Nederlands leren

It finally happened. One day I walked into a small office of Huis van het Nederlands and signed up for an intensive course of Dutch. My first week on that course is now over. I go to school for 4 mornings a week for a few hours. That has been keeping me busy for a moment now.

It has been a while since I last studied anything, 3 years or so. And I must admit, I was a little bit nervous about going to sit in a class room again and learn. Also, in a Finnish fashion, the thing of meeting a bunch of new people was something to be vary about.

Last Monday was the start for a cold and rainy week. At nine in the morning I walked into a class room with 13 others. People from all over the globe, with very different backgrounds. There were Syrians, a girl from Venezuela, lady from Indonesia and another girl from Belarus. And a teacher, refusing to speak anything else but Dutch to the students. Which is wonderful. Since then, some have left our company, and some new people have emerged.

We have all been struggling with the wonders of the Dutch pronunciation of the letters g- and ch, long or short vowels and so forth.  For me the most difficult part of learning a new language, is that you have your adult brain, and your adult thinking, well more or less, but you still have the language skills of a 3 year old and the vocabulary of a parrot. With that kind of setting, it is challenging to switch your thinking into line with speaking in first person and the present tense.

Well, anyways, I have now mastered 9 question-answer pairs in total and can repeat them, again, bit like a parrot. And that has happened in a week. I am kinda little bit proud of myself. Waffle is soon going to face the horror of listening my terrifying Dutch accent. And maybe even open a first line of conversation with his dad, which is wonderful!

What do you guys think about learning languages? Is it a nice hobby? Necessary evil or something else?



A Belgian Beer Festival

Just as we waved good byes to my parents, our minds were already turned to the next destination. That would be the yearly event of the Zythos Beer festival in Leuven. That has somewhat formed to be a tradition for us. It is the perfect place to go find new beers and get to know new breweries. At this point, I must remind you, that there is a large difference between the German style beer festival and the Belgian style beer festival. In Belgium, you drink several different beers form a glass of 1 deciliter, rather than pint after pint of a beer.

Neither of us was feeling like staying sober for the night and driving home. So we packed the tent into our car, with plenty of blankets, since the night was going to be cold. They even forecasted snow in the east and south of Belgium. The plan was to camp on the lawn of Waffles work, which happens to be right on the corner of the festival hall.

By the time we arrived, quite some beer had already been flowing to those small glasses. We heard the cheer of someone breaking their glass clear, loud and on regular pacing. The hall smelled malty, sweaty and sweet. Not quite as bad combination as one might think. To most Belgians, I guess, it is a sign of a nice party with good beer.

The beer stand of Timmermans brewery was the first to catch our attention. That was a good choice, they poured us a dark glass of Bourgogne des Flandres, which we fell in love with. Very nice, not too sweet, warmly brown liquid that was. Yum. We met some other nice tastes too. Delirium red is my new favorite of cherry beers, at least for the summer to come, and an interesting taste combination of chocolate and coffee in a quadruple was found from the Inglorious brew stars.

There are other things to a beer festival than just beer. The event is often international. This time we met people from Argentina, and old couple from USA, on a trip through Europe. Even an English guy, who had been studying in Finland. And loads of others. The best part is, that after a few beers, people start talking to people they do not know. Add a couple of more beers, and they’ll start singing schlager. You decide for yourselves whether this is a good thing or not.

The beer serving stopped at half past 10 in the evening, and the hall started to wonder out. Surprisingly lot of people headed for their camper vans, parked right outside the hall. Our destination was our tent, couple of hundred meters further. Morning rose with a hefty hangover, at least we knew, that the evening had been a success.

So very sorry about the quality of the pictures. We replaced the camera with a potato… 

Visitors from Finland – The Oldies

Once more we were expecting visitors from back home and getting ready to show them all the best sides of Belgium. This time the lot was a bit different though. They were my parents, visiting my new home for the first time.  That also meant, that very soon the parents both mine and Waffle’s would meet. Scary stuff.

They arrived on a Saturday evening to Brussels airport. At the airport you are not allowed in to the building, if you do not travel, so we were left outside on the street to wait for them. There were only a small group of people waiting and soldiers passing by, walking in between the doors and the waiting group of people. The effects of the resent bombings were clearly visible. Made me angry and sad to see what those terrorists did to this country.

Brussels Airport

The entrance to Brussels airport, arrivals

Well, after a while the oldies emerged from the doors and we packed them into our car and drove off to Brussels. First there was the ever so important visit to the Atom in the northern side of Brussels, followed by visiting one of the cathedrals and the Grand Place. We grew hungry, unsurprisingly, and headed for Le Bistro, sitting right next to Hallepoort and serving traditional Belgian cuisine.

We were heading for a full week of parents visiting. Though poor Waffle had to work during that time. The feeling is always kind of double when the parents come over. It is lovely to have them over, of course it is, but at times, it can be a little rough. The way they still think you are about 5 years old and need help in just about every task in life. Although in reality they themselves are getting slower and older and don’t understand all the new things in this world. But they are your parents and you do enjoy their familiarity and way of living.

On Sunday we headed for the tulip fields of The Netherlands. The island of Texel would have been a bit far, so we decided to stop by in the Flevoland instead, which also has quite some nice fields. The blooming was late though, which was a surprise for us, since the spring is a little ahead of schedule in Belgium, but we did manage to catch some nice colors of tulips, so much so, that the oldies got a little bit bored.

That was hint enough to move on. My dad had wanted to see some heavy duty damn building, Dutch style. So we went to cross the damn that separates the Ijsselmeer from the sea, drove off to Amsterdam, passed Rotterdam harbor and walked around some nice delta works in Brouwersdam, where we got a wonderful treat to see some seals fishing, before getting back home. And we had thought Texel to be far. Oh boy.


Monday came and Waffle returned to work, leaving me the responsibility to keep the oldies entertained. So we went to a concentration camp. Well, a museum of one called Breendonk. The camp was built into a old fortification and filled with political prisoners and Jews. The museum is well done, it preserves the reality of the camp well, you can still almost hear the Nazi yells echoing in the long cold corridors of the fort. Not really the fun and joyous holiday destination, but it is undoubtedly important to know the resent history.

After that we filled the days with Hallerbos, so some flowers after a grim day in the concentration camp. The blooming of the bluebells was announced on the news, so the parking lot for the forest was of course full. We managed to keep off of the main trails and actually found some peace and quiet, surrounded by the delicate smell rising from the flower carpet.

Even more flowers we found from the large fruit farms. The apple and pear trees are right now in full bloom and the orchards are looking beautiful! Those are in Verrebroek, rather close to Doel, the ghost town, so we payed a visit to it too and had a tasty picnic watching the ships sail by to the Antwerp harbor. Somehow calming and odd, to have the thriving harbor at one side and the silent, dead village on the other. Dad gave his speech on the useless graffiti art, which me and mom kindly ignored as we leaped over to an apple tree to pick some of the blooming branches before heading home.

That evening my oldies met the Waffle’s oldies. The setting made us a bit nervous. There was a lot of translating needed, since they do not have any common language between them. But apparently it went fine. People laughed, drank some and had a surprisingly good conversation with mine and Waffle’s censorship in between. I hope they liked each other, at least the Oldies of Waffle have been invited to Finland.

For the last full day we had gathered a trip to the Belgian history. A few, a little bit embarrassing bits of it. We were off to Mons, first having a useless pit stop at the Beloeil castle. Useless mainly, because the castle was closed. It is open only on weekends, which is something I did not notice while surfing their site. Stupid me. Waffle was rather frustrated. It was a very beautiful castle though, for the part we could see.

Off we were then, slightly disappointed as we drove through the withering Mons, where once mighty houses are now rundown, since the coal industry died there. Mons was left behind quickly when we headed for the boat lift of Strépy-Thieu, it is a huge tower that lifts and lowers boats over the height difference of 73 meters. It has never really been needed to its full capacity. It is just one of the ironic statues of the Belgian waffle iron politics, where money to invest needed to be divided equally cent by cent between the north and the south. I wrote little something about that area here. 

Turns out there are quite some of these building projects all around Belgium. Including highways leading to nothing, bridges that have no purpose and even channels that just start and end without any function. There is a funny site about these, mainly in dutch here. 

All things end eventually, and The Oldies have now been chauffeured back to the airport and left on their own devices. I hope they make it home safely. I think we managed to show them rather nice bits of Belgium. Also, everybody was relatively happy, Waffle has not been murdered as an unfitting companion for me and I have not been kidnapped back to Finland. Plus, there are still places in Belgium for them to visit later on.

Phuh, now back to relaxing for a moment. Oh, oh! And more pictures here.