Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012!

We landed yesterday back from Madrid. We had a great week with our family there.

Now we are heading to Leuven's Oude Markt (Old Market) for a beer, the traditional count down and meeting friends after a very rainy and cloudy day.

Love you all and we wish you a year full of new adventures and good things as the one expecting us!

This pic is from the inside of the main christmas/new year tree in Plaza del Sol in Madrid. It's a great idea, since it looks nice, innovative and saves the need to cut a tree for the event.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Belgian Hanukkah! חנוכה בלגי שמח

Hanukkah is once of the nicest holidays we have. A festival of lights in the middle of the dark days of the winter, tasty food (fried stuff, special donughts, chocolate coins).
This year we decided to have a special Hanukkiya and to celebrate it with our new extended family in Leuven.

So, on the fourth candle of Hannukah we lighted the candles in the international students club of KU Leuven, named Panagea, we talked about the history and meaning of the holiday, had chocolate coins and discovered a new spinning top prodigy.
As always, we also learnt new things, like the special care of Kurdish people to fire which is never extinguished by man, but kept till it turns off on its own.

To our friends out of Leuven, we hope you'll enjoy the Hanukkiya as we did.

To our friends in Leuven, we love you and enjoy the greet of having you as our family.

Happy Hannukah,

Yes, these are all beers we drunk

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hannuka! חנוכה שמח

Our dearest friend Noga who's our cats (and other stuff) procurator while we are away, sent us this so cuuuute Hanukkah greeting.

Hanukkah is the traditional fest of light, we light candles, eat oily sweet stuff (commonly fried) and sing.

Just to cover the historical part. Hanukkah means 'inauguration'. A certain Hellenistic ruler desecrated the Jewish temple, he was defeated and during the inauguration of the temple there was no 'holy oil' to light the candles. A small oil can was eventually found and miraculously it lasted for 8 days. So, we fest for 8 days, light candles, sing and eat. At the first day we light 1+1 candles, at the second day 1+2, third day 1+3 and so on till the last day when 9 beautiful candles light the house. The candles are put on the window sill to announce to everyone the miracle.

The pic says -
"Each of us is a little light, and together we are a strong light" (from a traditional song)
"Happy first candle!"
"From Noga and the Belgians"

Ps, "The Belgians" is the nick name that our 3 cats got after being deserted in favor of Belgium.

We Love you Noga!

My bike was stolen :-(

RIP זצ"ל

I rushed out to get to an important class just to find out that the bike that served me so well for the past months was stolen. Shitty feeling. . I'd say FUCK the students of Leuven if I wasn't one.
That's the kind of moments I would have liked to believe in supreme powers that could make the son of a bitch to drive the bike into the front of a truck. 

A classmate told that a friend just stole someone else's bike following a similar case. Yes, the idea ran through my mind for some time while walking to class in the rain and the answer was eventually 'No'. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This is going to be a white night...

Today was a day of studying, cooking and enjoying a cozy day at home with each other.
At the evening we had 2 most enjoyable hours of an Italian-Iranian dinner

  • spaghetti alla carbonara di melanzane
  • an amazing Iranian plate of baked eggplants with and w/o meat (I will try to get the receipt from the chef)
  • an endive plate with caramelized onion and red pepper 
  • a great French Pinot Noir 
  • A great chat with good people
Tomorrow we have to wake up early for a routine check up, but it seems I will have a white night preparing one of my this week's presentations. 

The skies are almost clear and the chimney of the house on the other side of the street keeps smoking and proving the wind outside isn't very strong as it gently carries the white smoke.  

A milestone! 8 Kilos of Brussels Sprouts!

It's the 8th Kilogram of fresh Brussels Sprouts that we eat!

When your neighbor is a celeberity

December 6 is the day of Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas) which is widely celebrated in Belgium. A lot of parties and activities for children are being thrown at this occasion.
The days before are the time when children get presents at night into their shoes. This is also a kind of unofficial opening of the Christmas season.

We went to the city for a long walk through the old neighborhood and forgot about a party we were invited to. Not so bad since it was anyway a children party. Anyway, we got "compensated" and saw St. Nicholas riding his horse back home. It turned out that the local official St. Nicholas is our neighbor whom we see from time to time riding his horses down the street.
He was led by a 'black' servant (a local with painted faces).

The same white horse and 'black' servant were stationed in the Big Market for a couple of weeks before December 6. The 'black' servant is dressed in colorful oriental-like clothing and St. Nicholas is dressed as a bishop and not...not as a fat red USA Santa.

Btw, if children misbehave, Saint Nicholas isn't forgiving. His black assistant puts the bad children in a bag and take them back to Spain from where they came.

Here is the long full version of the tradition.

In Austria, they have another tradition in which the Krampus demons or beasts make company to Saint Nicholas and they are the ones punishing misbehaving children.
Obviously, the local traditions are a bit deeper than that, and you can easily see the fact that in the dark days of December the demons are coming out, running after young girls catch and hit them and finally the great bishop is coming to vanish them away. Nowadays, the local authorities are trying to have central 'Krampus Run' events in order to make it more of a competition and less of a local and a bit violent event with too many drunk Krampuses running around.

See here some pics from the annual Krampus run in Graz, Austria.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


It is snowing for the second night in a row, which makes a special end for a special week.
Yesterday when we were adding to the Pangaea (international students club) party, it started snowing (swow + water), but it wasn't cold enough to have the snow accumulate. Let's see what happens today.

Today was a beautiful-cold day, with a low winter sun caressing the blue clear skies. We went for a few hours walk in the nearby village Oud Heverlee and it's adjacent forest. We passed by some small lakes (more ponds than lakes) and enjoyed all the good things that a wet weather can offer - some mushrooms which still survived, trees showing splendid patterns of moss and lichen.
We ended by walking an extra 2 Km since we left the forest on its Wallon side and we had to walk over the Flemish "border" to catch the bus.

The day started even more splendidly with a perfect Shabbat wake up, when my amazing wife played David Broza's Estuve Aqui while we had a very sloooow coffee.

So, why was it a special week? It's the week when a new road appeared in my list of what can I do after my Erasmus exchange (D). This semester brought quite a lot of reading, but mainly listening to my professors and specifically to one who(Prof. De Vlieger)who reviewed with us the whole trajectory of anthropology. Together, we looked into the souls and very extrovert reflections of very different anthropologists and in each, really in each, I identified part of me. The same obsessions, the same fascinations, the same need to drill deep and talk high.
This week the Prof finished describing a certain anthropologists strengths and it was like a punch to my's about me.

Now the questions are simple - can I give up on my all other obsessions? how the hack do you maintain a family as an anthropologist? won't I feel like a small screw in a short time?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

English...Breakfast? No...Manners? No........Winter? Yes!

In the last days we are finally experiencing a full blown winter.
It's been raining for 2.5 days almost without cessation. It is a very English winter. Most of the time light-mid strength rain with short breaks and the temperatures aren't very low. All is grayish and makes you want to stay at home and ... here we have different versions. One of us would like to sleep and the other one to browse for a new internet intensive research on a gadget he doesn't need or write another piece on politics he'll never publish.

Now we are off for lunch with a friend.

See ya soon.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Days of studying

We are now amidst days of heavy studying, presentations and catching up with reading material before Christmas vacations.
We still have a debt of major post about trips to Berlin, Gent, Antwerp and probably something more.
Though, given the time constraints we'll post some texts that we gathered along the way but were never published before.

Most of them are short thoughts not very well developed, so if there is something you'd like to hear more about let us know.


Monday, December 12, 2011

A little bit of our hard life here....

There are a lot of beers in the world and 1150 different kinds of Belgium beers (fresh statistics from this year). We prefer the dark ones and the very uneducatedly divided as following.

  • Family breweries making mainly dark beers (like the amazign Carolus beer from Mechelen)
  • Abbey beers (licensed by a monastery to a commercial brewery) - commonly have light and dark versions (we like the darks, browns, ambers)
  • Trappist beers (really produced in a monastery) - commonly Ales are their best
    • Dubble - >8% alcohol
    • Triple - >10% alcohol
  • Any of the above made Christmas beers
  • "Scotish" Ale beers
  • We have one discussion over Hoegaarden one of you nominates as 'limonade' and the other one really loves it. Btw, the foggy look of the Hoegaarden is because of the yeast wasn't filtered out. 
We are making our best to get a good coverage. The only things that bothers us is the good (and not expensive) Italian, Corsican and Sardinian red wines. 
We tried several French red wines, and it wasn't a love story. It seems we have a very Mediterranean palate. 
We are yet to have tasted the spontaneous fermentation beers known as Lambic or Geuze. 
We hate though the fruit flavored beers (aka Kriek)'s like drinking a sparkling, artificially fruit flavored alcohol drink. We don't know why they call it a beer. 
We tried the local Jenever (Gin like drink). It's horrible exactly like Gin and even worst when they are in flavors, like Jenever Mojito...yuck!

We could make you envy telling you that 8 bottles (33 cl each) of Trappist beer cost <7 Euros, or that a 24 bottles of 33cl cost 9,9 Euros and you can get from us some coupons for buying it in 2 Euros less.....but we wouldn't do it. Here, Stella is only for water replacement for students. 

What a cold Saturday brings

This Saturday, Dec 10, was a very cold and beautiful morning. One of the coldest till now. The sun was  low as all the day long nowadays and shed a warm-orangish light on the towers, the walls and the graves.

At 9:40 in the morning we stepped into the monastery's church in Abdij van 't Park (The Abby in the Park) for the funeral of our sweet landlord, Eric.

Eric died a few days before and his ashes were to be dispersed int he Abby's land.
We met Rita, the widow, also a very nice person, and the family at the entrance were they received the condolers.  The ashes laid in a red ceramic recipient. A 45 minutes service was offered by a lady, one of the community members (no mass, but a civil service), in which family members and friends talk about the Eric.

We came to the funeral with our special neighbor, who patiently answered all our questions and was a very pleasant company much needed in such an event. We'll dedicate her and her family a separate post.

Eric had a cerebral hemorrhage and died in the university's hospital.  He visited us a few days before this occurred to fix some things that needed attention in the apartment silicon water isolation in the bath and the kitchen, a led light bulb that didn't work and a falling shower head. All very trivial things.
We gave him a hand in some things and D asked whether he'd like a coffee or a Rochfort. He slowly raised his had, nodded and said "Of course a Rochfort".

Eric was the one that told me in my first days in Leuven upon my question which Belgium good wine should I try: "Just drink beer!"

The three of us had two beers while talking about Belgium politics (the 500 something days without government, how if it wasn't because of the financial crisis Belgium should have stayed without a government and the huge public sector in Belgium). Most of the time we talked bout his work maintaining and building with is own hands the rent-apartments they own in Leuven, the one he must finish now b/c of fire safety requirements but above all he told us about his experiences working in Africa and how much he likes traveling over there. He told us the amazing story of an hydroelectric dam which had turbines not working, since the dam built on the border of two countries posed a political problem and no one was able to decide to fix it and make it work. Instead, coal/fuel power stations were built. He explained how stupid it is locally, but also globally. Such an effort and such amounts of money are spent in inefficient subsidies for solar-photo voltaic panels in the west, while a much better investment for the whole planet would have been spending similar budgets in making clean energy in places where it's possible to easily make a big big change. "We are after all the same planet, he!" he smiled and took another sip of the beer.

That's how we'll remember him. Human, smiling, happy.

At the end of the ceremony, a picture of Eric with some poem words were given to the participants.

We obviously didn't take pics that morning and will have to rely on our memory for the images.
Here are some pics of the same Abby and cemetery we took a couple of weeks before.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Markets and the EU Crisis

Since our visit to Berlin we could feel Christmas times coming and the days in Europe getting colder and darker.

In the past months we've been listening to incessant debates about the European crisis. Lots of pointless discussions - the right blaming the left for the inflexibility and low productivity of European economies, irresponsible fiscal policies, huge public sectors and corruption; the left blaming the banking system for irresponsibility, poisonous tools, wild deregulation, asking to punish the credit agencies, calling for the creation a EU public credit agency and so on.

All these are part of a global discussion while the EU crisis has its special additional circumstances which seems that all the politicians are making their best to avoid.

Only in a lecture given by an economist and a political scientist things were said out loud. The EU is a political project (WW2 trauma, German re-unification and other processes) and the economic side was never tightly knitted. No one was ever really committed to the deficit and debt rules and everyone were always sure 'everything is going to be ok' (i.e. Germany will pay). On top of everything, when Germany tries to put order - everyone cries about the 'German take over' and when Germany doesn't want to hear anymore about the EU it is the 'German lack of commitment to the European project'.

The German indecision to help in any sum needed exacerbated the crisis, but most of the critics went tot he EU presidency who was absent from the public debate and the financial markets and to the European Central Bank which declared "we will buy Greek bonds, but in a limited amount and for a limited time'. To make the statement stronger, two directors of the bank resigned following this decision. The speakers compared it to a General going to war while declaring that he doesn't like this war, he will not use all his soldiers, will limit the ammunition used and will return home after some time regardless of the results. The speaker asked "would you follow such a general? can he possibly win any war?!"

Most of you have children, so you'll understand the following bottom line of the crisis.
The main reason the Germans are afraid of bailing out the Greek, Italians and Spaniards is because of what they call the 'Moral Hazard'. If they'll bail out everyone, it means no one will learn the lesson. However, if they don't, they maybe killing the European project.
The experts assumed Merkel will eventually go to the brink of disaster and pull up the hand-brake at the last moment, exactly like it happened this week.

Btw, because of the close relation betweek Merkel and Sarkozy, everyone here call them Merkozy.

The economist showed that Germany's and Austria's productivity went up in the past 10 years while that of the 'problematic' states went down, in Italy for an instance by 20%. We've also read lately that 18.9% of the Belgium employees are in the public sector. To be honest, we weren't diligent enough to check the numbers on our own, but we believe it given the numerous governments they have here, which just fits the fact that the EU sits here, also having countless sub organizations.

The above speakers cited a Greek finances minister who was asked why Greek did Greece overlook the deficit and debt criteria of the EU and he replied "Everyone did it..."

In Brussels we saw a road ad nearby a EU building saying "Parlamentarium." We wondered whether it is like Aquraium or Planetarium attraction for children. Do the EU parliament members do their job and jump to amuse the public and teach the children? Can they be trained like a dolphin or a seal?

Bottom line - cultural, structural and political issue are as much of issue as the financial ones.

So how are these two related - Christmas and the EU crisis? Well, it's not only b/c of the short and cold days.
They aren't really. But we were so happy on December 9 at the opening of the market in Leuven (our home town) and immediately compared to Berlin were some of the markets were opened already at November 13. Just to be fare, Brussels' markets opened at November 25.

That's also the moment to complain about the last horrible 2 weeks. The buses are constantly getting too late or too early. You can't plan anything properly. Can't stop thinking about the amazing Berlin underground, where you get off the train and the next train is awaiting you on the other side of the same platform.

One last word for this post. The Christmas markets are an amazing place to learn about people and local culture.
The food stands in the Belgium markets are very varied with international food. The German and Austrian markets have much more variety of local food - also much more food (for D mainly). They also had more stands of Christmas decorations than in Belgium and the markets looked better and more decorated.
The Belgium markets have numerous merry-go-rounds of really nice and unusual designs, mainly in Brussels. The hot wine in Belgium is served in small plastic/polystyrene cups which aren't ecological and aren't attractive as the ceramics painted cups of the Austrian-German markets. You pay the same money, get less wine and cannot buy you home a special souvenir from the market.

And now to the real final word. Leuven's market is cute and we found a huge stand of Krembo! or in Flemish Dutch Negerinnentetten (negress tits). In Leuven there is also a special 'House of Santa Klaus' exhibit which we haven't seen otherwise, and in general the market looks much well organized than in Brussels, though smaller of course.

The local market was inaugurated with a speech and a band playing Christmas songs.

Enjoy the pics!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mechelen - the 'nearby' city

November 5th was a nice Saturday and we were looking for a nearby place to visit. We didn't feel like a long ride. Mechelen was our default pick - we knew little about the boring and friendly place that served us beer on our way by train to Amsterdam. Lonely Planet promised some interesting sites and we decided to take a chance.

It turned out to be a place suitable for half a day strolling. A nice walk brought us within 20 minutes from the train station to the city center. The bus from Leuven was cheap (1.6 euro) and took 30 minutes, but was bumpy and nausea generating so we decided we'll return by train.

The road signs were again lousy, but things were solved as usual. We asked a nice local and very-well make-upped young woman. We got the expected detailed and friendly answer. Wondering towards the main square, we passed over the Dilje river (the same one as in Leuven). No, it was not impressive or beautiful, but it was clean, tranquil and the passage built on the water made it a special attraction. The city was built in such a way that you cannot walk on the river's shore - so a wooden long passage was built over the river itself allowing to walk in a level lower than the houses.

The huge 'Church of Our Lady Across The River Dijle' (yes...yes... a short name indeed) was closed, so we had to skip the Rubens picture located there. This is the kind of cases in which we were happy to stay out and enjoy the sun. Walking towards the city center we passed through an Oxfam shop and got a really nice ladies green felt coat. We enjoyed a piece of toffee in a coffee shop and walked through a street with glimmering (really, some excessive gold ornaments justify this adjective) Baroque facades, which brought us to the cathedral and the main square (Grote Market - the big market).

As we were approaching the center the worst possible thing happened - the Saturday market was being closed...everywhere there were trucks impeding certain angles of photography...not one frame without a piece of truck stuck somewhere...bummer!
We were angry...surprise...and had sandwich, beer and coffee in a place in from of the cathedral.
Sandwiches are definitely the national food here. There are certain stuffing you will always find: ham, ham with cheese, crabs salad, curry chicken, spanish/andalus chicken, tuna salad, salmon salad and american (minced meat with mayonnaise). Anything named 'salad' means - 50% mayonnaise + something. Fresh vegetables (tomatoto, carrot and lettuce) are added to the always fresh baguette and sometimes even an egg.
2.3-3.5 Euro and you're satisfied for some time.
The place was wired. Crosses and coffee pics on the walls, chandeliers made of forks and a familiar hoarse voice singing at the background. It took as seconds to realize it's Russian. It turns out that the owner is Flemish and his wife Ukrainian (no, she's not a blonde from a catalog in case you wondered). The fresh waffle smells were a nice addition to the ambiance while crunching in front of the cathedral.

When we went out, the trucks that were 'grazing' disappeared and finally one of us could get wild taking pics.
The size of the cathedral is a clear echo of Mechelen's glory days as Flandria's capital (15th century) and later as religions capital.
The city like all the low-countries swung between the Burgundy, France, Germany, Netherlands (according to their location) and of course Spain. As part of this yo-yo movements, northern churches in Flandria were damaged by the iconoclastic ire of the protestants (e.g. in Leuven little original decorations remained).
At the entrance to the cathedral, on the right side, the huge 'Crucifixion' by Anthony Van Dyck welcomes you. It is a unique experience to see an art work in the place where it was meant to be originally and in a still-in-use (religious and cultura) building.
The cathedral is well maintained and is very neat including a very detailed engraved pulpit. The low mid-day winter sun flowed through the windows and gave everything a warm and inviting palette.

The Grote Market is beautiful and wide. The city hall on one hand and colourful medieval Flemish houses around the square. Above the houses, just in front of the city hall, the cathedral raises imposingly. An impressing sight!

The local museum was closed. We passed by the Carillon school which trains the players of the famous   low-lands bell towers.  We passed by 2 palaces one turned into a theater and another one to which the local princess moved when she got tired of the design of the other one. Nearby there was a wedding in a catholic church. The women awaiting outside were announcing the marriage by a very middle eastern 'kululu' cry. When returning to the grote market, we saw a 12-14 years child laying in the middle of the square playing dead (well, we knew he was playing only later) and later another one doing the same.
Mechelen, definitely an exceptional place.

Then came the time for the quest for the holly grail. A loo. We ended up in an old brewery made exhibition center and veggi restaurant laying on the river in front of the oldest city's bar. The pub had a  cow doll at the entrance which had a rain coat covering her.... Later on in the city we ran into several re-dag canals (covered over the years and exposed in the past century) with clear instruction 'NOT TO FEED THE DUCKS!'....but...but....there were no ducks around.

Our last stop was the old neighborhood (Begijnhof, which deserves an individual post to explain the concept). It was a deception - very few not so old houses in the very inner allies. The only interesting point there was the church which had God's the world ruler image on top of its tympanum and not his Jewish son as commonly done.

We headed to the famous local Het Hanker family brewery. The old neglected rusting industrial building at the end of the alley proved that we were late...30 years late (you aren't surprised about us, right?) and the place is dead. The last traditional brewery in Mechelen seemed not to be with us anymore. However, our natural stubbornness and the lust for a good beer made us go around the building and find the famous brasserie and brewery shop open.

A great Christmas beer, free toilets and an amazing variety of great local beers were the perfect end for a great day in Mechelen. We found a small unexpected jewel just 1.6 Euro away from Leuven.

We will have to return at 2013 when they open the barrels of their famous whiskey.

Friday, December 2, 2011

FFF - Finally French Fries

We have been hearing since we arrived here about the marvelous french fries, which aren't actually french fries. They are Blegium Fries that are called French Fries, b/c when the Americans came to save Europe on WW 1 the Belgium army was French speaking so they called it French Fries. So the French Fries got the name French Fries instead of Belgium Fries. We heard that the best way to eat the national mussels dish is with French Fries; everywhere you go there are Frituur kiosks/shops which sell surprisingly, fried stuff, including...yes! how did you know! French Fries.Sorry, Belgium Fries.
In Brugge there is a French Fries museum and in Gent the travel guide advises to eat in the only remaining old French Fries kiosk (which was closed....not surprisingly).

But, true should be said. The French Fries we tasted till yesterday were 'stam' (in Hebrew means - 'very not special' or 'plain'). They were all industrial cut potatoes, too thin commonly and without any special traces of that amazing 'double frying' we were promised. On top of it you can add the industrial taste of the 'sauce'. Sauce is always mayonnaise + something and you always need to pay an additional 0.5 Euro for it.
The only positive part is that you can always get a freshly fried huge portion to fill your belly for 2 Euros also at night either in the local Frituur shops or in a Pita/Kebab shop.

Well, thanks to Luc (our private Dutch Man) our life and palate changed yesterday forever.

This week is the Fries Week in Belgium - Week van de Friet. During this week fries were offered each day for free in another city's main square.

Yesterday was Leuven's turn and in front of the very majestic central library we got THE BEST FRIES EVER!!!

Very Belgium though, the kiosk was open from 12:00 to 14:00 and there was a queue. They open for two hours only in every city :-) They were double fried, thick, crunchy from outside and soft inside. The mayonnaise was very good too.
The experience was complemented with a good couple of Tongerlo beers in a bar nearby.

Vive Le Frite Belgique! (we wonder how many mistakes we managed to do in this short sentence)

Now, our quest will be to find a local place where we can get similarly great fries.

Koninklijke ondersteuning from Week Van De Friet on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's all about me

A few days ago we visited Gent - a beautiful city that deserves a post of her own.
In one of our tram rides we saw a (supposedly) Flemish girl (circa 20 years old) who converted to Islam (our guess) and had her head covered with a scarf. I couldn't keep thinking about it for a while.
She was sweet, talking to a couple of northern African ladies (also head covered) and was making her best to be nice and polite to them as they were older than her. Not something unusual in Israel.

Eventually, I understood why it kept me so bothered. First, it mentioned me of the social tensions back at home. Second, I can guess and I can rationalize what makes a young girl to cover herself - but I'm not sure I can really understand it. Understand the unhappiness that made her do so, or the happiness that was caused to her following doing so.

I think that being in Leuven, in almost totally secular society and away from home made the contrast more crystallized and that it is when it struck me. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Students food in Belgium

At noon the students restaurant was selling a -persons dish of mussels for 7 Euro.
What makes it a students meal? The fact that you miss it, b/c you have a presentation and cannot afford to take a break for lunch.
At night stuffed tomato with north sea crangon with saffron, garlic, butter, coriander and Italian pecorino on top of it. Completed by a great Christmas Beer from Het Anker family brewery.
Night ends with almonds bakery made biscuits and Cote D'or.
Hebrew version of Águas de Março play at the background.
The presentation was eventually good.

Monday, November 28, 2011


There is a shop downtown nearby the university and the students' book shop.
It is called Plato.
There are also some Italian restaurants around.
I saw the shop's sign several times. A big blue PLATO.
Each time I saw the sign, I was sure it is a restaurant called 'Plate' (Plato in Spanish).
It took me several passes in front of this bookshop to give up on my previous notion and understand it's really Plato, the philosopher.
I try to avoid thinking about the psychological or neurological explanations for this :-)


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shortage of Trappist (monastery) beers in Belgium

We swear it doesn't have to do with us!


Feed me seymour

A partial list from the past weeks
Endive pasta sauce
Endive soup
Broccoli and witloof soup
Salmon with spinach and white beer
Potato peurre with spinach
Smoked fishes sushi
Mussels in white wine
Polenta with cheeses and basilicum (from our cute plant)
Home made quince (membrillo) mermelade
Chilean tarta made of corn and beef
Tons of Brussels sprouts
White champignon, blond champignon, different forest mushrooms
Of course...fried potatoes, fried croquets filled with cheese or meet
Of course...Cote D'Or chocolateS...

- List TBD

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finally the winter is here

After weeks of back and forth, we can say that the winter is officially here.
A few consecutive nights of fog, humidity and almost zero grades.
Today during the day there were tinny water drops in the air and falling leaves are less seen.
Feels like exams period is coming sometime and the weather feels that that it shouldn't distract us from studies.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Dinant - Doing what everyone tells us...

It's not very common, but we decided to do what people were telling us. Go go Dinant, it's beautiful. "Dino" as pronounced locally.
We heard a lot about the city on the rock, the city of Adolphe Sax and other things we didn't know like the fact that they have the toughest cookies in Europe. So, this is the place for tough cookies!
We left home while everything was very cloudy - the forecast sites said it'll get better but we were skeptic. The sites were right and this gave about 6 hours of some low autumn sun-light.
The train ride passes from Flanders to Wallonia. The change is immediately noticed. People are louder, the nature is wilder, the street of the towns and train stations we pass by look somewhat more abandoned.   The railway from Namur,thru Lustin till Dinant is parallel to the Meuse river and is beautiful.
We noted that people talking loud disturb us more than in the past.
We saw children with blue shirts belonging to a youth movement. Anyone has an idea what is it?
Some extra knowledge courtesy of the French Coffee shop in Namur's train station : Caffe Palomino == Caffe Macchiato.

So, November 11 turned out to be a definitely winter clear nice day.

Dinant is a very cute place. As we said above, all the way from Leuven to Dinant we could feel the French character of the region we were heading to - families were more outgoing and  consequently louder. It was a national holiday (Armistice Day), which means less frequent buses and trains, but mainly closed shops even nearby touristic attractions. The Tourist Information Office closed at doesn't matter that there was no sun till 12:00...
The souvenirs shop nearby the main church and teleferic was closed too - doesn't matter that it is the most central point in town. When we were coming down from the castle the lights in the shop were turned on - but don't worry - the shop was still closed. Yet again, don't worry, there was nothing worthy of buying.
In one of the pastry shops we got a 'coque' the hardest European biscuit according to the locals  and two pastries filled with a huge amount of apricot and cherry marmalade. A pose with Adolph Sax's statue and we were ready for the highlight - the citadel.
The imposing fortress on a huge rock cliff hanging over the town's church was impressive also from within.
We could expect that the walking paths in the park outside of the fortress won't be perfectly marked - e.g. the official map we got showed a walking path to a nice 17th century tower and watching point, but the path was closed and not marked. A short question to one of the teleferic operator clarified that "yes. you can get there. but you may have to jump a few fences" (+ a short blink). Definitely not an answer we'd get from a Flemish, but caused us to feel a bit at home. In our way to the tower we passed through a cemetery to the French and Commonwealth soldiers. For some reason the signs were also in Japanese (the only place in whole Belgium were we saw Japanese signs).
A short guided tour with a cranky old guide in the fortress reviewed the battered history of the town - passing from hand to hand since the middle ages it was destroyed in WW I by the Germans after a face-to-face battle with French soldiers (who lost the battle b/c of bad not to say stupid tactics - bayonet attacks. You may ask Charles de Gaulle who was wounded here). 70 dead in the fortress were Germans and trapped French soldiers who fought while outnumbered (54, 16 respectively) were summed to 1000 soldiers dead int he whole battle. At the battle dawn 674 citizens were executed by the Saxon soldiers ("Innocent Victims of the Teutonic Fury" as put in a local memorial) under circumstances which resemble a lot the destruction of Leuven a few days later). The fortress is decorated by a post WW2 Golster Meteor and an anti-aircraft gun, very unrelated to the most important historical events in these grounds.
The cranky guide spoke - actually, shouted, in French, Flemish and German and the very vociferous tourists of the same nationalities together with the echo in the fortress tunnels made us fell lucky we cannot understand a word. We read the signs in English (which looked similar to the guide's stories) and tried to run vain...there was no way out of the tunnels...only with bayonets.

At sunset we headed to the train station through the main town bridge with color saxophones escorting us as we cross. In a local bar run by two ladies just in front of the train station we agreed that Dinant is much more personal than Namur. We found in it not as magic as people described it nor very touristic, but it touched us in a way.
In the bar we sipped a Leffe Noel (Santa Claus for you) - the seasonal special version of Leffe draught. Of course, we forgot to mention that Dinant is the home of Leffe monastery. Leffe is brewed in Leuven and the monks here are quite fed up with the tourists from what we heard, but Dinant will always be the home-town of Leffe as well as Alexander Sax - the two most famous sons of Dinant.
The Leffe Noel was darker than the Leffe brown and somewhat bitterer. We enjoyed also a tasty draught Scotch CTS, a Scottish Ale (dark brown and bitter) from the mammoth manufacturer of Leffee and Stella InBev. BTWBelgium for about 4 years.

For the grand finale, we got a quick and painful return to reality. We approached the train station. We had to use 3 different credit cards till we managed to pay for our tickets back home (Amex which supposedly didn't require connectivity). The cashier was extremely nice and patience as well as the people who were queuing behind us.
Dinant has a huge potential for tourism (bigger than Namur) - we'd expect Jazz/Sax festivals - we'll for sure follow up sometime.
An another Dinant story for you before we are off to bed. The teleferic ride to the citadel cost 7.5 Euro per person. We hesitated for a moment, till we found out the price for going up by foot.
7.5 Euro as well....Go figure.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paris 3 - Just more photos

Paris 2 - From the Boulangerie to Brussels

The next morning was Sunday and I was happy to enjoy the treats of a French mania - bakeries. The bakery at the end of the street was obviously open - fresh croissants and bread for breakfast. The bread is miniature (length and diameter)...probably all that you need when you buy fresh bread whenever needed.  So small it was, that for lunch I had to prepare myself 5 sandwiches. Our neighborhood was the Parisian 'Florentine' (for our non Israeli readers see here). Full of young artists, galleries, humming with cafes and bars at night, manga shops and other interesting stuff.

The daily tourist menu included: Saint Chapel (the old royal church), supreme court, Notre Dam de Paris, the Pantheon, Rodin's museum, saying hello to Napoleon's tomb and Les Invalides and getting to the Tour Eiffel at sunset. Later we had dinner with Udi and Ayelet at Cité Internationale Universitaire.

Some remarks following this day. The Parisian Metro is filthy, not accessible for handicaps, the connections to the train are problematic (difficult to understand where to go) and it isn't as nice as other metros, e.g. in Saint Petersburg. On the bright side, it is very accurate and the trains are very frequent. When we were stopped for ticket checking the inspector was accompanied by 4 (!!!) police officers - not very comforting for a tourist who want to use the metro.
Notre Dam isn't special from within. Really nothing special. From outside it's impressive and its gorgols look like mongooses.  Actually, we visited it from within only the day later. On a Sunday the queue was horrendous.
The pantheon is a must visit just for going up for views from it's dome. It's location on top of a hill provides great views.
The building itself if impressive but not beautiful and D's necrophilic  thirst wasn't satiated since the tombs at the crypt can't be really approached. You can take our work - Foucault's pendulum is indeed there and it works.  We had an internal debate about whether this death cult is proper for a liberal society or not. Basic opinions were:  on one hand, this is primitive. On the other hand, it's for the live and not for the dead (the idea is to show the appreciation of the nation to whomever makes a big contribution).
Rodin's museum is beautiful. Point. Nothing to add.
When passing through Les Invalides, we indeed saw a French war "invalide". French watering cans were put upside down in the garden in front of the Napoleon's tomb as if they were growing there.
Les Invalides is an impressive project, showing how advanced was the French state over 400 years ago. The monarch and later the republic  understood their duty to server veterans who served the state. And no...they didn't privatize it recently…
Another short walk and we got to Tour Eiffel. J again walked a lot. She's amazing. Our warmest recommendation is to come to see the Eiffel at sunset (we assume you won't come at sunrise - like we won't) - a metal beast bathed in the warm reddish color!
We were disappointed with the rubbish all over Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel. Just reminded us of Jerusalem's dirt, just that Jerusalem is even more dirty.
The city map we had showed that nearby Eiffel is a metro station, so we headed there. "Nearby…." - Indeed there was something related, a sign post pointing to another point. A few hundred meters later we managed to identify another sign posts pointing further.  Eventually, we got a nice ride in line C which is on an upper  train  line elevated over the city's building, thus providing a nice night view.
Here comes another pain in Paris, which is consistent with the Belgium attitude of "If you do not know where you are heading to, you don't deserve getting there". The metro/tube in Paris has different sign posts and a tourist will be baffled over and over again how come he doesn't find the station that according to the map should be right here!

The international university city where our friends live is an amazing project from the 1920's founded by private people  and public entities to host 10k international students, researchers and artists. It's just a living location and not the university itself. Next time you come you should visit the place, it's an amazing campus. It's till today a combination of public and private money - yes...public money…. and international students who'll come to learn here are an interest of the government….

Our day ended just before midnight with a hot crêpe.

The way it is run reminds me of one of the great things Europe has - the sense of public service, humanist spirit is a goal and relentless execution over years. The compound is  perfectly maintained.
In our last day in Paris, we visited Notre Dam from within, strolled the Latin and Mare quarters with D & A & U, got pastries (see the beginning of this post) and visited the Pompidou center and Montmartre. The Pompidou center is an interesting building, we have a difficult to say about it nice. It's a perfect mixture of the good and bad in Paris.
A free library, with free (!!!) WiFi, a nice museum with cultural activities for everyone including children.  Everything is aimed at bringing culture to the masses. On the other hand, when we stepped to a balcony, it was full of people smoking and very dirty.
Our day came to an end visiting Montmartre. Even though the place is quite touristic, it is a nice out of city environment. The famous Sacré-Cœur basilica is impressive in its size from outside, clearly ugly and not interesting in anyway from inside. The chocolate and souvenirs shops in Rue de Steinkerque leading from the Metro to the church were definitely more interesting.
Painters pack the small nearby Place du Tertre where I made the mistake of photographing one of them. The old man got mad! I asked him if he wants me to erase the picture, to which he categorically responded 'No!'. He just wanted to reprimand men for not asking for permission. So I let him finish the teaching and apologized again.
The way downhill via rue Lepic winds between nice buildings constructed in this previously village like area and some old or old-like wind mills, one of the immortalized by Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and others - Moulin de la Galette. The neighborhood was a place of dancing, prostitution and a general escapist location for Parisians. Nowadays, this part of the once-village is expensive and touristic . It's previous 'functions' moved to the bottom of Rue Lepic, where Moulin Rouge can still be attended for a cabaret show.
Just to remind us one last time that we are in Paris, the Metro signs were different than any other - specially designed for this neighborhood.

We rushed to the apartment and from there to the bus station, 7 metro stations away. The tickets office got us tickets for 2 different buses to Brussels, which we found out only when trying to board the bus. My French bus driver couldn't care less, but J's German Old Mad bus driver, eventually softened and let me on the bus, which left over 30 minutes late.
It was a drive to remember.
The bus was smelling horrible from the toilets and each time someone complained, the old man got started shouting in German that it's not his fault, "within 2 hours we are going to be in Brussels, so you'd all rather shut up and go to sleep!", during long minutes he unsuccessfully tried to find the button that will turn off the bus internal lights  while trying to keep his word and accelerating like hell. Needless to mention, most of the people didn't understand any German and were asking each other "what did he say?"  - so someone translated him to English, someone else from English to French and so on. A wheeled tower of babel.
By the way, we got to Brussels in about 2.5 hours instead of 4!
J got a nice Russian girl to talk with during the drive, and I got Nasser from Jenin who just got his Spanish citizenship and was happy to chat in Spanish. Both of us had a very interesting drive. And no, don't bother to ask - Nasser and myself didn't get close to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it was easier to loath politicians, talk about social problems in the Arab world, observations about middle eastern immigrants in Europe and how much better is the food back in the holy land.

One last word. Paris architecture reminded both of us of St. Petersburg and Buenos Aires. Only one of us got nostalgic, given the mess, smells and "tidiness."

Paris 1 - Back to the stone (pre internet) age or "Macaron is a cookie!"

We went into a pâtisserie and J asked for cookies. Those with colors. The shop-kipping girl stared at her and briefly said in English: "It's a macaron!"
This summarized certain aspects of our trip to Paris:
French people do speak English. All the stories about French people not able or wiling to talk English were proven wrong
If you don't know how things exactly work in Paris, you are gonna get into trouble. Actually, even if you do know, you may run into difficulties 
Now that we were sure that French secret services finally got our tail, we started counting back towards our return, though nothing prepared us to the experience on our way back. 

But first thing first. Let's start from the beginning. 

From inception, the trip to Paris proved difficult. In Amsterdam there was an accommodation problem. Everything was full, but the interaction with the house owners was quick and efficient (quite like all the staying there). 
We wrote to several owners in AirBnB and got no replies, for which I wrote to another few found through TripAdvisor. In the morning of Friday I went to my class and J went for a medical check-up. Moments before we left towards the train station, we got a confirmation. Now, we a confirmed place to sleep in Paris we expected to enjoy the promised great weather.
Udi, my high-school friend living in Paris warned us: "the certainty factor here aspires to zero...
Well, he was right. On the bus to the train station we got a SMS from the Parisian fellow saying " don't have a place to sleep". This got us into a mice run which emphasized all that we grieved about till now in this Europe visit. While we were still in Belgium we could check for emails from B&B on our mobile. However, why would someone here answer an email?

Later, there was no open Wi-Fi anywhere neither in France nor in Belgium. Every single hot-spot marked as 'Open' requires web browser authentication based on your home ADSL/cable account with one of the local providers. When we finally found a free network in Starbucks in the Louver museum, it required to fill-in a form of numerous fields with personal details b/c of national security reasons, only later enter a long username and a longer password from the ticket we got at the counter. Once connected, got forbid you shouldn't leave the browser or open another tab, otherwise it gets disconnected and you have only 3 connection attempts after which you get blocked and have to beg for another username at the counter.
Europe :-/
Later, my professor talks about why does Europe lag behind in innovation….
In general, European web sites have some issues with usability. E.g. the Belgium trains web site, allows you to plan your route with an acceptable interface.  However, if you want to check for the prices of a certain trip, you need to get back to the homepage and search for  the price separately….

Ayelet & Udi helped us by remote control to find a room for the first night in a youth hostel. It was beautifully located in an old mansion and breakfast is served in the cellars of the building. Definitely cool. Add to it the fact that we had a place to sleep and we were quite happy. The downside, no towels, frakking cold (huge rooms and little heating), no double beds and need to pay for internet ("Only in the morning, in the meantime you can use the internet kiosk machine in the corridor - 1 euro for 15 minutes). The next night we settled in a really nice studio 5 minutes walk from the Bastille square.

Some of you probably know that J and I planned to be in Paris a few years ago, a scenario which was slightly obstructed by an airport strike. So, finally arriving to Paris was quite an  event. Well, the first time we missed the plane, now the bus took over 5 hours instead of 4, the toilet was broken and instead of enjoying the ride I was on the phone for accommodation. Good that we aren't superstitious.

As soon as we landed in the hostel, I went out to grab some food for us. I was happy to see numerous 'Chinese'/'Vietnamese' restaurants.  I was sure I'll find a hot vegetarian plate for J. Sure…..I had plans...well, Paris has other thoughts. In one place the answer was they have none, and in the other it was 'Yes, indeed we had a one tofu plate but it's over." Needless to mention that even at 23:00 all the other plates buckets in the counter were full. Even the rice was with ham or shrimps. What did Paris do to the Asian vegetarian dishes? Nothing without meat?

Our first morning was a very cold, foggy and very windy. A perfect day for the Louvre. We knew it's the biggest and most important one. Soon, we found out it's also one of the most beautiful and well maintained ones. We focused on 3 things: get connected to the Starbuck's Wi-Fi, meeting our above mentioned friends and their most cute offspring and the ancient middle east collection. It was very impressive. The collection including Hammurabi's code, countless Pharaonic artifacts and other made an amazing picture of the French led archeology in our region and a kind of "Luna Park" for history and archeology lovers. The glass pyramid about which we heard so much grievances is in our opinion a nice modern addition, well executed and gives the museum a modern touch that many others lack. The main issue we found with the museum, was the ever returning problem we found in Paris...signs...We wanted to get to a certain part and couldn't with the map alone, we had to ask. It didn't occur to us in the past. Ghrrrr...human interaction :-)

Later, we walked all the way around the museum's quarter and from the Tuileries Gardens via Champs-Élysées avenue to the Arc of Triumph. We bought some food and collapsed in our new sleeping place. Later that night D went to the hostel to get the backpack and we fall into a demential TV watching (Italian children talent contest). 

Oct-22 to Oct-24

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Presenting Israel

Your favorite Israeli team in Belgium gave today a presentation about Israeli at the International Students Club in KU Leuven.

We prepared a presentation using which was a great idea. The preparation took less time than expected with Power Point. J was looking for images and reviewing the texts while D was responsible for the texts, the list of images and the presentation setup.

We had to prepare some 'Israeli' food and really had hard time figuring out what 'Israeli' food could we prepare here in Belgium. Eventually, we prepared white cheese dips with paprica, za'atar and black peper, as well as olive oil with za'atar + bread for dipping. Kudos to the J for the idea as well as for carrying the spices from home.

When we were gathering I expected some harsh reacts from the public,as I've seen a kefiya.Though, eventually it was a young student with no malevolent intentions.

A nice guy named Yuki presented Japan just before us. His presentation was very nice and gave a good overview of Japan. About 20 Japanese came to listen to him and maybe only to him. After his presentation it was hard to get them make silence when I wanted to initiate mine. I'm wondering whether they'll come for the next presentations or came only for the presentation on Japan. I'm probably pessimistic and will have to apologize later. Let's see. I promise a public apology is needed.

Now back to our presentation. Ehud Banay's "דממה דקה" was the song I used to try to get everyone concentrated at me. I got the attention of some people.....Hands clapping and shouting did the rest of the work. Once I had 80% of the people focused, we started. Even though the presentation wasn't polished, it went great. Prezi made a good impression and it seems that people were really eager to hear about Israel beyond the news. The title of the presentation was "Israel - That Place from the News". The main idea of the presentation was to talk with people about the things they less know about Israel. Culture, Music, Food, brief History, communities and diversity in Israel, etc.
People seemed to attentive (or polite....)

I didn't have a group of Japanese with me, but I had my amazing J and my also amazing group of friends from the hostel. Love them! I think they earned the dinner we'll have together later this week.

When we got to the questions session all the questions went to me. A certain guy took the lead and it was going towards confrontation from the first moment. He happily praised the Israeli technology, just to mention that all of it is related to the army. I answered, that everything in Israel is related to the army when all the population has to give its 3 best years.
He further recommended to everyone reading Theodor Herzl's book, claimed there was no real presence of Jews in Israel since the Romans times and that who's the owner of the land should be clarified. Ha yeah, he had another interesting claim - that the two stripes in the Israeli flag are the Nile and the Euphrates - funny we know nothing about it. Just from the mentioning of Herzl's book, I knew the guy is speaking after being loaded with the basic anti-Israeli, quasi intellectual, regular material. They use to find in Herzl a diabolic master plan followed till today to create a huge empire or whatever other blatant invention.
Some quite focused responses seemed to make the required effect - it seems that the crowd appreciated more quite answers over a heated debate.
After a few ping-pong strokes the hostess stopped the questions. The Flemish girls organizing the evening (all cute, sweet and very well organized) seemed not to enjoy the sudden middle eastern heated debate.
Some past reading into Anti-Israeli sites turned out to be worthy.

J approached he guy and explained him why some of the things he says are unrelated to reality. He then had no choice but to approach me. He turned out to be a nice young Egyptian, with a strong will to voice his ideas (very well informed on some things, but dis-informed on others). He tried to continue the debate about Herzl and claim that Gaza is a 1.5 million people jail. I asked him to read some newer Israeli literature and about Gaza, told him that the Palestinians are big children and it's their call what kind of relations they want over their border (rockets or economy).
At the end I got a grim and late advice - 'I understand why you did the Shalit deal. But it was a mistake. Now you made Hamas big and you will have to live with it for years to come'.

Got pleasant reactions from people from Burundi, India, Japan, Belgium and Poland. I again and again feel that the liberal approach works much better than the aggressive-defensive approach. Most of the people here have no preset idea about the middle eastern conflict. They appreciate getting more information and sympathize with a logic, reasonable and honest discussion of the state of things. The main message 'we are like you', does a good job. The clips used where also fondly accepted by the audience.

We presented Israel as we love it, varied and complicated, great music, great food, great industry, talked also about bad things like the effects of brutal capitalism. It seems that love works.

Next presentation will be better now that we have most of the material, are trained and getting to know Prezi even better.

At the end, people enjoyed the cheese dips (huge success) and Japanese snacks and tea. Yummy!

We skipped some drinks in the Old Market with friends celebrating Abhi's birthday. In our way home we ran in total some 200 BA who were drank after a party in the exact sciences campus park. We almost saw a 'live' example of a guy running is bike into a water canal. Slightly funny we must admit.

A 25 minutes walk home at midnight, 12 degrees outside, was great. Now we head to sleep. Tomorrow D has class at 9:00am.

Love you all and GN,

1. On the same note, the bank official who opened D's account turnd out to be an 'Israeli Dances' instructor. He's cute and again not the only one with some kind of affiliation to Israel. Hope you'll meet him when he comes to visit Israel.
2. Next time need to talk more about the Christian community in Israel, give a food recipe and about vegetarianism/halal food in Israel (how easy the life of veggis and muslims his)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amsterdam on the water

It has been ages since we blogged. In this time, we managed to get  several 'almost posts' that are awaiting a rewrite before being posted.
Given the very probable risk that they'll never be posted, the general assembly has hereby decided to post from now on, and only if possible to cover backwards the unfinished posts.

As you could guess from the title, we are in Amsterdam, enjoying a weekend of amazing weather. About 14 degrees but clear sunny skies.

Amsterdam is definitely one of the most beautiful places we have been to. The canals, the houses amazingly well maintained, nice people, Rembrandt House, State and Van Gogh museums.... We'd stay more if Dario didn't have to return for classes and if the B&B wouldn't cost almost 100 euro per night. The B&B/Hostels prices in Amsterdam are very high as you understood already and it took us an awful lots of time to find a place to sleep - everything was full one week before.

We arrived to Amsterdam by train with a connection in Mechelen that allowed us time for a draught Leffe Brown in a bar in from of the train station. After 3 hours, we were in Amsterdam. The first impression was a shock. First, as soon as we got of the train we became passive weed smokers - not even 5 seconds of grace. We guess that it was someone taking his last smoke before heading away. I read somewhere that Amsterdam's police planned to allow smoking pot outside of the coffee shops. Well, it seems this isn't imposed in any way. Second, the building of the train station is beautiful and perfectly light (we arrive at 20:50). Third and most important - the city was full at 21:00!!!! Somehow, after almost a month in Belgium we almost got convinced that everyone should be asleep at 20:00 :-)

Maria, the Swiss born house owner, came to pick us with her Vespa and led us through the red-lights district to our sleeping place which was perfectly located in a quite alley nearby the last eastern-most canal of the district.

So, what did we have: a night stroll in the canals, a day walk in the city, a cheese shop, Anna Frank's house with a street long queue, eating haring (smoked and non smoked) and smoked makarel, a visit to the state museum, Heineken's official store, french fries in a place called Chipsy Kings and a night sleep. The day later was also crazy - Van Gogh museum, with a great and very well focused Van Gogh exhibition + a cool guest exhibition on the influence of photography over modern drawing. Later we ran to Rembrandt's house - a great reconstruction of the house according to pictures by Rembrandt himself and a very detailed list made by his creditors when he went bankrupt. A nice walk in the canals took us to the train station and on to the more rural outskirts of Amsterdam to see windmills, numerous sheep, a cheese factory and a klompen (clogs) museum.

Pufff...that was a race, but the weather was on our side and we enjoyed every moment.

We collapsed into our train seats and headed to Belgium. We mistakenly get off the train in Mechelen to try to get a non-existing connection and finally made the connection through Brussels. It was midnignt, so we were lucky that the last train from Brussels towards Leuven was over half hour late. This made us feel two things:
1. Lucky
2. Feel at home, back in Belgium - probably there was a queue of trains somewhere, or there was a need to convince the driver to work after 20:00 :-)

In Leuven we quickly took a cab (something to remember) and arrived home for a late dinner and a short nap...classes at 9:00am....


PS - we managed to find a coffee shop that really sells coffee!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hostel - Homeless Anonymous

From Sep-19 till Sep-28 I stayed in a Hostel.I found a rather neat place with lots of friendly faces (of the guests) and in a great location. The hostel was crowded with students who were all doing their first baby steps in the city, looking for a place to rent and exchanging tons of information. It turned to be the best support group I could expect to get. Only Matthias from the International Office gave them a fair fight over friendliness, but these people were staying with me hours over hours at the hostel and outside, thus became my definitive survival kit. Many decisions and researches were saved when someone else already did that and shared with everyone, including in which university residence has free places in order to tell so to the housing office.
The group included people from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Albania, India, Pakistan, Czech Republic and your humble servant of course.

The hostel itself was weird in certain things. First of all it looked cleaner than any hostel I've ever been to, had a nice public space, a fully equipped kitchen and a nice yard. On the other hand, the so called 'breakfast' was merely bread, jam, butter or chocolate spread, apples and cornflakes. Ha...and there was the hot drinks machine.

The hot drinks machine was the first place were we all met the Belgium deadline…8 more hot drinks. Everyone in Leuven go to sleep…sorry, did I say 8 pm? I should have said 7 pm. I promise to keep complaining about this.

So, the rules of the hostel said that the kitchen and hot drinks machine aren't allowed to be used after 8 pm. It felt a bit like a military camp - if you want to cook you need to arrive at 19:00 and get done by 20:00. The official explanation was fire security, i.e. that the reception is getting closed.

In two cases the owner went nuts, shouting all over the hostel. B/c of a misunderstanding he threw an Albanian girl to the street in the middle of the night and kept shouting for minutes. In another case Portugues-Spanish lads used the hot drinks machine after midnight (plugged to another power outlet) and later rudely handled the security camera. In the morning the owner was again roaming the place and interrogating everyone who appeared in the night cctv-tape of the kitchen as soon as we finished to brush our teeth.

There were also some none students. Those I remember most, were the two Hungarian villagers who drove all the way from their village nearby Budapest's airport to the UK to meet their daughter and now they stopped for a rest in Leuven before driving back. We had a pleasant conversation, in which they were explaining me why I should believe in god (b/c that what the bible says) and telling me that once there were lots of Jews in Hungary and that they contributed a lot. They also asked whether it's right that we (Jews) 'learn all the time'. I got a very tasty sweet defined by them as 'cottage cheese covered with chocolate'.

After finishing talking and drinking a tea, the two went to sleep in their room. Moments later they hesitantly approached me. The man mumbled 'there is black man in my wife's bed'. His wife kicked him and he soon made a significant change to his recount of the events 'sorry, a brown man is sleeping in my wife's be'. I went with them up their room. The Indian guy who was peacefully sleeping, was very nice and moved to another room (another girl was by mistake in his bed, and he took what he thought was a free bed).

In the past days some of the girls from the hostel complained they got bitten by bed lice. I didn't experience it.

We are still meeting with the hostel people. In a place were you are a foreigner this is like an adoptive even if defective family - after all, you don't chose your family nor did I in this case.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The quest for an apartment

It must be said that the people of Leuven are very peculiar about their will for you to find a place. I guess they believe that if you do not know how to get to a certain place, you just do not deserve getting there. I agree that this is a great starting point for a worthy philosophical debate. However, in daily life it translates to 'How the fuck do I find Fonteinstraat 68 when there are no numbers on the buildings!? &$(@#$&@#$'

There is light till 20:00, but as of 14:00 it is quite dim. In the early morning and around 16:00 you may get a few 'sun pings', but that's all. I still don't find it depressive, but interesting...still...

Another interesting thing is that there are almost no grocery shops. You can find lots of small and ultra expensive supermarkets (e.g. Tesco), but almost no grocery shops, no neighborhood bakeries....maybe I'm missing something which I'll learn to see later on.

Just to keep you on the loop - today, my main occupation was calling immo (real estate) agencies and 'landlords' as they are called here, just to hear that they have either rented their place already or that they won't rent it for a couple/one semester. It was pretty frustrating, but on the bright side - I got to know a significant part of the city by foot. Another positive side effect is that I ran into an amazing discount-if-you-buy-6 packs-of-something supermarket. You can imagine that I ran like a mad-rat from shelf to shelf enjoying  calculating prices and comparing them to Israel.

I managed to get back to the hostel on time to prepare dinner (they shut down the stoves at 20:00) and got a great pasta with broccoli. In another post we'll further discuss the daily schedule of the Leuveneans. But just to tease you a bit I will just tell you that it's the safest place I've ever seen for bike riders, and it's getting even safer after 19:00...just because there are no cars in the streets after 19:00.

That's all for today. I still have a list of 20 possible apartments to review and prepare a list of phone calls to be made tomorrow which is also the first orientation day at the university.

And for Jen, get ready, there is a cute guy here at the international office who learned Semitic languages and would be happy to talk with you about Ebla, Yiddish or how difficult is Russian compared to Hebrew.

Love you all,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A first shiny day

Landing in Brussels was swift. In 10 minutes I was passed the border control and picking the luggage. The police in the border control asked whether I was coming to work and showed interest in what am I going to study.
I've never been to an airport in which the luggage arrived so quick. It was quite an expectations build up!

Got myself a SIM card and headed to the train station. The two vending machines were broken and everyone had to queue int the tickets office. There was one queue significantly shorter than the others, which no one approached, so I did.

In 15 minutes I arrived to Leuven to a great shinny day. The city looked great from the train station, I great square and renovated buildings around. A university kiosk awaited just nearby the station, everything was great. The hostel was pretty nearby and the guy at the desk antipathetic. Though, the atmosphere here is great. Lot's of stressed international students without a permanent place to stay and only talking about apartments. :-)

The local population has a weird life, if you can call it that way. They work from 9 to 12, 14 to 17 and than everything gets closed. The supermarket turned off the lights at 18:30 while I was paying. In the hostel we can cook or get hot water for drinks only till 20:00.

Another thing I observed is that they have no grocery shops, only a few small supermarkets.

The university staff was till now very friendly, but not very efficient till now. But that for another post.
Here are some pictures.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Every story has a start

Our story starts in an hectic Sunday when Jenny was born....

Don't worry I was just joking.

I'm in Ben Gurion's airport, after an exhausting day in which I once again found that Pelephone's system is the dumbest in the world, that I have a favorite hairdresser (who would believe it?!), that I still can manage to install an PC in 30 minutes (not without Omri's help discovering that I've unplugged the electricity from the motherboard). 

Today we also went to the doc, purchased travel insurance, got food for the cats, made our wardrobe's winter-summer clothing switch, finalized the last PC backups and prepared my suitcases....

What a day!

But the most important thing today was saying goodbye to a bunch of wonderful guys (and girls of course) who made with me a long way, working on a great product and creating our own micro-society.

Many times at the airport they go nuts with me. They probably don't manage to 'profile' me.....Today the security check was swift. I was 'just' asked whether I have family in Israel. They didn't try to indict me for mission or just being 'unusual'.

The girl in the check-in was helpful assisting me to 'smooth' my luggage overweight.

Now, I'm awaiting to board the plane to Brussels. I'm expected to land at 10:00am. After a 25 minutes train ride, I must register at the university by 12:00 and in the way drop my luggage at the hostel.

When all this will be done, my next task will be finding a place to live for me and J.

Jen also still has tons of things to do at home before her flight.

This is going to be a hell of a ride. Love you all and see you here soon!