Thursday, July 30, 2015

Travel meme

While all colleagues & friends seem to be on vacation, I felt like filling in this travel meme. I stole it from Yab who stole it a long time ago from Tita.
  1. Do you prefer going on vacation abroad or do you prefer to go on vacation in Belgium?
    True vacation is abroad.   Belgium is a fantastic destination to discover but since it is that small you are always only max 2-3 hours away from home and somehow that doesn't feel like a real get-away moment.  That being said, our many lazy weekends spent in the Ardennes can feel a bit like vacation. 
    But as soon as you cross the border, you feel something different: different road signs, different language or accent spoken, larger horizons,'s great to cross those borders regularly. 
  2. Do you prefer travelling by car or do you prefer the plane? 
    Hmm neither would be my first response. In general I hate the "transport" time but it's the evil necessity to get to new places.

    In fact I don't mind the car as long as it can be relax, at ad hoc rhythm (with stops whenever we wish) in not too much traffic. Several of our vacations have been roadtrips in North-America and I absolutely love cruising around as long as I can avoid LA, San Francisco highways, Vancouver commuter traffic, ... Cruising in a car can be the core part of a fun vacation but traffic is hell. My stress levels jump up right away when there's too many cars around me and waiting times.

    Plane flights are ok. In general I seem to like long intercontinental flights more as these are more comfortable with more entertainment and (better) food in contrast to the smaller cramped tourist flights where the carrier would hate to spend one penny too much on you. 
  3. Do you also like to have short vacations out of the big holiday period?
    oh definitely, 1 vacation per year means that you need approximately 11 months until you can go again; I am convinced you need to get out more, to take a break and refresh.

    We generally try to have one multi-week big vacation  and another get-away of a week. This can be completed with several city-trip weekends.
  4. Do you prefer to spend your money to a nice vacation or a new interior? 
    euh tough question. I like a nice interior but that is not something that needs to get renewed often, so that's something you save for. I am convinced though that one needs to get out and take a break now and then so I'd also always want to put some budget aside for travelling. 
  5. Just suppose: you win a price and you can choose your dream destination. Where do you go? 
    euh if money was no restriction (and could eg also afford some unpaid time off from work, ...making time less of a restriction too), then I suppose I'd chose quite far destinations such as New Zealand, Australia  .
    But also the gorgeous (and expensive) (dive) destinations of Maledives, Philippines, Micronesia, Hawaii, ...
  6. All inn-vacations or bed and breakfast? Both, depending on your needs as long as you alternate a bit.

    Sometimes there's nothing more precious than just go to a hotel and go lay down with a book next to the pool...flip flop at every craving to the bar for a snack or drink and go lay down again.  That can be fabulous!

    But you don't get to see much on that type of vacations so it would be a pity to only travel like this. I mean: an all-inn in Turkey or Spain or the end it wouldn't matter much where you were. Additionally the food isn't very good generally in the all inn's.  Nope, there's no such thing as a true free lunch .

    So I also love to stay in a hotel or B&B, to only have breakfast and to venture out to discover the region during the day and to discover local food in restaurants that cross our road. 
  7. Do you prefer sporty vacations or lazy vacations? Apart from scuba diving and some mild hikes, I have no interest to do sports on vacation.  I love being lazy but I also love to experience culture and history which is missing here as an option. 
  8. Do you go to the local market to taste local produce? 
    Absolutely....nothing more fun to experience the local atmosphere but a local market (perferably not a tourist trap market). The colors, the smells, the interaction with locals: fun fun!  No better place to discover local food.  I might not always dare to taste there but at least you can have your eyes discover. 
  9. Do you prefer luxury or can it be a backpack vacation in cheap hostels?
    I do love a minimum of comfort (more pampering is absolutely welcome) and like to have my own spot with my own peace and quiet to withdraw to. I'm afraid I do not go on vacation to find new local friends or travellers. So no....backpacking does not sound like fun to me or hanging out in shared locations. For the same reason I am not always a big fan of B&B's:  please let me have my own breakfast table and don't force me early in the morning into a conversation with strangers.

    Vacation is a time to be with my family.  Clean rooms and bathrooms and decent food are a minimum. An additional comfy sofa in the room, a hot tub, ...are all bonusses I wouldn't refuse (but I can do without).
  10. To which country can't anybody force you to go to ?war countries
    Extreme poverty countries
    Countries where I fear not getting the minimum of comfort, where getting there and getting around would be too chaotic, where culture shock might be too big.

    I notice that I usually don't take African or South American countries into consideration when considering a trip...mostly because I have no clue what travelling there is like and I don't dare to take my chances. 
  11. If you don't travel, how do you spend your vacation ? hanging out in the Ardennes. but most of my vacation days are spent while travelling.
  12. Do you love a vacation in a camping tent? Not so much. Sleeping 1, max 2 nights in a tent with a fun group can be fun. But my quality of sleep depends on silence and darkness and warmth: 3 things that are regularly missing on a summer campground.
    Additionally, after 2 improvised campground meals, I long for a decent qualitative meal.

    so I do not consider spending a true vacation on a campground. 
  13. Do you want a mobile camper after you retire and when you have a lot of time to roam around? 
    When we do a roadtrip, I do envy sometimes the campers on the road. Sometimes it seems very attractive to just have your house at your hand. It also provides some comfort that a tent is missing, yet it gives you more flexibility than a sequence of hotels on a roadtrip.  Also at dive sites in the Benelux, a camper can come in quite handy.
    I think I want to try a mobile home (as we call it in Dutch) once.

    But owning one is a big investment that you need to get out of it by using it A LOT.  And i don't think it would ever become my preferred way of travelling. Even a big ass camper will always be a cramped improvised space.
  14. When you are travelling, do you mix with the local population or do you hang out in your hotel? 
    This is related to my answer in question 6.  It would be a pity to travel and cover distances to only see your hotel. Yet for some vacations that only have as goal to relax that is perfectly acceptable behavior. In our last vacation in Gran Canaria, we hardly left the (not so big) hotel premises and that was a fabulous vacation that I'd love to repeat once.
  15. Do you feel more romantic when you are on vacation ? No, not really. 
  16. What is the top 10 of countries you still want to visit ? ok let's only take countries I've not yet visited (which excludes most of Europe although there's definitely regions like Tuscany and Andalucia, Greece mainland, Dubrovnik, ... still on my wishlist). Hmm tough question. Answer in no particular order.
    New Zealand, Maledives, Iceland, Malta, South Africa, Cuba, Costa Rica, RĂ©union, Japan, Thailand
  17. What were your best vacations so far? euh, think most of them were great.  Bali 2009, Canada 1999, 2004, 2011 and now.   Egypt 2007, 2008,  2010, 2011, 2012, ...  Gran Canaria 2014, Bonaire 2012, Goa (India) 2006, California 2014, New England 2007, Burgundy 2006, Turkey 2005, ... 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Made in Belgium: Bart Peeters (update)

Bart Peeters announced in 2011 to take a break. A fan like me really doesn't want to hear such announcements.   But he's back with a new album since the end of 2014 and is now regularly performing again.   Unfortunately last Friday I was drop dead tired as he was having a concert on the old market square in Leuven but I missed it.  Oh well, I've seen Bart Peeters multiple times in the past, and I'm sure I'll get more opportunities in the future.   Meanwhile, we'll enjoy his music electronically.

Original post here

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wildlife inventory

For the 2nd time I amused myself keeping a little inventory of the wild life we have seen on our vacation in Canada.  Hey Yab, can you do better?
  • Bears: 6 black bears ( Revelstoke, Golden, Kootenay National Park, Whiteswan Provincial Park, Yahk)
  • Bold Eagle: 7  (Vancouver Stanley Park, Mara Lake , Kootenay Lake)
  • Deer: >16  (Manning Provicinal Park, Kelowna, Kootenay National Park,  Harrop + Sunshine Bay Kootenay Lake)
  • Marmot: 2 (Kelowna , Keremeos)
  • Koyote: 1 (Creston)
  • Cormorants: 10 (Creston, North Vancouver)
  • Ospreys: many    + 2 nests with youngsters at Kootenay Lake
  • Wild Turkeys: 4 (Creston + Wynndel)
  • Canada Geese + gosslings : everywhere
  • Squirrels and chipmunks: everywhere

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Very much in love on a rainy day

We were invited to my cousin's wedding yesterday. All week we were watching the weather forecast a bit with disbelief.  Exactly on the day they'd throw a garden wedding party in the middle of the summer, there was a forecast of a "fall storm" day for one day: rain showers, wind gusts,  temps around 15C.   First it was still a week away and so we could hope that the forecast accuracy was still a bit off but it remained.

So I was a bit in stress on Friday evening searching through my wardrobe for something suitable yet warmer to wear.    My lovely classy dress that I had in mind, wend back into the wardrobe and I switched to some dressy pants + blouse + gilet.  3 minutes upon arrival I pulled my winter sweater on top of those.

The garden was lovely decorated with lots of little details everywhere and fortunately the sun broke through now and then. Nevertheless we did all have to huddle close to each other under a tent for over an hour when it was pouring.  But the couple was visibly very much in love and it was fun to be with the entire family again. And we enjoyed snapping some (polaroid) pictures for their guest book.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I (want to) do what you do

"Bow, Bow"   he points to his sunglasses on the table
"Do you want to wear your glasses?"
"Yes" he nods affirmatively

(yep in summer, not only daddy wears glasses, but mommy has her sunglasses on most of the time too)

"Koko..." pointing at the bottles at the table
"Do you want some ketchup?"

Since we BBQ a lot in summer and always use several sauces in that case, our little one has adopted the habit to eat his meat with some drips of ketchup or mustard.


"Neus Neus"   (nose)  pointing at the tissue box at the table
"Do you want a tissue for your nose?"
"Yes yes" he nods

and then he cleans his perfectly clean nose with the tissue


We sit in a restaurant and the waitress is clearing our plates.  She did not pay attention to Kabouter so she almost drops everything when he puts his little plate on top of ours in her hands.
"Well, that has never happened before that a child is handing me his plate"


If we are drinking a drink with a straw, we'd better make sure he gets a straw too. But don't give him a glass with a straw if we are drinking from a bottle: then he needs to get a zip from the bottle too.


Since a few weeks we sometimes see him having entire conversations with some stuffed animals that are then placed as audience around his other activities.  Eg this weekend a teddy bear was seated next to his toy train track   with the words "Kijk Bee  treijn" (look bear, a train) followed by a long explanation of some sort. It's already a month that stuffed animals also need to get "feeded" now and then.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Travelling (long distance) with a toddler

So after all  my posts from our Canada trip, I'll take a moment to reflect on travelling with a toddler. We had been in doubt for months whether such a trip with a 20m old child would be feasible and whether we should do it.  I've googled a lot to read about other people's experiences and so here's ours.

The long day of transport in order to arrive on the other side of the world, was the main concern: how do you keep a little active toddler occupied and happy for such a long time in "confined" spaces such as a plane.

We had flown with him to California a year before when he was 7-8 months old, not crawling or walking yet and still sleeping and waking more or less around the clock in blocks of about 3 hours. His autonomy had never been bigger than a play mat of his play pen, so getting a little baby cot in the plane was a very acceptable throne to him at that time where he also eagerly took his naps.

But now he was 20 months, full of energy, never sitting still and sleeping less (hey, if there's something interesting new to watch, why would you assume that I'd like to sleep now?).

We didn't doubt for a second to buy him his own plane seat. He's still allowed to sit on our lap under the age of 2 , but for a flight longer than 2 hours that would seem a recipe for many hours of frustration.

Then we searched possible flight itineraries: as there is no direct flights from Brussels to Vancouver, it seemed better to combine a short European flight combined with a long transatlantic flight contrary to a flight Brussels - Eastern Canada and then a Canadian flight (less total flight hours as the transatlantic flight can make the efficient route over the poles, no stop-over on a moment we'd be already cranky and out of our rhythm). The final choice was made based on price for economy plus + seat configuration of the plane.  Condor had 3 middle seats: we wouldn't have any neighbours to take into account if our little one would decide that jumping on our lap is the best way to kill time. Additionally we'd have 2 ways out into the isle which is handy if one of us would manage to sleep and Kabouter would need to go for a stroll or a change or so.

I had read about rewarding your child with a new present or activity each hour, but Kabouter was too small to understand the concept of "an hour time" and the anticipation of waiting for a reward.  Nevertheless I had tried to get new toys for him only to make available one by one at a slow rate where I hoped the novelty would keep him occupied.   He got a baby headphone so he could also listen to the entertainment system, if he'd only want to keep the headphone on his head for more than 30 sec.   I had a new little puzzle, coloring books and sticker books , new apps on my ipad, ... together with some of his favourite reading books and a stuffed animal and a little car.

So how did it go?

It went very very smoothly.  Kabouter had by now already the habit of making shorter flights and understands the drill of sitting with his seat belt on my lap at the start...waving to the other planes outside and to the other passengers and commenting, ...  On the transatlantic flight he had right away found the entertainment system with touch screen. So we were off for half an hour random pushing on the screen opening and closing the different menu options.  Then he watched a cartoon for a while.
During the rest of the flight, he played with his car a lot and I had underestimated how much room a little one still has:  since we allowed him to crawl in and out his seat , he was riding his car on the floor, under our legs, on our legs, on his chair, on our armrests, .... But he had room to move around and didn't feel locked up.  Similarly we then alternated with coloring a bit, reading books or making a puzzle.   The meal times were a welcome interruption as well.

when it was already way beyond nap time (our day had started early) you could see he was tired and more clingy and finally after a long time on our lap with some encouragements, he did drift off for a good long nap.   And then it all started over again.

on the return flight (at night) we had tried our best to only give him a short nap during the day, hoping he'd be quite tired by the time we left. I was getting quite impatient and frustrated that meal time took so long (in my mind) and that afterwards there was still a long time for them to come by with tax-free products and this and that before the lights in the cabin would get dimmed.  Until then Kabouter was clearly tired but not showing any attempt yet to lay down for a sleep. Fortunately he was still his happy self. Finally after more than 4 hours into the flight and a long time being rocked on my lap, sleep won and sleep conquered him for over 4 hours. Pheeewww, mission accomplished.
Right at that moment, another baby 2 rows behind us started crying and has kept crying until we arrived back in Europe.   Lesson learned: each child is different and it can go quite wrong on a flight as well. I pitied those poor parents so much. It must be infernal.

But Kabouter now has over 20 flight lapses on his frequent flyer list (pooh, the programs don't take toddlers his age yet) and he is a super trooper globetrotter.  All the stress and doubts we've had beforehand turned out to be unnecessary.
Question is however how he'll behave in 1 - 2 years when the sleeping is once more less and the whining will be much more vocal when he's bored.

Car trips:
Canada is a huge country so it always triggers long car drives if you want to get to places. We had put our desire to cover huge new territories on this trip into the freezer and had designed an itinerary with max 4h driving per day.  Combined with some stops, that seemed quite reasonable so i wasn't worried very much to complete our roadtrip with a toddler.

And indeed, it wasn't a real issue.  There was always part of the road where Kabouter fell asleep for a nap  (usually just before an intended lunch stop or so which made us drive on with hungry stomac).  Yet I underestimated that keeping a little one entertained even only for 2 hours while strapped up in a car seat can be harder to do at some days , especially when the novelty of the trip has worn off.  With hindsight it's easier to play & entertain a little one if he can crawl out and in a plane seat than to play and entertain a strapped up one in the back seat while sitting yourself in the front seat and not always having the opportunity to pull over for a stop wherever whenever. But besides some whining now and then and bending backwards to try to fish the fallen toy from the car floor for the 34725th time, we had no issues at all either.

Always having a bag of cookies at hand does help.

We rented the child seat from the car rental company.

Other transport: 
Kabouter is turning out such a stereotypical boy that is in love with trains, busses, boats, ... so taking a great variety of public transport is the highlight of the day.

Toddlers are in general intrigued by the world and very curious. As long as you offer them variations, some playtime (playgrounds in park or simply running & chasing games on a grass field, ...), the reassurance of your calm and happy presence and attention in these ever new environments, I find it no issue whatever to take a toddler on excursions and visit cities or nature parks, ... Just use some common sense: if you expect a little one to sit still concentrated during a posh opera that takes 3 hours, I can guarentee you will be in trouble.  So of course we try to do our visits that are more or less baby friendly, yet that doesn't mean we only do baby excursions/attractions.

Jetlag/time zones: 
I don't think you can generalize how one child responds from another. We even experienced that he took this trip (9h timezone difference) quite differently from previous one (also 9h timezone difference).

In California we all arrived exhausted, slept like a rocket the first night and then just picked up the new rhythm like a breeze as of the 2nd day.  However after our return back home, we had a hell of a week where Kabouter has cried each night confused and awake for a long time (but each night a bit earlier until it had worn off after 7 days). So I had prepared myself for another hellish week of fatigue.

yet this time we all felt more tired in the first week of our vacation and Kabouter napped more during day time and always woke up briefly during the night (which isn't the case anymore at home).  In the 2nd week that settled.  When arriving back home, he cried for one night  ("oh christ, there it is...brace ourselves....") but only woke up briefly twice the 2nd night and slept through the night at seemed totally adjusted as of the 3rd night already. wow, that was way better as I still struggled with jetleg and waking up at night for the entire week.

Ha, so jetleg seems unpredictable, but it can be a hell and it must be very confusing for a little one who doesn't understand.

(other mom's reflection on travel with kids can be read here by Erika Van Thielen and here on Mijn Kwintenssens, both in Dutch)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

With my parents in the Ardennes

Since Jan couldn't stay home for the extended holiday weekend as originally planned, my parents joined me in the Ardennes.  Unfortunately it was rainy on Monday but that didn't stop Kabouter to cycle in the garden with his winter boots. He also showed off his bike to the nearby cows  "Meuhhh kijk ietsss"

Today it stayed dry and we could make a short walk on Belgian's highest point. My guess that Kabouter would be walking a good part of it and that therefore I didn't need to pull out the stroller, was wrong and we ended up carrying him much longer than intended.

on top of the roof of Belgium

Fagne Walonne

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Happy anniversary to my parents

Beer & Wine in BC

"What do you miss most from home" 

During my exchange, I often got this conversation.  While I fell in love with Canada for it's people, it's nature, it's culture,'s culinary achievements didn't strike me too much at that time. I was homesick for our wide range of breakfast pastries, cheeses, charcuterie, ... I wished there were less of "breakfast/ family " type of restaurants and more culinary unique restaurants, which is a bit of an unrealistic wish if living in a small town.

I lived in the countries 2nd most important fruit valley , which was also home of the Columbia Brewery (Kokanee) which had just been bought at that time by AB Inbev   ...ha, the Belgians owned the local beer :p. That was a cool fact, yet I wasn't (allowed to be) very much into beer at that age.

In later years we discovered excellent fresh sea food on Vancouver island on our travels, the wine from the Okanogan and maybe not as much culinary hotspots but very decent yummy food all over.

Yet the beer scene seemed to still be dominated by the global lagers: Bud, Molson Canadian, Kookanee, ... Not too exciting. Maybe I didn't pay enough attention yet.
Several years ago we had already been pleasantly surprised by the abundance of good local breweries in New England, this time we could also experience the rise of craft beers in British Columbia. Most pubs don't only have the mainstream brands on tap anymore but also offer a fun variety of local beers. Whereever we went there seemed to have a local brewery nearby. Some have been there for a while (eg Steamworks brewery in gastown Vancouver and Tree Brewing Co in Kelowna) but they are all stepping up their game and innovating.   The beers are quite hoppy, sometimes a bit too much for my taste (a trend that is also happening in zythology fan groups in Belgium)  . 

It's fun to see the beer culture rise in so many other countries...also weird to see as a Belgian that we are getting competition in good quality specialty beers, yet most specialty beers abroad fortunately are "Belgian style". Saison seems a quite popular style.

Ha, fruit, wine, beer and more and more organic delicious cheese makers (that even dare to create & sell molded blue cheeses...shock oh shock :) ) :  BC is slowly becoming more attractive to culinary tourism. Yeaaaay, way to go!