Monday, October 18, 2010

Tour des Flandres

After my week in Spain, I flew to Belgium to hang out with some friends - two from Florida, and one who had lived in California, but was born in Belgium. Having a tour guide is the best, thanks JB(K)C! We all arrived and beat jetlag in Antwerp.

Tintin’s rocket in the Comic museum in Brussels

Antwerp museum of Fine Art

"Blue Steel” on the Grote Markt Foosball embraced as a real bar game!

After exploring Antwerp a bit, we set off on bikes to ride the country -- we used the awesome bikepaths that are in (and between) every town, often along quaint rivers or canals. It was bliss. Here are a few photos:

Bike routes!

Who paid the ferryman?

Bikepath to Temse along Scheldt River Another tasty roadside snack Kasteel van Laarne

We took a long ride (90km) to Gent, along the Scheldt River, and enjoyed an awesome city concert that night (Odegand 2010). Here's a 7 minute video that captures the mood (My favorite part was at 1:08, I wish I could find more footage - it was modern electronic audio synced with projected images of clocks):

My cousin organized a fireworks display for our arrival in Ghent

Ghent’s three towers by night a retired (the original) Gulden Draak — Holden’s impressed Gent looking toward St. Baafs Cathedral from the Belfry Gravensteen (Castle of Counts) by night

From Gent we rode along canals to Brugge, where we played tourist for a day. Just a small, quaint, tourist town. Sadly, didn't make time for any exhibits on lace-making or anything.

Then we continued by train to Ypres, a WWI memorial town.

Ypres Lakenhallen by night

The remainder of this post brought to you courtesy of the 21st Century Hobo, a local I visited in Belgium. Read his full blog here!


September can be one of the best months of the year to visit Belgium — the weather for some curious reason tends to be better than in August, the Belgians are back to work and still in a good mood from the summer vacation, and everything is nice and green. The perfect time for a little bicycling tour of my country of birth.

Enter three amigos from the USA, and we have a party. I had been wanting to share some of the treasures of this small country with my friends for a while. Americans often don’t see more than Brussels passing through or perhaps Bruges if they really extend their stay, but Belgium is much more than those two cities. We started off by doing a four-day bike trip from Antwerp to Ypres, covering around 200 kilometers in the process using the special bike touring routes that cover the entire country. We particularly enjoyed Ghent where we stayed with my cousin, and happened upon a city-wide music festival.

a common theme — need lots of fuel for biking

In the second phase of the beer and waffle offensive we visited the Ardennes and followed some of the footsteps made by American soldiers 55 years ago in the area around Bastogne where they bravely defeated the German counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge) at the end of the war.

Holden’s wishing he hadden’t chosen the Rochefort 12. Backgammon gets confusing quickly after a trappist or two…


trying to clean up the messy Luxembourg forests
Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg

Belgium is full of war memorials, as in both WWI and WWII fierce battles were fought here. In Ypres, we visited Flanders’ fields and the Menin gate, where every night at 2000h the last post is blown to commemorate the many fallen soldiers. The sound of the bugle combined with the names inscribed on the walls of nearly 55,000 commonwealth soldiers who died without a grave makes for sad introspections.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

John McCrae

All in all, the trip consisted of fun biking, beer tasting, backgammon matches, and great camaraderie — I couldn’t have asked for better travel mates.

a free ride for the older contingent in our group

Jos' trusty iPhone "In Brugges"

Friday, October 1, 2010

Los Alcázares, Spain

At the beginning of September, I visited a small town called Los Alcázares, on the Mar Menor, in south west Spain.

Some friends and I had rented an apartment -- which was incredibly cheap, as it wasn't the high season of August (even in the first week of September, there were hardly any tourists around, and thus, rates were very low). We ended up speaking almost no English and entirely in Spanish, which was great. The tourists that were around were mostly retired Spaniards.

There are many old windmills still around which are pretty picturesque.
We also visited the healing mud baths up in Lo Pagan, on the north end of Mar Menor. Most of the other visitors were older and using the mud's healing powers on their joints, but we figured we could use a whole body medicinal boost. :-)

At the extreme south west of the Mar Menor, there is the Cabo de Palo, a peninsula with a light house on the Mediteranean, which has great snorkeling. It was a truly beautiful area and we made the most of our visit.
Finally, just up the beach from our apartment was a Kiteboarding area which was fantastic to relax at and watch, when there was wind!
The kiteboard school / shop also had an awesome lounge area to stay out of the sun, have a drink, and enjoy tunes. It was really inviting and relaxing, here's a quick video I shot when nobody was around:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sundance film reviews!

I know that I'm a bit late with this one, but I figured, as they say, "better late than never!"

Here are some quick reviews, written a few months after I saw the films at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah back in January.

First of all, the most important thing was that I loved being able to stay seated after the film and hear Q&A sessions with many of the actors, directors, producers, etc. Really made the films more human.

Second of all, the films were astonishing compared with everyday blockbuster films because the themes weren't readily apparent, or easily digested. Many times during and after the film, we'd discuss who was really the 'good guy' or 'bad guy' -- a theme you can easily find in most 'normal' films simply by the color of clothes the actors wear. It was refreshing to be so engaged.

In the order I enjoyed them, and check the ratings before showing your family:

Get Low: Loved this one -- not the Lil' Jon song, but rather a film with Bill Murray and Robert Duvall. Based in truth, about a 40 year hermit from the south (Georgia, I think?), who threw his own funeral, pre-death, and thousands of people showed up. Great story, great acting.
Score: 8/10.

Click here to open trailer in new window, (opens in LA & NY theaters July 30).

Hesher: Awesome film about who is really good and who is really evil -- it's not always easy to see. Fun, as well. Pretty irreverent, as it has to do with anarchy, etc. Cast was really fun to watch -- breaking their typical roles: Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson.
Score: 8/10.

Closest thing I could find to a trailer.

Winters Bone: Intense movie about living in backwoods Missouri, and a family's struggles with nasty neighbors and drug addictions. Love that it was a real 'film', and had quiet spots without dialogue or music, etc.
Score: 7/10.

Cyrus: didn't care for it too much, though it was fun to see the locations, shot in LA. Kinda quirky, didn't know where it was going at many points. Fun enough to rent.
Score: 5/10.

Climate Refugees: Didn't care for it too much, though lots of good input from Lester Brown, author of Plan B. It focused on examples of what climate change was already doing, and tried to extrapolate to a doomsday scenario. I prefer looking at trends, rather than single data points, which could be attributed to a simple bad year, etc. I did like their randomly generated numbers of how many people will be coming to America in the next 40 years (I think it was 100 million).
Score: 4/10 (Don't bother unless you're really interested)