Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

I'd like to take the opportunity to widh everyone who reads this blog all the best for 2016.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

1000 Classics

It's a yearly tradtion. Radio 2, the biggest radio station in Belgium has been airing the top-1000 of the classics (songs older than 5 years) during this week.

Tomorrow we'll hear which song made it to number One. Will it be Elvis again, with Suspicious Mind, or will Queen regain its place with Bohemian Rhapsody?

The listeners can vote online. First they can choose the songs that will make the top-1000, afterwards they'll choose once more for the last 100 songs.

This is a nice way to end a year. We'll be staying in tomorrow, to miss nothing. Afterwards, of course, we'll go out for a good dinner with friends and celebrate the new year together.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What will 2016 bring us?

With a renewed terrorist threat for Brussels, 2015 doesn't end very well. So much has happened - the many nature disasters, the continuous stream of fugitives to Europe, the terrorist attacks on Paris....

So you can wonder what the new year will bring. More taxes, that's for sure. Our nice government decided to raise a tax on the use of electricity, above all the rises in price already for 2016. Some families will have to pay 800€ extra just for the tax! We Belgians are really top of the ranking in what concerns paying taxes. Half of what we earn goes back to the state.

Another certainty is that there will be more work for teachers, with all the fugitives having to learn the languages of the country. As they say, one's death is another one's bread...

And what will our climate do? Will it snow at Easter or in July? Or are we in for a heatwave in April?We'll see.

What is already concrete are the trips we have booked for the coming year. We'll be going to Dublin, London, Venice and Stockholm + Visby already, and we haven't made plans for autumn and winter. (No, we are already thinking of the summer of 2017, considering a trip to the Azores.)

What do you hope for?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The weather is playing havoc

What kind of weather are we having? Here in Belgium it's way too warm for the time of year (likewise in New York). During the past weekend, it felt like we had Easter holidays instead of Christmas holidays!

While we are enjoying high temperatures, people in the north of England are drowning in rain and big territories are flooded.

And in the midwest of the States, hurricanes destroyed hundreds of houses

While in California there are already big fires spreading....

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Pics from our trip to Copenhagen

As promised, here are a few pics from our Copenhagen trip.

This is a sight of Nyhavn (new harbor) which is well-known with the tourists. Look at the typical coloring of the houses. Reminds me a bit of Bergen in Norway.

And this is is the Little Mermaid from the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. She looks a  bit lonely, doesn't she?

This is for those who love Shakespeare. We are seeing Kronborg palace in Helsingör (or Elsinore in 'Hamlet'). There is a Hamlet experience for those who want to. Helsingör is about 40 minutes by train from Copenhagen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Back from Denmark - and Merry Christmas!

Hi there folks! We've just returned from a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. (I'll be posting some pics later on.)

Originally we wanted to go to Tallinn, Estland around this time, but some months ago we received word from the airline that our flight was cancelled. We got a choice to either book another flight, or get our money back. Because the other flights didn't suit, we decided to cancel the hotel as well and ask our money back. Just as well, because a few weeks later Estonian Air was in failure.

So we had to decide on another destination and the choice fell on Copenhagen. One of our friends used to live there and always said how nice it was. And really, it's a great city. Not very big, easy to walk about, with lots of things to do and many good restaurants.

We had a good time there. As it was near Christmas, there were also many Christmas markets and singing in the streets. Cozy!

Right now we are preparing for Christmas Eve (my sister's birthday) so I won't take too long. I want to wish everyone who reads my blog a joyful Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Finding the perfect present

It's not always easy to find THE perfect present for someone you love. Just watch the second-hand sites in a week or so - full of presents that were not to the liking...

So here's what I usually do when I want to surprise my sister (she's the only one left). Throughout the year, I listen carefully to what she says. When she mentions she needs something and cannot buy it at the moment, then I know this could be a great gift.

Another thing you can do is to know what the person likes - or not. A person who doesn't like cooking doesn't need another machine to help in the kitchen. Or someone who doesn't read has no need for an e-reader.

The better you know the person you want to surprise, the better you'll be able to find the correct present. Like the one I'm giving my sister shortly. I know she doesn't expect it, so the surprise will be much the bigger and I'm sure she'll love it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Here comes spring!

Can you believe it? Today the temperature rose to 16°Celsius - which we often don't have in spring (or even summer)!

Birds are brooding already and flowers are showing. Crazy weather... is all this due to climate changes or is it just a coincidence?

I don't know the answer. But I quite enjoy the temperatures and - to be honest - my budget will be thankful too. We don't have put on the heating like we do when it's really cold, and that saves a lot of money.

Shopkeeper, on the other hand, are not so happy. They don't sell as much goods for winter than usually.

Alas, it can't be ok for everyone, right?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Give in to your sweet tooth

These are hard times when you're on a diet! When you enter a shop or supermarket nowadays, you'll be buried by everything that is sweet and contains lots of sugar & chocolate! It's pretty busy as well, as if everyone is already buying what they need to prepare the Christmas meal.

Although we need to be careful with our intake of sugar (well, I had a good report - had my blood tested last Monday - sugar level was down) so we can indulge just a little. Our doctor always says you have to be able to spoil yourself a bit, as long as you don't overdo.

So we'll have a sweet dessert for Christmas. I don't know what yet, we'll see when we go shopping on December 24th. We'll go in the morning, then it's not too busy yet.

Perhaps some chocolates with the coffee, or a slice of Buche de Noel.... What would you prefer?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Preparing a surprise

Do you also know the feeling? If you want to want to make someone a special gift, and it has to remain a secret until then? It gives you just as much pleasure of making the preparations than it is to he one who will be surprised!

My sister thinks I've forgotten about her birthday. I mean, she knows I won't forget the date, but she doesn't expect a present. But she's in for a surprise... and it might even be a bigger one than we can imagine!

How do you feel about giving presents and preparing surprises???

Monday, December 14, 2015

Just found my dreamhouse...

I don't know about you guys, but I like to browse the sites that offer realty for sale. Not that I'm planning on buying another place soon, but hey, you can wish!

Only yesterday I came across THE place I'd like to own: a penthouse apartment right in the historical center of Dendermonde, with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a big open living room and a wonderful kitchen. Plus two terraces facing the Great Market.

The cost? Well, they ask 690,000 Euro. If I had the money, I wouldn't think twice. So planning on playing Euromillions tomorrow, where there will be about 70 million to win. If ever I could be that lucky...

But I'm not born to win a lottery. My luck lies elsewhere (for which I'm grateful) - I've survived two situations already that could be life-threatening. I've been in dire circumstances, and before things got too bad, my lucky angel intervened and it went upward again.

In which aspect are you lucky?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The two longest-living musicals of all times

Due to the rain, which fell all day, we didn't go to the Christmas market this afternoon. Instead we watched Les Mis on DVD.

Les Misérables, along with Phantom of the Opera, are without doubt those musicals which will be remembered througout the ages. Both are practically running for 30 years (Les Mis in 2016, Phantom in 2017) and still have full theaters.

I don't know what the magic of those two is, but I do know that I love both of them. So this afternoon we enjoyed a prime performance. It's not like in the theater itself but good enough. We've seen Les Mis a couple of times in the theatre (London and New York) and have the DVD of 10 years Les Mis and 25 years Les Mis, also the recent film version. Personally, I think the 10 years version is the best, with great voices of Colm Wilkinson, Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga and Michael Ball. Btw, we have seen those artists already live and were also able to share some words with them at the stage door.

Still, my absolute favorite is Phantom. We have seen this musical in theaters in London, New York, Scheveningen (Holland), Antwerp (Belgium) - AND we were present at the live performance in the Royal Albert Hall of 25 years Phantom. That day, Sierra Boggess got a 20-minute applause for singing "Wishing you were somehow here again". The poor girl could not grasp it, and fell to her knees on stage... so endearing! Sierra and Ramin are just the best couple for Christine and Phantom.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Getting in the mood for Christmas

Now that Saint Nicholas has disappeared out of town (December 6th) the town center is shaping up for Christmas. Btw, Nicholas (or Nicolaus) is a saint who comes to bring presents for those children who were good during the past year; a tradition in parts of Holland, Belgium and Germany.

Tomorrow we'll have the annual Christmas Market in town, as well as an opening of all shops on Sunday. As they don't predict bad weather, it will get pretty crowded, I think. Lots of stalls where you can buy hot drinks and food and of course also Christmas decorations.

Of course, for the real Christmas markets you'll have to go to Germany. When I used to live there, I always went to Cologne or Düsseldorf to  see the Christmas markets, and later on I also visited the one in Aachen.

There is no snow, unfortunately. It's been extremely mild in our parts, with temperatures around 12-13 degrees Celsius. A real Christmas market should have some snow....

Friday, December 11, 2015

Trying to live on 5€ a day

Some time ago, volunteeers were asked to try and live one week off a budget of 5€ a day... This to 'feel' how the poor must live in our country. 

More than 10 % of the population lives below the poverty mark. Some forms of support (OCMW help, some pensions for the elderly) are way below what you need to get around. Go figure, if you have 800 € or less a month, how do you cope? You have to pay rent, electricity and heating, buy food, ... and these are only the basics. Most of the time, the money would not suffice to pay for the above mentioned.

So a group of people tried to get around with those 5 € a day. One of them, being interviewed on radio, told the listeners he had not been able to eat for two days in a row (only surviving on water) and even ate the crust around the cheese.

Being poor is a terrible thing. Especially the kids suffers from it. When the parents are poor, chances are that the children will be poor as well.

My dad came from such a family. They didn't have a nail to scratch their behind. Mum and Dad were out of work and drank. So he, being the eldest, had the courage to go out and find a job, so he could buy food for the little ones that depended on him. When the sister following in age was a bit older, she too looked for a sewing job. Three of the kids - out of eight - made it out of poverty. My dad got a good job at the railways and always sought to improve himself, one sister became a modiste and earned good money, while the other married a good boy and they first began a small shop and later on increased on it. All three of them had the will to make it. I still admire them for it.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Buffalo, buffalo!

Yesterday  night, AA Gent (a first class soccer team, residing in Ghent - East Flanders' main seat) surprised friend and enemy by placing itself for the 1/8 finals of the Champions League. Next time they'll play against Barcelona, Chelsea or Bayern München.

For years this was a rather unimportant club. But since the arrival of coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck they are playing very well and became champion of the first league in 2015. They play in blue and white and they are called 'the Buffalo's' by their supporters. When playing, the crowd go "Buffalo, Buffalo!"

But where does this name come from? Two possible theories are carried:

1) This is the first explanation. During the Olympic Games of 1920 in Antwerp, a couple of soccer players from Ghent were present. They were surprised of how the Americans cheered at their athletes, so they thought of the name 'Buffalo' for their own supporters to cheer when they were playing.

2) Another explanation goes back to Buffalo Bill. His Wild West show came twice to Ghent. The trailers of the group would have stood in the neighborhood of the Otten Stadium (where AA Gent plays, and which is now the Ghelamco Arena). In the 1906 show Bill Cody used a large herd of buffalo and the public was very much impressed by it. They had never seen such large animals. Further, Cody's riders did a sort of soccer match on horseback.

I suppose we'll never know which is the right explanation. But the Buffalo's are doing great, no doubt!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Event tickets - maffia?

Have you ever tried to buy tickets for a first-class concert of your favorite artist? I bet you have. And how easy was it to get those tickets???

Selling tickets for hot concerts has become big business. Live Nation owns Ticketmaster, which owns several companies that'll re-sell those tickets for a (very) high price.

For next year, several artists have announced a concert in Belgium: Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Adele,... to name a few.

Those tickets went officially online on a certain day from 10 a.m. But if you tried to buy tickets at sharply 10 a.m. all the good tickets were already sold, figure that.

Of course, now you'll be able to buy them from a second party (which is illegal in Belgium, but they'll find a way around that). Instead of paying 76 € for the best seats you can pay 100, 200 - even going up to 2,999 for the Adele concert!

We had to do the same when we wanted to see Barry Gibb in Birmingham (UK). We could not get tickets from the official site (at 76 £), so we bought them via another site owned by Ticketmaster. They cost us an average of 200 £, but we did not mind that because they were really good seats in front of the stage.

But 3,000 € would be a bit too much for me!

Our government wants to do something this illegal selling of tickets. It's no use we have rules when other countries permit selling through tickets.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Euthanasia: forbidden for those who suffer mentally?

Belgium is one of the countries which allows euthanasia, if the one requesting it suffers from 'unbearable pains'.

Personally, I can imagine you are looking forward to the end of your pains when you suffer from a disease which tortures your already wretched body - and you know the end will come sooner or later. I also think you have the right to decide this for yourself.

But right now, a group of doctors are asking the government to revise the law allowing euthanasia. They want to forbid it for those who suffer from psychological pains. Specialists claim that a psychological disease troubles the thinking - when you are depressed you can't think clearly. So when you ask for the ending of your life, you are also not thinking straight.

Tough question, if you ask me. Who can determine how much pain a person suffers? There will be those who also suffer mentally. I can't imagine it because I have a nature that always looks for the positive, even in negative situations. But there are others.

I'm wondering how the government will decide.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Extreme right wins in France

Yesterday there were elections in France. And does it surprise you to learn that extreme-right has won greatly? Marine Le Pen won the biggest part of the votes, especially in the regions north and south.

This is no wonder if you look at history. Europeans have a deep distrust of everything that is not their own. Throughout history, certain groups were visualised because they had another color or another faith. Look at what happened to the Jews and the gypsies throughout times.

When things go bad - economically and in society - we look at the odd duck out.

Right now, when none of the European governments is effectively dealing with the fugitive crisis, extreme right will gain more and more support. Why? Because they promise to 'deal' with the fugitives, who are seen as taking what is actually due to others. They will need support in finding a home, finding a job, getting an education, ... Funds that could better be spent on needy people from the own country, says extreme right.

When the current situation continues for a longer time, I foresee an escalation of anger towards strangers. It could lead to deportation and worse....The Germans living in Hitler's time also did not think they did anything wrong!

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Boy, those were 2 days never to forget! You only realize how much you depend on everything when you are missing it...

Yesterday afternoon we went to pick up a new B-box (for the internet/tv connection) because the old one failed. No problem, we got it and brought it back home. We also connected it to our TV correctly. Everything seemed to be working fine - for just one hour! Then suddenly we neither had TV-connection or internet.

Followed endless phonecalls to Proximus (which took about one hour each) where nobody seemed able to help us. Called back this morning.

By noon we had internet again. Still no TV, as the decoder is also in failure. This one has to be switched as well.

Just so lucky to have the tablet with me so we can at least watch some TV programs via the tablet (thanks to Stievie, a provider via internet).

So this was the reason I couldn't write my blog. Sorry, guys!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Long weekend

Having a hard-working person in the house can  be quite pleasant at times... Doing a lot of overtime means you can get days off when you want. So we were able to come to the seaside yesterday noon and only need to return next Monday.

The sun is out today and it looks to be a beautiful day. We'll go for a walk of course, and then we need to go to the hairdresser's as we're dining out in a 2-star (Michelin guide) restaurant. We know it's chef and owner since he was a little boy who rode a pony.

And then we also have the two days of the weekend. They predict dry weather for tomorrow, though there will be some wind. Only for Sunday they predict a bit of rain.

The weather is quite nice for December - with temperatures around 12°Celsius, it's actually warmen than we should be having - but hey, who's complaining?

And how's the weather where you are living?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The perfect gift for Christmas

Being Flemish, I speak more than one language. (This has grown out of necessity, as our poor country was occupied by many another one - France, Germany, Austria, Spain, ...)

I regularly watch BBC tv or the German channels. I've lived in Germany for four years when I was in my twenties and want to keep up speaking that language. So I sometimes visit a German forum for book lovers, Was Liest Du.

There was an article about a great gift for Christmas. It was about writing a sort of history of your life. Kids could do it, and then hand it on to their  parents (who could fill in many of the gaps left) - and perhaps later on pass it on to their children.

Well, I don't have kids, but I have been keeping a diary since I was 14. You can make the count, as I'm now 59... It keeps track of all the important things in my life (many of which I've forgotten) and makes a great read when you're feeling down. You'll discover there were days long ago when it was even worse!

I don't know who will read my diaries later on. I hope to live on for some time longer (well, I live in hope as I just learned that one of the pills I'm taking lenghtens your life!) but there's only my sister and I. I don't know if there is an organisation which will accept people's diaries. I gave away my original Barbie collection (dolls and clothes) from the 50's and 60's to the Toy Museum in Mechelen. They were thrilled and I'm happy that many others will be able to see those toys.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Poor King Tut

This morning, I read an interesting fact in my newspaper - well, it was interesting to me, as I love history and antiquity.

It was about the Egyption pharaoh Tutanchamon (king Tut). You have to conclude he was a poor bugger. Not only was he probably murdered, but he was burried second-hand.

The world famous death mask was not originally made for him, but for his stepmother, Queen Nefertiti... His name was written aboven Nefertiti's one. And also in the burial room were lots of objects belonging to other members of the royal family.

Proves that riches don't always bring happiness!