The authorities say they do not believe there is a connection between the death and the illnesses.
That's a statement which doesn't hold true. It would be more credible to say 'we don't believe there is a connection, but we are investigating the possibility on the precautionary principle'.
Update: The semantic issues above aside, the train has been given the all-clear.
On Wednesday 21st we moved on from Agra and it was time to brave the Indian Railways to Kolkata. The Rajdhani express doesn't stop in Agra, and so it was necessary to take the train to Kanpur. Late morning we travelled to Agra Cantt (Cantonment), and passed a school 'bus'. This was around 10-12 girls, all in school uniform crammed onto one cycle rickshaw - it was an impressive piece of packing!
We had a bit of a wait at Agra, lots of hassle from people wanting to clean my shoes (I was not wearing leather), and from street kids. I did weaken and gave some cash to some streetkids in exchange for a photo. This is against advice, but it's very difficult when they're right in front of you.
Then someone official looking offered to help us to our carriage. We declined, as we were quite capable of reading the ticket, but he insisted despite our protests. As we arrived he demanded 100Rs for his trouble! Okay, so it's not much, but as we didn't want his help....
Indian trains can be excellent, and at the same time quite stressful. As a white european I was being constantly hassled to buy something, and this gets tiresome. For the train to Kanpur we had a compartment in a second class carriage. These carriages are open to all, and at each stop people looked in, and then the hard sell began. This train would have ended up in Kolkata, but it would have taken 36 hours, and I would not have slept well - or at all.
We were due in Kanpur at around 6:30pm, but didn't get in until 8pm. In the next compartment there was an american couple, also going to Kolkata. The guy was called Caleb and I can't recall the woman's name. They planned on staying on the train, but changed their plans when we said we were transferring to the fast train. We had a wait of 1hr 50 minutes at Kanpur, unfortunately they didn't spend any of this time making sure their ticket was adequate, and so the last time we saw them they were arguing with the guard - I hope they weren't stranded!
Up until this point, the experience wasn't too good. We were being continually hassled, and didn't feel at all secure. The Rajdhani express was something else, and is to be recommended. First Class AC is expensive by Indian Standards, but works out to be equivalent to a modest railway journey in the UK. The carriages are secured, so one can relax. Linen and an evening meal is provided, as is morning breakfast and a newspaper.
At Kolkata we were met at Howrah station by some of Monica's family, Anupam and Barnali. They took us to our hotel (reasonably priced by UK standards, but we did get a good rate on it which brought the price down, it was incredibly extravagent by Indian standards, a bit posh by ours, we took the hotel on the advice of another of Monica's family). This hotel was the biggest expense in the whole trip. After refreshing ourselves, we got into a Taxi and went to see Monica's mother, she lives in an area called Kasba.
Driving in Delhi was scary, but driving in Kolkata left that in the shade. Kolkata driving is akin to stock car racing. In Delhi, there is a weight of traffic and slower moving vehicles which keeps the speed down - not so much in Kolkata. It's like Delhi driving but fast. Nobody indicates in India, the rule of the road seems to be that as you pass someone you sound your horn, therefore, if there is no horn being sounded it is safe to pull out. Several times in Kolkata we were on the edge of our seats with nervousness. Couples with this is the fact that in many taxis I simply was too tall, having to bend by neck just to fit. We were in Kolkata for 10 days and got used to the traffic, and by the time we returned to Delhi, the driving there seemed tame.
We spent the 22nd and 23rd december in the flat, we'd begin to venture out on Christmas Eve.
In another move signifying better relations between India and Pakistan the Thar express train has recommenced service after a 40 year gap, it ceased after the war of 1965. Relations have been improving since peace talks in 2004, but have really started to be notceable in the last few months since the Earthquake.
Considering that just a few years ago, India and Pakistan were both setting off nuclear weaponry, and it looked like India might use Iraq as an excuse to 'settle' the Kashmir dispute, every thawing of relations is a very good thing.
The new Thar Express train will connect the border towns of Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province.
India and Pakistan had previously opened (in 2004) a rail link between Lahore in Pakistan and Amritsar in India.
Over the first weekend in April, we went off to Brugge in Belgium. Brugge may be better known as Bruges.
Brugge is in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. Though this didn't cause real problems for us due to the excellent language abilities of the locals, we always like to try and learn a few phrases - it's nice. I had some problems with the word 'please'. It was quite unlike any other languages I know. In French it's 's'il vous plait', in German it's 'bitte', in Italian it's 'pif favore' and Spanish it's 'per favore'. Apologies for any misspellings.
In Flemish it's 'alstublieft', which I couldn't get into my head for some reason!
That said, though we couldn't speak the language for longer than a few pre prepared words, we did find that one could get a lot of meaning by listening to it - the links to other European languages are quite plain.
On the saturday, we took the Eurostar from London. The Eurostar is very comfortable and smooth. Always a nice trip.
At Bruxxelles Midi (Brussels Zuid) we changed to go to Brugge. The interesting thing about Belgium is that destinations are always given in the local language. Brussels is well and truly in Flanders, though it's Bilingual and so is the exception. If travelling from Wallonia (the French speaking area) you may start your journey travelling to Ypres, but you'd arrive in Ieper!
To get to Brugge from Brussels we just took the Ostend train. We waited literally a few minutes. The Belgian trains are fantastic. Smooth ride, airy. Very nice
At Brugge, we got off to see a large open space - which way now? Fortunately Brugge knows that it's main revenue is tourism, so there are tourist 'you are here' maps liberally dotted about the place. We found the hotel with no trouble. We were staying in the Ibis Brugge Centrum. It was a fairly basic room, slightly stale with cigarette smoke, but it was serviceable. One flaw was that there was no safe in the room.
We soon headed out to explore the city. It's not a big place but it's quite pretty. Like Brussels it lends itself to sampling Belgian cuisine. Moules Frites were everywhere, though we steered clear as we thought Mussels were out of season. Actually they're not - they're in season in colder months. I.e. September through to April.
We soon found our way to the Markt, and sat at a cafe opposite the Belfort. It was a cold evening, but there were heaters and so it was rather pleasant. I had the obligatory waffle, Monica had a Pancake. Nice.
In the evening we went to a place called the Lokkedize. This is a cafe on a back road near the Cathedral. It seemed mostly frequented by locals, which is a good sign. Unfortunately there was no live music on the day we went. We each had a beer or two and ordered a Meze, the food was Meditteranean. Highly recommended.
On the brewery tour, we saw this helmet in a case. I have no clue what it was for, but it reminded me of c3p0!
The next day we took ourselves off to De Halve Maan pub. Attached to the Halve Maan is the Straffe Hendrik brewery. The Halve Maan is quite a big place, but it's not that easy to spot. It's not too far from Minnewater, just round the corner to where the horses stop to rest. For a few euro we received a tour of the brewery (which has some steep stairs in it), and we could exchange our ticket for some Straffe Hendrik at the end. This was a very good brewery tour, and there are some nice views of Brugge to be had from the roof of the brewery. Unfortunately in the Pub they had one track stuck on loop in the CD player, and it took several tries to break the loop. 'If you're going to San Francisco...' ad nauseum was eventually replaced by the Nolans and 'I'm in the mood for dancing'. Fortunately this one didn't loop.
The brewery tour took us to the roof of the building. On the left is the Cathedral, and on the right is Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk.
These are just some of the many glasses one has for Belgian beer. Each beer should be served in the correct glass.
The brewery tour is not one which can be undertaken by people who don't have good mobility. There are lots of stairs, some of them are quite steep and treacherous. Be warned!
This bridge is behind Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk. It's quite pretty round there - as it's very pretty. I had to wait some time to get a shot of the bridge with nobody on it!
Whenever we go abroad, we always use 'The Lonely Planet' guides. The guide for Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp contains walking tours, and so we followed the walking tour for Bruges. There was an amusing chap who made a show out of organ grinding, he reminded me of someone.... I won't say who. The walk didn't take long as it's a small place.
This is what is believed to be the Smallest Medieval window in Europe. You'll have to look quite hard for it, it's near the right hand edge of the wall.
This is a statue we saw on our walk throuogh Brugge. It's one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three were also there.
Following a brief stop for refreshments we decided to climb the Belfort in the Markt.
This is a fairly long climb (366 steps), and quite steep in places - but one can get good views. It is a working Belltower, and one can see the mechanism which plays the tunes, as well as be deafened when the bells start to ring.
This photograph of Belfort was taken from the South. It's a view from near where one of the canal trips leaves.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Belfort. The views are fantastic. If you look for them you will see that on the stones of the openings are arrows with distance indications to various towns and cities.
When we descended from the tower, we took a horse and carriage ride around Brugge. A little bit of an extravagance, but why not? It was very good fun - we were taken round the major sites, going fast at times and slow when there were points of interest.
This is the area inside the Convent near Minnewater. Despite the signs saying 'please keep off the grass', what are those people doing...? Yep... they're on the grass.
The horse stops for water near Minnewater, and we took five minutes to visit the convent - which was lovely. The interior square was ablaze with daffodils. It was only five minutes, so back to the carriage and our trip continued.
Later on, we wandered around a few establishments, ending up at 't Brugs Beerje (review of 't Brugs Beertje). This is a fantastic place, there is huge variety of beer to sample. I had something called 'Delirium Tremens' which was very nice indeed, though I've now learned that it's a medical condition. Monica had something called 'Brugs', which I didn't care for, but she liked a lot. It had orange zest and coriander in it!
After that we decided to look for some dinner. The Cafedraal was closed, we ended up at a place overlooking one of the canals called 'Matinée'. It's south of Belfort near one of the places that the boat trips leave from. It was fairly quiet (early april - cold), but we got good food.
On the Monday we began the day with a trip to the 'Diamant Museum' (Diamond Museum) which is very close to where we stayed. It's a small little museum, it could have been quite dry, but as we were nearing the end of the exhibits there was a demonstration about how diamonds were cut. I found this fascinating, and it made the museum visit worthwhile.
Following the usual morning snack, this time at Cafe Craenenburg, we went over to Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which is said to contain some of Christ's Blood. There are some nice examples if stained glass in there.
This is the Michelangelo in Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk. It's reportedly the only Michelangelo to be removed from Italy in his lifetime.
We then went to Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, which the guide on the horse and carriage assured us is the second tallest brick built structure in Europe. Inside the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk they have one of the few examples of a Michelangelo outside Italy.
This is a photo of us which was taken in the excellent 't Brugs Beertje
This is what we were drinking on a visit to the 't Brugs Beertje
Then it was back to 't Brugs Beerje, where I started with 'Cuvée des Trolls', which was nice, and Monica had 'Hommelbier' from Poperinge
We chatted to a few folks in there, some people from the Netherlands (who thought I was Swedish), and a couple of lots of Americans. One group from Seattle, and a family who were visiting their daughter who was studying in Paris. She was giving them a grand tour of Europe.
From there, we looked for somewhere to have our evening meal. This time we went into the 'Cafedraal', which is unsurprisingly next to the Cathedral. It's a fairly posh sort of place, but to be honest I wasn't too keen. Something to do with having a crustacean placed on top of my steak of Turbot. I don't like my food looking at me.
On the tuesday, it was time to come home. We'd seen Brugge and were walking the streets like locals (it's a small place, you get to know it fast). What to do? Well, we took a trip on the Canal, which didn't show us anything new, but it was jolly good fun.
We also went back to the Cafe Craenenburg, where we were most impressed as the waiter not only remembered that we had visited before, but he also remembered our order, and asked us if we wanted the same again. We didn't. Monica went for a chocolate overload and had a Waffle with Chocolate sauce, Chocolate ice cream and accompanied this with Hot Chocolate. I had something called 'Croque Craenenburg' which is essentially a toasted sandwich with a Bolognaise sauce. Very nice.
All that was left now was to pick up our bags from the hotel, and head home. We had a slight wait in Brussels as we'd left slightly earlier than we needed - but this is no bad thing. After trying so hard with the Flemishm it felt weird to be speaking French when asking for tea and coffee in a cafe (I know I could have used English... but I really prefer not to if possible when abroad).