Monday, 28 August 2006

One night by the North Sea...

JK: In a desperate attempt to run away from the endless cloud and rain (yes, the weather is a recurring theme of conversation lately, but by god it has been hideous), we hopped on a train to the North Sea coastal town of Oostende. Miraculously, by the time we arrived the sky had opened up and we got to enjoy the Belgian coast with our friend the sun.

BUT, of course, there was a catch: so enthralled were we with being on the coast, that we missed the last train back to Brussels (well, that is my version; Mélanie "claims" I misread the train schedule... ;) ).

MK: I interject here to say he did indeed read the train schedule wrong but too manly to admit it.

JK: Stuck in Oostende for the night, and on a very tight budget (you get paid at the beginning of the month in Europe, hence end of month spending becomes rather tricky), we had the choice of either pulling an all-nighter and catching the first train back to Brussels, or else finding some sort of cheap room. With the youth hostel closed (it was already midnight), and every hotel either booked or far too expensive, we finally stumbled upon a "seniors' bar" -- i.e. a bar full of extremely old folk dancing to Flemish gigs -- that advertised cheap rooms for the night.

We got the room, and after sheepishly trudging through a group of partying octagenarians, settled in. The building lacked a shower for guests (presumably showers at the nearby beach could be used -- thanks for the convenience!), the tap in the bedroom spurted out a few drops of water and the walls could have been made from paper maché, but at least the sheets looked clean!

Fortunately, a superb beer bar was located directly across the street. It provided the perfect relief from our misfortune and an opportunity for me to go hog-wild tasting the variety of glory on offer (La Chouffe on tap! Bink Blonde, etc) while Mélanie daintily sipped chilled jenever. What a peculiar weekend adventure!

To see the photos, click here.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Boyo was here! Yes he was

After an odyssey that included the 24hour postponement of his flight to Europe, a missed train in Paris, a missed second flight to Barcelona and a host of penalty charges, Ottawa's heroic Boyo (aka DJ Boyo, DJ Chicken Stardude, Pollo, Barnabitch) finally made it for a visit --albeit an abreviated one-- to Brussels. Boyo put on a brave and honourable face whilst here, belying the exhaustion and trouble he had endured. Clearly his years of weight training had made him strong.

Our powerful frisbee-obsessed friend from Ottawa spent five hours in our adopted home before we escorted him to the airport for his flight to Barcelona/Ibiza. But what an action-packed five hours they were! We attempted to give him a taste of both "the real" Brussels (e.g. Marolles, Jeux de balle, Midi marché, St. Boniface, etc) and the tourist version (Grand Place, which was fortunately still adorned with the Tapis de Fleurs - photo posted here).

The young Boyo entertained us with tales from Ottawa. The only sad note was that his short visit precluded the consumption of many of the Belgian beers of glory John had amassed with the intention of imbibing in his honour. Next time! Restez massif Boyo!

Sunday, 20 August 2006

The Secret of Mons

MK: To break yet another dreary/rainy weekend in Belgium, we lifted our spirits by taking a day-trip to Mons (45 minutes by train from Brussels). We were pleasantly surprised by yet another "discovery" in this under-rated country: Mons is indeed a very attractive town. The Befry is captured in the pic belowOne interesting point: Mons happens to be the location of NATO's Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE). So lots of ex-pats and folk with crew-cuts to be seen!
For more pics click here.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Flower Carpet - Tapis de Fleurs - Bloementapijt

Every two years, Brussels turns on the razzamatazz, struts its stuff, and delivers what even non-flower folk like me acknowledge is quite a spectacle: the Tapis de Fleurs (Bloementapijt for you Dutch speakers in cyberspace). The massive carpet, placed in the middle of arguably the mother of all European squares, is displayed for only four days on even numbered years in August. This year's themed pattern was "Middle Ages", which included nine elevated "rosettes", which spun slowly to give the whole thing an animated feel.

I must say that after what has been a horrendous August in Northern Europe (15 days straight of cloud and rain), this exhibit came as a god-send!! Click the pic to be taken to our Flickr Tapis de Fleurs set. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Utrecht and The Hague

JK: We went the Netherlands to visit our mate -- and the EPC's most eccentric employee -- Ms. Vanessa Matthews.

The Dutch adventure began in Utrecht, where we battled hard with a furious mother nature (it rained non-stop the entire time we were there), and eventually came out winners. The city was full of university students on frosh week, so despite the biblical rains, there was plenty of action on the streets.

From there we made the short trip to The Hague ("Den Haag" for all you Dutch folk), where Ms. Matthews took us on a wonderous tour, including a highlight stop on the Dutch North Sea coast (just a 20 minute tram ride away). As you can see from the picture above, the sun came out on the coast and made us as giddy as schoolkids. Thank you Vanessa for presenting Den Haag's most glorious face! Dank U mijn vriend!

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Change of Plans

MK: After a last minute change to our Greek holiday schedule, I left for the bustling cosmopolitan town (yah, right!) of Bonn, Germany. I spent two intensive weeks (23 July - 5 August 2006) doing training for the UNDP's ARMADA (Advanced Resource Mobilisation and Delivery for Africa) initiative. I not only received certification in "Projects in Controlled Environments" (PRINCE2), not to mention being burdened with "pop quizzes", but also learned that the UN has quite a complex system of acronyms - far worse than any government - in which even the same acronym can mean something different. How confusing is that? Despite the work-horse agenda (8:30AM - 7:00PM), 40 of us from all over the globe managed to pass the nights away at a local watering hole. The final night was spent at a Brazilian bar/restaurant in which - while sipping on caipirinhas - 30 of us danced up a storm while the local Germans watched on with part disdain and part awe!

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Adventures in Hellas

JK: A career training offer for Mel beginning the day after Jason and Carolyne's wedding meant we had to quickly revise our original plan to stay in Greece for a holiday after my brother's wedding.

Left with what was essentially a day to decide on a plan, we thought up the most obvious agenda for a holiday: fly a cheap charter flight to Lesbos, spend a long weekend there, take a 12 hour overnight ferry to the northern port of Kavala, from there take three buses to my mother's town of Alexandroupolis, after three days fly down to Athens on the weekend of Jason and Carolyne's wedding only to take a flight directly from the wedding back to Lesbos to catch the return charter home. Sound easy? Believe it or not all the pieces fell into place and we pulled it off -- even if the frenetic pace resulted in me actually falling asleep at the office on my first day back at work. Oh well, it is "summertime" in Europe and no one is at work anyway.

Highlights of the trip included our visit to the lesbian mecca of "Eressos" in Lesbos. In case you're wondering, it was more of a comfortable shoe and close-crop hairdo convention than anything else. ;)

In my mother's homeland of Thrace, Melanie was introduced to the wilder side of the family. However, most of this wildness in middle age entails carrying out Herculean feats of food consumption. We -- and our respective bellies -- were taken very, very, good care of in northern Greece.

In Athens, Melanie achieved here life-long goal: to see Shakira in concert. Yes, we took the trek, along with about 25,000 disciples, to the Olympic stadium to watch the talented little lass in action. We also spent a bit (not enough) of time with our cousins in Athens' up-and-coming neighbourhood of Gazi, a former gas works and warehouse area.

So despite its relative brevity (10 days by European standards is paltry for one's summer holidays; then again, 10 days by North American standards is a massive holiday that one should be honoured to have) our trip was a success!

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Adieu to two legends!

Adieu - Au revoir - Good bye - Adios - Antio - Kwa Herini - Sayanara... There are no words we can write that will encompass our feelings about your departure. Belgium definitely won't be the same without both of you. Both of you were a major part of our best memories here. We wish you all the best in Colorado and hope to see you somewhere in the world again soon... Vancouver 2010??!! ;-)