TDF (also known as Tour de France)

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Disliking bike races in the way that I do, is probably a sign that I am no real Belgian. (I should have a serious talk with my mother about this.)

Much worse then what I called ‘Football Mania’ when I was living in Argentina, is this “Bike Mania” here in Belgium.

What a day this was indeed! The photographer in me thinks that maybe I should have gone to Brussels today, together with the 500.000 fans that have been counted to be present at the big start , the “grand dĂ©part”, of the Tour de France. Just like I went to the Grand Place last year to shoot the Red Devils who had made it to the world cup semi finals. But then again, no!

You read me well! The Tour de France, which literally translates into ‘tour of France’, in case you didn’t get that, the tour (race) on bicycles (bikes) around France has taken off in Brussels this year. For those people that are not so good at geography : Brussels, the Capital of Belgium, which, as far as I know, is still an independent country and certainly no part of France.

Every other minute some kind of newsflash vibrates on my watch. News alerts from both newspapers and tv stations alike, about the amount of people present, how the city of Brussels had become totally inaccessible, tips on how to get there if you happen to be desperate, an article on why it is important that it started in Brussels, an article on how it is the most polluting event on the world (this in an era of global climate awareness đŸ€”) and a couple of dozen other newsflashes that I didn’t even read. On the radio music and normal shows have been canceled for constant live covering. Even my husband -who wouldn’t even watch the world cup if it weren’t for me- sits next me watching the tour, live on his phone ;”They are sprinting” he tells me, apologetically.

It will not be missed, it can not be ignored. The tour 2019 is on again. I remember my astonishment when I was living in argentina, where they cover the complete race live on TV, in many -if not all- coffee shops and restaurants. At the time I thought that was insane, and we even googled the amount of people watching the tour in comparison to the -in my opinion- much more fun to watch and follow World Cup.

Well, if you google it you find out we were not the only one to wonder, a lot has been written about that. 3,3 Billion people seem to watch the tour, and a mere 3,5 billion watch the World Cup.

The amount of 3,3 billion viewers sounds insane, especially if you know there are only 11,5 million Belgians. Who else is watching?

In Belgium biking is big. We are supposed to have many good bikers, we have a biking tradition. Every Belgian man in his midlife crisis feels the need to bike up that “Mont Ventoux” in France (much better than getting a much young mistress I would say). And not to be forgotten : the best biker of all times was our own (Belgian) Eddy Merckx. He won the TDF 5 times (actually he won 11 “grand tours” to name but a few of his victories, but his list of accomplishments is too long to copy here), and the first time he did so was 50 years ago, so it’s in honour of this half god as we Belgians see him, that the tour started in our capital this year. 3,3 billion people have seen it. He deserved it.

The TDF will be omnipresent for the next 3 weeks.

I need some diversion. Maybe I can go biking somewhere? 😄 Any ideas?

PS photo was taken last year during the homecoming of our football team the red devils.

The Sorrow of Belgium

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The best thing about summer temperatures is that they are generally followed by thunderstorms. And that’s exactly my favourite kind of weather. As much as Belgians fear temperatures above 25 degrees, they also fear thunderstorms. The country even gets ‘codes’ when there might be thunderstorms coming. Code yellow, code orange, code red… depending on how ‘dangerous’ the coming storms might be.

Yesterday was code orange so I got my gear out and drove to Gent. I have been wanting to go up the belfry for a while now so I thought this was the right time.

This 90 meter high watchtower dating from the 14th century is a great place to see thunderstorms coming. It’s a not very comfortable narrow passageway, constantly ‘invaded’ by tourists, but nevertheless a great photographic spot.

Belfry

So I was waiting for the storm (that didn’t really come), watching the clouds, watching the tourists passing me. Brits, Americans, Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, a lot of Spanish speaking and many many Chinese. The Chinese, probably the most avid selfie-takers.

Then a group of French speaking ‘cool guys’ came up. You know the type 16-something, impeccably dressed, loud, showing off… This one guy saw me and automatically said “Bonjour madame!”. I answer back in French and he said, startled, “Mais vous parlez français!”, you speak French! “Of course!” I told him, “I am Belgian!”. ‘Oh, where are you from then?’, he asked. Obviously expecting me to name some south Belgian city as he seemed genuinely surprised when he found out I’m Flemish. Without thinking I ask him the rhetorical question, “but you can speak Flemish, can’t you?” and to my surprise his answer was “oh no! I don’t!” And added an apologetic “but I am from Brussels”, as if to say ‘they don’t speak Flemish there’.

By then the group had moved on and our conversation ended as rapidly as it had started. I was a bit annoyed. Don’t they learn Flemish anymore in our bilingual Belgian capital? Are we (Flemish) the only ones who remember that Brussels is -officially- bilingual? Do they really expect us to speak French, all the time?

The usual Flemish thoughts.

I had nothing on my mind except thinking, as the clouds weren’t really coming, so started thinking about that particular delicate Belgian issue : 2 different people, the French speaking Walloons in the south and the Flemish speaking in the north, ‘stuck’ together in a country called Belgium. Both languages equal, theoretically, but practically it’s always the Flemish that must adapt to the French. Or so it feels to us.

As far as I remember it has always been an issue. Language was one of the reasons Belgium came to exist, it was an important issue in the desire for independency. Back then it was the French speaking elite who were afraid they would lose power to the Flemish ‘people’. It took the Flemish a long time to become ‘equal’ as a language, with the university of Leuven (Flemish town) changing from French to Flemish only in 1968!

When I was in school French was one of the main subjects, next to Maths and Flemish, and generally Flemish was taught in the Walloon schools. Nowadays English is more and more taking the place of Flemish/French as a second language in schools on both sides of the language border.

Thus making the language tensions no longer an issue. There are no longer losers in the battle between Flemish and Walloons on what language they will speak to each other. They just speak English. That’s what I usually do anyway.

So Mr. Cool Guy’s lack of knowledge of my native language is forgiven. -I do hope he speaks English though- ;-).

This is as bad as the clouds got …

“Verdriet van Belgie”, the sorrow of Belgium, a podcast on the Belgian independence by Johan Opdebeek. Only in Flemish I am afraid. Highly recommended.

The language battle I mention here is only in unofficial matters. In political matters and official matters what language is spoken is subject to many strict rules. The prime minister for example will give all speeches half in Flemish half in French.

The panorama photo is taken with my cell phone. The other photos with my camera. check out http://www.kattiborre.com for more of my work.

The experience is real!

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As I mentioned in my previous post, should one embrace tourism or try to stop it?

Well, I guess what you will read here is kind of my answer to it!

You all know Gent, right? Ghent, Gand, Gante, or whatever you call it in your language?

It is a beautiful medeaval city, a lot (yes, a lot!) more beautiful than Brugge (Bruges, Brujas), believe me! It’s about half an hour drive from Brussels, and easily reachable by train, and when you are visiting Belgium, it is a place not to be missed. Small but vibrant, historical and modern. Good restaurants and bars. There are a thousand reasons to go to Gent, but now there is a new one :

playing with a fish eye lens

From now on you can book me for an “Airbnb experience” on a photographic tour through Gent!

As Airbnb states it so beautifully, Airbnb Experiences are “one of kind activities hosted by locals”. In this I am the local, using my love for the city and my photographic skills to assist the tourist, expat and local!

As a photographer I will guide you through the beautiful medeaval city of Gent, showing you a variety of photographic spots, and assisting you with your camera when needed.

traditional view

It will be an exceptional experience in an exceptional town where the camera and taking great pictures is the main goal. If that is not what you look for then this is not the right experience for you!

Apart from a camera all you will need are good walking shoes -we do everything on foot- !

So check it out! Gent, photografic tour, me, that’s the right combination!

Try me! Book me! Spread the news!! The experience is real!

Be sure to check my website and to follow the news regarding my photographic work

Back in the game…?

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Has this blog become dormant? Maybe it looks like it, but well, it isn’t anymore! We are now 3 years further in the 21st century and here I am again. A tourist, no longer an expat and always a local. Yes guys, I guess I have officially moved out of Argentina!

For years I have been wondering, together with my readers, why I had moved to that beautiful country in the Southern Hemisphere, and being back in Europe I truly wonder why I didn’t stay there.

But well, I didn’t. Life changes.

A blog for tourists, expats and locals. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Who of the 3 are you? Where do you live? Where are you from? Where are you going to? Don’t we all wonder about that? Aren’t we all moving from and towards something (more or less) interesting?

I will now start to focus on life here in Europe. That continent more or less the same size of the USA, but with 740 million people living in 44 different countries and speaking 24 different languages. Where cultural differences are significant and which makes it all just more interesting. A continent that is so rich in history that it’s considered an open air museum to the rest of the world.

I will start exploring, together with you ! I have been away for a significant time (8 years) so this might become an interesting ride!

Like, tourism. Did you know that in 2018 Europe received 713 million international tourists, that’s about half of all the tourists in the world!? (source UNWTO)

Should we embrace tourism? Or try to stop it? If it weren’t for Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer ‘s book “Grand Hotel Europa”, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. Now I do. Think about it.

Check out my next post to find how I cooperate in tourism, and a lot lot more!

PS also check out my news section in my website to and follow what I do in relation to my work as a photographer

PS foto : Gent, Belgium, taken with my fish eye lens.

Pa

Spa-see-ba (thank you)

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The other day I had lunch with my mom, I don’t know how we got to this, but she mentioned that she thought St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city she has ever seen. And she has seen a lot. Of course, St. Petersburg has been on my ‘to see’ list since forever, just like Paris and London is on most peoples lists, but for one reason or another I never checked it out. Probably because it has always had the reputation of being very expensive. 
But nowadays our lives have changed. Information is at everyone’s reach and while waiting for the soup to boil, out of boredom, I started to check prices on my phone, and less then 24h later, pleasantly surprised by the what I had found, I had my trip booked. 
And then I was overwhelmed. 
I just couldn’t believe it. 
St. Petersburg, Russia, here I come!


Russia has always been present in European history. The tsars. Peter the great. Catherine the great. Alexander II and Napoleon. World War I and II. L’hermitage. Tolstoy and Dostojevski. Communism. Lenin and Stalin. St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and then again St. Petersburg. RASPUTIN! Winter palace. Cold. Snow. East front. Cold War. Faberge eggs. Alexander III. Anastasia. Did she survive or didn’t she? Russia speaks to our imagination. It always has and always will. 
We know a lot and at the same time we know nothing. I had 10 days -the time needed to get a visa- to get informed and I decided on reading Montefeori’s ‘the romanovs’, which had been on my to read list for a while. 300 years of history and I don’t know how many tsars in only 700 pages. I should have known it would leave me with my hunger. 
So I am still overwhelmed. There is too much to know, about Russia in general and St. Petersburg in particular, and I know so little. 
Our first quick walk through town, through a beautiful street with an unpronounceable name, overwhelmed me even more. My gosh it is beautiful! Never did I see such beautiful Christmas decoration, such a beautifully illuminated city. So European and still so foreign. 
So I started learning, at the bottom, starting with the basics, like a silly tourist, by asking the waiter how you say ‘thank you’ in Russia. Repeating it 10 times, only to realize that when he brought the next glass of wine, I had already forgotten it. I feel silly speaking English. 
St. Petersburg. I am overwhelmed. I need to get to know you. I already know now that I won’t have enough time and I know I will have to come back. 
St. Petersburg. I love you already. 

Every King wears a Crown

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As we all know, every king wears a crown… Although I do know it has become a bit out of fashion ; apart from maybe the British Queen, who still wears one?  I have never seen our king with a crown, and I even wonder if he has one. But still, the Belgians have an official Coronation Feast, even though it has nothing to do with our Royals, and everything with Saints. For this you must go to the city of Tongeren, Limburg, every 7 years.

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So that is what I did. I drove down into the deep Limburg, close to the boarder with Wallonia (our French part), close to the German Belgian part (yes, we do have a German part in Belgium, and German is an official Belgian language), and the Netherlands. It is so far away from where I am staying (close to Bruges and Ghent), that is seems like another country. The language spoken is a strong Limburg dialect that sounds so odd to me that I was doubting wether they were speaking Flemish or German, and I had to constantly ask people to repeat what they said as I didn’t get it the first time. It is about 150km from where I am staying. A mere 1:30h drive. This is Belgium. 

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Tongeren is small town in the south east of Flanders, with an oversized basilica (build in the 13th C and UNESCO heretage). It has played an important role in history. We have all heard of Ambiorix and the Eburones, who angered Ceasar by ambushing his army and thus killing about 9000 of his men. This Caesar, enraged and humiliated, then extinguished the whole tribe and gave another Germanic tribe, the Tungri, permission to settle in the area, and thus Tongeren was created.

Because of its strategic position it got the status of Municipium and Civitas, but the glory didn’t last. After the Roman era it came into decline and although importance went up and down over the centuries, it never returned to its former Roman status of importance. Today it is known for its Gallo-roman museum, for its statue of Ambiorix, and for the septennial Coronations Feasts.

From the 14th century on, every 7 years for the duration of 2 weeks, the relics of the church were put on view for the pelgrims to see, until it was abolished by the French in 1790. It wasn’t until 1890 that the Coronations Feast, with procession like we know it today, came to life, after the bishopric of Luik received permission for a Canonical Coronation of ‘Our Lady Mary Cause of our Joy‘, by pope Leo XIII.

Unless there was a war going on, it has taken place every 7 years ever since, and is today at his 18th edition. People from Tongeren date events from before or after a Coronation, and tell each other which one was the last one they saw. It is an important event in which 3000 of the 30,000 inhabitants, from newborn babies to elderly in wheelchairs, and all ages in between, participate in the procession. The others helping behind the scenes or standing in the streets watching the story telling procession pass. It shows several events in Marys life, and of course the statue of Mary herself joins the walk through the town. And afterwards, just to get a good view on things, you can see the whole story replayed during an evening open air play.

It is a 1 week event, with 4 processions, followed by an evening play and other events; including an photo exhibition. So now that I have put Tongeren, Limburg on the map, hop in your car and drive over. There are 2 more processions on the way (Friday the 8th and Sunday the 10th of this month), and hurry up, if you miss it you must wait another 7 years to get another chance. It is a nice area, and a cosy little town. Make it a day trip, and visit the photo exhibition and the Teseum. You can either reserve a ticket for the procession or take your own chair and sit where ever alongside the roads, but you will need to buy a ticket if you want to see the open air play which, unfortunately, is sold out.

For more details, check their website.

 

 

 

 

The Red Light City

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Patience is what I thought I have already learned. When you live in Argentina, patience is what you need. To wait in line at the bank, to wait in line for the bus, to wait in line for the supermarket, only patience can save you. And I thought I had quite enough to face the world’s challenges.

Until I started traveling in Europe and ended up in Zurich, Switzerland. A beautiful little city on the lake with the same name ; very, very picturesque, cobble stoned streets full of nice restaurants and shops. It has international vibes, let’s say I heard more English spoken than German. Suisse German I must say. Although my German is quite rusty, I do understand most of what a German says, where as I can’t figure out anything these Suisse are saying. Fortunately (for me) the Suisse are true polyglots.

But what struck me most when coming here, is the amount of red lights. It seems the huge amounts of traffic lights are all set on red. For cars as well as for pedestrians.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

So stressful I decided to take out my chronometer. Probably the first time I ever used that thing on my phone. 1 Minute until it switches to green, long enough to let 6 cars or so pass. If you can’t pass through the first green, add another minute or so to your schedule.

Or more.

Same for the pedestrians, 2 to 3 red lights -or even more- to get to the other side. Compared to this, crossing the 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires feels like a breeze.

But I am not complaining. Today I will leave the car where it is, in the parking lot of our hotel just outside the old city center, and try out the public transport. And as a pedestrian, I am bad, I cross the streets when the light is red and there are no cars. What is normal in Buenos Aires, is not done in Switzerland, but well. If that is as bad as I will be today, we shouldn’t worry too much, should we?

SĂ­ se puede!! (yes we can)

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Today was the big day, the day we have all been hoping and waiting for, not just for weeks, but for years. The day that the melagomane, populist, demagogue that Cristina was, would be replaced by a normal, intelligent president. How she could talk! Wrap everyone around her fingers saying whatever. Letting her tears roll abundantly when it suited her. As we have seen, for the last time, yesterday.

She managed to leave the country in a complete mess, making sure, during the last few weeks, to make the mess as big as possible. She doesn’t care about the country’s sake, only about how she can make it hard on her successor.

Those days are now gone, and today history was made. At last Argentines felt that their votes had (literally) been counted, that their opinion mattered, that they can make a change towards their new future. And that is what I saw today.

You can read about it, you can watch it on TV, but nothing beats being present when the Argentines let their emotions go and flow. They were not only celebrating the new era, the new president. They were also celebrating hope, finally there is hope of improvements, of economic growth and more security. Hope to finally see some transparency instead of reading and seeing only corruption. Hope to get a better life with a president who works for the country instead for his own pocket and that of his companions. But they were also celebrating democracy, which was undoubtedly, the theme of the day.

It literally gave me goose bumps, and made us all emotional. The joy was powerful, the passion contagious, when the new president and his crew drove through the crowds, and even long after that, people kept on celebrating.

The streets were crowded, the people were chanting and singing. “sí se puede” (yes we can), “Argentina! Argentina!” and many more. Not even the steamy heat, nor the blazing sun, could keep them quiet. The security measures were unseen. Cops, prefecture and soldiers made a line, all the way between the Congreso and the Casa Rosada, to make sure that no opposition could spoil the fun of the celebrators.

It was an historic day. And I was part of it. So proud.

 

She’s finally off

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An era has ended. Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner is off. It is not at all to her liking, like a little mad kid she has been behaving really badly these last 2 weeks, angry because she no longer will be the de facto Queen of Argentina. Yes, she does suffer from severe megalomania.

_KTI4245As she has even refused to take part in the hand over ceremony tomorrow, -she does not want to be on the same photo as her successor-. she had her last speech from the Casa Rosada today. And who would I be if I wouldn’t want to be present on that occasion. Hoping for an epic Evita kind of scene where the president would stand on the balcony speaking to the people, singing ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’, I was off, direction Plaza de Mayo.

_KTI4234What seemed to be a normal middle of the week rush hour, only changed when crossing the Av de 9 de Julio into the Av de Mayo. With a lot of elbow work and even a lot more patience, I tried to approach the square, camera at hand. People applauding at the necessary times to what the president was saying, although from where I was standing I couldn’t hear a thing. Sweat pearling down our faces and the rest of our body, as the heat of the day was only going up with all those sweaty people unwillingly touching each other, all with the same goal : to get to the square.

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It was all rather calm, the usual drums that I love so much, were absent. No one was crying. There was little singing. I am used to more emotions.

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I was only about 10 meters from the corner where the square starts, when people started to really push to get forward. The speech had ended and I guess they all wanted to have a last glimpse of her before she was gone for good. A girl next to me said that we all try to convince ourselves that right at that corner, there where the square starts, things will get better and we will have place to stand at ease, but don’t we all know, it will only get worse.

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I am not exactly a K fan, and she had left anyway, so I gave up my hope of a good shot and tried to make my way back.

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While pushing my way out, I realized that there were still more people going towards the square then back. Soon I was able to breathe again. Soaked, I couldn’t get home quick enough to wash the other peoples sweat off, but not before I got myself a nice light-blue-and-white flag, with a beautiful glitter-gold sun in the middle. I will need that tomorrow.

 

Exit Cristina, Welcome Democracy, Long live Mauricio, may the new era begin.

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AprĂšs nous, le dĂ©luge ! *

It feels like a good wind is blowing over Argentina. It all started with the celebrations after it was known that Scioli (the pro-K presidential candidate) had about 36% and Macri (the opposition) with his party suitably called ‘Cambiemos’ (let’s change) had 34% of the votes. But don’t get me wrong, the celebrations weren’t because Sciolli had ‘won’, but because -against all expectations- he hadn’t : he didn’t have 40% and 10 points difference to the opposition, which means we are going for a 2nd round, for the first time in Argentine history, on Nov 22.

Even though it is not at all certain that Cambiemos will eventually win the presidency, it is at least clear that the majority wants change. And you don’t have to be an expert to know that change is more than needed.

Inflation is sky-high (over 30%), there is an artificial official dollar rate, and there is the blue dollar worth about double, there is the ‘cepo’ (limit on amount of pesos that can be exchanged into dollars, necessary to pay foreign suppliers/import goods) and there are the import restrictions. Just to name a few.

The K’s moto is ‘aprĂšs nous, le dĂ©luge’. “Let the next government solve the problems (we caused)”. They couldn’t care less about the future of our beloved country. **

But now they have also touched the airlines. Of course it does not come out of the blue, but the big airliners, knowing that they are have more and more trouble to exchange their pesos into dollars due to the cepo***, and fearing a repetition of what happened in Venezuela, have now decided to not offer special prices for the flights booked out of Ezeiza anymore, and it will not be possible to book a flight more then 90 days ahead. Not that it will change a lot, I have been traveling back and forth to Europe this year and never saw any special rate, rates by the way, that start off at 1750 usd, where as a flight with the same company but in the other direction (to and not from BA) is about 1000usd.

But I am claustrophobic. Even in a huge country like Argentina, where you need days to drive to both the south and the north, in order to reach the boarder, a land that is empty, a land that is fertile and rich ; the mere fact that outbound flights might be limited and super expensive touches my feeling of freedom. A change must come. And it must come soon. Let’s cross our fingers for Macri/Cambiemos, that is all I can do, as I can’t vote, being a permanent, non-argentine, resident.

And a tough job will be awaiting him, getting this wonderful place back on track.

* “AprĂšs moi, le dĂ©luge” is a set phrase used to denigrate the attitude of someone who acts irresponsibly, without worrying on the consequences that his/her acts could have. Something like: “I don’t care what happens next, I’ll be gone”, “The world could collapse after I’m gone, no big deal”

** they literally said :”Vean estos nĂșmeros con el prĂłximo gobierno porque nosotros nos vamos”

*** a good article about dollars and cepo and airlines