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