Playing a Round of Golf VI

2011 Golf 77TDI "Team"

Driven 2011-04-28 to 2011-06-26 by Bernd Felsche
Bernd Felsche reports, somewhat belatedly, on his road trip with a Golf VI 77TDI in Europe on a quasi-holiday. This is not just a drive report. It's something like, but not entirely, a travel diary. There's a glimmer of hope that this article will be found both interesting and at least a little entertaining.

The author invites you to grab a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy the road trip of over 6500 kilometres in 60 days.


Murphy's Law.

Arrival

The jet touched down near Frankfurt/Main, the anticipation rose. Not only had I managed to finally have a holiday, I'd also tacked on some training at the beginning which I was hoping would be useful for my business' future. And I'd have 60 days to give a SEAT Leon a fair shake.

I had a lot of time to mull over those things as baggage repeated got jammed in the carousel's conveyor. Finally, the large grey Samsonite loomed on top of the carousel and some pushing and prodding of the jammed luggage by half a dozen pasengers who'd all grown tired of waiting more than 30 minutes to collect their bags, the Samsonite case with the mint green trim, which I've taken back and forth for a decade, was in my sweaty hand.

I'd also been at Frankfurt airport many times, but each time it's been different. So after passing through the friendly passport control, I was in a large hall which was quite unlike the floorplan that I'd downloaded from the airport's website and studied a week earlier. I love surprises like that. They get the juices flowing.

My flight from Perth via Dubai had landed around lunchtime so there was daylight coming in through the windows and glazed doors. Made it a bit easier to gather my wits and to look for signs. Overhead were signs pointing to Rental Car counters. But from the corner of my eye, I spotted a kiosk of the rental company of my choice in different direction. OK. Time to get a grip on reality, recognize that it's a construction site and that the signs are either wishful thinking or ghosts of times past! (Or signs of a conspiracy by psychiatrists to drum up business.)

Introduction

With suitcase in tow, I went to the counter to take care of the formalities to collect the car. This was going to be great. My first proper drive of a new SEAT Leon! To feel how the Spaniards interpret Volkswagen.

As soon as I identified myself at the rental desk, the young lady gave me the good news: They'd upgraded me to a Golf TDI at no extra charge. And a very economical one at that; they claimed.

I was more disoriented than disappointed.

The second shock came when they asked for my phone number. In Germany. It wasn't sufficient for them to be able to call the mobile number of the phone that I was carrying from Australia; which had been sufficient 4 years earlier.

One of the things that amazes me about too many people at service counters like that is that they make you do all the problem solving. They don't run through a set of options or solutions that have worked for some of their other customers in similar situations. None of that experience is available to the customer; who may have been in transit for 24 hours or more and are quite unlikely to be as resourceful, cognitive and inventive at devising a solution.

I'd already done my homework and planned to get a local SIM for my mobile phone the next day, but the rental company needed a number immediately, before they'd let me take the car. Technology is a marvellous thing and once you recognize that the staff are only there to keep the computers happy, everything runs soothly. That took me longer than usual; but I eventually offered them the phone number of friends with whom I'd be staying the first few nights; out of 60.

The computer was then sufficiently satisfied to make the car available. I got the docket to collect the car and was pointed in the direction of the car park.
Car Rental Fees  Those of you reading what is on the docket may note the 20% surcharge for picking up the car from a "priority" station. There is quite a thick soup of options available when renting a car and one needs to balance what is on offer with how one expects to use the car in order to get the best deal. Under other circumstances, I'd have caught a train to a non-priority station, saved 20%, but then been liable to a surcharge for kilometres travelled above a "limit". It's a problem solved by simple algebra. My expectation was that I'd be driving further than that limit and that the difference would be more likely to be in my favour if I picked up the car from the airport with unlimited km.

Winning Ticket!
Driving around in circles does not necessarily indicate
geographic embarrassment
Not completely routed.
Rental cars are parked deep within the bowels of the airport. There were a few rental station staff on hand to point me at the correct car. I hoiked my suitcase into the boot and unpacked the various travelling paraphenalia like the GPS navigation equipment.

One of the "traps" of car rental is to drive off with a car without first checking it for obvious damage. That can be costly as rental companies don't care how much it costs you to fix the damage. So I always take a few minutes to walk around the outside, take a look from various angles and caress the corners, feeling for bumps. Nothing showed up. Looking around inside, I note that the bottle opener is missing. Replacement costs about $30 so I had to make sure that they knew that is was missing before I drove away. One of the staff begin by trying to note the missing opener on the card (blue scribble) but his pen fails. He then walks over to what looks like his private vehicle (not a VW), open the boot and takes out a "spare" opener that fits the Golf. hmmmm

All set, I reprogramme my right arm to operate the gear shift. Engine starts fine with a slight diesel rattle. I make final adjustments to the mirrors, switch on the lights, carefully reverse out of the parking bay and head for the escape tunnel.

And then there was daylight. I knew the general direction and road to take, so I didn't have to wait for the GPS receiver to figure out that it'd been moved to the other side of the world while it was asleep.

During my "day job", I usually drive a Golf V TDI 2.0 with an engine that delivers almost double the power of the 77TDI. And it's got 6 forward gears compared to the 77TDI's 5. Which I find to be initially annoying because I can't engage 6th gear on the Autobahn.

I stick to the right lane while I get used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and use the ripples on the border stripe to feel the width of the car, sitting on the left of the car. Still pre-rush hour, traffic is fairly light and I pull into a rest area to programme my navigation system for my destination and a way point. The weather is pleasant enough; not bright sunshine as such. It gives me the first change to see the car in daylight.

My planned stop is the small town of Linden near Giessen, just off the Autobahn to the Ruhr region of Germany. The plan is to take on some drinks and munchies for the next 2 hours of driving. Bottled water appears to be almost free; with the deposit on the bottles representing about 70% of the purchase price. Bananas are cheaper than in Australia and Haribo Gold Bears will at least stop me from talking to myself while I drive.

The clock was ticking and rush hour approached. Cloud cover is now thick and the air is heavy. I make a quick phone call to my friends telling them to expect me a little later, given the likelihood of there being a major traffic snarl. Before I set off, I turned on the radio and listened to the traffic reports as I sipped on some apple juice and unhanded a second banana.

Whistle wetted and stomach occupied with fruitful digestion, it was back to the Autobahn for the long haul. Settling into the cruise, I began to appreciate some of the Golf V vs Golf VI differences; apart from simply the equipment levels. Trim feels was almost imperceptably "harder", especially in the plastics of the dash, console and door trim. The information in the instrument panel is more comprehensive; but while one is driving, there are better places to focus one's attention.

Ride is a bit smoother than the Golf V's; more settled. Road noise, that from the tyres is most noticeably reduced. In handling; the 2.0TDI is a more substantial engine than the 1.6 litre TDI of the 77TDI so the front of the newer car is understandably more responsive to directional changes. Steering feel is about the same as on the Golf V; AWOL. No feedback from the nature of the surface. No early warning of loss of traction. That makes traction and stability control almost indispensible.

The still-new engine ran out of grunt on the long, fast climbs. The fuel consumption indicator didn't show any remarkable fuel savings. Consumption was about what I'd get in the 2.0TDI. But the 77TDI has a particulate filter which has a tendency to consume fuel to disintegrate collected particulates. Consider that extra fuel an offering to irrational fears.

The car seems happy to cruise at between 130 and 150, though some of the climbs knock the speed back to about 120; as I don't like to see the fuel consumption continuously above 7 l/100km and, as I've mentioned before; the car is still new with fewer than 2500 km on the odometer and I have just a little respect for running in machinery even if it belongs to somebody else.

I find that I don't make much use of the cruise control with the undulating terrain and changing traffic conditions. Besides, with no speed limit for much of the Autobahn, a reasonable speed isn't a fixed one. One simply drives to the changing conditions.

The mod-con that I miss the most from 2.0TDI Comfortline are the sound system controls on the steering wheel and the automatic wipers and lights. Getting the correct wiping interval to match precipitation is impossible in the 77TDI. There are a few choices of intervals, but the rain doesn't match any of them, most of the time.

I get into the rush hour traffic but it's nowhere near as bad as around Perth. Major differences seem to be that almost everybody is paying attention and that they don't dawdle; their actions are decisive and predictable. And so it is that I am welcomed by my friends in the city of Herne at a reasonable hour on a Thursday.

Once I've settled in an freshened up, there are stories to tell, food to eat and a variety of beverages in which to indulge.

Before I go to sleep, I look out of the window and press the lock button on the remote control for the car locks; making sure that the car is safe and secure for the night. The Golf winks back in acknowledgement.


The Golf. Paused

First Dawn

Just like regular folk, it's a working day of sorts for me on the Friday. Top of the to-do list after breakfast is to go into town and to buy a SIM to plug into my mobile phone so that I can make affordable phone calls in Germany and from Belgium; and get some basic Internet access on the move in Deutschland. Paper, etc. is heavy stuff to be carrying to the other side of the world so I had to buy some notebooks, a few blank CD's etc for the training in which I was taking part over the coming fortnight.

I'd be staying in a hotel room for two weeks and the weekend in-between so there were other provisions to make as well; including toiletries and plastic bags for my laundry and collection of plastic bottles on which I could collect a deposit at some point. I also had a hankering for some comfortable driving shoes as shoes for walking about in an office aren't nearly ideal for driving. Proper footwear makes a big difference to driving comfort and in being able to drive without getting snagged behind pedals, etc.

My homework on the SIM told me that a department store selling the right one was within easy driving distance. So I tickled the diesel into life, did a u-turn at the end of the cul-de-sac and headed in approximately the right direction, paying little heed to my navigation system because I had plenty of time to "get lost" and to re-aquaint myself with the town, driving on local roads in Germany and, not least, to practice those tricky "city" driving procedures in the Golf. Cobbled roads are interesting when wet.

It was drizzly. I chose a wipe interval that seemed to be least-offensive and drove around town for about half an hour, poking the Golf's nose where it had no need to be, before deciding that I should do some actual shopping. Guided by "Kevin's" instructions issued via the TomTom Navigator, I found the REWE department store with plenty of parking available. In post-industrial Germany, many industrial areas and disused railyards have been adapted to ordindary commercial activity; shops. Those areas are usually on the fringes of what used to be the old town.

Department store shock is inevitable, even if an Aussie has been shopping in Germany on previous visits. The variety is what stuns more than the prices. In Australia, you might see 1 to 3 brands of one product per metre of shelves. In Germany, it's about 10 brands; all trying to compete for customers. And that includes libations. Booze. In the same store. In several aisles. At prices that would make a Temperance League member melt into the shiny floor. Cheap booze doesn't make for a nation of alcoholics.

After spending altogether too much time gawking at the shelves and perhaps making the store staff suspicious, I begin actual shopping and grab some of the things I want. Amongst them, some disposable lens wipes for my spec's. Name-brand costs about €3 for a pack of 50 and the store brand half of that. I buy one of each, considering the potential benefit of a product trial. Then there's a roll of 50 plastic "garbage" bags with pull-tape; ferpect for my laundry and other needs, for less than €2. Then it's a matter of finding the SIM "Starter Pack", and some stationery. I was already prepared for the dissonance at the checkout: They wanted 20 Euro cents for a plastic carrier bag. Although I was tempted to simply peel a 4-cent garbage bag off the roll I'd just bought and use that, I used the linen carrier bag from my jacket pocket. Yes, a moment of weakness.

It was time to get back to digs; to register the SIM over the Internet; to send a dozen SMS messages and make as many phone calls to let people know the number at which I could be contacted in Europe. That included the car rental company. By the time I was finished, the Starter Pack's initial credit had almost been used up completely. No prize for guessing what was on Saturday's shopping list.

With the critical tasks completed, I pulle the owner's manual from the Golf. Although owner's manuals have long threatened to make helpful sales and service staff obsolete, I think Volkswagen deserves a gong for securing those jobs and the jobs of the people who write the seldom-molested owner's manuals. Latterly, VW's manuals have been supplied in a ring binder with relevant section in separate booklets included, depending on the model and options chosen.

After browsing through the contents of the aforementioned binder, I half-expected to find a card inside the cover saying

YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO READ THIS

While it's nice to have a separable section for the radio, etc., somebody, somewhere, may to actually think that they have to read all of it to make full use of the car and to be prepared for unusual circumstances. The Golf VI platform hasn't made things easy, either for writers of owner's manuals or those who wish to read the manuals. All the gadgetry is much more confrontational than with the Golf V; the earlier model not offering nearly so many options. As an example, the trip computer section of the Golf VI's manual covers over 30 pages. And if you're not (computer) technically minded, most of it is gibberish and wholly confuddling. It takes a while to recognize that the trip computer is also a way of adjusting lots of the "comfort features" of the car like automatic locking of doors when the car exceeds a preset speed. Of course, there are only 6 buttons available to adjust a hundred settings.

Most people never want to know this except when it stops working. They may indeed believe the vehicle to have become possessed by demons should they inadvertantly enter the feature settings mode and alter something beyond their expectations.

Proper geeks appreciate such details (and much, much more) on e.g. a USB thumb drive to plug into their laptop or fondle-slab. Don't they?

What I discovered in the manual was that the Golf was equipped with all the sensors to park itself. I read further and realized what'd previously made me rather queasy, was another feature of the car. Namely the dipping of the side-mirrors when reversing so that it's easier to see the kerb. A good idea in theory; but with non-planar mirrors and the dipping process taking well over 3 seconds, anybody concentrating on the image in the mirror will believe that the car is drifing sideways, even when its wheels aren't turning. That has made manual parking more difficult. Had I owned the car, I'd have exorcised that demon from the "convenience" settings.

But they won't be held responsible for any damage if you use the automatic parking feature.

One useful convenience diversion was the multi-media interface option on the Radio-CD. It was installed and just need to be plugged in; with my music on my thumb drive arranged in a suitable way. I then had the choice of listening to radio, CD or my own music collection through the car's sound system. The benefit of that was that traffic announcement would still be heard, even when listening to my favourite tunes.
Traffic information  Regional traffic information is available in voice/audible form over all of Germany and by most radio stations as a service piggy-backed onto their normal signal. If traffic information is enabled on the radio (as it is by default on a car radio), then important traffic announcements will be heard over other content being transmitted, by anybody in the region listening to their car audio system. Urgent announcements can come through at any time. General traffic condition reporting occurs every half hour or so. Such services give drivers the information to perhaps change their routes; or to take a longer break at a rest stop.

People don't even need an electronic navigation system to make use of the information. Knowledge of the area and/or a map is enough. It seems to keep a lid on driver frustration if they still get caught in a jam; and they're not totally in the dark about the situation. But you need to understand the lingo.

Saturday

I was still thinking of my footwear options and, as it was not quite raining, I headed for the centre of town on foot. A brisk 10 minute walk that wasn't too much of a shock to the system.

The centre of town was quite depressing. There were too many closed shops to be cheerful. Prices were low for most things; especially compared to Australia, taking into account currency conversion. The only thing that stood out as being hugely expensive was a special edition of Monopoly, featuring the town. They were flinging them out the door at about €45 a pop. I didn't bother to check which street they had to compare to Mayfair. It would have been too heavy to carry back to Australia as a memento.

Discount 2-Euro stores weren't doing huge trade either. Customers seemed to be very careful in their spending. Including me. I visited every shoe shop in the middle of town but found nothing to suit me at a price that I was willing to pay. Perhaps a sigh escaped, as I resolved to go back to the department store on the fringe later in the day and have a closer look at what they were offering.

On the trek back to digs, I dropped into the local railway station's newsagent and purchased a "recharge" coupon for my new mobile phone SIM. That'd have to last for 2 weeks while I was out of the country.

I drove the car back to the department store and found some suitable shoes at a fair price. A few other bits and bobs filled my shopping bag. I was provisionally ready for a fortnight in Belgium. Which was appropriate because I'd be departing before noon the next day. And there was still plenty of juice in the car, so no need to refuel until well into the first week in Belgium, where fuel seemed a bit cheaper anyway. Which left me some more time to spend with my friends between packing what I was taking with me to Belgium and packing other things to leave in the care of my friends.

Sunday, the First of May

It's a special day in Germany. A day when all the motorbikes seem to come out to play in the spring air.

After a good night's sleep and a light breakfast, I headed West towards Belgium, with heaps of time on my hands to get where I wanted. Although the TomTom Navigation system running on the old Treo phone knew most of the roads as they had been in Germany in 2007, by 2011 there'd been small changes. And the the maps for Belgium had only the main roads. Lucky for me, the Hotel in on a main road. Well, a minor main road.

Destination was Tombeek, part of the city of Overijse in the Flemish part of Belgium. The training courses were to take place in a Francophone part of Belgium, which began just on the other side of the creek near the Hotel. My planned commute was about half an hour each way.

The run to the border was at most uneventful. I was a little disappointed that the fuel consumption remained relatively high, despite the flat landscape and smooth Autobahn surface. But it was still a new TDI. Properly run in; which can take 40,000 km or more, both oil and fuel consumption can be expected to fall.

I made a brief stop off the Autobahn just before Aachen, just over half an hour into the trip to take off my jacket, have a drink and to try to fix the video camera I had mounted in the car. It was rubbish. The camera being far too sensitive to any vibrations, the recordings turned out to be almost completely useless. So much for "solid state".

Speedometers are Compulsive Liars  Belgian motorways have speed limits; usually 120 km/h so the importance of the navigation system increased as it indicated the real speed of the car, unlike the speedometer which has been programmed to exaggerate the measured speed by about 7%. It is legally required to lie so that the car can be licenced for road use. The compulsive lying behaviour can be confirmed by plugging in a diagnostic tool and getting a readout of the speed measured by the car's own sensors; which agrees with the GPS figure within 2 km/h at a steady speed. The result is that at an indicated 100 km/h, the car is not even travelling at 95.

In combination with strict speed limit enforcement, one gets the same motorway behaviour in Belgium as one endures in Australia: All lanes are occupied by everybody driving at their idea of 120 km/h and failing to stay out of the passing lanes. This reduction in lane discipline compared to (de-restricted) Autobahn traffic in Germany raises the apparent congestion, even on a Sunday, and probably the stress experienced by drivers.

After about 150 km of Belgian motorways, I took a near-enough exit at Wavre and noted that the speed limit around most of town is posted as 70; at least on the main roads. Both the age and the lack of map detail in the navigation system become apparent as I hit roadworks, incorporating new road, intersections and roundabouts. But I can read signs, and they seem to point in the right direction. Ooohhh look: A new Audi showroom. There are other small businesses settled either side of the road.

After a little while I was back on the unchanged road. It becomes semi-rural, with some treelines and a ridge. I blinked but didn't miss the small sign greeting those who enter Vlaams-Brabant. Just a minute from the hotel on Waversesteenweg at the entrance of the village of Tombeek, part of the greater community of Overijse. Radio reception ought to be good because there's a huge mast over the ridge, behind the hotel.

Time to check in; though there didn't appear to be any staff outside of the trenches. Front door was locked, but that door also served the restaurant which wasn't open at the time. A staff member arrives by car and sees that I'm checked in and have a room.

They showed me the guests' entrance at the back of the hotel and tell me where I can park the car for easy access. The suitcase which I was carrying wasn't easy to wrangle up the stairs. A bit of unpacking to do; hang the shirts and trousers so that they're not too wrinkly in the morning. And oh dear; noticed that the hem on one trouser leg has come undone. That was when I applied my Army training, got out the sewing kit and figured out how to do some blind stiching. Fixed in under half an hour. (I hadn't brought any duct tape. A dismal oversight.)

Still daylight, my feet are still itchy and I headed back out onto the road for a quick squiz at the neighbourhood. Along Waversesteenweg towards Brussels, what looks like Overijse's old town centre invites a pause at a war memorial in Overijse. For a moment, I consider that it wasn't only the World Wars which ravaged that region, but wars over several centuries between rival tribes and nations. For example, Waterloo is within spitting distance. But there were many earlier, deadly struggles, for much less.

Carrying on towards Brussels, the newer-looking parts of town stretch out along the main drag. With a speed limit of 70. There are restaurants, fast-food and other shops, as well as service centres for large corporations. I made a mental note of the locations and approaches to service stations and did a short run along the motorway back to the Wavre exit, and a circuit around that town, completing the evening's orientation.

Back at the hotel, I found that the Wi-Fi Internet didn't quite extend to the inside of my room. I'd disabled "data" on my mobile phone the night before because roaming data charges were astronomical. And that sort of thing could wait until the following day, where the training facility provided sufficient access capacity.

Commuter Duty

I was ready for breakfast too early for the staff. No big deal as there was about half an hour's drive and the scheduled start was 9 a.m.. Two cups of coffee, some bread and fixings and I was fit to tackle rush hour; Belgian style.

It was chilly. Quite cold. Below 5°C. Brrr... This was supposed to be the middle of spring.

Like all diesels, the 77TDI rattled when cold; nearly as badly as my teeth chattered. I kept my jacket on because I knew that it'd take quite a while for the little diesel engine to produce enough warmth to make the car cosy. Screen demist was on, as were the rear window's and the ones in the side mirrors. At least those electric heaters were "instantaneous". No wonder that heated seats and auxiliary heaters are popular in Northern Europe.

Through planning and with blue extremities, I was heading the opposite way to most of the traffic almost all the way. The route chosen by the navigation system however took me through too many villages where the traffic was frequently slow or stopping. Nevertheless, my OpenERP training destination in Grand-Rosiere was reached with minutes to spare.

The converted farm had a large gravel area for parking. It took a minute of me looking around to find an entrance before somebody popped out to point me the right way for "class". Yep. Back to school. But I had brought an apple. Not that there was much need as there were croissants, jam, coffee, fruit juice, etc dished up for the students.

There were many foreign students in the class; including another Australian. Most of the other foreigners weren't quite as foreign, being from e.g. the Netherlands and commuting daily. English was the language for training. Most seemed quite comfortable with it.

Although we remained on the premises most days for lunch, Friday were special with students and staff taking lunch at a local restaurant. We piled into a few vehicles and made a convoy. The negative was that the driver couldn't enjoy more than a sip of beer or wine with their lunch. It is probably obvious that Friday afternoon's training wasn't quite as productive as it had been on other days.

The end of training at about 5 p.m. wasn't the end of a day by a long stretch. It didn't begin to get dark until after 9 p.m., giving plenty of time to scout around for places to eat, buy some special munchies or simply to see a bit more of the country. That said; I was usually too tired to stay out much after 8 p.m..

"Routine" settled, the rest of the week flew past. One evening, I dropped into a supermarket and found some Australian Pink Lady apples; for about €1 per kg. Madness! So I bought a few to munch while watching incomprehensible TV shows until it got dark enough to get some sleep.

The second morning was even colder than the first. Frost on the windscreen. Just enough to have me make sure that I'd park wipers off the glass that evening. Which was fortuitous as I had to use the ice scraper to free up the glass the next morning, while the engine was running, working on defrosting. That wasn't in the plan, but only delayed me by a few minutes.

A Golf feature with which few Aussies will need to be familiar, is that of wiper parking options. The first is the service position where the wipers swing up to the vertical position so that the blades can be cleaned, inspected and changed. The second is the off-glass position where the blades are lifted off the glass so that they don't freeze into position. Blades that are frozen into position can either have the rubber ripped off them or cause the wiper motor to overload. Neither of those is a desirable option. So RTFM (Read The Fine Manual) if you're expecting frosty/freezing weather.

Le Weekend

That's French, you know!

It was a chance for a big tour around Belgium with pleasant weather. After waiting for Aldi to open its door in Overijse to fetch some fresh provisions for the road, I covered:

  • Wavre
  • Waterloo
  • Brussels (because I took the wrong turn-off)
  • Leuven
  • Spa
  • Overijse

War Memorial, Overijse
Leffe is an excellent beverage that has its traditional home in Overijse.
The objective wasn't to "fill a dance card", but to see where I'd be spending most of my Sunday. To have some depth in my sightseeing.

Brussels was immediately out of the mix. The wide avenues seemed to have no merit and the millions of tons of concrete and glass edifices were devoid of inspiring or inspiration. Their grey pouring cold water onto any cheer that the clear blue skies might provide.

In terms of driving, the biggest challenge proved to be some of the local roads for which the Golf has evidently grown too fat. Cars parked on both sides of a lane leaving less than 2 metres for traffic... and the width across the side-mirrors for a Golf VI is just over 2 metres. So I ended up slowing down and having the mirrors "kiss" those of some parked cars; at one stage, simultaneously on both sides. The paintwork wasn't marked. My nerves were frayed.

I gave the video camera another chance to display some merit on the leg to Spa, but could salvage only a few stills from a half hour of recording. Belgium is not all flat, as you can see from the few pictures. In some areas, it even approximates "mountainous".

Following more than 350 km of driving in about 8 hours, I went back to the "traditional", Belgian burger joint I'd seen earlier in Waterloo.

Then to the old centre of Overijse. To snap some pictures and to sit down for a cool glass of Leffe Brun.

Sunday in Leuven

Breakfast was late on Sunday. No big deal as I'd decided that Leuven was most worthy of a closer look and it was only half an hour from where I was staying. Well, anywhere in Belgium was less than two hours from where I was staying.

Starting at about 10 in the morning meant that I didn't have to deal with frost on the windscreen. Traffic was light and the navigation system guided me to the edge of Leuven; after which it was fairly useless due to its ignorance of minor roads. It was a matter of watching what little traffic there was and avoiding another lane of mirrors as experienced on the yesterday.

I found a small carpark in Fonteinstraat at Brouwerstraat which was ticket parking. My Dutch is about 30% correct when reading so just to make sure that payment wasn't due on a Sunday, I donated 20 Euro cents and got a ticket to confirm that I could remain there until 1 a.m. on the Monday. In case of memory loss, I kept the tear-off portion of the ticket in my wallet.

Finding the centre of town was then easy; follow Fonteinstraat to Brusselsestraat and turn left. Follow that street into the Grotemarkt in front of the town hall. The bridge over the Dijle had (re)construction works with a huge placard detailing millions in EU spending. When I got to the square, I realized that I could have taken Brouwerstraat instead; as a more direct route.

The Town Hall was immediately recognizable. It was the most oppulently-decorated building in the square. The cathedral opposite only had size to give it any prominence. From a placard on the bank building on another side of the square, I learnt that Leuven had been almost totally devastated during World War I, which reinforced my nagging impression that I was seeing a Disneyfication of the past. The square wasn't exactly over-run with tourists.

When I follow a road off the square to Oude Markt, I see a long square, with restaurants lined alng both sides; on terraces to the left. There are hundreds of tables and thousands of chairs. And a dozen tourists. Or so I thought. It's lunch time. What's eaten Leuven?

As I walked past, one of those sitting in a group of two occupied tables asked me to take his picture. He (let's call him "Sam") must've "guessed" that I was a tourist. In a brief conversation, Sam told me that most of the people in his group are locals; not even students; and that the students almost all abandon town on the weekend for e.g. mums' cooking. The fed and freshly washed students then return on Sunday evening.

Sam wrote his email address onto a beer coaster so that I could send him the picture. I carried on, further inspecting the desolation wrought by mums' cooking.

I was almost prepared when I saw the vast plaza in front of the University Library. One could have shot a post-apocalypse movie. If the Belgians weren't so tidy, then they'd have plastic "tumble weeds" like the commercial part of London has on Bank Holiday Mondays.

With my feet wearing thin at about 3 p.m., I headed back to the car, keeping the general direction but snooping down different lanes. Some parts of town are genuinely old; others are definitely faux traditional. I can't really see the point in the latter. It devalues the genuine. It chooses only a few elements and often omits the nuances.

I packed my gear into the car and set off back to the hotel. But off to the side of the road, I saw the Stella Artois brewery. I made a detour down to the surrounding industrial area, much of it wasteland. A few new office blocks, mostly vacant, were just off the canal. One old, multi-storey factory fascade is supported by a steel frame; perhaps trying to honour the industry of the past or to shame the indolent of the present.

Even the Golf's diesel's exhaust note found little resonance in this territory. A gentle cruise along the canal reminded me that nature will erase the successes and failures of man's industry without discrimination if efforts to improve do not persist. That wasn't a sullen tune for which I was looking when I took the detour. I had hoped to see signs of innovation and industry, building on the past. That wasn't to be.

I get back to the hotel and work out that it must be the maid's day off. A nearby eatery comes to mind but when I get there, my appetite has abandoned me. I sat in the car in the shade, enjoyed the breeze and tried not to think of how good things could be if we weren't so obsessed with solving imaginary problems.

Training Week 2

This was a new course, a different instructor and a change of some students (more geeks). Otherwise, is was largely a replay of the previous week. One morning, I slept through my alarms and had to skip breakfast so that I wouldn't be very late. Traffic conditions were kind. Adrenalin is not a good substitute for caffeine.

It was not a matter of enduring the week as trying to get as much done as possible during that week.

On Friday morning, I packed most of my stuff into the car early, before my last breakfast. After essential ablutions, I grabbed what was left in the room, checked out and settled the bill. Good bye to Tombeek.

The final day of training was only approximately a replay of the previous week's. I had it in front-of-mind to leave before 6 p.m. so that I could get back to Herne in Germany before dark.

continues ...


Copyright © 2012 Bernd Felsche, Perth, Western Australia
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