11 September 2014

The Babeedolltje is Twee

Back when I was a more prolific blogger, I was also better at chronicling special occasions and family birthdays . . . like

In 2010, when Frazier turned one.

In 2011, when Frazier turned two.

In 2012, when Frazier turned three.

Then I started slacking off  :(

But not today.  Today Norma Grace is turning two and I'm chronicling it here!

(make the screen big and turn up the volume :)



07 September 2014

Lights out!

It's all the talk around town right now.  Apparently three of the four nuclear power plants in Belgium were closed this year due to cracks and are likely to remain closed until the end of the year.  

This means Belgium will have less than half the normal nuclear capacity.  So in other words, the powers-that-be are trying to figure out how to keep me from sleeping in socks and mittens.  Thank you very much. 

Those in charge are asking people to curb their electricity usage and may even ask some industrial firms to reduce production.  Okay, now we're serious.

Here's a preliminary map indicating whose lights will go out first.  The explanation of the map is way too complicated.  The "gray" zones (which is normally all of Belgium :) are exempt due to high population density.  I have no idea what the colors mean and I'm not even totally sure where we are on this map.

But anyway, in light of this potential dark age rebirth, a few possible solutions have been proposed by those who prefer to keep the lights on.

Common Sense

One is to do stuff like not leaving the TV on even when you aren't watching, unplug your cell phone after it's charged . . . 

Or . . .

No Falling Back

Another is to simply stay on Daylight Savings Time - don't "fall back" in October.  This would mean Belgium hits the peak consumption hour an hour earlier (or later? - whatever) than the countries around it and we can import electricity from France and the Netherlands.  

Next up . . .

Yule Unplugged

Next, it is proposed we turn out the Christmas lights "in the high street and at home".  Of course, I'm totally opposed to this ridiculous solution because I really love Christmas.  Period.

So the Interior Minister says "everyone has to take responsibility" and "expects the streets in the coming Christmas to be a lot less attractive" and that "guzzling Christmas lights and large neon signs will be switched off".  Well, I NEVER!
What else?
Harness the Hoover
And actually having nothing to do with the potential power outage, a new European directive effective in September requires a maximum power of vacuum cleaners be limited to 1,600 watts and come 2017, it is further reduced to 900 watts - which is apparently all you need anyway.
Be assured I am doing my part by refraining from using a vacuum thereby giving me free rein on Christmas lighting.  Tit for tat and days being merry and bright.
While all those ideas are admirable, I have come up with THE solution to single handedly solve the Belgian electricity problem.


For those of you who live in Belgium or have ever visited Belgium in the Fall . . . Every.  Yes, every little town in the entire country has a carnival, also known as a kermis, in the Fall of every year.

Or as the Belgian dictionary describes it:

The collective noun for a group of Belgians. A kermis of Belgians consists of a tightly packed collection of dirty caravans, giant trucks, noisy generators, wailing machines, flashing lights, strange burning smells, screaming adolescents and vast drifting crowds. The ultimate Belgian entertainment experience.

More than 500 of these plagues, lasting one to two weeks each, takes center stage.  It's just like vakantie (vacation) here.  It's a tradition, endowed by their creator.  And by God, it's happening, come hell or high water.  Or both!

The city center of every little town is transformed into carny Canaan.

So, how many kilowatts would one estimate a full-on county fair needs?  That's right.  Too much.

Christmas has got nothing on this!  It's a neon never-land.  How much juice do you think all that's pulling?

And this thing?

Or this?

Even this thing isn't running on batteries!

So, in lieu of cramping Christmas, let's put the quietus on the carnival!  

You're welcome.

05 September 2014

Buying a house

No, not us!  But in our newspaper recently, there was an interactive map where you could click on any city in Limburg Province (our equivalent of a state) to see the cost of buying property.

As we all know in the States . . . location, location, location are the 3 most important things when buying property and the price reflects it.  Aside from that, square footage is calculated.

Here, (and by here, I mean Hasselt) it's not exactly the same - there's not really a "more desirable" part of town. Location is critical, but usually means living near the city center or not living near the city center.  And square footage isn't that critical in calculating price.

So, in Hasselt  . . .

a rowhouse (like where we live) -  costs $285,000 and is usually pretty old

a villa (house with a "lot") - costs $409,000

Ruim appartement met 2 slaapkamers in het...
an apartment - costs $291,000

and land is $217 per sq meter.

The average lot in the US is 110 x 130 ft. (about 1/3 of an acre) and might look something like this.

One acre of land in Hasselt costs a whopping $877,982! So that same lot up there would be somewhere around $300,000.

But no worries because the average lot is not that big.  Not nearly that big.  A lot in the US is normally 3 times bigger than a lot here.

Here's a lot listed for sale right now.  It's on a 4-lane road, slightly busier than our street - and busier only because ours is a 2-lane road.  

We are conveniently located next to a pharmacy and not next to the erotic store (which also appears to be for sale). 

Here's an aerial view of the same lot - at least it has room for a little yard in the back like ours.  And unlike ours, there's room for a tiny courtyard in the front and a garage in the back.  Bonus.

How much?  $100,000.  I'm fairly certain you couldn't build anything on that lot for $185,000 so I guess the row house price isn't that bad.

01 September 2014

Just another day in Brussels

I took this picture as I was leaving Brussels the other day.

But I could just as easily have taken this one,

or this one,

or this one . . .

I got in the car at 4:00 pm and got out at my front door at 10 minutes to 9:00.  Granted, there was heavy rain and a couple of tunnels flooded, but a trip that should have taken, oh, about an hour and a half, took nearly 5!

In other words . . . I could have driven from Ruston to New Orleans in that time frame!

But this kind of thing happens every day in Brussels.  Why?

Here's a (condensed) article by Laurent Vermeersch from The Guardian (UK) newspaper that just might answer that.

Five reasons Belgium has the worst traffic in Europe

Brussels hosts the giant bureaucracy of the EU ... yet its roads, and those in Antwerp, are the most traffic-snarled in Europe. What is Belgium doing so wrong? 
Traffic congestion analysis consistently shows a surprising fact: Brussels and Antwerp, the two largest cities in Belgium, are the two most congested cities in Europe and North America.
Yes, you read that right, the two most congested cities in Europe AND North America.

It is estimated that drivers in Brussels waste 83 hours a year in traffic. How did the administrative heart of the European Union get into this traffic mess?

1. Company cars

In most cities, only top managers are offered a car by their employer. Not in Belgium. Up to 15% of all cars and about 50% of new cars are company cars.
In many cases, people with a company car don’t even need their vehicle for work. Many employers simply prefer giving a car instead of a raise or a bonus. Why? Because they pay less tax that way. 

2. People live too far from work

Belgium is a small country, but every Belgian probably knows somebody who commutes more than 100km every day. That’s because jobs are concentrated in the large cities, but most people won’t move there. 
The OECD blames this on a rigid housing market, caused by the high transaction costs of buying a house. There’s also a strong anti-urban mentality. For many Belgians, owning a detached house with some green space in the neighbourhood where they grew up is worth all those hours on the road.

3. Unattractive alternatives

Because of widespread suburbanisation, many Belgians are car-dependent. Those who do have other transport options will often prefer to use their car, because the alternatives are not well designed. There is a lack of park-and-ride facilities, for example, and inner-city parking is relatively cheap and abundant, encouraging people to drive all the way into the city centre. 
At first sight, trains have been doing better. Passengers numbers have increased more than 40% since 2000. But the national railway company is struggling to cope with surging demand. Overcrowding, frequent delays and the occasional general strike are all part of the train experience. 

4. A healthy economy

“As the economy grows, speed goes down,” according to a report by Inrix. In this sense, congestion is a sign of good economic fortune. Brussels has a strong service economy that is relatively immune to market fluctuations because it is anchored on public institutions, notably those of the EU. 

5. An ill-conceived road network

The ring roads of Antwerp and Brussels are the twin centres of a spider web of highways that is impossible to evade. People travelling across the country have no options but to pass at least one or both cities, even if they don’t need to be there.  The same is true for the rail network. Half of all trains go through Brussels.

That's right, we actually joke that no matter where we go in Belgium, going through Antwerp is a "given".

So what’s the solution?

Advocates of road building say that capacity has barely increased in 30 years. But Belgium already has one of the densest road networks in the world. Building more roads is not the solution. It is proven to bring only temporary relief, and in the long run, simply attracts more traffic.
Most experts expect better results from some kind of congestion charge or road pricing. This has been under discussion by national and regional government for years. When a study on the issue made headlines earlier this year, an online petition against road pricing gathered more than 170,000 signatures in just 10 days. Perhaps Belgians just like their traffic jams.

I think this may in fact be true.  Traffic jams are just part of the "culture" that is Belgium. :)