Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Everglades part I

Miami is the only city in the world, bordered by 2 national parks. And since I prefer nature over highway connectors, toll roads and skylines, we headed to the Everglades for the first time on our second day. The Ernest F. Coe visitor Center was only 40 min drive away from our hotel.

As soon as we opened the car doors, we were welcomed by dozens of mosquito's. Clearly we were still not well adapted and prepared for the Florida climate, dressed in shorts and tops while visiting a swamp and our mild European repellent usefully laying idle in the hotel room.  Fortunately these visitor centers are all equipped to welcome ignorant tourists selling strong DEET repellent products in their gift shops.   So we sprayed ourselves generously and also Beertje's clothes and headed further to the Royal Palm stop a bit further in the park where we could join a park ranger walking tour along the Aningha Trail

Right away we spotted an alligator drawing a V-mark at the distance in the water but he didn't want to show himself close-up. Further on in the walk however we did spot some alligators closer-by despite the fact that there aren't many around in the wet season as they have an abundance of place to go to (in contrast to the dry season why they all group around the remaining water spots).
On the other hand it was practically impossible not to step on the huge colorful grasshoppers that were everywhere.
With the ranger, we learned about plants, wildlife and history of the park, while smacking the mosquito's from our body, while preventing Beertje from running off into the wilderness constantly, while dripping from sweat until it started to rain again. 

Since neither the Ernest Coe Visitor Center or the Palm Tree stop had any food services and since we wanted to see more of the park, we drove to the end of the park road to the Flamingo Visitor Center at the Bay. The different stops and trails on our way there had been declared mosquito horror and very wet by the park officials so we didn't take any of the other potential stops. During the trip, we were a few times surprised by an amazing downpour which lasted exactly 1 minute and then magically disappeared again. 

The view at Flamingo over the bay was magnificent...but the mosquito's were a pest. We couldn't stop spraying repellent, all in vain.   To mock us, the sign in the visitor center marked the level of mosquito's at "unpleasant" (level 3 out of 5...level 1 being nice, level 5 being absurd). Well at least I could agree that they were rather "unpleasant".
The visitor center was empty and dead and the food service turned out to be a fridge with sandwiches in a little store next to the marina.  We decided it would be unsafe to take Beertje on the flat bottom boat rides for 90 minutes out in the bay, so all we did was buy a sandwich and chips and pick-nick in the car with closed doors. 

We enjoyed a smooth relax drive back along the same landscapes of marshes, pine-trees, grass wetlands next to us with hunting birds of prey flying over our heads with hardly any traffic on the road. The kids missed their promised ice-cream stop as they were sound asleep. Back in the hotel there was sufficient time left for swimming, going out for dinner....and for the missed ice-cream :).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Miami in the (rain) clouds

We left Europe in a big storm only to arrive in Miami in the midst of storms as well. Fortunately the pilot managed to avoid the predicted turbulence (pheewww my stomac!).  

The days before our arrival the amount of rainfall equalled that of a normal month and it seemed to continue that way so we had to drive to the restaurant at 300m of the hotel, only to get soaked while crossing the 3 meters from door to door. 

After a good night's sleep, we drove to downtown Miami to go out and explore...all under dark clouds.  That wasn't exactly how I had pictured it to be honest.  I knew May was the end of the dry season and June the start of the wet season but apparently that doesn't happen with a gradual transition. In fact April, May and June have more rain than September , October and November and June is in fact the wettest month of the year.  So why they divide the dry season from October until May beats me. Ugh.

But we made the best of it and jumped on a hop on hop off bus to get a first impression of the Magic City. We got a glimpse of the Art Decaux hotels at Miami but it was hard to take any (decent) pictures with an escaping baby on your lap who was also determined to unplug my headset constantly to ensure I'd not hear any of the tour guide explanations.
We decided to get off the bus and go for a walk along the beach and hurray...we got some blue sky!!  And it was HOT HOT HOT.  Humid and hot, so despite the lack of rain we were soaking wet anyway. And we were not dressed unfortunately for a refreshing jump into the sea.

After some much needed refreshing drinks, we returned downtown on the bus tour - even though I had the feeling I had not properly visited Miami Beach yet - and we had lunch in the harbour . 
Then we hopped on the boat for some touring along the islands filled with millionaires villa's.  We gasped at the villa's of Gloria Estefan, the Beckhams, Puff Daddy, Al Capone, ... until a hail thunderstorm chased me and Beertje and a lot of other passengers downstairs amidst the damped windows while the most customer unfriendly tour guide mocked us through the microphone "it's just water people, welcome to Miami". That was after she had already given a lecture through the microphone for all to hear to Kabouter who wasn't sitting straight and still enough in his chair.  Grr Island Queen Cruises, maybe you should advertise you hate your customers, families in particular and prevent them from boarding?

A Beckhams property

We ended the day with a walk along the waterfront parks until it started to rain again and we drove with some sleeping kids in the back at ease taking the long road through little Havana, Coconut Grove and some nice suburbs of Miami back to the hotel. This time we took the risk of walking to a nearby restaurant and we made it there and back dry :)

spoiler alert: there will also be a post on Miami in the sun

Sunday, June 25, 2017

We're back

You may or you may not have noticed but I was absent for 3 weeks :p.   (the early Father day was a hint.)

In a big storm we drove to Amsterdam, carefully avoiding all major traffic jams all around thanks to Waze. Pheww. The evening before we flew out, we checked in in our hotel nearby Schiphol where we started to relax and celebrate the start of our vacation with bubbles and m/cocktails.

After an early start we were ready for a day of sitting on airplanes to go to the land of alligators, swamps, beaches and Mickey Mouse.

As soon as I'm recovered from the jetlag, I'll start posting our stories

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A firm with a heart for its people

I work for a firm that boasts to be a model company with values at its core DNA.  I realise that most companies will claim to have values.  But recently there were multiple events in the same week that touched me and made me realise that at our company this a true reality and not just idle words. While I definately don't work for the perfect company (those don't exist), it's nice to be in an environment with a lot of attention to the individual people working there and getting treated with a lot of respect. It reminds me of this quote from Sir Richard Branson.

  • One of my colleagues retired.  There was a small retirement reception during lunch where all were invited with lovely speeches, a film of a prank that multiple departments had set-up for her, presents etc. (there was also a team dinner for her and her colleagues). 
  • There was the yearly veterans lunch: all company's retirees  + almost retired employees are treated on an exquisite long lunch together.  This way the retirees stay in touch with the company and their former colleagues. 
  • We have developed a renovation plan to turn old houses in sustainable affordable healthy homes.  Our model social home get just inhabited by a family and my colleagues did the moving during business hours. 
  • One of the managers got a bad health diagnosis 9 months ago and she has been fighting disease ever since. But she's not out of sight out of our hearts. On a day where she had to undergo a critical surgery, every department has made silly picture collages of all of us crossing our fingers and toes for her to send her some courage and warming thoughts.  All week there was also a candle burning for her in one of her teams. 
  • Every day we are getting spoilt daily fresh biological fruit cut into big fruit salad plates (and if you are stuck in meetings all morning, a tray with fruit will be brought to you). Just to make you a bit more jealous, we get each month a 20' chair massage.  Unless there is a very critical deadline to meet or other (em)urgency, it is acceptable to plan your other meetings around your massage appointment.
  • ....

Of course job content,  skill development, etc are critical for the happiness in a company but I've learned to appreciate the importance of these little things as a contributor to the well being on the job as well. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Made in Belgium: Dolfijntjes

De Dolfijntjes (The Dolphins) is a band with 2 well known Flemish actors as band leads.  A core instrument for their music is the accordeon and they sing in their local dialect. The band is already 2 decades old but was rather silent previous years. yet this summer they are back with a full schedule to perform on a lot of summer festivals in Belgium.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Brother interaction

I love to observe the interaction between those 2: 

  • There is often competition for toys that results in crying from one of both (of both of them). 
  • Kabouter loves to "supervise" his little brother and tell him and us what he's not supposed to do, ...
  • Beertje wants to copy and join in on anything Kabouter is doing
  • They can hug each other spontaneously
  • They can sit and giggle together in a way that it's contagious for all of us