31 August 2011

Medical Dramas!!

So what's the latest news from me? No more travel stories I'm afraid and no interesting photographs. Instead after a pretty normal first week back in Galway I've landed myself in hospital! See, I came back from Belgium, where I had been feeling mostly fine though the food there didn't really agree with me. I got straight back to work and after no proper kitchen for two weeks cooked myself a proper meal full of vegetables (no fat because I'm not supposed to have such things) and despite the perfectly healthy meal I had a gallstone attack and was terribly sick! Not only that, but instead of clearing up after a day as usual, I was left all sore and tender all week! But I figured, it would be OK, it would go away. Only it didn't, but I still thought it would be OK and I had an appointment at the hospital for the next Tuesday so I decided I'd just wait it out. But that was not the answer, apparently.

On Sunday I joined in the birthday celebrations of a friend with a trip to the circus! It was a much smaller circus even than those that come round to Invercargill every now and then, and as soon as we walked into the tent we were hit with the strongest reek of animals! The circus was alright though, but I think more enjoyable for children - it was very simple. I think there were no more than 20 people making up the troupe, including the animal handlers. The clown was not so funny as many that I have seen, but for some reason Barney the Dinosaur showed up and he and the clown danced to a Beyonce song. There was a lot of the acrobatics of the type where they climb up a length of fabric, or in one case netting, and wrap it around themselves and turn upside down, spin around and come rolling down. Which is always impressive, but what was most impressive of all that was one girl who took her violin up there with her, and played upside down! That was cool. Then at the end there was something more like a trapeze, with a woman swinging on a rope and doing some cool stuff. I think the nicest part was the little dogs, they were really good, and one skipped with the trainer. They were just so cute and funny. The other animals, they had an ostrich, a camel, zebras and some ponies, they just ran around the ring and that was it. But I guess a lot of people here have not seen such animals so must have been good for them.

After the circus (I was glad it ended because the night was getting quite chilly and the tent was not heated) we went back to a mate's place for homemade pizza, and I had supplied cookies so of course I had some of those. I wasn't feeling great but had been OK all week so had my fingers crossed that I'd be fine. Only that was not to be. I woke in the night sick as a dog and in so much pain - I think it will be a long time before I have cheese again, the smell of it coming back up was the most awful thing! Sorry for the gross out by the way. So anyway, I still thought it would be OK and go away though, as it usually does. I have since been told off thoroughly for not calling somebody sooner though! Finally, later in the morning when I could stand somewhat better I went on down to the hospital because I just couldn't wait till the next day. They kept me in A&E, did blood tests, gave me IV fluids (jabbed a lot of holes in me!). Only here in Ireland the health system is shocking, they are quite understaffed, and A&E waits are terrible. So I, like many others, did not manage to get a proper bed that night and did my best to sleep on a bed in the corridor - not a proper bed but one of those gurney-trolley things that they move you from room to room on. But at least I had that, and was not stuck in a chair all night! I've heard stories of patients being stuck in there 3 nights! Not me though, luckily.

So the next morning I got given an ultrasound, my first one ever! It was interesting, it didn't look like much to me but the technician pointed out my gallbladder and pushed a button to show the blood flow and there was all this colour, he told me it was highly inflammed. Then there were all these little bright specks and he said they were the gallstones. I thought they would be bigger! There were lots of them though. Back in A&E I kept complaining and finally that afternoon was wheeled off to a ward. They finally let me try eating, but then changed their minds. That was OK, I was feeling ill again. They gave me a painkiller but it didn't do much. Much nicer being in a ward though! I have to wear these funny stockings so as to prevent a blood clot and every night they give me an injection in the tummy for the same reason. The doctor told me that they would tell me more in the morning (isn't that always the way!). They turn the lights out at 10 pm here! There is a lamp though so I could keep reading. I am through one giant fantasy novel and nearly finished Jurassic park. I can see myself getting somewhat bored here! Then this morning the lights came on at 8 and I was so confused, I had been sleeping so deep and couldn't figure out what all the light and noise was!

This morning they jabbed even more holes in me, first to take blood and then because my IV line wasn't right and was hurting. The one that is in now is good though, doesn't hurt at all! I guess the blood test didn't show any improvement though because next thing you know the doctors come and tell me that they'd like to keep me a few days and take my gallbladder out on Tuesday! I guess I did not expect such news, I knew it was coming but I didn't think I'd be here so long! I was worried too because next week I was supposed to be at my first big conference, Tuesday was my day to present my research! So in my shock I was not so keen on the whole idea, but of course I just needed time to digest the information. Of course I can back out of the conference, it's far more important to get healthy! Only I will be here for so long! So over the course of today I have managed to get an internet stick, have had visitors, reconnected with the world and been given the OK to eat. After a very strong painkiller, an opiate that slowly but surely left me lightheaded and reeling - I had to have a nap! It made me feel so strange, I think they will not give me so much next time. It's great though, now my tummy mostly doesn't hurt and so I want to eat, and can enjoy the grapes my friends brought me, and lots of vegetables for dinner (no fat diet sadly) and they keep giving me jelly! I am still light-headed but only a little.

So finally all my news is out, it is nice to have the internet and feel like I am part of the real world still. I am expecting visitors shortly, yay! I have beautiful flowers and loads of books and lots of handcream so that I don't pick up that awful hospital smell! I hope the week doesn't drag too much and that I can keep busy, and when I am out there is a plan to go blackberry picking so I have something to look forward too!

27 August 2011

Visiting Brussels

Before returning home to Galway I spent my last day in Belgium visiting Brussels. It was a very warm and wet day, so I had to hide from the rain in shops. Sadly, on this occasion it was not only a lack of money stopping me from shopping but a severe lack of baggage space. I did, however, quite quickly decide that I needed to buy more chocolate to take back as gifts, only I had no bag space. Not lonly that, but the handles of my handbag had broken a couple of days before. So what better reason to buy a new bag? I found one for only 10 euros! It is huge (exactly what I needed for all that chocolate) and very colourful. So other than exploring shops I did my best to explore the city, but I got a bit bored of looking at buildings. I ate too many waffles as well. But anyway, here are some nice buildings. They look more impressive in real life where you can really notice all the decoration and statues. So this one is very gothic-y looking and is called the King's House, but I'm not sure if it ever really was the King's house.

This building was on the Grand Place, something that all belgian cities had, but in this place also called by it's Flemish name, Grote Markt. Very confusing for everything to have two names. It was a large cobbled area surrounded by nice looking old buildings, some decorated with a lot of gold. Full of tourists of course but it was a nice little area. Below is the Town hall, but because of the light in the photo you can't see all of the pretty gold decoration.

After I got bored of shopping and the city centre I went off to find the cathedral, because that is what a tourist does. It was a very large, impressive cathedral, on the top of a little hill so that you can get a nice view of it. The inside was very large with lots of stained glass windows and a huge pipe organ. While on my way to the cathedral I met another tourist, a Chinese girl trying to find the cathedral so we located it together and it was quite nice to have somebody to chat to for an hour. Being a tourist on your own is quite boring, I think the sights would probably be more impressive if there was somebody else to discuss them with.

After the cathedral I found the Royal Palace, in a very roundabout manner, only to find that it was not overly impressive. Some of it was nice, some of it was boring. But generally isn't that the way with a royal palace? A castle might be impressive but a palace is just a big fancy place to live in.

Everything in Brussels was far closer than it seemed on the map so after only a short walk I arrived that the Palais du Justice. Which had a lot of impressive potential with it's big golden dome, but sadly was covered in scaffolding! Isn't that always the way! It was at the top of a bit of a hill, so you could get a view of the city. Except you mainly got a view of boring buildings, which are all tall and blocking the view of the old buildings in the centre of the city. So it wasn't an amazing view but did have an elevator to save you from having to walk back down the hill.

On my way back into the city centre I came across this random piece of old stone wall and tower, in between a couple of normal, modern buildings. There was no information plaque to explain its presence.

Finally, before leaving the city there was one last sight that I had to find. The tour guides and stuff go on about this fountain statue, called the Mannekin Pis, which features a little boy peeing. Now, why this was a must-see I have no idea, it's a pretty common feature of fountains. But I went to find it just the same. It was not so easy to find, because I was expecting something much bigger. I finally figured it out when I cam across a small crowd of people taking photos. The statue itself? Surely only about 30 cm high! I have looked it up to try figure out why it is so famous, and why it is an icon of the city. I did not actually read anywhere that this was the first statue/fountain of its kind but I did read that replicas are common in many parks and gardens. So if all the others are replicas, could it be that this is the first? Though it is not actually because the actual one is in the Town Hall where it can be kept safe, because people keep trying to steal it. Anyway, that was it, the end of my visit. I left with too many waffles in my stomach and lots of chocolate in my bag.

21 August 2011

In Bruges

I'm not really sure to say about Bruges. First of all, I did not much enjoy the movie. Sure it was sort of funny but it was also really slow and somewhat depressing. For another thing, it is actually in the Flemish part of Belgium so when you are there the town is called Brugge. But for the rest of the world it is known by its French name. The place itself is a typical tourist city when seen on a sunny day. It is much larger than Mons, there are many souvinir shops and many chocolate shops and also normal shops of course. There are lots of brick builidings, there are canals and there are loads of people! It was very warm and very sunny. So I spent an entire day in Bruges and you really can have enough of most cities in just one day. You can see the main sites easily enough. If you were on a real holiday to Bruges I'm sure it would be entertaining enough for a few days, there are loads of restaurants and cafes where you can eat outside and just while the day away. But in my few hours there I saw enough, and got very tired. To begin with I found the cathedral, which was easy enough considering that you can see the spire from all over the city.

You have to pay to go into the cathedral. It's not much but then they also say you can't take photos! Everybody else was though, so I did too of course! Inside was nice enough but mainly like any other church or cathedral. It is gothic and full of arches. It was quite large and airy, and had loads of paintings hanging. There is a sculpture there by Michaelangelo, the only one outside of Italy apparently. Mostly though it was just a church and there's not really that much to see.

So after the church I kept on wandering and found brick buildings and courtyards and lots of trees. The canals are nice, except that they are full of boats giving tours. Not nice little canal boats either, big motor boats. It is difficult to take nice photos of the canals and bridges because there are bloody tourists everywhere! This is why you have to be a tourist in the very early hours of the morning, or during the off season. That's how they get the nice postcard pictures. Or maybe they photoshop them. Speaking of postcards, I am glad I have finished with the buying and sending of them because that sort of thing costs me a bloody fortune! Once you add together the postcards and the ridiculous price of international stamps here and then convert it back to NZ dollars I have probably spent around 50 bucks! On postcards! So I hope everybody that get's one appreciates it.

So I kept on wandering and found a market along the canal, with interesting stuff but nothing so amazing as to catch my eye and make me buy it! Next I found a street full of souvinir shops and chocolate shops. There is so much chocolate, and it smells so good, but no free samples! Some shops had just normal chocolates and others had 'artisan' stuff, like this little swan. I also saw a chocolate shoe and chocolate boobs. No picture though, sorry, but I figured we should keep this thing PG.

The next large tower that I came to was the belfry, on the market square. Considering its name, there was actually no market in this square. Lots of restaurants and people though. It was about lunchtime and getting very hot. This belfry you could climb up, so I waited in line for about half an hour in order to get a nice view over the city.

On the way up to the top of the belfry there were rooms to stop and look in. There was one containing the clockwork for the big clock on the outside, which was actually quite cool to see, and also showed the big device for making the bells ring. It was a big wheel that turned in time with the clock and had these bits sticking out of it which hit wires as they turned, which in turn made the bells ring. Like the device in a music box, only much bigger!

So at the top were the bells and windows that you could look out of. Bruges is an okay city to look at - there is not really any amazing landscape to see but the buildings are cute and there are plenty of trees, and it was a nice day. It doesn't take long to get your fill of the view though, so then it is time to make your way back down the narrow staircase while more tourists are also trying to make their way up.

As you can see, it was a very narrow staircase! It widened out down lower though. It has been trod on for so long that the steps are all quite slippery.

So there were a few more things on my list of must sees, most of which as always involve some building or another. There are the old 'hanseatic' buildings, which are not actually entirely authentic because a lot of the very old buildings had fallen into disrepair and have been renovated, but done so in a way that they look as old as possible. This down here is the porter's lodge, because for awhile the canal system made Bruges a very important port. Again they were nice enough looking buildings but all those tourists really get in the way! Not to mention the bright sun screwing up the exposure on my camera.

Finally I went off to find one last church, which was associated with 'almshouses', where nuns live, or used to live, and apparently are nice, quiet, peaceful places. There are pictures in the guidebooks. Only it turns out that they are not actually open to public access anymore. I moved onto another 'must-see', which was a convent-garden inside an abbey. I'm not sure what the big deal was though, it was just a big grassy area with trees, surrounded by brick buildings and a church, with lots of tourists wandering around. So after a bit of a wander and not being impressed by the extreme tranquility of it all (I was, after all, hot and tired, and the place was really just a grassy area) I went off in search of shops and souvinirs. And then my day was done! I was tired of Bruges, it was time to go home and to bed. The trains were awfully crowded, many European women are rather smelly, and there were these silly teeny-boppers on the train with their mp3 players dancing in the middle of the aisle. They were in the middle of the aisle because there were no seats left - I am always amazed over here that they will let a train be so full that the aisles and stairs and bits between carriages are full of people just sitting and standing. Surely that is a safety hazard! Today I am packing, it is very warm and humid and is supposed to storm. Tomorrow I return to Ireland and am looking forward to it!

15 August 2011

Pairi Daiza, a wildlife park

Luckily for me, the weekend that I get to spend in Belgium is a long one so I have been spending this Monday as a tourist. I went to a wildlife park, it was only a 20 minute train ride away, but I missed the train that I intended to take! It was humid and I got all hot and sticky trying to make it there on time and missed it by 30 seconds! The doors locked just as I reached them. So I went back into the station and brought my ticket, to find out that on a positive note the train ride is included in the price of a ticket, so you might as well take the train instead of driving or whatever other option you may have considered. Also I finally found somebody that could inform me of opening hours and learnt that the park was open till 7 so I wasn't too worried about having to take a later train. Only when I arrived it turned out I had dropped my ticket without even realising! Luckily somebody came running after me with it. I felt very silly. Another reason to feel silly - I left my sunscreen in Ireland, no shops are open here on a Sunday or public holiday, and the sun had finally come out. So I am not only exhausted with sore feet (and aching calf muscles from all the stairs I had to climb yesterday!) but I am also a  little sunburnt. How gutting is that?!

But to the point. The first thing that I came across on getting through the gates was the petting zoo. Which I figured out easily enough despite all signage and maps not being in English. For some reason a couple of sheep seemed to think it was OK to be standing inside the trough while snacking.

First impressions of the park were good, aside from the smell, on account of all the animals! There were a lot of gardens, it seemed to really be mostly garden and forest with animals thrown in for good measure. After a lot of walking I got to a high point so could take a picture across the park. Some bits are old historical buildings, I think the place used to be a monastery of some sort. Then there are themed gardens and restaurants, like there's an Indian bit and a Chinese bit and some others.

I think that in almost every zoo that you go too, no matter where, you will find meerkats. But these ones were exceptionally cute, all asleep in a huddle.

Then there were otters that were begging people for food. This one would not go in the water for some reason. They make the funniest noises, sort of like a cat, but more squeaks and squeals. I doubt that people were supposed to be feeding them crackers though.

I found some giraffes that were behaving a little oddly. I think they were in love. I hope that is what it was, otherwise their behaviour was extra-strange. There was a lot of nuzzling, playing footsie, and drinking each other's urine. Of course, it was a lot cuter after they stopped with that last one and just stuck to more PG behaviour.

There was an island with lemurs. I'm not sure if the lemurs were always loose or only at certain times, with the keepers around, but for the time that I was there at least they were all out clambering over people. It started with food - the keepers handed out sultanas and the lemurs just leaped straight for you. There were baby ones too. They did not seem to notice that we were people and not trees, so you would be standing there and suddenly feel a lemur using your back as a jumping platform. After the sultanas were gone one of the little ones had a go at my finger, but it was gentle enough. Their fur was very warm and fuzzy, I think every child there probably wanted to take one home.

By this stage I was getting terribly tired and hot and thirsty. The tourism guides suggest setting an entire day aside for this place, but I don't know how people have that sort of stamina. Maybe if it was a bit cooler, but after all that walking my feet were killing me. Plus I have been to many zoos, so am not generally too phased at missing out on a few animals. I couldn't find everything that the map suggested was there on account of it being all in French and German. Not that the map was actually much of a good one anyway, and appeared to be quite out of date. Either that or they just don't bother to list what enclosures and animals are actually there. And as is always the case when I am at a zoo, it was half under construction. So on my way out I came across the tropical enclosures and had a look at those. They were not much more hot and humid than the air outside, which was good. There were flowers, cacti and birds, on of which was very colourful and I spent a long time trying to take a photo of it.

I decided to skip the aquarium seeing as they don't usually impress me that much. I hope I didn't miss anything spectacular. But generally it usually seems that perhaps the animals in aquariums don't have enough space and would rather not be enclosed. And I was tired. So I walked on by that and checked out the last of the bird-cages. What would you know but they had some kea! Which for some reason seemed to be digging a hole. They don't give boots and tyres and stuff to destroy like the aviarys in NZ do - over here I don't think they realise that kea actually do that. In Vienna that had some at the university and I was chatting to the guy in charge of the research - he was surprised to know that they actually will rip cars to pieces in the wild! You'd think they would know these things, seeing as they study them.

So to end the day, they also had some big Australian birds so here is a blue macaw having a taste of a log. I only spent about 3 hours at the park and am absolutely shattered! The heat is probably largely to blame for that though. I wish it wasn't much too early to go to sleep. Back to work tomorrow, another four days to get my results sorted. Then another weekend to see what Belgium has to offer. Then back to sunny Ireland!

14 August 2011

More of Belgium

I have terribly sore feet. I spent today being a tourist, and first took a train to a town called Dinant. When looking at the tourism websites for a country of course they say that every town and city is wonderful, so it is difficult to know where to go. I chose this place because I read that there were caves full of colourful rock formations. On arriving in Dinant, first impressions were quite favourable as it is quite a small place, on the banks of a river, with great forest covered cliffs looming above it. Much better than just another city. You can see in a single photo a large amount of what this town has to offer - a church and a citadel.

The church, called the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, was actually quite nice. It was very gothic with a lot of carvings and statues and inside was very bright. Only I had forgotten it was Sunday so inside there were a lot of people listening to a sermon. Luckily I managed to arrive right at the end and very shortly they all stood up to sing a response to something in latin, ended with Amen and left quite quickly. There was an organ playing.

So you see the inside is typically gothic with all the arches and pretty windows. It was nicer in real life than in the photo. Then the bells started ringing, and there is really not that much to see in a church so I went on my way. Which happened to be towards a money machine because in a town that is geared for tourists nothing is free! On the upside, a town geared for tourists has nice postcards, and now my huge list of people to send postcards too is beginning to lessen.

After noticing a lot of giant gingerbreads in shop windows I found a wee information board about the city, informing me that Dinant is famous for very hard gingerbread. It looked yummy. Everything was closed though on account of it being Sunday.

So I noticed that on the bridge there were lots of saxophones, all painted differently, so asked at the tourism office what was with that. Turns out that the saxophone was invented in Dinant! So I visited the house of the inventor (I think the only free thing in town) and it had very little in it. It was very small, and had pictures, and some interesting quotes, and a lot of saxophones of all different shapes. Maybe they were not all saxophones.

I also came across an Irish pub named after Galway, oddly enough.

Finally I found a money machine so that I could pay for the privilege of climbing 408 stairs to the citadel. And it wasn't just a token payment either. You would think that the cost would be less for those wanting to walk than for those that take the special elevator thing. Because it turns out that the climb up and the view of the city is the only interesting thing about it. The citadel itself - big empty space. You get to the top and get inside the walls to find a big walled in space, with some old cannons and a little musuem that appeared to be about the history of military school? Being a fortress it of course did not have great windows and balconies with a view across the land.

There was one balcony, so I did manage to get a look across the city. Unfortunately it was overcast today and kept raining (though it was terribly humid and hot!). Still, it is a pretty little town. But the citadel a huge disappointment. I really must find a good castle to go see instead. I was told I could take a bus from Dinant but the man at the station seemed to think that was not the case. I think it would have been another journey of an hour or so though so I decided not to bother.

Going down from the citadel I had to hurry, as I did not want to miss the tour of the caves and wait a whole hour for the next one. The steps were very old; some had strips of metal holding the stones in place. Luckily there was a railing because if you slipped you'd probably only stop when you reached the very bottom. It was nice that there were so many trees.

I made it to the caves in time for the next tour, because it turns out you can't just wander on in by yourself. It is called "Le grotto merveilleuse" and of course supposed to be amazing. Thing is, when you read too many books like I do you are always expecting something so far out of the ordinary that you will always be disappointed. Thanks to the Lord of the Rings, 2nd volume I think, and the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth, I have always wanted to see caves full of sparkly gemstones. Now I don't think that is ever going to happen. But I read that these caves were "colourful" and I expected colour. Of course there is not much in the was of colour underground. The guide was pointing out colours but really it all looks yellowish-white. Apparently there was red-tinged yellowish-white, from the i-ron (yes, the tour guide pronounced the "r", but you can't blame him, English is full of random rules), there was white-blue from the copper and white, from magnesium. Perhaps I should mention that these colours were appearing in the mineralised remains of a very old underground waterful? Which is what you see below. There were also stalactites and stalacmites, so really big ones, and they grow only 1 cm every hundred years so I guess these caves are insanely old. It was really cold down there too. I did not have to duck at all to go through the passages, thanks to being so short. There were many stairs to go down, and then of course when it was all over there were many stairs to go back up, which I again paid for the privilege of climbing. The caves were far more interesting than the citadel.

After the tour of the caves was finished there was a good half hour or so until the next bus out so I went for a walk along the river, to see some big rock, which is apparently of interest because it is really big and cracked right down the middle, which legend has it was split by the hoof of the giant horse Bayard which was carrying four brothers away from the king Charlemagne. But I do not know this history and before getting to this rock, when I could see it in the distance, I decided it wasn't that interested and turned back. On the river I saw what appeared to be a small prefab building floundering in circles. I think it was some sort of advertisement, and I think it was purposefully doing such a bad job at floating.

I missed my bus out of Dinant because, while I did get there just on time, the bus was leaving, and I was not certain it was my bus because the destination of the front did not say the right place name. Although I think it did, just not in the language I was expecting. Many places here have two names, or even three, due to there being multiple national languages. So I had to wait an hour. It was still hot and humid and I was tired by this stage so I went to a cafe by the river, got ice-cream because even when I intend on getting an orange juice or something like that I always end up getting ice-cream, and filled in postcards. I made it to the next bus on time and went to a city called Namur. Which also had a citadel, which you can see in the photo below, taken from a bridge across the river Sambre.

This citadel did not charge for entry, it is huge and more like a big hilltop park. There are roads in it and some small, specialised workshops. There was one that did ceramics and metalwork, and a perfumerie. There were other things of course but for one, it being Sunday most stuff was closed, and two, I couldn't be bothered really exploring. The map was in French. I already knew there was a perfumerie and headed straight there. Only you don't get to see it all being made unless you pay for a tour, which of course isn't on at that time of a Sunday evening. The place smelled really good though. On the way up the citadel there were lots of opportunities for a good view of the city, which was quite a nice city to view.

It helped that the sky was clearing, there were ple and that there were rivers running through the city - they always make a place look prettier. Still, the buildings all look the same, and I think I liked the architecture in Germany better, and the Viennese buildings best of all.

I don't really know what views I was taking pictures of seeing as most the information was in French. This seemed to be a different river, heading out of the city into a valley. Apparently Namur is the city of valleys and is surrounded by lots of walks and hikes to go on, if you are in the place for a decent length of time. Shame there are not such things so close to Mons.

Getting back out of the citadel was more difficult, as the signposts had no words, just colours. The colours indicated particular routes that were laid out on the little map I had but such things are difficult to follow when you have no idea where you are in the first place. I finally found my way out and then figured out where in the city I was. It was time to have a look at the city before catching my train back to Mons. There were several churches, the most interesting of which (in my opinion that is) was stuck in a narrow street with a building right across from it, getting in my way of taking a good photo. Why do they put other buildings so close to big nice-looking buildings so that you can't stand back and have a proper look? This is the Saint-Loup Church.

I also came across a wig shop. I thought I would mention this because it is not such a common everyday sort of a thing. In fact I have never seen a shop dedicated to wigs before.

In one of the "places" (I guess that's like plaza, piaza, square, whatever) there was this odd group of statues. I have no idea what it means. There is a big snail and a smaller snail in a cage. I read something along the lines of it being a joke that the snail is the icon of the city because everything there is slow and leisurely. Perhaps it has something to do with that? Who would know. It is late and I am very tired after my long day. Tomorrow I would like to go to a wildlife park that I heard about, only the website does not tell me whether it is open on a public holiday or not. So I am assuming that it is. Fingers crossed. But now further computer use for the evening may prove difficult because my mouse-clicker button has finally completely given up on me - it appears to be stuck clicked-down and will not un-click back up. I think I should just go to bed.

12 August 2011

A week in Mons

Actually, not even a week yet. I arrived on Monday and it is now Friday evening. I'd say my first impressions of Mons were pretty much correct - it is small and quiet. Despite that, it does seem to have many more shops than Galway. Everything is old, the streets are cobbled, which makes walking places a bit more of a challenge than usual. Everybody speaks French, which I don't speak a word of, so for me at least things are very quiet. I am getting a lot of work done, which is good. I found a secondhand bookstore which had English books, which is also good. Now it is the beginning of a three day weekend and I must entertain myself somehow. I think I have already seen the sights of Mons - there are not many of them. Perhaps there are museums or something, but I'm not really interested in that. So tomorrow I will stay in Mons, have a relaxing day, see if there is anything more to see, and find the train station to ask about trains and busses. There is a wildlife park, I'm not sure how far away, but I would like to see it. Then there are other towns and cities, so I have made a small list. For this weekend I think I will try to see a small town called Dinant, which has a citadel and some big caves, and there is a big castle which is apparently nearby - I'm not so sure that it is so close but we will see. I hope that absolutely everything will not be closed due to the long weekend. It has been incredibly difficult to find postcards in Mons and what I did find were out-of-date and ugly. I hope that in another place there will be more for a tourist like myself.

Today my computer is acting up, and doesn't seem to be very happy. Especialy the mouse-clicker button. So now that I have finally managed to upload some photos of Mons I am not going to attempt to change the order of them at all. I will just leave them as they are. Here are three things that appear to be most of what Mons has to offer. There are also a lot of old buildings, but after a while they all look the same, a lot of cobbled streets, also all look the same and a lot of churches with towers and dome-like tops. Maybe the lack of tourist-attracting variety explains the lack of good postcards? Anyway, this first photo is the belfry, which is the only baroque belfry in Belgium and has 49 bells (they sound quite nice, they all chime separately, much better than Galway Cathedral's recording of bell chimes).

The belfry is on a hill and is the highest point in Mons. From the gardens around it you can see over the city. Like most cities, it is not a very exciting view. Just rooftops. Old, interesting rooftops, but still quite dull. 

Very near to the belfry is the next big monument of Mons, the St Waltrude Collegiate Church. I don't mean to sound dismissive, but really it is just another church. I think I need to get out into the countryside instead because all these churches and cathedrals no longer interest me. It is a big stone building, it has some pretty details, and apparently the oldest stained glass windows. I'm am not sure what exactly they are older than. The little tourism guide I was given is not overly specific. It is a gothic style church, and inside are many paintings and statues, which don't generally make a lot of impression on me if there is nobody around to explain the significance of it all. It was mostly like other churches I have been in, but sort of lighter and airier, not so tall and quiet and dim.

I'm not sure if this was the front or the back of the church. It was hard to say, there were doors on three sides. I think it is the side, actually, that you enter from the side and not the front in general for some reason because the front door seemed somewhat perpetually closed. The back of the church is nicer than the front, it is rounded and has lots of bits. The front is just big and flat and square.

So from near the church we have another view of the belfy, sticking up above the other buildings. It is quite a nice tower really, and has shiny gold bits on the top.

Finally we have the last big thing, the city hall in what is called the Grand Place, like the square in the city centre. It is a big cobbled area with a lot of cafes and these big old buildings that make up all the official parts of the city. The town hall itself is the nicest part. I have seen pictures of the Grand Place with big flowering gardens in front of the town hall but I guess they must not have been permanent. Would make for a nicer picture. There is a fountain, the type that is just holes in the ground that water comes shooting out of, and there were children playing in it then lying on the warm cobblestones to dry. There are plenty of trees all around the city, which is nice. It is lucky I went out in the sun to take photos though because now it is overcast and rainy.