Running in Brussels

Well tomorrow after next to no training I run the 20kms in Brussels – anything close to 1hr 50 I’ll be happy with.

Belgium seems to be conspiring to do it’s worst (read best) to ensure we miss ‘her’ when we go.

The weather has been brilliant the last week hi 20’s low 30, Sunshine – it didn’t even start out grey!

26c forecast fro tomorrow and 21 at the race start.

That’s why I’m writing this now, I may not be able to move tomorrow.

One of the best things about leaving anywhere is you start to see what is good about a place, much like you did when you first decided it was a good idea. The rose tint returns, things don’t seem to bad.

So today when I had Edie on the tow-behind and Olive rode her bike by herself in front of me and we went to Nordspark, and they ran about recklessly without concern for where I was or where they were – well it was sort of “Hey this ain’t to bad”

The coffee tasted better then before, the sun shone, people smiled (and grimaced and smoked to be honest), the setting was not to bad if you didn’t look past 100 metres, and, well, life could be a whole lot worse.

I think how contained we mange to live our lives has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it.

The Castle – the source of the forewarned post – Castle Catastrophes

If i kept my view to 100 metres a lot of time Antwerp would seem pretty spectacular, but I think NZ life has made me a bit soft. I’ve got used to having space and plenty of it, if you don’t want things in your face they don’t need to be, it’s easy to escape.

Nelson, one of my favourite spots in New Zealand – and where I lived for 8 great years – is a case in point. You could disappear to places that well almost no-one went to, yet they were still spectacular places. It’s very hard to do here.

Olive was asking today what the biggest country in the World was – Russia, Canada, China, North America..are the top four, New Zealand though comes in at number 75, only 10% behind Germany would you believe. do the maths on population the answer is obvious.

However by the same token North America offers us lot’s of space and freedom – that is part of it’s appeal to me, and part of what I want the girls to experience.

We’re all social animals, but for me being able to be just yourself in nature is the most special thing we can do, and I can’t wait to do more of that with our family.

Anyhow, back to the run – as mentioned I’m completely undertrained, and the heat will not be my friend, so it will be a bit of minor torture, though hopefully also an affirmation that once you have your base fitness up again as I did for the NY marathon then – well lot’s of things are manageable.

the plus as well for me is that while we have been here we have seen very little of Brussels, though what we have sen we have really liked, so running a 20km loop through it’s streets and parks will be a pleasure indeed.

Bismarck Statue from 1901 in the Tiergarten

Last weekend i ran in the Tiergarten in Berlin, and throughout I felt enormous pleasure and privilege in being able to cover so much ground under my own steam. A car or a tourist bus just doesn’t cut it for me, and if a bike isn’t at hand it’s a great privilege to be able to run, I’m so glad I got back into it.

Anyway I trust this finds you all well and happy , and I’ll look to update you soon


Leaving or coming home?

I’m in transit to NZ as I type this – exhausted in the lounge at Dubai.
I think a lot of the exhaustion is because i don’t know which way home is. The pain of being overseas away from my family will come from being overseas at ‘home’.
If I didn’t care about my family, or didn’t care about New Zealand, or didn’t care about where I lived none of this would matter. But clearly they all do matter – and should matter.

Here’s some of my problem:

In Paris before I flew out

So it will be hard for Chrissy and the girls not just because I am away but in particular because of where I am away to.
It has also made me realise that it is not just about being away from New Zealand, but being away from those places and people that are close to New Zealand – Australia for instance (my mother and our many friends over there). Even when we return later in the year for 4 weeks it is just not practical to get about and see everyone or cross the Tasman.
The world changes with children, and certainly expat life with firm roots half a world away is very different – it will be challenging enough flying them there and back in a month without the extra challenge of getting them all about the place.
As mentioned before – it also makes me think expat NZr’s in Europe are a hardy breed as must be expat European’s in NZ – the distances and logistics are not to be underestimated (as we did). I have a much better perspective as to why a colleague of mine returned to Munich from Wellington, even though she and her family appeared quite well adapted – I thought she was overly sensitive to her children. I now get it completely.
Anyway, this is my sixth time through Dubai, and each time I look at the barrenness and don’t get it. then it occurred to me if you unwrap even a city like Paris there are not many natural features left, and it is the structure and infrastructure and the people that make it so interesting and appealing. So for the first time, I am thinking… maybe a trip to Dubai with the family would be one way to guarantee a summer which has eluded us for over 20 months now!
Meantime New York to Washington DC is in line for hurricane Irene, hopefully forward planning, common sense and a bit of luck prevail for those that endure its strike.

Faux faux

In last post I mentioned I would comment further on living
in part delusion.

I guess we all do live in a state of delusion, the scale
varies but to pretend everything is OK in the world is the most obvious one and
the one I am most conscious of. Our lives are almost unliveable if we don’t
have this distorted view of reality. It both empowers us and weakens us.

There are a few things which have struck me in particular in
recent weeks.

The main yacht haven here in Antwerp has some amazing boats
in it, and it is evident the in thing to do on a warm summers night is to dine
in the vary public gaze of the many on-lookers, a-top your yacht/boat.

OK each to their own, and probably on a hot night dining in
the galley is not a great option, but how can this feel special when the waters
in which you are moored are grey/green/brown/ opaque, full of rubbish and
litter and dotted with slips of oil from engines etc? (why don’t they all pay
10 euro’s a day more and have the harbour “cleaned” daily?)

Similarly there are faux beaches set up as sort of tropical
island resorts just for the summer, where you can lie on the white sand, sip
your pina colada and look out on water that you wouldn’t dare swim in, while the
buzz of busy motorways echo’s in the background.

It’s a similar thing in the parks – the motor way is just
over there. On my scenic run I could see the tops of two cooling towers from the
Nuclear plant.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to feel they are a little
closer to paradise, my point is – why did we let it all get so hashed up in the
first place?

It did occur to me when I ran by the new MAS museum the
other day that I need to credit Antwerp as being – and to always be – first and
foremost a port city, and of course in the past that brought very different
things. The difference between Brussels and Antwerp is amazing – Brussels can
always only be the older more dignified sibling,  Antwerp the slightly ugly duckling that will always be trying to shake of the down.

It also made me think that Wellington getting its act together 12 years ago with Te Papa and then the ongoing renovation of the waterfront is a credit to a vision slightly ahead of some places, though indeed we see things over here – like the extensive use of shallow water features for kids to rollick in in summer, which Wellington could learn from.

My favourite place of all so far in Antwerp is this place:

Main pool

The main pool

It is a natural swimming pool with everything discharged back
into the pools you swim in.

In a normal summer apparently it is very busy – I took
the girls (my second visit) last Saturday and there were only 20 or so hardy souls – most of whom we outlasted. (Though to infer i was actually fully immersed is slight editorial licence)

The kids pool

Even the changing rooms are funky

It is absolutely the right way to go – a genuine urban environment
with peace and beauty – and amazingly – its free (and still it isn’t a sufficient
lure for many in this dreadful summer).




Anyway. I’ll be in New Zealand in 5 days time.  We still have faux, but we don’t need anymore, we can’t let in creep upon us, we must protect what is so very special and such and amazing privilege, so that when people from area’s like this do visit
they can enjoy and be inspired by the real thing  – though tropical paradise we will never

I’ve got rhythm…

I didn’t run to the Nederlands at the weekend – I drove with my family to Kinderdijk, and then onto Middelburg after some cycling and fun around the windmills.

On the outskirts of Kinderdijk - my second shot - I missed the all important windmill on the first one

I had come down with my worst ever allergic reaction on Wednesday and had cautiously recovered through Friday and Saturday, going for a shortish10km romp with 2 laps around Rivierenhof on a rainy cool Saturday night.

I felt sorry for all the locals and travellers who will have booked tickets for the nightly outdoor music concerts held in Rivierenhof (just flicker search it if you want a squizillion pics of the concerts) July/August with some great acts – but unfortunately atrocious weather for this season. It is a beautiful park if not for the unfortunate constant hum of traffic which has come to symbolise Belgium for me in many respects:

Not my pic, from flicker, it does look as good as this though! (stinky water again however)

As I commenced my second lap however it occurred to me what one of my many problems is.

To run as I do – and I’m lucky because I feel much the same at 10kms as I do at 1km – and usually that is not too bad – I was reminded that it is about rhythm.

Of course! Since we have been here we have no rhythm.

And because of what we have, or don’t have, here – we are always keen to escape.

Catch 22; the more you escape the less rhythm you create – because for one  – you won’t escape to the same place twice (We’re stuck in this ‘not a holiday, not a life’ mode, so to return somewhere is to usurp any opportunity to go somewhere different).

So I’m open to ideas.

We lack rhythm, yet can’t handle the monotony. Many Belgians relish rhythm often returning to the same holiday spot year after year (Kiwis do this too I note). But we don’t have those hubs, those family gathering, old chum back slapping options.

Further all the expats we do sometimes slap backs with do the same as us – we behave somewhat like an exploding skyrocket, escaping the city at tremendous pace and dispersing in every possible direction to see where we might head towards and then fade out.

…And we must see what we can see, though at times I crave to see it as an explorer and not a tourist – to actually dwell in one place/region for a while, discover the hidden charms, observe the way of life, live in their shoes a while.

…and then of course, leave and go back to our rhythm which is not rhythm.

Perhaps I’m living a Jazz, and just like Jazz at first it feels a little odd, but there is a pattern, there is a core, and life and purpose and vibrancy can spring from it.

…or you take the record off.

Easy on a Sunday morning

It’s been 10 weeks since I last posted – wow that’s bad. Truth is it has been full on, no particular fault of Antwerp, but a disproportionate number of things coming to a head, and in some cases fizzing out completely.

And to keep it simple I’m going to stick with my running theme – as 10 weeks later I am still running.

Truth is I found a way around my dilemma of the local park – I started running a different route – more urban, fewer drunks/ dropouts. It hasn’t solved anything of the real problem but it has allowed me to keep running.

So here’s what I observed when I headed out for a 15km run on Sunday morning at 0615 hrs.

  • Several groups of slightly weary ‘gents’ heading home or back to their hotel / home.
  • One person asleep (almost on a park bench)
  • Before entering the lift to take me through the Sint Anna pedestrian tunnel under the Schelde the guy on his push bike sculled his can of Jupiter (beer) and threw it to the ground. I got in with him – just a little anxious.
  • At the other end (578 metres long) – he had waited for me – keeping the lift door open (the world is full of suprises), and gave me a cheery smile.
  • The cavernous lift (made for bicycles) had a dubious wet patch on the floor (I don’t think it was his).
  • On the other side (Linkerover) I ran to the John F Kennedy tunnel (and checked the air pollution as a possibility of running later) – the answer is no.
  • Passed one illegal camper fast asleep with his tent flap up and his hairy bum showing (worse is yet to come)
  • Passed a strange man in full waterproof garb fishing who knows what out of the reeds with a little net (I hope that was his job, otherwise he must get a life)
  • Saw the most rabbits I have ever seen in a short space of time– probably 3 or 4 hundred over the next 30 minutes of running.
  • Passed the 8 or 10 sailing clubs hunched around a lake the size Westpac Stadium, looking rather like a bad sideshow. (Why couldn’t they all agree to share one decent facility)?
  • At about 0700 I reached a carpark where two male joggers had just driven in – I thought they looked ‘suspect’ in their white shorts and matching backpacks – the pre-jog kiss confirmed it. I ran faster.
  • On reaching the Schelde again I encountered another strange clubhouse thingy – and disturbed someone relieving himself in the Schelde (OK downstream from Antwerp – but only confirms my intention never to set a toe in its waters).
  • Finally a lady walking her dogs.
  • Another lady, another dog (her dog I mean)
  • As I headed towards the bend which leads the river back to Antwerp a flash of white caught my eye – yes another bottom – this time female – doing the wild thing. (I must learn how to cough politely or run more noisily, I slipped off down the other side of the bank so as not to disrupt their rhythm)
  • I then encountered a bunch of crazy taverns, a camp ground, and an outdoor swimming pool. All looking rather tired, like some closed down amusement park that had run out of cash and patrons (whilst knowing that on a nice day many Belgians would think this the lap of luxury).
  • I weaved my way near and far from the river due to restricted acces in many parts with more yacht clubs, more strange clubs I couldn’t understand, and sometimes for no reason I could understand.
  • A group of Englishmen/ Scotsmen (one with his countries flag wrapped around him) – heading for the aforementioned Campground – after a BIG night out.
  • Another illegal camper – strangely within walking distance of the camp facilities.
  • Two more people – sleeping next to the river – not active to my relief.
  • Back through the tunnel – again with an accompanying cyclist – looking totally confused as to why anyone would run at all! (Yet again the lift was ‘held’ for me – not that i was far behind this languid cyclist)
  • And then finally back through the Meir – where I saw to my amazement – in the last 200 metres of my run – another runner. I waved to her, she back.

Hope you enjoyed the trip.

I plan on running from home to the Nederland’s this weekend.

This is particularly amusing for a Kiwi – we can’t run to any country – so there is some unusual lure and anticipation about it.

Hopefully the local authorities don’t find out I may get locked up, i certainly won’t have my Belgian residents card on me.

Pleasure and pain

I’m in the minority from the outset – I enjoy running, in fact I love it, and there are only two reasons I don’t do it more often:

Firstly I don’t believe it is a great exercise to take you into your eighties (yes I mean to get there in good health) – it is too hard on your body, and cycling or swimming is better overall in terms of keeping condition and your body able.

Secondly I carry some injuries which mean training has to be limited or my ankles will give way and it may not be just running I need to give up.

So equipped with those good reasons I entered the NY Marathon – fully having done fewer than 10 runs in the last 10 years!

4 runs later and I can already feel the ‘kick’. I go somewhere else both during and after a run.

Except, here in Antwerp, and I expect in any large city, I can’t go somewhere else far enough away from what I have to observe in the dusk or dawn of the day.

The homeless, the alcoholics, the druggies and those just thoroughly hung over from not having made it home last night.

So what is bliss for me, a privilege and a blessing, and what used to always be a private space has now become something different. Tragic, yes. Challenging, yes. Worse? ‘Just’ different.

At this stage I don’t know what the end result will be – not of the running – the observation, the reflection that my life is pretty easy and relative to these people it is unbelievably amazing.

I know I can’t run past them and pretend they are not there or cut them out of my life, I know also that there are no simple or single answers, I know that at present the answer, the only answer I have, is to do what I do, to be a good citizen, raise good children and console myself that there is little else I can do.

But is there? Is there more I can do? Everything has it’s price.

When you can smell alcohol from 6 metres away, when you see people sleeping on their haunches tucked in the rhododendrons, sleeping on benches under a survival blanket, sleeping on the landing of a children’s playground fort, when you get the sour whiff of human faeces from the bushes; and the world diamond trading centre is less than 500 metres away, and the Antwerp Police station is next to the park…

Well, I just know I won’t stop wondering, and like the legless, armless cripple I saw in Paris 6 years ago, I’ll never forget.

Running towards the NYC marathon will also mean running into something I have always run away from and it’s nothing to do with exercise. And no amount of training will either prepare me for or get me through this issue. The marathon is personal, the other matters are something we all share.