The Volkskrant article that made me aware of the existence of the gaza marathon even claims that the coastline of the gaza strip is exactly 42K long, which after some quick fact-checking turns out to be only slightly wrong.
According to various news-reports, this year’s edition was quite a hellish task, with very low temperatures and a sand/rainstorm blowing into the faces of the competitors.
After having found the children’s deposit point in lille last weekend i went on to the belgian coast to take a ride along the coast in in the kusttram (‘coast-tram’). have wanted to do this for a while as i am (a) a sucker for public transport and (b) i really like the idea of having a tram that runs along almost the entire Belgian coast (not that it is that long of a coast with in total 66km).
Unlike almost everything else in begium the coast tram does even make sense. it does run every ten minutes and at least on this sunday was absolutely crowded. crowded with old people that is. if i was well mannered and would offer my seat to the first best old person having to stand in the tram i would not have had a seat for the 2 hours 20 minutes remaining after the 2nd stop (but then i am not well mannered and continue to sit). looks like the belgian coast is some kind of dumping ground for old people. wherever you look the coast is full of grey haired persons, occasionally interrupted by brits carrying away huge quantities of liquor and cigarettes. apparently they store the old people in enormous high rises that line almost the entire coastline. here is an impressive sattelite shot taken from google earth (note the shadows illustrating the height of the buildings):
And here is a shot of the same location taken from the tram:
Now that is form follows function to the max. storing the old people within easy walking distance from the beach, far away from the urban centers and build a tram (o.k. the tram seems to be older than most of these humble dwellings, but who cares) interconnecting all these silos so they can visit each other and walk up and down the coast. perfect. looks like as if this keeps them happy as well as they do not even seem to vote for the vlaams belang (like the rest of flanders does).
Have always been fascinated with border towns. The fact that another national economy with other taxes and other social norms is just across the border/mountain/river/fence tends to have interesting effects on these places, and especially what is for sale in the stores and on the streets. Now my most favorite border town in Europe is Portbou on the border of Spain and France:
The tiny shops in the even more tiny city center have ridiculous amounts of Pastis on sale (for the Frenchmen who live just across the mountains where the tax on booze is much higher) and Portbou is home of my favorite memorial (for Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in this place when the Spanish did not let him into the country in 1940).
On top of this the place has an absolutely incredible location: crammed into a little bay of the Mediterranean and surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrénées, the place ca only be approaced by the spectacular coastal road that runs from Perpingnan in France south to Girona in Spain and follows the spectacular Mediterranean coast for a good 30km. Portbou is situated in the smallest of the bays along this coast just south of the actual border. Because it is so small the center has a building density that makes one feel as if one was in a much bigger city, an effect that is reinforced by the gigantic propositions of the railway station. Being a border station between Spain and France the railway station needs two sets of tracks (standard gauge for the French trains and broad gauge for the Spanish trains) plus an enormous marshaling yard. The surface of the railway station probably equals the surface of the rest of town.
I have always wanted to explore this railway station, but on my last 2 visits I never had the time. This time i spend about an hour exploring the station which for the biggest part seems to be deserted, with closed deserted waiting rooms that seem to patiently await another emigration or immigration wave. If you ever have the chance to visit Portbou, make sure that you take some time to visit the train station. In the meanwhile i have posted some pictures to my flickr account.