Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And the Dutch flag is waving

At the end of January, after months of speculation, a consortium of Carlsberg and Heineken made a take-over offer to buy and break-up Scottisch and Newcastle which had been accepted.

But big international take-overs take some time to accomplish ( EU needs to check the competition situation in each country etc etc...) and we were told that we'd not have new management in the first months.

But today the Scottisch flag flying outside has been lowered and we are currently flying a brand new Dutch flag next to the Maes flags.

We all found a can of Heineken beer on our desks with a welcome letter. The intranet had already slightly changed in lay-out and the e-mail address book contained 47000 new Heineken addresses. Other than that it was still business as usual. I guess we'll find out step by step what it's like to be part of the big Heineken group. I'm very curious and optimistic.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Political tactics

aaah there's some moments that I just love politics. That I can sit back and watch it from a distant and enjoy the tactical games as if watching a team sport.

Remember that I explained here that a voting district in and around Brussels needs to be split into a bilingual area (Brussels) and a Flemish area (around Brussels). This district has been subjected by our highest court house and the government cannot organise legal elections before it is split. However, it is one of the topics that the Flemish and Wallonian politicians cannot agree upon.

While our government formations were dragging and dragging, the Flemish parties have voted their proposition in the parliament unilaterally using their electoral majority for the first time in Belgian history. All Flemish parties were united as were their frenchspeaking counterparts as well; Their so-called "5 minutes of braveness" turned out into a flop though: the formation attempt of Yves Leterme failed, the Wallonian politicians used some bureuacratical procedure that protects each cultural group in Belgium against such laws forced by one group upon the other. In the end this helped Yves Leterme to form his government after all as this delicate topic was off in the bureaucratical freezer and out of sight for a years was expected. Time enough to find a solution later on.

At least that was what everyone in Flanders was thinking. The Wallonian political parties have now all agreed to not use their protection measures to the limit. They've stopped the procedure that could have continued until next fall still. As a result, this bill comes back in the parliament on May 8th and the Flemish political parties can vote pro once again.

What a big risk they take?!, you might be thinking.

Not so...it's actually a brilliant tactical move. Yves Leterme is no longer president of the major Flemish political party, he is now leading our national government. His Flemish allies all want to vote for their bill and keep their point of view strong and they count on Yves' loyalty. If he holds the vote, it could mean a split with some of his allies.... all his Frenchspeaking counterparts say it's in his hands now. They want a negotiated compromise and count in his leadership to stop a vote in the parliament and to start negotiations. If the vote gets passed nevertheless, they'll leave the government.

Now that's what they call the sword of Damocles. Or brilliant tactics. Or bluffing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Staying healthy in Portugal


So against all odds we arrived in Portugal well without many delays and we were living with a big happy bunch in our rented villa. (previous SOS stories)
We were enjoying our vacation in this wonderful country. We visited the magnificent university in Coimbra, were at the beach in Nazaré at a few hundred meter of the drying fish, visited the amazing marble white church in Alcobaça, we ate grilled sardines in outdoor restaurants, ...



Monastory church at Alcobaça (source: Jo Campos)

At one of the restaurants they offered snails as appetizer. I totally loved them. They were salty, totally different from the "Burgundy" style snails with garlic butter as we sometimes eat in France and in Belgium as an entree. I ate lots and lots of them. Far more than anybody else. Once started it was hard to stop.

The next morning we were ready for another big tour: the cathedral of Batalha, the pelgrimage town of Fatima and the Templar castle in Tomar. At the breakfast table I already felt cramps and I had to run off to the toilet urgently. When we got into the car and left on the windy road, the nausea got stronger and stronger. I concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply and watched the road. I knew we were almost in Batalha as we had done this road before on our way to Nazaré. I'd almost be free to get out of the car.

But when we reached the square in Batalha , my dad simply turned right and continued on the road. "Where are we going? I thought we'd visit the cathedral today?"
"Ah yes, we'll do that in the evening, we'll visit the furthest destination first, so we are now driving to Fatima".

At that moment my stomac gave up. My reflexes were just fast enough to open the car door before I started throwing up. It probably took a full minute before my parents realised where this sudden breeze of hot air and those funny noises came from and before they had had the reflex to pull over followed by my aunt's family in the car behind us. The sight of my hanging out of the driving car must have been quite 'interesting' for them :p. From then on it took another 3 stops of roadside furtilisation before my stomac was empty.

When we arrived on the big square in front of the basilica in Fatima I was amased by the long line of people crawling on their knees across the square towards the shrine following a line made up by different tiles, surrounded by their loudly praying families begging Our Lady for some kind of favor. On the left side there was a huge black wall where a huge mass of candles were burning. When approaching the wall the heat just hit into your face and made you back-up again. If you wanted to insist anyway in order add a burning candle, the candle itself was already soft and bent by the time you could place it there.

My mom didn't allow me much time to look around but guided me to the covered sides of the square where I had to sit down as she feared that I might be suffering from a sunstroke. I pleaded that I already felt a 1000 times better now that I was out of the moving hot car but she was deaf for my arguments. I had to wait there while the rest of them were walking in the middle of the esplanade taking pictures.

All of a sudden she had noticed on the other side of the square against the side walls a Red Cross post. "Come with me, we'll go and ask them whether they have something against motionsickness and nausea", said my mom. We quickly pointed to the others the direction wherewe were going and we crossed the square again in the Portugese summer heath.

The 2 volunteers didn't understand anything my mom was trying to explain to them in French and we didn't understand anything about their Portugese questions. Just when we were about to give up, they turned towards an open door in the wall behind them and a little nun appeared.
"Parlez-vous Français? Venez venez, suivez-moi" (do you speak French? Come in, come, follow me) and she directed us into the room behind the Red Cross post what seemed like a nice cool basement. Afterwards I realised it was indeed some kind of huge basement under the higher up terrasses outside. My mom tried to explain that we just wanted some kind of medication against nausea if that was possible, but the nun did not allow us to make a lot of interruptions.
"Suivez- moi" and she walked to an elevator in the back.

In the elevator my mom stated again that we just wanted to know whether we could get some kind of anti-nausea pill. "oui oui très bien, suivez-moi" (yes yes, very well, follow-me). Before we realised it we had arrived in a big building with long hallways, were zigzagging in them behind the nun and we were given a seat in a very busy waiting room with enquiry desks. The nun came back with a bunch of papers that we needed to fill in. They wanted our full address, name, medical history, ....all of it. Clearly that seemed like a bit of overkill in our request for some simple motionsickness pill. We both walked up to the nun gestering that there was some kind of misunderstanding and that we wanted to leave.
"Oui oui, n'ayez pas peur, asseyez-vous " (yes yes, don't be afraid, sit down) she said and gave us back the papers to fill in. As we were all confused and this nun clearly had her mind set to us filling in the papers, we gave in and started filling all the data that she had requested. It's hard to go into discussion with a Portugese Frenchspeaking nun.

After we had filled in the papers she told us to sit down again and repeated a couple more times "N'ayez pas peur" (don't be afraid) when looking at our confused faces. And then she disappeared out of the room. We were sitting nervously in a room buzzling with activity yet totally cut-off of the rest of the world. In this pre-mobile phone era we had no means warning our family outside who only knew we'd quickly go and ask for a pill at the Red Cross stand. The longer it took, the more stressed we were and wondering whether we'd had to try to escape out of this myriad of hallways by ourselves, ...yet we remained seated as instructed.

All of a sudden the nun appeared again in front of me and told me to come. However when my mom stood up as well, the nun pointed her back to the chair. "N' ayez pas peur Madame". She took me a couple of rooms further and introduced me to a doctor. Finally someone asking for the reason I was there. Hesitatingly I tried explain in my high school French about the snails, the morning diarrhea, the moving hot car. I did not have any words for vomiting though, so I had to resort to movements and sounds. The doctor kept his kind, interested, serious face throughout my explanation and was making notes.

In the mean time I heard in the hall way an approaching door knock and my mom's voice getting louder at each door "Goofball, are you in here". Surely she wasn't going to stay seated in the waiting room as soon as she realised the nun had actually left the room with me. So we were quickly reunited and she joined me while the doctor examined me.

A couple of minutes later I was declared fully healthy apart from some motionsickness or badly digested food (as we had guessed ourselves already). He explained us how to exit the building and gave us a prescription of Primperan. So an hour after we went to ask at the Red Cross post whether we could have something against nausea, I had had a free full check-up and I had a prescription but we still needed to find a pharmacy downtown to give me the medication. Outside we met my stressed uncle and dad again who were already in a state of rescue operation as we had been missing for an hour.

After our visit to the pharmacist we could continue our busy tourist schedule without further sickness interruptions. My mom still told me to stay in the shade, wear my hat and sit down as much as possible all day...which I did obediently when she was in sight.





Me sitting in the shade in the Templar Knight's castle in Tomar feeling perfectly fine

This Singular Saturday is a day late as we attended yesterday 2 good friend's

Wedding

For more Singular Saturdays go visit Jenn in Holland.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mentosfountains

We all know students can act pretty crazy. They'd do anything as long as it is not studying, right? So why not organise a world record attempt in Mentosfountains???



Source

Ingredients:

  • 1360 bottles of Diet Coke, not chilled
  • 1360*6 mentos capsules in a tube
  • 1360 crazy students

World record:

Count down to 3 and then watch this.

Mijn restaurant: vote for Leuven

As was to be expected, Oostende got nominated for "Mijn Restaurant". They only got 12 points (Hasselt 36, Antwerp 27 and Leuven 26) as everyone agreed that the food and service in the Red Pepper was the least. No Ghislaine: it wasn't tactics, I think it was the honest opinion of all judges. You'd do so much better if you didn't have so much paranoia. Yet apparently your chef would have been a major factor in your poor score, but then I read in the press that he's already fired due to a fraudulous past.

As was to be expected, Exquisa in Hasselt scored very well. The spontaneity and warmth of this couple is so catchy and apparently the food and atmosphere is good too.

So the second nomination was between Leuven or Antwerp. And with one point difference, Leuven got nominated again. Aaaaargh. So let's all vote for Leuven again. Despite Lien's fear that My Restaurant will become boring without the famous Ghislaine, Leuven must remain in the race a bit longer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And this doesn't stop

one dollar = 1.6 €...a new record today.

Gosh and we thought we had already last September an incredible deal when going on vacation to the USA. Geez we were much too early! We should go back again :p.


But it's not good though. This evolution is not good for the world economy.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A house full of surprises



Last week you could read here about our stressful ride through France on our way to Portugal for our yearly family vacation. Against all odds we had made our way through France that was suffering from a traffic infarction at that moment and wehad arrived at 10 kms from the Spanish border.

The next morning we left as soon as possible and proceeded to the south in order to cross that magic border. That moment a heavy weight fell from our shoulders as if we had been chased and as if we now found ourselves on a new territory where the danger could not reach us anymore. The threats to block the start of the Tour at San Sébastien didn't seem credible and we moved by smoothly indeed.

That day we crossed through the dry flat interior of Spain between Burgos and Valladolid. I remember searching for ages at noon for some sort of restaurant where we tried our luck on chosing a dish arbitrarely from the incomprehensible menu. It was the most disgusting dish we ever received and we walked out again without eating it. That night we slept in a little hotel across the Portugese border in Guarda where we could see in the news the continuing miserable traffic situation in France. But we were almost at our destination.
The villa we had rented belonged to a Portugese who had adult children living in the USA whom he was visiting. It was situated in a small settlement at the foot of Obidos (the most pittoresque medieval walled city I've ever visited!). The streetlevel had a big garage and the living part could be reached by an exterior staircase entering in a spacious kitchen. Some of the rooms had been locked for us, although our bedroom key did fit the living room. But we behaved and didn't enter it anymore after that discovery :p. It didn't look like an attractive living room anyway. We had 3 bedrooms to use and 2 bathrooms and we were also allowed to enter the big garden behind the house. There was a small orchard and behind it there were sheds with chickens that were being fed by the neighbours. At ground level of the house, at the backside of the garages there was storage room with garden tools I assumed but that had been locked up for us as well.



Obidos: source on Flickr by Portugese_eyes

Soon after our arrival, my aunt, uncle and cousin had arrived as well and we started exploring the magnificent area over the next days. Each evening after a tiring tourist day where we visited the nearby historic sites, we would come home to our quiet and spacious villa where we soon felt at home.

One evening we got home and my mom and my aunt started preparing dinner quickly as we were all starving. I had noticed upon our arrival that in one of the storage rooms at the back the light had been left on. That was fairly strange as the doors had been locked all week. Maybe the neighbour had access for the chickenfood and had left the light on. My uncle went to check it out.

10 minutes later, he had not returned yet and my cousin went to look for him as dinner was almost ready.

10 minutes later both of them were still gone. They had probably run into the neighbour and we were sure that my uncle had gotten himself into a conversation with the Portugese. So I went out to call them for dinner. While I descended and walked to the backside of the house I could hear my uncle talking. Aha, he had indeed met the neighbours and had kept talking while losing track of time. The door was open slightly and the light was still on.

When I opened the door wide open, I froze still. This was not the bare grey garden storage room I had expected at all. And the 3 pairs of eyes staring back were not my uncle, the neighbour or my cousin. I stared at the tv playing in this living room and at the people who had turned around. I had not moved in the door opening yet when some of the people in the room pointed to the right.

I moved hesitantly into the next room that was a fully equipped kitchen. A Portugese mama was preparing a deliciously smelling meal while my uncle was sitting at the kitchen table with a drink in his hands . With a mixture of French and Dutch and lots of gestures he managed to keep some sort of conversation going. My cousin turned around and grinned to me "These people live here". Yes indeed, I was realising this myself. I had not overcome my surprise shock yet and could only stumble "Dinner is ready, we are waiting for you guys".
After that I raced out of the rooms as if I was bitten by a snake and I hurried back up the stairs to 'our safe home'.
'There's a couple of families living at the backside of the garages', I announced when coming in again.

This was later confirmed by my uncle and cousin who could explain to us that these people traveled a couple of days a week from market to market only to return every so many days home. The next days we waved when we saw a mini-van stuffed up to the roof turning on the drive-way. Gosh, what a story to tell at home, I thought. I didn't know yet that this wouldn't be the major story of our trip in Portugal just yet.

Interested in more soapie stories? Check out the rules here and find other participants at Brillig's site.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Copyright of buildings

This week Belgium celebrated the 50th anniversery of the World Expo organised in Brussels in '58. That fair opened up the world to post-war Belgium in an era of enormous optimism in a rapdidly changing society.

When you think Expo '58, you think "Atomium", the weird blown-up iron crystal representation which still is one of the weirdest pieces of architecture in Belgium. When I saw all the flash-backs in the news, I had to think of all my foreign readers on my blog here and I figured I wanted to make a nice post about the Atomium.

All of a sudden I remember having read somewhere that you can't publish a picture of the Atomium just like that. Some googling learned me indeed the following:

The image of the Atomium is protected since its construction. It's mandatory to gain approval from the asbl/vzw Atomium and the SABAM, before copying or broadcasting the image of the Atomium. It is also necessary to mention "copyright asbl/vzw Atomium". (source)

And it's apparently quite costly and SABAM does amuse itself googling for pictures. Years ago they claimed a 5000 BEF fine per week on the internet. Currently it would cost 91,54 euro to publish a picture on the internet. That also counts for vacation pictures uploaded to Flickr or any online photo album as well. Yikes! No wonder that the architect's children gain 30.000 Euro per year from the Atomium copyright. And yet....which tiny piece of the tourists and the internet population is aware of this??? Just google a bit, use the tag Atomium at flickr, ...and you'll get multiple pages of results. The internet is full of pictures of this building. I know one of my readers actually has posted marvellous pictures on her blog (and I will not make a hyperlink now...I don't want to guide SABAM to anybody).

As there is a lot of new retro-publications appearing for the Expo's anniversary, the rules would be softened a little bit this year : amateurs can publish a picture right now without cost after applying for a written permission at SABAM. Well screw them...I wouldn't want them to get overly busy, so I won't bother them.

The city of Mechelen was also aware of this rule and wanted to organise an exposition. Hence they organised a competition for 100 photoshoppers who'd erase creatively the Atomium out of family pictures. They got informed that any pictures where the silhouet of the building was still visible is not acceptable either. Argh, how annoying can you get?


To some level I understand this building copyright protection for commercial agencies. And that a brilliant architect has created a building that actually turned into a national landmark has to be credited to this architect in some way.
But isn't bugging simple families not one step too far? Sharing pictures over the internet is what modern technology allows us now. But apparently the law doesn't give us the same permissions. Can't this be considered as "fair use"?? Apparently not for the Atomium.

So you cant published pictures anymore taken by other people, but you cannot be certain about publishing your own vacation pictures either??? Well at least not for "recent buildings" because the copyright only lasts until 70 years after the death of the architect. So you're safe for old cathedrals etc... What an advantage for tourists in Europe ;).

The Atomium is not the only case:
  • In Belgium this would also be the case for any building made by Victor Horta , the Flagey building, the NATO buildings, Berlaymont, The European parliament (not much left for Brussels tourists: simply don't post pictures of Brussels to be certain ;-) ).
  • In France the lights of the Eifeltower are protected, so no pictures by night!
  • the Lone Cypress (a tree!) in California
  • ...?

Pfffff

Mijn Restaurant: visitor rules

This morning on my shopping trip downtown I walked by D'Hoogeschool at the Hogeschoolplein, the restaurant in Leuven participating in the contest "Mijn Restaurant" . There was a big sign outside that other people were reading and discussing so I glanced quickly at it while walking by.

In at least 3 languages it gave a big text explaining that TV recordings take place at these premises. If you decide to dine in the restaurant, you declare your agreement to the fact that they are allowed to tape any conversation and film the entire time etc etc.
You give permission to VTM to commercialise any of the material etc etc..

Despite the fact that I like watching the program, I had already made the reflection that I wouldn't want to dine in any of the restaurants right now. You never know what they'll broaddcast. Just imagine that you choke over something, start a big coughing and it is all filmed in close-up and comes on tv, and maybe later in a successful DVD or whatever. Hahaha, just imagine.

It was quite a long list and I don't remember the exact phrasing. But it sure put me off! It's really a Big Brother warning before you can go in. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I only thought of that when was already further away. When I walked by again on my return , Jelle was having a smoke outside. I am truly not a assertive up-front groupie that would walk up to him , congratulate him with last weeks win and ask if he'd pose next to the sign.
..so no picture of the visitor rules. I simply walked on at the other side of the square :)

How I feel with a Coke in my hand after a morning of reading, a noon of shopping and an afternoon of tiring condition training in the swimming pool

Satisfied

For more Singular Saturdays go visit Jenn in Holland.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Blue

Sometimes when I've published some pictures, I get in the comments praising remarks about them. Now it's time to come out of the closet: surely 50% of them are made by Jan and not by me. When we go out for a walk or on vacation he uses the camera as much as I do and he often shoots pure beauties that I wouldn't be able to make.

Today one of his pictures gets featured on Looking into .
I have already introduced Looking into in the past: a joint venture photoblog of Allison at Soccer Mom in Denial and Jenn in Holland. Each day they continue to share their beautiful view on the world.

Please go and check it out!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Unique

Funny headline in the news today: Maria and Marie (both Mary in English) are the most common female names in Flanders and in Belgium. Jean is the most common male name in Belgium with it's Dutch equivalant Jan coming on the 7th place. In Flanders Jan is the 2nd most common male name, after Marc.

And indeed: I've had 2 neighbours named Jan, my yoga teacher is called Jan, I have 3 cousins with the name Jan etc etc... and I am living together with a Jan. But don't worry, he's pretty unique though. :-)


Update: After reading Novembrance's Friday grammar lesson, I'll correct this last sentence ;).
here it is: But don't worry, he's unique to me though.

My restaurant rules in Leuven

Last years I started watching the Australian reality tv "My restaurant rules" and I got totally hooked at the adventures of different couples opening a new restaurant from scratch and competing in different cities against each other. I've watched both years.

In February during a walk with Jan downtown, I noticed that one of the empty pubs had a big banner hanging "soon on VTM". ...Immediately I had to think of 'My restaurant rules'. Could it be that there would be a Flemish version starting? Soon I learned that they would indeed start a Flemish version and my fear that it would be a weak copy of the original turned out to be untrue.

Together with other bloggers apparently, I sat in front of my tv each Tuesday and Thursday and saw 5 couples in each of the 5 Flemish provinces start-up their restaurant, renovate it, hire personnel, choose menu's, ... with all their ups-and downs. We laughed at the jalousy tantrums of the already famous Ghislaine, Yanaika's hang-over, we shook our heads over the stress-sensitive Micheline, etc...

And last week the first 2 restaurants got nominated for closure: Ghent and Leuven. Ghent and Leuven for God's sake, the only 2 cities that I feel truly connected to! How unfair! I couldn't care much if Oostende, Antwerp or Hasselt would close, but Ghent and Leuven were my two hometowns and it felt like an offense.

Yet I didn't have much difficulty to choose. Although Leuven seemed the underdog , more uncertain with many blunders in the serving, I liked their style much more. The "Charlekijn" in Ghent wants to serve "honest" down to earth menu's, but the concept of the game is to find a new top-restaurant. I'd prefer a little bit more sophistication myself both in the food, the serving and the decoration of the restaurant. D'Hoogeschool in Leuven still had to gain experience, but it has its concept right.
Kris and Angelo from Ghent are the archetypes of a rebellous stubborn inhabitant of Ghent. That can be very cool, but you have to balance on a thin line in order to avoid becoming arrogant. It is funny to see the pictures of the jury upgraded into mock pictures at the kitchen walls, but it's less funny when you yell at each criticism "the game is manipulated" , "rubbish", "assholes", ... The other provinces took some of the jury's criticism at heart to grow and learn from it, but Ghent could only curse and walk away. I must admit that it started to work on my nerves very much.

The general expectance was that Ghent would be able to mobilise a big fanbase and that they'd win. They probably did....but much to my surprise Leuven won tonight and Ghent has to close. I think their modesty and underdog postion has won the hearts from the other provinces. Yeaaaaah, I must say I cheered tonight.

So only 4 more restaurants open. Oostende should close next in my humble opinion. Running a restaurant while you can't stand that women come in because you imagine them all hitting on your fiancée or mocking you, isn't the best attitude, Ghislaine.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A journey with barriers


Each summer in my childhood we went on vacation as a family. And travelling is always a bit of adventure (remember this for example) .

In 1992 my parents and my aunt and uncle had booked a rental villa in Portugal. My sister had a student job and was going to stay at home, but I could hang out with my cousin. We had it all planned out: I'd drive the 2-day journey with my parents whereas my aunt's family would fly into Lisbon on the day of our arrival.

While we were enthousiastically preparing our trip at the end of June, the ominous bulletins reached us on the news. The truckers in France were upset for a new drivers license system and started blockades on all major routes. Their timing couldn't be worse: right at the start of the tourist season when thousands of tourists travelled to or through France. All the time they were making more and more blockades on highways, causing huge traffic jams and people being plainly stuck.

As if we'd not believe the news on its own , my aunt phoned to tell us that her daughter and her boyfriend had gotten stuck in such a traffic jam on a highway, couldn't turn back anymore. In the end they had found a place to stay in the village nearby.


Needless to say that we followed each bulletin frantically and as the number of blockades and traffic jams was rising, so were our stresslevels. My aunt's daughter was still in her French village while their Spanish vacation location was unoccupied by them.


Then we heard that one of my mom's retired colleagues had just gotten back from the south of France. They had managed to drive the distance going from one tiny road to another dirt road. My mom and I were off to them to borrow their big stack of detailed maps that covered most of France. That night we decided to leave the next day as planned after all. What's the use of getting all stressed at home, waiting and hoping that those truckers get some sense back while we saw our vacation going by? We might as well spend that vacation stuck somewhere in France. In the news they announced that one road to the south was still without blockades: following the westcoast of France....the road to take to Portugal.

So early the next morning we took off: the car with extra picknick, a stack of maps 2 feet high, ...

We expected to get stuck before reaching the level of Paris, but we took the risk. Crossing the border in a small village in Belgium, we started circling from one village to another , carefully avoiding all bigger district roads. Every time we saw a big truck , our heart skipped a beat....


But it went well at the start and we started to relax a bit. It seemed like the smaller roads had been left alone and although we didn't proceed very quickly, we kept going south steadily.

After a couple of hours we were at the same height as Paris, much to our own surprise. We had beaten our own predictions. But the road was very still long and we had to be in Portugal the next day.

At one point in the afternoon when approaching Normandy, we saw a roadsign towards the freeway. "What the hell, I'm doing it", my dad said and much to our surprise we took the entry road on the highway. If any blockade would be on this road, we would not be able to leave it anymore. It was quite a risk to take. My heart was beating just a bit louder.


Apparently we were one of the rare ones to take this risk as this freeway was almost deserted. Finally at a good speed we could make some progress! We only didn't know how far we'd get.

Luck was on our side that afternoon though and around 7 PM we were just north of Bordeaux. We stopped on a big parking lot to have our dinner and we felt as if we had conquered the world. In our extatic mood we looked for a pay-phone and phoned my sister to make her guess where we were. She truly couldn't believe that we had made it that far without problems as the news about the traffic situation in France were still ominous.

As a matter of fact she could pull us back to reality by warning us that truckers were on its way to block the "Pont d'aquitaine", a major suspension bridge just north of Bordeaux where most traffic needs to cross. "Hurry hurry" she told us. If we didn't make it, we could be stuck for days, as our cousin still was on the other side of France.
With our stress levels back to a maximum, we quickly hurried back in the car and went off. And we crossed the bridge one hour before the blockade was raised on the bridge, a blockade which would last 5 days (when the French army finally started cleaning up the mess). Relieved and tired from the long day we were ready to look for the little hotel south of Bordeaux that my parents had in mind. But it wasn't meant to be.
While crossing the Landes there was all of a sudden a road block in front of us. Not a truckers road block. Nope, it was the police who had closed of the highway and was directing all cars onto an alternative road, probably preventing us all to actually get ourselves stuck in a real blockade. In a long long series of cars we seemed to continue on an endless road inland to the south-east. We had to go south-west, but could not figure out on which road we were travelling and we didn't dare to leave the big karavan of cars. There were plenty of forrests next to us, but hardly any villages to stop. So we drove and drove while we were desperately watchign the clock getting later and later. After quite a distance inland, we made a big turn and finally started going southwest again.
10 kms before the Spanish border, we finally reached the highway again and we crashed in our car to sleep on the first parking lot we saw. 10 more kms and we'd be out of the risk zone...although there had been rumours as well that the French would try to disturb the start of the Tour de France in San Sébastien as well.
We didn't know yet that our adventures were not over yet.
If you want to read more soap opera stories, check out Brillig or walking kateastrophe, to find other participants.

Leaves and flowers

April is proving its whimsical reputation well this year but despite instable weather, nature is proving that spring has truly started. I can see it from our window.




Welcome to Belgium

Isn't it ironic that each time I drive Jan to the airport for a business trip, he gets an sms "Welcome to Belgium" when approaching Brussels (on his UK phone though)?

Well at least he knows he's welcome here when he comes back!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Zeeland

Imagine a cold April day in Zeeland. Outside temperature and water temperature are about 7°C. What would you do?







Go for a walk and enjoy some typical Dutch landscapes? ...dunes, dikes, lots of water, a historical little city full of historic monuments and static houses?






Grevelingen meer



Zierikzee


Or go in the water looking for lobsters and their friends?




First day at school!

Remember this? And this?

Well that's already more than 2,5 years ago. Today Renée and Stef went for the first time to school! Yes to school.

A special moment for the kids and for the parents (and the auntie as well!). They will go for the coming weeks part-time to school and part-time to their familiar daycare. Also for Luisa there was a change: she already goes to school since November but has now started to go full-time!

Hurray for Renée, Stef and Luisa!



Stef first a bit quiet and anxious while waiting at the schoolgate but quickly playing enthousiastically

In Belgium most children start school between 2,5 and 3 years. It's not mandatory to go to school yet. Since stay-at-home moms are rare here and childcare is no longertax-deductable anymore after the age of 3, most people send their little ones to school at that age. And the daycare centers only take children until 2,5 - 3 years anyway, so the children start feeling that they are the oldest, that their friends leave for school and that only new babies arrive. So usually they are ready for it. They must be pottytrained though.

Af far as I've heard 2,5 is one of the youngest ages in our neighbouring countries to start school. Obviously the kids don't go to a school yet where they have to sit on benches and study. There's 3 - 3,5 years of kindergarden before they go to elementary school. The kindergarden teachers are fully trained pedagogues who focus in teaching the children language and motoric and social skills in a very playfull way.

Luisa's speech has really evolved to longer, fuller and correcter sentences over the last months. I am curious to see Renée and Stef change in the coming weeks. Haha, I wonder how long it'll take before they come home with some curses that they've picked up at the playground. :p

What are the odds: update

Nope, I didn't win the lottery (I guess playing could have helped the odds a bit)
...but my car got hit in the back at an intersection making a nice dent in my trunk....

Hey, it's almost the same no? Hmm maybe not.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

What are the odds

What are the odds that you throw your backpack in the trunck of your car and you hit the trunck to close only to notice too late that the cord was laying exactly on the lock. That as a result the lock doesn't close the trunck , but you can't open it anymore either. And while driving it keeps beeping to let you know that the trunck isn't closed. And when you come home, you can't lock the car anymore because your trunck is supposedly open.


What are the odds that it happens on the same way that your heel breaks off in a meeting?

What are the odds that both things happen in the same week that the hot water boiler is broken down resulting in a week camping without central heating and hot water (but with a gas fire and an electric water cooker?)


Oh boy, I think I need to play on the lottery this week!

Elegance

Last week's "Wijvenweek" has triggered my attention again to the latest fashion and my appearance. So this morning I pulled out of my wardrobe an old long grey skirt with a modern tight grey hooded top. With Trinny and Susannah's Rules in my head, I layered it with a bright orange top underneath which showed subtly at my neck and at my waist and a little necklace. Hey it's the details that make or break an outfit!

Last minute I realised that this long skirt makes me look smaller. My pair of neglected short black boots with high heels would make me look taller. Trinny and Sussanah would be proud of me. Although nothing can beat the comfort of flat shoes, nothing can beat the elegance of high heeled shoes. As An wrote last week: shoes define the style of your outfit.

So today's theme was elegance! Yep, I felt very elegant when walking out of the meeting room, over the parking lot to my car...slowly step by step... with only one heel left on my boots and the other one in my hand

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alias

So many of us blog under an alias that hides their true identity. It gives us a bit more freedom to write down our thoughts without worries about our privacy.
Some people turn it into a sport though to find the people behind popular blogs. Or to find out who has launched some of viral marketing. We all leave traces behind: IP address registrations, google profiles, etc... Those who know where to look, can often find us.

No wonder that today there's a big fuss in the Belgian blogosphere since one of this blog experts turned his expertise into a little tool. Go here to use the unanonymizer. You only need to type a blog URL and it will come up after a while with a list of potential authors given the traces it can find.

It sure gave me a fright when I tried it out. Scary stuff. I'm sure going to have to rethink my online activities.