Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leuven wins "Mijn Restaurant"

After the most horrible boring stretched out live final on tv where 2 hours were filled with truly nothing ....d'Hoogeschool in Leuven has unexpectedly won the tv restaurant tv competition "Mijn Restaurant". Wooohoo.

Everybody expected that the contestants from the province of Limburg would win, as Limburg always wins any sms contest. But Jelle and Micheline get to keep the restaurant which they started and an amount of money and the restaurant in Hasselt gets closed.

Yippee I am glad that this cool restaurant stays in Leuven. But I do hope that Steffie and Yanaika find some investors so they can negotiate the reopening of their restaurant as well. After all it's already famous and has already lots of good critics, so I am sure they can overcome their financial problem and buy out Exquisa with an investor.

Now I am off to bed. This show was surely dreadful. Nobody wants to watch 2 hours of live reporters that ask every 5 minutes
"oh Jelle, how do you feel now, are you feeling nervous"
"well viewers, you can notice that the nerves are very tense here. Over to Hasselt, are they as nervous over there"
"Yes indeed we are all very nervous over here as well. Back to Leuven, who do they think will win over there"
"Well Jelle , tell me, where do you think the helicopter is flying to tonight"
"well viewers, as you can hear, we really don't know who is going to win. How exciting...Over to Hasselt again"
(this conversation got repeated every 5 minutes at least bad can tv get?)

Like candles in the wind

Remember the hole and the 'Olympic Flame' in our street?
Well, there were 2 of them this morning! The hole has been doubled this week because they opened up the right lane as well. Their approach to find the old tiny gas leak was quite drastic: all old pipes have been replaced by brand new ones with new connectors etc. And connecting them involves flames again apparently. Today they started filling up the big hole again, so the gas adventures are hopefully almost over....for good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mijn Restaurant finalists in Gault Millau guide

In the past I've written about the "visitor rules" in the restaurants that participate in the tv contest Mijn Restaurant. The tv crews in the restaurant would totally put me off.

Even though I am quite a fan of the tv program, despite the many critics coming along and giving their opinion, I found it hard to really judge whether these were becoming top restaurants or not. This time 2 Gault Millau critics with clouded faces came along anonymously. And the end verdict was that both finalists would be entered in the next edition of their guide with 12/20 points for d'Hoogeschool in Leuven and 13/20 for Exquisa in Hasselt (well I guess only if they both still exist at that moment). Wow, I'm impressed. Pretty amazing for new restaurants! Maybe when all the tv fuss is long over, we should go and check it out :).

And don't worry about the one missing point for Leuven: they were distracted because the entire city council had come to lunch. Pooh, they are worth as much as Hasselt ;). So, don't forget to vote for Leuven! 2 more days before the end!

Have you also heard the funny side effects resulting from the program's tremendous popularity? hahaha apparently Belgians have become real snobs in restaurants, even in smaller taverns and bistro's. We are all acting like critics in a 3 star restaurant now.
  • "oh we didn't have any bread on the table within x minutes"
  • "oh the wine is too cold or too hot"
  • "I dropped my napkin and they didn't notice".

Pretty amusing :p.
Oh and now right after the broadcast about GaultMillau, their website is down.

And the cooking schools see the number of new students rise significantly. Horeca is hot in Flanders right now. ...until the next hype starts, I suppose.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Number 25

Yesterday was my 25th dive, Jan's 50th dive and my first dive in Zeeland ('t Koepeltje in Grevelingen). Another milestone this weekend.

(me on the left, Jan in the middle and our other buddy on the right)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Boeing 747 splits in two on take off in Brussels

If anyone needs to take a flight from or to Brussels in the near future: Good news, all the safety and emergency procedures have been thouroughly practised and applied today!

Oh and if you are waiting for some diplomatic mail from the US to the Middle East: it might arrive a bit late and might have been wet.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My swimming record

Since last fall I am in a diving club and they have a weekly training in the pool. I only joined 6 weeks after Jan did because we both participated in a 'test training' at the start of September and it was soooo tough that I got totally demotivated. I had had cramps, it felt as if I had lead in my legs for the rest of the weekend, etc...

But I know I am in very bad shape. I realised that Jan would get in a much better shape than me and the gap would widen. I know that being a good swimmer is an adventage for a diver (no..really?). So I started going as well, but not with too much enthousiasm at the start. I felt so bad and demotivated for being the last one when doing laps or doing whatever, each time. I was certain they all wondered what the heck I was doing out there.

But after a while you get used to being last. I figured that they'd better be pleased with my presence and persistence to get better and didn't truly feel any negative reactions from the others. And although I didn't see true progress in the pool, I am not as dead anymore after the training as I used to be before. So when Jan was in India the last months, I went to the training by myself (in November I surely would have used that as an excuse to stay home, I would have engaged myself surely in another activity).

Twice a year they test our condition by measuring the times we need to swim certain distances. Distances I've never swam non-stop in my life. In December I simply didn't show up. But now I didn't dare to chicken out either. How silly would that be.

So I went today with one goal: swim as much as you can. If I had to stop...I'd have to stop.

So I started and when I was halfway for the first test (swim 400m), the first ones in the club were done. When I had done 300m, everyone else was already waiting. At that moment everything hurt, but I did have the confidence then to finish. And I finished!!
Totally happy but very tired I started the second test (snorkel 800m). The first 10 lapses were tough as I had some cramps, but I wanted to do at least half the distance. I continued and it went better and better. I had to do the last 6 lapses on my own again, but I finished once more.

And I also did the >15 minutes water trampling afterwards.

I am sooooo proud of myself. I am so happy. I have swom all required distances to my surprise, and I've met their minimum requirements. Wooohooo! Hahaha, and next time I'll even do better ;).

Friday, May 23, 2008

The growing hole, the gas company and the Olympic Flame

Since a long time we have a faint gass smell which has been reported already multiple times. Last time they started digging was in the only week with freezing temperatures last winter. 2 guys spent 2 days digging through the frozen earth, only to close it all up again the next day without any repairs. Each time we hear the same thing "yes the sniffers show there is some gas , but it's far within the safety margins so you shouldn't worry. If the smell worsens, warn us again". Pooh, we don't notice anymore.

Since 6 weeks they have opened the lid above the gaspipe again and put ribbons about it. 6 weeks without any activity until last Wednesday. A real digging machine showed up, a container, a crew...and a big hole appeared in the sidewalk before the lid (that was still surrounded by its ribbons). Yesterday the hill of earth got scooped in a container and taken away and the digging continued. A big hole the volume of our kitchen was now already there and in the bottom a big pipe is running while some cables are dangling much higher. I must say I am very intrigued, as the signs indicated they'd work until the end of the month. How much further will they dig? Hihi, are they making a secret tunnel? Where will this digging end and what is the purpose? And where on earth is the missing earth?

This morning the digging continued and the gas company arrived. Before we knew it we had the Olympic Flame in front of our window. Wow spectacular. But I still don't have a clue what they are doing. Hopefully fixing that "presence of some gas" for good.


On a square a bit further in the city next to the building of the Province administration, a huge picture announces the "day of the strawberry" this Sunday. The province of Vlaams-Brabant organises this day to promote the strawberries and in many towns you can visit strawberry farms, do special walks etc... They also announced in the news today that the first "earth strawberries" had gone to the auction.

And yes indeed: our first strawberry in our garden is ripe :-).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eurovisionsong contest: hilariously horrendous...or Mijn Restaurant

Hmm tonight is a tough evening:It's the first semi final of the Eurovision songcontest and it's "Mijn Restaurant" where we'll know who joins Leuven (yeaaah!!) in the final : Exquisa or Matizze. I like Exquisa more...but I think they will mobilise more votes. So tactically I'd wish for Matizze to be in the final.

Anyway, tonight I'll flip back and forth between the 2 programs. I thought I wouldn't go back to the Eurovision songcontest once I had seen Belgium... but this is sooo entertaining to form an opinion about them all. After all this a program that everybody supposedly mocks, and yet the next day everyone can talk along :p. I'll keep going back and forth while chatting with friends who are commenting on all the acts. Hihihi.

* Montenegro: can't remember anymore what I've seen
* Israel: very ethnic. makes me dream of vacation. But I wouldn't want to hear this song on the radio over and over.
* Estonia: what a hideous circus. I couldn't watch this to the end.
* Moldavia: nice voice if she sings low...unfortunately there were a lot of higher parts in the song as well.
* San Marino: can't remember
* Belgium: if you hear it for the first time it might be strange, but it is so fun and catchy! they did very well. But those backing vocals really should wear something different. So ugly.
But the people in the audience were clapping along, so it is really catchy.
* Azerbeidjan: there were fireworks. it was pretty aweful. A gothic song in white outfits.
* Slovenie: was this the robocop act??
* Norway: ah finally a real singer with a good voice, a real song. Pheww....and yet it is pretty boring.
* Poland...huh a cleavage so you can see the bellybutton. That's a bit over the top no. She can sing but has spent all her money on plastic surgery, I think.
* Ireland....oh the turkey is coming. The famous Turkey. hihihi, this is so horrendous that I find it humorous. it's one big mockery. Funny.
* Andorra: hmm she's wearing a Xena Warrior outfit. The song is not worth commenting.
* Bosnia: Another circus act. Yikes...time to go and watch "Mijn Restaurant again"
* Armenia: reminds me of Ruslana, so that's good
* the Netherlands: ethnic too and not as cheesy as some of their usual entrances. Deserves the final too.
* Finland: hmm Lordy without masks. Do they really think they can pull that off twice with the same type of music?
* Romania: they surely can sing. Strong loud voices. Andrea Bocceli style. Strong passionate balad in opera style which would have surely won 20 years ago...they must go to the final for their voices only.
* Russia: huh? a figure skater on stage? a violist who is obviously faking it? Gosh this entire song is soooo fake. Let's go back to "Mijn Restaurant"
* Greece: hey...she stole those dance jumps from Britney Spears's 'Baby one more time'. ......I think this is a good moment to run to the toilet.

OOOh voting time.....please vote for Belgium now. If we don't make the first 10 places, I'll only blog about Eurovision anymore. isn't that a good threat ;). No seriously, I have seen a lot of awful things, Belgium should be able to go to the final.

oh this break is just in time to see the announcement of the next finalist and the next closure in Mijn Restaurant. Can you believe I feel nervous? I pity the contestants as all 3 restaurants now deserve to go on.

Whaaaaa the final is for Exquisa (Hasselt) and d'Hoogeschool (Leuven). Well the most sympathetic and hardworking people are in the final. But I fear that Hasselt will be a too tough contestent against Leuven. So you all must vote for Leuven. ok? Deal?

ok back to the finalists of Eurovision songcontest. takes ages there before the votes have been counted. Other years it's much faster.

Update: Argh we didn't make it once again. I don't understand some of the choices. Pfff. How frustrating. Seriously we would have deserved to be in the top 10 tonight. Once again we have not managed to mobilise voters and popularity across Europe.
I don't think I'll keep on blogging about the Eurovision song contest though, so don't fear my threat. At least I don't have to record the final on Saturday as we are not home.

Anyway, I've put the countries who made the final in bold.

Eurovision songcontest: vote for Ishtar from Belgium

This is a very cheerful catchy well performed humerous song. so all European readers that can vote: vote for Belgium. Just for once...we'd like to get further than the semi-finals ;-)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wir haben ein grosses Problem

As a teenager I went each summer on youth camps and when I had turned 17 I took some courses and became a youth leader in the same organisation. Most of my camps went to Switserland with a group of 14-year olds. As I already wrote here the highlight of that trip was a 2 day hike while staying overnight in a cabin on top of the mountains.

All the children have to carry the backpack with some change of clothes and carry in their picknick for the first lunch. Then the food for the evening and next day had to be divided over the group and carried as well. All groups gather in front of the building in the morning while for each group a leader comes with a big box out of the kitchen with all the food that has to get divided. Everyone gets a bit of the load: a loaf of bread, a bag of pasta, ....

The hike itself only happens after a couple of easier smaller hikes that are slowly built up. After all, you can't expect all these 14 year olds to be athletes when they arrive....neither are the leaders. My first time happened to be on a very hot day. We had to climb 1000 meters up to the hut on a day of about 38C. The kids were already demotivated before we started as it seemed an impossible thing to do for them.

Slowly step by step, with a lot of stops to drink and rest a bit (preferably without sitting down), we got higher and higher up the mountain. And we enjoyed the fabulous views, ..

Around 5 PM we finally got the cabin in sight where we'd stay overnight. We were already welcomed by the responsible of the cabin who came and greet us on our way already and guided the last bit. We got a little tour of the cabin: this room was filled with bunkbeds, this was the tiny kitchen and here we could have our meals at long tables....we had to brush our teeth and wash ourselves in the cold water basin outside that got permanently filled with cold mountain water. Brrrrr... 100 meters from the hut there was still a little patch of snow.

All the kids chose a bunkbed to sleep and dropped their backpacks there and then gathered outside a bit to sing some songs. In the mean time we asked all those who carried food along, to come and bring it into the kitchen. Usually the give us spaghetti or rösti (lots of carbohydrates after our hike in the mountains)...but this time we had carried in some vacuum packaged meat, dried mashed potatoes, bread and cacao powder. When double checking, we did not find any vegetables...the portions of meat was insufficient for everybody and the cabin responsible told us that the mashed patotoes were really not mashed potatoes but the mild powder for breakfast to mix with the cacao for the hot chocolate milk. We were a bit surprised that tha cacao didn't solve in water only, but the cabin responsible told us it was allways like that. We didn't go into discussion since he was welcoming groups each day.

So that meant we had some meat...and breakfast for the next day. But really not enough food for our evening meal for all of us. If we ate our breakfast tonight, we had a problem the next morning. After all they also needed to make their picnick for the next lunch as well.

I really started to worry...I didn't know what solutions were available. The cabin guy started to panic. He kept saying that there was unsufficient food, that this was abnormal and he kept asking where the other food was. His panic started to be contageous and I must honestly say that I experienced a big black-out when trying to think what to do.

The other leaders looked at each other and uttered the solution I did not want to think about. "We must go down to the valley again or find other houses on our way and search for extra food". My feet shoulders were sore from the backpack...I did not want to go down again. I couldn't...I was too tired. And yet there was no other option. Other leaders had marks on their shoulders and well, we all had blisters, ....

So three of us put our hiking boots back on whereas another leader and the cabin guy stayed up with the teenagers, trying to keep them entertained without getting them worried. I don't remember the conversations that went on, I was too tired. In the end we were just walking in an automatic mode while worrying when and how we'd find extra food. Step by step we went down for an hour when we finally reached a house. An older man was standing outside when we approached the house.

"Guten abend....wir haben ein grosses Problem (good evening, we have a big problem)" my colleague leader started while waving her arms in a big circle to stress the big problem."wir haben fiele Kinder und kein Essen" (we have many kids and no food)". He went inside and came out with a loaf of bread and some cheese and pointed a bit further were we could see another home.So off we went again.

"Guten abend. Wir haben ein grosses Problem . Viele Kinder und kein Essen" we started off again in our best German we could dig up. Our arms waved in a big circle again and made a flat line when stating there was no food. Fortunately we had more luck here. The woman who came out really pitied us and while we could have a rest, her husband took his little scooter out and went down the road towards the village.

An hour later he came back on his scooter with big backs full of bread. The good man had gone to the 2 village bakeries and taken all left-over bread for us. With the bread and the cheese we could start climbing up the mountain again. Fortunately we had rested , because I don't think we could have done it otherwise. But knowing that we were hiking the needed food up the hill gave us power as well. And we could already smile at our catch phrase "viel Kinder, keine Essen".

That evening we did not move anymore. We had a big bread meal with some baked pork chops that were shared. Not the ideal meal but we were not hungry anymore.

Lesson learned: always triple check the food supply before you go on a big hike and how it gets divided. It might end up in anothers group supply if they are packing their backpacks next to you as well.

Second lesson learned: never trust a cabin guy when he claims that milk powder is milk powder. Or you might end up with a big pan of mashed potatoes at breakfast for the hot chocolate!!!!! Argh!!

Electoral bureaucracy at work

Every company in Belgium with more than >x employees must organise a worker's council in which the employees are represented via elected union representatives. And every 4 years all companies must organise elections to choose these representatives. Yesterday was the last day they could organise them in a 2 week period. And our company held its elections on the last day.

A couple of weeks ago I got a nice e-mail that I was appointed to be on duty together with some other colleagues. Great...just what I was waiting for.

My feelings about trade unions are fairly ambigious. Trade unions are good and are necessary. If we live in a country with good social conditions and protection, that is mainly due because of historic union negotiations and pressure. But local representatives sometimes think too often they are important because they are elected....that they must nag about each decision in the company...they fuss too much about details. I have the attitude "if I don't like the company policy anymore...I'll look for another job". Union representatives are also protected against getting fired during their mandate....something which has had sometimes a very perverted effect of ineffective people fearing for their job joining a union, becoming candidate and trying to get elected for all the wrong reasons.

All in all we don't notice the unions too much in our office. The campaign was made up by some flyers at the entrance, 1 e-mail for both lists (the christian union (green) and the liberal union (blue)). The green team apparently does not want to represent the IT department because they missed our office when distributing their green pens in all departments. Poooh I'm shocked ;).

Yesterday morning I was greeted outside by the blue delegation and received one of their pens. They were not allowed to campaign inside the office buildings anymore, so they gathered at the doorsteps, greeting everyone who entered.

My duty was in the election bureau for lower management (there was also one for blue-collar workers and white collar workers : the entire social law in Belgium is still based on this differentiation !!). We expected a maximum of 49 voters during 3 hours (including ourselves!). We had a electoral president, a secretary and 4 assistents to run the bureau. There were 2 candidates: one for the christian union and one for the liberal union. There were 2 free positions so basically they were certain to be both elected (assuming they both vote for themselves and that none would have zero votes). In the election bureau for white collar workers, there were a couple of hundred voters to come and there were real lists, so there it made more sense. But the election for the candidates for lower management was completely pointless. Nevertheless the Christian union had insisted that the election had to take place and if one of the unions requests it....the company must organise the election. Both the candidates were present in the election bureau as official "witnesses" to ensure our neutrality and the correct processes.

So there we were: 8 in a little meeting room waiting for voters to come. One assistent directed the people at the door and made sure to hold them if it would have gotten too crowded (yeah right), I took their voting invitation and called out their name out loud ( pretty silly as we all knew each other), the president handed them the voting bill which we had been folding before opening the bureau, 2 assistents marked the voter on 2 seperate voters lists which had to match afterwards and the last assistent checked the voting booths to assure they didn't go into one that was occopied and to make sure the pencil was still sharp or that nobody left propaganda etc...
You can see we were terribly busy!

First the 2 candidates made their vote themselves. Lots of silly jokes followed that the exit polls were very tight and gave 50% to each etc etc... Then we voted ourselves and in the first hour another 10 people showed up. First we were all chitchatting and making jokes about opening the windows so that the candidates could make publicity just outside the window (hey...they wouldn't be inside, right?), etc etc. It turned out they are both very active experienced divers, so that gave me some topic of conversation for a while.
After an hour the number of voters slowed down. I had brought my laptop in, as well as 2 of my colleagues, so we could work a bit and track our e-mails with half an eye. But the other 5 were hit by boredom. Officially we weren't allowed to leave the room for any reason or we had to close the voting bureau down entirely for 10 minutes. But we quickly all agreed to loosen the rules so we could go to the bathroom and go and look for a newspaper etc.
So when then someone came in, it actually took a while before we noticed and before we had dug up our voting lists and papers from underneath the scattered newspaper, half solved sudoku's etc... Whaa stress stress ;).

After 3 hours we could finally close the door and the 8 of us could start counting the total of 29 votes. That took only a couple of minutes. And then we had to enter those 2 numbers in some special computer program which printed 20 papers of official documents which we all had to sign. 20 pages (of which copies needed to be sent to the ministry etc...). What a bureaucracy

And that was the end of the social elections.... Hopefully they do a good job ;). And hopefully they don't have to organise a pointless election over 4 years.

The making of the terrace

From today onwards we'll be able to sit outside on our newly installed wooden


For more Singular Saturdays go visit Jenn in Holland.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Leuven in scène

When the students need to study for their exams, Leuven starts bubbling with events, concerts and activities. Last weekend it was "Leuven in scène" which turned Leuven in an open air theatre/circus.

After the family gatherings we took the time to make a cooling off promenade through the city during the evening.

We started off in the city park at an oldfashioned carousel with little boats floating around on a water basin. The children waved enthousiastically at their parents who were taking pictures.
Music on the other side drew our attention to a mesmerized group of people all looking up in the air where a trapeze artist was making spectacular controlled tumblings.
When his feet hit the ground the lights went out, but the spots turned on at the big tree further where huge colored draperies were hanging down. We followed the other spectators to watch some more acrobatic gymnasts perform up in the air.

Continuing our way through the park, we walked by Ali's ice cream stand where a long row of children was lined up waiting for an ice cream. Whenever they reached for their ice cream, Ali magically juggled the ice cream to the other side, leaving the children's hands grasping in the air. Or somehow they walk off first with a cone without icecream as Ali could make the scoop disappear again. Some more turns and twists with the ice cream cone happen before they can finally walk off with their well deserved treasure. Talk about a cool magic act :)

We've probably missed the most funny act of the evening when walking by the trailer and the long line-up for Luna. Everyone coming out just cracked up with laughter and had to grasp for breath after apparently laughing their ass off. I really wonder what happend inside that little trailer for sure!

Next to our beautiful city hall we could admire a 12 meter high bird cage in which a Dutch world champion whistling was performing his talents.

In the shopping windows of the Bondgenotenlaan we could treasure hunt for "real-life dolls" that were hidden in the street: a band player sitting behind the mobile phone store, an old mad women clutching her purse in a fancy clothing store, dolls on the roof of the theatre, ... A store manaquin holding a dog on a leash...some were very funny.

Our walk ended during sunset with the acrobatic streettheatre performance of Circ Panic "La caravana passa". Check out this flickr set of pictures! (and the pictures in the other hyperlinks above).

It was a magical evening in Leuven for sure!

Whaaa it rains

We all know the climate is changing and can be very whimsical. But some things don't change. Belgian hot days still end with humid sticky hot weather followed by some good thunderstorms and downpours and local floodings.

Gosh they had to evacuate a big supermarket in Ghent due to electrocution risk!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My first dive in Belgium

When Jan joined the diveclub Dolphin Buddys , he started enthousiastically diving in Belgium as well. I remained a "salondiver" as they say in Dutch: a diver only on vacation in hot clear waters.

But after being in the club for 8 months now and seeing Jan and the others leave regularly, it started tickling after all. So I started looking on the internet for some second-hand equipment and got it last week. And Jan couldn't wait to take me along underwater.

I knew that my foreign experience would not add up here in Belgium at all. Diving in cristal clear hot blue water isn't quite comparable at diving in cold water with low visibility. I knew that I'd probably use more air due to this new situation. Yet the incredible hot weekend really made me look forward to jump in the cold water :p.

The biggest challenge was getting dressed in the parking lot. Putting on a double 7 mm neoprene suit with hoot, socks , boots and gloves while it's 27C eum...well it's incredibly hot! Hot hot hot hot. Uncomfortably hot. And then you have to walk across the parking lot, down a little trail down to the little lake. By the time I was there I couldn't wait to jump in anymore!!!

The dive started with some confusion as apparently a cord from one of the vaulves on my BCD was being pulled by other straps without my knowledge. As a result, when I inflated my BCD on one side, I immediately deflated it on the other side. "Jan jan, I'm sinking", I said while I was treading water frantically. He simply thought I was deflating conciously in order to test whether I was wearing enough lead and said "ok good , then we can go down".
"Noooo, I don't want to sink, I hear a leak in my BCD"

Fortunately my BCD was alright, except for the string that was stuck. Once Jan had fixed that, my BCD could get inflated properly...I could float a bit in order to rest before we started our dive.

The dive itself wasn't quite my best dive. It's very strange to dive for the first time with boots and gloves etc. E.g. clearing my ears with those gloves isn't the easiest thing to do. Now that I was wearing boots, I had much more difficulty to keep my buyancy (floating equilibrium). For some reasons my legs always went up and up and I have made some strange tumblings. The nice floating feeling I had in Egypt was totally gone. I believe I'll have to go and buy some ancle lead that many women wear. And keep practising huh...

Other than that I was really glad that I didn't feel cold at all, except for my cheeks at the start. The water at surface was 23C but at -10m it was only 10C anymore. But I now know my double 7mm is sufficient to dive in those temperatures. And I felt ok with diving with lower visibility, although I completely followed Jan's navigation, who has been in this little lake multiple times now and had already done navigation excercises there. And he brought me nicely back to the side after 30 minutes.

me at one of the sunk sculptures

A hot Mother's Day

Last Sunday was Mother's Day. And last weekend was a very hot sunny weekend. Time for some fun relax family gatherings around the barbecue!! Fun fun fun.

And what would mothers be without cute children around?

Do birds celebrate Mother's Day?

Léon is growing fast!

2 best friends always very excited when they get together

Wooohooo this is even more fun.

Peeeekeboooo from Renée

Stef loves to bring out toasts

And because grandma is also a mommy, she also gets a little gift

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why they told us not to drive in Lisbon

After our stressful arrival, gypsies in the basement and a hospital visit, we thought we were finally ready for a quiet uneventful end of our Portugese vacation. We were so wrong...
All the Portugese we had met, had strongly discouraged us to drive with our cars into Lisbon. We had already noticed in traffic that stop signs were consistently ignored and that priority was given by those drivers who used their horn the loudest. So we drove towards the airport as suggested, parked there and took a taxi downtown where we had a wonderful day. Yet there was too much too see and we wanted to come one more day to visit some sites that were a little further out.

We had noticed that from the airport we only needed to take one boulevard to arrive to Belém where we'd be able to park next to the river Tagus. After having spent a day in the Portugese capital, we felt confident enough to face the Portugese traffic there. Besides the fact that 3 traffic lines got used by 4 cars next to each other, we survived the stressfull traffic and arrived at our destination. With our camera's ready we spent our day visiting the tour Belém, the Jeronimos monastory and Vasco Da Gama's grave, ....and enjoyed the wonderful weather next to the river.
In the evening we had booked a restaurant where traditional Fado artists would perform. The restaurant would be very authentic and less known to tourists and it was located in the in the infamous Alfama quarter, which we had already visited previously. It had looked like a very pittoresque myriad of tiny little streets on the hillside....a bit poor but not as dangerous as some books had described it.
Our evening was just fantastic. My parents had played a lot of Fado CD's for me before we had left on vacation but I hadn't cared much for this melancholic music at all. I wasn't too eager to go to a Fado restaurant, until the 2 guitarists started playing and this female singer started to sing. Then we were all mesmerized by the sound and totally drawn into this traditional Portugese music. We were the only foreigners in the restaurant and the other Portugese guests started singing along with some songs, so we got surrounded by this fado music. This was without any doubt the best evening of our vacation. The best evening, not the best night.
When finally all the delicious food was gone and the music had gotten silent, we were all ready to leave. We saw the Portugese get up from their tables, bend down and grab their car radio from under their seats and leave. We thought that was funny.
We arrived first at our car at the boulevard next to the Tagus again. The street that had been full with activity in the afternoon, but now it was deserted. While we were saying goodnight to our aund and uncle who had parked a bit further, I noticed some marks on the back window prooving that it had drippled a little bit of rain on the car. And then I yelled "the window, they broke our window". It was only then that we noticed the damage: the side window smashed in, a big brick on the car seat and glass everywhere, a big gap where the car radio (protected by a code) used to be, the contents of books, maps and spare glasses that used to be in the side doors trampled in the street around us.

...and there you are in the middle of the night in the middle of a foreign city that all of a sudden feels so hostile to you. My aunt and uncle and cousin left to go and get their rental car a bit further in order to use it to drive to a police station. While we were waiting only some very drunk came by.
It took too much time for my aunt and uncle to arrive and when they finally did, we didn't need to see their upset faces to know that something was wrong for them as well. The scissor points that had been used to force the doors of their rental car were still in the doors and all the bags that had been inside were missing: sweaters, full picture roles (remember this was pre-digital times!!), post cards and worst of all: my cousins wallet .
I was quite upset and scared. When the men wanted to walk to the police station they had seen further away, my aunt, my mom and I asked my cousin to stay with us to protect us. It took ages before they came back without any police and in the mean time a few drunks had come up to us to babble some incomprehensible comments to us.

The police there had told them our cars were not "in their district" and we had to go to the tourist police station on the other side of the city. The men would drive their with the rental car and we had gotten permission at least to park our own damaged car in front of their police department while waiting. And so we spent the night sitting at the doorsteps outside of the police station where at least no more drunk men came to harrass us and where we could use the toilet.
Early in the morning all the police bureaucracy was finally behind us and we could start driving home slowly without one window. The best evening in our vacation had been followed by the worst night. I have sworn that night never ever to come back to Lisbon. I haven't gone back ....but the distress of that night has now worn off after 16 years, so I'd like to go back one day. But we now understand why they all warned us not to drive our cars into Lisbon: it wasn't about the traffic!

In the end all our trouble got resolved fairly quickly: we happened to live nearby one of the only 2 Mercedes garages in Portugal at that time and they were able to fix our window the next day already and my cousin could go back to Lisbon (!) to go to the Belgian embassy to get the necessary papers to get out of the country.
In the afternoon we all had a nap to recover from our sleepless night in Lisbon. When I came back from the bathroom where I had changed into my pyama's my cousin was on top of his bed trying to attach his bedcovers to the window. He was really struggling to attach it and each time he had succeeded on one side, the other side fell down again.
When he saw my surprised face, he said
"oh it's so light in here, do you mind if I try to shade the window a bit"?
"no go ahead...but you could also close the window shutters?"

After that remark we have honestly been laughing for one hour straight!!! All the fatigue and stress had come out at the same time and we could not stop laughing anymore even though our belly hurt and we were crying so much. And at every family reunion we still bring that up.
That's the fortunatly the most vivid memory of this eventful trip to Portugal!
If you want to read more soap opera stories, check out Brillig or walking kateastrophe, to find other participants.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Living Darfur )

While I won't have much time to blog this week, I share some music that we'll bring on our choir concert in the next 2 weekends. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Carol at Northwest Ladybug and Jen of A2eatwrite played this cool meme that I found interesting to do myself.

  • 10 years ago I was studying for my exams in the 3rd year of Economics at university. All library books had been expelled from my house again in order to avoid any temptation. As if I couldn't find distraction in whatever (hey flipping up a pen and trying to catch it can be pretty entertaining if necessary least more entertaining than analytical accounting, financial economics, market research, ...). Nevertheless I was a fairly disciplined student trying to stick to a schedule and method that had proven quite succesful in the past.

  • 10 months ago I was getting depressed by the cold and wet summer weather while I was planning to attend some summer music festivals.

  • 10 weeks ago I found out that I am not suffering from glaucoma (yet). I knew I had to go and get my eyes checked for a long time yet, but it's one of those things that you always postpone somehow. I've always told myself I'd have glaucoma but I was quite cheerful that evening to hear that my eyes were still perfectly healthy.

  • 10 days ago we went to the marriage of an old time friend who happens to be our architect as well. It was so cute to see their nervosity and their hapiness. It was great to see his brothers again with whom I've been on camps 9 years ago. It was so much fun to get on the dancefloor again on very good party music. It was so tiring to arrive home early in the morning :)

  • 10 hours ago I phoned some colleagues to see whether they'd come to the cantine for lunch.

  • 10 minutes ago I was already typing this post while watching "Mijn Restaurant" on tv.

  • 10 minutes from now, I might still be typing this post as I don't proceed very fast while chatting and watching tv.

  • 10 hours from now, I'll be at the breakfast table getting ready for work again.

  • 10 days from now I'll be happy to be home after a couple of busy weeks and I'll probably have very mixed feelings for our last choir concert. I think I'll be very relieved it's almost over and yet after a year of working on those songs, it'll be strange as well.
  • 10 weeks from now I'll be going back to work after a camping trip with the diving club.

  • 10 months from now I hope I am back in Egypt for a diving vacation. However I doubt that it'll fit in our schedule last year. If so, I hopefully find another way to drive the winter fatigue out of my body.
  • 10 years from now I dream to have a job with less commuting time than now and I hope to be a mother. I hope to feel more self-assured in the same way that I have gained confidence and stability over the last 10 years (let's face it: as a student you have no idea yet what professional choices will come your way, which relational choices you'll make etc...).
    Hopefully I have gotten myself in a better shape than now and have maintained it, because it's quite shameful right now. And all of this with still time to relax now and then , to be active in music, to read books, to travel... Hmm does it hurt to be a little unrealistic? let's call it being optimistic.

Long too busy weekend

I enjoyed a long warm sunny weekend, yet I was tooooooooooo busy to blog about it. We had a double holiday on Thursday: 1st of May labour day and Ascencion Day falling together. So I got Friday off as well to compensate.

  • We searched for a new bed in different stores and tested mattrass types.
  • I bought second-hand diving equipment (woohoo now I can start diving in Belgium too) from a family on the other side of the country
  • We visited family
  • We went to 2 weddings on 2 consequent days
  • I had a 4 hour evening rehearsal for our choir concert next weekend (check out theme song Canto Libre above!!)
  • We went to visit friends to see their baby (and got a sunburn from sitting outside) and we were in traffic jams from coastal traffic going home after a good sunny long weekend.
  • We dined in our garden outside twice (hurray for the first summer weather!!)
  • We booked a little trip in June at only 100 km from here

And the long weekend was gone already. And this weekend all my evenings are filled with choir rehearsals except for this one.

Can you imagine how heavenly it feels to sit in the sofa at home tonight?