August 29, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 28: Brave Soldiers and Broken Steps

    June 23, 2014-  Metz on a work day is quieter along the river, but no less frenetic about the streets and alleys.  I was given to overthinking about certain directions I was given, before finding the store where I could get the laundry soap I so desperately needed, with eight days worth of dirty clothes.  It’d be the last chance I had to get the clothes done, before heading back to the States on Sunday, since Frankfurt’s laundries pretty much shut down at 8 PM, Friday night.  So, thanks to ResidHome, a big headache was made less.

    Walking back along Avenue Foch, towards the University District, I saw more activity than on Sunday (Photo courtesy of marc.metz.moselle.eklablog.com)

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    You can see that this rather industrialized city goes to considerable lengths to maintain beauty.  Now, let’s look at Saint-Pierre aux Nonnaines, near the Water Park, which I visited on June 22.  The young lady minding the church waited for me to complete my meanderings, before closing up and heading for the rest of her day.  This never ceased to touch my heart- the way the students who kept watch over tourist sites went out of their way to accommodate.  At any rate, this edifice began life in 380 AD, as a Roman gymnasium.  It was converted into a church in the Seventh Century.  Since 1970, it has been Metz Water Park’s concert hall.(Photos, courtesy of en.wikipedia.org)

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    My next stop, in Coeur de Ville, the Heart of Old Metz, was Temple Neuf,which overlooks the Moselle. This German Lutheran church was built in 1904, while Lorraine was under German rule. (Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt).

    Temple Neuf

    Having spent time around Metz Cathedral on Sunday evening, I focused the rest of my time in Coeur de Ville checking out L’Opera Theatre and reading my e-mails, courtesy of Nicolas, the kind clerk at Metz Tourist Office.  Below, is L’Opera Theatre. (Photo courtesy of tout-metz.com)

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    It was lunch time, as  I left Coeur de Ville, and headed into the University District.  “Boogie Burger”, a tiny, new emportee (take-out) establishment, fit my mood perfectly.  I selected my second, and last, American-style cheeseburger and frites of the trip, and found a nice picnic spot along the Moselle.  It was a bit of a challenge finding a spot that was not within eyesight of couples trying for a few minutes of mid-day privacy, but I did find it, and reveled in the quiet warmth.

    Walking along the bridges and alley, west of the University of Lorraine au Metz, I came upon Le Pont des Morts, so named because it was built in the thick of Metz’s being ravaged by the Black Plague. You can spot Temple Neuf and Metz Cathedral, to the north and west, respectively. (Photo courtesy of http://www.metz.fr)

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    I made a brief visit to the campus of the University of Lorraine au Metz, just to get a feel for the ambiance of a collegiate setting in France.  Many people were about outside, as it seemed to be the tail-end of the lunch hour, which in France is still nearly two hours. (Photo courtesy of poncelet.sciences.univ-metz.fr)

    University of Lorraine at Metz

    The route to the great towers and ramparts of northwest Metz took me past three more houses of worship.

    First was L’Eglise Saint-Vincent.  This Gothic church is, along with Metz Cathedral, a reminder of the three-hundred years when Metz was a Free City, within the German Confederation.(Photo courtesy of saintvincentmetz.wordpress.com)

    L'Eglise Saint Vincent,Metz

    The next house of worship was the Synagogue de Metz, built in 1609.  Louis XIV visited this temple, with his younger brother, in 1657. The future Louis XVIII would visit there as well, prior to the social conflagration which led to his brother’s and sister-in-law’s deaths.  (Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)

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    L’Eglise Sainte Segolene, named for an Albigensian Christian, Segolene, who preached a gospel of simplicity and fervour, in Metz, during the Thirteenth Century, was itself built in 1250, on the site of an earlier chapel.  (Photo courtesy of  edifices.religieux.free.fr)

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    As I did not enter any of these buildings, and want to keep this as authentic an account of my own sojourn, in the absence of my photos, let us continue onward, to Le Tour des Esprits, and the Ramparts.  Here, I encountered small groups of families, enjoying an early day of summer vacation. The largely Roma, North African and Congolese residents of this area, and of the apartments near Bellecroix, view outsiders with a fair amount of suspicion.  It was with surprise and relief, therefore, that a woman whose child had tossed a soccer ball outside the fenced play area, saw me waiting a safe distance away, while she went and retrieved the ball.

    First, you see the Rampart Walk, along the moat built by the Council of Metz, to keep out raiding neighbours, in the chaotic Thirteenth Century. (Photo courtesy of marc.metz.moselle.eklablog.com)Les Remparts des Esprits   The walls, of course, were more formidable.  This is Tour des Esprits. (Photos courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)        640px-Metz_-_tour_des_Esprits-2               Tour_des_esprits_Metz_513

    Commons.wikimedia.org also offers this view of Pont des Griles de la Basse Seille, the bridge which connects Tour des Esprits with the rest of the fortress.

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    As you can imagine, I was one of five or six visitors who got up on the ramparts and followed the walkway, as well as going down and exploring the moat path, until it was blocked by a medieval wall.

    Here is a view of Tour du Diable, the easternmost segment of this fortress.

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    I proceeded to Tour des Chandeliers, one of the towers built by guild members, to safeguard their trades.  The candlemakers put up this impressive fortification. (Photo courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org)

    Tour des Chandeliers

    Now for the piece de resistance of the Metz Ramparts:  Le Port des Allemandes.  This magnificent structure was built by the Knights Teutonic, an order of health care providers, who offered a hospice nearby, as the area dealt with the aftermath of Black Plague.  The bridge spans the Seille River, which flows into the Moselle, a bit further to the south and west.  I was not permitted to enter the fortress, for safety reasons.  There seemed to be a fair amount of renovation going on. (Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)

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    After tooling around in the woods between east Metz’s business center and the apartments just north of Bellecroix, I got as close to the hilltop fortress, as current conditions allowed.  The stairs to the hilltop were broken, and a length of yellow “Interdit” tape stretched across the base.  So, here are some views of the wall’s base. (Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.com)

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    (Photo courtesy of stewdgm.wordpress.com)Bellecroix

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    This narrow portal connects the old road to Bellecroix with the housing schemes to the north and east.  It is the south gate of Double Couronne, the twin crowns, or fortresses of Moselle and Bellecroix. (Photo courtesy of structurae.net)Bellecroix Porte

    My visit to Metz was coming to an end, but, as you can see, it was a full one.  I will leave off with two final photos:  Place Saint-Louis, where the young and restless unwind, after a day or work or study, and a shot of one of the apartment megaplexes, where the poor and struggling look out towards Bellecroix, and wonder who would defend them, in time of danger.  It is in pondering these scenes, and being confronted briefly by some children who were wondering why I was in their neighbourhood, while en route to Bellecroix (“Monsieur, the other whites are not nice to us here.  We must be wary.”), that gave me pause to consider the depth of the camaraderie I saw in places like Paris and Rennes. (Photo below courtesy of commons.wikimedia.com)

     

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    (Photo courtesy of bellx-57070.skyrock.com)The homes of the masses, Metz

     

    I fully intend to return to Metz, and Strasbourg, take more photos and listen further to the voices of the dispossessed.  It is, after all, what Aimee Cesaire would want a world citizen to do.  Besides, American soldiers did stand for the people of Metz, in 1944.  They were the Iron Men of Metz, from the 95th Infantry Division. (Photo courtesy of en.tracesofwar.com)

    11-01-11 Metz US Memorial

August 27, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 27: Rousing Send-off, Cautious Welcome

    June 22, 2014- Today is the 28th anniversary of my father’s passing.  I think he is pleased that I was able to visit the home city of his paternal ancestors:  Rouen.  He would also approve of my visit to Luxembourg, a small, hard-working city of unpretentious people. I started the day with another visit to Luxembourg’s Baha’i National Centre.  This time, I met the caretaker and was allowed to take some time to pray and meditate in the large meeting room, although it was officially closed.

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    He graciously took me over to the home of another Baha’i family, for a devotional gathering, followed by a delicious brunch. I was very much touched by the melodious voices of the Baha’i youth, who joyfully sang their prayers and devotional tunes.  We all joined in chanting “Allah’u’abha” (“God is the All-Glorious”),and several adults said prayers in French, Portuguese, Persian and Magyar.  Yes, I said a prayer in English, for the success of an upcoming gathering at the Baha’i House of Worship, in Frankfurt, which I would visit later in the week.  Here is the group, my finest Luxembourgian friends.

    The chef, sixth from left, prepared an exquisite meal for us

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    So, my friends in Nashville, John and Mary, that is the REAL reason I went to Luxembourg :)

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    After the brunch, Madame showed me her prolific garden.  I gladly accepted a bag full of sour cherries, from this tree.

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    The back yards are long and narrow, but every centimeter is put to good use.

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    With this lovely send-off, I was driven back to Hotel Vauban, and made my way to the train station.  I was soon en-route to Metz, capital of Lorraine.  It did  not take more than an hour to get there. The train station in Metz is majestic. ( If you sense a difference in the quality of the photo, it’s unfortunately very simple.  My photos from Metz to my departure from Frankfurt were lost in a mishap with the computer.  I will be accrediting the photos that are not watermarked, as I am borrowing them from Google.)

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    (Above, courtesy of @ arielbravy.com.)

    (Below,courtesy of ResidHome, LLC.)

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    I walked at a brisk pace down the road a bit, to ResidHome-Metz, a large, modern hotel, which seems to cater to single male workers.  The desk staff is courteous, but firm with the rules.  The young women who are chambermaids are attentive to their tasks, but want no contact with the male guests.  This could very well be the fruit of some rather nefarious acts, in times past.  All I wanted there was exactly what I received:  Professional courtesy.

    I had lots of daylight left, so the destination was first Avenue Foch, named for the great French commander of World War I, then to the banks of the Moselle and its canals. Here are some of the row houses, which accommodate immigrant workers, along Avenue Foch.  (Photo courtesy of forum.skyscraperpage.com)

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    Metz Cathedral,by day and night, is a spectacle worthy of an hour or more.  I had the former, and again was most impressed. (Photo courtesy of panoramio.com.)

     

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    (Above photo, courtesy of hdrcreme.com.)    (Below, courtesy of en.wikipedia.com)

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    Let’s go down to the Citadelle, and along the banks of the Moselle and its network of barge canals.  It seemed much of Metz was there, on that bright, beautiful Sunday afternoon and evening.  I enjoyed a kebab sandwich, ice cream cone and mineral water, amusing the college-student servers with my earnest, but halting French.  The furtive young couples in the Citadelle did appreciate my quick exiting their little nooks. (Photo courtesy of fodors.com)

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    Fathers and sons were fishing.  Teen boys were pestering teen girls.  A toddler was in awe of the swans and ducks, which were prolific along the Moselle.  Bicyclists were also prolific and moving with a purpose that reminded me of Ghent and its jam-packed sidewalks.  The bridges were certainly jam-packed in Metz.

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    (Photo below, courtesy of flickr.com)

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    (Photo below, courtesy of indigoguide.com)metz

     

    I made a  mental note to explore the university quarter and old city more thoroughly, as well as going up to Bellecroix, on Monday.  It would be one of my longest and most intense days of this journey.  Today, though, had been a pleasant day among many carefree Lorraignais.

     

August 25, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 26: An Old City Stands and Cheers

    June 21, 2014-   It was the Solstice!  How to ring in the Summer?  For me, there was no better way than to walk down to the Alzette River, passing the three segments of the old fortress district of Luxembourg-Ville along the way. The path to these magnificent sites passes along Rue Marche des Herbes.14993102801_082c2a9077_b

    The walker passes Luxembourg’s Palais de Justice.

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    Around the corner is L’Eglise Saint-Michel, honouring the Archangel.

     

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    Then comes Rocher de Bock.  This is the oldest area of Luxmbourg-Ville, having been built  by Count Sigefroy, on the site of an old Roman castellum, in 963 AD.

     

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    This is a view of a casement, under the Bock.

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    From the Bock, a viaduct, built first by the Romans, then restored by the Spanish, still shows usefulness.

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    The “new Luxembourg” of the Europe Center is visible in the distance.14973198366_6339fe710b_n

     

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    Ville-Basse, the lower city, has its vibrance and trendiness, much as do the city centre and Quartier Gare, both in Ville- Haute.

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    Maybe Not Bob’s is an eatery that has been open for 21 years.  The name comes from a compromise between the two owners.  One wanted to call it Maybe’s and the other, Bob’s.  So they disagreed in the middle, but continued to serve good food, or so I’m told.  I saved my appetite for New Color’s, later that evening.14809570808_bd872795ef_n

     

    On I went, past the confluence of the tiny Pertrusse with the moderately-flowing Alzette, towards Wenceslas Wall.

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    The Alzette offers a short, but tranquil, walk in shady woods.

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    Then, the woods clear, and the Spanish Turrets (Tres Tours) of Wenceslas Wall let us know why this city was called Gibraltar of the North.14809568318_d709ced914_h

     

    Wenceslas was an early Duke of Luxembourg, allied with the Spanish, during the days when Spain was ruled by the Hapsburgs.  His wall was intended to keep out the French.  This worked until the War of the Reunions, which I mentioned in the previous post.  Vauban, who led the french to victory, left his own fortress.

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    There is a third fortress, Thungen, in the Kirschberg District, but I did not get over that way, this time.

    Instead, I circled around and took in Ville-Basse’s small but scintillating garden.

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    After this brief respite, it was back up to Ville-Haute, past the area where the Wenceslas and Vauban strongholds blend.14814493190_a95ea58ebe_h

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    New Color’s is a brasserie, built by some of the employees of Color’s, a now defunct eatery, which ruled the Luxembourg dining scene for several years, or again, so I’m told.  All I know is that this new establishment provided a delectable five-course meal, and has one of the most energetic staffs I’ve seen anywhere.  I was the first dinner guest, and by the time I left, there was zero room on the patio.  Hugo became a friend, and I gave my payment standing up, so that he and his wife would not lose four guests, for whom mine was the closest table to being available.

    Then, the show was about to start.  Luxembourg Philharmonic presented an evening of Disney and movie themes.14814835467_d5facf1e74_n

     

     

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    The Orchestra ended its performance at 10 PM.  In Place d’Armes, however, Dany Kohll and Maxim were just getting started.

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    Graceful Mme. Kohll and her troupe, which includes her husband, Felix Schaber, a horn virtuoso, kept everyone gleeful, with a mix of pop, show, blues and rock anthems.  We all got to join in for “Silly Sally” and Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home”, with which Dany sent everyone home, right at Midnight.

    This was the most eclectic day of my journey, certainly, and what an honour to have been able to take part in the little nation’s big weekend.  By the way, the Duke whose birthday is the basis for this celebration was the first Grand Duke of an independent Luxembourg:  Adolphe I.

    NEXT:  Morning in Luxembourg, Evening in Metz.

    ( I must let everyone know, all the photos taken during thr last week of my time in Europe were lost yesterday, in a computer mishap.  I am looking into long-shot possibilities for restroing the SIM card, or extracting the photos, but Best Buy says its impossible.  The remaining posts, therefore, will have accredited photos by other sources.)

     

August 23, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 25, Part II: LX is More!

    June 20, 2014-  I arrived at Luxembourg-Ville’s Central Train Station around 4:30, on this overcast, but cool, Friday

    afternoon.  It being rush hour, the streets were filled with people in suits needing to be somewhere, yesterday, tourists

    looking for hotels, street people looking for coins and observers of human nature, like me, taking it all in.  This is one of

     

    Europe’s most densely-populated countries, and one of its most expensive- sort of a land-locked, French-speaking Rhode Island.  It quickly became one of my favourites.  I happened upon Luxembourg as it revved up for the Grand Duke’s Birthday, the country’s National Day.

     

     

     

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    After some twenty minutes of navigating, on Luxembourg-Ville’s excellent bus system and on foot through the city centre, I found Place Guillaume II, and my hotel, Le Vauban, named for the great military commander of Seventeenth Century France, Sebastien de Vauban. He broke the siege of Luxembourg, in 1684, making the Grand Duchy a nominal satellite of France, until 1697, when it passed again to the influence of the Holy Roman Empire (the conglomerate of duchies and small kingdoms which occupied what is now Germany).  The back story of all this is that France and Spain were fighting in what is called the War of the Reunions, mainly over which royal family, the Bourbons or the Hapsburgs, would control the Rhine, the Danube and their tributaries.  These included the Moselle and the Alzetter, which flow through Luxembourg.  The fortress city overlooked the Alzette, making its strategic value quite high.

    Anyway, here is Hotel Le Vauban.  Many people in the hospitality field in Luxembourg come from elsewhere, and many commute from Arlon, and other nearby towns in Belgium.  “Florine”, our maid, came from Guinea.  Our desk clerk, “Marco”, is from Portugal.

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    Place Guillaume II is named for Grand Duke Guillaume II, who ruled during the mid- 19th Century.  Prior to then, it was a Franciscan monastery, until the French Jacobins chased the monks out, in 1797.  Thus, the place, in Letzebergsch, is called Platz Kneudler, or Place of Knots, after the knots tied in the sashes worn by Franciscan monks.  Letzebergsch is a dialect of Middle German, spoken only in Luxembourg, and is the country’s second language, after French.

    Guillaume II overlooks his square, which is the centerpiece of many national celebrations.  Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra would perform here on Saturday night, as you will see.

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    I spent a couple of hours walking around the government district, just east of the Place.  Here is the Chamber of Deputies, where Luxembourg’s Parliament meets.

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    The government buildings, and nearby Luxembourg Cathedral, are tightly packed, and thus easy to defend.

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    Here is the front of Notre Dame de Luxembourg.

     

     

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    As the armed guard indicates, this is the Ducal Palace.SAM_1509

     

    This performance artist portrayed Jeanne d’Arc.  She was less than amused by those who took her for a statue.  It must have been a long day, under the greasepaint.SAM_1614

    I was very much taken by the city’s affection with cones.

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    L’Eglise Saint-Michel honours the Archangel.

     

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    All is not stone and plaster, however.  Luxembourg has three grand parks:  Ed Klein, Pertrusse and Kirchberg.  Below is a smaller park, between Place Guillaume II and Hamilius Bus Station.

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    At Place d’Armes, preparations were being made for the weekend’s festivities.  This totem pole is an indication of the country’s, and the region’s, fascination with indigenous cultures of other nations.

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    As with any great event, balloons were here in abundance, as well.

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    As the daylight faded, around 9:30 PM, I headed to Place de la Gare, to see what was happening in the business district.

    There was a carnival in full swing.  When was the last time you saw an old-fashioned carnival, in the middle of a national capital?  This was just awesome, seeing families and delighted children having clean fun together.  I thoroughly relished the Red Hot sandwich and limeade, from a Portuguese sausage vendor.

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    With this as a greeting, I headed back to the hotel, knowing that breakfast on the patio would soon signal another lovely day.  Great things lie hidden in small packages, and in mini-states.

    NEXT UP:  Old Luxembourg

August 21, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 25: Mardasson and the Seven Roads to Hell

    June 20, 2014-  Of all the battles fought against the Nazis and their collaborators in World War II, none was more necessary, or difficult, than the Battle of the Ardennes.  Hitler was obsessed with the low mountains of eastern Belgium, and with Bastogne in particular.  It is said he visited the occupied town, at least once.

    The Allied Forces liberated Bastogne, in November, 1944.  Less than a month later, the German Army struck back, as the tired Allies prepared to celebrate Christmas, and to send some troops to Paris for the holidays.  The German goal was to recapture Bastogne and Namur, and push up the Meuse Valley, clear to the Port of Antwerp.

    At the eastern edge of the town of Bastogne, there is this homage to those who stopped that advance:

     

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    American and British forces, helped by Belgian partisans, kept the encircled Bastogne from being overrun.  This is the miracle of the “Battle of the Bulge”, and would be the final turning point in the defeat of the Nazi regime.

    I walked the two kilometers to the Mardasson Memorial.  It honours those American troops who helped make real the response of General Anthony McAuliffe, to the German surrender ultimatum; “Nuts!”.  All fifty states, and all units invovlved in the defense of Bastogne, have their names engraved in this splendid memorial.  As it happened, I met a Mr. McAuliffe, of Massachusetts, and distantly-related to the general, who had been at the battle, serving with the 87th Infantry Division.  His story, and those of several men from Ohio, who were there during the siege as well, having served with the 101st Airborne Division, mightily augmented the awful beauty of this terrible, but ultimately blessed, series of events.

    I present to you Mardasson Memorial:

     

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    There is a crypt, on the day I visited closed to the public, which contains the remains of many who died in the days of the battle.  An American Cemetery nearby holds many others.  A German Cemetery is also nearby, underscoring that even those in service to the wicked are themselves viewed as worthy of respect, in death.  I stood at a bunker, from which American soldiers looked out at the encircling enemy troops.

     

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    On a clear day, one can see well into the Wiltz Valley of nearby Luxembourg.

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    Climbing to the top level of Mardasson Memorial, I could see still further.

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    A detailed description of Mardasson is offered, in French.

     

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    The memorial also offers a five-panel listing of the Divisions and Units involved in the successful defense of the town of Bastogne.  After reading several of those, it was time to visit the Bastogne Historical Center, or “War Museum”.

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    Each of us put on a headset, which described the events as recollected by those present, in our native language.  There were four accounts, dovetailing with each other, as we proceeded:  An American lieutenant, a German soldier, a Belgian teacher and one of her students.  They all ended up in the boy’s parents’ tavern.  The harrowing several days in that crowded safe haven, in the cold of winter, can not be minimized.  The German became a prisoner of the Americans, and told of having been treated with utmost respect and attention paid to his wounds.  The actual soldiers both revisited Bastogne a few times, with their families, after the war had ended.

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    A Sherman tank is presented here as well.

     

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    Outside Mardasson, there are two small memorials to those who gave their all to the battle. This is the honouring of Combat Command B.

     

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    A second memorial honours Belgian Corporal Emile Cady, who gave his life in the initial defense of Bastogne, in 1940.

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    The spirit of both efforts is best exemplified by this sculpture, which honours the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.

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    Bastogne, and its determination to honour those who kept it safe, in the darkest days of war, are well-kept in mind, and well-worth visiting, to all who would recognize that “Freedom isn’t Free”.  My heart was touched by many experiences and people in Belgium.  I am glad, and blessed, for having been among the Flemish, the Walloons, and all those from other parts of the world who have found their way to this beautiful and time-tested crossroads. I walked back to Bastogne, collected my bags, enjoyed a late lunch, served by yet another lovely lady, and was guided to the “early” bus by a friendly, but intoxicated, Bastognais. It would soon be time to board the country bus, which would take me to Arlon, where I would board a train for the short ride to Luxembourg-Ville, and its National Day weekend. Thank you, Brugge, Ghent, Brussels- and Bastogne.  It was a pleasure.

August 20, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 24, Part II: Leo at Home and Le Loup Garou

    June 19, 2014- I got off the bus, at the now shuttered Gare de Bastogne, in mid-afternoon.  A college student sitting outside directed me to Place McAuliffe, a scant 200 meters to the east.  General Anthony McAuliffe was the American commander who, when informed of a German ultimatum to surrender at Bastogne, replied, “Nuts!”, and kept his forces in the fight.  Thus, the Battle of the Ardennes, or “Battle of the Bulge” was fought, and eventually won, by the Allies.

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    This small park, in the center of Bastogne, features a round Visitors’ Center, and a Sherman tank.

     

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    Some kids were being helped by their father to climb up for a closer look.  I was more interested, at that point, in taking my bags over to my hotel, which has the captivating name, Leo At Home.  It was a few steps away, in Bastogne’s solid business center.SAM_1351

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    As it happened, the town was hosting another of  its regular Youth Fests. Teens and young adults from all over Wallonia were there, gathering in the town’s main park, and at brasseries throughout the city centre.

     

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    The park is as nicely landscaped as any in Belgium.

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    Along the main street, Bastogne has such attractions as the Bastogne Pig Museum.

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    There are an American Indian Museum and Bison Ranch, on the south side of town.  I didn’t go there, but it is popular with Europeans, including the surprising number of Germans who visit the battle site.  Bastogne keeps its war-related in-town historical sites in good order.  Here is L’Eglise Saint Pierre, where many took refuge during the siege of 1944.

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    The town has its own memorial to those who worked to defend it, and the Ardennes, in those harrowing days.

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    An old farm woman who donned a helmet is memorialized in this sculpture.

     

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    The most moving symbol of the town’s fortitude and resilience, though, is Porte de Treves, adjacent to L’Eglise Saint Pierre. This is the sole remaining portion of the wall which once surrounded Bastogne.

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    The eerie light which highlight’s the entrance to the gate came to mind later, when I checked out the bicycle path that runs from Bastogne, north to Liege, or east, to the Luxembourgian town of Wiltz.

     

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    It is there, on a moonlit night, that local legend says one will encounter Le Loup Garou.

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    The story of the werewolf, and other legends of the Ardennes, is told at Musee de Piconrue, in an old convent, across from the bicycle path.  Bastogne was nonetheless quite lively, with various war buffs and young adults from all over, staying at the Leo corporation’s two hotels.  The concern also operates a fine restaurant, in a refurbished train car.  There, I enjoyed sea bass and new potatoes, while being closely observed by two little girls there with their parents. “Yes, this my darlings, is how one properly uses a fish knife and fork.”

    NEXT:   Navigating “The Seven Roads to Hell”.

August 18, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 24: Brussels to Bastogne

    June 19, 2014-  La Brabantiere, standing straight in this north Brussels square, signals the resolve of the Belgian. SAM_1307

    Frequently viewed as a hybrid people, because of the relatively modern establishment of their country, Belgians are making an intense, honest and often raucous effort at nation-building.  To some outside observers, it almost seems like the nation is ripe for a split.  I see a country that is no more likely to fall apart than is Canada, Switzerland or the U.S., for that matter.  The Flemish and the Walloon French are each a hard-working, proud and stubborn people, with solid pasts and vibrant, rambunctious and highly intelligent youth.  They will argue and bump heads, so to speak, but these people came together by choice, mainly to break away from their three larger, overbearing neighbours:  France, Germany (then Prussia and Westphalia) and the Netherlands.  They accepted the German Saxe-Cobourgs as their royal house, and have built a genuine national culture.  Brussels reflects that blend.

    I began the day at L’Eglise Notre Dame des Bon Secours, whose Roma caretaker slyly accepted “tips”.  She keeps a clean house, so I obliged a few euros.

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    This unidentified piece evoked Munch’s “The Scream”.

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    For some reason, Vasco da Gama has found his way in here.

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    I felt blessed enough to continue my journey, heading up to north Brussels, for a brief visit to the new Baha’i National Centre of Belgium.

    The Walloon caretaker, and the Flemish secretary and treasurer are all best of friends, as is the Baha’i way.  Jacquo is a skilled engineer and craftsman, who did the bulk of the renovation to this lovely center.

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    Toos and Yolande keep the operation running smoothly.

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    The watchful eyes of Baha’ullah’s sons always guarantee that we place His Teachings first and foremost, especially in matters of Faith.

    Mirza Mihdi died young, in a tragic fall through a skylight, in the mid- Nineteenth Century.

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    ‘Abdu’l-Baha lived to oversee His Father’s Faith, after Baha’ullah passed, and traveled extensively in Egypt, Europe and North America, from 1911-13.  He passed in 1921.  ‘Abdu’l-Baha never visited Belgium, but He is revered by Baha’is everywhere.

    After a cup of tea with the ladies, I bid farewell to this beautiful center,and was soon on a train out of Brussels, headed east.

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    I managed a shot of Brussels Cathedral, from the train.

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    I hope to someday come back to the Belgian capital, and savour more than the glimpse of these scenes.

    The next thing I knew, though, I was headed through the east of Brabant.

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    Namur, in western Wallonia, was not a station stop, but the train slowed own enough for me to get these scenes.

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    The Meuse River flows out of the Ardennes, towards Antwerp.  It seems to split Namur in half.

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    We headed into the rolling hills of the Ardennes region.

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    The route took us past enticing little villages, like Jetelle.

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    You can see that, as we got further inland, the air became clearer and bluer.

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    By mid-afternoon, the train arrived at Libramont, where those of us headed either to Bastogne, or the European Space Center, got off to transfer to buses.

    My bus came about forty minutes after we got off the train.  The rest of the people in my car were from London, and were off for a weekend at ESC.SAM_1341

    I will devote the next two posts to Bastogne, the little town which roared back at Nazi Germany,during and after the Battle of the Ardennes (“Battle of the Bulge”).

August 16, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 23: Old Masters and Older Conflicts

    June 18, 2014- This day, I resolved to explore the royal aspects of life In Brussels, as much as possible.  Also on the agenda was a visit to the Baha’i National Centre of Belgium, which was listed as being  a bit north of the Royal Palace.  First, though, I searched for a cybercafe, as, if you recall, this trusty laptop of mine was on the blink.  My query produced gales of laughter at a self-styled “chic bakery”, but the Discover Flanders tourist office proved helpful, and an hour was spent catching up on the words and wisdom of my g-mail correspondents.

    To start my walkabout, I left the area around Grand Place, after helping a group of school kids from Germany identify a landmark or two.  Crossing Place Albertine and the area near La Gare Centrale, I came upon gurgling fountains,

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    a demure Queen Elisabeth of Belgium,

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    a stern King Albert,

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    Don Quixote with SanchoPanza,SAM_1306

    and a gleeful Smurf.

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    The steps past La Bibliotheque Royale de Belgique led to the first of three lovely gardens.

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    Brussels is a constant interplay between concrete desert and lush greenery.  The courtyard of the National Museum is certainly among the former.

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    Angels and cherubs break the almost Soviet-esque feel of the building.SAM_1270

    Someone also had the idea of planting a hedgerow in view of the Old England Pub, across from the Museum.SAM_1272

    I was given the selection from among three art museums:  Magritte, Modern Art and Old Masters.  I chose the third, spending two hours and thirty minutes among the likes of Rembrandt, van Eyck, Vermeer and Reubens. The last offered a striking, for the 15th Century, view of four African men, each in Northern Renaissance garb, entitled “Four Views of a Moor”.  I stood for several minutes, pondering what it must have been like for Africans in the north of Europe at that time.  The era somewhat predated the slave trade, so perhaps life was not so bad for them, if they were indeed treated as human beings, equal to the Flemish and French.  I could have used another two and a half hours, but closing time is what it is.

    I had also spent an hour in Belvue, the museum of Belgian History.  Here, the focus was on the country since its independence, in 1830.  The constant interplay between Fleming and Walloon, elite and peasant, business and labour is all outlined, along three floors and in ten galleries.  There is no mincing words about Leopold II, the dour overlord of the Congo, and his depredations in that hapless land.  Leopold III, infamous in Allied circles during World War II, for his surrender to the Nazis, is given a bit more leniency by the Belgian people nowadays.  Many see him as having wanted to stay and suffer with the common folk.  He may well have wanted to also act as a counter to the twin Belgian Fascists, Jef van der Wiele, of the Flemish, and Leon Degrelle, of the Walloons.  Regardless, after the war, Leopold was unable to keep the throne, giving way to his brother, Charles I and then to his son, Baudouin II. Of the two Nazi collaborators, neither were apologetic after the war.  Van der Wiele spent the rest of his life as a prisoner and parolee.  Degrelle was basically a “guest” of Spain, from 1944, until his death in 1994.

    Parc de Brussels, across from the museums, is another grand oasis and respite from the overabundance of concrete and stone.

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    The Madonna and Child, with Cherubs, take a spot in the center of the park.SAM_1284

    This gazebo is the centerpiece for concerts, on cool summer nights.SAM_1286

    Many a person would have loved to have dived into this lovely pool.

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    Coudenberg Palace was once the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, the province around Brussels. Today, it houses a couple of museums of royal life.

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    A curiosity in the Square de Coudenberg is a statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, a sketchy character from the days of the Crusades.  He stands in front of L’Eglise Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg.

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    The Academy Palace, across from Parc de Brussels, was built for William of Orange, in recognition of his services at the Battle of Waterloo.  He didn’t enjoy it for long, though.  The Belgian people sent him packing in 1830, and became independent of the Netherlands, as we have seen.

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    I am no great fan of Neoclassical, or Protosoviet, architecture.  The Royal Palace built by Leopold I, and kept by his successors, is much more regal.

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    Making my way to the address listed online for the Baha’i National Center, I found it was neither Baha’i, nor any kind of a center.  Two young construction workers explained they were renovating it, and had no idea who the next tenants would be.  The Baha’is, they said, were “somewhere northeast of here”.  ( I would find the correct address later that evening.  The actual center will be featured in my next post.)

    The day ended with a visit to L’Eglise de la Madeleine.

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    I did not seek out Mannekin-Pis.  It is not the image I wish to convey of the people of Brussels, no matter how I might have giggled and chortled at it, when I was ten or eleven, looking through my grand-aunt’s “Travels Abroad”.  I did find this little gem, though, near Belvue.

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    With that, I took a bus back to Grand Place, and enjoyed dinner at a brasserie.

August 15, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 22, Part II: Navigating Brussels

    June 17, 2014- It might have been an omen, of sorts, but when I attempted to debark from the train at Brussels Central Station, I found myself being pushed back INTO the car, by a crowd of homebound commuters.  After about three minutes of this, a tall, big-boned French-speaking woman shouted “ARRET!”, and threw her arm in front of several of the people who were pushing, literally sweeping them aside, so that I might squeeze through.  This was, thankfully, the sole instance of crowd meanness I faced during my trip.  I was very thankful for her assistance.

    I soon found myself, bag and baggage, in Grand Place, Brussels’ magnificent central square.

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    The spire of Brussels Town Hall can be seen from the train station, making this navigation relatively easy.

     

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    My first impression of the structure was that it may have been the inspiration for the Belgian waffle.  St. Michael the Archangel stands atop the Guildhalls 8-12.

     

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    No one, including anyone on Google, seems to know whose statue is on top of the south guildhalls.  If I had used that much gold, I would know, believe me.SAM_1198

     

    I was given three conflicting sets of directions from Grand Place to Hotel George V, which is in a rich and vibrant neighbourhood of Africans and Arabs, just west of downtown.  It was supposed to be “nearly impossible to find”.  Despite that mindset, I managed to find it, using a common thread in the three divergent sets of directions.  As I had to go back to the main street, Boulevard Anspach, to get cash to pay for the room, my navigation lesson was underscored.

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    I rested a bit, then went back to Place de la Bourse, for what was a topsy-turvy, but peaceful evening of celebration, first by some Algerians, then by Belgians, as Team Belgium came from behind to beat Algeria, 2-1.

    The crowd gradually grew in size.

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    The crowd gradually dispersed, peacefully, into the surrounding neighbourhoods, and regrouped at their favourite bars and brasseries.  My favourite, Bella Pizzeria, is right up the street from Hotel George V, and is managed by a sweet and very helpful young couple from Corsica.  This was Rue Claire-Marie, en route from Place de la Bourse to my hotel.

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    As it was, I felt it had been a full day, from Gravensteen to the World Cup celebrations, and so drifted back to the room and to sleep.

    By the way, this is what the Bourse looks like, most of the time.

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August 14, 2014

  • An Eastward Homage, Day 22, Part I: Gravensteen, Hall of the Counts

    June 17, 2014- The Flemish are nothing, if not feisty.  A group of girls, who appeared to be 14-15 or so, boarded the bus to St. Pieters Platz, from St. Baaf’s, with the intention of getting off at Rabot, the area of Ghent’s eastern gate. Being preoccupied with teen matters, they noticed their stop, about 30 seconds after the driver had halted.  They rushed to the exit, were ignored by the driver and the bus resumed to a spot near my hotel.  The more vocal of the group called out an epithet, in Flemish, which evoked chuckles from some of the other passengers.  They got off at my stop, and took off, pell mell up the street.  I work alot with teens, so the whole thing was very familiar.

    This brings me to Gravensteen, my main focus of that Tuesday morning.  It is a well-preserved medieval castle, built to serve the Counts of Ghent, during the era of Flemish city-states.  It’s overriding concern, from the looks of things, was providing space for imprisonment and torture.  Having set the tone for an interesting visit, I promise not to overpresent the Museum of Torture .(Yes, that’s on the bottom floor).

    Here is the home of the counts, in its entirety.

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    The balustrade and turrets are essentially as they were in the fourteenth century.

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    These turrets were the homes of the counts,when they stayed in Ghent.

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    Here are several views of the castle’s exterior.

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    Now, it’s time to go inside.  This meeting hall is now used for school groups.  On this day, there were two such groups in the castle.

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    This was the Governor’s Residence.  There was no polished wood, until the 17th Century.

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    I proceeded from there, to the Hall of Armor and Weaponry.  Below, is the closest thing a man had to a bullet-proof vest, in those days.

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    Of course, knights got  to face combat in this.

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    A couple of views of weapons reminds us how things really were, if one strayed too far from the norm.SAM_1118

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    There was the hall of retribution, which featured the rack.

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    The iron mask was also a real instrument of control.SAM_1151

     

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    The rooms were not as stuffy as one would think, though.  It was a good thing, as bathing wasn’t a top priority.

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    The views from the balustrade made being in the counts’ good graces a nice thing.

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    Being at the ground level wasn’t bad, either, as long as one was above the dungeon.

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    On the other hand, if one WAS in the dungeon, this was his lot.  It was converted into a chapel, in the 18th Century.

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    Special visitors stayed here.SAM_1180

     

    This gave me a good idea of life in a self-contained royal universe.  Being in a rather irreverent mood, and it being lunchtime, I dropped in at the Butchers’ Guild, in the Central Market, which reminded me a bit of Boston’s Fanueil Hall- with one big difference:

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    It is refrigerated, and there were no flies.  I opted for ham with Gouda, on dark rye.

    NEXT:  Navigating Brussels