Elections

26th May is election day in Belgium where voting is compulsory — or would be if anyone actually checked.

There are three elections, all on the same day, for the European Parliament, the Federal Parliament and the regional Parliaments respectively. Being an EU, but not Belgian, citizen, I get to vote in only the EU Parliament election.

The Federal Parliament is the one from which the national government is drawn, which means that we will see the end of the current caretaker administration just as soon as a new coalition is formed.

I’m not holding my breath, though. Opinion polling suggests that the Flemish separatists of the N-VA are set to end up as the largest Flemish group in the Parliament and the Francophone parties are already saying that they want nothing to do with the N-VA.

The coalition negotiations could take a while.

The joy of commuting

Normally my train journey into work takes 43 minutes. Today it took over two hours. According to my NMBS App (which, I have to say, is pretty good at keeping you informed as to the state of the Belgian railways as well as being a handy route planner) there was a fire between Brussel Noord and Brussel Centraal.

My usual train is a direct train to Brussel Centraal, stopping at Brussel Noord. So that was cancelled.

There was a train to Leuven. Lots of trains go through Leuven, and it’s in the right general direction, so on I jumped.

When I reached Leuven, the available information was telling me to head to Brussel Zuid (another detour) and take a tram. Fortunately (I think), the train from Leuven was so much delayed that, by the time it reached Brussels, the line had been reopened and I was able to go directly to Centraal station.

And when I finally walked into the office, 90 minutes late, I was informed that three people had taken the day off due to rail issues.

Bunch of lightweights.

Dropkick Murphys: Until The Next Time

The Groezrock music festival takes place every year in the Flemish village of Meerhout. The festival has been going for some time and, by tradition, is the festival season opener in Belgium.

The festival offers a range of punk, hardcore, metalcore, skapunk, and exceptional music and has become one of the largest punk festivals in the Lowlands.

This year, I managed to acquire a couple of free tickets. Better still, none other than Dropkick Murphys were headlining the main stage on Saturday.

Unfortunately for me, the tickets I had were for Friday.

This is what I missed.

Only in Belgium: The adult egg roll

More than 10,000 people search for sex toys in Walloon field

An adult version of the “egg roll” in which children search for eggs that have been hidden by the organisers took place in Wepion in Namur Province on Sunday. However, it wasn’t eggs the 10,000 participants searched for in a field in the Walloon municipality best-known for its strawberries.

Indeed it wasn’t. The aim was to find vouchers for sex toys. The event has been running for nine years and this was the most successful so far with a total of 10,000 people taking part. It’s becoming international, too:

As well as the many Belgian participants, 250 French people took parts, as well as people from the Netherlands and even Portugal and Spain.

I have to wonder about what sort of person travels all the way from Spain on the off-chance of winning a free sex toy.

When puns go bad

March is international bowel cancer month and, from VRT, comes the news that Belgian charity Stop Darmkanker (Stop Bowel Cancer) has launched a campaign to get people to encourage their friends to test for early warnings.

Since 2013 test kits have been sent out to the over 50’s every two years. The tests are designed to trace bowel cancer in its early stages. A laboratory checks whether there are traces of blood in the excrement, something that could point to the early stages of bowel cancer. There is a 90% chance of being cured of bowel cancer it it is detected early enough.

In order to encourage the 50% of Flemings that don’t bother using the test kits to do so Stop Bowel Cancer wants Flemings to encourage people they know that have received a test to actually use it.

This is all good stuff and it is obviously far better to catch the disease while it’s still treatable rather than waiting until it’s too late.

I’m just not entirely sure about calling on people to Become a shitty friend.

Become a shitty friend

Strike!

As you may or may not be aware, the Belgian public service unions went on a 24 hour strike yesterday, impacting most of the country’s transport infrastructure. Most notably, Belgian airspace was closed for the day meaning that all flights in and out of the country were cancelled. Most of the trams and buses were out of action and only half of the trains are running.

For me, these strikes are great as they make my train journey to and from the office so much more pleasant.

The thing is that, while only half the trains are running, the rail company (NMBS) is working to an alternative schedule that prioritises rush hour traffic. So disruption is kept to a minimum and crucially (for me) the intercity trains that I usually catch are running as normal.

It get’s better than this though because most people who can make alternative arrangements (such as driving to work or working from home) do make alternative arrangements. I can usually find a seat on the train, but today I was able to find a block of four seats, sit back, stretch out and read in comfort. It’s almost a shame that the seats don’t recline.

And so to the office.

As mentioned earlier, everyone who can work from home is working from home. In this case, that’s everyone with whom I normally share an office. And if you have ever worked in an open-plan environment I am sure you will appreciate just how pleasant it can be to occasionally enjoy a distraction free environment.

Since I was both shockingly punctual and amazingly productive in the morning, I figured I could justify taking my full lunch break and go for a bit of a walk.

Going home was even better. For the first time this year the train was actually on time, and the carriage was even emptier than it had been this morning. The only problem is that, being on time, I was home with the pizzas before the boys had returned from karate.

There have been several strikes over the past year or so and, while I am aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, I can’t help but hope we have a few more.

Belgian Street Art: The Lego Edition

As part of trying to stay fit and shed a few excess kilos, I have taken to going for a walk in the evening after the kids are all in bed. The length of the walk is determined by how active I’ve been during the day — the more active I’ve been, the shorter the walk needs to be.

Because Sunday was such a wet and miserable day, I really didn’t move much at all. This meant that my evening walk was quite a bit further than usual.

Which is how I came to notice that someone has been having way too much fun with the road markings.

IMG_20190210_215213

It turns out that this came from the local school. This is due to receive a fair bit of building work in the coming summer holiday and they have been having a lot of fun with murals, graffiti-type artworks and small displays. I hadn’t realised that their activities have expanded to the surrounding streets.

Code Yellow

It snowed in Belgium this morning. Apparently.

According to the news reports, West Flanders has been coated in a light carpet of snow and the cold front is heading inland. This being Belgium, the Met office has issues a Code Yellow weather alert, indicating dangerous driving conditions.

There was no snow when I climbed into the car this morning and, even though I got up a little earlier than usual, just in case, the driving conditions to the station were better than they were on Friday.

In Brussels, we’ve seen a couple of flurries, nothing is settling.

According to Wttr, however, we’re in for a blizzard this afternoon. I will believe this when I see it.

That said, I like Wttr. It is the simplest weather site I have seen and it gives me a cruft-free overview of the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. When I check the weather, all I really want to know is whether I should wear a coat and Wttr gives me that information quickly and simply.

The site also appeals to the nerd in me in that I can also display it in a terminal. Simply typing curl wttr.in will give me the forecast without my having to open a browser.

Looking out of the window again, some of the snow is starting to settle, but there isn’t much of it.