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.