Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Made in Belgium: Marco Z

Warning, this is an earworm!!
Since a few weeks I hear this now and then on the radio. And it makes me so cheerful. And it sticks in my head.  Marco Z is apparently someone who's been part of different groups already bringing indie rock, folk, country....a bit of everything. But now he's trying to break through with a new EP "The Ordinary life of Marco Z". If the songs are all like these, I'd say bring it on!

I'm a bird

I'm a bird (live)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Zollverein Mining & Cokery complex

One of the most well-known and biggest industrial heritage complexes is Zollverein in Essen. Once a thriving domain with 12 mine shafts, a cokery, a power station, .... it is now a UNESCO world heritage site full of industrial museums, art galleries and amusement initiatives (eg a big ferris wheel at the cokery or the water next to it turned into an ice skating rink in winter).  It is also the Ruhr welcome center and one of the first & biggest reconversion projects in the Ruhr area.  Most of the remaining buildings had been built between 1927- 1932 in a consistent Bauhaus archetectural style you wouldn't expect immediately at a mining site.

We went on a 2 hour tour on the Shaft 12 site only (!) and toured the buildings & conveyerbelt lines where coals travelled through the buildings in carts, got washed in huge machines , sorted , etc etc...Huge site but amazingly automised then already with very few people operating above ground.  Huge crowds down below though.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Hansa Cokery

The Hansa Cokery is probably the biggest industrial site I've ever been on and we were almost the only ones strolling the site (which is open for visit for free with multilingual audio guides!). Wow, this impressed me.

Coke ovens with coal towers in the background

Former coke ovens where the coal was heated to 1000°C to form Cokes


The former coke ovens

Bijschrift toevoegen

Cooling towers

Dressing room where workers had to pull up their stuff

Exploring our black spot: the Ruhr area

When you start playing a new game of Civilisation you find yourself on a little city island with a vast amount of black space around you that you only can discover by crossing it with  your "explorer". While walking in all directions your map & knowledge about the area around you expands.  Until then you have vast amounts of black areas on your map out of which all of a sudden foreign traders or armees might appear of which you had no idea they existed.

We've explored France many many times with my map leaving no more big black areas and I am convinced that any region there is beautiful, scattered with historic pearls waiting to be discovered. No wonder that we typically head south if we want to have a short get-away. France is closeby, beautiful, natural, historic and abundant with very good food.

A few weeks ago we, probably with many other Belgians, hit some Bongo stress: our weekend gift voucher once received risked to expire at the end of February when these popular gift vouchers seem to celebrate their Bongo new year.   Bongo's New Years resolution is "too late, sorry you can pay to extend your voucher or buy a new one".   So it was my resolution to book us a weekend away before that happened. Both Jan and I felt adventurous enough to explore our black spot and we make a wild choice "Lets go to Germany".  My explorer had so far in the previous decades frequently crossed the border to the Cologne / Bonn area to visit relatives and I must have made a corridor towards Austria several decades ago.

Anyway....Germany it was and the only available hotel for our voucher within reasonable driving distance was near Dortmund in the Ruhr area.  Oh great, right, isn't that the dusty black heavy industry region in decay? Well Erica Van Tielen had already convinced us last summer that that image no longer fits, so off we went to the European cultural capital in 2010. Who would doubt Erica huh?

We started off in Hamm , a medieval trading city. I hoped to find some historic city center which I seem to need to connect to a city.  When a grumpy lady gave us the map for a self-guided "elephant" trail along the cities highlights and it started off with the renovated trainstation "Germany's most beautiful trainstation " (how sad for Germany's trainstations in that case) (sorry, I come from the country where 2 Belgian trainstations, Antwerp & Li├Ęge have been voted in the world's top 10 most beautiful trainstations...Antwerp being the #1 world's most beautiful trainstation....I need a bit more to be impressed than this dull building).
When the next highlight was a big parking lot square where before WWII had been nice buildings and now only the groundplan of a former synagogue was visible, ...I really started to question whether we shouldn't have gone to France after all.  Some movable funny sculptures at the church square didn't really make up for that.

Hamm trainstation

So we decided to concentrate on the industrial heritage of the area alone, hopefully finding some unique attractions there. That turned out to be a good choice.

Eg...Who would have thought you could turn an obsolete coal washery building into the world's biggest glass elephant in the midst of a green park?

 (doing a little i. jump)

We drove along the industrial kultur heritage route and even in the tiniest little villages you stumbled over coal shaft towers, old water towers, ....and when there was a wide panorama, you could always find several active industrial plants.  It brought the concept of an old heavy industrial metropole alive.  The biggest impressive sights were still yet to come.....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Made in Belgium: Netsky

Drum and Bass isn't very big in Belgium yet but we are discovering it quickly thanks to Netsky. Currently I hear Give and take daily on StuBru and I really enjoy it. Also Moving with you got a lot of air play 2 summers ago.   And in a few years time Netsky has become a famous DnB DJ internationally and a common name to see on festival billboards.

Give and take

Moving with you

Iron Heart

Lotus Symphony

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A little visit just across the border to a little pitoresque touristic town in the German Eifel.

Monday, February 20, 2012

About Elfstedentocht and Elfstedenkoorts (*) or snow hopes

So yesterday I've passed through freshly white covered landscapes and through sunny green fields, I drove through hail showers and I've been blinded by the sun.The temperatures are milder and make me long already for spring, tempted to leave my jacket off after the previous cold wave. And yet it's freezing again at night and the Ardennes got a layer of fresh snow and the cross country ski pistes have been  opened today! Now I'm praying for 2 weeks of freezing weather in vain so I can go and do some cross country skiing of my own over there.

In fact I was disappointed that it warmed up last week and that the serious winter seemed over . I enjoyed the freezing period early February. Hey winter must be winter with snow and ice  and summers should be summers: hot and sunny.  So you didn't hear me complaining when the temperatures plumbed down and down...except when the office heating was broken for a day (and ours in the Ardennes was at risk of breaking down as well). It's nice to throw all style overboard and simply show up with a comfy thick sweater at work.  Longer periods of freezing are usually dry....and are therefore much nicer than a mild drizzle like we had last week.

Nice too is the fever that hits the low countries when the temperatures plunge skating fever. The Dutch have a reputation of getting all overly excited as soon as it freezes a little bit, praying collectively for all their little creeks and lakes to freeze solid so they can bind up their skates.  Cities compete to organize the first skating races on natural ice and it becomes the topic of the day.  Especially the "Elfstedentocht " (Eleven cities tour" in Friesland is famous and is only ridden on average once every every temperature drop makes the skating fever hope rise that this year might be the year.

The funny thing is that I had the feeling the fever was just as big in Belgium as it is in the Netherlands. Besides hundreds of Belgians risking to go on the local lakes before the police authorised it, the Belgian newspapers were just as much tracking the progress of ice in the north of the Netherlands. Our main late night talkshow in the evening also hosted some previous champions  and the weather man also proclaimed his opinion if the Dutch race would be ridden this year or not. I got phone calls at work in the Amsterdam office from Belgian colleagues starting the conversation with the question if the I was coping in the madness there   "which madness?  it's not really a topic of conversation here in the office " (mind you, with 30-40% of the people coming from UK, Ireland, Ukraine, Spain, Austria, Egypt, ....  the office isn't typically Dutch).

But I got infected by the fever...tracking #Elfstendentocht and #elfstedenkoorts on Twitter and I was disappointed to see the press conference that the ice wasn't thick enough to host the 16000 skaters and 1,5 million fans alongside the 200km circuit and that the weather conditions wouldn't make it possible anymore for the ice to become thick enough. Despite hundreds of volunteers sweeping the snow of the ice all week, even the army did their part, and the "rayon heads" that were meticulously measuring the depth of the ice each day. There was even discussions in the parliament whether the Elfstedentocht had to become a national holiday, if it would take place. ....Yep, the fever was definitely on at the end, before all hope got crushed again. I would have enjoyed part of an afternoon in the sofa under a fleece blanket...staring at the orange madness, cheering crowds and skaters. I remember seeing some parts of it as a child in 86 and 87  and I've seen the race more consciously in 97. I must say I find it a heroic tour, especially at midnight when the last skaters are being cheered and pulled over the line to help them obtain the magic cross marking their achievement and you see the tears on the faces of those that barely didn't make it.  Heroic, there's no other word for that.  There's an entire generation who only knows the reputation of the Elfstedentocht...pitty that it wasn't meant to be this year. But year it might freeze long and hard enough to make it ;)

Yeah yeah, I know, I spend too much time in the Netherlands ;D.  In the mean time I'll simply cross my fingers for some mild freezing and some snow in the Ardennes so I can throw some more snow balls over there. And then I'm ready for spring!  The short bursts of sunshine this weekend also made me long already for crocuses and daffodils popping up and a mild breeze.

(*) Ha how about posting an incomprehensible title for non-Dutch speakers :D.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why an itchy foot is good right now

My feet and neck or my belly or ... are itching right now. Pretty awesome since I can scratch my foot or neck or belly.  And that helps distract me from the itch elsewhere where I can't scratch.  Because scratching stiches is probably not a very good idea.

At the end of last week I got a mole removed which I've found suspicious for a long time, because it's definately  not a 'birth mark'. I can remember a time without it.   Dermatologists had reassured me several times that it looked very innocent, but I needed to hear that every so often again.  Additionally it often got irritated due to its location under the underwire of my bra which combined with some sweat in summer didn't turn out very comfortable at all.

So it's gone now and that feels good, even when the wound currently still itches & stings a bit now and then and I still need to get the stitches out over a week or so. At least I don't need to stalk the doctors anymore, pulling my shirt up to ask if they still were thinking this mole was fine. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Made in Belgium: Montevideo

It's been a while since I introduced a succesful band from across the Belgian "language border".  In all honesty, I only first heard of Montevideo last week.  Nevertheless their ska, funk, rock, new wave mixture sound is quite succesful in Southern Belgium , France and beyond (eg they've been opening act for Muse). But clearly in Flanders we still need to appreciate them more.    Let's discover together....

Sluggish Love

Tribal Love

Fate & Glory

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chuckle chuckle

Setting: I am folding some laundry in the bedroom and he's in the bathroom

Him: "Can I get some underwear from you?"

Of course I bring some with a big grin on my face. This was an open door I'd not miss :p

"Nooooo, can you bring me some of my underwear, you smartass".

Getting a ride or maybe not

What she might have been thinking:

Well that's been a nice dinner. Brrr it's pretty cold outside. Hihi, I think I'm a bit tipsy and I die for a cigarette now. I'll quickly light one before I go to the car.
Oh they are leaving already? What the hell, can't they wait for a minute? Hey how rude, can't they see that I'm still standing here for a smoke?   WTF? Come on , I'm waving here with my  cigarette to them and they just back-up. Geeez, mr impatient!
Ok ok, fine, argh, I'll put it out.  Argh.
Oops, I almost tripped.  Ok , one minute, let me put this cigarette out on the pavement.  Oops, almost tripped again, bit hard.  Well now, it's out, geeeeeez, I'm coming already.

What I was thinking: 
Well that's been a nice dinner. Brrr it's pretty cold outside, let's go home quickly and crawl into my warm bed.
Hey, can't that woman walk out of the way , it's a bit dangerous to be strolling out here on the dark parking lot?   I almost didn't see her.  What is she making funny gestures to me anyway?  Come on, lady, step to the side so I can turn my car and drive off.
Great, great step in the way a bit more. Yes you can wave to me, I did see you with your glimming red cigarette point but I'd appreciate it if you'd let me pass. Are you too drunk to realise you are standing in my way?
Oh you must be kidding, what the hell is she doing now? Oh right, great, putting her cigarette out in front of my car. How smart, I can hardly see her, that's pretty dangerous.  Yeaaay, she's finally stepping aside so I can pass.

[door opens and quickly slams closed again]
oh gosh she almost stepped into our car. She clearly put out her cigarette in a rush for nothing :D

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Made in Belgium: 2 Fabiola

As a teenager & student I enjoyed the energetic beats that was dominarting  the commercial hitpariates and at the parties, even though all the different groups sounded much alike. Also always excellent to take a small  study break and do a bit of dancing in my bedroom.

Lift you up

I'm on fire

Freak out today

Magic Flight

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gorgeous winter time

As miserable last week's walk in -5C was due to the cutting wind and dampness, as gorgeous was our -8C walk this weekend in a crispy layer of snow in the sun without any wind.  I just could keep on walking and taking it all in. So we made a  big loop between the famous tourist locations of Baraque Michel, Mont Rigi and Signal de Botrange at the rooftop of Belgium and spent several hours working on a snow suntan .

An unusual morning sight in Belgium but not totally exceptional in the eastern heights

One of the many crosses is the "venen" (boglands) reminding its potential hostile nature

I am not venturing out without bundling up

View into Germany

Enjoying the gorgeous nature

Very flaky snow, very interesting structure

Wildlife proof

Signal de Botrange, Belgium highest point at 694m

Some locals training in cross-country skiing, although the pists were officially closed...not enough snow for mass skiing

Hey, which joker pulled my toque down?

Gorgeous sunshine