Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tues 29 Dec - Thurs 31 Dec

Got home last night (Monday), unpacked, and then repacked again for our short stay in Cologne. A very straightforward journey: train from Mons to Brussels, and then the high-speed train which travels from Brussels to Frankfurt, via Cologne.

Extremely impressed by the train manager's ability to make his annoucements in German, then French, Dutch and finally English. These high speed train managers must be an intelligent bunch. The train too felt like the European section of the UN: I must have heard at least 8 different languages spoken in our carriage alone.

Once you get through the Channel Tunnel you really are in Europe proper. It did make me think of how isolated we are as a nation, or how isolated we seem to want to make ourselves from the rest of Europe. There is so much we can and should be learning from our European neighbours, but all you ever hear about in the British media is how corrupt and undemocratic the EU is, how taxpayers' money disappears without trace. Yes, many of these things are true, but it really isn't as bad as we make it out to be, and so many progressive and forward-thinking policies that we benefit from are thanks to the EU.

Maybe I'm confusing the EU with Europe itself. Maybe I have rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to all things European. Probably. All I do know is that several countries in Europe have a range of cheap, efficient and punctual high-speed train services that allows them to be even more connected than they already are. And we have none. For the price of a peak train ticket from Bristol to London you could travel through 3 countries in Europe.

So, my first time in Germany and a good time it was too. Cologne itself is a pretty ugly city but then like most German cities it was bombed to bits during the war and so has had to rebuild itself almost from scratch. In fact, according to a certain free encyclopedia on the internet, always known for its accuracy, 90% of Cologne's buildings were destroyed by the Allies.

You have a mixture of narrow buildings which look almost Flemish or Scandinavian in style , with other concrete tower blocks which look almost communist, ironic considering it is nowhere near East Germany. Although, apparently Cologne has always traditionally harboured deep-seated communist views and was one city the Nazis struggled to take control of. Which makes it unsurprising that it is now regarded as one of the most liberal and alternative cities in Germany.

Saw some wonderful art at the Museum Ludwig, and was most impressed by the Expressionists' work, particularly two pieces by the German artist, August Macke: "Man Reading in the Park," and "Lady in a Green Jacket." I have since discovered a whole array of his works online which I also really like. My kind of modern art.

We spent two days wandering and getting a feel of the place, with the rain never far behind. Many of the shops reminded me of the kind you'd find in England. Lots of department stores, and many more chains. Also saw The Dom, the enormous cathedral Cologne is famous for, which looks filthy during the day, but eerie and spectacular, with the top shrouded in mist, at night. Not a patch on the ones I've seen in Italy, but then none are.

Passed many windows with sausages of various shapes and sizes hanging in them. All of them pork no doubt. Also saw a shop which claims to be the home of Eau de Cologne. And if you take an empty bottle with you, there's a running tap for you to fill it with some cologne.

The best observation though from our very short stay in Germany has to be their language. What a laugh I had. It really isn't a very nice sounding language is it? Doesn't sound as if it flows off the tongue or could actually be that easy to learn, considering it includes 3 genders: male, female and, er, ambiguous?

My favourite words: vom (veal), knoblauch (garlic) and ausfahrt (exit). There were several others but I've forgotten them. Needless to say, I found their menus very funny indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thurs 24 - Mon 28 Dec: Return to Blighty

Amazingly, our Eurostar journeys to and from Brussels were incident free and because we'd arrived at 8am on Christmas Eve we were able to catch the first train of the morning (9.30) instead of our 11.29 one. Not that we'd been able to as that train had been wiped from their timetable as they continued to cope with the backlog of the previous few days.

Was a really relaxing and enjoyable few days back home. And a nice change to be able to walk into shops and actually understand what people are saying to you. Did feel slightly strange being back, but as is the way, within a couple of days it just felt as if we'd never been away, or at least had been on a very long holiday. In Belgium. In Mons.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wed 23 Dec

Hopefully all should be fine with the Eurostar tomorrow. Plan to turn up early and try to get an earlier train. If we make it back by the evening, it'll be a miracle.

So, that's it for the next few days. Joyeux Noel/Merry Christmas everyone!! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tues 22 Dec

Met up with some people thanks to N (our language exchanger from Sunday) at a local cafe. Seems to be more of a place to meet people and chat, rather than just your bog-standard cafe. Lots of shelves with books for you to sit and read whilst supping one of their many different varieties of tea and coffee. And the owner is very friendly and welcolming. So, we had the bizarre scenario of me and C chatting in English to a guy called L, with a couple of other Belgians sitting with us too. They all know each other so it wasn't actually that strange.

One of them is keen to do a language exchange with us. It was great just to be able to chat to 3 people we'd never met before and it all felt so laid back and easy. Apparently, they're regulars to this place so we could end up coming here quite often. The cafe also organises lots of social events, with anything from live music to poetry and literature evenings. It's obviously where all the trendy folk hang out in Mons, and could be handy for meeting people too.

Better news from Eurostar: trains running again, although only a limited service for now. But, the backlog from the weekend has eased pretty quickly. We may well be coming home for Christmas after all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mon 21 Dec

As things stand, we'll be spending Christmas in Mons. No Eurostar again today, but they hope to resume a limited service tomorrow. And they're advising all passengers whose journey over the next few days isn't essential, not to travel. What moronic advice. Everyone wants to get home for Christmas, of course they're going to be travelling.

Anyway, felt rather fed up after hearing this. The snow is starting to turn to slush and the binmen are still on strike.

Got a 'bonjour' from my hairdresser as I walked past. I'm beginning to be accepted!

Still, finished watching the second series (sorry, don't know what a 'season' is) of The Wire. Not as good as the first but still fantastic. Again, I'll say very little so as not to spoil it for people. Just gripping viewing. I reckon some of the crooks are a lot more likeable than the police chiefs! I guess that's the no 'black or white' storywriting.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sun 20 Dec

Lots of snow outside. Lots. At least 3 inches I reckon. We went out to clear some of it from the car. Usually, it'd be living in our garage, but the garage door decided to break down on Friday.

Whilst I was delighting in the joys of proper, fluffy, soft snow, I also heard news of Eurostar's breakdown. The stories of passengers being stuck in the tunnel for several hours and people spending up to 16 hours on the train. And what's worse, the lack of food and water and information for all those on board. Eurostar announced that it had cancelled all services for the weekend and wasn't sure when they'd be resuming. All because of some fault which meant that frozen ice on the trains was melting onto the electrics when they entered the tunnel and causing them to breakdown.

Met up with our first 'language exchanger' this afternoon. Spent a couple of hours chatting in French and then English. Very useful and good to finally meet a local. She was born and raised in Mons but hopes to live in Far East Asia some day. It's always funny when you do a language exhange. You're never really quite sure how much either of you have understood about each other.

The cafe she chose was a gay cafe, in the traditional sense of the word. Not yoof-speak 'gay,' as in crap. Or even the original meaning of the word. Anyway, had already cottoned on to this soon after we arrived. The camp barman, with a lisp (it's bad enough trying to understand French, let alone when it's spoken by someone with a camp voice and a lisp too!), various photos of naked men, and women kissing other women, plus the sounds of Donna Summer and Gloria Gayner (plus that awful "It's raining men song") in the background sort of gave it away. And of course the poster in the bogs which read: "we're here, we're queer, get used to it!"

Still, the chatting went well and we all seemed to get on and will do it again soon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sat 19 Dec

Went Christmas shopping, Mons style, today. A very enjoyable and easy-going affair it was too. Not particularly crowded and we actually discovered some useful shops. And a Woolworths equivalent which sold a load of things we couldn't find anywhere else: batteries, de-icer and scraper for C's car. Made me feel guilty for not shopping at Woollies more!

Ate out at a small Moroccan restaurant this evening. Will ask my new hairdresser if he knows the place when I return. The food was great. Potato, cumin, lemon and yogurt salad, followed by a lamb tagine, which reminded me of the way my grandma used to cook her lamb; so soft and tender that it literally slides off the fork. You could see an older woman in the back preparing all the food on the cooker. The restaurant was probably their home as well.

Absolutely freezing walking home. Even after only a 15mins walk, you could feel your face burning it was that cold.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fri 18 Dec

It had taken me several days to pluck up the courage to...get my haircut. It's these kind of things that you do without thinking in your own country and when you can speak the language, but not the easiest when you're an English Man in Mons (as Sting should have said).

In the end it was actually fairly straightforward. It's one of those things that just involves a lot of hand gesturing, thumbs up, and smiles. The guy spoke a bit of English but it was probably worse than my French so we settled on French. He was from Morocco and we chatted about the snow and how much he missed Morocco, and how he learnt English when he was at school.

What was unexpected was being told to stand up after he'd only trimmed the back and sides and then led me towards...the sink. To have my hair washed. I didn't actually ask for this but couldn't find the right vocabulary (quick enough) for 'just a haircut,' so just let him do his stuff.

He gave me his card at the end and it said all haircuts include a cut, wash, gel and style. A very thorough 45mins haircut and all for only 8 Euros. The first bargain I've found here. Told him I'd come back but he just looked at me blankly so god knows what I actually said. Think I just got my tenses all muddled up.

Mons looked great in the snow. Not a huge amoung had fallen, but enough to give everything a decent covering and conceal the merde that lurks dangerously beneath.

The bin strike continued. Another rendition of hooting horns throughout the morning.

Went to a classical concert this evening which was thankfully not as morbid or as depressing as the free church concert last week. They even had free nibbles during the interval. What was funny was the very long introduction by a guy who clearly liked the sound of his own voice. Me and C just sat there confused for half an hour whilst he talked and talked.

Thurs 17 Dec

The bin men failed to collect our rubbish this morning. But, the reason quickly became obvious when at 8.20 a convoy of lorries (eventually identified as the refuse collectors) slowly drove along the ring road, hooting their horns and flashing their lights. I'm guessing they were on strike! The first, that I'm aware of, since we've been here. They repeated this every half hour for about 3 hours.

Tried, and failed, to register as a 'freelancer' this morning. Went to a company that supposedly helps with this sort of thing, only a few minutes walk away, but nobody there spoke any English. And I guess why should they? I managed to speak some French, but not enough to really work out why I eventually had 3 people standing around me, chatting amongst themselves, trying to work out how they could help me. I understood bits and bobs of the conversation, but the outcome seems to be that I need to return again with a translator!

Snowed this afternoon. Not the really thick stuff, but enough to settle and make everything look magical, the way that snow always does.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tues 15 Dec

When driving in Belgium it is worth bearing the following in mind: no matter how inexperienced a driver you are, you are still probably a better driver than most Belgians. All I read and hear about is how dangerous and reckless their drivers are. Part of this may be to do with the fact that the driving test wasn't actually introduced into Belgium until the early 1970s, whereas England first introduced its test in 1935 and France as early as 1893. This means that there are a considerable number of drivers on the road in Belgium who have never had to pass a test. Quite terrifying when you think about it.

The blogospshere is awash with various tales from expats and other non-Belgians about their experiences on the roads over here. One of the most common recounted, and one that I can back up in my time as a passenger here, is the inability of Belgian drivers to indicate when changing lanes on the motorway. They just don't do it. Even when they're crossing four lanes at once; something which you must do if you are travelling towards one part of Brussels.

Drivers also don't bother to wait patiently before joining the motorway from an adjoining smaller road (you can tell I don't drive. I'm sure there's a proper name for this) They just seem to speed up and cut you up, so the only sensible option is to slow down and let them on. In Brussels, I saw numerous cars with dents. More than normal. And everyone seems to use their mobile phone when driving. They also have one of the worst accident rates in Europe.

I was also told (no idea if this is true) that even disqualified drivers have the means to continue driving: if they buy a particular type of car that can only reach speeds of 40km p/h! Imagine these cars on the motorway, alongside all the others? And Belgian drivers like to drive very, very fast.

Is it therefore surprising that there's a Facebook group entitled: 'Are Belgian drivers the worst in Europe?'

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sun 13 Dec

Had a really nice weekend with our first visitors from back home (you know who you are). The Grand Place has been turned into a Winter-Wonderland with Christmas trees, lights, and traditional markets, along with a very small heart-shaped ice rink. Looks fabulous at night.

Me and C put up a few notices around the centre with the hope that we can meet some locals for an English/French language exchange. Have chosen places only frequented by trendy middle-classes. Although one place we popped into looked like a pick-up joint, or at the very least we walked in on a singles convention. Everyone was sitting alone and smiled and said bonjour as we walked in. They were probably just being friendly and it says more about me than them that I'm suspicious. Anyway, got my first text this evening and we're meeting someone this Saturday!

It's turned very cold all of a sudden. Looked at the forecast for the next week and it's not going to get above 0, even during the day. At least that means we finally have some blue sky and sunshine. A dry weekend has put paid to virtually 5 weeks of non-stop rain. Still, this is the time of year I begin to suffer. I'm just not built to survive in these temperatures.

Booked a couple of days away in Cologne (or Koeln as it's spelt here. No wonder the website drew a blank when I kept using the English spelling) for just after Christmas. Will be my first trip to Germany. Am intrigued by Germany. Have heard a lot of very good things about the place.

And when booking a train ticket to a neighbouring country, you get the internal return journey in Belgium free of charge. Now, can you ever imagine our pathetic excuse for public transport running such an intiative?

Went to a free concert at our local church this evening. A very good turnout. But, I don't think I'm being too cruel when I say it was the worst concert I have ever been to. For a start, the music was so morbid. Piece after piece were dark, sombre, and rather depressing. Every one was accompanied by the montonous and laboured sound of the organ, doing its best to make a bad song even worse. At times, the music wasn't even in key.

But, the highlight of the lowlights was the soprano. Now, she was hilarious (unintentionally!). I was in stitches every time she came on stage to perform. She must be the first soprano ever to decide that she should act out the words she sings. For example, she used her fingers to indicate 'trois mots,' and gestured behind to indicate going back 'a la maison.' She also added a little jig and strange facial expressions to her routine. God, it was funny. Well, so thought me and the kids in the row in front.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fri 11 Dec

Asked my students to confirm an observation I have made so far about the Belgians. And they did indeed back up what I had noticed: Belgians only kiss each other once, not twice like the French, or even an excessive three times, like the Swiss. Two or three kisses are reserved for special occasions such as birthdays, festival days, New Year. Think the French have got the number just about right. One could be seen as a little dismissive (and English!), but three is just foreplay.

There's a Belgian radio station which I tend to listen to every now and again, just so as to see how much I can actually understand (usually very little): Vivacite. Seems to be obsessed with playing anything from the 80s and Lily Allen. You also get some cracking French 'ip op.' Yes, hearing rap in French is quality, I'm telling you. Much of it is still very political, as opposed to their American counterparts who are no longer interested in changing the wrongs of the world and have settled instead for "rushing boodie."

What does amuse me though is when the radio station gets the English translation of songs slightly muddled up. Today they introduced that well known classic by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin as: " Sisters are doing it for yourself."

But, still haven't managed to escape the curse that aflicts the radio this time of year; namely playing the same god awful Christmas songs ad infinitum. Heard Band Aid, Slade and that Paul McCartney song all whilst queuing up in the supermarket.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tues 8 Dec

Another good day for French practice. Got a lift to work by someone I'd never met before and who spoke no English at all. So, 45mins there and 45mins back of non-stop French. And is it exhausting or what? You almost have to be on your guard at all times. I've never concentrated so hard before on what people say to me as I do in Mons. When you're learning the language you just can't afford to look away, or let your mind wander, even for a second.

There was one funny moment when she said something and laughed a bit, then looked at me for some sort of confirmation. So I responded by laughing a bit too, which caused her to laugh even more. So, there we were laughing away at god knows what. Still, she seemed very happy. And once you've started laughing it's too late to then say: Quoi?

She also brilliantly summed up Belgian politics using a great French expression: "Quel Bordel!" Which roughly translates as 'what a bloody mess!' Bordel literally means brothel in French.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sat 5 Dec/Sun 6 Dec

Had a really nice weekend in Ghent. Saturday was spent wandering, admiring and people-watching. Went to a design museum in the morning (more fun that it sounds), which was handy as it was hammering it down at the time. It's pretty much rained everyday since we've moved here. The odd day of good weather, but it always rains at night.

Looked around the city-centre which was lovely, apart from the building works which they seem to be doing everywhere, meaning that every hundred yards or so you come across chunks of ground dug up, or buildings covered in scaffolding.

Had a coffee at a place recommended in The Guardian (naturally) and run by two English blokes. The waitress's English was so perfect I did actually think she was English at first.

During the whole time in Ghent I kept thinking I was in Holland, sorry the Netherlands, as you're meant to call it. God, it's a bloody minefield. Holland is in fact only a region within the Netherlands. The people in Ghent of course spoke Dutch and were a lot fairer (in complexion) than the French-speakers down south. They also share many other similar characteristics and interests. They may as well be Dutch! But, no, don't you dare call them Dutch. They're Flemish. Completely different people (yeah, right).

What I also learnt was that the Flemish don't regards themselves as Belgian at all. Many in fact would like to be a separate country altogether, although they pretty much already are from what I can tell. So, in Ghent I felt like I was in the Netherlands, and in Mons I keep thinking I'm in France. Basically, I don't feel like I'm in Belgium quite yet.

Other observations about Ghent, apart from it being a very hip, stylish and beautiful city: the women (look away now, C) are unbelievably gorgeous. They even look great when they're riding their bikes. No one wears a cycle helmet. Reminded me very much of the women in Copenhagen. Similar features. The architecture around Ghent also reminded me of what we'd seen in Copenhagen. It seems there are so many Dutch/Flemish/Scandanavian cross-overs.

Also, even though most tourists won't speak a word of Dutch, and the fact that the virtually everyone living there speaks incredible English, all signs, notices and menus must always be in Dutch. So, you'll never find a menu outside a restaurant or cafe, even in a touristy hot-spot, in English. Apparently, this is enshrined into Belgian law. Language preservation is serious stuff here.

Overall, a fine place with a lot going on (I've only skirted over some of the details) and somewhere where we'll definitely be returning, hopefully for their summer Jazz festival.

Home by 5 on the Sunday to find C's wallet still in her work bag. Not before she had cancelled most of her cards.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fri 4 Dec, or the day I learnt how crazy Belgian politics is.

Had a fascinating insight into the world of Belgian politics today, thanks in part to today's lesson with my upper-intermediate students. I had found a useful article in last week's Guardian which asked the question: what next for Begium now that their popular(ish) PM has become the first president of the European Council?

I wasn't sure whether the students would understand it, but they did, and they loved it. In fact, they loved talking about the ins and outs of Belgian politics and Belgian society in general. It really is a divided country. According to the students (and from what I've read and heard from others), the French speakers in the south and the Dutch speakers in the north rarely mix. By that I mean that it's unusual for someone from Flanders to live and work in Wallonia (where I live) and vice versa.

At the company I teach at, not too far from Charleroi, none of the workers are Flemish, so I'm told. Other things I found out: when Belgians vote, they only vote within their region, so someone in Wallonia will never have a say over what happens in Flanders. The PM should always be, by convention, a Flemish one. And it's been like that since the 1960s. People in Flanders speak Dutch, not Flemish, (Flemish is the dialect and not the language), yet some people still refer to the language as 'Flemish,' but depending on how it is said and by whom, the word Flemish itself can have pejorative connotations.

Brussels is an anomaly in that as the capital city it is officially bilingual, but the majority of people living there speak French. However, Flemish people (according to the Walloons) want to see Brussels become only a Dutch-speaking city, and are worried that Brussels, like many other capital cities, is expanding further and further into the suburbs, and with it incorporating more and more French, and not Dutch, speakers. What I've noticed when I've been to Brussels is that all Metro announcements are said first in Dutch, and then French, if that has any siginificance?

And all of this doesn't take in to account the 70odd thousand German-speakers, buried somewhere in the East of the country, and part of the Walloon region.

Belgium also has compulsory voting, which I was delighted to hear, even though this is of course not really democratic. I'm sure there will be many other observations to come during my time here. Great stuff for a lover of politics.

Arrived at Ghent (Gand in French, Gent in Dutch) just before 9pm for the weekend. Had a bit of a mini-crisis with the fact that C couldn't find her wallet (not for the first time!) and wasn't sure whether it had been left at home or stolen by what she thought was a doggy looking guy at Ghent station.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thurs 3 Dec

Was visited by an officer of the law this morning. I of course was still in my pyjamas when the buzzer went, so it was a case of frantically run around trying to remember where it was I'd left my dressing gown. A little less embarrassing answering the door in a dressing gown, rather than just a pair of jim-jams.

I had been expecting a visit from a police officer as part of my 'full integration into Belgian society' process. This was the next stage after my visit to the commune a few weeks ago. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly. I was told this takes several months, not weeks.

He was actually a really nice guy. Asked if I spoke any French? Un peu, monsieur. He didn't speak any English so another good opportunity to practice and see how I'm progressing. He complimented me twice on my French so I must have learned something in the 4 weeks we've been here.

He just asked a few basic questions: "Was I...? Who else lived here? Did I have a job?" And that was about it. Then I think he said that I should expect a letter from the police in the next week, and that I should soon be issued with a Belgian id card!! We'll see. I'm guessing that's what he said.

Had a 'language exchange' meeting this afternoon. A couple of weeks ago the language school I'm currently working for in Mons asked me to help a woman with translation. Well, you need to be fluent in French before you can see if she is correctly translating these various documents into English. But, I used the opportunity on the phone with her to see if she wanted to meet up for a bit of French/English chit chat as she'd said it was good to speak to someone English for a change.

Anyway, we met for coffee, as you do, and spent 20 odd mins chatting in English, before spending the same time chatting in French. Thankfully, she spoke really slowly and clearly so I was able to understand her and think my French sounded okay. It's so much easier though when you know what it is you're talking about. When you have a topic in mind it's easier to find the necessary vocab and grammar. The hard part is the random conversation stuff and the fact that a lot of words are mumbled or spoken quickly, as is the case I imagine for anyone speaking their native language.

It was useful and we're going to meet up again.

I still need to meet someone here for regular French chats, at least 2 or 3 hours a week. The more I speak to a local the better my understanding will be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wed 2 Dec

Not a good day. The plan was: go to Brussels for a day of ‘networking’ and more job hunting. Yes, I have some language teaching and probably a lot more lined up for next year, but what I really want to do is work in politics in some capacity. If I don’t give it my best shot in Brussels I’ll come to regret it. I know I will.

So, got the 9.09 train to Brussels. Was off to the 11.30 session on a talk about European Healthcare and the prospects for a European wide common set of standards, organised by a think tank I want to work for. Not everyone’s cup of tea but sounded fascinating to me. I get to the right Metro station ridiculously early, as always, and then decide to slowly make my way to the venue, with the plan to stop off for a coffee along the way.

Well, it takes me 15mins to find the first street I’m meant to go down. Luckily, the trusty Rough Guide shows me the way. Then I spend the next 30mins just walking and walking and walking down an unbelievably long boulevard. The trouble with the streets in Brussels is that they’re just so long and the street names are usually so high up you can barely see them. I know I’m going the right way because in me top coat pocket is my scrunched up bit of paper with all the street names I need to be going down. Thank you Google maps. Have only just discovered it.

But, I reach the end of my second street which should then turn seamlessly into my third, but of course it doesn’t. I have a little hunt around, then go back on myself, then left, then down a different street. It is now 11.10 and it has started to rain and it’s windy. I have my brolly, of course. Already noticed how few Belgians actually carry an umbrella with them. They must know that they live in a very wet country but that doesn’t seem to bother them.

I then get a text from someone I’m meant to be meeting at 4 for job advice to say he’s off sick from work and has had to cancel our meeting. It is now 11.25 and I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. I pretty much come to a standstill. The venue is probably another 15mins away, and I can’t turn up late. After a final bit of left turns and right turns I decide that I’ve had enough. I’m going home. The rain then gets heavier and my feet are starting to get wet. I’m pretty fed up.

I quickly go down a couple of street which are meant to have temping agencies but of course they’re no longer there. A pretty shit morning which then gets even worse as I inexplicably go the wrong way heading back to the metro station. I say inexplicably because it only involved walking down two very long streets, but that is obviously too much for my brain and my appalling sense of direction to handle.

Two and a half hours of walking, a missed talk and possible networking opportunities, a cancelled meeting with a useful contact, wet trousers and soggy socks. And I just know I’m going to step in dog shit eventually. You can’t keep almost missing the stuff without finally succumbing to the inevitable squelch under-feet. But, amazingly I do (miss it).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tues 1 Dec

Begin my day by trying to exchange our train tickets to Ghent so that we can leave Mons before 7pm, but that means paying double for our tickets. If you travel after 7pm on a Friday, you get 50% off a weekend return ticket to any destination in Belgium. Our two tickets to Ghent cost 23Euros in total which is a damn bargain, but we were planning on going earlier, and the woman on Sunday ignored our requests for a different ticket and sold us a weekend one regardless. We were too meek and English to do anything at the time. Anyway, managed to use a few sentences which I’d been rehearsing on the way there, only to be asked by the woman serving for my id card. No, I don’t have one. I’ve been living here for less than a month and it takes several months for it to be processed. I do have a passport though. At home. So, no ticket exchange.

A better lesson today. The highlight, as always, the baguettes. Today, I ate smoked beef and something, and brie and raisins. I know, a bizarre combination, but it seemed to work well.

A really nice bunch this class. E drove me back and we did our bit of pigeon French and pigeon English. The odd bit of smiling and clearing of throats. I was also trying not to fall asleep.

Started the second series of The Wire. It’s good to be reacquainted. A slow start, but it’s merely the teaser for the rest of the series ahead I’m sure. Bit surprised to see Barksdale, Stringer and the crew still there. Thought we were done with them.

We decided to travel after 7pm to Ghent after all.