The blog

Korea

I was in Incheon, South Korea, for the IALA Conference. So it was work only and I spend most of my time inside the conference building or in the evenings having social events.

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One evening I went out with my colleague Jeon Minsu, who now lives with his family in Paris. He is born in Korea and lived there most of his life, he also lived 2 years in Fiji. You can imagine the cultural shocks; from Korea to Fiji and then to Paris! I already know him more then 3 years and we became good friends. We talk a lot about work, of course. But we also like to talk about life and many times we surprise ourselves about the funny small things life brings us.

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It was so good to see my friend Minsu in his home country and environment. Although he works under huge pressure, certainly during a conference, he was so much more at ease being in Korea. It were subtile changes and I believe it’s important to have experienced a friend in his or her home country. It made me realise how important roots are to people. Now I understand that immigrants who left their country due to a war situation are so eager to go back, even if the situation at home is still very bad.

I always found the biggest difference between cultures the sense of humour. Minsu and I discussed this many times and we are still not sure whether this is a language issue or truly a difference. The two of us never have misunderstanding (that I am aware of) when we make jokes. We only need to look at each other to be laughing out loud. Maybe he has become more European, I don’t know. After we had a dinner I asked him if he was OK with my Instagram posting mentioning that he was not so handy with chopstick and therefore was using the scissors. He immediately understood that it was a joke, but I am careful to make this kind of jokes with other Asian people.

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Actually, a joke at the wrong moment almost caused a beauty disaster during that week. I entirely forgot to go to the hairdresser before the conference and then realised I had a gala dinner. So I thought, why not go here. Via a teenager in the supermarket I found a hairdresser for ladies. She washed my hair, followed by a massage with mint oil. As my hair was wet she could probably not track anymore how it looked. She tried to find out what I wanted by giving me a book with pictures. Her English was very basic and then I made a major mistake… I made a joke… I said: “Cut it a bit shorter, as long as I don’t look like famous Kim Jong-un”. Her brain only detected Kim-Jong un, and feeling relieved at least to understand something, she smiled and while saying YES YES YES started to cut my hair!!!!

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I realised a firm and immediate action was needed so I stopped her works in progress hard handed. I showed on my phone WIFI and in a split of a second she connected me to good internet. I searched for a photo of Kim Jong-un and clearly said NO. Then search for a picture of myself saying YES YES YES with a big smile. A lot of AHHHH AHHHH followed, not only from her but the whole staff and other customers who all looked with great interested to my phone. I wish I could have followed the conversations between all of them!

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I am always fascinated by the high tech toilets they have in some Asian countries. In Japan I had the idea I entered the cock-pit of an airplane! Always interested in the technical systems I wanted to check what all the buttons are for. So on my knees in front of the toilet I tried the different programs. But it didn’t work. So I tried again sitting on the toilet and it worked, but then I could not see very well what was happening. Apparently the system is programmed only to work when a certain weight or pressure is on the toilet. So I restarted my exercise, on my knees putting pressure on the toilet with my elbows while looking in the pot. The only advise I can give in case you want to do the same: start with lowering  the water pressure to the minimum before you push all the buttons!!!! And don’t worry the “silver” tool is not an extreme high pressure or even worse: sand blasting, it’s just a little more gentle….

Brazil

Many people ask me what my favourite destination for a holiday would be. I don’t have to think a long time for that. For sure it is Brazil. I was there in December 2016 for a regional hydrographic commission in Belem. It was a travel with many hiccups. It started with a technical needs assessment mission in Barbados. I had the flu and due to that my eardrums were damaged flying in. Half deaf and not in top condition I conducted the mission. Since then, I always take some special medication in cabin luggage to open my nose, in the case I have the flu. A week later I flew to Trinidad and Tobago for a high level meeting with the Aids to Navigation Competent Authority. My good friend Colin lives in Port of Spain and we would then travel together to Belem Brazil as he was in the same business meeting as me. Our flight was via Miami so I had arranged for an ESTA visa.  But American Airlines did not like the fact that I have a Belgian passport issued in the Netherlands so they did not allow me to board an American airplane and I missed the flight. I immediately took an option on a flight via Suriname in case they would not allow me on the next flight as well. More than half a day I spend at the airport, meanwhile finishing my technical report of Barbados and getting more and more frustrated, as most probably I would not be allowed on the next flight as well. It took the lady at the counter over two hours phoning and administrating but last minute I was allowed on board. American Airlines even admitted that it was a problem in their system and I am sure it was only because I was a business class traveller they did such an effort.

Belem was a great place, work went well and it was good to catch up with all my contacts of the Latin America and the Caribbean.

Colin and I had already planned beforehand to have a short vacation in Rio de Janeiro after the week in Belem. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour flight and I then had a direct flight back to Amsterdam. Another guy, Eric, we met in Belem decided to join us. I had made very good arrangement with a French speaking taxi driver, Jorge Arleo, and he would be waiting for us at the airport. I booked him for several full days and this was the best decision ever. He was just great! The whole day he was playing good music in the car, telling beautiful stories (that I then had to translate in English to Colin). He knew exactly when to be at the touristic places when it was less crowed and he showed us a lot of nice places that were less busy but still a great ambiance.

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We stayed at the fantastic “Hotel Santa Theresa” that is located on top of the Santa Teresa hill, near the centre of Rio. It is famous for its winding, narrow streets which are a favourite spot for artists and tourists. The neighbourhood originated around the Santa Teresa Convent, built in the 1750s on the Desterro hill. At the end of the 19th and early 20th century it was an upper-class borough, as testified by its many opulent villas. Nowadays, it has many trendy shops, bars and restaurants. The hotel has a beautiful garden and is a true oasis of rest and silence in a busy town.

 

Above you see the famous favela, an art impression and real world

Of course, we visited the typical hotspots and they are very impressive. What made me love Rio de Janeiro so much is the fact that you are near the sea and at the same time near the hills and forest.

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The views are amazing and as a climax we decided to go paragliding. I can really recommend to do this at the end of your stay. You then already know the environment and during the flight you recognise the places visited the days before.

Only I did not entirely trust the equipment they provided, so I took my own wings. Colin was a little embarrassed* by this but luckily Jorge was so enthusiastic about my wings and took lots of pictures.

 

He did not really understand that we travelled as good friends and kept asking when we would marry and come back for a honeymoon. It was great fun because all conversations were in French and I was the translator between Colin and Jorge. Now and then I made some translation “mistakes” where Jorge then, of course, always took my side!

* Colin is also the proof reader of my blogs and this was his comment : “Not embarrassed but in awe of someone letting their inner child out”

 

I really want to go back and would choose for the same formula. Hopefully Hotel Santa Theresa is still open and Jorge is not retired.

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South Africa

OK, this is not Africa, I am talking about the Waterfront at Cape Town. Do I want to go back? YES.

One of the reasons is “The Silo”. The Silo is a former grain storage industrial building. Now it’s a very fancy hotel and modern art museum. I had scheduled a lunch on the rooftop and due to that we only had 2 hours for a visit to the museum. I could have spent more than half a day there. The building is so impressive. The architect kind of cut open the original grain silos which resulted in half open tubes where the elevators go up and down.

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The Waterfront area could be considered as a tourist trap. But this is a very stylish tourist trap with a great ambiance and very good food. It includes an exclusive yacht club but also several small ship wharfs. They maintain fishing vessels and tugboats. Spending some time at one of the terraces you can see pilot launches and tugboats coming in and out. And from time to time a big fat seal underway to a jetty for a sunbath. Clearly I did not expect to receive an answer from this one!

This is a food market in a former workshop along the harbour. Inside are many small shops and restaurants. They really understand how to create a trendy atmosphere here.

 

I was at work in the neighbourhood for 2 weeks and Jacob accompanied me for a holiday. He had a great time discovering the region and we were fortunate to spend a weekend together. That was a perfect moment to leave Cape Town and visit Cape Good Hope. I guess the pictures tell enough.

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Although I have to disappoint you with regards to the mermaids. You will not see them when visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium. This was specially organised for the opening of our IALA Risk Training Seminar. IALA has a mermaid in its logo and Transnet, the host of the event, revealed the mermaids as part of a spectacular opening ceremony.

And lastly some practical travel advice. When taking electrical devices in hand luggage it is advised to put a tape over the switch-on button. When heading to the airport security scanner control I heard a vaguely noise of something trembling. For a second I thought it came from my suitcase but being in a hurry I moved on. The guy at the security check, normally no sense of humour, found it very amusing to announce loudly that he wanted to open my suitcase as a vibrating device was inside. Not only his colleagues but also the other travellers came to look over my shoulder. But at the end it was disappointing to all as he found a lady shaver instead of the toy his filthy mind had imagined!

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the Red Light District

In Europe most boat owners store the boat in a shed during winter. Especially sailing boats, which are not comfortable in winter. But also motorboats are not commonly seen during this period of the year. I like to spend the end of the year period on board, so we went away for 2 weeks. To be honest I just want to spend all my free time on board. I love the desolate winter atmosphere in some places. We combine it with dazzling cities to enjoy the X-mas and New Year celebrations. This year we spend X-mas in Rotterdam.

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An X-mas tree is to big on board so my mother in law made these beautiful 3 wise men. She uses wool and felting technique for it.

The 3 wise men are:

* Gaspar (or Caspar). He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus.

* Melchior, he is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus.

* Balthazar, he is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus.

I still did not manage to find out who is who as the information on internet is contradictory… or my mother in law is color-blind! Number 4 is carrying a star to lead them so she did take into account the navigational aspect although it is not high tech.

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This lady was so happy with her new hat!

 

New Year we spend in Antwerp. Our son and his girlfriend joined us for the New Year celebration. Most Dutch people celebrate the end of the year in casual style eating Dutch doughnuts. Belgians like to dress up. Our son, he is a stepson to me, likes to dress up so he was happy to come to Antwerp for a chic end of the year dinner. They were accompanied by another couple and we had a great evening.

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with a little help of You Tube the boys finally managed

 

We were moored at the Willemdock. This area is called ’t Eilandje or The Little Island’; and for good reason: Antwerp’s oldest port area is surrounded by water. Today, port activity is more concentrated in the north, but the feeling of a port is still very much present. You can still savour the historical atmosphere of the old loading dock with its monumental warehouses, lanterns, hangars and cobblestones.

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Antwerp Docks, early in the morning

 

Three major attractions are:

– Antwerp’s latest architectural jewel is the Port House. This funky and innovative building, with roots in the past, is the new headquarters of the Antwerp Port Authority. The bottom part was once a fire station that was on the port’s outside edge. During renovation, this beautiful station was restored to its former glory. There is no clearer symbol of the immense growth of the port of Antwerp. Together with a striking and contemporary superstructure in the shape of a diamond – a monumental design of the famous architect Zaha Hadid Architects – the building makes up the entire Port House.

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Great experience to pass along this building with your tiny boat 

 

– Between 1873 and 1935, Antwerp was the gateway to a better life for more than two million people. The Red Star Line brought them from Antwerp to New York. The museum brings you their story. Of course, you will also find art in its more traditional form. For example, the Red Star Line and Antwerp, as a migration hub, inspired artists like Eugeen Van Mieghem and Louis van Engelen. What makes this museum more special is the fact that it adopts a very modern approach in the original Red Star Line buildings. The port warehouses in the past used for passengers’ administrative and medical checks, now telling their personal stories, are the highlight of the collection. Outside, the observation tower that rises above the warehouses, in the shape of a ship’s smokestack, affords an amazing panoramic view.

– Visiting the MAS means exploring the building from the bottom to the top. As you make your way up the escalators to the next floor, you discover that the museum is actually much greater than the building. You only need to look out the fabulous glass walls. A stunning view with a panorama deck, 60 metres above sealevel, is the climax of the tour.

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the MAS, in September during the Water-rant event 

 

Neighbouring this district is the Schipperskwartier, better known as the Red Light District.

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the Red Light District, not all the ladies look great here

 

‘Window prostitution’ is confined to three streets nowadays, and for the rest Schipperskwartier is a colorful working-class area and a young residential neighborhood. Nowadays, these are trendy areas full of authentic pubs, terrace cafés and great places to eat. It connects perfectly to the bustling city centre of Antwerp. Twenty years ago, when I was in that area with my boat, I never left alone in the evenings. The atmosphere was completely different. It was dirty, dangerous and raw. Entering a pub you had to be prepared that a fight could start at any moment or police would do a razzia. It was the place of dockworkers, skippers and mariners. I must admit it was also charming.

Twenty years ago I could not imagine that we would buy art pieces here. A very nice lady runs Nassau 42 Fine Arts. She exhibits only what she likes, art that makes you smile a little, with a positive spirit. You will not find controversial or shocking art here. Jacob fell in love with these boats immediately. He calls them “Twoats”. They are made by a Greek artist, Panagotis Pougaridis.

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the Twoats, Panagotis Pougaridis

 

 

Not in this district but definitely worth the walk is the famous pedestrian tunnel between the left and right bank of River Scheldt. The old wooden moving staircases and it’s entrance buildings are a great piece of heritage.

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Beautiful pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp

 

On the way back home we saw how challenging River Scheldt can be due to it’s strong tidal currents and cross currents. Locals call it : “The devil is in the water”. Last year 6 inland barges grounded leaving the locks of Hansweert.

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River Scheldt

 

We were happy to reach our home port safe although the extreme low tide made us ground for a few hours as well.

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Zierikzee, the home port
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Zierikzee

Cuba, Havana

A few weeks ago I spent some days in Havana, Cuba. I was there for a regional hydrographic commission. This commission is a great opportunity to catch up with people from Caribbean, Meso-America and South-America. By now they know me well and I really feel at home amongst them.

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At work, with Cuban maritime authority

 

This meeting hugely influences my work program for the next year. After a busy week I travelled from Varadero to hotel National in Havana. It’s very famous and really worth staying a few days. It’s a bit past glory and normally I would not choose such a hotel but I booked last minute. What makes Havana so different and why do I really want to go back? The Caribbean, in my opinion, is often beautiful beaches and that’s a bit it. I am not a beach person, after 15 minutes I am bored and want to do something. I have seen many old beautiful towns with impressive historical buildings. Paris is my back garden but still I was very impressed about Havana and not only the tourists streets.

Choosing alternative routes I discovered some very impressive buildings. Some of them well maintained and beautifully painted.

And Havana has many interesting museums. There is only one disadvantage of this beautiful place with its old cars and that is the air pollution. Every day I walked from the hotel, along the boulevard on the coast, to the old town. Even with a sea breeze the exhaust of the cars was affecting me.

I used the app maps.me during my trips and I can really recommend this app for navigating as it does not depend on a wifi connection. If you consider visiting Cuba I would not wait too long. Almost every day cruise liners call and this will only increase.

Havana good food
good restaurant : paladar5sentidos.com

 

guided by locals
guided by locals

I really enjoyed and for sure I want to go back!

“Sinterklaas” arrived in the Netherlands

Every year we join the Sinterklaas celebration with our boat RP 15. It’s  a long journey, all the way from Spain to the Netherlands, but it’s just great to see all these exited children (and adults!) when we arrive. Some pictures of this year.

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The Mayor welcomes Sinterklaas (2015)

 

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Underway from Spain to Zierikzee

 

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The new crew was also good in engine maintenance

 

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Arrival in Zierikzee

 

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It was a beautiful day

 

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Ready to moor

Control freak for ever!

Last week I came back from 2 weeks Guatemala. I conducted a technical needs assessment mission on the Aids to Navigation and Vessel Traffic Service delivery.

 

On arrival I had a meeting with several Vice Ministers and I must say, although they have a military background, the atmosphere was very relaxed. There were long working days, I travelled by car from Guatemala City to Port of Quetzal on the Pacific side and then all the way to the Caribbean side. And finally, back to Guatemala City to brief the Ministry on my findings. I packed and unpacked my bags 4 times but it was really worth it. Guatemala has some impressive nature, beautiful mountains and an active volcano. And when compared to other countries in the region you see many indigenous people.

That really gives the feeling of being in Central America. I was lucky to well know my local point of contact, Hugo Estuardo, as I trained him in Suriname this summer.

The whole mission was in Spanish language so I was accompanied by a translator. He is the IALA Councillor for Chile, a Coast Guard officer and Aids to Navigation expert. I had never met James before and although he is not very talkative he is a great guy. A little bit macho, but that is not an issue for me, actually it can be quite charming.

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James and I

 

From the moment we met in Panama airport I got aware James is a diehard Coast Guard type. Well prepared and approaching all situations very procedural, in other words, perfect for my mission. Being in a Spanish speaking region he took the lead with regard to our travels and I used this occasion to brief him on the mission ahead. During our flight from Panama to Guatemala we were busy discussing the approach that I would take to inform the Ministry. In this work all is diplomacy and I wanted to make sure that he understood the nuances in my speech well. I prepared everything in written speeches but depending on the atmosphere or tension on certain subjects I would adjust this. It was important that he would be aware of this subtle change in my speaking for his translations. I can tell he had a hard job during the mission but did fantastic.

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Beautiful Antigua

 

When we arrived, and left the airplane I was a little surprised that the other passengers were not really in a hurry to get out. Walking in the tube I had a feeling in the back of my mind that something was not OK. I wanted to check with the cabin crew but when I made a remark, clearly the face of James told me that all was under control. Meanwhile I send a message to Hugo Estuardo that we would be checked out shortly. It took a while before he replied and he was surprised that we already arrived but informed that he would leave immediately for the airport. I was a little disappointed that he was not waiting at the airport already. After passport check we only had to pick-up our luggage and off to the hotel. Only both of our suitcases did not arrive and finally we went to the airline office for a luggage claim. James meanwhile went to a tourist booth to get some brochures of Guatemala. I mentioned to James that I always have 2 sets of working clothes in my cabin luggage but I was happy to join the next day for shopping a suit and shirts. While we were waiting I vaguely remembered that I saw a ticket proposal weeks ago for one of my travels (and I have many) with a red line saying: stop in San Jose. I looked around to see if there was a name of an airport and finally I asked James: “Are you sure we are in Guatemala”. I wish I had made a video of his face at that moment. A few minutes later we found out that we were in Costa Rica, at 10 PM, without luggage. Apparently, the airplane made an extra stop but this was not explicitly mentioned.

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Along the “sweet river” in Livingston

 

Later I questioned myself what went wrong. I had just met James a few hours ago and I did not want to come across as a control freak. Also by checking things too much I could have hurt his ego so I decided to let go. I so often check and double check, but now this was not needed as I was no longer alone on a travel. I had a similar experience when traveling with my colleague Mahdi from Bahrain. We almost missed a flight as he thought that I would take care of our departure time and I thought he would do so. I am a little old fashion (and lazy) when traveling with guys, I always let them take the lead. I travelled many times with my colleague Tuncay from Turkey and he even informs me that I have 5 minutes left to go to the toilet before we have to leave to the gate. Or he checks in for my flight to make sure that I have the best seat. He would protect my bags with his life. The moment I got aware of his effectiveness I just enjoyed eating, drinking, shopping and reading a good book at the airport. Sometimes when we are on a job together I transfer via Istanbul because from then onwards I am spoiled like a child.

I must say that after this extra stop in Costa Rica, I turned back to my control freak mode. But James managed the rest of our travels with military preciseness. And together this resulted in a successful mission and great time in a beautiful country with fantastic people.

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Next on my list is Costa Rica. I already have the brochures for nice tourist visits…

China

Two weeks ago I came back from China. I spend two and a half weeks in Wenzhou and Xiamen for IALA World-Wide Academy. We have a long and good cooperation with China Maritime Safety Organisation (MSA). The Dean of the Academy and I lectured during the Level 1 Aids to Navigation (AtoN) Manager course and after that we delivered a Risk Management Training Seminar at Jimei University in Xiamen.

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It’s just great to work with China for such events. China MSA is a world leader with it’s very professional AtoN Manager training. They have a dedicated Aton training institute, unique in its kind. But not only to work, also to have fun, China is fantastic. All, the events beside the work programme, are organised with great care.

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At first, I felt a little pressure as every minute was scheduled with visits, lunches and dinners. After we finished the work, if lucky, we had 5 minutes to get ready for an organised tour and dinner. I got aware that it was better to just lean back and go with the flow.

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Even the key’s are organized here

 

All was so well organised and the people we met were very amusing company. I could really relax a bit although it was still business people we met.

If you want to organise a good party, do it in China with Chinese people and it can be great fun. The food is amazingly good.

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Duck snout as “apero”

 

Sandworms
or sand worms in jelly

seafood

 

I only missed a traditional European breakfast and good coffee. Breakfast, lunch and dinners are all a bit the same style food in China. The first days I had a headache every morning. My system just missed the caffeine shot. I was lucky to have a Starbucks around the corner in Xiamen. It’s very popular with young Chinese people.

The most strange food I had the year before in Cambodia. I call it UFO’s: Unidentified Fried Objects. This was identified…. as tarantula! I tried to eat one leg but although fried it had still hear on it.  I just did not manage to eat this.

I would really want to go back to this country for a vacation. The only difficulty would be the language. We constantly had translators with us but I noticed that in public life only few people speak a bit English.

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Ting Ting accompanied me to all the time to translate, we had great fun!

 

At a certain moment some local people delivered presentations supported by translators. Another person took the floor to give a presentation and I asked his assistant why the translator did not continue. She informed me it was not necessary as the presentation was in English. I apologized by saying that my understanding of English was not so good…

Vacation on board

Jacob and I are now underway from Gent to Doornik, in Belgium. It’s the second week of our vacation with “Tasmin West”, our boat. Her other name is RP 15. That is the name she carried as police patrol vessel. The website http://www.gerardine.net has a dedicated page with picture of this former police patrol vessel, built in 1940.

 

In Gent tasting Trinidad rum
RP 15 in Gent, while tasting Trinidad & Tobago rum

 

She was finished just in time. The days before we left were very busy with cleaning up and fixing last things. The hull had just been sand blasted and painted, so you can imagine how dirty it was inside.

RP 15 repairs after sand blasting
Repairs after sand blasting

 

Almost a year ago Jacob started this intense renovation and before doing that we needed to strip the boat entirely. A welder worked for more than 14 weeks to do all kind of reparations in the hull. She is now beautifully painted and a lot of technical improvements have been done.

 

So, it’s a well-deserved rest for both of us. We started our vacation with a party on the wharf jetty at home, inviting people we know for years and some people we just met. It’s always an interesting experience to bring together people who are not connected and I enjoy to be the facilitator of this. I launched my new “Tasmin West” boat aperitif called Black Velvet, a mix of Guinness and Champagne. I wanted a rough aperitif, on board we don’t serve drinks for wimp.

RP 15 Black Velvet party
Introduction of the Black Velvet Apero

 

We normally steam a few hours a day. All goes very smooth as we are both experienced in ship handling. Only I found out that we have a silent competition between us to be in the wheelhouse for manoeuvring, especially in difficult circumstances. This boat is great to manoeuvre with and we both enjoy it too much. We agreed to do each half of it, but I still try to have an extra turn for example because it’s raining outside. I explained to Jacob that a real gentleman would not send a lady out to moor in the rain. According to him I will not melt from a little rain.

Spiere Canal
RP 15, heading to the lock

 

RP 15 at lock Spiere Canal
RP 15, as a tourist you can be a tourist attraction as well

 

The rest of the time we visit a town or go out on the bicycle. But just a little cycling as we find it too exhausting, actually we are very lazy. In Veere, a beautiful old Dutch town, we had a little too sticky neighbours. And on top they fixed there, what we call, plastic steam iron with a chain to our fresh painted boat. That made my blood pressure go up a little. I friendly asked to moor the chain at his side and have the rope on my bollards. While he was complaining about the fact that the chain would damage his plastic boat he realised why I was unhappy…

In the picture you see one of my favourite recipes. I only prepare it on board because it’s time consuming and smoky. It’s grilled eggplants, paprika and zucchini. I rub them with olive oil, coriander seed and cumin seed and I serve it with Turkish yogurt. The yogurt is spiced with fresh garlic, cumin, coriander and red peppers. I always grill for several dishes. The day after I make a moussaka, pasta or salad with grilled vegetables. I can only grill when it’s not raining as I need to open all the windows. The exhaust from the kitchen is worse as from the old Kromhout 8 cylinder diesel engine!

Hungry Jacbogrilled vegetables

Family and friends  visit all the time, so I am busy with cooking, what I like a lot. My vacation is the best period to catch up with family.

On board with the family
Jacob,  his parents and my brother
the cook and her lover
RP 15, the cook and her lover

 

 

We stayed several days near a beautiful old bridge called Astene. My former husband was there as well. He also restored a police patrol vessel and we spend our time with eating, drinking, discussing engines maintenance and story telling. The later it gets the better are the stories.

Astene bridge
RP 15 at Astene bridge in Belgium

 

Directly after our vacation I will leave for two and a half weeks to China. In China I have travels as well. So from time to time I need to work a few hours during my vacation. Being the organiser of the event, does not allow me to close down my email the weeks before the event will take place. I am lucky to enjoy the work so it is not a burden. I realised that this 3 weeks on board is almost the longest period in the year that I do not need to pack a bag. I got so used to living from a suitcase that the opposite situation is remarkable to me.

Talking French

I can say that I am quite experienced now in communicating with French people. As some of you may travel to France for summer vacation, here a little advice.

There are a few simple rules that will hugely improve your communication even if you hardly speak French. First of all, there is a misunderstand that French people are not willing to talk English. They speak English and are proud to do so, only you were not aware it was English because of their strong French accent. My French colleague ones tried to explain that he had a heart problem and said: “My urt urts”

The English speech of the president of France Mr. Macron, and his fantastic quote “Make our planet great again”, is really an exception. We could all understand what he was talking about, amazing! But how will you manage that a French person starts talking English to you instead of moving on in high level and high-speed French? The key to this is starting in French yourself. Even if you do not speak French, just pretend. Than apologize that you hardly speak French although you find it the most beautiful language in the world. But be aware, do not learn these lines by heart to make it flow and good understandable. If the quality of your first 3 lines is to high they will move on in French, with the speed of emptying a “Mitraillette” machine gun. You will be killed by the French words. My French has improved a lot but from time to time I go back to toddler-French meanwhile looking a bit silly. For example when going to the bank. Numbers in French are very complicated. I still do not manage this so the only solution is pretending that I am stupide. I often work with Native French speaking Africans and I can much easier understand them as citizens of France. They just talk slower and their accent is easier to follow.

Also be aware that French people have a different sense of humour as Dutch and English. Where you would normally solve things with a joke, in France this can lead to difficult situations. They are true chauvinist and expect that you show respect to France. At a music festival in Paris I was talking in French to a guy of the security. He lived in France but clearly his origins were of North Africa. Another guy interrupted by saying to me in French that he had never seen such a beautiful women in his life. I looked a bit surprised when hearing this opening line and said : “Je crois que vous etes aveugle”. This means something like, probably you are blind. He was not amused at all and turned his back on me immediately. The security guy found it big fun and for example an English guy would laugh out loud and get some beers.

My name “Gerardine” keeps on causing problems as well. It just does not exist for French people and organisations. I now seriously consider to change my name to Geraldine because they refuse to change official documents with my correct name. I keep on filling in correction documents requested by these organisation, but apparently the person that needs to upload this new data considers that I do not know how my name is spelled. Even if I add a copy of my passport they are still not convinced. It might be the case when I retire that I will not receive my pension because I am not the same person after a check on my passport. Interesting is also that it is compulsory to use the family name of my husband although it is not in my passport or any official document. I never use his name and he does not live or work in France but still I need to use his name.

I find all these differences very amusing and just adapt to the situation. So, I pay my tax to the government by cheque, an old system that in Europe is only used in France. When not at home in the Netherlands I live in a very nice typical French town, Saint Germain en Laye, in the suburb of Paris. Although not very comfortable in winter I chose for a French style apartment and really enjoy the atmosphere.

appartement 2
my lovely French apartment

 

appartement 1

I can go to my work wearing high heels and dresses with a length above my knees what was considered inappropriate in the Netherlands. With pleasure I eat my croissant and drink a glass of wine during a work lunch. In the Netherlands milk is served during lunch…

So, don’t worry, I am not complaining at all!