Lisbon photo essay

A Lisbon photo essay to round off my series of entries from Lisbon.

The last week in June, Mrs SC and I visited Lisbon – my first visit, her second. In my two most recent blog entries here I focused on a couple of of Lisbon’s “sights” and their history. First off was the Alfama, the oldest part of the city dominated by the Castelo de Sao Jorge. That article retold the story of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Here’s a photo of the castle that I didn’t fit into that article.

Lisbon photo essay: Baixa - Looking up to the CastleIn my second article I wrote about our visit to the Museu de Marinha in Belém and how the museum presents the story of the Portuguese Age of Discovery… and what it leaves out. We didn’t spend the whole day in the Maritime Museum, though, and here’s a picture of an ancient fig tree in the Jardim Botânico Tropical, which turned out to be another good place to rest in the shade.

Lisbon photo essay: Belem - fig tree in the tropical botanical gardens
My final article was going to be about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, but I’ve had second thoughts. I love history, but I know I can run on a bit. The last couple of entries have been rather wordy, so today’s will be mostly photos. I’ll hold the earthquake over to a later date – or perhaps till after I revisit Lisbon, which I’m tempted to do. We did have a very good time.

But first, allow me just a little more history. I took the next photo on the morning of our first day. We were out scouting for breakfast, walking down the tree-shaded Avenida da Liberdade  when I saw this. As you probably remember from school, Christopher Columbus “discovered America” in 1492.
The Discovery of America 1472 - Avenida da Liberdade
OK:

  • The aboriginal peoples of America actually discovered it tens of thousands of years earlier,
  • Leif Eriksson was the first certain European visitor and he was there around the year 1000,
  • Columbus probably went to his grave believing he’d actually found India,
  • The Waldseemüller map – the first to actually name the continent America – didn’t appear till 1507.

Still… 1472?

I really thought it was a mistake. The sort of thing that happens sometimes when street painters doze on the job and paint SLOM on a road where they ought to have painted SLOW. But, no. It seems there’s this theory in Portugal that a Portuguese explorer called João Vaz Corte-Real discovered the New Land of the Codfish (Terra Nova do Bacalhau) in 1472. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you Spanish and American Columbus lovers!

And while you’re doing that, enjoy these photos from a tram ride we took through Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district.

Lisbon photo essay: Tram 28 at Martin Montiz
Above is tram number 28 at the Martin Moniz stop.

Below is from the interior of a number 25 tram heading up to Bairro Alto.

Lisbon photo essay: Inside tram 25

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - reading the news
Above: Two gentlemen in the shade by a news kiosk – taken from the tram window.

Below: On the phone with the washing – also taken from the tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - on the phone

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - trams 28 and 25 passing
Above: A number 25 and number 28 tram passing on a corner in Barrio Alto. In places the tram lines are so steep I wonder how the trams manage to climb and not slide back.

Below: A Lisbon street seen through a tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - Through the tram windowThat was how we spent the morning of our final day in Lisbon. For a complete change, we took the metro to the ultra-modern district Parque das Nações and spent the afternoon at Lisbon’s Aquarium. The Oceanário de Lisboa is probably the most child-friendly place we visited on our trip. It was pretty entertaining for two older people without kids too. Here’s one of the sharks.

Lisbon photo essay: In the aquarium - shark
And here is a panorama of silhouettes transfixed by the main ocean tank.

Lisbon photo esay: In the aquarium - silhouettes 2
A final couple of pictures to round this off.

Lisbon photo essay: Fado performance 2
Above: The first evening we went to a Fado bar…

Below: …and I had a sangria. Cheers!

John, sangria and Fado
So that was our visit to Lisbon. A very packed schedule, but we had a great time and certainly hope to return one of these days. On the way to the airport the taxi driver asked where we’d been and what we’d seen and then said: “Oh, but you haven’t see Sintra. Sintra is the best.” (It turned out Sintra was where he lived.) So we promised to put Sintra on our list for the next time.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Back in Brussels airport

Yesterday, as I write, I flew back to Belgium after a few weeks at home in Gothenburg. It was exactly two weeks to the day after the bomb attack on Brussels airport, and up until Monday I had not expected to pass through Brussels International. I was fully prepared for a flight to Antwerp or Liége followed by a bus journey, but no.

Brussels airport is struggling back onto its feet, shaking off the effects of the attack, and the first planes in and out flew on Sunday. Not to say that Tuesday was business as usual by any means. There were just a few flights and the place was emptier and quieter than I have ever seen it. Still, though, it was working.

Back in Brussels airport: the arrivals/departures gates

Here are a couple of photos taken of the gates. The moving walkways were running, but just a few people were travelling on them.

Back in Brussels airport: moving walkways

Back in Brussels airport: panorama of shut shops

Many of the airport shops were shut (above), though the restaurants around the atrium (below) were open. However, most travellers seemed keen to pass through and move on.

Back in Brussels airport: the atrium

Back in Brussels airport: cart

This electric cart (above) carried a reminder of why Brussels International needs to re-open as soon as it can. But the baggage reclaims hall (below) was desolate.

Back in Brussels airport: baggage reclaim hall

Back in Brussels airport: security

I didn’t think the security was very obvious, but it was certainly there (above). The direct trains and buses that usually shuttle passengers to and from the airport were suspended. It was taxis only (or private cars). The taxi queue was long, but orderly and efficient (below).

Back in Brussels airport: taxi queue

Sea of flowers and the steps of the Bourse

Later in the afternoon Mrs SC took me by the Bourse to see the flowers and signs and all the people who still stand around here, meditating, mourning, praying, adding their own messages and/or taking photos (above), “Pas au nom de l’Islam” – Not in the name of Islam.

There were a lot of signs posted by the international communities that call Brussels home (below). “I am Brussels,” they say, and “I am Palestinian/Congolese/Moroccan/Cameroonian. Stop violence. End racism.”

Messages at the Bourse

Even Brussels public transport (STIB) is wearing mourning after the bomb attack on the Maelbeek station. A current campaign to get people to use public transport has been adapted to the circumstances with a monochrome colour scheme, a mourning band and a re-purposed hashtag.

Brussels public transport (STIB) in mourning

Bruxelles c’est nous tous – Brussels is all of us.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The worst journey in the world

What is the worst journey you have ever made? Recent events, public and private, have got me thinking about my own worst journeys and the concept of a bad journey. (And I should point out that some of the following may not be for the squeamish — or for people eating a meal. For the same reason I shall eschew sound effects in the recording.)

In 1922 Apsley Cherry-Garrard published The Worst Journey in the World, a masterpiece of travel writing which I believe has never since been out of print. It is the account of the 1910-1913 Scott expedition to the Antarctic of which Cherry-Garrard was one of the survivors. That was a pretty dreadful journey, no question, but “the worst in the world”?

Good or bad, best or worst, these are subjective judgements. What’s good for you may not seem so great to me. What’s bad for me might seem a walk in the park next to Cherry-Garrard’s winter journey. I’ve not struggled through a screaming blizzard in the pitch black Antarctic night several tens of degrees below freezing in order to “acquire for science” (i.e. steal) some Emperor penguin eggs. I have not then failed to rescue my fellow explorers, leaving them to die of cold or starvation just a few kilometres away. I can agree, that must have been pretty bad. My worst journey doesn’t compare objectively, but it happened to me and subjectively it was so bad I still measure all my bad journeys against it.

It started well enough in the summer of 1995. The school year was over in Sweden and I’d been working in Poland, helping out on a training programme for Polish teachers of English, and was making my way back to England to visit my mother in Brighton. The weather was fine, the sun was warm and the fields and even the old industrial towns of Poland and eastern Germany were smiling. I took the train from Warsaw to Berlin where I broke my journey to be a tourist.

It was not quite five years since East and West had been reunited, just over five years since the fall of the Wall, and Berlin was filled both with reminders of the Cold War division and the rubble and reconstruction that was replacing them. I particularly remember taking the U-bahn to Potsdamer Platz (which had been one of the East German ghost stations), getting off and walking through what felt like a labyrinth of temporary passages and steps up to the surface to find myself in the middle of one massive building site. But I also walked through the Tiergarten, central Berlin’s fantastic park, and the summer sun filtered down through the leaves of the trees on the families spread on the grass with their one-time barbecues and picnic blankets and children playing. There was hope in the air.

That evening I ate a chicken dinner at a fast food restaurant near my hotel. As it happened, not a good choice. I wasn’t going to sleep long — my train was starting early — and I think being a bit nervous about missing the train kept me awake and interfered with any messages my stomach might have been sending me, because I don’t remember feeling sick until the train was underway.

It was one of those trains that pick up and drop off carriages en route. I think its final destination may have been Paris, but my carriage was going to the Hook of Holland where I had a ticket for the ferry to Harwich. It was a long journey through similar bucolic countryside and historic urban centres as the train from Warsaw, and all bathed in the same gentle June sunlight, but I was not in a state to enjoy it. Soon after we left Berlin my stomach started cramping and I found my way to the lavatory. This being a German train the lavatory was clean and functioning. I was to test it considerably during my journey, but it never failed me.

worst journey 2Although I started the journey in my seat, I ended it — certainly the last few hours — standing as close as possible to the lavatory, in the corridor by an open window, gulping fresh air and holding on to the wall hoping I wouldn’t fall, wouldn’t shit myself and that the train wouldn’t be delayed. I was so pleased when we arrived in Hook on time that I almost convinced myself I was feeling better and carried my bags from the station to the ferry terminal (not a great distance) with some confidence. After boarding the boat, however, I realised I was in a cold sweat and my legs were shaking. Seven hours at sea? I had my doubts.

I had recently agreed to my bank’s suggestion and invested in a Visa credit card. My first credit card. Oh, how I appreciated that! This was an afternoon crossing, so there were cabins available and I was able to book one — all for myself — and with a bathroom en suite. I spent the entire trip stripped to my underwear (when the fever was hot) or wrapped in a blanket (when the fever was cold), lying on the bunk or squatting on the toilet or (a new development) vomiting into the toilet bowl. To be honest, by now I really didn’t have much left in me to evacuate, but my body was determined to do its best.

It was now that I realised I was passing blood. I’m not sure when that started, but I remember observing it with a kind of detached resignation. I knew it wasn’t a good sign but I was beyond caring.

Before the ferry reached Harwich I took a shower, dressed and tried to make myself look as normal as possible. Importing a deadly pandemic virus into England? Me? Good heavens, no officer. Just a little under the weather.

But nobody was interested, so I boarded the London train. Where I was immediately reminded of the difference between German and British trains. This was at the very beginning of the disastrous privatisation programme that destroyed British Rail, but at this point the London-Harwich line was still part of the demoralised and deliberately underfunded though still state-owned Network South-East. The underfunding was reflected in the absence of electricity, water or toilet paper in the train’s lavatories. One of which I nevertheless took possession of.

Night was upon us. I have an abiding memory of the lights from one station after another strobing past through the frosted glass window and sporadically illuminating the interior of my smelly cell. I found hooks to hang my luggage on and I wiped off the toilet seat as best I could — it was fortunate I had packets of paper tissues bought on the boat. The toilet bowl, though encrusted, was empty. It was of the “not to be used while the train is standing still” variety — old-fashioned even in 1995 — the sort that opened to drop deposits on the tracks beneath. I locked the door, and I don’t remember anyone hammering to get in. So I coped, and the train eventually pulled into Liverpool Street station. Then all I had to do was get across London on the toilet-less Underground, catch a train to Brighton and finally take a taxi home to my mother’s. Two and a half hours, tops.

The following day Mum took me to visit her doctor who diagnosed dysentery, but not amoebic dysentery (which was good news). And then I was able to spend the next eight or so days recovering.

That was and remains my worst journey. I don’t think you’ll disagree with me that it was a pretty bad experience, but let’s reflect a little on what makes it nevertheless something less than a really bad journey; less than the worst journey in the world.

Although the journey itself was awful, much that surrounded it was rather good. It was a journey I had chosen to make, planned in comfort and organised myself. I was satisfied with my contribution in Poland, I enjoyed the journey from Warsaw, Berlin was interesting, I had tickets and credit to get me across Europe in relative comfort despite my illness, and a legal right to travel (despite my slightly feverish concern about being identified as the vector of a pandemic).

Above all, I had a home to run to and someone waiting for me who, while it might not have been the thing she most wanted to do, was still prepared to take me in, look after me and get me medical attention.

The Worst Journey?Apsley Cherry-Garrard had a worse time than me, no question. He ended up feeling at least partly responsible for the deaths of Scott and the other expedition members. Also those Emperor penguin eggs which it had been so important to collect that he’d given up more than three years of his life, turned out, when he returned, to be no longer of any scientific interest. Still, it was a journey he had wanted to take, he wasn’t forced to take it. The life he left behind he could pick up again when he returned and (as I think you can tell from his name) that life was not your common or garden lower class existence. (To be sure, the First World War came along and spoilt things, but that tragedy lies outside the scope of Cherry-Garrard’s journey, and outside the scope of point I’m trying to make.)

So let’s think of a journey that really could be described as the worst. Not only would the actual journey have to involve a series of horrible incidents, terrible travelling conditions, lack of water or food, exhaustion, illness and perhaps actual physical violence and/or convoluted bureaucratic hoop jumping. Not only would it involve surrendering yourself into the hands of strangers, perhaps professional smugglers, perhaps incompetent do-gooders, perhaps unscrupulous money grubbers. Not only would it have to have an element of moral peril: you yourself would have to put another person or people at risk, perhaps friends, perhaps relatives, perhaps the one person dearest of all.

More than this, the journey would have to be involuntary, not chosen for adventure but forced by circumstances, or chosen perhaps as the least worst of a series of bad options. And there would have to be an element of irony (this is a post-modern story it seems), so let’s imagine that journey’s end is in a country which is either directly or indirectly responsible for the circumstances at home precipitating your journey. And to add to the irony, let’s include the fact that all your life savings — a fraction of which would have bought you an airline ticket to fly you to your destination — must instead be spent on the journey you are taking by land and sea because the country to which you are fleeing (which may accept that you have a legitimate cause to seek asylum once you get there) has made it impossible for regular airlines to let you buy a ticket or board a plane so you could travel quickly and in safety.

And at the end, what? Not a homecoming. Not a welcome, not safety and security, but the coldness of strangers, hostility and mistrust — to such a degree that the dead lost along the way, the children drowned at sea, the mothers and fathers suffocated in the back of a lorry, the sisters crushed beneath the wheels of trains, the brothers frozen to death in the undercarriage of high flying passenger jets, all these seem to be happier for no longer having to suffer.

Now, that. That would be the worst journey in the world.

The worst of journeys


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The tiger at Lemonnier

Note: This blog entry is also available as a sound recording from Soundcloud. See the link at the bottom of the entry.

Back in November 2014 when we visited Brussels to find a place to live, we used public transport to get around. In particular we tried to time journeys between the centre and the places where we were looking. It was on one of those house-hunting expeditions that I first looked out of the window of a tram – one of Brussels’ pre-metro underground trams – and saw the tiger.

Lemonnier tigerCrouching, head turned back, tail lashing, stretched across one tunnel wall, standing out from concrete and conduits and graffiti tags. The tram was past in seconds and the tiger lost in the dark, but I could still see it burning bright in my mind’s eye. I didn’t realise where it was of course, my concept of Brussels’ geography was rudimentary. (It’s not so much better now, though I believe it is improving.) But I looked out for it when we returned to Brussels to live in January, and saw it again, and worked out where it was.

If you’re riding a number 3 or 4 pre-metro tram, or a number 51 or 82 tram, travelling south, just after you leave the Lemonnier station, look to the right as the tunnel bears right and you’ll see the tiger. I’m going to guess that it is more or less life-size. It reminded me of the tiger in the painting by Henri Rousseau in the London National Gallery, (though now I have looked again at Rousseau’s painting I don’t see much of a similarity).

Lemonier mirror 2The Lemonnier station is worth a visit in its own right. Constructed with four platforms, two catering for the pre-metro trams and two for the non-metro trams, it has places to allow travellers to cross the tracks between the platforms which I’d never seen before in an underground station. The tracks curve away through wide tunnels so you can see points and junctions and perhaps trams held back by lights. There’s much more of a feeling of an aboveground (though over-bridged) railway station than an underground station.

On the French language Wikipedia I find a sentence describing Lemonnier that suggests there is more here than meets the eye: “On the lower level, it says, “there is a ghost station, non-operational and with two more platforms.” Somewhere else – I can’t now remember where – I have read there was once a plan to build a deeper metro line through here that was abandoned, but presumably not till after the deeper station was built.

Although the Brussels metro and pre-metro are relatively newly constructed – post-Second World War anyway – there is a longer subterranean history in Brussels. It may not be as extensive or as old as London’s, but there is definitely potential here for a Belgian Neverwhere.

Lemonier mirror 1Meanwhile, the Lemonnier station is a crossroads not only for the pre-metro and trams, but also for people passing through. Aboveground, just around here, is a principally working class district that now has a fairly large immigrant community with especially many people from North Africa and the Middle East. They use the station to get to their work or schools elsewhere in the city. Many people from the western and southern suburbs also pass through here. One stop south of Lemonnier is the Gare du Midi pre-metro station that serves Brussels’ largest mainline railway station and daily brings in commuters, and visitors from Paris and London, some of whom change trams here.

It is presumably this international connection that inspired the Brussels metro authorities to invite the Algerian-born Belgian citizen, artist and musician Hamsi Boubeker to decorate the station. The walls of the station are covered with his blue and white drawings of women’s hands decorated with henna tattoos. I have occasionally (twice now) seen women with henna-decorated hands on the trams passing through the Lemonnier station, so the tradition illustrated is alive and well, which I find appealing.

Lemonier hands - pianoIf I’ve understood the Brussels metro website correctly, from 1994 an international project called Hands of Hope (Les mains de l’espoir) collected images of henna hand tattoos from 87 countries around the world. This collection then formed the basis of Boubeker’s decoration. The website notes that “for the artist” an open hand symbolises peace, friendship, openness and tolerance. (As if an open hand doesn’t usually symbolise just these things – well, certainly the first three.)

Henna tattoos seem to have originated in north Africa so it must be a comfort to people far from home to find a little piece of the Maghreb here, underground in Brussels.

Lemonier mural 2Having found out so much about Lemonnier’s official artist I was curious to see if I couldn’t discover a little more about the Master of the Lemonnier Tiger. I also wanted somehow to get a picture of it. Although I wandered about the station taking pictures of Hamsi Boubeker’s art (and a few candid photos of some of the passengers passing through or waiting for trams), I couldn’t find a good, safe, legal place to stand to get a picture of the tiger. It is simply too far along the tunnel.

Perhaps whoever painted the tiger has also painted other, more accessible graffiti elsewhere? I know that several Brussels graffiti artists have produced multiple works, some of which survive for weeks or even months, but I’ve not yet seen anything that looks like it’s by the same hand as the tiger.

Eventually, I asked for advice on the Belgium section of Reddit. I got some encouragement from a couple of users and was pointed in the direction of a Facebook page dedicated to Brussels street art. I had hopes, especially as there was an e-mail address, but whoever is on the other end of the address wasn’t interested to reply, so that was a dead end.

One suggestion from Reddit was to try and take a photo from the window of a stationary tram. Unfortunately no trams terminate at Lemonnier any longer and so a stationary tram is hard to find.

What else to do?

Well, whoever made the tiger must have got in to do so somehow – and plenty of other people are clearly entering the tunnel to tag the walls – but is this something I could do? Besides, to take a photo I’d need to have a bit of distance. I couldn’t take it standing in the same place as the artist who painted the tiger, that would be too close

Lemonier hands 5On the opposite side of the tunnel from the tiger I could see a path along by the side of the track. It led from the platform and a gated barrier. The gate is usually locked (I’ve pushed it) and carries a warning sign: “20,000 volts!” But one day when the tram I was travelling on passed through Lemonnier, I glanced at the barrier and saw the gate was open.

I had an errand and couldn’t get off the tram there and then, but on my way back I got off and saw the gate was still open. Okay, as you know I’m not always completely law-abiding, and besides the gate is open and there is no obvious No Entry sign, just the warning. I take out my camera and walk through the gate, along the path and into the tunnel until I am almost opposite the tiger. Here I find I’m standing in front of highly reflective window. I’m fairly sure this is one-way glass. Not really knowing if anybody is watching me from behind, I wait for two trams to pass, line up my shot and take four pictures with different exposures. There’s no point in using a flash as I’m too far from the tiger – besides I don’t want to inadvertently blind any tram drivers. I try to hold the camera as steady as I can and hold my breath when I press the trigger. Then I carefully walk back to the station, up onto the platform and board the tram that’s just pulled in.

I won’t say that I felt like I had been stalking a real tiger, but I certainly got an adrenaline kick and had to sit still and breath deeply for a couple of minutes.

Then of course came the inevitable disappointment when I saw the pictures on the computer screen. Even the best one does not really do the tiger justice. It’s the picture I have, and I’ll publish it, but perhaps it’s better anyway just to glimpse the tiger in the tunnel.


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Reddit Belgium users xor2g and utopiah for advice and encouragement as mentioned in the text. In the audio version (follow the Soundcloud link) I recorded the ambient background sound at Lemonnier myself on the morning of 14 July 2015. Extra sounds are from the Creative Commons database of sound effects at Freesound.org. The sound of the tiger growling comes from Soundmary“Tigers roaring”. The sound of a North African wedding party comes from keina_espineira“Moroccan wedding”.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Break the law – sliding door

Note: This blog entry is available as a sound recording from Soundcloud. See the link at the bottom of the entry.

I don’t usually break the law, but there are laws (against murder for example) and then there are laws (against crossing an empty street when the traffic lights are clearly showing a red man).

To be fair, I’m not even sure if the latter is really a law here in Belgium – though you’d think so. Perhaps (as in Sweden) it’s just custom that keeps Belgians standing at the curb-side waiting for the lights to change. Either way, crossing against a red man is something I do weekly while I’ve never committed murder and I hope I never would.

A couple of weeks ago I broke another law, and now I’m paying for it.

Let me start by saying I really like public transport in Brussels. I think it’s quick and reliable and if it’s crowded at certain times of the day and on certain routes, that’s only to be expected. The night service doesn’t look very good, but as I’m not a pubber or a clubber that doesn’t bother me. However…

My jump cardThrough June I was using what Brussels Transport calls a “jump card”. It’s an electronic passcard that you can load with five or 10 journeys at a time and then use to get about on the trams, the buses and the metro. I wanted to see whether it was cheaper for me to use a jump card than to buy a month’s season-ticket as I’m not travelling on public transport nearly as frequently as Mrs SC.

Monthly tickets cost €49. Jump cards cost €14 for 10 one hour journeys – and you can switch vehicles in order to complete a journey or even make a round trip on one ticket if you’re quick. (I know now it isn’t quite worth it – and not just for what happens below. I ended up spending slightly more in June using the jump card than I would have done if I’d bought a monthly card.)

Back to the story. A couple of Wednesdays ago I hopped on a tram to go up to town to meet Mrs SC after her day at work. I only realised when I was on the tram (when I registered my jump card) that the card had expired. From the sensors in the trams, you can’t tell how many journeys you have left. At least, as far as I know the machine will only pling to tell you your journey has been registered or buzz to tell you your card is empty. I try to keep a countdown in my head, but I was surprised when the machine buzzed at me – I’d obviously lost count.

Now, there is nowhere on a tram – or on a bus or a metro train – to renew a jump card. You have to get off and use a ticket machine, but ticket machines are not always available. There was one at the stop where I boarded my tram, but although I looked I didn’t see any at any of the stops we passed through on the way into town.

So I carried on to my final destination, thinking I could fix it there. That was a mistake.

Barriers 1My final destination was the Rogier metro stop. Here two metro lines, two pre-metro lines and two tram lines all meet and cross one another – for Brussels it’s quite a major interchange. There are three levels, a large central hall on the middle level and numerous exits, and no way to get out without passing barriers where you have to show a valid ticket.

I walked around inside the station for some time looking for a ticket machine, but the only ones I could see were all on the other side of the barrier.

The barriers are not waist-high turnstiles like in London or Stockholm, they are man-high sliding doors that open and then close with the speed and viciousness of a guillotine. I saw how some people in my predicament pushed behind somebody who did have a valid ticket and slipped through before the doors shut, but I simply didn’t have the brass neck to try and do that. In the end I phoned Mrs SC, who was waiting for me above ground, and got her to come down and let me out.

She showed her monthly pass to the machine, the doors opened and I dodged through in the wrong direction. The doors detected me and slammed shut much more swiftly than I’d bargained for and caught me a blow on the side of my chest. I got through, but it hurt. The doors then snapped open and I think there was an alarm (I honestly can’t remember). We walked away as fast as we could with my dear wife putting as much space as possible between her and me. (He’s the criminal. I don’t know him.)

A part of me was thinking of security cameras and how we’d surely been identified and would soon be scooped up by the transport police, while another part was saying: Take it easy, this is Belgium, not Singapore, and quite enjoying the adventure. My side hurt though.

We still had to get home. We re-entered the station another way and now on the right side of the barriers, I loaded my jump card and we walked through like law-abiding citizens.

Barriers 2I wondered a little what went through the heads of the authorities when they set up the system at Rogier – and it’s similar in several of the other intersection metro stations in town, I’ve been looking. The system is designed to punish rather than teach. Not putting ticket machines inside the barriers at the stations makes it impossible for travellers who’ve made an honest mistake to put the situation right by buying a ticket at the end of their journey. I would have.

I’m guessing the punch in the side the sliding doors gave me was also intentional. The doors closed so much faster than they do when they let people through the right way.

Perhaps I should say the system is designed to punish and teach. I certainly feel punished. My ribs are bruised and I have difficult breathing deeply especially when I’m lying down. Two weeks later, it’s easing up, but the first few days after the punch were difficult. On the other hand I’ve now bought and charged a monthly card and check my wallet every time I leave home to make sure I’ve got it with me. So, yes, I’ve learned my lesson. But I still don’t think physical punishment is good educational practice.


As a coda to the above, I’m making this an audio recording, posting the recording on Soundcloud and including a link here so you can hear me as well, should you wish. You’ll know I succeeded if you see an audio player somewhere in the post. Anyway, to make the recording a little more interesting I decided to record some ambient sound on the tram and at the station. I especially wanted to record the sinister sound of the sliding barrier doors as they swish open and snap closed. Sadly, I have to admit, they make almost no sound. Consequently, in order to get the right sense of menace, I’ve included the sound of a guillotine at the appropriate momnent – thanks to the Creative Commons database of sound effects at Freesound.org and the creator Glaneur de sons.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.