Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quebec



Right from our arrival I loved Quebec city. The ride from the hotel to the city center passed by woody lanes aligned with beautiful big houses, big beautiful schools etc and was really quiet....not quite what I had anticipated for such a well-known city and quite a contrast from the metropole Montréal.

We arrived at the old upper city, saw the big city gates with some horse carriages aligned. The little streets with old pubs & store leading to pittoresque squares with statues were breathing a very European atmosphere.

The weather really cooperated with our visit: although the clouds were threatening at first to deliver the predicted showers, after a while the sky broke open in blue sky.  Combined with a strong wind that almost blew us off the ramparts of the citadelle, we actually got back into the hotel with unanticipated red cheeks.

For 1,5 days we walked through the streets of the upper & lower city, along old city walls, chateau's & fortresses and the big historic parks.  Much to my surprise Quebec city is tiny & quiet but I didn't get the feeling "is this it?" at all?  On the contrary, I couldn't get enough from strolling the streets and enjoying the passers-by from a terrace. I'm convinced that this is the prettiest North-American city.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Montréal

Being born in Europe with towns and villages that have organically grown in circles around the main square with a church, a town hall and some ancient commerical buildings and where most roads leading to that middle center where all commerce is happening, I always have a problem arriving in a North American city. I drive along the straight lanes of the city leading to the center and I miss it.  I often have at first sight the "oh, is this it? what is here to visit?" feeling and the arrival in Montréal was no different.

We visited the old city first, which was buzzing with activity and lined some nice old storage houses nearby the river but it was only a few blocks big so we had quickly walked all over the place. The cathedral reminded me of a fishermen's parish in Honfleur, Normandy where there was also stunning woodwork and a very wide ship.  We had some beers at the Place Jacques-Cartiers where a lot of artists were entertaining  and we returned in the evening for dinner even though we knew the restaurants there were probably tourist traps, but we let us getting trapped.





The next morning I really wondered what we'd do all day since in my mind we had seen the city. Fortunately Jan had spent his hour awake before me well and simply took me on a tour. First we walked all along Blvd Saint Denis where the many deserted bars and restaurants and little stores made me realise that there's more to Montréal but the old city.  Even totally deserted on a Sunday morning, the street seemed so fun that we decided to return here for dinner.  We climbed Mont Royal among the brave joggers and enjoyed the view on the city.  While testing the metro system we arrived the Olymic Stade and in the afternoon we used the bike rental system and toured the islands.  Much to our surprise we all of a sudden realised we were making a tour on the F1 circuit of Montréal.   The day ended with some shopping.   And so I learned that Montreal is also entertaining & fun outside of its historic center and that there's multiple "centers". :p



Jan making a pitstop

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vitamine

I feel there's some movement behind my back and when I turn around I see that a little kid is in front of the door but apparently his height is not picked up by the sensor to open the door. Jan moves helpfully in front of the door so the glass parts slide wide open and a little kid walks in determinedly with a big grin on his face.

"Ah little Jack, you come to get a vitamine? ", the pharmacists says
but he's ignored by the kid who walks straight to his goal: a little vitamine C dispenser at the side of the counter.  Still grinning, he turns the big button until one of the little orange candies falls down in the transparent container where he can pick it up.

When we walk out again, he's already off racing his little bike with his short legs, along the park further and further. We both stare at him also with a big grin on our face.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Made in Belgium: Scala

Once upon a time there were 2 brothers with music in their genes, known for their virtuoso double piano games. They also led a local girls choir in Aarschot, a little city at 17kms from Leuven.  In 2000 the all girls choir won the contest "choir of the year" .

A few years later they decided to change the repertoire of the choir from classical pieces to some rock songs. Steven Kolascny  stripped big rock hits from all layers and re-arranged them for an all girls choir with only piano as accompagniement. It was not without hesitation and there came reaction from the classic circuit indeed: at some choir concerts they got disqualified for inappropriate language.  In 2004 their first rock album appeared "Scala on the rocks" and became an instant hit in Belgium and surrounding countries with a lot of interest in the rock scene. Some of the covered groups became instant fans.

They had the chance to tour through some European countries , play on rock festivals etc... These 18-girls choir grew slowly to a big well-trained professional 60 - person (on stage....much more people in the pipeline) young adult choir with a strict choreography, media etc.

In May 2010, Stijn & Steven Kolascny frowned their eyebrows when they got an e-mail from Hollywood making some requests on their music and the fact that one of their songs would match a soon to be released movie well. 2 months later the trailer for "The Social Network" was released with Scala's cover of Creep in a central role.

Right now Scala has just finished their North-American tour with shows at the Coachella- and  SXSW festivals, performance at Conon O'Briens show etc etc. 


Creep (Radiahead cover)



Creep @Conon O'Brian



Smells like teen spirit (Radiohead cover)



With or without you (U2 cover)



Fail - Regi featuring Scala



Teenage dirtbag

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gosh I can't belief it

The king has assigned a "formateur" (someone who has to form a government, as opposed to mediators, informators, negotiators etc  who are supposed to check the different point of views and prepare a consensus among coalition partners).  


Did you get that?  A bit more than 11 months after our federal elections, we have a formateur.  The honour went to Elio Di Rupo, president of the Wallonian socialists and winner of the election in the south of the country.


But hold your breath just yet, he's first going to write some texts and consult everyone extensively basically because he has thrown the 2-months work of the christian democrat Beke straight to the waste bin last week.  

Hmm what's in a title, right. But still....a formateur. I have to get used to the idea.  Who would have thought we'd have a formateur now . I didn't see that one coming at all.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Miscellaneous

  • My foot is itchy and stinging due to a stubborn rash infection that is still there after a few weeks of medication.  Since it's contagious I switch socks all the time and since I live out of my suitcase partially and don't do laundry until I have a full basket of a color/temperature and because I saw a good sock deal in the Hema...I impulsively bought 21 new pairs at once this weekend :p (different types though: long/short/sport/... ). 
  • I had no plans this weekend to go anywhere...it felt quite nice to be able to get some things done at home.
  • I wonder who are the people that vote for Eurovision.... weird weird taste.  Too bad for Ireland & Germany & Moldavia for not scoring higher.   Ugh for Azerbeidjan winning. Yikes.
  • I'm testing new hiking shoes...last pair was expensive and causing blisters consistently with every walk. Fingers crossed that these go better!  
  • I wonder what next week brings. Not sure I want to know. I am definately not prepared.
  • I lost the mayorship of our home this week at foursquare. Darn.  Being mayor of multiple hotels isn't quite the same.
  • It's easier to dress for hot summer weather than cooler spring weather.
  • The Belgian strawberries are really nice at the moment

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The book thief

If Death speaks, you have to listen


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a book told by Death himself, that was a first for me to read.  I did want to know what he'd tell me about a foster child in nazi Germany.  Yet another holocaust story but with a fresh point of view.


Liesel Memminger is a 9-year old which is brought with her little brother to a suburb of Munich in 1939 to foster parents because her mother can't provide anymore for her.  During the train journey her little brother dies. She steals a fallen book from the undertakers that come to take her brother's body and her little treasure from her past is the start for a love of words & reading &...stealing books.

Although Death is extremely busy in the early 40ies, his path crosses Liesel's a few more times and so we learn more about her friendships with local street kids, the Jewish fugitive in the basement, the neurotic mayor's wife, life through the bombings, the soft heart hiding in her foster's mother hard shell, Mein Kampf getting a new start, hungry street gangs, a snowball fight in the basement, jews marching to nearby Dachau, ...

And together with Death, Liesel gains a place in our heart and with her also the other people living in Himmelstreet. Unfortunately , as can be expected by a holocaust story narrated by Death...it has no happy end.

But I found it original for its point of view and also the fact that it dealt with the live of Germans in Germany during the war and it managed to touch my heart & emotions deeply.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Made in Belgium: Witloof Bay

This is the Belgian  representation at the Eurovision songcontest 2011

With Love Baby

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Many ways to beat the hot weekend

We faced another hot weekend with predicted temperatures up to 26C...we beat that with 3,5C higher being once again the hottest spot in Europe.

What is a better way to beat the heat but to jump in still fairly cold water?  It's been ages since I've been diving since my surgery forced me to stay dry most of the spring & summer.  But it felt quite refreshing to be under water again.



After a visit to my parents, I spent the rest of the afternoon & evening in a cool old church building (preparing) for our choir concert.

Today we continued the make-over of our little city garden and washed all the garden furniture, our deck, windows (playing with a lot of water) ....bought some new flowerpots  and then barbecued in the evening with some good friends.  Aaaah fun weekends!

Pearls

Yesterday and the week before the solidarity choir Caminhando  brought their yearly charity concerts "Pearl" full of music from across the globe. We supported a local project that helps pregnant women in vulnerable situations  and an organisation that provides adjusted music education to disabled children.

The concerts were a lot of fun and I really loved this year's songs that aligned well along the theme of powerful woman in difficult situations, motherhood and looked back at our 15th anniversary.

These anniversary concerts were immediately the last I've done with Caminhando. Due to my new working schedule I'm missing all rehearsals and that's not exactly a good method to participate in a choir :p.  Anyway, I'm glad I still made it to the concerts. I hope you enjoy some of the music we brought as well.


Revival (South-Africa)


Gabriela's song (Sweden)


Maria Maria - Mercedes Sosa (Bolivia)


Les p'tits papiers - Serge Gainsbourg (France)

Friday, May 6, 2011

And we fixed the grass

So we got a mirror garden shack that you all seemed to like and I predicted that the (missing) grass would get fixed.  So how do you like this before and after?

Before


After






And the good news is that it'll stay green even in periods of draught, it won't need cutting, it won't get weeds, etc... :)

Offline Telenet service

After months of our main modem losing phone & internet connection regularly & making random reboots, after 4 Telenet technician visits with different stories each time, after repairs on a failing piece of network equipment in the neighbourhood, discussions on the frequence of the network, .... a technician finally decided to renew all our equipment in the house because the latest fancy modems can have some minor flaws.  Our subsciption only had to be registrated to the new equipment by the backoffice.


....

a backoffice with a bit of backlog of work

....
but after 3 days completely offline we're back up. Wow, talk about an 80ies service level.  Way to go Telenet. Unfortunately I doubt their competition is much better. Now I really wonder which credit note they'll propose for this joke.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Made in Belgium: Nicole & Hugo

It's almost Eurovision songcontest time!  Always a good time to have a flash-back and chuckle.
One of our most famous participations that always pop-up again at this time of the year is Nicole and Hugo.  This singing couple was supposed to go to the Eurovision songcontest with their hit "Goeiemorgen, morgen"(Goodmorning) in 1971. However Nicole got jaundice just before and another couple had to fill in for them last minute.  They got another chance to represent Flanders in 1973.  They turned out last of the entire contest, but their participation became Eurovision memorable history thanks to their jumpsuits and funny dance routine.  They even appeared the 50-years Eurovision songcontest compilation in 2005 during the show. They participated in another pre-selection round in 2004 but failed.

They made careers on cruiseship entertainement. Nevertheless they've never disappeared from the Flemish showbizz and they are the archetype of the "forever smiling couple in love".  You can't see one without the other...ever.



Baby Baby - Eurovision 1973



Goeiemorgen goeiemorgen (1972)



Love is all around - 2004




Pastorale - 2008

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Another Sunday walk between the Botrange & Baheyon Valley

At the edge of the fens (still extremely dry ) and the woods of Ovifat / Longfaye, Jan had found a recommended walk so we had to go and try it.

At the start of our walk all trails were really deserted as if the news of the fire last week has convinced all tourists that there's no nature left to enjoy here.  It was absolutely fantastic to be out there on our own.


At the edge of the woods there were regular large fire cuts or small open areas with more peat lands.  With the wind in our faces and the absence of other humans nearby we both hoped to spot some wildlife and we unconciously walked really quietly looking around.

All of a sudden Jan pulls my sleeve heavily both signalling me to be absolutely quiet and pointing me a deer just ahead of us on the road, staring surprised into our eyes for a second before it went off.  We both grabbed our mobiles to turn on the camera function while we tiptoed further on the road hoping in vain that the deer would take another pauze just a few meters further, allowing us some picture opportunities.  Sorry, you'll have to settle with the road itself :)


The rest of the walk led us through a gorgeous valley of the little river Baheyon .  I must say that Belgian waterfalls in an extremely dry season look very pathetic, but pathetic is not the word to use for the valley though.  Unfortunately rivers run downhill ....so we had to do a lot of climbing back up at the end.  Someone was pretty tired and very happy to see the car at the end ;-)




The high fens were on fire

For those of you that know the road between Baraque Michel and Eupen:   these are pictures taken from the car on the road right at the Baraque Michel. This is how close the fires got. The smell is still very apparent when you open the window.