Archive for april, 2013

We don’t always need to go far

Living where I live, I am blessed with countless little footpaths through forests and fields. After two minutes, I can leave the road and it’s possible to run for two hours without needing to follow a real road. When I returned this year, I was thrilled to find a lot of new footpaths being opened. The possibilities are now mind-boggling!

When running through a patch of forest next to the Dodebeek (“Dead Creek”, although it’s not a spooky place 😉 ) I find whole patches of flowers in bloom. Combined with the first leaves appearing on the trees (yes, up till a week ago everything still looked wintery dead) it gives a great boost of springtime energy. I return a bit later with my camera, and try to capture this short lived little bit of mystery-in-the-forest.


Im Osten

No, the title doesn’t “I am Austin”. It says “in the east”. The east of Belgium that is. A delightful  mixture of cultures that always makes me feel at home.

I spent a year in the grand duchy of Luxemburg as a kid. Having had a blast there (imagine your childhood spent between boars, fields and forests) the return to Belgium was inevitably quite horrible. We lived in a dark apartment in the most depressing part of one of Belgium’s most depressing cities. I had to be quiet all the time, and across the street was a nice… mustard factory. Oh joy.

Later in life I took all chances to go to the south and east of Belgium again. In my first two jobs I had plenty of opportunities to discover more, and gladly took those. When driving south, after a certain point the hills began to roll, the rivers began to meander and the rocks started popping out. Home. Strange, how I have always felt more like the flat fields and straight channels of Flanders were an adoptive country.

Anyways. I took the opportunity to break out of the mold for a day and go hiking in that lovely piece of the east. It’s a region that has been tossed around between Germany and Belgium plenty of times. Sometimes causing great grief. But right now, they are probably the last ‘real’ Belgians. They speak German, French and Dutch, their radio station is still called Belgische Rundfunk and they call their region Ost Belgien. No matter how much silly politicians try to convince them they are something else.

First stop is the little village of Ouren. Surrounded on all sides by Germany and Luxemburg, the beautifyl spot has a nice church and church yard. The hike around the village goes on for hours, takes you over the border a few times (all of a sudden there’s an educational sign in Luxemburgish). I’m very very glad that I can still speak German. When asking for a bit of information from a villager, the lady gives me quite a bit of details on what to see and do. Some people after me approach her in French (assuming that everyone speaks French on this planet) and she just mumbles something about how they just should follow me, haha.

It’s one of the first really sunny and warm days of the year, and washing up from a cold river is a joy not to be missed.

Although the hike took longer than I anticipated, it’s still only three pm, and I feel like I need more. After stocking up on energy in Friture* Peters (what a wonderful experience to be served in German in a Flemish looking house in a Walloon looking village) I go for a hike that will take me a bit through the High Fens (Hautes Fagnes, Hoge Venen). Belgium’s highest, coldest, wettest spot.

(* friture = sort of fish and chips without the fish)

Starting point is the town of Longfaye. When I go up to the starting point, there’s a massive group of hikers just returning. A chat with their guide confirms that I might be too ambitious for wanted to do the whole thing in the remaining hours of sunlight. But I like a bit of a thrill so off we go!

By a little stream some kids are playing in the ice cold water, shooting their water guns. They are about 8 years old, at least half an hour’s hike from the nearest house, and there’s not a grown up in sight. I am very happy to see that it is still possible. Knowing that in Flanders, most children are not allowed to even go over to a friend’s in the same steeet on their own, this is quite a relief.

Then again, however wonderful it must be to grow up as a kid here, it must be horribly boring to be a teenager here. There is absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to go , apart from Friture Peters.

The hike takes me through icy patches and the wind gets cold really fast. The trees are all Douglas Fir, imported from Canada because they grow fast. But they don’t do well on the soggy soil, so the whole place is a strange swampy forest, right out of a Russian fairy tale. When the sun starts setting, I do get that nice sort-of-panicky feeling. With the additional adrenalin and the help of two other hikers (who also enjoyed the fact that they had been lost a bit) I make it to a nice little waterfal, and then back to the car.

Driving home, I listen to the German language radio for as long as the signal carries me, and I start another work week with recharged batteries. Recommended.


What an ugly word. Gamification. But its uglyness suits the subject matter well.

It’s a booming practice in software and website making. Trying to transform a mundane application or advertisement into a game, with scores, badges, ‘quests’, unlockable things.

I absolutely hate it. Not just because there is absolutely no  fun involved, but because I can hear the designer thinking “here’s how we will herd them into line again”. Very soon, you’ll see that actual games will start dropping things like badges and scores, because they will remind us too much of advertisements or work. The world upside down.

I get the point behind it though. There was a time when I even wanted to make a full out dashboard of my own life, integrating my bookkeeping, workout schedules and music practice into one Zelda-like interface. How silly. It’s not about scoring points for every new scale learned, it’s about enjoying each note you play.

Keeping track of your progress is good (so you don’t end up at a jam session, realizing you don’t know the scale of A minor) but there is something seriously wrong when you need a game mechanic to keep you motivated to learn each scale. External motivation just doesn’t pay off.

It ties in nicely with another round of spring cleaning here. Many more books, comics, manga, cd’s, movies, gadgets etc are going out. It’s always a bit scary when you get rid of something, because it feels like part of you is going out of the door, never to return. But it’s the same mental mistake: it’s just books, not yourself. I always felt the need to keep lists, as if I wanted the world to know what I read, therefore, who I am. But having your book on the psychology of travel on your shelf doesn’t change you in the slightest bit. If you read it, and got the point, then pass on the book. And don’t be afraid to forget. It feels great to be reminded of something after many years.

How come…

How come…

Priority customers get to skip the security lineup at the airport and spend their time at comfy lounges, but still sigh and make ugly faces?

How come that when they are supposed to be lucky to be boarding first, in fact they are starting their own lineup, standing straight and still about half an hour earlier then the economy customers, who get to keep sitting nicely on their butts untill the line starts rolling smoothly.

When you think about it, it is a miracle of moneymaking. You offer an upgraded service, which costs you let’s say 20 dollars more. But you make the customer pay a 220 more for it. They will pay for the ridiculously overpriced service anyway, avoiding to be judged as cheapskates by their peers.

Lesson of the day? Fuck peer pressure, it’s not doing you any good.

I could go on for ages about clothes, bored faces, duty free shopping and rich sons who clearly dispise their fathers (while still gladly taking his money).. but the point has been made.

Holidays in Nanaimo

Yay! Three weeks back on the island, in the arms of that one and only superduper lover girl of mine 🙂 Some might say ‘wife’ but I think that doesn’t do her justice 😉

Camping on Mayne Island and seeing the Japanese memorial garden there. Hiking up Mount Benson in the snow for the first time with a brave crew. Making pancakes for four hours straight (who were devoured in 10 minutes at a dinner party), cuddling with the black boy and wishing I could take just one extra item home with me! See, there’s enough room in my suitscase!u

Coming soon, picture from a hike in East Belgium.

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Winter days in Belgium

Winter was long. Very long.

So what’s a man ought to do? Drive to Holland to buy a mandola, see some wild chickens on the way, visit a friend’s woodworking shop, make my own pickled ginger (good for lunch at work), do big scale groceries in 5 different asian supermarkets in and around Brussels and see two suns!

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Lazy days

Finally a chance to upload some pictures from the small trip between Vancouver and Belgium.

Stops: Montreal, Toronto, London, The Hague, Amsterdam and Maastricht.

Forgive this man the lazyness to not include any comments. Just pics! I leave it up to you, dear reader, to find out which picture was taken where 🙂

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