I have just returned from the table tennis medal ceremonies. Mark competed on Tuesday yet since there were three days set aside for table tennis, all of the medals were awarded at the same time. Mark, I am very proud to report, won a gold medal in men’s singles, “D” division. He only lost one match, yet two games went beyond the requisite eleven points designated as a win. In one of these games, against a Russian, Mark was ahead 7-3 while up two matches against one. One needed to win three matches in order to win the round then to proceed to the next opponent. The Russian had managed to tie while they were both at 11, when a win meant needing to win by two. If the Russian won, the round would have been tied at two matches apiece. If Mark won this game, he’d win the gold. He was awarded his gold medal by the deputy mayor of Antwerp, who had been imbibing a little too much earlier in the day. I have plenty of pictures to upload, yet I am at the fitness centre’s public computer and I cannot do anything fancy with this post except write it and add all the bells and whistles later, likely at home. I tell you, once I get a laptop, posting photos with my LiveJournal entries will not be such a problem.
Yesterday was our set day to visit the enclave region of Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. The weather was the worst ever so far on our trip: it was pouring the entire day and also quite chilly. I am happy that my new running shoes proved to be watertight; when we got back to the hostel, my socks weren’t even damp. The whole Baarle experience will be reported in detail with the necessary photos to illustrate my points, but I can write a bit here. Baarle, which consists of about twenty Belgian enclaves surrounded by Dutch territory, also includes a few Dutch enclaves within Belgium. To make the jigsaw even more complicated, there are eight Dutch enclaves surrounded by the Belgian enclaves which themselves are completely surrounded by the Netherlands. The border is marked on the roads by white X’s, or by silver discs, or in the brickwork on the roads. It was fascinating to see houses or businesses literally split between two countries. All houses have flag number plates, and we photographed several houses that were sliced in two by the border, where there were two separate residences, each one in a different country and thus with different number plates. The people of the two Baarles were very friendly to us (the Dutch of Baarle-Nassau a bit friendlier), waving to us from their windows as we photographed their divided houses or immaculate gardens. One septuagenarian gentleman chitchatting in his living room saw us walking around the tiny enclave where he lived, and then got up and opened his front door and talked to us in English for a good long time about living in Baarle. It was obvious to us that he had had this conversation with curious border freaks before, as he proudly told us that he was talking to us from his threshold in the Netherlands, while his garden was split in two and thus Mark and I were in Belgium. There are three tiny, tiny Belgian enclaves in the central northern region of Baarle and Mark and I walked up and down every street (there weren’t too many) in each. In these areas, the only indicator of what country you were in was to look at the house number plates. We also visited both post offices (one with red Belgian mailboxes, the other with orange Dutch ones) and I mailed some postcards from the Belgian post office since I had already affixed Belgian stamps to them. I bought many postcards, as well as a small hardcover book in Dutch, yet by far the best book on Baarle is the one by Brendan Whyte (who I understand has also written another, and he was one of the recipients of a postcard mailed from the Belgian post).
Now I should work out since I am at the fitness centre for a reason other than to use their free Internet. They also have free coffee and I can smell it from here. Irresistible! Tonight Mark and I are watching same-sex dancing at the Antwerp Hilton: ballroom, salsa, and so forth. It is always a popular event at these games and is the only event that I know of that charges for tickets (only 3€ for us as registered OutGames participants; 10€ for the general public). Tomorrow morning we leave Antwerp to meet some friends of Mark’s who live in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, then we take the train from there to Amsterdam and fly to Oslo, where we will be for just one day before embarking on our Norwegian fjord cruise from Bergen.