Bridget and I have left Colditz and driven 225 miles north-west to Arnhem. I have decided that 20 different countries are enough for this trip. The drive to Arnhem has been relaxed with excellent roads and, in the main, good drivers. Bridget has now added ten new countries bringing her tally to 62 different countries in all.
Calling in to Arnhem is largely a personal inclination. I joined the British Army in 1962, straight from school, and my first drill sergeant in basic training was a paratrooper that had served in 1st Battalion Airborne dropping into Arnhem during the Second World War. He was injured and carried that injury for the rest of his life. He made a significant impression on the rest of my life and I just want to pay my respects. I would love to find some sort of record, even just a photograph, although that is the proverbial needle in the haystack. Like most tourists to Arnhem since the war I have a photo of the bridge, but could not find what I had hoped for, however I feel I paid my respect to the man, whom I am sure has now passed, and his regiment.
There is little else left to see in Arnhem with regard to that episode, most of the town was turned to ruins in the war. Arnhem is now a modern city with a culture very similar to that at home; however there are always some events that can be observed, hopefully with good humour.
I was sitting in a restaurant having ordered my meal and was sipping a beer whilst waiting for it (the meal that is not the beer) to be delivered. There was a 20 something girl sat a couple of tables away, long blonde hair, leopard skin shorts (and aren’t they nowadays) muslin tee-shirt, rings on both middle fingers, who I had hardly noticed, when she was joined by another 20 something girl but more simply turned out except that she had a 6/8 month old baby.
They clearly were good friends, probably going back to their schooldays, who meet up from time to time to reconfirm that relationship. Observing the interaction between the two girls, and the single girl and the baby, was fascinating. I wasn’t close enough to hear what each girl said, and almost certainly wouldn’t have understood the language anyway, but it was clear that the single girl was discussing the latest boyfriend, some gigs she had been to and a new club where the whole scene has moved too. Her friend was talking about domestic matters and the trials and tribulations of bringing up children. The girl with the child eventually had to take it off to the changing room. The look on the face of the single girl when mother and child returned, and mother just sat down having revealed the task that she had just completed, then started to eat her chicken liver pate. What truly amazes me, and is of great credit to them, is that they still meet up and chat even when their paths have become so diverse.
It’s Friday and we are heading for Ghent in Belgium. For the first 120 miles the roads are really good, the weather fine and my spirits high. I just love driving in these conditions watching the various country sense passing by and seeing the country life in villages as we pass. As we got closer to Antwerp however, everything changed. There are road-works effecting all traffic driving around the ring-road, but you won’t see it any although you will spend at least 50 minutes nose to tail with other frustrated drivers. This is without doubt the worst traffic we encountered since the motorway delays when we were heading for Dover at the beginning of the trip.
We eventually arrived in Ghent at 15:35 only to encounter more local road-works. Ghent is a European tourist destination in the same designation as its close neighbour Bruges. Unfortunately, Bruges has for many years overshadowed Ghent, so I want to find out why?
The cities attractions are very similar with a rich mixture of architecture including their own unique Flemish ‘Art Nouveau’ often with Dutch Baroque motifs. Much of their history is also shared being so close. This all applies to three-quarters of the city of Ghent, whilst the other quarter is a building site! It evidently has all sorts of projects under constant development When I look out of my hotel window I have a great panorama of a canal with its barges and house boats, and immediately below a 150 metre long builders yard. All sorts of aggregate are delivered and collected for projects going on elsewhere. I am told that eventually it is going to be a park, but nobody knows when.
The restaurants and bar culture in the evenings is excellent. I overheard an Australian tourist relating to a friend the detail of the many historic buildings and the most impressive of all was a bar with over a hundred different Belgium beers! I reflected on the different priorities that international tourist must bring to places like Ghent.