Monday, 23 October 2006

Jenever know

MK: Hasselt, Hasselt, Hasselt.....what a strange adventure! Once a year, this town in North Eastern Belgium hosts the Jeneverfeesten (Genever Festival). In other words, yet another opportunity for Flemish Belgians to drink copious amounts of alcohol and do peculiar things. Like, for example, a waiter competition as shown in the photo above. From what I can tell, this involves a bunch of males and females walking around the town balancing a bottle of Jenever and its associated glassware...I still can't explain the whole point to it but it is fun to watch!

Back to the star of the festival: Jenever. In French: Genievre. In English: Genever. It is the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Flanders, from which gin has evolved. While the old skool version ("oude") can bring even the toughest of men to his feet, there are thankfully countless other flavours available (e.g. fruity : cherry, blood orange, sour apple, banana, lemon; creamy: vanilla, chocolate, coconut; and wacky: cactus, speculoos. Yum!!

After what was a pretty satisfying day enjoying the fest and downing jenever samples, we made our way towards the train station. Just as we were about to clear the crowds, we ran into a huge Irishman, his English wife and their drunken friend -- a Dutchman. What initially seemed like a brief encounter turned into a party, with jenever after jenever and beer after beer consumed. So much for a simple Sunday out! We just caught the last train back to Brussels, feeling just a tad wobbly to boot.

We also witnessed our first true fight in the two years we have been living in Belgium -- and it was between two posh looking Flemish lasses no less! Their battle royale eventually drew in their male mates, causing an unprecedented frenzy which the not-so-motivated police had to break-up. It was almost as if we had been transported back to nights out in Hull (Quebec).

Photos of Hasselt Jeneverfeesten 2006 on Flickr
Photos of Hasselt Jeneverfeesten 2006 on Picasa Web Album


MK: After much protest from my (JK says: "supremely macho") hubby, I finally convinced him to take me to Spa. Little do most people know that the word "spa" -- and all the fun associated with it -- comes from this Belgian town.

The town of Spa itself is small and attractive. And behind every modern-day facade you can see a city that was once brimming with grandeur. While its heyday has long since passed, Spa still attracts visitors from all walks of life. John and I spent a day at the ThermaSpa on top of the hill overlooking the town (for quite a shocking price of 15euros each = York Street Spa beware!!).

It was surreal soaking in the heated waters outside, with cool air keeping you fresh and multicoloured fall leaves providing a nice backdrop. I also tortured John by making him go in both the dry and steam sauna followed by dipping ourselves into 3 tubs of different temperatures: an ice cold, a luke warm, and a steaming hot tub. It was painful but our bodies felt rejuvenated (JK: I thought it was a bit of BS, to be honest ;)).

Oh, did I also mention that Formula 1 Grand Prix is in Spa too? Sorry guys, I have nothing to report!

Check out the links: Photos of Spa on Flickr
Photos of Spa on Picasa Web Album

Thursday, 19 October 2006

The Grand Voyage Home

JK: With the UNDP imploring (well, perhaps more accurately "calling") Melanie to begin a one year contract in Rwanda at the end of October, we decided it was "now or never" to make a short trip back home to Ottawa (Canada, not Illinois). So, at literally the very last minute, we hopped on a plane in Brussels, suffered through the indignities of London's Heathrow (bring on the new Terminal 5 because the current state of this airport is tragic!), and eventually made it back home.

Mel had been back to Canada as recently as February, but it was JK's first time home since moving to Belgium a full two years earlier. (This led to some reverse culture shock, see separate entry below).

Our eight days and nine nights spent in Ottawa and Toronto were tremendous (what were you expecting us to say, that they sucked? ;). Although, sleep was at a premium, but it was all worth it. Shock-quality hospitality in Ottawa was provided by Kootch "the sleep adventureman" Mertikas (when he does sleep, which is not often, the Kootch likes to try out several rooms, floors and sofas over the course of the night) and his tremendous wife Anabela "Tavaresa". Their home, and particularly the living room, looked like it came straight from the set of a designer TV show. Very nice. The same goes for our other hosts, Zvonimir Martin and Sweet Leonard Nimoy, who occupy a glorious pad downtown complete with an authentic Metallica shrine. What messiahs.

Despite the abbreviated time in Ottawa, we consider ourselves lucky to have seen so many "critical friends", titans, and legends. We accomplished tons: from the Scotsman's surprise birthday dinner, poker with Ottawa's "man-mountains", lunches with legends, elbow drops with NHS'ers, dinner with the Baron and his Italian wife, re-uniting with the Duce and co., dining and debating with the Perrakides, seeing Will sell apples for his Beaver colony, thanksgiving with the Illingworths (amongst a few other family get-togethers), and of course our impromptu wedding reception. Seeing so many new babies (all cute of course -- don't worry moms and dads!) was quite a shock for JK in particular. All this and my wife still managed to - unbeknownst to me - get a pedicure at the York Street Spa and stock up on all the necessary Aveda, Lancome, and MAC products that are crucial to her existence in Rwanda.

Toronto was also great, but the visit was far too short (one night only). The city is so interesting, but we did not have time to even scratch the surface. Still, we received excellent hospitality from my bro, "Iasonas", and his wife (Caro)'lyne. They too have a great pad north of the beaches and south of -- where else? -- the Danforth. In TO we hung with the Nico-Man and Mara, downed sushi with CK, coffee with Mel's older brother Mike, and guzzled margaritas with Dawn, my bro/sis-in-law and the Nezanator/Rob.

The reception in Ottawa, expertly organised by none other than -- how did you guess? -- Mélanie (actually, with the tremendous help of the Kootch), was a true highlight. About one hundred people came to gobble on nibblies, exchange banter and have some laughs. We were honoured that so many people came to see us on what was a Thanksgiving long weekend!!!

For photos of our wedding reception in Ottawa, click here.

For scenic photos of Ottawa, click here.

For silly photos with friends, click here.

For fun photos with family, click here.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

(Reverse) Culture Shock!

JK: As mentioned above, Mel had been back to Canada as recently as February 2006 (7 months ago), but it was JK's first time home since moving to Belgium a full two years earlier (October 2004). This led to some reverse culture shock, including:

  • Cheeriness and friendliness of most people. You could actually walk into a store in Ottawa and not fear: a) it being closed 10 minutes early; b) being told to get out; or c) receiving the trusted shrug and "non, c'est impossible monsieur" line:).
  • Peacefulness. This was both good and bad. The good: JK admired the number of people who were genuinely upset when a nearby Ottawa driver honked his horn a few times in anger. In Brussels we are truly disturbed when we don't hear someone unload on his/her horn at least every hour -- including in the middle of the night! The bad: even the Byward Market seemed a bit too peaceful compared to the action on Euro-streets (I won't even bother mentioning Sparks Street).
  • Service culture. When JK realised on the way to rent a car that his license had recently expired -- and having become habituated to the Kafkaesque ways of Europe -- he panicked. "Good god, I don't have 10 pieces of identification, a letter from my deceased great-grandmother, a certificate from my childhood dentist, and 15 weeks to spare", he said. Fortunately, he was in Canada and, after a quick visit to the license bureau, we were on our way to Toronto in a rented car with JK at the helm, renewed license in tow!
  • Coffee to go. This is both good and bad. The good: convenience. It is nice to know that, if you are in a rush, a coffee "to go" can be prepared for you without risking the wrath of the server. While this is catching on in Europe, it is still considered a peculiar habit. Walking down the street with take-out coffee is practically sacrilegious. The bad: it is actually nice to sit down and enjoy your coffee, particularly the high quality - straight from the espresso machine - stuff they ply us with over in Brussels. Also, and perhaps this is a bureaucratic Ottawa thing, but it is a tad disturbing seeing every second person walking around town with a 1 litre "cup" of watery filtered coffee in hand. Coffee has almost become the new Linus and his security blanket.

Monday, 16 October 2006

On 15 and 16 October: Stand Up and Help Fight Poverty

On 15 and 16 October, the world came together to stand up and remind their governments that promises to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and help the billions living in extreme poverty must be kept.

The purpose of the action is to raise awareness of the MDGs and to publicly demonstrate to policy makers the growing global support for the eradication of poverty.

STAND UP is an initiative designed to coincide with Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) month of global mobilizations around the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. We need everyone to take part to ensure governments listen and take action. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is organizing an International Forum on the Eradication of Poverty on 15 and 16 November at United Nations Headquarters New York to mark the end of the First UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006).

Although they ask for you to take notice for only two days, why don't you go further and stand up against poverty a little bit every month, or every week, or even every day. Click on the Stand Up logo to find out how you can help. And buy a white band.

To see photos from the "Stand Up Against Poverty" campaign around the world, click here.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Congratulations Miss Sutton and Mrs Airey-Castillero!!

M&J would like extend a warm congratulations to both Miss Sutton and Mrs Airey-Castillero for entering into the world of management consular officers (MCOs). We couldn't think of two finer people to provide service to Canadians abroad.