Etihad Airways' brand new Airbus A340-500

A bedroom more lavish than we deserved

The very exotic looking sculpture outside our hotel

A  partnership between Aborigines and Arabs??

If this is your number just phone the studio in
the next 5 minutes to claim this week's jackpot!

Every Arab seemed to be holding a phone and a fag

Peter Griffiths, we bought these chairs just for you!

Our small but comfy apartment in Brussels

Typical outdoor Brussels restaurant

Le Grand Place square in Brussels

Cornucopia of honey products in back street shop

The Markt central square in Brugge

I shot this through a locked glass door

The Markt is surrounded by restaurants like this

A cyclist crosses old stone bridge in Brugge

A tourist cruise boat navigates a Brugge canal

PAGE 1 | PAGE 2 | PAGE 3 | PAGE 4 | PAGE 5 | PAGE 6 | PAGE 7 | PAGE 8 | PAGE 9 | PAGE 10

12th May - enroute to Abu Dhabi
Got to bed at 1.15am after attending to all and sundry. Just closed our eyes and the alarm went of at 4.45 am for us to rise, complete any outstanding items, take breakfast and head off to the airport.

We had a 5 hour layover in Sydney which was just enough time to have lunch with Anna, Anton and their children. Luke and Rachelle couldn't make it because their boys had Saturday football commitments. Matt and Trish didn't make it because they are both visiting England at the moment. Mike and Renee are of course back in Nambucca Heads.

We're flying with Etihad Airways to Europe via Abu Dhabi. Etihad is the United Arab Emirates Government sponsored airline. They started flying in and out of Sydney from late March 2007 with some irresistible opening price deals we couldn't resist.

There's nothing good one can say about long plane flights. Suffice to say we arrived at Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E. at midnight after a non stop flight of just over 14 hours.

13th May - In Abu Dhabi
Surprisingly easy entry formalities. No customs or immigration forms to fill out. Just step to a counter, present passports and receive an instant 30 day visa stamp.

Huge consternation at the baggage carousel. Our first two bags arrived as quick as a wink. However our 3rd bag did not arrive and gradually we became the last folks waiting at the carousel at 1.00 am in the morning. Furthermore a search through our documents located baggage tickets for two bags but no ticket for the missing one. With heavy hearts we set off to find a baggage problems office. Lo and behold when we got to the other side of the carousel Lynn noticed about half a dozen small bags in an orphaned pile on the floor and our missing bag was amongst them. Who took it off the carousel and why will never be known but we were hugely relieved to recover this bag.

The room which our son Matthew booked for us in the "Le Meridien Abu Dhabi" is quite luxurious, super spacious and well beyond our expectations. We weren't expecting it but we ended up with a two room suite plus huge bathroom and a massive balcony. To give you an idea of the spaciousness, the bedroom is about 12 metres by 4 metres, the living room is the same size and the balcony is also the same size! Then the very large bathroom has two showers, a bath and the usual bits and pieces.

If it wasn't 1.30 am we'd have felt quite regal. The first sign of our elevated status was upon lifting the toilet lid and finding an artistic arrangement of rose petals floating in the water. Then we noticed the bidet was filled with crushed ice and a bottle of French champagne (no, get over it… the bidet embellishment is a sick joke Brian just couldn't resist ).

Photos of our suite appear hereabouts in this web page.

And so to bed at about 2.00 am and then to wake again at 7am to blazing sunlight.

The newspaper predicts 42 celsius degrees temperature for today. Just as well we won't be here in July when it often goes up to 50 degrees! The same newspaper carried an article reporting that "Mr Fathi Sudki Khalil Dwaikat departed for heavenly abode on 11th May 2007". It's a destination we ourselves hope to visit on some future itinerary at some future date yet to be confirmed.

Had a brilliant buffet breakfast in air-conditioned splendour overlooking the pool. However, looking around the breakfast room, it's hard to understand how so many western female visitors could be so insensitive to Muslim customs and dress in such skimpy singlets, short shorts and so on when visiting an Islamic nation. 

We did some laundry and placed our clothes out on our balcony table where they dried in a little over an hour. It's scorching out there so we spend most the day in our room just recovering from our flight and the days leading up to our departure.

We stepped outside for a walk through town at about 4.30pm. Within 400 metres Brian was gasping for breath and weak at the knees. We walked through avenues of austere, off white concrete buildings for about 1,500 metres taking our lives in our hands at very street crossing. Nothing really interesting but we did enter the occasional shop to browse…. more to grab a bit of air conditioning than anything else.

Abu Dhabi is a very wealthy city-state of about 900,000 people and one of the 5 emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates. It's a very oil rich place. Apparently few of the locals choose to work. The whole country is run with migrant workers, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, India and South East Asia. 
Dubai is another Emirates city-state about 130 kms through the dessert but only 45 mins journey the way they drive around here!


14th May - From Abu Dhabi to Brussels
Today we fly to Brussels where the expected maximum is going to be 14 or 16 degrees depending on which website you believe. Seeing we don't arrive until 6pm we're guessing it will be around 10 degrees on our arrival. In choosing my outfit for today (a rather grand term for my set of rags), I have to opt for either boiling in Abu Dhabi or freezing on arrival in Brussels. Or to be more candid with you, I have to decide whether I'd rather look like a goose in Abu Dhabi or look like a goose in Brussels? I've decided to boil in Abu Dhabi. After all, I aint never coming back this way no moe, no moe. They say it's MUCH hotter in the middle of Summer. Jeez, give us a break!

The seven hour flight to Brussels reactivated all the sore muscles and joints that were just beginning to recover from Saturday's flight. Still, 7 hours in the air is a heck of a lot more tolerable than 14 hours. And daylight flights always seem more bearable than evening flights, particularly if you're unable to sleep on aeroplanes.

The walk from our flight's docking bay to the Belgium immigration desk must have been fully one kilometre or more in length along a perfectly straight tunnel which disappeared into the distance before our eyes.

After immigration and customs formalities we had to join a long, slow, snaking taxi queue outside the terminal. We just about choked on the cigarette smoke from many chain smokers in the queue desperately trying to restore their nicotine levels after hours of deprivation. We finally reached the head of the queue jumped into a car and sped, nay careered out onto the freeway under a drizzling sky. This Belgium driver was good… there's no denying that. But I didn't feel all that happy about lots of rapid lane changing at 120 kph on a wet freeway. Anyhow, after $57 worth of mild terror we were safely delivered to the older style studio apartment we had previously booked in the suburbs of Brussels.

"Chaussée Saint Pierre" is a modest but quite spacious bed-sitter apartment with a small bathroom and kitchenette within an older style residence here in the Brussels "burbs". It is perfect for our needs and much more to our taste (and pocket) than a typical international downtown hotel. A photo of our apartment appears hereabouts.

We were both feeling very jet lagged and exhausted. We purchased a half baguette, made up a couple of instant soups, then collapsed into bed.


15th May - In Brussels
Our hosts supplied directions to the nearest Metro Station which is about 800 metres walk away.

Usually one has to spend a couple of days coming to grips with the train system in a large foreign city but the Belgium Metro was a snack. It is also very cheap. A ticket worth about $1.70 allows unlimited travel within the system for 90 minutes. Alternatively one can buy a "Day Ticket" for about $7.00 which gives you a whole day's worth on the Metro system.

We spent the morning wandering around the centre of Belgium just soaking up the atmosphere. It looks and feels so much like a moderate size French city and our very limited French language skills were adequate to read most signs etc. Mind you, literally everyone seems to speak good to near perfect English in addition to the two official languages of French and Dutch.

During the latter part of the morning we strayed into what was obviously the Restaurant Quarter. We've never seen so many restaurants, cafes and bars in one place before. There seemed to be hundreds of them in a series of densely packed lanes. All had indoor and outdoor seating and all seemed to have the cane and wicker-work chairs so beloved by al fresco style restaurants throughout Europe. It was about 11am as we strolled through the le restaurant quartier and although there were no diners there was frantic preparation activity. There was no doubt in our minds that come noon thousands would descend on this area, the lanes would become choked with people and the "lucky ones" would be packed shoulder to shoulder at tables the size of two handerchiefs. We've seen it before in similar places, especially in France and Italy.

Our own plan is to walk through to an adjoining district to lunch at a famous restaurant called Comme Chez Soi as a "once in a lifetime treat". It's supposed to be one of the five best restaurants in Europe and we booked a table some time ago. If you want to check it out click www.commechezsoi.be  then click "EN" at the bottom of the Home Page to enter the English version of their website. We won't dwell on the meal. Suffice to say some of the little dishes were brilliant and the others were very good. The whole thing was far too expensive however and hardly a relaxed occasion. Still, it realised a long held dream and now we can move on.

The sun was shining brightly as we left the restaurant so we enjoyed some more explorative walking until our feet gave out (those cobblestones are killers).

On the way back to the Metro station we came across a 15th century church and decided to explore. A non English speaking and almost toothless giant of a guy attached himself to us and became a bit of a pest handing us leaflets and explaining things in a mixture of French, Dutch with a few English words thrown in for good measure. Finally we were able to shake him off and spend a few quiet minutes of reflection in the main part of the church. However, when it came time to leave our "old friend" corralled us, jabbering away and obviously wanted money before we left. He had obviously set himself up in business within the church and was now into shakedown mode. Well Brian just feigned incomprehension whereupon the con man started to rub his thumb and index finger together as a form of financial Esperanto anyone could understand…. Except Brian who still played dumb even when the guy followed us outside and for a short distance down a lane as we fled the district. Still, at least Brian didn't take a whip to the money changers and false tourist guides.

16th May - Day trip to Brugge
Today we are off to a city called Brugge in the Flemish (Dutch speaking) part of Belgium. No trouble taking the neat and modern (privately operated) Metro train to Gare de Centraal which is part of the Government owned rail network. The Central Station was a dirty, run-down ghastly shambles of a place, covered in graffiti, full of touts and beggars and just plain awful! Still we had no trouble buying a ticket on an out of town train to Brugge. Finding the right platform was a snack and we were soon seated in comparative luxury within a carriage containing only four or five other people. Brilliant... we seem to have fallen on our feet in choosing this carriage. Ten minutes after our journey began along came a ticket inspector. "Monsieur et Madame is in the wrong carriage. Your tickets zay are for Second Class."

"Oh", said Lynn, "Do we really have to move?"

"Mais oui" said the patient inspector, "you must move to zee other carriage or pay the supplement".

So Brian quickly checked an adjoining (almost full) Second Class carriage and decided to hand over the extra Euros so we could stay where we were for the balance of the hour's journey.

The day was very grey and cold and Brugge was filled with tourists. Nevertheless, Lynn had acquired a walking tour of Brugge off the internet and our plan was to largely avoid all the restaurants, boutiques, tourist shops etc by walking ourselves around the quaint narrow lanes and canals of this very old small city.

A bus dropped us at The Markt which is the main square in Brugge. We were dismayed to be confronted by two large temporary grandstand structures of grey pipe and orange plastic seats full smack in the middle of the square. Obviously these had just been erected for some weekend event or concert! What a bummer… it was almost impossible to take a decent photo anywhere around the Square.

Unfortunately we had also apparently arrived on garbage collection day and literally every house and corner shop had bags or neat stacks of un-bagged rubbish on the extremely narrow footpaths, doorsteps and window sills. A lot of potentially good photo opportunities had to be abandoned because the shot would also contain a dozen or more garbage bags along the street. Still not all was lost and we have been able to include a few decent photos in this website to prove that Brugge is actually a worthy sightseeing destination on more auspicious occasions.

The trip back to Brussels was uneventful and a tired travelling couple had a quick Won Ton soup and Riz Saute at our local Restaurant Chinoise before hitting the sack.

Please click through to the next page.