Winter Blue ...

I posted, over on Facebook, that some friends in Genova will no longer believe me when I tell them I go there to escape the grey skies of Belgium.  Roberto and Doris flew in from Liguria on Monday, just as a high pressure weather system stalled over us.  They have enjoyed deep blue skies these last 3 days ...

We have had our first frosts here but a lot can be lived with if deep blue skies are involved.  I mentioned the fact that I had laundry drying on the clothes-line outside ... not completely drying but still, it was out and it was drying some, and she asked if I had photographed my lovely December clothes-line.

The thing is, once I pick up my camera, the difficulty is in putting it down again.  So rather than simply photograph sheets and duvet covers drying on my clothes-line outside, I wandered round our little pocket-sized garden.  I noticed the honeysuckle has been fooled into flowering again and that the raspberry leaves look rather divine in their autumn state. 

And so, a collage ...


It's been on odd going away on adventures not of my own making ... to places I hadn't dreamed of but it's been grand.  Absolutely excellent, in fact.

I've spent most of these last two months traveling, oftentimes feeling like Alison in Wonderland.  So ... if I haven't been exploring beautiful new locations and meeting most excellent people, I've been unpacking and preparing for the next big adventure.

Nicaragua was mentioned today but I have heard stories of wildlife I don't care to meet there and so now it is that I must prepare to face a Belgian winter ... it's here.  Oh how Belgium embraces that rotten season, wringing every last drop of greyness and misery out and dumping it over us here in the flatlands.  Our previous winter lasted into July, more or less, if I'm telling the story. 

I feel gloomy today, as darkness began descending much earlier than I recall it descending way back in August when my travels began.

Belgians have already told me of yesterday, that sunny day I spent in Paris ... was pure misery over here in Antwerp.  I feel like I should stockpile some vitamin D, and buy up all new material that slightly superb Australian, Tim Minchin, produces during this new season that I do not, in any way, enjoy.

Winter continues ...

I cleared about 10cms of snow and ice from the sidewalk this morning ...

Winter continues but perhaps I am beginning to wake, to shake off this winter lethargy, inspired by the kindness of old friends and new. I've been living a hermit's life lately, curling up in the cave of this Antwerpen winter.

Midday found Diana and I  chatting on skype, bringing each other up to speed and talking of winter and workshops.  I find her writing inspirational and this blog post helped shine a little light in on the greyness here.

And the other day ... the day after the day of drama and sadness, Miss 8 convinced me about buying the beautiful Nepalese shawl you see pictured below.  It's a little like wearing my own private version of the sun.

We discovered Nepal Handicrafts on Hoogstraat which is part of our 'pretty way home'.  Miss 8 and I share a passion for finding the most beautiful ways to reach home ... the prettiest way to go anyplace really.  The journey is our destination and we must, if possible, enjoy it.

We have an animal spelling game for the days that are bleak and the trams full.  She starts with 'elephant', for example, and then I have to find an animal whose name begins with the last letter of her animal.  More research is required as we're running out of animals known to us.  It helps that we both have Dutch spelling too but the tram journey is oftentimes longer than our memory or knowledge.

I feel more posts are long overdue.  Life goes on and the sadness that has filled me simply must go.  It's time.


So yeah ... it's snowing again.

I took the photograph on 13 March but looking out from my window today, the scene is exactly the same. 

March 20, 2013 and it's snowing.  As I set out across the city on the school run at 7.20am it was all about the umbrella, the correct amount of layers to protect us from the wet cold rain.  On the return, lost in a book on the tram, I looked up and discovered that 'outside' had turned into yet another horrid snowy winter's day.

To try and break the misery that is Antwerp this winter, Gert and I disappeared over to France, to the summer playground of the Parisians ... on a cheap Sunday night deal last weekend.  It rained but I was on a roadtrip and has always delighted me.

Although ... he had fallen on ice last week and sprained his wrist.  Slowly slowly he is healing.  The roads here are lethal in snow and ice, especially the shiny new bricks they've laid on the round-abouts.  He fell crossing the one near home.  We were talking on the phone at the time, and I was feeling particularly miserable after making a freezing cold, roadwork-infested, cross-city trek.

There's nothing quite like hearing the Belgian bloke crash to the ground and lie groaning while seperated by  more than a few kilometres.  I arrived home just in time to head off to A&E with him.  Oh yes, that was a long day.

I suspect I shall be giddy with delight when the temperature goes up and the snow finally stops because it really is Spring.  And rumour has it that these 2 hour city treks will be over as of the Easter holidays.  I really need them to be.  Antwerp, and its current mania for both roadworks and house improvements that seriously impede any progress along the pathways and tramways I take, is a bit like having my own seriously dark and snow-filled cloud over my head at all times.

And so, on that happy note .... tot straks.

Winter in Antwerp ...

These mornings, returning from the 7.30am school run, I stink of the pollution that's out there in this city. 

It was -10 celsius today, with frozen snow everywhere, and the 100,000+ per-day highway that cuts the city in half was roaring with traffic from all over Europe.  My hair and my skin stink of the fumes.  It reminds me of Istanbul on its worst polluted days, that city of 14 million+ but here there are no sea winds to blow the hugely polluted air someplace else.

They tell us that the weather will continue to hover around minus 10 overnight, rising to zero celsius, if we're lucky, with some more cold-cold coming over the weekend.

And so it is, winter in Belgium.  I might just concentrate on those photographs taken back in New Zealand.  This plant was spotted down in the garden of Christine's parents ...


Winter in Antwerp ...

It has been difficult to return to this European winter ... return from swimming and wading at various beaches all over New Zealand.  Difficult to return from a country where you squint in the sun  ... to a country where the sun makes an occasional appearance.

Difficult ... yes.  Very.

But I filled my life with projects, as is my way.  And they're all EXCITING.

And there are lots of projects because other people are so interesting however ... there's only one of me and this attempt to not miss New Zealand has become a nightmare of a workload. 

I have 5 major projects.  These last two days have been spent, head-in-hands oftentimes, as I recognise that I might have over-committed myself, in ways that I seem to specialise in.

Each project is brilliant.  Some have been underway for a while.  Some involve 1,000s of photographs I have yet to process.  Others are future plans that excite the hell out of me.

Anyway, here's a glimpse from the other day when I wandered into the city in search of boots for the snow.  I found these boots and they were cheaper than the price listed here ... half price in fact. 

And the guy that sold them to me was the nicest guy.  We chatted about the countries we come from while I shopped for my boots.  A huge thank you has to go to him because shopping in Antwerp isn't always fun and the people aren't always friendly.  When I find the receipt, I'll come back and tell you which shop I bought them in ... so you can pop in too.

And so it is ...

Snow has arrived here in Antwerp.

It's cold, damn cold.  I woke at 3am and padded through the house, trying to work out if I could turn the heating up.  It goes way down at night. It was 14 celsius inside ... it didn't feel quite right. 

It's snowing again as I write this meanwhile a tram derailed over on the Leftbank here and it's a little messy when it comes to getting past Central Station on Tram 5.  But I need more Nespresso coffee capsules, just till a delivery can be made.

Sigh.  I'm going to get snowed on. 

In good news, my voice recorder arrived in the mail today.  Interviews can happen again.  I lost mine in New Zealand and was so sad.  I am so careful with my equipment, so very careful usually.

Anyway ... outside just now.

Back in a New Zealand Summer

Sitting here, having just completed 100-shot photo-shoot, a hotwater bottle on my aching back, Miss 8 downstairs with that horrible flu/cold that's going around, waiting for the predicted snow to arrive on a zero celsius day ... I find myself missing those sublime days, back in New Zealand, on that roadtrip in the little red car.

I miss pies too.


'Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more'.

We're just in from a weekend spent in Wallonia, where the temperature dropped to below zero celsius and snow fell.  And we gathered around a huge fire in a big old house and spent our time talking with good friends.

Actually, my heart has been warmed as friends have welcomed us back to Belgium after weeks spent wandering in that New Zealand summer.

Wednesday found me out with Jurjana, my truly delicious Croatian friend here in Antwerp.  She drove me to her favourite restaurant and we enjoyed a lovely lunch and catch-up session at Patrasche, in Hoboken

Thursday and Stephanie, an English friend, came over for dinner with her daughter.  Another few hours spent talking and listening.

Friday and it was Lucy, Fiona, and Ruth.  My lovely Irish and Belgian friends.  We began as an informal Nederlands class but they have become such good friends that there was something of a 'coming home' feeling as I arrived at Fiona's house.  Actually, we don't really speak in Nederlands anymore .... but, by crikey, we always have a most excellent time when we get together.

And this weekend was the icing on the cake.  We wandered over to the New Zealand/Belgian/American household, over there on the other side of Belgium, and the snow fell and our wandering souls were surely warmed.

We're back in Belgium where its winter.

Winter in Belgium, 2012

So ... Gert tells me, the last time we had more than 14 days without the temperature rising above zero degrees celsius was ... 1-17 January, 1941.

Tomorrow we hit Day 14 under zero celsius.

Back in 1987 and again 1997 there were 12 consecutive days under zero.

Zero celsius = 37 farenheit.

More often we've been down around -10 -14 celsius these mornings (converts to 7- 14 farenheit), and there have even been a couple of -20, when you factor in wind chill factor (-4 farenheit).

Nothing much in the way of snow but, by crikey, it's been cold here in Belgium lately.

These Freezing Days in Antwerp ...

Wiinter has finally arrived.  I've been trying to ignore it, despite preferring that the seasons come and go in a natural way, however ... minus 20 celsius is simply rude.

And I wouldn't know about -20 celsius (reached due to a -11 frost the other day and combined with windchill factor) but I sometimes get to do the 2 hour-round-trip that is getting Miss 7 to school this year.  4 trams and some brisk walking.  A trip that involves a leather and sheepskin coat that weighs as much as an adult polar bear (my estimate in terms of weight) and multiple layers, with hiking boots, hat, gloves, and a scarf.

Tomorrow we have to be out the door by 7.30am and this morning, the radio weather people predicted a temp of -20 celsius.  I'm not excited about this.  I arrive home completely drained by the freezing cold bleak cityscape.  As I write this, at 9.31am, I checked in on my old blog and the weather there ... it's still -11.

I phoned Gert.  He works in one of the old guild houses in the city ... the pipes are frozen there.  They

have no water.  He's a bit glum too. 

However,the sun is shining. The heaters at home are working.  I did pick up my camera in an attempt to ward off thinking of the fact I have to race across the city later this afternoon.  I did see some nice light outside.  It's the view out the window behind me, here at my desk. 

Yes that is snow. 

Yes really, many Belgian home owners don't clear snow from the pavements outside their house.

Yes, walking anyplace here at the moment is increasingly treacherous as it freezes and freezes.

Well yes ... Monday is feeling kind of challenging, actually.  I'm here trying to write myself into a better mood.  It's not working, is it :-)

My very first newsletter is due out tomorrow.  If you would like to take a look, leave a comment and I will forward you a copy.  The first is going out to Everyone I know ... just that one time, then you are welcome to subscribe if it seems like something you would like to continue receiving.

And now ... to work.  Tot ziens.