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The Viking Odyssey – Part 3

5 September, 2018 at 8:39 pm by belgianwaffle

Monday, August 13

After a quiet morning at home we went for a wander around Roskilde and the shops were open. In the general excitement, I said to the kids that they could wander around and buy something while Mr. Waffle and I had a cup of tea. The upshot of this was that Michael ended up spending €30 on a hoptomist which, design classic or no, is basically something you could have picked up in a €2 shop at home. It was broken by the end of the day also, but we plan to superglue his head back on so, not a complete loss (currently in the “to do” side of the ledger). I very actively considered buying a Danish birthday calendar which featured extravagant Danish flag imagery on every page (the most modest was November where the picture was of a girl doing her homework with a small Danish flag on her desk because, of course) but I managed to restrain myself.

I was still dutifully doing my Danish lessons on the phone (duolingo, since you ask) but I was finding the rather limited vocabulary which featured turtles strongly less useful than I would have hoped. A turtle is en skildpadde which is more difficult to work into conversation than you might expect. Though Mr. Waffle did find this at the supermarket.

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Michael found lucky galoshes and finished “Why Nations Fail”, the latter to general sighs of relief from the rest of us.
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The plum wastage had been gnawing away at me inside so while the children kindly made dinner Mr. Waffle and I went for a stroll by the seaside and picked plums.

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Tuesday, August 14

We went back to Copenhagen to spend the day in Tivoli. This proposal was greeted with initial suspicion by the children who have been fooled once too often by their parents’ saying that something would be great fun and having it turn out to be another opportunity to inspect medieval butter knives. However, following close inspection of the Tivoli website, they were pleased to approve this proposal.

It was one of the best days ever. Before I went I had heard of Tivoli but I thought that it was a palace garden or something like that. It’s not, it’s a fun park (175 years old this year). It’s like something in a film or a Norman Rockwell drawing of a fun park. It’s quite beautiful to look at.

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There were no queues for any of the rides and we let the children off to enjoy themselves. They truly did.

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The park has more than 30 restaurants and we had lunch and dinner there. There was a concert, there was a parade, there were deckchairs where Mr. Waffle and I could sit in the sun. There was a shop with Danish designer stuff and a very nice tearoom.

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They even had the horse racing game that we played in the funfair museum in Paris last summer.
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I kept comparing the experience very favourably with our trip to Disneyland Paris last summer which was pretty grim. The complete absence of queues was delightful. The area is small and we could just let the children go and do what they wanted and meet with them later without worrying that they might be lost forever. I would go back again like a shot.

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Lads, they even had en skidpadde:

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While I was in Denmark I read a book by an English journalist about the Nordic countries and he said that Tivoli is so central to the Danish identity that when Iceland was rich – before the crash – and they were buying up Danish brands, at Denmark v Iceland football matches, Icelandic fans chanted “We’re coming for Tivoli next”. Iceland and Denmark enjoy an interesting relationship. I recommend this Icelandic comedian’s turn for some mild appreciation of this. I digress. Basically, Tivoli is amazing and you should definitely bring your children there and forget EuroDisney.

Wednesday 15 August

We had a quiet day following our extravaganza in Tivoli the day before. Mr. Waffle and I abandoned the children to their fate mid-afternoon and went into Copenhagen for a stroll followed by dinner at a very nice restaurant where we spent their inheritance. I never fully got my head around the conversion from crowns to euros (hence the €30 hoptomist) but even I could tell that we had possibly enjoyed our most expensive dinner ever in a relationship characterised by a love of expensive dining. We got the most amazing brioche and due to the quantity of food we needed to get through, I was unable to finish it. To the almost concealed shock and horror of the four staff lovingly tending to our needs, I asked whether we could possibly take the remaining brioche home as I knew it was going to go in the bin. When the bill came, one of our waiters came out with a plastic box with a sticker with the restaurant’s logo on it and a full new brioche inside. I was pleased.

After our enormous dinner, Mr. Waffle and I wandered around the delightful streets of Copenhagen.

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When we got home, I gave some brioche to herself (babysitter in chief) who was sitting up and it was still delicious but by the next morning it was stale (photographed post late night depredations below). Alas. And the toasting arrangements were, as described earlier, suboptimal.

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Thursday August 16

We all went in to Copenhagen again. We went to the Guinness book of records museum and the Ripley’s believe it or not which were both commercial linked enterprises, curiously dated and not at all right on. The Guinness one, in particular felt almost voyeuristic looking at pictures of these misfortunate people who were clearly ill and died young (tallest, fattest, most bicycles eaten). Ripley’s was a bit more three headed calf, largest snake etc but there were some unsavoury aspects to this also. On the plus side, Michael discovered in himself a talent for cup stacking.

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We were pretty much alone aside from another family who were speaking in a language I could not place: Dutch, German, Afrikaans, something else? “Luxembourgish” said my genius husband. Because I have no shame, I checked. They were quite pleased as, apparently, no one ever recognises Luxembourgish. When they heard we were Irish, they were extremely excited. “Do you know Rea Garvey?” asked the son. “Who?” we said in unison. “See,” said the boy to his mother, “I told you no one knew him in Ireland.” She was disbelieving but it’s true; he may be a star in Luxembourg but in his home country we have never heard of him. Or, Irish people, are we just out of touch?

We went to La Glace café again because I enjoy spending my children’s inheritance on expensive buns as well as elaborate dinners.

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We went home and had another walk on the beach to recover from our day in the big city.

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Friday, August 17

Our last full day in the socialist paradise. Mr Waffle and I decided to have a wander around the tiny local town of Vellerup which we had consistently bypassed on the way to the greater excitements of Kirke Hyllinge (two supermarkets – a Meny and a Facta). It was pretty in a tiny village kind of way with a church and a duckpond.

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Graveyards in Denmark are immaculately kept with little box hedges around the plots and hoes and watering cans to hand for grieving relatives to keep them in good nick.

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OK, sample size 2 (in fairness, I didn’t spend all my time in Denmark visiting graveyards) but I bet they are all like that.

Daniel said of Denmark at one point, “It’s like Disneyland, only real.” I know what he meant, the countryside is dotted with lovely little houses appropriate to their setting. There are no hacienda style bungalows or, in fact, anything that looks out of place and it is super-clean. I was struck by how few pigeons and seagulls there were in the towns and even in Copenhagen and, basically, it’s because they are so clean. Whereas you will regularly see seagulls foraging in the bins and eating on the streets of Dublin and whole flocks of pigeons pretty much everywhere, this phenomenon seems unknown in Denmark or at least the parts I visited. It was enchanting and a little bit like living in a flag bedecked fairy tale land. Look at the careful children sign, look at it; isn’t it lovely?

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In the afternoon, I singularly failed to get any of the family to come with me to visit the local big house – Selso Slot. I set off on my own. My first adventure was managing to fill the car with petrol at a self-service petrol station. Low level of achievement you might think but I was pretty pleased with myself navigating the Danish petrol experience. Sometimes, I think I probably need to get out on my own a bit more.

I loved Selso Slot – it was owned by an important Danish figure in the 1700s (von Plessel – nope, me neither) and his niece by marriage ended up living there alone until she died in 1829 and it was just left empty until the 70s when a couple bought it and tried to do it up. Now, as far as I can work out, it’s part of a trust owned by the family. I had the place to myself.

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There was a young woman working in the shop and I asked if she was a student working there for the summer to make conversation and she said no that she was the museum and castle director. I think I have now reached the age where everyone under 35 looks about 14 to me. Once we got over that slightly unpromising start to our relationship, I was able to ask her loads of questions about the house and she was very knowledgeable and interesting. I also asked her about the role of the turtle in the lives of Danes and she opined, cautiously that although the words in the sentence “En skildpadde spiser ost” made sense individually the sentence itself was a bit unlikely. She gave me some invaluable assistance on how to pronounce the letter d in Danish words. I bought a postcard from her. I thought it was 40 crowns and a fortnight of Danish living prepared me for paying over a fiver for a postcard but in fact it was only 4 which is about 50 cents. My new friend was appalled at the prospect of me spending a fiver on a postcard as, it turns out, the Danes are pretty thrifty and great bargain hunters. I suppose that they need to be.

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The castle itself was like a film set. Great dilapidated rooms with a sense of grandeur and romance (now waterproof since the work on the roof last year). I really loved it.

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I went for a cup of tea in Skibby. Tea room in a glass house in the supermarket car park; not entirely perfect but in rural Denmark, you take what you can get in the line of tea rooms.

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Later in the afternoon Daniel and I went for a final paddle down to the ice cream kiosk in the kayaks.

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We all had a last walk on the beach.

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And I baked the plums.

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Saturday, August 18

We said goodbye to our lovely house.

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The drive to the airport was uneventful but the trip through the airport took a lot out of all of us. I managed to put the baggage tags on wrongly when doing the self service check-in (you cannot judge me as harshly as I do myself for this schoolboy error) so we had to queue and do it again; Mr. Waffle inadvertently printed out the wrong boarding passes for the boys and we found this out after the Princess and I had passed through the self-service control but before he and the boys had, so we had to split up and the boys had quite a tense time with their father going to the Ryanair desk (he swears never again) before managing to locate copies of the passes on Dropbox (wonderful Dropbox). Meanwhile I had realised that I had checked in the only copy of our house and car keys we brought with us in the hold baggage because right at the start of the holiday I had put them in a pocket in my washbag so that we wouldn’t forget them. In one way, my plan totally worked but it probably needs some refinement. Our luggage did not get lost and we were at home and cleaning up cat vomit from Daniel’s bed room rug by mid-afternoon.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, we all really liked Denmark. My only caveat, and it’s a significant one, is that it’s really dear. As my father says, everything multiplied by five is expensive and for a family holiday Denmark is expensive. But it is lovely. And it has a very hygge flag.

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The Viking Odyssey – Part 2

4 September, 2018 at 12:23 am by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, August 8

The unbearable heat continued and, learning our lesson from the previous day’s mild outing, we stayed largely at home.

We swam, we kayaked and we went to the supermarket. We asked the woman at the checkout whether there was in anywhere in Kirke Hyllige (our local village) that might provide us with a cup of tea. She looked like she thought we were absolutely crazy. No, there was not. It turns out that rural Denmark does not have a thriving café culture.

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What rural Denmark does have is guacamole in a tin (unbelievably revolting notwithstanding being 1.5% avocado) and just add avocado guacamole in a packet.

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Also sunsets, great sunsets.

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Thursday, August 9

After practically not leaving the house on the previous day, I felt obliged to force everyone out. We went in to the Viking museum in Roskilde. This features 5 original Viking boats that they dredged up from the harbour and put together again like the world’s largest jigsaw.

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Thrillingly, one of them was made in Ireland (they could tell by the wood apparently – if I understood correctly, it was made in Glendalough but that seems an unlikely degree of specificity in relation to a 1000 year old boat dredged up from the bottom of the ocean – I watched bits of the educational video in Dutch, Italian and Spanish but English never seemed to come up so my understanding may not have been 100%). Everyone who worked there when they heard we were Irish was keen to tell us about the Irish boat.

There was a Viking boatyard where they made Viking boats using original Viking tools (is that a bit too authentic?). I took lots of pictures for Michael to show to his woodwork teacher but he said that I had fundamentally misunderstood the nature of teacher/student interaction and he would not be sharing them.

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There was a place for hammering out coins, a forge (the heat, the unbearable heat), a chance to paint your own Viking shield and, of course, lots of boats – the originals and the reconstructions which you could wander on to. All of the Danish staff were cowering in the shade assuring us that the weather was never like this normally.

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We went for what would have been quite a nice lunch on site if we hadn’t been rushing back to take our sailing trip on a reconstructed Viking boat. The sailing trip was a mild highlight. We rowed out in to the bay and then the staff member who was captaining the boat and slightly despairing of the abilities of his motley crew asked who would like to steer. Almost before he had finished asking, Michael was up at the tiller. Did he enjoy it? Very much. Was he any good at steering? Maybe a bit less so but he learnt a great deal on the trip and we definitely didn’t capsize.

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I bought a small wooden Danish flag and flagpole in the gift shop. You wouldn’t understand, you weren’t there.

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On the drive home, Michael regaled us with the reasons for the collapse of the Venetian city state so that by the time we got back we were all ready to walk to the ice cream kiosk. It was a chance for me to mull on the wasteful ways of the Danes as we walked there on a carpet of ripe plums.

That night there was a storm. I was worried about herself in the annex. She was fine although she did say that she did not enjoy the sound of the rats with their scrabbly paws under her annex built on decking. They were probably sheltering from the rain with a supply of plums.

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I think it was on this evening that the boys wanted to look at the lightening and I said, “It’s not lightening, it’s fireworks.” It was lightening, impressive lightening.

Friday, August 10

We plucked up our courage and drove in to Copenhagen. It was only about an hour away. We thought that as it was a cycling paradise we might run into some problems with the car. Cycling paradise it may be but, it turns out, there are still plenty of cars.

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Also we found the sat nav (whom we christened Sybil because she definitely sounded like a Sybil) invaluable. Sybil guided us safely to a multi-storey car park where the parking was pricey (€40 for 6 hours so not atypical of Danish prices) but there was plenty of it and a great view from the roof where we ended up parking.

Excellent photo of roof view; maybe not fantastic photo of us.
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We had lunch nearby which was grand but not amazing actually, in general, we found the food a bit mediocre; I’m not sure whether it was down to our restaurant choosing skills or Danish cuisine. After lunch we wandered down to the Amalienborg slot (castle, try to keep up) and after some judicious consideration decided that we would gain as much if not more from looking at the outside rather than going in for a tour.

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We dutifully went down to Nyhavn which is right up there with the Little Mermaid in the famous views of Copenhagen postcards. We actually passed it on the way in but due to complete reliance on Sybil, we failed to look around so missed it.

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We went on a boat trip which was grand in the manner of these things. We saw the Little Mermaid and various other worthy sights. I have come away from Denmark wondering how many castles one royal family needs. By way of example, a castle in the North of Zealand (the island bit that Copenhagen is on and where we were staying – we didn’t get as far as Jutland which, although attached to the European mainland boasts the more remote parts of Denmark) was advertised as “one of the Queen’s favourite summer castles”.

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The boat also circled the Danish royal yacht which is called, of course it is, the Dannebrog which means the Danish flag. Is anyone surprised by this?

We went for a cup of coffee in Conditori La Glace which got great billing in our guidebook. I have to say, they were not wrong. Really excellent cakes. Michael does not like sweet things so he had a bread roll. Sometimes I wonder where this child of mine came from. Notwithstanding assistance from google maps, we managed to get lost on the walk back to the car park so had an opportunity to explore the canals and also the outside of what I think was the architecture museum which incorporated slides and a net for climbing in a very cool Danish way.

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Saturday, August 11

We had a quiet morning after the activity in Copenhagen the previous day. In the afternoon we went into Roskilde. It turns out that everything in Denmark closes at 2 on a Saturday. Who knew? The city centre was, yet again, like a morgue and even the tourist information was closed. Who, who closes tourist information offices at 2 on Saturday? And yet, a part of me rejoices that commerce hasn’t overtaken everything and that shop workers as well as office workers get to enjoy their weekends. That part was not uppermost as we took ourselves to the out of town Lidl (open, happily) and ran from the shop to the car park in the lashing rain.

However, on the good news front, although the cathedral was closed at 2, there was a sign saying that it would reopen at 4 so after a restorative cup of tea in the square, we took ourselves inside. I am a veteran of cathedral visits and, I have to say, this was an impressive one. Even the children found it mildly interesting. Seriously recommended if you find yourself in the area. Most of the kings and queens of Denmark since Margarethe I in the 1400s are buried here and some of them really went all out in the chapel design. A couple of pre-Margarethe kings are buried here also. If you’re looking for the body of Harald Bluetooth, the man who gave us wireless connectivity, look no further, he’s been here since about 986. Controversially the French (and slightly grumpy) prince consort who died earlier this year decided he didn’t want to be buried in Roskilde. Nevertheless the queen has a large sarcophagus for herself in situ and more or less ready to go for when the moment arrives. Good planners, the Danes.

The queue of anxious tourists hoping to shuffle into Roskilde cathedral when it reopens:
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Detail of painting in one of the chapels (William Morris, how are you?), there were many, many very beautiful patterns painted all over some of the chapel walls:
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The cathedral is made largely of brick which is a big part of why it has the UNESCO world heritage label as you don’t see so many elaborate brick buildings dating from the 12th century.
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Well worth the wait in the queue.

Sunday, August 12

We took the bridge to Sweden. It was very thrilling.

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I drove and one of the disadvantages of our hired car over slightly longer distances became clear. The driver’s seat had a button which pushed it forward automatically. Either I am too short for the Qashqai or we never figured out how the buttons worked properly. My little arms were stretched out in front of me to their fullest extent and, as we crossed the bridge, I started to get pins and needles in one arm and waved it about to the general discomfiture of my passengers who opined that we were all going to die. We went to Lund as I had been there at a conference years ago and liked it.

After Roskilde the day before, I am forced to concede that Lund cathedral was a bit underwhelming.

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It did have an astronomical clock though.
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After the priciness of Denmark, Sweden seemed really cheap and cheerful. I bought a Moomin mug for €15 and was delighted with myself until my husband pointed out that a) I’d just spent 15 quid on a mug and b) the Moomins are Finnish. Subsequently I saw the exact same mug in Denmark for €21 so I was relieved that I had made a killing after all.

We went for lunch in a student burger joint (Lund is a university town) which was surprisingly tasty. I was astonished to see that they had a sign outside saying “no cash”. Apparently Sweden is one of the world’s most cashless societies but somehow, I always thought cash would be king in a student burger place.

Lund boasts an open air museum with lots of different traditional houses. I love this kind of thing so we went there. Herself pointed out that thanks to this obsession of mine she knows more about how blacksmiths operated in the 19th century than she does about paying electricity bills and observed that I may not be preparing her for life in the 21st century. “I bet,” she added “that we will see loving examples of early butter knives.” We did see loving examples of early butter knives.

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At least there were no people dressed in clothes from the relevant periods guiding us around. The place was slightly run down and quite empty but, I must say I found it delightful.

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For those of you who have spent time in IKEA, you will be pleased to hear that there was a house from Småland carried safely from there to Lund for educational purposes.
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There was a Jane Austen exhibition looking at the dramatisation of her work including original costumes from the BBC best ever Pride and Prejudice adaptation which some of us quite enjoyed.

When we got safely home (thanks Sybil) it was late; after dinner and a brief row over the adapters for charging the phones, we all went to bed. Top tip, if you have a family with five phones; bring more than four adapters on holidays. If you must only bring four, make sure that they all work.

People, we’ve still almost a week to go. Can you face it?

The Viking Odyssey – Part 1

2 September, 2018 at 10:29 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday, August 4

The flight to Copenhagen was completely uneventful. It is so much more pleasant to travel with older children. There was a hilarious article in the paper yesterday recalling vividly the particular thrills of travelling with small children which brought it all back to me. Could not face it again. It was a bit of a wait in the boiling Danish sunshine for our hired car but when we got out on the road, it was less than an hour to our accommodation. I booked it on Airbnb. If anything, it was nicer than the pictures. I truly loved it. As herself said, it was beautiful in a kind of ” IKEA wonderful everyday” way.

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Herself had her own annex, slightly separate from the main house which she very much liked. I was slightly worried about a mad axe murderer but my concerns were unfounded.

The view from the annex:
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We weren’t up to much that first day, we walked down to the local ice cream kiosk and I got to test out my rudimentary Danish: Jeg snakker ikke dansk. Happily, like everyone else in Denmark, the ice cream kiosk lady spoke English.

We walked down to the beach which was about two minutes from the house.

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We went into the local supermarket and foraged for food. Denmark is pricey, it turns out.

Watching the sunset from behind the house while eating our very expensive pasta and pesto outside: priceless.

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Sunday, August 5

Toast pays a large role in our lives and the house had an absolutely useless toaster. “Will you put some toast on for me?” I asked at breakfast. “Why,” said Michael, “do you want toast for lunch?” Herself advised that it was an opportunity for us as a family to check our toaster privileges. Other than that, equipment was pretty good although sometimes stored a bit high up (a tall people, the Danes). Daniel who has just grown to be a couple of cms taller than me said that it was weird not to be able to ask me to get things he couldn’t reach. I am still mourning the inevitable as I am no longer the second tallest in the family and soon I will be the shortest except for the cat and I’m not entirely sure she counts.

The great holiday toast crisis of 2018:
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I commented that the house was my sister’s dream as it is full of “storage solutions”. “Not that they seem to need it,” I said “as the house seems to have no stuff.” However my acute daughter observed that rather they had a normal amount of stuff but you couldn’t see any of it. This seemed to be true. The designer dream realised.

There were some initial teething problems with the internet and Mr. Waffle never managed to get it to work on his phone. The rest of us were fine though. It only broke for us when he tried to fix it and it broke for everyone. “This is communism comrades,” he offered cheerfully. We were not amused. We took ourselves away from the wifi. It seemed best. We went in to the local big town, Roskilde which was like a morgue on a Sunday afternoon. When I lived in Rome in the early 90s I shared a house with two Danish girls – Bodil and Bolette – weirdly, from Roskilde. We lost touch but I kept scanning the streets for middle aged women trying to find my erstwhile housemates but it was not to be.

I don’t mean to complain but if you have a world heritage site which is also a cathedral, I suggest tourists might reasonably expect it to be open for viewing on a Sunday afternoon. However, to Michael’s absolute delight, the church and tourist office were both closed and we went for tea and a bun (and in the case of the children chips) in the square instead of trekking around the cathedral.

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The closed cathedral:
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Both Mr. Waffle and I found Roskilde curiously reminiscent of Flanders – the architecture, the general air of a town whose inhabitants had been wiped out by a silent and deadly killer that very afternoon leaving an eerie quiet.

Daniel and I went for a little stroll along the sea shore and I mortified him by eating some of the millions of plums which were on the trees. It was really odd – the whole shoreline was full of plum trees which is not something I associate with the sea. I didn’t even think they would grow so close to the shore but they were delicious.

That evening we set up Apple TV and it was the business. My sister recommended to us a show called “The Ministry of Time” on Netflix and we all loved it (we’re still watching it at home) though it is highlighting a certain ignorance about Spanish history in our family. We all really enjoyed hearing one of the characters refer to noted baddie “El pirata Drake” – a different perspective from the one we are used to.

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Later that evening the wind caught the door and broke the hinge and also damaged the blind. I spent the next fortnight filled with guilt about it. I dutifully confessed when we were leaving and in due course a bill for €200 came in which is basically small change in Denmark, so could have been worse.


Monday August 6

Early in the morning we saw a deer bounding by the back window. Could our location have been more delightful, I kind of doubt it.

We took ourselves north to Elsinore. Or Helsingør as it’s known locally. We went to an Italian restaurant for lunch and were able to talk to the staff in Italian which was a great relief from always forcing the locals to speak English.

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The town itself is very pretty again in a manner very like Flanders.

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The castle is, obviously, famous for Hamlet and they capitalise on this. They basically have a group of actors doing Hamlet there all the time, in English. But simplified English so almost, but not quite, using the original text which is a bit odd. Highlight for Daniel was when Hamlet stabbed Polonius who died at length and very dramatically. As he expired, Hamlet turned to the audience and said, “Ooops”.

Alas, poor Yorick:
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Earlier enactment on the premises:
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The castle is reasonably interesting for a castle.

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Dan was quite taken with Holger Danske who sleeps under the castle and will rise up if the Danes are in trouble (apparently invasion by Germany in WWII was insufficient to rouse him so it’s difficult to know what he regards as in trouble). I felt this was a learning opportunity and I said, “Look at how he looks, you can see how the iconography inspired Tolkien and that kind of person.” I was really warming to my theme when Dan interrupted me to say that the statue only dated from the 1980s. Snort.

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We headed home and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.

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But, my God, it was warm. The house was like an oven. Normally Danish summers are like Irish summers and the house was designed accordingly. It was absolutely sweltering in the all white house, even with all the windows and doors open. I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst headache I have ever had. It wasn’t even a migraine (or if it was it was unaccompanied by the usual patterns). I woke Mr. Waffle up to tell him that if it was an aneurysm and I died during the night I loved him and the children. Mr. Waffle was unfazed. Spoiler alert, Mr. Waffle was right, I did not die, it was not a brain aneurysm but my God it was pretty miserable.

Tuesday, August 7

God, it was warm. Even sitting in to our hired car was almost unbearable. The steering wheel was too hot to hold. We went to the ice cream kiosk where we agreed with the nice lady that it was “meget warm”. 34 degrees, people. We went swimming for the first time. I stepped into the water rather nervously on the grounds that it was bound to be cold in the North Sea or possibly the Baltic. It was not, it was warmer than Red Strand in Clonakilty and I wanted to stay there all day to keep out of the burning heat. Eventually, and reluctantly, I dragged myself back to land.

The internet had been removed from our children for the morning because I am heartless. The boys played a fair bit of chess. It palled. In desperation, Michael started reading a book he found in the house called “Why Nations Fail“. He became utterly committed to it and finished it over the following week filling us in on the details as he went along and effectively eliminating all desire to give it a go which anyone else in the family might have had. Mr. Waffle meanwhile found a book by the woman who wrote “The Devil Wears Prada” and heartily recommended it.

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After lunch we squeezed ourselves into the sweltering car and went to the tiny hamlet of Skibby. It has a nice church and half a page in the guidebook. We had the church to ourselves. It was pretty but, to be honest I would have preferred to have been in the North Sea cooling down.

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There was a large Danish flag folded up on one of the seats. This came as no surprise. The Danes love their flag. Every house has a flagpole. You see Danish flags everywhere, in front gardens, on every product you can imagine, all over towns and cities and it seemed unsurprising that they would have one at the ready in the church. In fact, the only place I have ever been that seems to love flags more than the Danes is Northern Ireland and that is a bit of a love divided whereas the Danes are all fond of the same flag the very hygge white cross on a red background. Inspired by this we bought a packet of miniature Danish flags at the supermarket. Trust me, you’d have to be there to understand.

We went home and I took myself back into the water. Mr. Waffle and I also tried out the kayaks that came with the house – very pleasant. Meanwhile the children prepared our Danish starter for dinner.

See, flags, hygge:
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We discovered that the wind had blown the blind in one of the bedrooms and some ornaments had fallen on the floor and broken. They looked less expensive than the door hinge and I added them to my list for ultimate confession. This is the problem with staying in someone’s summer house rather than something that belongs to an indifferent corporation; what a pain for our lovely landlords. Alas. It’s fair to say that they were unfazed by this disaster at least.

That’s enough for today. Stay tuned for the next exciting update.

Exotic

4 August, 2018 at 10:58 pm by belgianwaffle

On Thursday night Daniel said to me, “When do you get your holidays?” “Tomorrow!” I said. “Do you not get a summer break?” he asked. “My fortnight in Denmark is my summer break.” He felt that seemed very unfair which it totally is. However, all going well, by the time you read this, we will be safely ensconced by the North Sea. Daniel doubts that Denmark will beat the excitement afforded by a trip to see Arsenal v Chelsea in the Aviva stadium earlier this week but you never know.

More Cork

31 July, 2018 at 8:36 pm by belgianwaffle

Thursday, July 19

Despite only having finished her course the previous Friday, the Princess and her companions were having a reunion in Dublin less than a week later. She was very keen to go which I thought was ludicrous but her kind indulgent father said that we should let her go so we drove her up to the train station in Cork with 6 minutes to spare before her train left. Note to file, Clonakilty to Cork may be 45 minutes by car; outside Clonakilty to the train station is quite a bit longer.

My brother who, when he is not being annoying, can be rather saintly took the boys off to Milano’s for lunch and Mr. Waffle and I had a really lovely lunch in the Farm Gate which I would very much recommend.

We spent the day in Cork bonding with relatives each of whom asked me in turn why on earth I had chosen to go to Clonakilty on my holidays. We picked herself up from the train at 8.30 (a train which she leapt unto 3 minutes before it left Dublin – it was a day of close shaves) and took ourselves back to base. She opined that her 5 hours on the train for 3 hours with her friends had been totally worth it. So that was something.

Friday July 20

For his own obscure reasons, my brother was cycling from Cork to Skibbereen. He stopped off on his trek and we all had lunch together in Deasy’s outside Clonakilty which is quite fancy and, therefore, didn’t have chips. Some trauma ensued as some of the cohort thought that the nice view and gourmet menu did not make good that deficiency.

Then we went to Kinsale to meet a friend of Mr. Waffle’s who had just bought a house there. We had take away fish and chips at her place for dinner so the natural order of things was restored. We also had a an opportunity to take our traditional “Caution Children” picture so that was obviously good.

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On the way back to Clonakilty, to the intense chagrin of Michael who stayed in the car timing how long I was taking, we stopped off and had a look at Timoleague Friary which is very, very beautiful It was sunset (about 10.30 so Michael’s chagrin was understandable, I suppose) and it looked quite spectacular.

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The setting was pretty spectacular also.

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Saturday 21 July

I went to the Red Strand for a swim leaving my non-beach loving family to entertain themselves as well as they could in my absence. Their loss, frankly.

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We went in to Rosscarbery where I spent many bored summers as a teenager (a friend’s parents had a house there) and, to be honest, there is still little enough to do. However we did have dinner/afternoon snack in a very nice pub. One of us had prudently bought a jumper and two of us were cold so she made the ultimate sacrifice.

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I was a bit grumpy and herself asked what I would like. “Why?” I said suspiciously. “Because who ever is the grumpiest runs this family.” This was a startling insight and I realised as I turned it over in my mind, entirely true.

My brother sent us a photo of Lough Hyne which I include because, you know, why not? It does highlight one of the problems of Clonakilty. It is West Cork but not west enough. It’s a bit of a trek to Lough Hyne from Clonakilty (not impossible, 40 minutes in the car) but almost all the good places are a bit of a trek.

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I went up to Cork for the evening because, since my brother was away, I thought I might be able to help my sister out a bit with the elderly relatives. I am not sure how much of a help I was really, particularly as she ended up having to feed me as well but we did enjoy a nice walk.

Sunday 22 July

We packed up and set off for home. Already Mr. Waffle and I were somewhat preoccupied by the thought of the working week ahead (something that does not happen at the end of week one of a three week holiday, I can tell you) and it was a long enough drive back. We stopped off at Blackrock Castle in Cork for lunch because I thought that it would not take us much out of our way (it did) and it would have pizza (it did not, they took it off the menu before Christmas, alas, alack).

On balance, West Cork again next year I think, but further west.

Clonakilty, God Help Us

30 July, 2018 at 8:38 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Cork last summer for a week. You may remember that excluded from the list of potential places to stay was Clonakilty on the grounds that it was too near Cork and why would you bother. This was good advice I gave last year and I would have done well to have heeded it. But earlier this year, a family from Clonakilty contacted us and asked would we do a house swap and I thought, why not? I know why not. Why did I think that? Anyway we agreed dates and then they wanted to push it to earlier and, like fools, we agreed.

Furthermore, poor old Clonakilty has a gloomy reputation. It was home to a big workhouse during the famine and really the last desperate staging post of dying people hence when you say Clonakilty, people will often say to you, “Clonakilty, God help us” which is a tag line that I think the town has probably been keen to lose since 1847 or thereabouts (I’d say they’d like to have Macroom’s line instead “the town that never raised a fool”).


Sunday 15 July

Herself returned to us from her three week course on Friday and it was such a thrill to have her back. She was very reasonable about packing up to leave again two days after returning. It was a long old drive. We stopped for lunch in Cashel and got in to Clonakilty late afternoon. The house was in the middle of nowhere and it was slightly damp like many, many houses in Ireland but if it was going to be damp after a month in the heatwave, I shudder to think what it was like in the winter. On the plus side they had a wheel attached to a tree in the garden.

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And a piano that was in tune in the house.

We took ourselves into the town which, to be fair, is attractive enough, and went to the tourist office looking for attractions. There was much Michael Collins stuff and also the railway village. In addition to the price of your admission, you get to go on a tourist train around the town. “Would you like to go on Choo Choo?” the tourist office lady asked our mildly affronted 15 year old.

My sister drove down to Clonakilty that evening and saw Jack L in concert. He was good but he needs to find a younger fan base, it’s not often I feel like one of the youngest people in the room.

Monday 16 July

We recovered from our drive and stayed around the town. We bought a card game called “Now That’s What I Call Music” which I cannot recommend highly enough. Did you remember that “Don’t Give Up” was a collaboration between Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel? If yes, this is the game for you. I drove each of my partners wild by singing the 80s songs mentioned but, never, never knowing the artist. We bought a good jigsaw because that’s what holidays are for.

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We bought some books for the children.

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Tuesday 17 July

We went to the model railway village. It was not entirely successful. Our children were the oldest children there by a good ten years. But they were patient. We exhausted its charms quickly. Probably this functioning phone box was a highlight. We decided not to go for the choo choo train around the town experience. This was particularly good for herself as later she ran in to someone she knew in the town and bad and all as this was, it would have been considerably worse if she’d been in the tourist train.

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Continuing our run of poor luck we chose a deeply unpleasant pub to have our lunch in. Go us.

After lunch, we took ourselves to the Michael Collins museum in Emmet Square. This was a success. It was housed in a lovely Georgian house in the square where Michael Collins lived for a bit (not in this house it transpired). And the displays were interesting and it was all quite well done.

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We peaked a bit too soon on the jigsaw.

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I bought a great bowl with a drawing of an octopus by these people. We have named him and I love it. I loved it so much that I later went back and bought a jug and a casserole and it is dishwasher and oven proof. No favours etc. were received for these kind words. Sadly.

Wednesday 18 July

Despite really hard work on my part over the years, Daniel loathes the beach and Michael and Mr. Waffle are, at best, neutral. But it was the best summer since 1976 and I insisted on going to the beach. We went to Inchydoney which is a lovely beach and the Princess and I both swam. Here is how her brothers enjoyed it.

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The Princess continued to diligently read her very hard book on Aids. I made good progress with “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret”. Don’t judge.

Once we left the beach, both boys cheered up and we had a nice lunch in the nearby hotel. We went to the Michael Collins homestead which is a bit basic but, you know, grand.

Then we went to see the Drombeg Stone circle which I thought was pretty impressive. Beautiful site overlooking the sea.

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My Dad was telling me that he had had it described to him by the archaeologist who found it. Apparently he married a publican’s daughter from Clonakilty and the stone circle was well known locally but archaeologists had never been near it (they have their work cut out, West Cork is just one big wedge shaped gallery grave) and he wrote about it and publicised it. It was felt that he would be the next professor of archaeology at UCC but then he died young. See, if you’re from Cork these are the extra exciting details available to add to your guide book information.

Then we went on to Glandore for a cup of tea. Glandore is basically a couple of houses and a view. But what a view.

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And then one of the pubs has been gentrified and it offered seats outside with shade and cushions and blankets and a delightful desert menu which we partook of liberally. It was absolutely delightful.

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Stay tuned for the second half of our Cork adventures.

C’était au Temps où Bruxelles Bruxellait

15 April, 2018 at 8:32 pm by belgianwaffle

We went to Brussels for a couple of days over Easter. This summer, it will be ten years since we left. It seems scarcely credible. We were curious as to whether the children would remember anything. Spoiler alert: they did not.

Day 1

I found us a loft in a bohemian part of town through airbnb. A lot of people were away over Easter and friends had kindly offered to let us stay in their house but Mr. Waffle said that we couldn’t possibly impose in that way. It’s possible I could have but he just couldn’t. It was pretty cool and absolutely enormous but, dear God, does sound travel in a loft where the bedroom walls do not reach to the ceilings.

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We decided to go to Rue des Bouchers for dinner. It’s an extremely touristy restaurant strip near the Grand Place where we had never eaten before and probably won’t again. Not the most amazing food experience. We went around the Grand Place in the bucketing rain. The children were a bit underwhelmed. And though, in some ways, it was a very authentic Belgian experience, I can’t say I was absolutely delighted either.

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By contrast the Galeries de la Reine which, as 19th century shopping arcades go, is quite a good one was viewed with mild enthusiasm. It was, at least, dry. We saw a 157sqm flat to rent in the Galeries for €1,600 pm which would get you a shoebox in the middle of nowhere in Dublin and reflected on the overheated state of the Dublin property market.

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Day 2

We went for lunch with old friends of ours. I am sure they welcomed us like a hole in the head as they had just driven back to England the night before to collect their son from boarding school and they were off to Italy on holidays the next day and, unkindest cut, she had just had bad news from the Belgian authorities about citizenship and I think Brexit is likely to be awkward for them. However, we were delighted to see them and everything seemed unchanged except for the five enormous children we now have between us. Their son who attended our wedding as a three month old is now about 6 foot 6. It was very hard to stop saying, “You’ve got so tall” on a loop.

We then went into town and had some chips, looked at the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, had a restorative drink in the Metropole (I used to go there with my father when I lived in Brussels in the early 90s and it is gratifyingly unchanged). The boys and I went home while Mr. Waffle and herself explored the excitements of the Rue Neuve (shops). It continued to rain.

Day 3

Herself did a very elaborate Easter egg hunt for her brothers in the apartment which they quite enjoyed even though Michael is not an Easter egg fan. Mr. Waffle and I went for breakfast in the pain quotidien in the Sablon and then we went home and dragged everyone to Easter Sunday mass in the Sablon (quite long, included an organ concert and Gregorian chant, children’s patience was tried high). Afterwards we went for lunch at the bottom of the Sablon – the Sablon must be one of the most expensive places to eat in Brussels but just at the end is the much cheaper flea market zone and we had lunch there which was both satisfactory and economical. I had the classic Brussels spag bol which always includes carrots. I was not disappointed. Then we explored the famous (for a certain value of famous) flea market at Place Jeu de Balle (herself fascinated, boys almost horizontal from boredom). We took the outside lift back up to the Palais de Justice which towers in a menacing manner over this working class part of Brussels and, indeed, was designed to do so. Mr. Waffle tells me that a local insult is “architecte”.

In an effort to entertain the boys we went next to the dinosaur museum. This is largely unchanged since we left 10 years ago and I spent much time there when we lived in Brussels so it was a real trip down memory lane for me. The children did not remember it at all but pronounced it moderately satisfactory which was really all I could hope for.

Day 4

We went to visit our old haunts, our old flat, the parks we used to go to. It lashed rain but we did get a chance to do some before and after photos. My favourite is this one from Rue de la Glacière which was around the corner from our house. We must have walked up and down it 1000s of times. The street is called after the ice factory which is still there (now supplying ice for sea food displays and the like rather than ice boxes as must have been the case in the 19th century). Just inside the door, there is an old cart which had previously been used to haul ice around and had been sitting there for about 100 years. The children always enjoyed climbing up and sitting in it. I was pleased to see that in the 10 years since we had last seen it, there had been no significant change. The children, on the other hand, have changed quite a bit.

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The children and Mr. Waffle went to explore our favourite playground (Parc Renier Chalon, thanks for asking) and the Princess’s old school. On the way there, they met the optician who had supplied Daniel’s first pair of glasses. He is now in his 90s and very sprightly. They had a grand old chat and he revisited with Daniel the proper way to clean your glasses. Then we all went to lunch in a nearby bistro which Mr. Waffle and I were very fond of when we lived in Brussels. It was perhaps a bit elaborate for our needs but I was glad to see it has remained unchanged.

That afternoon we went to the toy museum. When the children were small, we went there all the time. Although they did not remember it, it was completely unchanged. We knocked an entertaining enough couple of hours out of it recreating scenes from the children’s youth. Even Michael was moved to concede that it was quite good.

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After this I went in to the Grand Place, did some mild shopping in the environs and settled myself in front of the fire in the Rose Blanche, a cafe on the corner of the Grand Place where we used to go a bit when we lived in Brussels. In due course, herself and Mr. Waffle joined me but the boys stayed in the flat, unimpressed by the lure of the city centre.

Day 5

The Princess and I went to the pain quotidien for breakfast and then took ourselves to the Musée des Beaux Arts. The hours and hours I spent with her there when she was a baby – it was less bad than you might imagine because it was always very quiet. I was a bit worried because now everywhere seems to be inundated with tourists but, happily, the gallery was as gloriously empty as it had ever been. Herself is a great art gallery companion, she seems to be genuinely interested in the pictures and we passed a very happy couple of hours. I know sometimes, you can photograph something to make it look like it’s empty when it’s really not but these pictures do convey the genuine echoing emptiness we encountered. If you are going to Brussels, I cannot recommend the galleries highly enough.

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While the Princess and I were enjoying our art extravaganza, the boys and Mr. Waffle went to look at the Botanique gardens adjacent to our apartment. Alright but, of course, damp, was the verdict.

We went for lunch in an Italian near the apartment which was a great success but the children were all disappointed that they did not meet a Madam Pipi. When we lived in Brussels, the toilets in many establishments were guarded by fierce older ladies wearing aprons and sitting in front of a saucer. They kept the toilets clean and you had to pay them on the way in and if you didn’t understand the rules and failed to pay them, the consequences were truly terrifying. However, they seem to have all died out while we were away and while it makes going to the bathroom in Brussels a great deal less unnerving, it feels like the end of an era.

In the afternoon we went to mini-Europe which was more entertaining than we expected but probably a visit once a decade is sufficient.

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All in all, it was nice to go back although, very damp. It was strange but, I suppose not entirely surprising, that the children remembered none of our regular haunts. I wonder how long I would need to be back in Brussels for to forget I had ever gone away; not very long, I suspect.


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