Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Post exams' vacuum

The last exam is over. A sudden vacuum. I smell the change.

The temperatures here are between -3 and -7. Tomorrow -11 is expected. The landlord lady offered me clothing if I'm cold. She's sweet.

After today's exam I had beer with a study buddy who wrote a paper with me and later had an end of semester bbq in the house of a friend. Now finally home after a frozen walk from down town.

It is the first exam in which I made a gross mistake that will cost me a lot of points, but I will pass the exam. I need not this course grades, but it again shows me how little do I enjoy scoring low, even when it's not important. The most funny thing is that I'm really proud about the answer I wrote. Great answer, but not for the asked question....

Now that's over, and I have no clue how do they check exams and grade them over here - so I cannot even guess my grade.

In general it drives me nuts that I've presented papers, done presentations and exams over the past 3 months and I will not know any grades till past mid-February. I just don't get this system.

In these months I learned a lot about my writing capabilities and how to approach a paper.
I also had to confront face to face my non-sleeping issues and my time management issues. There were no excuses now - no work, no family, nothing. I improved in some aspect, but there is still way to go.

My last anthropology exam seemed to be rather good and during a chat with the professor after the exam over an idea I had, he offered me to write a thesis with him on the subject.  We shall see. Things aren't clear. I still don't have things clear in my mind how everything will evolve now. The only clear thing is that I need to finish my MBA.

Tomorrow, will be a day of cleaning, paper work, publishing stuff for sale and hopefully being able to change my flight date so that I return earlier home to meet my beloved yellow and furry hamula.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Studies....and more studies....

I'm 24 hours before my last exam.

Today it snowed for the first time, though light snow. Temperatures are below zero so the snow didn't melt.

J is growing tired, but is ok. We expect that I will have to return home a bit earlier than expected.

I'm like a prisoner sitting at home studying, since the Belgium trade unions are again on transportation strike. Here is what I see from my window.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just a typical day

I few weeks ago I got a letter from the municipality saying that my electronic resident card is ready. I didn't went to take it, after all I'll be leaving in a few weeks.
Last week the bank emailed me that they are freezing my account till I show them the resident card.

So, I went to the municipality just to find that I need to bring my previous resident permit in order to get the card. Regardless, the clerk was very nice, recognized me when I stepped in and greeted me with a full smile 'Shalom!'

Yesterday I arrived again, just to find again that I need not only my previous permit, but also the security codes they sent me by mail and the receipt that I have paid for the new card. Yes, they confirmed, they can see in the system that I paid already, but they still need to see the receipt.

Don't get me wrong. Everyone in the municipality are extremely nice. I also found that in the receipt I got 3 month ago when paying for the electronic card there was a list of all the documents I should bring. But, it was in Dutch and I wouldn't guess that the receipt includes the details for the next step. I will definitely learn for the next time I'm in Belgium.

Today I finally came with all the papers and got my residence card. At least all seems ok with the card. A Pakistani friend got his card with a new and interesting nationality assigned to him: Israeli - we made quite a lot of laugh of it.

Later I went to the local health clinic to pay debts I knew we had there. They sent me to the accounting department. Initially, it seemed I cannot pay because it was only 2 months ago and the invoice wasn't produced yet.... Eventually I managed to pay, but I will get the receipts only by mail....

The receipts are needed to get the refunds from health insurance, another procedure awaiting ahead....I think I'll see the money only after being back to Israel...

I then went to the optometrist to ask them to amend a receipt they made for me which didn't got the price correctly printed. It's good the lady was behind a glass window. Otherwise she would have eaten my head.

Now I only have another day or two of filling forms for reimbursements....

And just to keep things in proportion - J has spent 8 hours in the last 3 days trying to get two mobile phone companies in Israel to move my phone number from one to another and as of this morning they kept blaming each other without providing a solution.....


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pushing forward

21-Jan-2012, 13:30

Well, that was a white night. I had today an exam, and I forgot that at the time of the exam I had to present and defend two papers. I remembered only one of them.
Eventually, I made it on time and it seems that the papers are good eventually.
It has been a long time since I had a really white night with no sleeping at all.

J is getting used to our furry creatures and to the respective alergy. Our creature-boy is growing every day and keep making substantial efforts to impede his mother from sleeping.

The important thing is that the exam is behind me now and only 2 are left to go.

So, to celebrate it, here go some morbid :-) pictures of Leuven. Hope you'll feel the winter blowing from the pictures.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Initial pics from Edinburgh, Scotland

Hi All,

We have kept you long without any news, though most of you must be up to date at this point.
In any case, D is deep into exams and J is at back at home.
Since our last post, we have stayed a few last days in Leuven, went to Edinburgh and later went directly to Winchester to visit dear friends and rest.
Resting was crucial for obvious reasons and we gave up on plans we had to visit another 2 friends on our way south.

This isn't the full set, but at least it's something of Edinburgh to keep you busy.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Madrid, Sun and Christmas

We left towards Spain expecting a cold weather in Madrid. As expected, Madrid was colder than Belgium - the dry weather of the city and the wind make it pretty chilly.
Though, the most strong impression was the sun. Suddenly, after months in Belgium we had a high sky sun (relatively to winter) and the light was much warmer. It was a real treat and we enjoyed every moment.

Iberia's flight took of late as expected and the pilot was in a rush to get to Christmas dinner, so the flight took about 25 minutes less than planned. The noise in the plane left no doubt that we are going to cross a cultural boundary. The PA system clearly said in Spanish, English, French and Dutch that people sitting in rows 27-30 are requested to board first. It was useless, everyone pushed in and no one of the boarding crew even cared to check the people's sitting place.

Madrid's airport was gloomy in Christmas night, empty and non festive. Everything changed as soon as we met Juan who came to pick us. Meeting a brother after years feels you with joy. There is no way around.
Before leaving airport we faced a HUGE Belen full with baby Jesus, biblical landscape and a castle with crusaders.

Arriving to Juan's parents place was great. The children were thrilled to see us, the warm receptions of our Spanish mother and father was as always, Pilu looked the same and sweet as always and above all (after all one should have clear priorities in life) only one bottle of Leffe Noel was broken. All the rest 8 litters of beer we carried in the suitcases arrived intact and with them the 4 Kilos of fresh Dutch Zeeland mussels.

The Christmas dinner served was amazingly tasty and big (lobsters, various kinds of shrimps and traditional morteruelo de Cuenca among others, pulp a la Gallega). A great cava was a perfect for us, while the boys enjoyed the beers we brought. The night ended way after midnight when we were all dead tired.

The day later (Dec 25) we had a welcoming and tasty lunch with the huge family of Pilu's parents and enjoyed a great conversation.

It would probably come to you as a shock, but the Christmas market in Madrid was open even after Christmas eve. How crazy this people are, right? Why the hack don't they close their markets a week before Christmas like in Leuven? And later people would say that Spaniards are lazy.

Another observation is that the square which was taken by the "indignados" (the social protesters in of Spain) was again taken, though this time by a huge crowd of consumers spending money in the occasion of Christmas. Social Protest 0 : Capitalism 1 :-(

In the next days we visited downtown Madrid (w/Cuban lunch) and Avila with its very well preserved early middle-ages' wall and a cold respectful appearance of a Castillian administrative center (w/ local meal of beans, known in Spain as Jewesses white and green and beef stuffed little red peppers).
A quite day in the middle allowed us to rest, visit the botanic garden, have  a macrobiotic lunch and visit Juan's parents again and doing a short bar round with J+P's friends.

Our last day trip was to Manzanares el Real. A very well preserved and reconstructed medieval castle with a great nearby natural reserve. Both adults and children enjoyed the castle with the 3 Magi posing for children.

In the morning of Dec 30 we woke up with a clear will not to leave our family in Madrid, the great sun and return to Leuven for what will be our last visit together in our Belgian home. We enjoyed the trip to Madrid a lot, but it filled us with sadness leaving and knowing this is the beginning of the end of our time in Europe.

It's probably needless to mention that Iberia's flight was again taking off with a significant delay.

This is the time to say once again how much we dislike the EU bureaucracy which makes us have to separate in a week.

Just to end this post with a bit more encouraging spirit, we'd like to extend our eternal gratefulness to Iberia which delivered our baggage in the same flight.


European web sites

We hope one day to find an answer to the following weird behavior of European web site

  • Shops web sites rarely allow purchasing
  • Sometimes ask for bank transfers, e.g. for shows tickets... and credit cards payment are not possible
  • Catalogs in PDF files
  • Often they don't work with 2 out of 3 browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome)
  • It's very common that when you search for tickets/train trips/etc you have one search path. When  you find  (or not…) what you wanted, you need to start all over again just to get also the...price…
At least, yesterday we finally heard a reasonable explanations on why last moment tickets are more expensive than tickets bought months in advance and it goes like this. Tickets bought in advance have a statistical probability of meeting last moment impediments, thus assuring the selling companies an additional income in changes fees or cancellation fees. Not to mention that if you cancel they can obviously resell your ticket at a higher price. 
 (Thanks Farrukh)

This is even more surprising, since from our short experience in Europe it doesn't feel like people plan more ahead than people in other continents. At least, they seem as surprised as others when reality knocks on their door.

New Year at the Old Market

The Countdown

To sum it up:
The FESTBUS arrived on time and was full of screaming high school children
We have never seen so many Belgium people screaming!
Crackers were the preferred entertainment - they were thrown even in the middle of a square full of people (just 2 meters from us)
Disappointingly, there were no fireworks but everyone were very happy and drunk
The beer wasn't over priced (Belgium!)
Someone tried to incinerate one of the Christmas trees with a flying candle
There was a very festive queue (it's Belgium after all) and we enjoyed with a great friend!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!