Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My Guido Bergna Susy Stovetop Espresso Maker

I was dusting off my little Guido Bergna Susy Espresso Maker tonight, as tomorrow's guest favours real coffee over my expensive Nescafe Instant everyday kind of coffee. But seeing ye olde Expresso Maker again, brought back memories of every trip I've made through customs with this 'interestingly-shaped cannister' in my backpack.

Can you imagine how it looks on an x-ray machine, post 9/11...

I wrap it up in my clothing to avoid damage, but initially pack it close to the zip, knowing that I'm going to have to explain myself and its presence and inevitably, I'll have to do a show and tell with said espresso maker. I guess there's not so many who have tried traveling with them.

The Canuck is popping over tomorrow ... which reminds me, I never did quite get round to writing up my adventures of last week, en route to and from her place near Brussels ... I'm not sure I should. I may have foolishly written something about feeling rather adult while riding a train bound for Brussels.

Well ... there were one or two small incidents. Alison didn't receive my reassuring sms (text for the Kiwis), letting her know I'd made all my tram and train connections and might be there earlier than expected. In my defense, I had successfully used her number on previous occasions, and it was programmed into my cellphone ... What can I say, I have no idea why the last digit was wrong this time, although this might explain why a Dutch sounding woman answered Alison's phone last time I'd called her ... enough said.

I caught the tram to the train station, found my departing platform, and was loitering in that casual'I-might-be-a-European-going-to-Brussels' kind of way with the 'in crowd' (Antwerpen commuters to Brussels actually)... but then ruined it all by making a mad last minute leap for a train Gert said I could board, even though it wasn't my scheduled one ... you see he was on the phone at the time, making sure I was okay and not needing translations and platform-type information.

So ... approximately 30 minutes later, my train pulled in at Brussels Noord (North, for those of you not studying Dutch at this point in time), and there I platform-loitered, once again casually ... this time looking as if 'I-might-be-European-and-catching-the-train-to-Brussels-Luchthaven (Airport).

And why the airport, you might ask. Well, the airport is closer to Alison's place, and closer is better in rush-hour traffic.

I was feeing quite smug, and confidently remained seated while everyone else on the platform with me at Brussels Nord boarded a train, dragging their backpacks and suitcases. I had a timetable, I knew when mine was due ... however, just to confirm this, I did finally break and ask the train guard if this train was the one to the airport. I quite ruined casual when, arms flailing, I made a last minute leap for the open train carriage door.

Ruffled feathers indeed ...

So I arrived in the Airport, and Alison had warned me that it was best if I only moved up one level on the escalator, as our chances of finding each other once higher were markedly less. So I sent another sms, to that woman who never did answer, reassuring her I had a book and would read until she arrived at the airport.

At some point, I noted the phone silence, and it was only then that the memory of that surprised-sounding Dutch woman on Alison's phone came back to me... mmmm, and slowly but surely, it became clear (even to me) that I had the wrong number programmed into my phone and no way of contacting Alison.

We'd made a plan, kind of ... they knew when my scheduled train was arriving ... no need to panic, I was in Europe, I could always go back home to Antwerpen if all else failed.

How little faith had I ... on schedule, Alison smsed, she was upstairs drinking coffee with Andrew, ready to meet my train when it arrived.

Going back to Antwerpen that night well ... by now, I was au fait with asking train guards for guidance, so I confidently hopped onto the train bound for Essen, having been reassured that yes, the train would be stopping in Antwerpen's Centraal Station.

Trein Begeleiders (train guards really) ... where would Di be without them.
(Aachen, Paris or Amsterdam apparently).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Well ...

So much for not liking Friday nights beer ...

It seems that I actually had food poisoning. It serves me right really, as I'd looked forward to the weekend far too much ... I had unacceptable expectations regarding it all. Oddly enough, do you remember I mentioned the 'nice sandwiches' in my last blog ...I believe it was them, curried chicken .. pah!

So my weekend consisted of getting back in touch with my digestive processes, and charting the poisoned stuff as it travelled the length and breadth of my body, creating aches and pains throughout ... disgusting.

Today, I phoned in ill and missed language class, forgiving myself by virtue of having a home school teacher available to me in the evenings. The same teacher I have been known to direct dark and dire mutterings at, something along the lines of 'It's your fault I have to learn to pronouce this unpronounceable 'G' sound'. And learn I must, since his name begins with said 'G'.

However, having saintly tendencies (or enough Catholic guilt to get me to do things I would rather not do while feeling seedy), I did attend the childrens SinterKlaus show on Sunday morning. (Christmas Show).
Here's the site: http://www.studio100.be/resources/site.jsp

Saintliness aside, it was a grand show for kids and Sahara, Georgia and Katie would have loved it. There were about 12,000 in the audience at our session, and the show is repeated six times, so you get an idea of the popularity of this annual event. The bands had the place rocking, and really, there's nothing like seeing kids from 2 upwards, out dancing in the aisles.

The snow is all gone now, and there's talk of it getting drier and warmer by the end of the week. What is meant by warmer is a little unclear, and it's been bone-chillingly cold here in recent days. They may have to surgically remove my polar fleece in the spring ...

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Winter Wonderland

It seems that the 'worst winter in Belgie in 50 years', is wasting no time in arriving now that it has been called out and predicted in newspapers. We had a long summer, followed by a shortish Autumn, and now here we are - 10pm Friday 25th November - with steady snow falling outside. As you can see in the photo, the back balcony is already well-covered.

I had my 3 hours of Dutch class today, then went to a lovely cafe near Grote Markt, to wait for Gert to finish at the office. I was talking with the waitress (as you do) and it turns out her sister (the other waitress) is off to Australia for 6 weeks in February. They were curious to know about New Zealand, and oddly enough, I assured them it was far better than Australia ... as one quite naturally would.

Usually, because I'm going to the city and meeting Gert after work, I dress rather nicely for language class however ... today I dressed warmly, as it was already ice cold at 1pm when I left home. I had multiple layers that consisted of a decent black top, covered by a slightly less decent pale blue polar fleece, which was in turn covered by a disreputable heavy (and very warm) black coat of Gert's.

I'd thought it through, I was going to lurk about in the dark and make him come out of the office to meet me ... no one (as in his collegues) would be harmed by my appalling winter wear ... sigh.

What were the first words I heard from my Belgian ... 'Come with me, we have a reception over in the Town Hall'.

I was mortified, and negotiated all the way across the Square. I could go back to the cafe, I could wait out in the hall, I could ... but no, he assured me that it was nothing to worry about.

When completely caught out it's really better to just pretend you're some kind of special, yet completely confident, foreigner ... I stripped down to my lovely black top, and tied my Turkish scarf in that casual chic way that other women do (believing I had pulled 'chic' off was all that mattered), ignoring my faded blue jeans and purple Doc Maartens ... mmm, I put on my glasses, as every little thing helps. Anyway, Gert wouldn't have taken me in if I was completely horrendous, but he did look ever so good in his beautiful suit and tie.

It was an interesting outing. There was Belgian beer and lovely sandwiches in the Leys Room (named after a painter), then he and I toured the Council Meeting Room, the Board of Burgomaster and Aldermen Meeting Room, and the wedding room. It's a marvellous Town Hall, with a board listing Antwerpen's Mayors ... dating back to, at least, the late 1400s.

Going home was another story ... it was snowing and getting heavier by the moment. We jumped on a No.11 Tram, and settled into the warmth. Alas and alack, at some point the driver flicked on a notice that informed us he wouldn't be taking us all the way. We had to disembark about 3kms from home, in the dark in a snow storm ... nasty driver.

We made it home, (whisper: and watched Eastenders - it's an expat thing, what can I say). I had a little Vegemite on Cruskits to settle my tummy after 2 beers that, in retrospect, I'm not sure I liked as I feel rather ill as I write this.

Ahhh, but the Vegemite ... I was over in Brussels on Wednesday, catching up with Alison, recently returned from her trip home to Canada. We had just reached the point of the first coffee when she remembered a gift she had for me. I was stunned and amazed when the Canuck presented me with a jar of Vegemite. Stunned, amazed, delighted and curious actually.

It turns out that she had found it in a rather special store in the small village of Kortenberg, where she lives, just outside Brussels. She said the store itself is interesting, and often full of the sounds of many languages and accents, as all kinds of everything from everywhere can be found there. I'll write more when I've been there, as I'm curious to see it for myself. Sigh, needless to say, both her and Andrew expressed grave doubts about the contents of said jar of Vegemite and have so far resisted my best efforts in providing them with a taste test.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Royal Guardsmen and Snoopy's Christmas Song

Gert just found a copy of my all-time favourite Christmas song - The Royal Guardsmen singing 'Snoopy's Christmas'. Don't ask me how it became the song I most associate with Christmas(a German did once, and I had no idea) but the song was online and it's the song that meant Christmas was coming, wayyyy back in the beginning, close to the dawn of time, when I was the littlest of things.

Meanwhile, the Belgian is meeting me halfway on things Christmas, we won't be murdering some hapless pine tree for Christmas (sigh, I do like the smell of pine in the house), and he's stopped talking of a fake tree however, we will get ourselves a nice little live Christmas tree ... destined to become our first balcony plant. Anyway, the lyrics ... and if you're not familiar, then try and listen online.

Canons exploding ...
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, [Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree]
du kannst mir sehr gefallen! [Of all the trees most lovely]

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn't shoot, well, we'll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, "Merry Christmas, my friend"

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they'd meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

Oh Dear, I Checked With The Oracle

As if one new language isn't enough ...
Click on the link and you too can find out which language you should learn.

You Should Learn French

C'est super! You appreciate the finer things in life... wine, art, cheese, love affairs.
You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up...

Today ...

I learned that my Nederlands SERIES of examinations begin December 19 ... why why why!! It's Christmas ... in New Zealand we would be preparing for strawberries and cherries, the children would be finished at school for 2 months and the days would be getting longer and hotter. Instead the news is all ... well 'interesting'.

I have the exams ... one for listening, one for speaking and one for writing ... I was counting on a writing one, quite frankly. I have to get 60% or higher to pass and move onto the next level. Sigh.

And then there was this today: Severe winter forecast for Western Europe. Amid forecasts the Belgian Ardennes will be covered in snow by the end of the week, British forecasters have warned of a severe winter across Western Europe.
An old saying suggests that if October is warm and fine, a severe winter will follow and British meteorologists are forecasting the same. The warning has sparked deep concern in Britain where government authorities fear a shortage of gas.
The southern part of Britain is expected to be hit the hardest, along with the bordering area of Europe — including Belgium, Flemish newspaper 'Het Nieuwsblad' reported on Monday. It is being forecast as the coldest winter in 50 years.
"We have had a pattern of very mild winters in recent years, so this will come as a shock," Royal Meteorological Institute spokesman Ewen McCallum said.

However, Katherine Neville's latest book arrived in the post, a birthday gift from my lovely man, and he did make a rather exquisite shrimp risotto for dinner, and we did have to finish the white wine he used to cook it ...

I'm off to Brussels tomorrow - to hang out with Alison, the Canuck. A tram and two trains are involved, so I'm not certain sure about getting there quite as planned, there may be a tale to tell of wandering between floors in Brussels Centraal Station ... but let's see it. I always feel so remarkably clever when I find myself on a train traveling to Brussels ... don't ask me why but there's just this quiet feeling of 'oh wow, I'm a grown-up'.

Goede nacht.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Football, Books and Wine ...

Ahhh, 24 hours are rarely so happily spent ...

Last night, Gert and I went to the football as guests of a retired local businessman ... this translates as, instead of sitting out in the stands, as we normally do, we were up in the business seats behind glass, and therefore protected from the 4oC frosty night air.

Not only that, but we had to join our lovely host down in the bar at halftime, and stay on drinking after the match ... and what a match. I have had my doubts about football (soccer before I moved here) but sometimes, if you look past the hollywood response to a tackle, and the deliberate cunning of some fouls ... just sometimes the games are superb. Last night's game was superb.

Antwerpen came back from being 0-1 down within the first 3 minutes to win 4-3.

Then this morning we had our Belgie (sounds like Bel-hea) breakfast, of pistolets and chocolat pudding with coffee for me and an earl grey for Gert ... before heading into the city. (Belgie is what the Belgians call Belgium ... just by the way)

There is a little square, called De Conick Plein, here in Antwerpen, and the city is trying to open it up to the people again. There have been problems with drugs, prostitution and the occasional stabbing ... but despite all this, it's pretty and reminded me of my beloved Campo de Fiori in Rome. The city has built a new library there, and a there's a rather flashy cafe next door ... but everything else is orignial.

As part of the reclaimation, they have begun hosting a monthly booksale there ... sigh, it was bliss. Afterwards, Gert and I sought shelter from the cutting wind (not dissimilar to the one they call 'The Barber' down in Invercargill, New Zealand), and drank hot coffee and soup, in a desperate attempt to get warmth back into our frozen selves.

Home for lunch before popping out to his friend's wine tasting .... sigh, I'm not sure what you can pick up from the website, but he specialises in Spanish wines and it was a more than delicious way to spend a rather foggy and cold Antwerpen Sunday. http://www.puertadelsol.be

I am glowing after extensive tastings (Alison ... you and Andrew will have to come to the next one, mid-December). Coincidentally, we met Gert's parents there, with their neighbours, and ended up doing most of the tasting as a group of 6, which was fun.

Any Antwerpen locals who end up by chance on my site, should surely check out Guy's (Kiwis ... Guy is pronounced Hee over here) Spanish wines ...

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I recently had the great good fortune to receive a can of Milo in the post ... dear Lizzie, I will never be able to thank her enough.

Milo ... every New Zealander knows about Milo. They sing songs about it ... okay, advertising jingles, but it has entered the psyche of so many New Zealanders.

Lizzie, hmmm I met her when I was at university, we studied English Lit together. By some terrible twist of fate, her parents had two children who were both exactly half my age at some point in our 2 or 3 years studying.

I think Lizzie was 17 when we met, and I was 34, then came her irrepresible brother, Davie, and he was 18 when I was 36. A cruel and unusual pain for such nice people to inflict on a gentle soul such as myself.

Anyway, Lizzie was recently in London ... working on her PhD. We didn't quite manage the meeting, but during a phone call we talked of Milo, and much to my surprise, I discovered that Nestles Milo was for sale over there. She asked if I'd like some, and I wanted to be polite, but how could I resist ...

The can arrived last week ... slightly battered while in transit, but in full and complete working order.

Winter blew in from the North Pole yesterday, making rock melons with ice cream out on the balcony a thing of memory ... tonight I'm making a new memory, here at my desk. It's all about Milo in winter, and it works here too.

A cup of real milk, 2 minutes in the microwave, 1 sugar and 2 teaspoons of Milo ... and I'm someplace like home.

Thank you Lizzie.

Raw Herring

I was in the midst of my first social gathering with Gert's entire family when I tasted raw Herring. It would have been rude to say no and so, as with the special liver dish in Edirne, Turkey, I did as the natives were doing and ate.

It was superb! I'd always had this idea that raw fish would be tasty. I grew up near the beach, and was more than familiar with mouthfuls of salt water ... and so, it seemed to me that anything that grew in it had to taste good. Bluff Oysters confirmed it, and later, Scallops and Mussels, Blue Cod and Gropher convinced me.

But raw fish ... You know, growing up in Mosgiel did place some limits on my culinary development. World cruisine didn't really hit town in those days of my childhood, and my Southern Hemisphere, South Pacific upbringing may have caused me to look with suspicion (and a naughty jaundiced eye) on all things that emerge from the dirty ol' Northern Hemisphere seas. I imagine many a nuclear submarine, wrecked and leaking its poison, and then there's the sheer mass of population on this side of the world... what's a girl to think?

So here I am, living in Belgium ... enclosed by some of the big name countries that specialised in acid rain and the like, and I'm eating raw fish from the North Sea. As I sit here, I can see the nuclear power plant, about 3kms from me as the crow flies, belching it's 'condensation clouds'. And just across the river from the 'twin towers of evil', I can see the flame flare of the worlds' second largest maritime petro-chemical centre burning off whatever it is that it has to burn off sometimes.

But the Herring is so good ... and what's the problem with a little glow in dark if one is amongst friends.

http://www.radionz.co.nz (November 15, 2005)

In the two years I've been out of New Zealand, there are 'things New Zealand' that I've missed, but accepted as lost while I wander. Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque went some way to filling the void, and living in Istanbul created its own excitements and challenges. And even now, relocated in Belgium, I can live without regrets for things lost ... Vegemite, pineapple chunks and proper chocolate,with fillings like peppermint and caramello (writes the woman who lives in the land of the supremely made chocolate but, just sometimes, I do long for what I know), and oddly enough, battered fish from a good fish and chip shop (rarely had while home, often craved for here).

But more to the point, Kim Hill was the goddess of Radio New Zealand when I left, and she was perhaps the most difficult NZ media presenter to live without ... her interviewing technique, humour and knowledge saved me in many of my smalltown New Zealand locations over the years.

Today, Corryl sent me a link to Radio NZ on the internet, and as I write this, I'm listening to RNZ archives, and Kim is interviewing Hector O'hEochagai, a foreign correspondent in Galway. It's bliss!!

News on the diet front ... it's off. I've chosen happiness in these days of struggling as a poor lonely writer in her cold attic garret. (Well, Gert's at work all day, and the apartment is on the top floor ... and it is cold if I turn the heating off, I'm writing - there are elements of truth in this if you search for them.)

New Weekend in Mesen, Belgium (November 13, 2005)

Yesterday was sublime. I died and spent a little time in heaven, and guess what, there were Kiwis there.

Anton had sent out his monthly newsletter to 'New Zealanders in Belgium', and I had noticed that Mesen was celebrating the 30th year of its twinning relationship with Featherston, New Zealand.

'Mesen has special significance for New Zealanders', to quote Anton, 'as the scene of a major and highly successful attack by NZ troops in 1917. The people of Mesen have never forgotten that they were liberated, for a short time, from the Germans. Mesen fell into German hands again in early 1918.

Gert and I had to miss most of it, as we have the children at the moment, and Mesen (also known as Messines in French) is about 140kms from Antwerpen. Two names because towns too near the 'language borders' within Belgium - where Flanders becomes Wallonia, or vice versa, often have two names for their towns, with dual languages spoken, or perhaps a weighting on one - Dutch for Flanders and French in Wallonia.

We missed the wreath laying ceremonies around Mesen on Friday - Armistice Day here in Belgium, and didn't quite get to see the exhibition opening that celebrates the relationship with Featherston, and nor did we see Friday night's concert however, by the skin of our teeth, we arrived on the Saturday in time to watch Ngati Ranana (a London-based Maori cultural group) perform. They were a pleasure to watch, and entranced the mainly Belgian audience... receiving a standing ovation at the end of their 45 minute performance.

I have to admit to being slightly distracted from the moment I arrived in the town hall. There were trestle tables groaning with some our own spectacular NZ wines. Not only were they there, glasses were constantly Filled with samples of some of the best wines I've tasted in ages ... I do wish I'd written the names but as I said, I was in heaven, and one clearly doesn't have time to takes notes while visiting.

Over the afternoon, I had two Merlots and a magnificent little Pinot Noir, and then a Kiwi wandered over with a lovely white wine that I never identified. BUT, that's not all ... complimenting the NZ wines was the most exquisitely cooked venison, lamb and beef I've had in my life. (Hunter Shaw's cooked venison steak is perhaps the only challenge to the sublimely superb cooked NZ meats tasted yesterday).

The chef is the resident NZ embassy chef, and he is surely an angel ...
I was sad to leave, and disappointed to miss today's Kiwi expat bar-be-que over in Kortrijk, but Nikki and Marco have Scouts here in Antwerpen, and anyway, after two days of NZ wines, how would I ever survive a return to normal life.

Ahhh real life ... Monday I start learning to count in Dutch ... een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven, acht, negen and tien.

Tot ziens.

New Zealand Spreek And The Dutch Alphabet (November 10, 2005)

Today, my Dutch teacher gave the class an oral spelling quiz, after teaching us the sounds of the alphabet. Dear God, what suffering ...

I have to try and memorise one or two things ...
You see, it's like this: 'a' sounds like 'r' to me, and the Dutch 'r' involves vibrating my tongue and rrrrrrrrrolling the 'r' out of my mouth.

'I' is an 'e' for me, and a Dutch 'e' is an 'a'.
'G' is a 'hee', and 'h' is an exhalation of air that creates the 'haa' sound.
'K' sounds like 'car', and 'q' sounds like 'coo'.
"u' involves me pursing my lips, pretending to blow someone a kiss then saying 'uu' while my lips are still kiss-shaped.
'Z' has a t on the end of the sound ... like this: 'zet',
and v become 'vay' and 'w' become 'way',
y is ipsilon.

Back in class, things became slightly desperate when it came time for the oral spelling test, and had to write down a word that used 27 of these torturous letters ... schrijfvaardigheidstraining ... meaning 'writing ability training'.

I picked up more than 80% on my first test, but was almost completely destroyed by 'i', 'e' and 'a' ... it seems my vowel pronunciation may finally need a little fine tuning ... I never believed it until now.

Gert had to smile when he pointed out how many of the problematic letters my name contains ... he's offered to help me practise with oral quizzes.

One Dark (And Not Quite Stormy) Night (November 10, 2005)

Sitting in the darkened foyer of an office building on Grote Markt, Antwerpen, waiting for my ride home after Dutch lessons, I began noting my surroundings. There was a flickering light that produced almost nothing, and the poorly-closing locked doors created a wind tunnel scream, not unlike the rise and fall of tortured souls. Then out in the darkness the bells of Onze Lieve Vrouw Kathedraal began chiming ... a pretty tinkling tune that heralds the arrival of the heavier chimes on the hour ... and it occured to me, that this empty foyer was surely the perfect setting for a movie of urban horrors and haunting.

I had just walked through the deserted Antwerpen alleyways and streets that surround the square, and had been struck by the fact that the city was all but deserted at six on this cold Autumn night.

But despite how it reads, there was nothing eerie or unfriendly about walking alone; I had peered into warmly-lit pubs and restaurants as I passed by and there had been a sense of looking in at people at ease in those places... they seemed like people relaxing in their own homes.

Loneliness was therefore a condition of choice, not something imposed on me. At any moment, I could have stepped in out of the cold, and immediately been absorbed into the family of man ... a nice illusion I thought, as France's riots and European immigrant woes came to mind.

The 2001 Lonely Planet claims that Antwerpen 'has some 4000 pubs and cafes' ... the number seems excessive, but perhaps it is true ... it has to be, doesn't it, and anyway, walking to Grote Markt, in the old part of the city, there's no lack of places to drink and eat.

Tonight, Antwerpen was a city of rain-darkened cobblestones and empty alleyways; of warmly-lit pubs and welcoming restaurants ... and I have enough knowledge of place to add a few really good bookshops to what was visibly welcoming ... and somehow, all of it combined to produce a feeling that this Kiwi might just have found a place she could call home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Snorting Icing Sugar In Antwerpen (October 18, 2005)

This is a story about a Belgian/Dutch treat called 'Smoutebol' by the Belgians and 'Oliebol' by the Dutch, now to be known as 'a trap for innocent Kiwis' in English.

Gert and I went wandering on Sunday. We had a day to ourselves, and wanted to enjoy it. We caught the No. 11 tram to the city (Tram 24 should disappear from this site as I avoid it), and got off in the city centre.

The first big victory was locating a 'new' International Magazine shop. I just might have had words with an incredibly rude woman at the Magazine shop we were using ... sigh.

So I was happiness-filled, but then the gods decided to heap more good things upon us, and caused Gert to remember the 'Provence, Alpes, Cote d'Azur' tourism people were in the city, at the end of their 2 week promotion. It was the presence of the Camargue horses in Grote Markt that reminded him actually. We 'trotted' off to the French market, along with so many other Antwerpens on that very warm October day, but due to the heat and the crush of people, we didn't stay long ... but how nice it was to be amongst exquisite soap, wine and olive displays and stalls.

And then we come to the Smoutebol feast. Antwerpenites intrigue me, they have that European thing going ... confident, well-dressed, (or confidently dressed as they please - which is quite different to the first. I feel at home on city streets), and so when I first saw them eating their famous waffles out on the streets I was somehow surprised. In the same way I had been surprised by the large number of older couples holding hands openly as they walked ... street eating isn't really something that I recall Kiwis doing in big numbers.

There are waffle places everywhere ... little hole-in-the-wall operations, very clean, bright and smelling so good, and you can buy yourself a hot waffle, a chocolate or cream-covered waffle, whenever the need overcomes you, or you are overcome by the greed-need from the scent given off by waffles cooking.

Smoutebol is something else. They drop balls of a doughnut-like dough into hot fat and leave them to cook. The dough balls puff up into little round balls, and a paper cone is prepared for them. They pour them in, and they're a good size ... hmmm, about 8cms, if you were measuring their height, and then they are absoloutely drowned in icing sugar.

Now, imagine a slight breeze, 8 very hot Smoutebollen (that Gert has led me to believe must be eaten while still hot, a claim I'm suspicious of), and a ton of icing sugar which creates a falling shower of sugar that you can't escape. We stood on the main shopping street, every bite burning my mouth and, covering my clothes and face in a sprinkling of icing sugar ...

I need to research them ... I'll let you know what's possible in the days ahead

Christmas In Belgium

It's early, I know, but I'm all aquiver about celebrating my first serious Christmas in two years. Christmas things are beginning to be talked about here, and there are things I needed to learn about the Belgian celebrations.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the family will gather and feast on December 25, with gifts for the adults however, the children receive their gifts from St Nicholas (or Sint Nikolaas) on December 6, and he is assisted in the delivery by Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet which is the Dutch name for the Moorish helper who travels with St. Nicholas).

The festivities really begin in November, with St Nicholas and his helpers checking up on the children who come to see him, by looking in his big book of information that tells him which children have been good and done their best through the year. They call this the Sinterklaas season and it's really a children's festival, with December 6 being childrens day.

On the evening of December 5th, the children put their shoes or small baskets on the hearth or beside the door, with carrots, turnips and a sugar lump for St Nicholaas' horse, believing that he rides over the rooftops, dropping his gifts down the chimneys - or that he leads a donkey laden with baskets full of treats and toys for children.

In the morning, they find that their shoes have been filled with Speculoos cookies (Dutch spiced cookies, often made in the shape of Sinterklaas and Piet, traditionally served on St. Nicholas Day), oranges, marzipan and toys. The treats are meant to be shared and not hoarded. Bad children, of which there are none, would find twigs instead of gifts.

However, this is only one version ... another version emerges from Turkey ... read on:

Saint Nicholas wasthe Bishop of Myra. His feast Day is celebrated onDecember 6, and he is the patron of: seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers, jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, robbers and especially - children.
The character of Santa Claus is copied from the life of a real person, a saint named Saint Nicholas. The name 'Saint Nicholas' even sounds like 'San-ta claus,' especially in the Dutch language. The Dutch veneration of 'Sinter Klaus' was brought to North America with the Dutch settlers and eventually became the story of Santa Claus that everyone knows.
Saint Nicholas, like St. Wenceslaus and St. Lucy, was a saint. He was the bishop of a city named Myra in Turkey in the early part of the 4thcentury. His feast day is December 6th because he died on December 6 or 7 in the middle of the fourth century. Feast days celebrate the entry of the saint's soul into Heaven.

The most famous story told about St. Nicholas has to do with three young sisters who were very poor. Their parents were so poor that they did not have enough money for the daughters to get married. Every young girl needed money to pay for the wedding and to set up house for themselves. Nicholas heard about this family and wanted to help them, but he did not want anyone to know that he was the one who was helping them.

The story is told in a few different ways. In one version, he climbed up on their roof three nights in a row and threw gold coins down their chimney so that they would land in the girls' stockings, which had been hung by the fire to dry. After two of his daughters had been able to marry because of the money mysteriously appearing in their stockings, the father was determined to find out who was helping them, so he hid behind the chimney the next night. Along came Bishop Nicholas with another bag of money. When he was discovered, he asked the father not to tell anyone else, but the father wanted everyone to know what a good and generous man the Bishop Nicholas was, so he told everyone he knew. That is how we have the story and the tradition of stocking full of gifts today.

If you want to read more, I will leave you with this http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19981101/SAINTS/nicholas.htm The detail is fascinating, and quite unlike the stories I heard about Christmas back in New Zealand.

Outings and Odd Things On Tram 24 (October 13, 2005)

It's been an exciting week, outings and odd things... or so it seems. Monday was a sleepy day, surely a flu of some kind, (no, it's not an age thing). I slept, slept, and then slept again ... maybe it was a growth spurt.

Tuesday was the day I finally met the Canadian expat photographer/writer, living here in Belgium. Her journey to Antwerpen was a long. unexpectedly winding, with our text messaging, while she was en route, reaching a cresendo with a message that the train from Brussels was experiencing 'technical difficulties'. The Belgians are a polite race, so she was a little concerned about the actual translation of 'technical problems' ...

We met in Central Station, the Crystal Palace-like railway station in downtown Antwerpen, and went wandering. Most of you know that I am, occasionally, geographically inept. As it happens, I had been lost in the minutes before meeting her ... wandering into a magazine store, then doing what I did to Diede in Istanbul, and walking out, turning back in the direction I'd just come.

Unfortunately, I got lost after meeting her too. Mortifying ... I was looking for the river, but we were talking ... so I phoned Gert and gave him one or two locaters, and asked where we were. He knew, but by then the Canuck had spotted the Cathedral tower (a mere 123 metres)... so we trotted off to Grote Markt for lunch.

However, it was good day out, much talking, a little beer and a plan to hit the zoo with the cameras next week ... then the world, of course.

Tuesday night was the night of the red wine incident ... a rather nice night, that only needs to be mentioned for my own personal rememberance of a nice Australian wine - that celebratory one.

Wednesday ... due to the excessive nature of the Tuesday night of the wine incident, I moved rather slowly however, I decided that I would feel better if I stepped out into the 20+oC sunshine and kept my usual lunchtime appointment with Gert at the Port.

Good lord ... and thus began the 'Adventures of Tram 24'.

So I was feeling a little bit seedy when I sat down, then the chap in front of me turned round and eyeballed me. I pretended I hadn't seen him, and continued to look at the window in my calm Kiwi way, which was no mean feat, he was definately in my personal space.

That was the first clue that all was not well in his own private world, but I gave him the benefit of a doubt, and imagined he might just be a popular man in the community since he was waving to everyone, but no, he waved at every tram and bus that we passed, and greeted each school child with a strange sounding 'Hello' as they passed by. (School finishes at lunchtime on a Wednesday). He would occasionally let out the most alarming grunts and groans ... which had the students in quiet hysterics... so it was interesting, but not the worst.

The worst arrived in the form of the dreadful old man who had all but taken me by the throat (okay, I'm exaggerating) and asked me to contribute to the little plastic container of money he was shaking in front of me, the last time we'd 'met' on Tram 24. I didn't have the Dutch, he didn't have English, but I only had 1 euro on me that time, and that was my tram ticket home ...

Last time, he had become belligerant and lifted his shirt, and as his big belly spilled out, threatening to engulf me, I noticed it was covered in something like burns ... I believe that was the point he was making.

I was ready this time, and fragile, I whipped my 1 euro out so fast he was stunned and shambled off to harass other passengers.

Lesson ... avoid Tram 24 at 12.30 on a Wednesday.

Lunch was lovely, and Gert suggested I take the scenic walk back to the tram ... hah! Being geographically inept meant that I walked many more miles than were strictly necessary ... he didn't believe the things that I found on my route, and wouldn't believe that I found myself in a pretty square ... okay, so it's true, I didn't follow his directions ... the ones that went something along the lines of only turn left when there's a choice, and keep your shadow behind you'.

It was 4pm before I staggered in the door, rested then realised I felt vaguely purified. I spent the next couple of hours cleaning the apartment, and was such a virtuous wee soul over dinner that night. I do like applause when I work well.

I'm addicted to Eastenders here. I never watched it in New Zealand, then in Turkey all of us expats were slowly caught in its web. Moving countries creates complications you can't imagine ... I might not have come here if I'd known. I missed a large chunk of Eastend life, and Holby City became all but unrecognisable, rotten even. I think there are 3 originals left, and well ... it's just odd and bad now. I just relocated E.R. and Suzanna and Trinny pop up in 'What Not to Wear' every now and again. I spent some time with Oprah ... but I've mostly moved on, but still enjoy BBC and CNN, as per Turkey.

Today ... well I had a guest. The Canuck feels comfortable enough to mock me with 'Was it a real person though?' and I have to confess, while real, I did have to pay him. He'd come in to do the annual check on the heating system in the apartment. He spoke English, and asked me if I came from England. I paid him 53.42 euro and he left after 15 minutes of working on the water heating thingy in the laundry.

I've studied EU politics today, some Syrian news, and researched information about the religion called Alawi. I talked to the Canadian on MSN, and she introduced me to Canadian National Radio online, which is grand although I fear I'll be saying 'aboot' (instead of about) within weeks (which may or may not be considered an improvement on my NZ accent - hush in the cheap seats, Jason Windes).

Does anyone know if NZ's National Radio is online? I've looked and I can't work it out.
Tonight, it's the Shrimp Rissotto by Gert. Yay! And tomorrow ... well, I won't touch that yet, it's material for future mind-bogglingly interesting blogs.

Pastinaken and Zoete Aardappel (October 3, 2005)

And you wonder ... 'What?'

I was more fortunate, I saw the vegetable, rather than reading the names - Parsnip and Kumara (sweet potato) in Dutch.

The Belgian and Dutch supermarkets have become a source of delight and wonderment, or so it must seem for those reading my blogs but ... can you imagine, Gert had never heard of or tasted either vegetable. Back in my world, they were food from my childhood.

We were wandering the Delhaize supermarket, choosing potatoes big enough to bake, when I spotted my beloved Kumara. I leapt about, mostly on the inside of course, and tried to explain them to Gert.

Over dinner, as with everything I comment on, I might have said something along the lines of ... "Well, I think they taste better in New Zealand, but then again, there's less pollution and no genetic engineering Downunder.' (I suspect I'm pushing the limits of 'endearing' with this kind of thing, but one must find one's limits). No matter, they are good here - we've roasted them twice now.

I went on in the days following, reminiscing about parsnips, so surprised that Gert had never heard of them either... they mash potatoes and carrots together, and I said 'Well!', with my eyes full of mischief, (or so I was told) ... 'in New Zealand, we mash carrots and parsnips together actually, and that's so good' (the unspoken implication being, of course, that the NZ way is the better way).

Life goes on, and we were back in the Netherlands the other day. And after a walk out on the Heath, amongst all the Heather, we stopped in at a Dutch supermarket and found Parsnips too ...

Mmmm, and I might have tested our love with 'Oh my god, these are so small! Dad's parsnip have shoots growing off them that are as big as an entire parsnip here ...'

Gert is so patient, and so good to me ...
We roasted the Parsnips, and the next night we mashed them with carrots ...
It's the small things sometimes.

Logic and Language Courses (September 29, 2005)

I loved this quote from Colin Monteath's book 'Under A Sheltering Sky': Chance encounters change lives. Close friends, passing aquaintances and even characters who emerge from old books often leave footprints across my heart. By opening mysterious doors, the influence of others has inadvertently altered the direction of my life.

Today has been about other things. At 9am, I hopped on the No. 24 tram, hoping I would find 'Drink', the tram stop that would lead me to De Shelter, where I would be assessed re: which Dutch language course I would attend.

I found it, stepped off the tram, walked along Turnhoutsebaan, turned right onto Bakkerstraat and then right onto Langstraat ... De Shelter, Langstraat 102 was my destination. Remarkably, I found it. Well, not straight away. I did surprise a man eating his breakfast at his desk, but when he could speak again, he explained that I had to follow the yellow footprints through the complex to the office I was heading to ... but of course.

Forms filled, I was taken upstairs for a psychology test in logic ... I'll wait while some of you laugh imagining it ... in the time spent waiting, I thought 'Logic, superb ... my BA in Literature is just what I need to get me through this one'.

Finally we were a roomful ... Turks, Morrocans, Africans, some Eastern Europeans, and me ... and guess what, I was the first one finished the test ... with 45/48 which is a lovely 94%.

This meant that they offered me a place in an intensive university course ... I would be fluent in Dutch (Nederlands really) in two and half months, full-time university for a cool 400 euro. Intensive study? Hmmmm ... fluent in two months ... I wasn't so sure my mind worked like that.
The other offer, which they thought might bore me was, a 20euro 3 month course with any and everyone ... and the possibility of slow learners. Hah, somehow, I had disguised myself as a high flyer. Sigh, those who experienced my Turkish will never believe it. After two years in Istanbul, I had developed a technique of shrugging my shoulders, and saying, with a pained smile, 'Yeni yabanci' meaning new foreigner ... more or less.

So I paid the 20 euro, and signed up for a course that begins 29 October ...

The good news is that my 'school' is near Gert's work, so I have class 4 days a week, from 2-5, then get a ride home with this Belgian who lured me over here.

I returned home, making a stop at the supermarket, finding a celebratory Lindemans Bin 50, Shiraz 2004. Celebrating what ... well, narrowly avoiding the intensive two and a half months to fluency course, of course.

Things That I Miss About Istanbul ... (September 27, 2005)

Ex-collegue and American Istanbul-based friend, Jason Windes (married to Beste, as seen in the photograph here), recently started up a website project between Sisli Terakki (where I taught last year) and a school over in the U.S. He asked me to write a blog on the site, and although I'm already writing here, the tone is different, as is the audience, so I agreed. I finished one last night, and decided to post it here too...

I've been working on my own personal blog, adding photos, and writing small pieces that catch family and friends up with my life over here ... and as I looked through the photos I collected over the two years I was an Istanbul resident, it made me think of the things that I miss.

The people, the friends that I made, collegues I worked with, and students (oddly enough).
Being an immigrant; an expatriate, means that you are an outsider, and a different place in society opens up to you. You enter worlds that you never dreamed existed and the kindness of the strangers was, and is, stunning sometimes. I miss the warmth and generosity of the people of Istanbul.

I miss the traffic ... you can doubt me but it's the psychology of it. They have one or two truly terrifying road rules over here in Belgium, making me completely aware that I grew up in a country that drives on the other side of the road. In Istanbul, I didn't feel it in quite the same ways, and over time I came to trust the chaos ... I noticed an Istanbul driver is mostly capable of stopping quickly. For this New Zealander, the interplay between driver and pedestrian seemed like a ballet; a kind of dance that took my breath during my early days in the city. I watched as people walked casually towards death, or so it seemed, between cars all over Istanbul.

I miss the Bosphorous; I loved leaving from Besiktas and riding over to Kadikoy on the big old ferry boats. Moving between continents, watching Galata Tower and Topkapi Palace slide by on those hot summer days, or wrapped up warm in the winter, buying a salep to drink.

I miss the smell of fish cooking down at Eminonu and in the Fish Market up in Taksim; the fishermen on the bridge, and the view from Galata Tower - my favourite vantage point out over the city.

Hmmm Haghia Sophia with the sun on her walls; the carpet and leather salesmen who always promised that I 'didn't have to buy ... they were only inviting me to drink cay with them'. I miss the waiters who always smiled, even if they were sad on the inside ... Belgian waiters are so different, so haughty, as if they are PhD students, just earning some money to study.

I miss the students I taught, and their outraged 'What did I do?' Ahh, the joys of being a Yabanci English teacher ... but all teachers seem to say the same things in every country, and perhaps we all miss the students who pass through our lives.

I miss the sound of Turkish ... everyone knows I was a miserable student of language, but God is truly punishing me now. Instead of 'seni seviyorum', it's 'ik hou heel erg veel van jou' ... laugh all you want, I can if I look at it from a certain angle but it's a difficult language. My mouth can't believe what I'm asking it to do sometimes, and I have to learn Dutch here ... there's no negotiation. Sigh, and they're all fluent in about 29 languages, or so it seems.

I miss the food ... Iskender, Borek, Doner and Beste's mum's cooking.

I miss the way I could wander through time ... passing from post-modern Levent to the ancient places in Sultanahmet.

And I miss the call to prayer ... I never got tired of it.

Having written all this, I do love my new life. I was lucky to meet my Belgian man, and before I moved over here, he was approved of by a few of my Istanbul friends, so it's okay ... he received the Turkish and American seals of approval, but imagine, I recently applied for a long stay visa, and I had to smile about going through the process ... how can they even dream that I am here for any reason other than love. I'm a New Zealander who loves her home country, and I've just spent 2 years living in Istanbul ... surely it's clear that I've just come from two of the most incredible places on the planet. I would tell them, laughing, if they asked me ... 'I'm only here for the man, thank you'.

Memorable Flights (September 26, 2005)

This blog entry is about flights that were made memorable by their potential for disasterous endings.

Snowstorms, and my arrivals and departures from Istanbul, seemed destined to be linked. In 2003, I had to watch from my balcony which, for good or for bad, overlooked Ataturk International Airport ... wringing my hands as I waited for the foot of snow to melt enough for me to fly out to New Zealand. If I missed my flight due to snow ... there was a mess of connections to recover, but the handwringing won out, and my Singapore Airlines flight prepared to taxi as they were melting the last of the ice on the runway.

I flew into summer in New Zealand, although Dunedin ... capricious little weather twin of Antwerpen, gifted me two out of ten days of sunshine. I left with about $25 NZ in my wallet, and no credit card. It had vanished in fairly mysterious circumstances, for which I now blame my Turkish kitten ... another story.

Courtesy of friends in Istanbul, I knew I was racing a snowstorm back. The city had already made preparations to close down ... my arrival window was a small one, since the flight from NZ to Turkey takes 23 hours of flight time, then there are stopover hours. $25 wasn't going to do much if I was stranded in Singapore, and although I had good travel insurance, I didn't want to know if it worked on a 'you send us the costs you incurred while waiting for your destination airport to open again' ...

I did it. The plane landed, I raced home, bought extra water, food ... I had money, it just couldn't be accessed outside Turkey. Finally, I fell on the bed, almost comatose. The snow started to fall heavily, as predicted and lo! the guy above me started lifting his floor tiles, one-by-one, with some kind of drill. Clearly he had his snowbound itinery. I spent another week in the apartment, just waiting for the big snowdrifts to thaw again.

I popped over to Belgium, January 2005. I thought I might die of the cold ... and mentioned it more than once, perhaps mockingly. It seemed bone-chilling, and I had flown in from Istanbul. How I complained ...

I was more than halfway into the flight back to Istanbul, when a weather report indicated that it might be snowing there. I stopped a hostess, and he said 'Oh yes, we're not sure we'll be able to land' so casually that I felt a little dramatic for thinking 'WELL CHRIST, WHAT DO WE DO IF WE CAN'T LAND???'

We circled Istanbul for some time, and I knew we were circling however, being a buttoned-up Kiwi, I was silently tense, keeping my fear to myself, trying not to think about how cold the Marmara Sea would be ... finally, we landed, and the spontaneous round of applause let me know that all those Turks had been pretty damn well buttoned up too.

The snow was so deep that we parked out on the runway, and buses came out to us. I do believe we were one of the last planes to land that day ... I never did find out where planes that fail to land go though.

The taxi driver who got me back through the city to Mecidiyekoy didn't actually allow any kind of calm to wash over me after my safe touchdown. No no no ... he was sweet, but his pessimism about whether we would actually reach home, was unsettling. He pointed out a number of slightly wrecked cars along the way, those that had slid on ice into the dividing barrier on the motorway ...

My money was about 5kms away, in the bank, through snowdrifts 2-3 feet deep, so I hunkered down, had another week off and ate the Belgian gift chocolates I bought home ... cleaning out the freezer, remembering, in time, to fill up spare bottles for when the water went off.

I was home.

24 Hours in Antwerpen (September 25, 2005)

It's been a busy old weekend ...

Friday night I fretted while working out what to wear to the Alderman's Dance.
(An Alderman: a kind of city executive, next in status to a Mayor. Antwerpen has 1 Mayor and 10 Aldermen) This particular Alderman is responsible for tourism, spatial planning, public works, urban development and the economy in the city Antwerpen. A politician elected to the position... I'm still learning.

There were probably about 500 guests; interesting people from the Mayor of Antwerpen to the neighbours around the dance tent ... it was a nice slice of city life and I had a lovely time.

One of the things about moving to this world has been learning to understand the structures and circles my Belgian man moves in. The dance clarified some of it; the boat launch the next day helped some more.

The boat launch was part of a city project that gives the unemployed, and sometimes supposedly unemployable, practical job training and experience as they work on restoring an old Klipperaak (Clipper)that carried cargo on the inland river systems. The launch coincided with a gathering of steamships here in the port, so some were on hand, 'welcoming' the 'Trotter' as she entered the water. It was quite oddly special to watch.

In Istanbul, I was often observed ... I was clearly a foreigner and sometimes it made me feel incredibly visible, and the result of that was that it was rare for me to freely move about with my camera, working unseen to capture people relaxed and themselves. Here, I slip into the crowd, and I have my invisibility back. I loved being out amongst everyone on Saturday, and I'm kind of hopeful about some of the photos I took ...

So you see it, it's a different world, and once again (just as in Turkey), sometimes I feel like Alice, having just slipped down the rabbit hole to take tea with some people I'm getting to know.

If you feel like visiting the city of Antwerpen via the internet, this is a good site ... http://www.visitantwerp.be/indexuk.html

A Little Istanbul Thing ... (September, 200)

This morning, we picked up a traditional Belgian breakfast from the bakery - pistolets (a French word for small white crusty bread buns), and a koffie koeken each (which is a general name for the selection of sweet pastries they here - our pastry of choice is a custard-filled soft-pastry with chocolate icing) Ahhh, the nightmare of fitting into a new culture.

Gert and I ate, then read the papers on this sunny Sunday morning in Antwerpen.I opened my New York Times, courtesy of the internet, and was delighted to find an article on Istanbul in the travel section. I kind of liked it, so I posted it here, but I'm an outsider looking in; a Kiwi who fell in love with Istanbul. I'll put the link here, but I think you have to sign up (for free) to read it.


Coincidence (September 22, 2005)

Autumn is slipping in Antwerpen's door ... just as winter slips out another door in New Zealand, slamming it, in the form of one final, unexpected snowstorm. Fiona had written of lambs being born up at her place in Dunedin, and every one else was talking of warm temperatures and an early Spring. Meanwhile, Antwerpen is still getting 20oC during the day, but the nights are cool, and there's less heat in the sun now.

I'm all out of Vegemite here, but I did find some odd, almost runny Marmite in a supermarket. I guess it's the British version. Mmmm, it will be good to get home one day and stock up on things that I didn't know I would miss.

Like the Turks, Dutch and Americans, my toast spread of choice is avoided by Belgians. Everyone seems to think I'm trying to poison them ... choosing not to believe me when I explain we were given little Vegemite 'soldier' sandwiches as a first solid meal after an illness.

I had a book incident yesterday ... De Slegte is a rather superb secondhand bookshop here, and I was there, after meeting Gert for lunch at the Port. I found Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar', I'd been curious about since writing an essay on it ...

I wandered downstairs and was browsing the shelves, when suddenly, Colin Monteath's name leapt out from a book spine on the top shelf. His coffee table-sized book - 'Under A Sheltering Sky - journeys to mountain heartlands' ...was there above me.

I knew Colin from my days when I was studying NZ climbing literature and interviewing climbers for my book. He owns and runs a rather spectacular photo library back in NZ - http://www.hedgehoghouse.com , he's also a climber, skier and Antartic expert.

Last time I was home, I sold most of my collection of climbing books to him, as he also runs a small secondhand climbing book business ... some of you might know the story that follows, but this is what happened.

During my first year in Istanbul, I was online one day and met up with a guy I mistook for a NZer. It was his nickname that created the confusion. We talked, and it turned out he was a Pakistani climber, and the more he talked, the more I realised that I had read all around his international climbing world. He runs a trekking company, and is one of Pakistan's top climbers.

I flew back to NZ last August, and made the decision to start getting rid of some of the library I'd left in storage. I had, at least, 400 books being stored all over the place. I began with my climbing collection and that's how I met up with Colin again. We went through my books, then wandered through his collection. He had a book that was a collection of essays by top international climbers ... he'd found it in a bookshop nearby, and that it was only $25nz.

I left, just on shop closing time, raced off and with the last of my cash bought the last copy of the book ... they were closing the doors as I ran in. I was delighted, and took it as another piece of hand luggage.

But more about Colin. He'd just come back from a trip to the base camp of K2, in Pakistan. He and a team had skiied in, pulling sleds behind them. I mentioned the Pakistani climber I'd befriended, and he laughed ... he often used his trekking company to organise his trips and knew him well.

Later, I was standing in the check-in queue at Christchurch Airport, and a rather lovely Brit started talking to me. We agreed to meet for coffee, as we were catching the same flight as far as Singapore. He'd been living in Queenstown for some time, was a skier, and was heading over to France for his sister's wedding. It was the skiing that sparked the connection. I mentioned having seen Colin, and the Brit said that two of his Queenstown flatmates had just come back from a trip a trip to K2 with Coline, he'd already seen the photographs ... sometimes, its a very small world don't you think.

And writing of spectacular photographers. I'm not sure I put a link to Dave's site anywhere. David Wall is one of New Zealand's top photographers ... he has an incredible photo library online, and you can wander in it, checking out NZ, region by region, or by theme. He also has collections of photos from Africa, Australia, and Fiji. He has had a number of books published, and regularly appears on the cover of, and in, Lonely Planet Guidebooks. http://www.davidwallphoto.com/gallery.asp

Kriek and Elevators (September 19, 2005)

I have a new love; it's called Kriek and it's a cherry flavoured beer. It tastes like a rather nice cough mixture I used to enjoy in my childhood, but better, probably due to the bubbles and the fact that it's not cough mixture.

Gert and I have developed a little Sunday routine (sigh, routine - he's ruining me). We catch the tram to the city, wander the streets for a while before visiting the international magazine shop and buying a big fat old weekend Observer newspaper. We pop next door, to the old Jazz pub called 'Muze', to read and drink Belgian beer. It's experimental work, of course. .. for science. And, of course, I want to see if my love for the Kriek can be maintained over the winter, or if it is merely a summer thing ... and then there is the endless scientific experimentation to be done with the 100s of good Belgian beers.

Today has been a day spent indoors and studying .. the elevator is broken, and that's worse than you can imagine. The stairwell seems more seriously vertical than anything excluding the belltower in Damme. It might be a dietary hallucination, but I think I can hear the repairman out in the elevator shaft, so I've put off the supermarket walk in the hope I can glide effortlessly back to our top floor apartment.

My last Istanbul apartment stairwell look more 'artistic' than sturdy. I wish I had photographed it ... it was almost beautiful in its fragility. Ugly fragility, but fragile all the same. Second floor living was definately simpler.

The Haka and Skype ... (September 17,2005)


'The American-born Mahuika, a wide receiver and kick returner for the Cougars, led the haka in the opening game of the season, against Boston College, in front of 60,000 fans. The team were barred from eyeballing the opposing side by officials concerned that the high-adrenalin show could lead to a pre-match punch-up.'

Imagine it ...?

Jessie and I watched the New Zealand election count together last night ... using a website and my computer phone. Oh, for those of you interested in cheap/free overseas phone calls, visit http://www.skype.com

A call on it costs almost 2cents per minute, and it's free if you both have skype downloaded (the download is also free). It's 2 cents for popular locations like NZ, Australia, England, America, Belgium etc ...and places like Turkey, with less computer traffic, are about 8 cents per minute, but still free if you both have the programme.

We use a headset ,and as some of you will know, the system is as good as an international phone call, and can call computer to computer, or computer to phone

All Is In Process (September 16, 2005)

I am waiting ... for my long term stay visa, for my appointment with the people who select the language school best suited to my personal needs and who ascertain whether I need to attend the socio-cultural integration classes ... a series of visits to libraries, museums and other important sites. I like the idea of it. It's a 2 hour interview 29 September.

Meanwhile, winter struck violently today, or so it seemed however, I might be exaggerating. I kick-started ye olde soup of long-suffering and diet. It's nasty in the beginning, yet highly effective. In Istanbul, towards the end of my intensely satisfying work with the young (and machevillian) students under my care, I came to rely on various sugar-filled, caffeine-loaded forms of sustenance. Now comes the time when I break their hold over me ... perhaps demonic cleansing just might be simpler to live with.

The winter exaggeration comment was in reference to the fact my body temperature seems to drop about 10oC when I go through sugar withdrawal however, I have a need to be slyph-like, so here I am, sucking back a desperately required coffee as I write this.

My flights home are all altered ... open until August 2nd, 2006 ... one year after my original booking. Actually, I had a wee incident yesterday, with regard to the ticket changes. I have notes all over my desk, to-do lists etc ... and I phoned up Singapore Airlines, to confirm changing my flight. After a couple of minutes of frustration on both ends of the phone, it became clear that Turkish Airlines couldn't help me ... mmm, the problem of using scraps of paper to note down phone numbers. The grumpy missy at Turkish Airlines finally laughed when I suggested she must have all kinds of idiots phoning her and that it seemed that I was today's idiot. When you phone the right airline company, things go so much more smoothly ...

I don't think I've written anything about the dogs here. They're allowed everywhere, on the trams, in shops and pubs ... simply everywhere. And oddly enough, if you don't treat dog and dog owners as if they are criminals they repay you by behaving. There's no problem with poo on the streets, and I've yet to see a dog behaving badly. A pet peeve of mine, as I recall my dog and I often felt hounded out of Dunedin city by a city council focused on dogs, and ever-decreasing dog space.

I'm slowly locating pubs, restaurants, bookshops, tours and all manner of things for those of you who might wander this way. Imagine the dreary research ... I do expect to be frantically busy with work by January (at the latest), so this is a good thing to be doing with my time.

When I first flew in from Istanbul, I couldn't sit down without falling asleep, and used to slip back to bed after Gert went to work and sleep until lunchtime. I'm through that phase, now it's the sugar ...

Brugge, Damme and Vegemite (September 11, 2005)

With my trip home becoming imminent, (then being cancelled, then being 'back on', then postponed for a year), Gert and I went wandering in Belgium. I had wanted to see the much talked about Bruges, and being the man that he is, he took a few days off work to wander with me.

Weather in Antwerpen, in Belgium really, could be called capricious. One can never quite count on anything more than the fact that the hot weather won't go on endlessly ... in fact, 2 or 3 days of heat has been rather exciting. Clever old me, I seem to have discovered one of the only spots in the world that just might have a climate like Dunedin ...

Bruges ... we hit the E34 early and it was fascinating for me to study the 'country of origin' badges on the back of the many trucks on the road ... France, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, etc ...

The Port of Antwerpen is the second largest port in Europe; it's one of the 10 largest ports in the world and it's incredibly productive ... it covers some 13,500 hectares ... just 'slightly' larger than our great Port of Otago (and I have a bridge to sell you) hence the massive european truck flow on the roads. Well okay, the port of Rotterdam might contribute to this as well.

But back on the road to Damme ... I could have been in New Zealand, with sheep and cows grazing in the paddocks (fields), in countryside that looked remarkably like the Taieri Plains, lacking the surrounding hills, of course.

Damme started to take shape back in 1180, and unbelievably, it was once a 'dynamic transhipment port'. Today it is a sleepy village of 11,000 people, set next to a picturesque canal that takes one to Bruges.

The highlight was the 'Church of Our Lady'. The oldest section dates back to 1225, but the present church is newer, only built in the 14th century ...

If one isn't thinking, one can climb the 43 metre high tower, though the 'pigeon loft', which had me hoping that Bird Flu hadn't made inroads into Europe via migrating geese (BBC has a lot to answer for, putting thoughts like that in my head).

In Rome, I climbed a tower too, and made my way up the uncountable steps of St Peter's Basiilica ... to 119m, for an unrivalled view out over the city of Roma. 43 metres is high enough for the view out over Damme. It's peaceful there, I can't imagine much changing if we'd gone higher.

You too, can wander in Damme: http://www.vvvdamme.be/ (in Dutch).

Needless to say, we moved on ... not disappointed, just ready for the more heady delights of Bruges. It's a unique little town, dominated by architecture from the 15th,16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They told us that it had 'an unsurpassed flowering during the Middle Ages'; and coins from careless 9th century Vikings had been found there, indicating a long history. They had a golden age in the 14th century, then globalisation and market forces hit home, and they lost a lot of their cloth industry to a competitive foreign market... imagine that.

Anyway, today it lures people in with its authentic medieval atmosphere. It is known as the 'Venice of the North', so we took a boat ride round the canals, and were both surprised to find ourselves enjoying something so touristy, but Bruges is a bit special.

There are stories attached to everything, whether it be a bridge, a building, or a window. They even have one of Michaelangelo's statues, donated to a church there back in 1514 ... rumoured to be one of the only sculptures to leave Italy in Michaelangelo's lifetime.

And Bruges is a town of swans, frightening but true however, no viscious attacks were carried out on my person, so I can only assume that these swans have a sense of decorum with regard to their role in Bruges.

There is a 'swan' legend ... Maximillian of Austria wanted to perpetuate the memory of a bailiff named Peter Lanckhals (long neck = Lanckhals), who was murdered there in 1488, so Maxmillian punished the inhabitants of Bruges by forcing them to keep the long-necked swans until the end of time.

We wandered into a free art exhibition ... here's the website, if you want a slice of the 'art scene' in Bruges. http://www.artgalleryartifex.be/

The website for Brugge is http://www.brugge.be/internet/en/index.htm

Saving the best to last, and in my defense, Vegemite is a New Zealand childhood thing ... Gert and I were strolling through the corridors of the Hospital of St John, the oldest written source from it dates back to 1181, when we happened upon an 'Australian Shop'. Startling stuff, but even better, I located a wee jar of Vegemite for a mere 1.50euro! This is an incredible price when you check out the http://www.homesick-kiwi.com/
site, and find that a 445g jar of Vegemite costs 5.90nz PLUS 35.86nz dollars for postage. Suddenly Vegemite is 41.76, and quite frankly, it's simple to do without at that price.

Actually, as an aside, that homesick kiwi site made me homesick ... and then sicker still when I realised the items were rather pricey. I'm not sure it's a good thing.

But enough from me .. tot ziens.

Fireworks, Caviar and Giants (August 2005)

Every year, on the first weekend of September, Liberation Day is celebrated here in Antwerpen. They are celebrating their liberation from German occupation during the Second World War. The Americans and Canadians are credited as being the main liberators. I guess the Kiwis were elsewhere ...

Gert had a liberation celebration to attend, with partner, so I dressed up and wandered along too. They have some truly lovely parks here, and this celebration took place in the 130 hectare park near the place I call home in these days.

Although the main focus of my university days was literature (clearly with a view to avoiding any high-paying, high-flying career) I did wander into the political arena, most particularly studying European Union type politics, and to my surprise, I loved it.

Fast-forward 3 years, and where does Di find herself ... at a VIP reception in Belgium, moving amongst political parties at a district level. It was a pure delight, talking not only to local politicians, but to other interesting people. And as if that wasn't enough, this 'caviar virgin' had the opportunity to taste this rumoured delight.

Unfortunately, an interesting person came over to talk with us, and my thoughtful appraisal of this new culinary delight was halted. I had to empty my mouth and reply to a question ... 'fishy and buttery' came to mind, but I'll have to try it again one day soon ... for science, and for my ongoing studies into cultural differences the world round.

The fireworks, well ... we had 20 minutes of spectacular display, with music.

Saturday dawned, Gert and I hopped on our trusty black bicycles and headed off to the District Office, where we were taking photographs of some Liberal Democrats for their political newspaper. This event coincided with the Parade of the Giants.

It seems that every town has a giant or two in local legend, and they're celebrated in parades around the country ... For example, Antwerpen legend has it that, back in the beginning of time, the bend in the River Scheldt (the river that the French dirty then send on down here) was in the hands of the giant Antigoon, who demanded a heavy toll from each passing shipmaster. Those who refused to pay had their hand chopped off. A Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, actually saved the day by slaying the giant, chopping off his hand and throwing it into the river. Hence 'Handwerpen' or 'hand throwing'. Hmmm, every place has one, two or more giants ... as you will see.

The giants bemused me, and one gave me a terrible fright, as I looked up from taking a photo to see a giant Huskie dog-thing rolling towards me to shake my hand ... but of course.

Life goes on, here in Antwerpen, and I can't say it's been dull

The Expedition to Ikea, and Other Stuff (August 23, 2005)

I thought it was time for another news update, even though I have no idea if anyone is reading this or not ... it's like playing to a darkened theatre, and there's not really been any applause (or booing). Hmmm, though it could be (god forbid) that this is boring everyone senseless. Anyway ... news from Europe, as seen through the eyes of me.

Tthe latest oddities discovered in the supermarket up the cobblestoned shopping street - crocodile, KANGAROO, and wildebeast ... truly!

But to examine the civilised side of the Belgian coin, I would have to hold up my latest find as something that's kind of fun, if you like buying lots of 'stuff' for your house ... check out http://www.IKEA.be

Gert and I had a lovely time yesterday ... well, not the part where we carried Nikki's new bedroom furniture home in boxes, and much as I love the extra space on the new bookshelf, I did mutter and grumble about helping carry it all in from the Ikea hire van. In through the foyer, into the tiny elevator, then up the spiral staircase to our place on the top floor. The experience was given a slight oh-my-god surreal touch, with Ikea writing the exact weight of every box on the side. Somehow it's simpler to carry heavy things if you don't know the weight of them.

We took the van back, and then dined in their restaurant ... Swedish meatballs were on offer ... Swedish company. Afterwards, we wandered, looking for the small stuff like picture frames, a desklamp, and a feather pillow for me, a muffin tray ... talking of muffin trays, if anyone has my Peach Muffin, Chocolate Cake, or Sultana Cake recipes could they email them over to me. I've remembered I used to cook in another life, the one before Istanbul ... and have already whipped up Pikelets and a few other things that have popped up in my 'recovered memory'.

New music ... http://www.hyperlaunch.com/jamesblunt/ I was quite taken with a song they were playing on tv here, 'You're Beautiful' ... but the more I read of him (a soldier in Sarajevo) the more curious I became so ... I went out and had one of those 'buying accidents'. He's playing on the stereo now.

Belgian weather ... I'm not sure if it's worse than Dunedin weather ... but we get it from England, and it's not been kind lately. We have a hot day, then rain ... or a few hottish days, then rain ... as I write this, it's very grey and drizzling. Yesterday we were out on the balcony, sunbathing post-Ikea frenzy. There's a hint of a tan, but I don't know that it will be anything to skite about ... anyway, you'll be in summer and I'll be having another bizarre Northern Hemisphere Christmas; cold, no summer fruits, the possibility of snow, and strange dates for gift-giving. In Turkey, they celebrated New Years Day, had decorations, feasts and gave gifts. Here, the kids get their gifts about December 6, and there are rumours of every other weekend after that.

And so life goes ...

Bike Paths and Road Rules (July 29,2005)

I have a growing suspicion that I'll be run over one day soon. Growing, because I just moved from Istanbul, the city with traffic second only to Cairo (a claim made by so many cities), believing I was entering a safer world when I arrived here in Belgium. However, as I walked to the supermarket, on a fruitless search for fresh milk, I realised the problems.

1. As we all know,Downunder, the Europeans drive on the wrong side of the road. It's an adjustment I've made but never completely ... I daydream a lot, walk like I breathe, without really thinking.

2. In Istanbul, everyone drove on their brakes, and often used only 1st and 2nd gears ... which meant, they could stop on a dime. Istanbulites drove outside the law; the law of chaos worked on their roads, you took precautions, because anything went. Here in Antwerpen, they observe the rules, and the problem is that I have no idea what they are. I come to a road and look round discretely, look round a lot, look round for quite some time, trying to work which side of the road, which direction, and what is possible from these Antwerpian drivers ... I still have no idea.

3. There are bicycle paths here ... seperated from the footpath by a broken painted line, or different coloured brick, or by nothing in particular. A trap for wandering Kiwis, especially the ones who wander without thought, easily avoiding the road (a trick learnt in childhood), forgetting the bike paths. You can get hit from behind, or if you walk around a corner with the intention of crossing the road ... well, watch out for the bike paths.

4. The trams ... they share the roads with the cars. One almost hit me the other day. In retrospect, I think I was looking the wrong way before I stepped out because the traffic light said I could cross. I'm a bit confused about that.

5. I have lost my hearing. My right ear always had a small problem I could live with. It assisted on long lazy weekends in summer, when I didn't want to hear my Istanbul neighours going off to morning prayers at 5.30am. In Antwerpen, my left ear has fallen silent and I'm sometimes as deaf as a post (diagnosis, probably Grandmotherhood). This complicates the business of me hearing the bicycles and trams as they approach me, leading me to believe that I'm deliberately being targeted for the amusement of those in charge of these demons from transport hell.

I've imagined how it will feel to be hit by a bicycle, I've avoided the tram thoughts ... that would be just nasty. Actually, so would the bicycle ... they don't wear helmets here, probably because of the increased safety created by the very bike paths that are giving me trouble ... perhaps I should be wearing the helmet.

Mmmm, so don't be surprised if you hear that there's been in incident ...

A Kiwi Begins Life in Antwerpen (July 28, 2005)

Somehow, without intending to, I find myself beginning a new life in Belgium. Most people, by the age of 40, have mapped out a respectable route for their life ... not I. It seems I absorbed a little too much Dan Eldon's motto ... the journey is the destination, and perhaps my route is to be the journey, so let's pretend I planned it that way.

Actually, Vincent Van Gough said something a little marvellous too, perhaps I could claim that. I am not an adventurer by choice, but by fate. Mmmm, so check my ear next time you see me. I may knaw it off when learning Dutch gets too much.

I have moved myself, and my excess luggage (220 euro worth - mostly books), to my new abode here in the city of Antwerpen, the region of Flanders, in the country of Belgium ... a place that didn't really exist for me until I stepped onto its soil, holidaying in January 2005. I cannot pretend to be anything other than geographically inept, but Belgium is small and New Zealand is a long way away ...

Friends have been asking 'so what's Belgium like?' and I've struggled to answer. It was much simpler to answer when they asked me about my Istanbul life. 'Istanbul is everything, and more' ... that had become my stock answer, because it's true ... Istanbul is an ancient city, with post modern architecture and ideas; it's a city undergoing rapid change, as it roars into the 21st century.

Belgium is more difficult to describe. It's quieter, and less chaotic, to such a degree that it's been another type of culture shock for me. I already love some things about it. There are the people that you see from the tram windows ... there are more than 165 different countries represented here in the general population.

I'd never seen an Orthodox Jew before ... now I have. Here, everyone rides marvellous old bicycles so, you have the young and the old Jewish men on their bikes, and they are dressed in black clothes, with white shirts. They have long ringlets at the side of their heads, like sideburns, and these incredible hats, that are so big.

And the other day, two foreign men (writes this foreigner) sat down in front of me on the tram. They had on robes and head dresses that seemed more suited to the desert. They talked in a language that sounded deliciously mysterious, and I just stared at the backs of their heads, fascinated. I wanted to paint them. They were beautiful, right down to the cloth and the colours they wore.

Meanwhile, I'm in process ... filling out forms, applying for visas. Did you know, the Belgian Consulate for New Zealand is in Sydney, Australia. I'll do the long trek home mid-September, and head back to Belgium via Australia, visa in hand, I hope. There is plenty of work here, one just needs to be legal.

Blogging, and Why I'm Moving Blogsites ...

I started off small ... unwilling even. I wasn't sure I wanted to become a blogger, and now here I am, wanting bigger and better than my small beginnings. Now to move all that I've written to this pretty and bigger site ...