Community support

I usually don't post links here, because we have Twitter for that. But this time I will. 

So here is the LINK. An online community for athletes being reduced to pathetic piles of human rubble after all kind of orthopedic surgery.

Now I'm one of them.

Gimme stitches

The day after tomorrow I'm getting surgery - and I'm scared shitless. The plan is to fix my torn labrum (shoulder) by an arthroscopic procedure. Even though it's a short and relatively simple procedure, it sucks big time - the recovery period is long (6 months at least) and by the time I will see the inside of a gym again (somewhere in May 2010) it's gonna be starting over from 0 again.

Anyone has any better ideas than my surgeon?

I don't like the idea of being cut open, or get a bunch of incisions for that matter, I don't like the idea of being left-handed for almost two months, nor do I like the idea of getting a syringe poked in my neck for the anesthetic. But the idea that I'm gonna be a wimpy little fatty with arms the size of toothpicks and a stomach that stands out further than my chest, is just the biggest fucking nightmare of my life.


Driving exam... the Georgian way

One could argue that obtaining a driver's license in Georgia is pretty easy. After all, every idiot has one, and nobody can really drive anyway. In about a week from now I'm planning on passing the examinations and become the latest addition to the dangerous folk occupying the streets of Tbilisi.

Even if I say so myself, I can drive. Therefore it's not the practical examination I'm worried about. The theoretical examination is what gives me some cause for concern. Being a multi-cultural country, Georgia offers the theoretical examination in no less than 8 different languages (Georgian, Russian, Turkish, Armenian, Azeri, Ossetian, Abkhazian and of course English).

Very cool. Even foreigners like me, who don't speak Russian and who only know basic every day Georgian can get a license. You'd think so. However, the English translation of the exam is so stunningly bad that at times it's impossible to understand what the question actually means. From simple mistakes like saying "dry" where they mean "wet", to confusing left with right and scentence construction that makes you wonder whether the person doing the translation actually knew any English at all.

Very funny. Except when you actually have to pass the examination, of course.

Below the highlights:

I answered 3 on this one. Only to find out later option 1 should read "wet".

Watch the indicator light in the image. What way am I going?

This would be rape of the English language.



OK, so I haven't posted much lately - to say I have been super-busy might be a slight overstatement, but I have definately been caught up in all kind of stuff that comes with settling in a weird place like this. Moving to another apartment. Getting paperwork done with the bank. Getting driving lessons. Going to the gym. Yea, all lame excuses, but anyway.

Just for continuity's sake, I'm posting two pictures. The first is the charming building I live in. And, as it's holiday season, one of the christmas decorations on Tavisuplebis Moedani (Freedom Square).

My building; my flat is on the 4th floor (3rd floor European counting) right underneath the brown DIY balcony-extention.

Turning the St. George statue into something vaguely resembling a christmas tree on Tavisupleba.


Greenback fun

Last Wednesday I signed the contract for my new house. As I was paying the first and last month rent at the time of signing, I took out 1100 dollars and played around with the notes before handing them to my landlady.

Signing the contract!

Now if this ain't gangsta I dunno what is
Charming innit? 


The Giant Sand Castle

If you have one and-a-half hour to spend in Barcelona, what are you gonna see? I opted for the Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's mega project, still under construction after 90 years.

Now this thing is weird. It looks like some giant sand castle made by some overenthousiastic wonder kid.

Still under construction - the whole thing is full of strange elements like the fruity colored bulbs on top of the left wing arches (click to zoom).

The tower looks more like a minaret than a church tower.

Now what is this thing? This looks like some Stalinist thing in a dodgy ex-Soviet republic.

From the distance the thing makes more sense. And you can't really say it's ugly anyway.


Wartime Khachapuri

On the Batumi harbor, right in the middle of the two main quays is a nice restaurant. It makes an excellent Acharuli xachapuri.

The quay seen from the restaurant

The view is really nice, the xachapuri heavy and fat (the way it should be) and the Kazbegi is cold. Meanwhile, about 50 km North, the Russian troops are setting up checkpoints in Poti, blowing up stuff in the harbor and looting the warehouses and the recently opened free-trade zone. We ordered another Kazbegi.

Batumi was busy as ever, just without a functioning mobile phone network and ATM's empty

One of the waitresses got a txt and told us the Russians had taken Zugdidi, a quite major town for its region, and were advancing in both the central and the Western part of the country.

The harbor view of the restaurant

The night before, four jets flew over and dropped some bombs, probably on the tarmac of Batumi Airport (I wasn't sure exactly were the bombs fell as the airport looked fine driving past it, but later there was an article on Rustavi2 about the reopening of the place).

Some jellyfish moved slowly through the water making the silence even more weird

There were some coast guard ships out front but it seemed really tranquille. There wasn't any boat traffic, even though it was the only functioning major port in Georgia at the time. I ordered my xachapuri without the lump of butter in order not to OD on the fat, so I actually got to finishing it.

Georgian coast guard

When the xachapuris were finished we decided to leave, as we were in what could be considered a prime candidate for bombing. Unfortunately I didn't get another xachapuri that time.

The beach of Kobuleti, North of Batumi at the time of picture about 30 km away from Russian troops



On my way to the airport I stumbled upon the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Haarlem central station. For the occasion they pulled some historic trains out and had people in 1890's clothes walking the platforms.

The movie is a 1920's 'Blokkendoos' EMU with a 1200 series at the end.

Old machines rock.


How to ruin a perfectly fine place

Last July I travelled to Bulgaria, as a friend of mine was holidaymaking over there and I thought it would be fun to drop by. After sleeping off the hangover from the Gentse Feesten (see previous post) I continued on to Brussels and Paris and took a snail munchers flight (Air France, the bastards that took over our national pride, the KLM) from there to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

The beautiful Bulgarian countryside

After arriving in Sofia, I took a train all the way across the country to Burgas in order to end up about 40 clicks south of there in the holiday resort called Sunny Beach. The fact that the place only had an English name should've been a sign on the wall, but after the travel ordeals from the days before I didn't quite put 1 and 1 together.

Did I mention it was beautiful?

Sunny Beach is an absolutely fucking horrible place. It's filled with cheap apartment complexes and resorts, aimed at the package holiday people from Holland, Britain, Scandinavia and, sadly, Russia. Now those people aren't usually the friendliest, civillized people but this was really something.

Delapitated Soviet-era industries are found throughout the countryside

Upon arrival, I went out with my friends to a place called "the Flying Dutchman". Uh oh.
The place was filled with Dutch working-class proletariat aged 16-23 gulping down huge quantities of lager. The joint played only the worst of the worst of Dutch-language music and of course everybody sung along until their lungs bursted. Now I'm no clubber, or good at drinking for that matter. That being said, I quickly realised I had to get drunk and stay drunk in order to retain at least some appreciation of the place.

Sign in Sunny Beach, "be happy in Bulgaria". Sure, any other place in Bulgaria would do just fine.

How unlike the rest of Bulgaria.

The group of people I visited took a package holiday and were flown in by charter flight to Burgas airport. By taking the train across the country I got a view of the real Bulgaria that most people at Sunny Beach don't even know existed.
The countryside is beautiful, with endless sunflower fields, mountains, sleepy villages and old fashioned sheperds who actually wove as the train passed by. Truly another century.

The sunflower fields

Apart from that the countryside is also poor as hell. In Georgia I've seen a horse cart once. In Bulgaria it seems to be the preferred method of transport.
I seriously don't know what this country is doing in the EU. It seemed poorer and less developed than the Ukraine or Georgia.

NOW I'm feeling at home :)

The Sunny Beach resort was filled with gypsies and other kinds of scum trying to rip off western tourists. Literally everybody tried to rip you off with something there. Taxi's were even more expensive than in Holland. In Sofia taxi's are metered and charge 0,70 Lev for a kilometer (about 0,35 euro's). But in Sunny Beach you'd pay 30 Lev for a three mile ride down to the clubs (about 15 euro's).

Interior of a really cool beach club in Sunny Beach, for some reason most western tourists went 'downtown' to the clubs instead of this chilled-out place with waitresses straight out of a fashion magazine.

Some 2 days after my arrival we went to a place called the "Heineken House". The name sounded alarming but I chose to tag along anyway. The name didn't say too much - it was exactly as I imagined it to be. Hordes of drunken Dutch, Dutch beer and Dutch music. Geez.

My 'fellow' countrymen enjoying their holidays at the "Heineken House"

After three days I had enough and went out. The last day was nice actually, going to the beach located a mere 800 meters from the apartment building (for some reason the people at the apartment hadn't found this beach in the 10 days they were there already). I love the Black Sea. It doesn't have any decent waves, but the water is very warm and slightly less salty than other seas making it excellent for swimming.

The beach, with a view on a peninsula with a semi-authentic town

Taking a domestic flight from Burgas to Sofia with a stopover in Varna I connected to the AirSnailmunchers flight back to Paris, in order to miss my connection at CDG and not being helped a single inch further by the airline staff. When I informed the flight attendant (some really creepy French dude) that I was about to miss my connection he just said 'ai ai ai' and continued walking down the aisle.

Now this is what Bulgaria looks like

Air France, I will never set foot on any of your crappy flights again. And keep those paws off KLM.

Just for the record, and for the sake of not pissing off the group of people whose hospitality I enjoyed; I really did have fun. Definately a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Good to experience it once, but I'll never do it again.

Kickin' it up in Gent

Through the Netherlands flows the great Rhine delta, splitting the country in the northern, Calvinist, part and the southern, Catholic part. This line is a dividing line in more ways than one. People south of the rivers are just, well, different. The accent is just one of the ways this expresses itself. Prime example is the carnaval. The south of the country completely shuts down for a week in February, while in the north it really seems absolutely nothing is happening (which mostly is the case, actually)

View from the VIP stage

However, south of the south of the Netherlands is another dividing line. It's called the Belgian border. The Belgians are often the butt of Dutch jokes (how many Belgians does it take to screw in a light bulb?) but I have a weak spot for them. Their accent is cute. And as long as you're not working with them, they are very nice people. Much more polite and considerate than the potato farmers in the north.

Gent has canals as well

Last July I went to Gent (Ghent) to attend the 'Gentse Feesten', or Ghent Parties. The whole city centre is transformed into one big party ground, with stages and performances on literally every square. On invitation of one of my Belgian colleagues me and a mate of mine went down to Gent to see what the fuss was about and down a pint or two.

The Pole Pole stage at night

Arriving at the Gent Parties, I got VIP tickets to the Pole Pole stage (thanks Johan!) and took in the atmosphere. Gent is very beautiful, I have to admit I underestimated the place. Apart from the magnificent scenery, it was a real party. Real in the sense of a genuine party vibe going on, without any of the agressiveness and fake-heartedness that usually accompanies these kind of events in the north.

Flemish logic/humor on a sign indicating a handicapped parking spot: "If you take my parking spot, take my handicap as well!"

Even though I'd never want to live there, I can only say that the northern clay munchers have definately something to learn from our southern neighbours.