Wednesday, December 02, 2009
A couple of weeks ago on a rainy day, we crossed the border to visit Amsterdam. It must have been almost twenty years since I've been there the last time, but not that much had changed: the canals were still there.
Amsterdam is a very Bart-friendly city.
The Kalverstraat - Amsterdam's main shopping street (for non-hallucinogetic items).
Wolf with his cool Siberian winter hat
Guess who had hot cocoa?
Somwhere underneath this pile of bikes lies the famous Damplein.
I first saw these elephant statues on Invader Stu's blog and I was so pleased to see them for real. Wolf loved them too. They are scatered trought the city and painted in all sorts of colours and themes. This is clearly an Indian elephant.
Mrs.B was feeling peckish and wanted a little something. Yes, it's the 'Walletjes', Amsterdam's famous red light district. Wolf liked it too, because there were a lot of shops with 'balloons'. That's when we decided to set another course.
The local cuisine is simple but delicious, if you like raw herring with bits of onions that is.
Social welfare in the 17th century: it's pretty clear who the clients were.
Canals, more canals, with boats, and more boats. And many, many more boats.
You have 'champignon de Paris' and you have 'champignon d'Amsterdam'. Do not serve the latter in a cream sauce with your steak.
Time for a snack, after such a long walk. Do they have hot cocoa here?
Ok, the VERY last picture of a canal.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Touch And Go
I've barely arrived from Congo and I'm leaving again... to Congo. This time to the southwestern part instead of the northeast. I'll be back in ten days, so you'll have to make do with the other blogs that you may find in the dark pathways of the internet. Not that I can imagine that any of them are as interesting as my weblog, of course.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Feel Like A Wreck
Aaah, la Picardie...
Derilict fishing boats at the end of the harbour of Le Crotoy
Monday, October 05, 2009
The Bus To Uganda
Tomorrow morning, I'll take the 7:45 bus to Uganda. Via the airports of Brussels-Zaventem and Kigali, that is. And Wednessday, I'll hop on a small plane that will take me from Entebbe to Arua, a town on the western border not far from East Congo. There my colleagues will pick me up with their brand new Toyota Landcruiser and together we'll cross the border to Mahagi, the eastern most outpost of Congo.
I'll be gone for ten days, so you all behave and I'll bring you a small present, like I do for Wolf.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
On the second day of our holiday, we tooka historical train ride around part of the Bay of the Somme. There are two main lines, from Saint-Valéry sur Somme to Cayeux (to the south at the coast) and back and the other one from Saint-Valéry (on the South side of the bay) to Le Crotoy (on the North side), with a stop at Noyelles-sur-Mer. We opted for that second tour, because it's with a real steam train whereas the trip to Cayeux is with an old Diesel locomotive.
However, when we'd bought our tickets we only found the Diesel train. So thinking that it replaced the normal steam train ride, we boarded. It was only when we left the train station that we say the steam train leave from another station, just 500 meters from where we hopped on our Diesel train.
I blame the French for being absolutely incapable of giving clear indications. They put one arrow in the general direction, then another and then you're left to your own devises, until you see an arrow pointing completely in the opposite direction (so at least you know you're too far).
My wife blames me, of course.
So it was with red cheeks that I handed over the tickets to the train conductor, who claimed again that their directions were perfectly clear. Luckily, he didn't kick us off the train. And besides, that old diesel locomotive was at least as charming as the steam train, wasn't it?
Arrival at Cayeux. Forty-five minutes later the train returned to Saint-Valéry sur Somme.
And we're off again!
We smuggled Booh, Wolf's favourite cuddle, into the passenger compartment. She really didn't want to travel with the cargo because there were no windows.
It was very hot that day (28°C!), so Wolf made sure that Booh drank regularly.
'That's what you get for trying to scare me and my cuddle cow!'
When we got back to Saint-Valéry, we heard a steam whistle. This is the train to Crotoy and Noyelles (where we were supposed to go). See, it's not half as nice as our little diesel train!
Although admit that the cars do look more comfortable than the ones we had. But then again, we could see the tracks through the cracks between the floor boards.
Ok, it IS a nice train.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
Well, that was that. After a last well-deserved holiday in France, it's back to the chain gang. The taste of sea-food still lingers in my mouth and at night I can still hear the seagulls (or rather the storm wind beating the walls of our little cabin).
The weather was a bit of a spoiler in the end, although the week started off with temperatures up to 28°C (about a 1000° Fahrenheit I think). As a consequence, I had to sleep face down for a couple of nights, but at least Wolf and I had great fun in the swimming pool and on the beech. Mummy joined us only once, I think she prefers swimming in molten lava over water. The merest cloud in the sky and she's turning over the suitcases in search of a thick sweater.
But then the storm clouds came in and the last couple of days we let the gusts of wind blow us inland to seek calmer weather. Not that we found any, so there are plenty of pictures of us walking through various cities and places in yet another downpour. The last day, we sought our entertainment indoors and went to Nausicaa, an infotainment-zoo-aquarium-museum in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Wolf had a blast running from one fish-tank to the other. I think the penguins were his favourite, finally an animal that was exactly his size.
That final visit brought the total score on 695 pictures, some of which will be featuring here in the coming days.
Only 351 more days and we can hit the road again. - Sigh -
Friday, August 07, 2009
Vive La France
We’ve finally decided on our holiday destination. We already knew we wanted to go to France, where the sun always shines. Not that we’re going very far to the south, I don’t think a two-year-old would take well to sitting in a car for ten hours straight. So we looked for something more to the north, in the region of Picardie, Normandy or Pas de Calais. Alternatively, we could have gone to the French Ardennes or the Champagne region. But we wanted sand and sea, so they were quickly dismissed.
Budgetary considerations meant that three weeks in a five star hotel was out of the question. Instead, we’ve hired a little ‘maisonette’ on a camping at the ‘Baie de la Somme’. On the website, the camping looked lovely and clean with plenty of sand dunes and the occasional pine tree. Mmmmh, the scent of warm pine while you sip on a cocktail with your feet in the warm sand…
On the other hand, we had an occasional bad experience with places we reserved on the internet after looking at pictures that showed spacious rooms and clean hotels. And no doubt our caravan will wash away in the Somme river after days of torrential rain. But I don’t care; I want to go on holiday abroad!
Only three more weeks and we’re off…
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Dance de l'Equateur
I had a busy schedule for my last trip to Congo, so for once I didn't take my camera. After all, I'd only be seing the inside of meeting rooms and conference halls. Boy, did I regret that decision! Although I must admit my hand lugage was only half as heavy as it normally was.
Anyway, here are some pictures from my last trip. On the evening before our return to Kinshasa, we were invited to a party in honour of three young men that had just become priests. All in all, the party was pretty lame. Everybody was sitting around tables, talking and drinking, but nothing much happened.
And then this crazy dance group entered:
Shake that boooooh-taaay!
For your information: one of these women is a nun. Guess which one.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
We'll Meet Again
I'm off to Congo again, tomorrow morning I'll be on a plane that will take me to Luanda (Angola) first in what can only be described as a long and boring detour to get to Kinshasa.
See you all in two weeks time. In the mean time, try to behave.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
While I was staying in Mbandaka, I met this little fellow:
His name is Gaston, and he was staying at the same place as I did.
Although I must admit that my room was slightly more comfortable. And more spatious too.
He was staying at the procure of the archbishop of Mbandaka, after being 'rescued'. This means that he was bought from a trader, but of course that's exactly what keeps the trade in baby chimps and baby bonobos going. Hunting, catching and selling chimpansees and bonobos is 'highly illegal' in Congo, which means that you have to avoid the cops or you may have to bribe them.
The sad part is that to catch these baby/infant chimps, they have to kill the mother. Gaston is still a young animal, but when he's fullgrown, he'll be able to tear that cage apart like a house of cards.
There's nothing really much for him to do all day long in that little cage, except for eating. As you can imagine, his diet is not really adapted to his needs, although the staff of the center are quite fond of him and regularly offer him food.
He spends a lot of time sucking on a piece of bone.
All in all, his food was almost as fresh as ours...
As you can imagine, it's a pretty miserable life. The chances that he'll ever get out are slim. I talked to his caretaker, and he said that he would be released into the wild when he would be old enough. Problem is, he won't know how to feed himself even if he does regain his freedom. One stormy night, his old cage blew over and broke apart. But Gaston didn't run away. He was lured back into another cage with a bit of food.
To try to cheer him up, I made him some toys. My brother works with bonobos in the zoo, so I tried to create something similar to what I saw there, something that might keep him busy for a couple of hours. Here you see the Chimp Amusement Device Mk II (the Mk I was just an empty water bottle). You can see the hole in the cap, which is just big enough to get one of the nuts out that are inside the bottle.
Gaston was very happy when I offered it to him. It captured his imagination for at least five whole seconds. Then he understood that it was not immediately edible, and that he'd have to work a bit to get the peanuts out. So he discarded it on the floor of his cage.
Well, at least I tried.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
When I'm on a business trip I mostly function on restaurant food. That might seem appealing, but you have to take into account that a) good restaurants are hard to find in Congo in general and even more so in the interior of the country and b) I work for a humanitarian organisation, so think more in terms of 'local grub' than 'exquisite local cuisine'.
I was in Mbandaka for four days, a city situated on a place where the mighty Congo river meets a number of tributaries. It's a region known for it's fresh water fish, and the first evening we had a great meal of grilled fish, poached fish and fish steamed in banana leaves (Liboke). It all tasted wonderfully and I tasted plenty of it. The next day for lunch we got the same meal. I still thought it was great, and wolfed it down like a crocodile that had been on a vegetarian diet for six months. That evening, it was the same menu, as was it for the remainder of the four days we were there. The same three fish dishes every lunch and every diner. The last days, we were offered (canned) sardines for breakfast. I drew the line there.
I ate in various local restaurants during the rest of my visit, eating various meats and avoiding the fish even when it came highly recommended. And after ten days or so, I really start to dream about home made food.
So an invitation from local friends to dine at there place is a very welcome opportunity away from the steak-with-fries or grilled chicken. And what a feast it was! There were at least five different dishes, with chicken, steak, goat, fish, rice, pasta, fries and of course 'la boule nationale': maniok. There were also different kinds of local vegetables that I recognise, but I keep forgetting there names. So I scooped up a bit from every plate and went for the rice, because maniok is really not my thing. And I put plenty of the sauce that accompanied the chicken on my rice.
Nobody told me that it was pili-pili sauce. They didn't have to, because one mouthful of rice was enough to show me the error of my ways.
Temperatures suddenly rose from a balmy 35°C to somewhere between 1500°C-3000°C. My fork melted in my mouth. My seat burst into flame.
I bravely continued conversation while doing my best to reduce the mountain of rice on my plate to proportions that would show that I appreciated the food very much – not implying that I didn't finish half of my plate because it was foul. And it was great food... just a tad volcanic. In fact, I bet you could use that sauce to convince volcanoes that it is not a good idea to erupt because it's too hot outside.
Luckily, there was plenty of beer to cool down the furnace in my stomach. By the time the evening was coming to a close, I'd finally stopped sweating and the colour of my face returned from bright signal orange to deep red with hints of actual flesh colour.
I might add that the fun doesn't stop there with pili-pili sauce, because the next day my bottom experienced what my tongue felt the day before. But I won't disclose any more details on this particular experience...
Monday, May 18, 2009
Evening view on the Congo river in Mbandaka (Dem. Republic of the Congo).
Just to let you know I'm back and more or less still alive.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Who Needs Adventure Anyway?
Transport problems so far:
- The rear wheel on the left side of our jeep fell of while we were riding (very slowly). The whole thing started to jiggle like a belly dancer on steroids. Not surprisingly, because there was only one bolt holding the wheel. We had to return on foot, but luckily this happened right when we entered the city. We'd just returned from a trip 20 miles out in the rain forest.
- The plane from Mbandaka to Kinshasa was five (5) hours late.
- We almost missed the plane to Kananga because the lady at the check in made an error while entering us in the computer. We then had to wait for the ICT specialist of the airport to rectify that error. We had to make a mad dash over the tarmac. The plane's ladder had already retracted and the engines were running. Luckily, the lowered the ladder and we could enter.
- It's the end of the rainy season, so there's more turbulence than calm air around.
- If you thought European/American airline food was bad, try the sandwiches here. One of my colleagues had the runnings after eating two of those sandwiches.
- I almost missed my plane back to Europe because of a giant traffic jam right during the evening rush (although Kinshasa seems to have an all-day-long rush these days). A couple of cars collided near Patrice Lumumba's memorial, and of course nobody moved one before they'd made a detailed study of what happened. We arrived at the airport less than 30 minutes before take-off. I only made it because basically I rushed through customs and security checks without showing papers or opening my bags. Try that in a European airport!
So all things considered, quite a normal and uneventful trip really.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Out Of Europe
Today, my nephew Ibe is baptised - staring Mrs.B and myself as godmother 1 and godfather 1 (my brother in law's brother and sister-in-law are godfather 2 and godmother 2 - that kid's going to be spoiled by all the presents he'll get at New Year). My sister does the catering, so I expect an avelanche of cakes, sandwiches, cheries-with-meatloaf, croissants, soup, applesauce, pancakes, etc. etc.
And tomorrow morning I leave for Congo, which means you'll have to miss me for two weeks unless I get the opportunity to leave some status reports in the comments to this post.
I'll take no less than four domestic flights on this trip and I'll be travelling through various parts of the tropical rain forest in an area best known for it's periodic Ebola outbreaks. So if I don't make it back, decide amongst yourselves who gets what part of my enormous porn collection.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Winter In Zeeland
It's been cold these past few days - to Belgian standards that is. The freezing wind and the low sun reminded me of our weekend in the Dutch province of Zeeland last year.
We were staying in a holiday resort on an isle between the North sea and two salt water lakes. The wide beaches are excellent playgrounds for all kinds of wind-powered toys, like these kite riders.
Although there was not a lot of wind (phew for that), it still was very cold. But for Wolf, it must have been nice and warm in his fifteen layers of clothing, blankets, duvets, sleeping bags, etc.
My true love brings sunshine in my life.
That's the Dutch for you: always building things in the water.
We went to Zeeland to celebrate my mother's birthday. And this was the very festive house in which we were staying. You have to admit it looks very much like a birthday cake. Just needs some giant candles on top, and a bit of sugar frosting.
In contrast to Belgium, the Netherlands still have a real coast line with dunes and tide pools and inlets and beaches and so on. Nothing like the wall of concrete that borders the small strip of sandy beaches in my poor country. As for the dunes: I think we still have three. Maybe three and a half.
Here you see my family dragging the babies in their buggies through the soft sand of the dunes. On the left my sister and her husband, with my mother in the back between them. On the right Mrs.B with my father peeping over her shoulder. Notice that it took considerably less effort to get Wolf in his all-terrain 3x3 turbine-powered buggy through the sand, while sis and B-I-L had to pull and heave little Hebe all the way to the hard sand near the beach.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
With The Kids In Africa
It's my birthday today (feel free to send me money) and I don't feel like writing a long post today. So how about some pictures from my last trip to Congo?
These are some children I photografed in a nutritional health care centre (CNS) in the Vitamine district (I kid you not) in Kinshasa.
I really like this picture.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Two boys with their sardine can toy cars (Kinshasa, october 2008)
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Out Of Africa
I'm home again, after a week of absolutely fascinating business meetings that I will tell you all about in great detail the moment you're begging for euthanasia. Luckily, we did an interesting field trip halfway through, so that broke up the infinite boredom a bit.
I did bring back a little souvenir:
I've got farts
And my butt
Is loosing control
For the bacteria
It's greased diarrhoea!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I know it's been quiet over here, but the international bank crisis has hit the Bartlog mansion hard. Not that we have any bonds, stock, gold, diamonds or anything that remotely resembles money. But let's just say that my chances of becoming a millionaire are as remote as ever.
Blogwise, it will remain calm, as I set sail (or wing) to the Slightly More Democratic Republic of the Congo. I can't tell you how much I look forward to tomorrow's flight: it's an 11-hour haul via Angola. I'll be back in ten days, loaded with pictures, tropical diseases and a wagon load of sweaty clothes. It's not the best period to go to Kinshasa, the weather's generally hot and humid this time of year.
In principle, I will have access to internet, but currently you have a bigger chance of winning the loto in Kinshasa than getting any electricity. If I do manage to find a diesel-powered computer and modem, I'll keep you all posted in the comments, as usual.