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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A peaceful weekend?

My sister often complains about this. She has a very demanding job, trying to keep the administration of more than 18 schools in order - single-handedly! (I often ask myself how she manages, without getting an ulcer...) For me, it's only being in the classroom and teaching. Well, every now and then you have to correct papers or prepare examinations, but in general you do everything rather automatically (I've been teaching since 1978) and it's not so demanding anymore.

Then the weekend comes. Sometimes we can go to our flat at the coast, and that's blessful. There are restaurants galore and when we are there we often visit the bistro next door. They have good food, and it's not very expensive. Better still, you don't have to cook yourself!

When we stay at home, though, there is always something to do. Cleaning up, doing the ironing after the washing, prepare food for the coming week. We still make soup ourselves, which we free into daily portions. We always have a choice of soup to eat (I like it for lunch). And then there's the baking. My sister likes to bake her own bread and cookies. But it takes time and it's not quite a restful occupation.

So this weekend is a busy one, once more. There is fruit cake baking and we're also preparing a pasta dish for tonight's dinner (I have to wait until the water boils to cook the pasta, so I can take a few minutes off to write this blog). But tonight, we sit on the sofa and watch some film, while sharing a bottle of Argentinian wine. Cheers!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Where has spring gone to?

It begins to look as if this will be another year in which we won't see a lot of sunshine. Right now, it looks and feels like autumn. Gray skies, low temperatues...

We haven't yet had a lot of nice weather. The days which we spent in La Rochelle, France, were good ones and also in Dublin before that we were lucky with the weather.

But this is nothing like May. There should be at least 20° Celsius, and more than one day of sunshine.
Just as well we've booked a trip to the south of France in July and are going to Rome in August. That way we'll see some sunshine at the least.

Weather in Belgium can be very unpredictable. I wouldn't miss this weather if I could live in another country, with a better climate - but then I'd miss cold and rainy Flanders for sure, isn't that strange?

How is your weather?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How is this possible?

Living in the 21st century, you do expect everything to go smooth - you depend on electricity, on the computer, on the trains, ... When one of these lets down, the whole world seems to fall apart.

On Monday, I thought my computer was crashing. I could not access Facebook. But other sites worked, so I had to assume Facebook was down. It took an entire evening and night for us in Belgium, and in the morning we could use Facebook once more. Until the evening. Then it was down again. You'd expect a company like Facebook to have enough backups to protect users from a breakdown, don't you? I'm sure this will be not good for their shares.

And yesterday, all computers of Belgocontrol broke down, because they were testing the backup generators. All flights had to be cancelled and thousand of passengers had to postpone their journey - even spend a night at the airport.



How is this possible? When you depend on means as electricity and computers, it is your obligation to see to it they keep working. Governments and companies should take precautions. Of course, you can't prepare for everything, but what happened at Zaventem yesterday should not have happened.

What's your opinion?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Veggie day

Both my sister and I try to eat in a healthy way. We avoid too much fat and too much sweet. We eat lots of vegetables and not only potatoes, but also brown rice and wholemeal pasta. Fish and seafood is eaten at least twice a week.

And for the last few weeks, we've included a vegetarian day. We have yoghurt with grain in the morning, home-made soup for lunch and one or other vegetarian dish for dinner.


Up to now, we've been able to find another recipe each time. But we could use more. If there is anybody who has suggestions, please let me know. I especially like dishes with halumi or any other cheese!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tomorrow: Eurovision circus once more

Tomorrow night half of the world's population can go crazy again. The Eurovision Song Contest will take place on that night - for the 60th time. For this special occasion, even Australia is taking part in it!

On Tuesday and Thursday the semi-finals were competed. The rule says that only a few chosen countries can go immediately to the final. All the others have to compete in semi-finals. My country, Belgium, had to take part in the first of them.

The expectations were not high. Most of the time we don't make it. And we have only won the Contest once, with Sandra Kim and "J'aime la vie". That's a long time gone. The past few years were missers, but this time we made it to the final. With young Loïc Nottet, a French-speaking guy who brings a song that reminds of Lorde and Christine and the Queens. Not bad to hear, and it has a good rhythm.



The bookmakers say we have a chance. Are they right? For one, the English seems to like the song. And of course here abouts the media go crazy.

Will you be watching tomorrow? Don't say 'no' because even if you do, you'll be plugging on that telly later in the evening. I know - I say I'm not going to watch, but every year I'm in front of my tv and see how the points are awarded. Last year was good, with Conchita Wurst winning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Taxes...

We Belgians are the champions in paying taxes - and trying to evade them.

Our government taxes labor very highly (up to 50% of your income), while the rich only need to pay peanuts on their shares and (large) interests. If you are just a working person, you don't have to worry a lot. Government knows all! They know exactly what you've earned,

And a couple of years ago, Tax On Web was created. A means to fill in your declaration online. You only need a identity card reader, or a token which you can get from the ministry.

More than 3 million users already, although some people don't know how to deal with it. And I must admit, filling in these declarations is not for the simple of mind. The language used is archaic and the codes change every year. So it's a case of reading carefully and putting the amounts where they belong.



For both my sister and I, filling in the tax form only takes a couple of minutes. Most of the sums are already filled in (what you have earned, gifts, etc.). We only need to fill in the interests we have paid on mortgage and the capital paid off.

And the best thing is, this application allows you to see how much you still have to pay (yes, most of the Belgians have to pay extra afterwards!) or get back - and up to now, we've always been in that last case. It's money you didn't expect, so you can use it to do something you like.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pictures from La Rochelle

As promised, here are a couple of pics we took during our trip to La Rochelle, France:



View from the water: when you reach La Rochelle, the first thing you notice are the two towers. On the left, the Chain Tower. On the right: Saint-Nicholas Tower. In the Middle Ages a chain was drawn up between those two towers to prevent ships (pirates) from entering the old port.

The ramp you see sticking out Tour Saint-Nicholas was used for the World Championship Cliff Diving, which took place last weekend. Some of the divers stayed in our hotel, btw. The drop from tower to water was 27 meter.


And this is the third tower which landmarks the town. It's called Tour de la Lanterne (Lantern Tower) and used to be a lighthouse.



La Rochelle is a medieval town, and thus had town walls and gates which gave entrance to the inner town. Here you see the old gate with the watch, which was used to keep time.



These mules with pants on are typical for the island of Ré (close to the French mainland of La Rochelle). During the past century, a farmer's wife came to the clever idea of protecting the legs of the mules (which they used to carry off the salt or oysters) against insect bites by using an old shirt of her husband as a 'culotte' (= pants).


Monday, May 18, 2015

Trip to La Rochelle, France

Those who read my blog will know the reason for my not writing for a couple of days... Indeed, I've been on another trip. This time my sister and I went to France. Except for a one-day trip to Paris (with our vicar) and the school trip to Lille, I have not been to France. Even though it's so near Belgium!

But that language... However, we found out you really don't need to speak French when being in France. As soon as people hear you speak another language, they address you in English. So we managed pretty well, more because we do understand French well enough but have no practice in speaking.

We went to La Rochelle by train. First with Thalyss to Paris, then with a TGV to La Rochelle. We stayed in hotel Mercure, conviently close to the raillway station and also not too far away from the town center.

La Rochelle is a cosy place. The three towers are the first landmarks you can spot: Tour Saint-Nicholas, Tour de la Chaine and Tour La Lanterne. This one used to be a lighthouse during the Middle Ages and is the oldest remaining more or less intact.

The Atlantic Ocean is present everywhere and you can smell it as soon as you leave the train. Of course there is an abundance of seafood to be had, and we could enjoy all those good things from the sea during our stay. Oysters, shellfish, mussels, crab, just name it.

We also took the opportunity to visit the island of Ré during our stay. A three-kilometer-long bridge connects the island with the mainland, and you can reach it by bike, bus or car. Or if you prefer, you can take a ferry. We rented bikes and tried to discover as much of the island as one days allows.

I'll be posting some pics from our trip once they are downloaded. I've been pretty busy today, so haven't come to it yet.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Us poor teachers...

Before reading on, I must state that I really like being a teacher! I've been doing this job since I left university (1978) and have seen many kids come and go. You can't stay in this job if you don't like it - because, contrary to what's claimed - teaching is not a light job in which you go from holiday to holiday and do nothing else.

But being a teacher is not always a good thing. For starters, we can only travel when the prices are highest (hotels, airfares, trains, ...). Low fares are only available when there is no school. And now, the weather! It's been warm and sunny (and will remain so for another day) but then it will be colder once more, with chances of rain showers. Now we have some days off, of course.

Yes, sometimes we are to be pitied!!!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Profilage

I don't often watch Frech tv - I almost never have to speak French, living in Flanders - but I must admit they make good tv series.

One I like to view every week is the police series Profilage, where Chloé Saint-Laurent (actress Odile Vuillemin) works for a Paris police station as profiler. She has suffered het mother's murder when she was a little girl and was traumatised by it. She spent years being treated, and as a result got an interest in psychology. Now she teaches courses at the university and also works for the police.



I often have to laugh at what happens in these episodes. Chloé has her own ways of doing things, and people have to get used to them. In the first series, the police chief is Matthieu Pérac (actor Guillaume Cramoisan) and from series 3 it is Thomas Rocher (actor Philippe Bas). The other members of the team are lieutenat Fréderique - Fred - Kassel (Vanessa Valence), Hippolyte de Courtène, the computer guy (Raphaël Ferret) and the superintendent Grégroire Lamarck (Jean-Michel Martial).

The series has the right mix of investigation and accent on the private lives of the characters. You do look ahead to what's happening next. I hope this series will go on for some time!

Friday, May 8, 2015

UK elections: the end of their EU memberschip?

Today we could hear who won the elections in the United Kingdom. The big winner was the conservative party, the Tories. David Cameron will thus remain Prime Minister for another 5 years.


Now this has some importance for the European Union. Cameron promised the British a referendum some time ago - and he'll keep that promise, he said in his winner's speech. If the British can vote 'yes' or 'no' to staying in the EU, it can be expected that most of them say 'no'.

Not a problem for us (I think many countries would like to leave the EU and I see it happening some day) but then the Scots will ask for a new referendum about independence, because they want to remain in the EU... And once the Scots have their independence, the Northern Irish can ask to be rejoined with the Irish Republic.

So the 'Brittania that ruled the waves' will be reduced to a (relatively) small country with a lot less influence than it used to have.

We'll see what happens...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lack of inspiration

I don't know how it is with you, but when I'm quite busy at work I just don't feel the inspiration to write. Not a novel, not even a blog!

For me, writing has to come freely. And I can only reach that state when I don't have anything to do (well, not counting a trip into the town center to do my shopping, or the ordinary tasks in the housekeeping). But then my mind is at ease and I just need to sit behind the keyboard. The letters just flow on the screen.

Right now, I come home from school and don't feel my feet anymore. There is so much to do and it's there you feel you are getting older. Years ago, I still had the energy to do other things during this busy month at school. Now I love to sit down and read, or watch a bit of tv.

What about you?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekend of surprises

Well, the weekend has passed and it's back to work once more. But we all enjoyed the exta long weekend of May 1st. We spent this weekend at the coast, where the weather was not too bad (although it still was way too cold on Friday).

On Saturday we heard on the radio that Prince William and Kate Middleton had their second baby, a little girl. No name yet, that remains to be announced. The Brits will go wild in their betting, though. Most bets go for Charlotte as the baby's name. Or it could also be Alice.

And yesterday evening our Belgian Tornados (yes, now we have nicknames for every sport's team) got bronze in the 4 x 400 m estafette in the Bahamas. This was a world championship, so this gives good hopes for another during the Olympics in Rio next year. Coach Jaques Borlée will be glad to see this result. Of course he already has his three sons running, but now he seems to have found another runner who equals his own sons.

The temperatures also mounted highly yesterday. I'm glad we're done with this too cold weather. I already had a bad cold before and I don't wish for another!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Visit to Lille

Yesterday, the 5th-year-students (and we teachers, of course) made a day trip to Lille, France.



Lille is situated in the north of France and only became part of it in the 17th century. Until then it belonged to Flanders - which is the reason why the railway station is named Lille Flandres.

We went by bus, because it's really not that far away from Flanders. We reached Lille before 10 am. After parking the bus near the railway station, we walked into the city center and visited the arts museum, which ranks nr. 2 in France because it has valuable collections. A guide took us through the collections. The most valuable item was a painting (a big one!) by Peter Paul Rubens and also impressive were the models for military use of different towns in Flanders. These were made by order of King Louis XIV because he had conquered these towns and wanted to have an oversight of the strongpoints and weaknesses of each town, to be able to defend them better.

By noon we had lunch in a typical bistro and later on we walked through the old city center, while our students made an assignment.

Lille is quite a nice town, very much Flemish in character, and also has a typical belfry. I really want to return on of the coming months, and stay for a couple of days.