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Living Among the Dead

As we were driving through the countryside on the way to Gent from Ypres the other day, it occurred to me that these people – the ones who live in the houses we were passing – live among the dead. There are graveyards everywhere, for one thing. One website lists 160 of them in the Ypres…

Why do we go to the beach?

We went to the beach yesterday in Middelkerke, on the North Sea. It was one of those typical beach towns with rows of ugly concrete apartment buildings fronting a long, straight, not-particularly-scenic beach. As I watched the people around us, I was strongly reminded of something I wrote back in 2008 on a trip to…

How NOT to design a bathroom!

Look at the photo below. What’s wrong with this picture? We ate lunch yesterday at a café in Gent. Afterwards, I went inside to use the toilet, followed the signs upstairs, came around a corner, and saw this. Except it wasn’t quite this; there was a man standing at the urinal, making some very contented…

In Flanders Fields Museum: A review

An effective museum doesn’t just display items drily in glass cases; an effective museum gives those items meaning to the people viewing them. It entertains, but it also makes visitors think. It gives the items an emotional weight. The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, is one of the most effective museums I’ve ever…

Hot enough for you?

I’ve spent the last week in Marseille, a big city in the south of France. I came here for two reasons: In the hopes that it would help me focus on finishing up revising my book. It did. For the heat. Yep, it’s hot. I love hot weather, which, as you can imagine if you’ve…

Bones of the dead

Yesterday my friend, Kim, and I visited Marseille’s medieval church of Saint Victor, parts of which date back to “paleo-Christianity”; in other words, the fifth century or so. I love visiting medieval buildings; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a church, a castle, or just a humble house, as long as its original details are still…

Rocca Priori, Italy, July 9, 2009

We were in Rome yesterday and the day before, but apparently so were representatives of the G8 nations and other dignitaries. Sights/sites closed or opened arbitrarily to accommodate their whistle-stop visits. At one point, for example, we wanted to cross the road in the middle of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Just cross the…

Outside Vicchio, Italy, July 17, 2009

So here I am in what has to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed. It’s an old farmhouse, probably dating in part from the 14th century, in the Tuscan countryside. It’s the whole cliché: ivy-covered walls, beamed ceilings, terracotta pots holding dried flowers or fruit trees. There’s a gorgeous view of the sunset…

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