Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another fabulous weekend in Belgium

Last weekend was so filled with highlights that they would grey out if all listed here.
I'll just choose three of them.
All three have to do with rails, which is remarkable for a skipper like me.

First there is the station of Essen (a small border town in Belgium, not the famous steel industry city in Germany).

A station this size is fit for a city, not a sleepy small commuter town. When it was built it was a frontier station on what is still the busy main line between Amsterdam and Brussels. At that time a frontier still was a place where the customs officials had work to do, so every train stopped there and was checked thoroughly, hence the size of the station. I would not be surprised if it were to be redevloped for the market of luxurious apartments.

Behind this impressive station we discovered a road into an estate that left us speechless for its beauty - and we were the only visitors!
This was around supper time.

We went to see how our inclined plane in Ronquieres was doing.

This is where barges of 1350 metric tonnes roll 68 metres / 210 ft up and down an inclined plane, avoiding the use of at least 5 water guzzling locks.

This is such a sensational place that it has become a first rate tourist attraction. The people in charge light it accordingly . . .

My third favourite of this weekend, and the hardest to communicate, is in Manage, a place further South in Belgium.

Here we find a rather unsensational house sitting in a lonely spot on the edge of a meadow surrounded by railways. Just around the corner is the canal.
I wouldn't mind spending the rest of my days in a place like this. Well... maybe try for a month first?

These are busy railways, so the house has its own railway bridge!

Bekijk de originele foto's van deze diastrip. Klik op de tekst rechts onderaan de pagina om naar de volgende foto te gaan.
Photos Koos Fernhout ©2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

A brief visit to France

A few times a year a strong yearning to go to France rears its handsome head.
Luckily it is not about the the Côte d'Azur, over 1000kms / 625miles from Rotterdam, but about Lille, way up in the North of France, only about one fifth of that distance.

It is so close to the Belgian border, that some streets have the border line in the middle of the road. Here we see France on the right, and the Belgian town Mouscron on the left.

A good reason to go there last Sunday was a flea market in Tourcoing, part of the Lille urban sprawl. I arrived by lunchtime, which is the time for the French to do just that: go to lunch, so I only saw people pack up their stuff and leave.

Tourcoing is part of the former textile industry area, and it looked duly depressing and dirty in that era. Now that there's been plenty of time to make improvements, it looks much less depressing and very clean.

The rather oversized post office, 1920s style, is now being yuppified. Anyone interested in buying a very exclusive apartment in France?

Le Nord, like most of Belgium, was notorious for its cobble stone roads. Here is a good reason why French cars came with such wonderful suspension!
Today only the reputation, and a few stretches of pavés remain. Here is one in Tourcoing.

Luckily it's not an urban sprawl everywhere. Here's a pleasant allotment, in French a jardin de famille.

Again, I feel extremely lucky living in Europe, where in one day I can travel to France and back, though I don't think I should do that on my motorscooter every time, because that tends to be very wearing.
Photos Koos Fernhout ©2006

Friday, August 18, 2006

Formula 1 Barge, revised version

This is the second version of a post about a barge in Formula 1 disguise. I hope the rather absurd vehicle comes across better now. This is a silent movie, as the sounds led to further misunderstanding.

For a few days preceding the Bavaria Formula 1 street races in Rotterdam, August 20 2006, this barge sailed up and down the river Maas for promotion purposes.

There are real Formula 1 race cars involved, the bridge around the corner is part of the circuit.
We'll either get out of town or make sure we have good ear protection.

It seems a huge number of visitors are expected, as can be seen here. The funny pointed things (urinoirs) are for men, the grey-green boxes on the right are meant for both sexes.
In this case I am really sure that they are mobile toilets . . .

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Where do you go to my lovely canal?

Let's have a look where the Pommeroeul-Antoing canal begins. This is one of my favourite moorings of all times. You find it in the south of Belgium, close to the French border. A place like that is called a Grand Large, a big width.

The evening light, just after a good shower of rain, does not make things look worse.

Built in the early 1980s, this canal can handle barges of considerable size. Consequently the lock, that is needed to help us down the slope, is quite large as well: 150 x 12,5 metres /500 x 40 feet.

From the Grand Large, the canal goes downhill rapidly.
The drop is quite considerable: about 15 m / 50 ft!

Not shown here, the lock has recently been modernised. A cctv camera peers into the distance to help the lock keeper discern upstream traffic.
This is one of two locks on this stretch. A Google search teaches us that each lock employs three civil servants.

From the next lock we look into France, that begins at the end of the concrete quay.
And what do we see on closer inspection?

A nature reserve. No barges coming in from France, nothing to see through the cctv system but birds, some of them rare. No busy lock assistants making sure that traffic comes through smoothly. Smashed windows in the lock keeper's office, a huge investment gone to waste. Just a silted up river, giving out into the French part of the river Scheldt, that bears the name Escaut in this region.

So that's where you go to my lovely canal - nowhere . . .

P.S. I simply love Belgium.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More questionable contraptions - from Belgium

Only recently I have posted a question about a remarkable contraption I found in Schoten , Belgium (see above). Now it is a matter of selective perception, I'm sure, but yesterday we found not just one but two similar things in a place called Boussoit.
They are good food for thought.

First: why does this one have an electrical connector that is mounted upside down, open side up? Is it intended to electrocute the occupants of whatever is inside, in case of rain?

And then: why has the top two units each only one door, while number 3 has two doors?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pete's barge revisited

Watch this movie because you like Pete Townshend's work -or not- but then watch closely the barge in the background, that is visible from 33rd to the 52nd sec. Not moored next to Pete's studio in Twickenham, not green but red, it is unmistakably the same one he still uses as a floating studio.
The song Exquisitely bored came out in 1982, Pete acquired the barge in '86.

Want to compare? Go here and follow the links 1, 2 and 3 on that page. A very keen eye is needed.

The last frames of the video show Pete leaning over an ornate railing that looked familiar to me. Digging in my personal photo archive I found the confirmation: the railing is part of the footbridge over Richmond Lock. In the background we find Pete's barge, and, seen through the left span, there's a view of his Oceanic Studios, the place from which In the Attic is broadcast when not on the road.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sad feelings on a wonderful day

If you see Val and me shrivel up a bit, that is a sure sign: Belgium deficiency!
We are the lucky owners of a Toyota van, so we put dog in van and off we go.
Where shall we go today?
Well, I saw an internet site about a place called Eeklo in Belgium, where they have a disused railway's lifting bridge over a hardly used canal, and there seems to be a lock there as well.
So Eeklo (Balgerhoeke) is where we'll go.
We have this strong determination, no getting sidetracked. But then, after passing through Antwerp there is the roadsign saying "Doel".

I say sorry and off we go to a place that will be sacrificed to Antwerp's compulsion for expansion.
Doel is a place behind a protecting dyke and under the steam of a nuclear power station, which in turn is conveniently located next to the Belgian/Dutch border, so if anything goes wrong. . .
In my newspaper I read that the village Doel is about to disappear, so maybe this is our last chance to have a look.
It is a peaceful village where nothing much seems to be happening.
No wonder, most of the inhabitants have given up their resistance and left.

The local pub/restaurant "De Jagersrust" (The Hunter's Rest) reflects the resulting general decay: no more wining and dining here.
At the same time a village like this attracts a species that was thought long extinguished: The Hippie!

On the dyke we find them, having set up theatre tents and some contraptions the purpose of which we can't fathom.
Oh I wish I could play the piano, because a pianist is what one of the tiny theatres is looking for. If you fit the job description, maybe you should apply. The place to go for as long as it lasts is here.

In one of the buildings an informal radio station has been set up.
The bus in front of it says: out of service.
Look at these images, my friends, before long this place will exist no more, at least not in this form.

On one side the container cranes seem to be marching in.

On the other side the nuclear power station.

And how about the lifting railway bridge over the hardly-used canal?
See Val's blogpages for a report.