Jul 31, 2014

Battle of the sunsets

Where are sunsets are more scenic:

Florida or Belgium?

Belgian sunset, circa 9:45 pm
As senseless a debate it may seem – a sunset anywhere given the right array of clouds and light and from a proper position (say a hilltop or on the water facing west) is pretty hard to beat – if also ephemeral, other than perhaps the futile attempts of those silly enough to try as they might with cameras and lenses to capture what of them they can to then upload them for viewing onto a computer.

It’s never the same.

But my view on it is this:

Summer sunsets go to Belgium.

Summer sunsets in Belgium
are slow as a slug

For one I’m there to see them (and from a pretty good hill I might add). Second is duration. Not that you have to pay by the minute – no that’s not it – but in terms of getting the most bang for your buck (or Euro as it may be), I’ve been sitting here for the better part of an hour (it’s 10:15 pm) watching the bending of light at the horizon unfold.

Finally by 10:40 pm it will be completely dark.

But not to worry – the sun is back up again at 4 am.

(That makes curtains essential if you want to sleep in.)

People travel from all parts
of the globe to see a Naples sunset

Winter sunsets of course go to Florida …

Particularly if viewed from the waterfront looking west.

But don’t be late!

These are “early bird” specials.

You’ll want to have your chair set up by 5:30 pm sharp.

Jul 30, 2014

"Coldest winter is a summer in Belgium"

Ever hear a famous saying that doesn’t make sense ...

Only to finally figure it out years (even decades) later?

Summers in Spa, Belgium
are "very warm" at most

For me, it’s the memorable line from Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” As an aficionado of American Literature in my teenage years was when I was first introduced to the saying, but had barely a clue what it meant.

Was he talking meteorologically, or metaphorically – or both?

Then in my twenties I visited my brother in Menlo Park, California.

We never made it to AT&T Park, thus I never saw Barry Bonds hit a home run – and for my money he’s the greatest baseball player who ever played – but we did pass through the city which I was shocked to find an unseasonable cool and damp, as if we were momentarily stranded in a cloud. I say momentarily because just like that we were in and out of it across the Golden Gate Bridge back in the warm California air.

Apparently there’s a fog that sits over the city all summer long.

Finally the saying made sense.

Spa stays cool all summer long
because of its higher altitude
and where its nestled in a deep valley

Fast forward twenty years later and as a Floridian visiting Belgium I find myself feeling much the same: “The coldest winters I ever spend as a Floridian are my summers in Belgium.”

Except last summer when Europe was in the grips of a major heat wave.

Belgian summers are winter like to a south Floridian

A common Belgian weather saying goes like this, or so I was told:

“The hardest choice you’ll face all day is deciding what to wear each morning, knowing in the back of your head you'll have to eventually change ...

Especially if you forget your umbrella!"

Jul 29, 2014

Watch out: Road on right ahead!

For the cars approaching, 
the same road is on the left:
Thus the rule does not apply
(for them).

Jul 28, 2014

Rules of the road

Driving in Belgium is fun and deceptively easy ...

Emphasis on "deceptively."

"Hey, what does that sign mean?"
As pleasant and uncongested as the rolling roads may appear – Beware! – lurking around every turn (and always on the right hand side of the road) is a hidden danger that you must be fully prepared to stop.

The reason?
- La Loi du Droit

Maybe I should slow down ...
but no reason to stop!
You see, in the Belgian countryside there are no stop signs ...

Not one. Instead they have these peculiar triangular signs with an black "x" in the middle which indicates an intersection is just up ahead, and at which the Rule of the Right prevails.

Can you believe that little road
on the right has the right of way?
The “rule of the right” gives priority to the driver entering the intersection to your right. If the intersection is clear – no worries – speed right ahead through. If a car on the left arrives simultaneously at the intersection at the same time – also no worries (and trust me) – you have priority as the car on the right.

The catch is that you lose your right if you hesitate, in theory at least.  The complicating the math for me is working the clutch and the new roads and the windy routes, thus my brain and body are fully engaged.

As crazy as the Rule of the Right may at first appear:

It makes sense on roads that are, more times than not, relatively traffic free.

Okay, it all just got crazier in the village center!
Rules of course work best when everyone knows them!

Jul 26, 2014

Best chips in Belgium?

What’s your favorite flavor of chips?

Interestingly, both the potato and the term barbecue
are indigenous to the Americas
While not exactly a watershed-related question, it does raise questions about the many things we take for granted in the local watersheds we inhabit. What appears familiar and normal to “old eyes” can seem strange and exotic to someone brand new.

Thus a dip in foreign waters is a great way to refresh our old watershed slate.

I prefer a corn chip myself
Ketchup flavor was intriguing:

I was shocked to discover that they tasted like ketchup. Paprika was a little too spicy and Barbeque Ham a bit too bold. Balognese Original tasted like something that had sat next to delicatessen meat too long.

Stands like this are a Belgian tradition
My quest for the perfect chip led me to the friterie instead. French fries were invented in Belgium you know.  Or so I am told.

Although apparently not in the Dutch speaking half.

French fries are named
after the language, not the country
How do I know?

They call them french fries for a reason
i.e., the language, not the country!

Jul 25, 2014

Jul 24, 2014

Jul 23, 2014

Lion dam (or den?)

The arrow pointed to this dam.

But by the time we got there it was spitting more rain.

Both the Vesdre (above) and the Gileppe (below)
pool water at the perimeter of the plateau
on top of which the Hautes Fagnes lie
That motivated us to drive to the Gilippe instead.

Not that we avoided getting drenched:
It started pouring down even harder than before.

Can you see the giant lion?
Still, we got a pretty good photo of the lion on top.

That's one huge cat.

Streams running off the High Fens
are the source of the reservoirs,
which provide drinking water
and energy in the valley below.
Between the valley and the plateau he has plenty of room to roam!

Jul 22, 2014

Familiar feel of high fens

Are the Florida swamps like the moon in that they follows you wherever you go?

This Belgian boardwalk sort of made me feel that way.


But it was much too cold and too many German tourists to be south Florida.

Okay, I'll admit, Florida its fair share of the latter, too.

Jul 21, 2014

Jul 20, 2014

Haunted waters?

What is it about the sound of water that draws you in,

Then just as suddenly sends your mind floating away?


Streams draw you in
and send you places

Lost in the moment ...

I unexpectedly found this water ruin of a rapid on a bike ride in Belgium, but just as quickly listening to it my mind slipped back in time and space to Pennsylvania on the lower end of the Lehigh River, first in the late 1800s of the pre-industrial age and then in a blink a hundred years ahead to me-still-in-school, until eventually I snapped out of it and -- poof! -- twenty years forward, back to the present, back on my bike, peddling ahead through a Belgian countryside that over the years I now know fairly well.

I knew my way home, only I was unsure if I'd make it on time. It was a shame I couldn't take the stream instead:

I'd be there in an instant if I could.