Brussels, Belgium: Solo Interrail Part 2

Seconds after writing this and publishing it, I found out that Brussels airport and metro have been attacked in the last couple of hours by terrorists and it’s still unfolding.  I am completely shocked and disgusted that this has happened.  Nobody deserves this but Brussels is such a lovely place, nothing bad should ever happen there.  I hope everyone can get to safety and that they catch the monsters responsible.  Terrorists are so utterly evil, but how could even they do this?  What has Brussels ever done to offend anyone?  I am crying right now because this is so shocking.  My heart goes out to everyone in Brussels and all of Belgium right now, and everyone affected by this in any way.

Okay so I may have gotten one tiny detail wrong last week.  I didn’t get straight on a train with the intent of going to Belgium from Paris.  The Parisian Lecher was basically trying to get me to stay in Paris with him and I told him that if there were no trains to Venice then I would just go back home, and I bought a reservation to Calais. After making myself feel less disgusting in the train bathroom I pored over my maps of Europe and tried to work out a route over the Alps to Italy. I wasn’t going to let one bad experience ruin the whole trip.

I jumped off the train at Lille (France) and continued to Mons (Belgium), which was the interchange to Brussels.  As soon as you get into Belgium it’s really obvious that you’re not in France any more, because the Belgians are really big on their art-deco style, and you can see it everywhere.  It’s so classy and 1920s, and it’s very easy to see why this is the land of Hercule Poirot.  I was relieved I didn’t have to go all the way back to Calais, and after the stress of Paris, Belgium was just delightful.  From the moment I stepped off the train in Brussels and saw signposts in English, I knew I was somewhere friendly.

From my travel journal:

“…They have an open tourist information centre, which is in the train station (which has a shopping-centre-like layout map) and it can reserve hotel rooms and give you area maps.  It’s dead good.  So I’ve had a long, thorough shower, changed my clothes and am sitting on an actual bed in an actual hotel room.  And there’s a delicious box of Belgian chocolate truffles in reaching distance.

This evening I plan to have a meal out then plan my next move – likely to Luxembourg or Stuttgart,maybe Cologne.  I won’t continue to wax lyrical about Brussells.  All I will say is firstly, Belgium deserves its reputation for food and chocolate (they even make the vegetables taste amazing)*  I ate a boiled chicken and seasonal vegetables meal with a creme brulee dessert.  Secondly, the architecture of Brussells is way underrated.  The city’s up there with the big tourist centres as a really beautiful place – only Brussells is totally friendly.  I am staying at the Argus Hotel near Metro Louise, amongst the high-end shopping area (Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Sonia Rykiel etc), and it’s tariff says E110 on the door but I paid significantly less.

Later still:  I have looked over my map and decided to go to Stuttgart tomorrow from Bruxelles (via Frankfurt) aiming to be on the 11:59 (lmao) train from Bruxelles Midi Station (just in case I forget tomorrow).  This will give me plenty of extra time to buy a necklace and also to postcard-shop and take some photos, although if I keep snapping I’ll run out of disposable cameras!”

*At the time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of specific vegetables.  Looking back, I genuinely have no idea what I was eating.  Fast forward 6 months and vegetables were all I ate, because I went vegan!!

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The Art Deco dining room in Bruxelles’ Argus Hotel, showcasing the main drawback of old fashioned film-cameras – you had to wait until the picture was developed before you could see how (or if) it had come out.
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Somewhere in Belgium – Belgium was full of rather delightful architecture.
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This was a stunning light and water display in a shopping centre in Brussels. Once again the disposable camera didn’t quite capture the moment.

What I learned in Belgium:

One of the things that really surprised me at the time was how lovely Belgium is, and it’s completely underrated among the under 30’s.  Having seen more of the whole country now, I think it’s a delightful destination and well worth a visit if you like a classy travel experience (rather than a non-stop party).  If that sounds duller than a dry white wine,  Brussels (or Belgium for that matter) probably isn’t the place for you.  I did actually go back to Brussels in 2014, when my husband and I just dropped into Brussels for dinner (we were hungry, and I’ll link the story here when I get to it), and I still think it’s an incredibly sophisticated destination with unparallelled food.  In terms of ambience, it’s probably how Paris was forty or fifty years ago and it makes for a good romantic getaway because it’s not packed with tourists but it’s still very ambient.

The main thing I learned though was that there’s a reason people don’t use disposable cameras any more. At the time, I thought it was the amount of space they take up.   Actually, I didn’t learn about the photo quality difference for several years – I have always believed that film-cameras are way better than digital, and I think I was right until the last couple of years, when digital cameras finally started having a good enough resolution (number of megapixels) to be able to produce better pictures, and we finally got a unified digital storage method (SD cards) with a reasonable amount of storage per card, at an affordable price.  There was a long time when there were so many different types of memory cards for different cameras and devices, that it was pointless buying either cameras or cards because as soon as they stopped making the cards, the camera was useless, and as soon as the camera broke, you had to buy a new set of different cards for the new camera, it was all the most ridiculous situation because of compatibility (and that’s if we don’t get started on those stupid wires we had to use to upload stuff – how many different connectors does the world need?  I’m so glad that 99% of everything uses a micro USB these days).

There’s a world of difference between a disposable camera and a regular camera, however, and one of the key differences is aperture.  Disposable cameras (and those cheap non-disposable fixed focus 35mm cameras that everyone used to have) have a fixed aperture that’s optimized for daytime holiday shots in the sort of light you get in the Mediterranean.  That’s why these tend to come out acceptably on them.  But they’re really not useful at all in low-light settings such as evenings or indoors in certain places.

Nowadays, I use a DSLR camera and I have a bridge camera as my backup.  Yes, a DSLR is heavier, and OH MY GOD it was so expensive, but it’s worth it to get stunning pictures first-time-every-time when I’m on a once in a lifetime trip or at a concert.

Read part 3 of my Interrail journey here
To see my articles on photography, click here.

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How to Choose a DSLR Camera

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” 
― Dorothea Lange

Cameras are a complete minefield once you want to do more than take family holiday snaps.  I was really squinchy about spending money on an expensive DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, and when mine arrived I was really excited to try it out, but I hated using it at first (I was terrified of breaking something) and it took me about 1,000 photos before I actually knew how to adjust the settings without having to take loads of sample pictures.  After a weeklong trip to Aberdeen, however, I was completely in love with the superior picture quality of the DSLR compared to my old Fuji Finepix-S Bridge Camera, and after a few months it became second nature to get the settings adjusted perfectly.

1. Identify your budget.

What can you reasonably afford to buy?  Are you looking for the cheapest thing that takes pictures (in which case you might like a bridge camera)?  Or are you making an investment in a potential future career?  Do you want something with all the features or do you just want the pictures to look like they weren’t taken on a cameraphone?

DSLR cameras start at around $399 for the Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D which is an entry level DSLR and is missing a few features you might require (such as a lens), and prices go up to $3249 for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III which comes with one lens and is generally agreed by photographers to be the very best camera that Canon make.  On top of these costs you will need lenses which I will write a separate post on.

2. Identify what you’re going to use it for: video or stills?

Some cameras don’t do video or don’t do it well – some don’t have microphones, or don’t have a jack for your microphone to be attached.  The Canon EOS 600D, 650D and 700D are all good for Youtubing but some of the older DSLR cameras don’t record video at all, so would be a complete waste of money for a Youtuber, however, they still take great (not outstanding) photos so a secondhand older model could be excellent for a budding photographer who was strapped-for-cash.

3. Take a look online to see what you can afford.

Amazon.com is a good place to see how much the different cameras cost.  Canon and Nikon tend to be the most expensive but they have the best features and are compatible with a wider range of add-on equipment.  I haven’t seen anything done by a professional photographer who didn’t use a Canon or a Nikon camera.

4. Read reviews.

I was on the verge of buying the Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D before I read a review saying that the viewfinder was fixed, not movable.  As someone who does self portrait, timed shots and presents Youtube videos, this was unacceptable to me, and I’m glad I found this out before I bought the wrong camera for my needs.  I finally settled on a Canon EOS Rebel T5i which is everything I want it to be.  Your mileage may vary, and that’s what’s so wonderful about the sheer amount of choice on the market.

5. Buy camera.

Buy it from a reputable store which you’ve heard of or which has a physical location.  There is a LOT of fake crap on the market and some of it is VERY convincing.  I’ve not seen any fake camera bodies or lenses, but when you’re spending that amount of money you need to keep your wits about you.  I love ebay bargains, but I’d never buy a DSLR camera from ebay, or any website where the description is written in broken English, because you need to buy it from somewhere which will take action to sort out a bad transaction.  A second hand camera can be a great bargain, but it’s very easy for someone to sell something because (for example) they dropped it, and you won’t know it doesn’t work until you’ve handed your money over, at which point they can claim you dropped it.  For this reason, if you are buying a secondhand camera, get it from a physical shop and test out the camera before you buy it.  If they’re giving you excuses such as “the battery isn’t charged” then walk away from that purchase.

6. Write a review so other people know how good (or bad) it was.

If the site doesn’t accept reviews, unless it’s the official manufacturer’s site, I wouldn’t buy from there.  A good review lists two or three good points and two or three bad points.  Why waste time even writing a review that looks like any of these:
“Great thanks”

“Arrived ok.”

“Havn’t tried it yet but I’ve still givn it 5 stars.”

Have you got any other tips for buying a camera?  I’d love to read them in the comments!

In Pictures: Urban Industrial Decay by the Sea in Aberdeen

How long has it been since I last did a travel/pure delight article??  It feels like forever!

While I was in Aberdeen I saw some awesome decaying industrial objects which reminded me of Natalia Goncharova and Futurism here’s some inspiration pictures:

Giacomo Balla's Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Giacomo Balla’s Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).

I’m sure people much more accomplished at Art have commented on these pictures to death.  To me, they remind me of the opening minute of the song “Breathe” by Pink Floyd on The Dark Side of The Moon album.  It all links together.  In that vein, of industrialization and movement and life borne of machines and future provided for by machines, there’s little room for the question of the inevitable death of those machines.

When I came across this bounty of stimuli just abandoned on various plots of land in Aberdeen, I was reminded of the inevitable omega – the end of all things.  So I took lots of pictures of these industrial objects because their death masks were so beautiful, and I included the surroundings in some of them because their burial sites were often in direct contrast with their tortured metallic endings.  Such an unnatural and contrived resting place for what was once some chemical elements separated from base rock by a blast furnace.  Abandoned because their ferrous surfaces have combined with too much oxygen.  One question which I cannot answer is: “How sustainable are these burial sites where we lay out our expired machinery?”  There was a LOT of stuff like this in Aberdeen.

I felt sad that such amazing and titanic objects had been abandoned.  There were far more pics than this but I decided to just share this set of 11 in this article, paying particular attention to texture (especially rust) and unusual focus length.  I’ve written my own criticism by them in places so you can see what I thought of how my pictures came out.  I’m a crap photographer but I’m trying to learn, so any feedback would be appreciated, positive or negative.  This was before I bought my amazing new lenses for my DSLR, and I’d had the camera maybe 4 days by this point, so all pics here taken with my 18-55 kit lens on 100% manual camera settings with no autofocus (c’mon, autofocus is for wimps).  Click any image to enlarge.

A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust.  The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust. The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
I really liked the texture.
I really liked the texture.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
A metal thingy.  The sea is behind this wall.
A metal thingy. The sea is behind this wall.  I like the contrasting texture of the lichen, the wall and the metal thingy.
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???  Apparently they’re lifeboat launches?  ISO too high.
More delightful texture.
More delightful texture.  Not level (argh).
Rusty giant chain.  Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso!  I wonder what it was used for...
Rusty giant chain. Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso! I wonder what it was used for…
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
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Barbed wire and concrete textures contrasting with roof tiles.  Horizontals not straight.
Crane and sky.  I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted.
Crane and sky. I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the texture of the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted both at the same time and forgot to level it out.
Texture tyres.  I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really nice texture (I love the kitemark, bottom right).  I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres??  What has tyres this big??)
Texture tyres. I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the delicious texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really beautiful surface (I love the kitemark, near bottom right). I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres?? What has tyres this big??)

I don’t know what to say to sum this post up, so I’m going to let you do it instead.  Feedback please!