, and I didn't visit any exciting tourist spots, so there is nothing more to write about. - Jack Quinn

August 16, 2011 -- Lille, France

Yesterday turned out to be a nice day: sunny in the morning, threatening clouds around noon, and partly cloudy in the afternoon. Most of the day it was warm enough to walk around in a short-sleeved T-shirt. I saw several of the centuries-old constructions in and near Lille's Old City. It was also a French religious holiday, the celebration of Mary's supposed ascent into Heaven, so it was very quiet in the city.

I have read that Lille changed hands several times. Its name comes the Latin insul or L'Isla, which means "the island," because it was built on a bit of dry land in the middle of a marsh. The original inhabitants were Celts, then Germanic peoples, and finally the Vikings invaded the region that was later to be known as Flanders. The Normans and Hungarians had their turns conquering the region also.  Next came the Portuguese. During their occupation, Countess Jeanne (or Joan) of Flanders, the wife Lille's ruler Fernand of Portugal, founded L' hospice de la Comptesse (Countess's Hospital), which is still standing in the old part of the city. Here's a picture of it.


Next Lille became part of the Duchy of Burgundy, then it passed onto the Hapsburgs and became part of Spanish Netherlands until it was conquered by the French king Louis XIV in 1667. That wasn't the end. It became part of Holland again and then became part of France again under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Just around the corner from the youth hostel is the Porte de Paris or Paris City Gate, ordered constructed by Louis XIV and was constructed between 1685 and 1692 as part of the city's fortifications. It replaced an even older Porte des Malades (malades is French for sick people), which had been bombarded when Louis Xiv conquered the city and returned it to French hands. (I have no idea why the original gate was called the Sick People's Gate.) Here are two pictures of the gate, the first one taken from outside and the second from the city side. As you can see, the gate is much more elaborate on the side that faced outward away from the city.


 
Finally, here's one of several pictures that I snapped in the old city.



There are four other guys in my room at the youth hostel. Three are young English lads from Nottingham who are returning home today. The fourth guy arrived after midnight the night before last and was still asleep when I left the hostel yesterday morning to go sightseeing, so I didn't get a chance to meet him yesterday. Now he's gone. I believe the three English guys are also leaving today.

I had some very interesting conversations yesterday evening and this morning at breakfast with a German, an Englishman, and a Spaniard. One of the good things about traveling alone and sleeping in youth hostels is the great variety of people on meets from all over the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 15, 2011 -- Lille, France

It did in fact stop raining about midmorning yesterday, although the sky remained very dark and threatening all day, and most of the day it was chilly enough that I felt more comfortable wearing the green sweatshirt that I purchased in Paris.

There is a group of people staying at the hostel who are apparently of low intelligence. The evening before last, one of the men kept staring at me with an odd look on his face, and his companion also stared at me but with a smile on his face that looked as if it would break out in laughter at any moment. It took me a few minutes to realize that they were part of a small group of mentally handicapped persons who are staying at the hostel.

The weather looks better this morning. The sky is clear, and it promises to be a good day. I've been reading up a bit on the history of Lille, and I've picked out some sights I want to see today.  -- Jack Quinn

Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 14, Lille, France

In Paris, all signs and announcements were in French, of course. If they were also in a second language, it was English, and as a third language, they were sometimes in either Spanish or German. Here in Lille, almost all signs in the railway stations, etc. are in French, Dutch, and English, and the announcements over the PA system in the train stations are in French and Dutch and occasionally also in English. Lille is close to the Belgian border, of course, where the official languages are French, Dutch, and German, although only a minority speaks the third language as a native tongue. However, to the best of my knowledge, the language spoken across the border is French, and not many French-speaking Belgians, known as Walloons, speak Dutch.

Lille is a small city. I'm not sure what I'm going to do here for the next three days, but even if I sit around and read, it will be good, because it will give my leg a chance to rest and heal.

This city is certainly white compared to Paris. Paris is very multi-ethnic with lots of blacks, Arabs, Asians, etc. In Lille, almost everyone, surely 98% or so, looks European and white. As to my roommates, there are two Germans and one Chinese student who is studying in France and speaks good French and poor English. I am that only one who is able to carry on a conversation with everyone in the room. However, we didn't speak much last evening, as everyone was engrossed in reading.

The weather was damp with light rain when I arrived yesterday, and by evening it had gotten worse. It rained during the night, and it is still raining. The weather forecast calls for heavy rain this morning clearing toward noon. This youth hostel is closed during the day, so if it doesn't stop raining, walking around Lille today won't be pleasant, although I do have a rain poncho.


August 13, 2011 -- Lille, France

I just arrived in Lille on the "high-speed" train. I write the words "high-speed" in quotes, because there  was some sort of problem en route. We rolled along at about 150 miles per hour the first half of the journey, which was to take 59 minutes, but then we slowed to a crawl for about half an hour due to what a voice over the PA system called a "signaling problem." It didn't matter to me that we arrived a half hour late except for the discomfort of sitting a bit longer cramped into a second-class seat. I have restless-leg syndrome.

Last night, or rather early this morning, in the hostel in Paris, the fire alarm went off at four a.m. We all walked down the steps, I from the seventh floor (eighth floor as we count them in the USA). Near the ground floor, the stairwell was jammed, and we could go no farther. Then people starting coming up the stairs saying it was a false alarm. According to one person, someone had set the alarm off with a cigarette.

At least once again I had the four-person room to myself last night, and except for the fire alarm, I had a good night's sleep.

I'm sitting in McDonald's at one of Lille's two railroad stations, where I am about to take advantage of the free WiFi to upload this post. It's more hectic here than in a McDonald's in the USA. The tables are closer together, and the place is full of families feeding their kids Happy Meals. One of the kids is screaming for some reason, which is nerve wracking.

 The weather is dark, chilly, and wet. For the moment it's not raining. If the youth hostel manual is correct, I've got a few hours to kill before I can check into the hostel here, which means I must lug my backpack around. I hope the rain holds off. -- Jack Quinn

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 12, 2011 -- Paris

The sky is threatening this morning, so it will probably rain.

This is my last day in Paris. I will travel to Lille in Northern France tomorrow. I won't have time to post before I leave for the train station, but I have read that the youth hostel in Lille has a free WiFi connection to the Internet, so I'll try to write the entry while on the train and post it from Lille.

I was the only person in this four-person room last night, so I was able to get a good night's sleep with no one awakening me.

I have nothing special planned for today, so this entry is short. -- Jack Quinn

August 11, 2011 -- Paris

Yesterday did turn out to be a beautiful day, sunny and warm enough in the afternoon to walk around in short sleeves. Some brave people even donned their swimming suits to sun themselves along the Seine.

I must look much more infirm than I picture myself. In the past several days, people have twice jumped to their feet on the subway to offer me their seats, and yesterday, as I was about to get off the subway, a young woman held out her hand in an offer to help me up out of my seat. Although I would have been delighted to hold hands with her under different circumstances, we were about to fight our way against the flood of people trying to get on the train, and so felt I needed both hands free.

I purchased my train tickets from Lille, France to Brussels and from Brussels to Luxembourg City online yesterday. I have to pick the first one up at any French train station and the second one at the Brussels Central Train Station, because I don't have a way to print them out here. The first ticket only cost me 17 euros! Being able to access the Internet is a big help in planning as is being able to read the sites in the various European languages. Train tickets in some European countries are like airline seats: they come in all prices with all sorts of special deals. If you wait too long, the cheap tickets are gone. It usually pays to shop online in advance so you can browse the different possibilities and find the cheapest.

My crazy roommate informed me yesterday that he is moving out at noon today. I asked him as a special favor if he could make his bed before going out for once so as to not keep me awake so long when he comes into the room after midnight. He accused me of "restricting his rights". We got into a warm discussion about it, which I didn't think I was capable of doing in French. Finally I left the room in disgust with his still insisting in a loud voice that I was being completely unreasonable to ask him to make his bed earlier. When I came back, he was gone, and low and behold, his bed was made!  Even more astounding, when he returned to the room after midnight, he was quiet and went to bed promptly and quietly.

I don't know if his having to change rooms is good or bad. He says the administration asked him to change. There are four beds in this room, and if there is no room for him, that probably means that all four beds are going to be occupied tonight. The more people in a room, the greater the chances that someone will have some bad habits.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

August 10, 2011 -- Paris

The sky is mostly blue this morning, although it is chilly as usual. I wonder if today is going to be a nice day. If it is, I'm going to try to find a bench in the shade by the Seine to read.

My strange roommate only awakened me once during the night. He didn't come to the room as usual at 10:30 to make his bed and rearrange his stuff. He waited until it was time for him to go to bed at around 1 a.m. and then started rearranging everything. After about 15 minutes of his moving his belongings from one place to another I got up, told him that I was going to leave the room, and asked him how long it would be before he permitted me to go back to sleep. He seemed taken aback by the question. When I returned to the room about 15 minutes later, he was much quieter, although he didn't stop his activities. I lay in bed about another 15 minutes before he finally turned off his light and settled down to go to sleep, which permitted me to fall asleep also.

I have booked youth hostels for the remainder of my stay in Europe. Here's the schedule:

August 13 to Lille in Northern France
August 17 to Brussels, Belgium
August 22, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
August 28, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
August 30, Home to Phoenix, AZ

I already have the train ticket to Lille but must yet purchase the tickets to Brussels, Luxembourg, and Frankfurt a. M. I assume I can buy the ticket from Lille to Brussels here in Paris, as the French high-speed train goes all the way to that city.

Yesterday I tried some more walking. I walked from the outskirts to the Seine River, but by the time I got there my leg was hurting, so I took the subway back to the youth hostel where I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting my leg. I can't force myself to stay off the leg, because if I don't get some sort of exercise during the day, I sleep very badly at night. I think my leg is worse this morning than it was yesterday at this time.

Monday, August 08, 2011

August 9. 2011 -- Paris

My roommate is fascinated by my computer and the Internet. He doesn't seem to understand where one leaves off and the other begins. He keeps telling me when we discuss something (anything!) that I can find out about it in my computer.

Yesterday morning, when I placed my computer on a shelf below the dorm window in order to pick up a WiFi signal and connect to the Internet, he did not understand what I was doing. He asked me if I were connecting to the Internet through an American company. I tried to explain to him that the connection was local and therefore Parisian, but my explanation didn't seem to sink in.

He also tried out a few words of English on me this morning, "How are you?". Unfortunately, I couldn't understand his pronunciation, so he finally wrote the words out on a slip of paper.

The day started rainy and cold, but between morning rain showers I did manage to revisit the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry is where many famous people are buried. Here's a partial list:

Honore de Balzac, Sarah Bernhart, George Bizet, Luigi Cherubini, Frederic Chopin, Jean de la Fontaine, Moliere, Jim Morrison, Edith Pilaf, Marcel Proust, Gioachinno Rossini (Well, he's not buried there anymore, although his tomb is there. He was dug up and reburied in Italy.), James de Rothschild, and Oscar Wilde. Maria Callas also has a spot, although her body is also not buried there. Her body was cremated, and its ashes were spread over the Aegean Sea.

Here's a picture of Proust's tomb, whose works, I am ashamed to say, I have never read. His works are supposed to be required reading for all intellectuals, which I suppose explains why I am ignorant of them.



I snapped the following picture of one of the alleyways that leads through the cemetery. Notice that the leaves on the trees are changing color and many have already turned brown and fallen to the ground. This summer is so cold and dark that many trees have apparently been fooled into beginning their winter hibernation in August.


 
Naturally, I would have to come to Europe during the coldest summer in modern European history. Where is global warming when you need it?

Despite being an old insomniac, I slept well and long last night with two exceptions. I've noticed that my strange roommate has very fixed habits. He comes into the room at almost exactly 10:30 p.m., makes his bed, and spends about a half hour rearranging his possessions. Then he leaves. At about 11:45 he comes into the room again and spends about 15 minutes getting ready for bed. Because I had been very tired and had gone to bed early last night, he awoke me both times. Each time I got tired of waiting for him to finish so I could go back to sleep, so I got dressed and took the elevator to the ground floor. Luckily, I was able to go back to sleep both times, something that my insomnia often prevents when I am awakened in the night.

On the first trip downstairs I saw that my old Tour de France buddy was also back in the hostel. I call him that, because we both spent hours in front of one of the TV sets here in the hostel watching the final stages of the Tour de France.

Now it's time to go back upstairs to the room to see if I can post this using that free WiFi connection.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

August 8, 2011 -- Paris

It's quite chilly and windy outside this morning. I believe it rained quite a bit during the night.

I moved from one youth hostel to another yesterday. I am in a four-bed room here, but last night there was only one other person in the room, and he is quite an odd duck. He's French, very skinny, and he has a terrible cough. He coughed so much during the night that I was wondering if I were enclosed in a room with someone who has tuberculosis, but this morning he apologized and said he has asthma. He said the coughing fits come on when he eats something that he shouldn't.

He also talks in his sleep. He seems to be unemployed. He says he spends his time traveling around France and living very modestly.

He is very opinionated. On this trip, he is only the third person who informed me right off the bat when we met that he doesn't like the United States. He claimed that Americans are so fat that we weight 300 kilos (about 660 pounds). He wouldn't believe me when I told him that I had never seen a person THAT fat and he wouldn't accept the fact that many French people also have a problem with obesity. When I mentioned that telling someone you have just met right off the bat that you don't like his country is an insult, he asked me to not take it personally and insisted on our shaking hands.

I find his opinions tiresome, but they don't seem to be expressed with any malice. He seems to actually believe the things he says and seems to want to be friends with me. I suppose I should be grateful for the opportunity to have someone with whom to practice my French .

I have no idea what I'm going to do today. Let's see how the weather turns out. -- Jack Quinn