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Why do things always break when I am at home?

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In case you have not realized this yet: Tine and the girls live in Belgium and I live.. eh.. in other places. Currently I am based in Rome, Italy.

The agreement is that when I am home, Tine can give me a stack of things to do. Things she had no time for while running a family with two teenagers and a dog, a house and garden, and a full-time job (still a mystery to me how she does it).

The funny thing we have noticed is that things typically “wait to break”, until I am home. The moment I step through that door, lights stop working, doors don’t open anymore and locks break.

Last year, on Christmas Eve (!) coming home at midnight, Lana noticed a problem with the power lines along the street, leading to our house.

work to do

She said “Dad, funny, these wires are really dragging… Something seems wrong.” As usual, dad ignored the remark, but once in the house, we found we had no power.

Earlier that night, a lorry caught one of the electricity wires further down the street, and with a domino effect, all the poles started to bend over.

Guess who was at the end of the line? Right, our house. So our connection got partially ripped off. Black marks on the wall showed where the sparks had been flying.. ;-)

work to do

No power on Xmas eve, at 1 AM… ! No electricity means no heating neither. No warm water. To my surprise, the power company came to repair it at 2:30 AM. By 3:30 AM we were in business again.

To keep up with this Murphy tradition this year, the fresh water pipe broke and flooded the lawn.

work to do

Oh and the dishwasher also gave up. And the toilet downstairs stopped working. And for some strange reason all doors started to squeak. Oh and the grill melted one of its iron supports. Oh, and also…

Today, the last bit is repaired. I am ready to fly back to Rome. I just hope nothing else is breaking before I leave. Everyone has strict orders not to touch anything anymore until I left. :-)

Written by Peter

January 4th, 2009 at 5:58 am

Posted in Stories

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The every-day traveller…

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Peter on the train today

Peter on the train todayI was home, in Belgium, this weekend. Taking the train back to Brussels airport, I was surprised how green everything still was. And how beautiful it looked.

The fields were much smaller and looked more cramped next to the other, compared to what I am used to in my second home, in Italy. But its beauty still amazed me. And it took me by surprise that I was amazed. After all, I have seen this scenery since 47 (soon!) years. I have taken this train to Brussels Airport for 15 years. And still…

It made me think about travelling… Travelling is a state of mind. In finding joy in little details. Even if you see them every day. Travelling is being amazed by these small joys. Travelling is standing still to look at a detail, no matter how common, and to look at it as if it was the first time.

I took some random pictures as the train was passing through scenery. (Surely wished my Nokia mobile phone featured a better camera!)

Belgium in fall - click for slide show

(click on the collage to view the slideshow)

Written by Peter

September 14th, 2008 at 10:54 am

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Brussels Airport: “Kiss and Drive!” and a bad luck logo…

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I am at Brussels airport, waiting for my flight back to Rome. After six weeks with the family, we are off on our own again. The kids go off to sports camp, Tine starts working in Belgium and I am off to Italy, back to saving the hungry in the world.

kiss and drive-1

Hey, they have new roadsigns at the airport, saying “Kiss and Drive”, meant to guide people to a passenger drop off zone.
I am not sure if the combination of kissing and driving is really safe, but I am all for it. However, maybe “Park and Kiss” would have been more appropriate!

So far for the smileys.

At check-in it seems they have changed the system for self check-in: you will need your reservation number. You can’t check in via your name, passport scan (as in Rome), or credit card swipe. No, you need your reservation number. Damned if I would take out my computer, boot it up, and check my email for it. Damned if I would print it out on paper before I come. Thought eTicketing was all about paperless and effortless booking and checking in? Not so with Brussels Airlines, it seems. Nope you need your reservation number, sir!.

Ok, so I try to check in at the “Express check-in”, thinking “I only have hand luggage, so I guess this is ‘express check-in’ “? Not so. A young man stopped me asking for my boarding pass. I told him “No, I am checking in, and am following the signs.” He said: “No checking in here, you need to follow that line”, and pointed to another row of check-in counters.
I told him this was confusing. He just shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way, ignoring my comments. He told a colleague who approached me to explain and said: “Ignore him, difficult customer!”
He then turned to someone else, who wanted to do the same thing as I: check in through the express check-in. And another, and another.. Soon enough we were standing with 4-5 people complaining about the confusing signs. I just stood by and smiled. Ah the sweet taste of a little revenge! Life can be so sweet…

So, I am checking in. They ask to weigh my hand luggage, which is a compact trolley with my computer bag in it. In the bag some small chargers, my laptop and a book: 9.6 kg.
“Sorry sir, you are only allowed 5 kg handluggage, you will have to check it in”, she said.
Dah. Checking in a computer bag? To Rome? Rrrrright. *If* it would arrive, i’d have to wait for 90 minutes at the luggage belt.
“Nope”, I said, “I can show you one kilo of handluggage and then shop and buy 50 kgs of duty free goods, and you would not even know. So…”
She let me go… I *am” a difficult customer!

Anyways, last thought of the day: Did you know the Brussels Airlines logo originally had 13 balls on it. People said it would bring bad luck, so they added a 14th ball at the last minute. Some planes were already painted with 13 balls, so the 14th came with some expense. You don’t believe me? It is true, as it was in the papers!“! ;-)

Written by Peter

August 17th, 2008 at 7:44 am

Posted in Funny,Ranting

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My Home Town

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I am still looking at the pictures we took last weekend, during our evening walk along Flander’s coast…

Ostend by sunset

I was born and raised in Ostend, and left only after I graduated, at the age of 23. But I always come back, even if it was only for the sea. She has always attracted me. The scent of the silt, the mighty power and potential to harm or kill at any moment. Yet endlessly beautiful, inspiring and gracious. Ever changing colours and behaviour, changing moods in a flash.

boat entering Ostend port

Maybe it was the sense of endlessness, the travel, “leaving but never knowing when you would come back” which always attracted me to the sea. Or the freedom. Just take off in a boat and… go!

Ostend's boardwalk

This boardwalk (“staketsel” in Flemish), runs along the entrance of the port, once busy with a active fishing fleet, cargo vessels and ferries to England. Every so often, a large vessel looses control over its helm, and rams the boardwalk, chewing out a whole piece. And every time, it is repaired. As a kid, we used to climb from the side of the boardwalk down to water level, and drop fish heads strung on a cord in the water, waiting for the crabs to bite into the bait. Or on the beach, next to the board walk, we would collect empty bottles, and get money from the shop when we returned them. Always good for a handful of fresh candy.

Ostend's boardwalk

Written by Peter

February 12th, 2008 at 4:42 pm

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My Love Affair With Sabena

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That is Sabena. Not Sabrena, Sabine, or Sabrina! We’re talking about our ex-national carrier. A customer-company platonic love affair! If you are looking for sexual inspired stories, you won’t find it here! Or should I tell them about he Mile-High club?

Anyway, just a few months ago, SN Brussels Airlines and Virgin Express merged into Brussels Airlines. I was a regular customer of both “parent” companies, so when flying to Rome I was curious to experience first hand the excitement of the new merged airline.
I used to be a regular customer of SABENA, the Belgian national carrier. Back in the eighties and early nineties, they were a shabby airline, deserving their nickname “Such A Bloody Experience Never Again”. Back then, Brussels national airport was a dump, a national shame. Run down, inefficient, unattractive. It was the only airport I knew then, where you had to pay with a coin (then still Belgian Francs), to get a luggage cart in arrivals. Would the international traveler arriving in Brussels, with a Bef 20 coin in their pocket please raise their hand? Right. So most people had to drag their luggage out of arrivals. Pathetic, it was.

Mid nineties, it all started to change. Sabena expanded their network, renewed its fleet of aircraft, and had an overhaul of its staff. Actually it became a pleasure flying with them. And I flew Sabena a lot, as they had loads of African destinations.
Brussels Airport did not get a facelift, no, it went further than that. They amputated the departure halls, then the arrivals hall and cut off one of the oldest departure/arrival wings, all to be replaced by brand new state-of-the-art buildings.

After flirting with SAS, courting KLM, seducing British Airways and winking at Air France for a while – the latter relationship being blocked by the EU – Sabena decided to partner up with Swiss Air in 1995. And Swiss Air spoiled it all. They literally sucked up all liquidity and valuable assets, and run off with it, declaring bankruptcy themselves right after 9/11 (a handy excuse, 9/11 was!). They left behind a sad-faced Sabena management who could not have been too clever having Swiss Air get away with all the sucking! The souvenir of the short lived partnership was a huge debt and a flabbergasted Belgian Government (who was then a part owner of the national carrier).. They are still fighting as to determine who mismanaged Sabena. They went bankrupt also. Sabena that is. The Belgian state was bankrupt already a long time ago.

Gone was the holy shrine of the jet-era flashy status of being a pilot or air attendant. They all joined the long queue at the employment office. Left was just.. a shrine.. And a massively under-utilized brand new national airport. Oh, and thousands of stranded passengers of course… “Sorry, we can not fly you back to Belgium, madam as ‘We’ don’t exist anymore!”
It took “Swiss Air” only weeks to get reborn into “Swiss” – no wonder with all the cash and assets they ran off with from Sabena. But the Belgian carrier is still picking up the pieces today.

First reborn into SN Brussels Airlines (who invents these names? People actually get paid to come up with a name like “SN” Brussels Airlines?), as a small regional carrier, slowly expanding their network. They were still a pleasure to fly. And the left-over air staff from Sabena, still showed a pride.

Virgin Express was born in 1996, using Brussels as a regional hub, servicing several destinations in Europe. They were to be a low cost carrier, but after a few years they became just as expensive as SN. Minus leg room (you wanted to bring your legs aboard, you had to pay extra..), minus food, minus drinks, minus the frequent travel scheme and often minus the smiles too. Plus the attitude, often.

It is a mystery to me why SN wanted to merge with Virgin and create Brussels Airlines… Just as it was a mystery to me who invented their TV publicity spot announcing the merger (people actually get paid for stuff like this?). The spot showed (tricked of course) two aircraft (one Virgin 737 and an SN Avro Jet), courting in the sky, flying loops and upside down stunts together (rather a scary sight to see a 737 passenger jet fly loops and upside downs, I am sure there is a law against that, but hey it’s TV!…), to clearly show how much in love the two planes and the two parent companies were.
Result of the courtship was a rather distasteful televised birth of a small plane (including all the slime, blood etc..) pressed out of the back of a Virgin Express 737 (clearly in the female role!), and.. taraaaaaa, the small plane had the logo of Brussels Airlines. How inventive, those TV commercials people! Oh wow!

So I guess Virgin Express was no longer a Virgin anymore. They stopped being ‘Express’ a long time before the merger… Mr. Branson probably said ‘Thank you’, took the money and ran, to buy another island in the Caribbean (actually quite a nice one, we anchored right beside it last summer!) leaving all of us mortals to wonder what the merger would do..

And what did the merger bring? Read about it tomorrow in “SN plus Virgin equals abortion?”

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Written by Peter

May 1st, 2007 at 12:11 am

Posted in Ranting

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