Votre train ne circule pas…

31 10 2012

I wrote last week that V and I were travelling to the south of France (Provence) to see my old friend L who lives there with her French boyfriend and their 2-year old daugther. Well, that didn’t happen thanks to [bloody] SNCF, the French railway company, that just happened to decide to go on strike last Thursday. According to the first information that L and I managed to get, it sounded quite positive: 7 out of 10 TGV would be running like normal. However, it turned out that our train was one of the 3 (out of 10) that were cancelled ūüė¶

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We missed out on this view over le Luberon in Provence – photo from O’s and my quick visit in August 2010

We were all very disappointed but I was at least happy that V and I didn’t get up at 05 in the morning to be at Gare du Midi at 07 to find out that the train wasn’t going to depart… I was also happy that O came back one day early from his quick tour of Puerto Rico and the US, on Friday morning. I could have decided to work Thursday and Friday last week and the beginning of this week but V and I have spent some quality time together instead. And today we are off to Spain:

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The outskirts of O’s village in Arag√≥n, Spain

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We will probably have some of my favourite tapas, “boquerones con olivas / aceitunas” (sardines with olives). No fancy tapas bar but the local one across the street from my parents-in-law’s house

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and we will visit the church where V was baptised at Easter, and say hello to the sweet nun who helped us with the baptism

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and have fika at the local pastelería

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and spend time with O’s parents, M & M

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Looking for a brewery and a canal…

4 07 2011

My mother is most probably coming to Brussels next week to keep me company while O goes to India. It makes me think of the last time my parents came to visit us,¬†in October last year.¬†They had one wish each, my mother wanted to see a canal and my father wanted to visit a brewery. So, we decided to take them to Affligem as we have a friend who lives nearby and it is a nice area close to Brussels (can’t remember if it has a canal though).

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It says “Stop the night noise!” on the posters, I guess the neighbours are tired of drunken people in the streets…

Off we went, O and my father in the front of the car, my mother and I in the back, and the GPS in the middle… We left Brussels and got on the outer¬†ring (motorway), where I expected O to turn towards Ghent but he was following the GPS instructions and continued driving on the ring. I questioned his decision but he trusted the GPS more and didn’t want to listen to the back-seat driver. It is true that we hadn’t been in Affligem for years and maybe the GPS knew a better way!?

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Interesting way of displaying art – in the windows for passers-by to see instead of making it visible from inside the apartment

Eventually the machine told O to turn off the ring and head towards Antwerp, which he did while I kept saying that I thought that we were not going in the right direction. At the same time, I didn’t want to insist too much and make it into a typical husband – wife discussion (which is very, very rare that we ever have!) in front of my parents. Anyway, when we were almost in Antwerp, O finally realises that yes, maybe something was not entirely right about the GPS instructions so we stopped at the next exit where¬†we checked the GPS settings.¬†Apparently when he had chosen Affligem as our destination, he then clicked on “Important sights / monuments” (or something similar), and somehow changed the destination to … Antwerp!

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The Swedish colours!

Oh well, we were almost there by then and as there is a canal (ok, ok, it is actually a river, Schelde) in Antwerp, and my parents are very flexible, easy-going people who are just happy to spend some time with us, we all agreed to continue to Antwerp! Despite the change of plans, the lack of a brewery and the grey weather, we spent a very nice Sunday afternoon in the city. We walked along the river and then continued up in the antiques / flea market area.

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And even a Swedish flag! (not the same house though)

And lesson learnt [for O]?¬†To listen to his wife and not trust the¬†GPS¬† ūüėČ However, you might recall the last time we went to Antwerp and we once again had GPS trouble?

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Some “fleas”

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Mirrors for sale

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Headless mannequin family, anyone?

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Hispantics – do they only sell hispanic antiques?

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What I love about Belgian cities – there is always something interesting to look at on buildings (Brussels has murals of comic strip characters)… Here a poem¬†by a¬†Flemish poet and singer

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Has anyone heard of J√ľrgen von der Lippe? I didn’t buy his record…

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Nor did I buy “One more little kissy”

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Plastic chairs

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Or wooden ones in big and small sizes

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There is something about empty frames that I really like

I did actually buy something from one of the flea market shops but I will show you that another time. Something that really is quite ironic considering the Belgian reputation of … being crazy drivers!





Two generational girls’ weekend in Amsterdam

5 03 2011

Most of you guessed right – I was¬†going to Amsterdam last weekend! It is one of the best perks about living “in the middle of Europe” – travelling easily and quick by train to Amsterdam (2 or 3 hours depending on the train type), Paris (1,5 hours) or London (less than two hours)!

I have been to Amsterdam several times and my aunt went a few years ago, but my mother and my sister hadn’t been back since we celebrated my 16th birthday there in 1991! And since my sister was 8 years old back then, she didn’t remember much…

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“I amsterdam”¬†– the new Amsterdam slogan! I also like the WoCo-slogan – Wonderful Copenhagen. I wonder, does Brussels have a slogan? You can find this slogan on Museumplein, the big square between the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, but it is difficult to get a good picture of it¬†without lots of tourists posing for their friends!

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The first thing we did on Friday morning was to head to the Van Gogh Museum – thinking that during the weekend it would be too crowded. I visited the museum in 2007 and my aunt in 2008 but my sister and my mother had never been there. My favourite is the almond blossom painting – to the right. When I visited the museum 4 years ago, I got a text message from my friend ErkaPerka telling me that she had given birth to a boy, V who just happened to get the same [Swedish version of the Dutch] name as Van Gogh’s nephew to whom he dedicated this painting. I bought a postcard of the painting, framed it and gave it as a present, I wonder if he still has it?

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There was also a Picasso exhibition at the museum but we didn’t like it too much, or maybe we were just “museumed out” by then? My mother said that she and my father are thinking of going to Danish museum Louisiana to see the Picasso exhibition there, which incidentally¬†my blog friends Marianne and Olgakatt saw a few days ago!

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The museum shop at the Van Gogh museum as well as the shop at Museumplein had lots of irresistible products and we spent a long time browsing through beautiful postcards and posters, books and small trinkets. My sister bought me and herself beautiful Delft-inspired (the blue and white tiles) bracelets, and later on my mother bought one for her sister, and then my sister and I had to buy one for her!

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In 2005 when I visited Amsterdam with a Flemish friend, he had a loooong list of stuff he wanted to EAT and poffertjes were one of the things on his list. Our Dutch friend R brought us to this caf√© on Museumplein to eat poffertjes (small pancakes), but I don’t recall if the skating rink was there then?

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Amsterdammers are not the most rule-abiding people, are they? This sign says “No placing of bikes here” ūüėČ

We were staying at a NH Hotel (Spanish hotel chain that I can really recommend) in the Museum area and close by De Pijp-neighbourhood which is full of interesting restaurants and the famous Albert Cuyp-market. After a late lunch on Friday we wandered around the market, looking at beautiful flowers (so cheap!), cheese (not so cheap) and typical market brick-a-brack…

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Albert Cuyp market!

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A garden on the pavement in De Pijp neighbourhood

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The restaurant part of Albert Cuypstraat – I would have wanted to try some Surinamese or Indonesian restaurants but maybe next time?

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An interesting shop¬†as I didn’t see anybody wear a helmet – not the cyclists, nor the people on mopeds / scooters / motorbikes!

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Bikes, bikes, everywhere bikes… and bridges seem to be a favourite place to park your bike.

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Our hotel on the left, the Rijksmuseum in the background and a canal…

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Another canal, in the antiques area of the city! On Saturday we walked to the centre of Amsterdam…

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The bloemenmarkt (flower market)! Unfortunately I had managed to change the settings on the camera without realising and all the photos became very grainy ūüė¶¬† (O who was in Singapore had the small camera so I was using the SLR camera)

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We couldn’t resist buying some flower bulbs…

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I love the Amsterdam houses! We walked around the Negen straatjes (the nine small streets) area, which is very cosy but unfortunately it started to rain harder and harder and in the end we took refuge in a caf√© before going back to the hotel…

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De Pijp by night – with the Christmas lights still up!

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Sunday was supposed to be another museum day, we had planned to visit the Rijksmuseum but Dutch artists were occupying the museum in protest against budget cuts (national elections this week). So instead of waiting in the looong line outside the museum in the rain, not knowing if we would be able to enter, we decided to take a canal boat tour!

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Taking photos through a rainy boat window is not great…

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but at least you get a feeling of the bad weather!

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In the afternoon my mother, sister and aunt headed to the airport while I met up with my Dutch friend R for a hot chocolate before taking the train back to Brussels. I was very pleased to find a FT Weekend left behind by another traveller, and also to actually get a seat as the train became very full before departure!

A second Amsterdam post will follow shortly…





P√• sp√•ret*…

24 02 2011

I am meeting up with my mother, my sister and my aunt in an European capital tonight! After work I will be taking the train for 2h51min** and I will end up here:

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A speciality for this country…

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Ha ha, not the greatest photos of the city but I had forgotten that my older photos are on another computer…

Unfortunately we will be one month too early to visit this yearly beautiful tourist attraction:

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Spring flowers galore!

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So, have you guessed yet? Where am I going?

*) P√• sp√•ret (On the track) is a popular Swedish TV show where stars compete to guess train destinations all over the world… You’d probably need to be Swedish to enjoy it ūüėČ
**) I could have arrived an hour sooner but it would have been a little more expensive… My tickets cost 78 EUR return, I could have travelled for under 50 EUR if I had travelled Friday evening to Sunday evening.





What I did for 10 days in January…

31 01 2011

I came back to Brussels last Thursday from my working holiday in the Alps! Ten very intense days as the trip included 250 10- & 11-year olds but I loved it.

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And Marianne, you were right, I am not a skier… Despite having lived¬†in the Alps THREE times (Geneva x2, Annecy in France)! I¬†had only¬†skied three times in 1994-95 and didn’t enjoy it much, but for O’s* sake¬†I tried again and unfortunately it didn’t end well.

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I fell badly on the first day of skiing and hurt my knee. It wasn’t too dramatic but it did mean that I was taken down from the mountain head first in a emergency sleigh pulled by a skier! I heard¬†from some parents that it had impressed the children who saw it ūüėČ I have always claimed that I will never / never wanted to be a skier and I think that I can safely say that it has been established now… Fingers crossed that I won’t need an operation on my knee! It¬†is¬†quite ironic that I, the least sporty person ever,¬†has a sport’s injury!

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The children had ski lessons every afternoon with professional ski instructors!

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The last day I took the ski lift to the top to enjoy the sunshine up on the mountain.

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The slopes were very icy, we were told that the snow actually dated from November and the snow cannons were busy making artificial snow every night.

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I missed one excursion because I couldn’t walk on the ski slopes… I was quite disappointed as it was to a farm where you could buy my favourite cheese “Tomme de Savoie” but luckily we could place orders afterwards and the cheese and other products were delivered to the hotel on the last morning.

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A new version of the classic “NO adults allowed”-sign – Only adults allowed! I guess the girls realised that they couldn’t keep us out…

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Night watch sign… I had the night watch three times¬†but was only once woken up by some German boys¬†who couldn’t sleep (and spoke to me in German!?).

*) As O would love to go on ski holidays together. I have promised him that we¬†can go to the mountains but I will stay somewhere in the sun and read a book… Or maybe I should try cross-country skiing, it seems less dangerous?





Alptopp…

19 01 2011

N√§r du l√§ser det h√§r sitter jag p√• en alptopp och undrar kanske vad jag har gett mig in p√•… Ber√§ttar mer n√§r jag har kommit hem om en vecka eller s√•!

When you read this I will be up on a mountain in the Alps, maybe wondering why I agreed to this… I will tell you more when I am back in a week or so!

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500 miles to drive home for Christmas (and back)

22 12 2010

Maybe you think of this song when you hear “500 miles”:

It is one of my favourite songs from my childhood’s car journeys. My parents had a tape with Peter, Paul & Mary plus Abba’s Arrival album that we always listened to in the car.

But most likely, you think of this song instead:

However, currently I am thinking of the [Swedish] 500 miles (=5000 km) that we are going to drive in the next 2,5 weeks! I know, it is completely crazy, especially considering that it is one of the snowiest European winters in a long time… But what can you do when you have a Spanish husband who loves driving? And anyway, we wouldn’t be better off with plane tickets as Europe is experiencing another airport / plane chaos like the one in May – the only difference is that this time it is due to the snow and ice and not a volcano.

The plan is to drive to Sweden today; on New Year’s Day we will drive back to Brussels and then the next day go to Spain to celebrate Epiphany (Trettonhelgen) with O’s family (approx 2800 km return). On the way back we have a dinner in Paris with friends who live in Australia. Phew! Fortunately I have an appointment at a luxurious spa in Brussels on the 11th, I think that I might need it…¬† Since I wrote this scheduled post, the plans have unfortunately¬†changed due to something very sad, and I am not sure what we are going to do now once we have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s in Sweden.¬†I will write about¬†why another time.

Maybe this is the song that we should listen to in the car today (as O just said when hearing this song – “He sings Driving home for Christmas, not flying”…I rest my case):