Sunday, December 28, 2014

First snow

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - First snow
Metaphor: with the first snowfall arriving in Belgium on Saturday, mother and child (or children, in my case) are protected by a small roof while father ventured out for food. Child raises arm triumphantly; yet both can be seen cracking.
Photo by John Weaver

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Allo Allo!

Pic of the week

Leaving Het Anker brewery, Mechelen  Photo by John Weaver

Have a happy Christmas everybody!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Zwarte Piet: friend or foe?

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Zwarte Piet
Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is Saint Nicolas's helper. Traditionally, boys and girls in Belgium and Holland put their shoe by the chimney on the eve of December 6. If you've been good, Saint Nicolas will bring you a present, which Zwarte Piet delivers by going down the chimney and putting it in your shoe.  Photos by John Weaver

A staple character in a harmless holiday tradition or an anachronistic hangover from Belgium's and Holland’s colonial pasts? Innocent symbol fun or thinly disguised racism? 

Zwarte Piet: friend or foe?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Krakow: the search for pierogi

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - Krakow
The 15th century Cloth Hall in the center of the Main Square in Krakow  Photos by John Weaver

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Etretat: A place to remember


The Travelled Monkey - Etretat
Photos by John Weaver

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “Granpaw, are you still there?” All I said was that I would be in Normandy for a wedding when… silence. 

“Etretat,” he finally said, faintly, before disappearing again in thought. It had been more than sixty years since he was in France, but that day on the phone I could tell my Granpaw had been transported back.

It was late summer, 1944. Fresh from the front lines, twenty year old Private First Class Bruce Wiegel arrived in Etretat, a tiny Norman village neighboring the beaches that bore the brunt of the D-Day invasion. He hadn’t come fight, but rather to make peace – peace with the war, peace with the land, and, no doubt, peace with himself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dia de los Muertos


The Travelled Monkey - All Souls Day
By John Weaver
Happy All Souls' Day, All Saints' Day, Halloween & Dia de los Muertos! Here's a calavera ("skull") from my scrapbook.

See more from my scrapbook

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bird’s eye view

Pic of the week

A view of my neighborhood from atop the Sint-Romboutstoren  Photo by John Weaver

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Elephant camp


The Travelled Monkey - Elephant camp
By John Weaver
This is out of my scrapbook from the 2010 trip my wife and I took to Thailand and Cambodia. 

We spend 3 days at an elephant camp in the north of Thailand near Chiang Mai, where we helped take care of the elephants. We went with the mahouts in the morning to get the elephants from the forest, brushed off their dusty backs, climbed clumsily onto their necks and rode them off to their bathing hole. 

We were with our elephants the whole day. We bathed them, fed them, paraded them and played with them. They were extremely gentle - not once were we scared of being trampled by their enormous size. 

Their giant feet stepped softly through the forest, one foot very carefully in front of the other, hardly making any sound. In fact, that's why in Thailand it's a complement to tell a woman, "You walk like an elephant." 

Not a recommended pick up line anywhere else though!

Here are some more pick up lines that may (or may not!) help you on your travels:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The story of the Moon Extinguishers

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Supermoon
The perigee moon, or "supermoon," can seem as much as 12 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than the average full moon.  Photo by John Weaver

Did the Man In The Moon seem like he was a little bit closer this week?

If so, that’s because this week’s full moon was the last of three “supermoons” to light up this summer’s sky. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The invisible hand


Yarnbombing along the Melaan in Mechelen
Photos by John Weaver
When we moved to Mechelen two years ago, one of the first things I noticed was a thriving street art scene. Not the stuff we were used to in Brussels – graffiti, posters, stickers, stencils – there’s hardly any of that in Mechelen. What I found instead was lots of yarn. It was everywhere, yards and yards of it in colorful patterns and cheeky scenes stitched around trees, lampposts, bike racks, bridges, railings…

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Golden lands

Pic of the week

A gold-lit street in Mechelen, Belgium  Photo by John Weaver

“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Let's dance

Pic of the week

Pass the hat! Cuban folk dancers at the International Folk Dance Festival in Bonheiden
Photos by John Weaver

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hurry up and wait

Pic of the week

Quick, Europe's version of McDonald's, was founded in Schoten, Belgium in 1971.  Photo by John Weaver

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Leuven in Scène

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Leuven in Scene
Photos by John Weaver

Leuven in Scène is one of my favorite things in Belgium. It's a street theater festival that takes place every 3 years or so (I can't quite figure out their schedule). 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The enemy within


The Travelled Monkey - The enemy within
by John Weaver

July Fourth always sneaks up on me. When you don’t live in the US, it’s a holiday that easily falls off your radar, only to hit you by surprise at some point on the day itself when you look at the calendar and say to yourself, “Oh yeah.” 

But while I didn’t BBQ or light any fireworks again this year, I did celebrate my roots when the US played Belgium in the World Cup this week. We lost, but the quality of the competition definitely made me proud to back the Red, White & Blues. In fact, that match put US Soccer on the map in Belgium, and I’m sure other countries took notice too. 

It also put Belgium on the map for many in the US, where more than 21.6 million people (not including those at bars and other public places) tuned in to watch.

So it was a win-win for me. But I was sorry to see Belgium get knocked out by Argentina in a lackluster performance Saturday.


Something that did hit my radar this week was a comment by Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, when asked by the Huffington Post whether Dick Cheney was immoral or amoral: 

"I think amoral is a better and more precise, descriptive term…Immorality is something that can be ferreted out, checked and balanced. Amorality is an altogether different affair, especially when you're exploiting the politics of fear in order to carry out state purposes, which is what Dick Cheney's forte is.”

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Upset at the World Cup

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - World Cup kicks off
The Netherlands beat Spain 5-1 on the second day of the World Cup. Photo by John Weaver

Sunday, June 8, 2014

People watching


The Travelled Monkey - Heads
Window decorations in Mechelen, Belgium  Photo by John Weaver

Walking down the street, you sometimes get a glimpse into people's lives through their windows. I don't usually stop and stare, but this house made me pause…

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bubble house

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - Bubble house
Photo by John Weaver

I got a taste of Belgian surrealism this week when a cloud of giant bubbles drifted down on my path while I was out for an evening walk in Mechelen. I traced the bubbles to their source, a man named Bart who was making them from his second-story window and then taking pictures of his creations as they floated away into the faded blue sky.

We had a nice chat and at one point he asked me: 

"Do you have a tripod?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Ya ever take pictures of fire?"

"No," I said, laughing.

"Ah man, we gotta do that!" he said. 

…maybe a future project!


Smile when you say Taxes

Here’s a new term they didn’t teach us in Economics class:

'Reverse Robin-Hoodism' - the belief that economic success depends on being nice to the rich, who won’t create jobs if they are heavily taxed, and nasty to ordinary workers, who won’t accept jobs unless they have no alternative.

This comes from this great NYT article by Paul Krugman, in which he argues that adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) across Northern Europe are much more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Europe’s new poster children

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Europe's new poster children

Woman carrying a child past a wall designated for campaign posters. Belgians go to the polls this Sunday to vote in federal and European elections, in which anti-immigrant and anti-European Union far-right parties are expected to make gains. Photos by John Weaver

“Uw stok achter de deur,” or “Your stick behind the door,” goes the campaign slogan of the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang. Replace the word “stick” with “baseball bat” and you have a pretty good idea of what the party stands for – protecting their property (read: Flanders) from intruders (read: foreigners) using the blunt instrument of populist rhetoric.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mr. Accordion

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - Mr. Accordion
Photo by John Weaver

Mr. Accordion sat down 

to put on new socks. 

Black, clean

Saturday, May 10, 2014

From Mexico to flamenco


The Travelled Monkey
Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico Photo by unknown 

I don’t know who took this picture, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week. Whoever you are, I’d like to thank you – and thank my Mexican host-brother’s wife Nury for posting it on Facebook – because it brought back a tidal wave of happy memories and forever-lasting emotions from my time as a high school exchange student on that island – Ciudad del Carmen.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Diversity's many faces

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Diversity's many faces
This year Mechelen celebrates 50 years of diversity. Various (multi-)cultural events are being staged around the town, including this collage on the post office. It is part of the FACE-IT project, depicting over 120 people from different origins that call Mechelen home. Photo by John Weaver

Today, half of all the children in Mechelen that are 11 years old and younger come from an immigrant background. That means either themselves, their parents, or their grandparents were born in another country. With 128 different nationalities represented in this town of about 82,000, it’s worth asking what that means for one’s identity?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Street Heroes

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Street heroes
Street Heroes is an urban football tournament where the name of the game is to nutmeg your opponent.
Photo by John Weaver

The fancy footwork on display at the Belgian Street Heroes tournament isn’t just about showing off. The name of the game is to panna, or “nutmeg,” your opponent. In other words, you have to get the ball between their legs. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ships ahoy!

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - Ships ahoy
Large ship arriving into Antwerp harbor with people holding onto the masts.  Photo by John Weaver

You never know what you're going to see when you walk along the Schelde river in Antwerp. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Urban meadow

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Urban meadow
Boerderij van het Maximiliaanpark Photos by John Weaver

Leave the city without leaving the city! This little farm, 
the Boerderij van het Maximiliaanpark (Ferme du Parc Maximilien), is right in the center of Brussels and a real hidden treasure in an otherwise urban jungle of cars and concrete. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Humo’s Rock Rally 2014

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Humo Rock Rally 2014
Humo Rock Rally, Hazy Hands Photos by John Weaver

10 bands, 3 songs each, a packed crowd – the battle was on for 25,000 euros and the chance to become the next big thing last Sunday at the Humo Rock Rally, Belgium’s ultimate battle of the bands competition. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Obama watch

Pic of the week

Photo by John Weaver

Belgium was buzzing this week with the visit of Barack Obama, his first visit to the E.U. capital since becoming President. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What’s in a name?

Quirky Belgium

You don't see this every day…

The Travelled Monkey - what's in a name?
Les Noirauds, or Darkies, have been collecting money for children in need since 1876. Photo by John Weaver

Politically correct? No, but that’s not their thing. For more than 130 years, Les Noirauds, or Darkies, have been collecting money for disadvantaged children and children with special needs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Celebrating Iranian new year in Belgium

Quirky Belgium

The Nowruz, or Persian New Year, festival includes jumping over fire while singing the traditional song Zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man, which literally translates to "My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine," with the figurative message "My pain/sickness for you (the fire), your strength (health) for me." The fire is believed to burn out all the fear (yellowness) in their spirit in preparation for the new year. Photos by John Weaver

Around the world, here in the Northern hemisphere at least, we celebrate the start of spring this week. And with spring comes optimism, or at least a looking forward to warmer, greener, longer days.

But for Iranians it’s even more than that – it’s Nowruz, the Persian New Year. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St. Catherine juggle

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - St. Catherine juggle
Place St. Catherine, Brussels Photo by John Weaver

It's been a record setting week, with the warmest days on record for mid-March registered in Belgium. Hard to image that a year ago at this time we were sloshing through a foot of snow.

Yesterday (Friday) evening I came across a group of young guys juggling a soccer ball in front of the St. Catherine cathedral. They were cool enough to let me take some pictures and join in on their juggle circle for a bit.


Atheism: a non-prophet organization

Thursday, March 13, 2014

29 classic Flemish expressions

Quirky Belgium

By the Belgian painter Constant Permeke

For the past couple of weeks I've been sitting on my friends' heads, asking them to come up with their favorite expressions in Flemish. The monkey is coming out the sleeve now, as here is what I've compiled.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Double decker

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - Double decker
Old-time double decker bus, London  Photo by John Weaver

I was in London on Thursday for work. It was beautiful outside, but unfortunately I spent most of the day underground in a conference room. I did manage to get out briefly though and snapped this shot on my walk back to St. Pancras station to get the Eurostar.

That's my story. See if you can get the below trivia question…

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Haverwerf, Mechelen

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Haverwerf, Mechelen
Haverwerf, Mechelen  Photo by John Weaver

Mechelen was once a hub for the grain trade in Flanders. These three beautiful houses from the 1500’s and 1600’s sit on the Haverwerf (Oat Yard), where boats carrying grain on the Dijle river tied up when they arrived in Mechelen. 

About the houses...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cars and bars

Pic of the week

The Travelled Monkey - cars and bars

Alcohol control on the ring of Antwerp last Saturday. That night on the A12 between Antwerp and Brussels nearly one in four drivers who were stopped blew over the legal blood-alcohol limit. Photo by John Weaver
Last Saturday my sister-in-law traded us her car for our toddler so we could have a night on the town in Antwerp with our friends Trevor and Hanne. It was sometime just after midnight and we were about to leave the city when we saw that the police had blocked the entire road going out. One at a time, each car approached the barricade and the driver had to blow into a breathalyzer before being allowed through.

Not to panic – we passed with flying colors thanks to the non-drinking heroics of our designated driver Monika. 

But not everyone had a hero with them that night. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I HEART Brussels – really?

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - I HEART Brussels
Photo by John Weaver

It’s Valentine’s Day but Brussels hasn’t exactly been feeling the love lately as anti-European Union sentiment keeps heating up ahead of EU elections in May. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Let's talk about Sax

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Lets talk about Sax
Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, died this week 120 years ago in 1894. Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium in 1814 and later moved to Paris where he patented the first saxophone in 1846. 
Photo by John Weaver

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fire & Forget: Short stories from the long war

Good reads

Photo by Dan Eldon
Photo by Dan Eldon

In order to even begin to understand the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot you first have to forget. Forget Bush. Forget 9/11. Forget Obama. Forget Osama. Forget everything you thought you knew about why America went there – oil, Saddam, democracy, security – and just listen to the stories of those that were there. 

But soldiers’ stories are not always easy to come by. Most would just as soon forget, or at least move on, and understandably so. What good could come of talking about it, especially to a public still hanging on to the idea that everything’s okay?

Fire and Forget: Short stories from the long war
Well, the silence has finally been shattered. And for those who are ready to listen, I highly recommend Fire and Forget, a collection of 15 short stories written by US combat soldiers (and one army spouse). This book is not a military history. There are no political theories espoused. Rather, every story in this book brings you closer to the chaos – and to the understanding.

It’s a stripped down, naked, and, most of all, extremely honest account of what goes on inside a soldier’s head during battle, in their down time, and after they return home. One minute you’re on the battlefield and the next you’re in the bedroom, expected to be able to kill and love at the same time. For many, the fighting never stops and we get an intimate look at the re-integration process. In one scene, a soldier returns home from war to find that his old dog, Vicar, is sick and dying. When it comes time to put the dog down, his wife, Cheryl, says:
"I’ll take him to the vet tomorrow." 
I said, "No." 
She shook her head. She said, "I’ll take care of it."  
I said, "You mean you’ll pay some asshole a hundred bucks to kill my dog."  
She didn’t say anything.   
I said, "That’s not how you do it. It’s on me."  
(from Redeployment, by Phil Klay)
While it’s clear that the adjustment isn’t going to be easy, there’s a strange sense in which the experience of war not only makes one more human, but can also make a person more humane. 

As civilians, the worst thing we can do is to forget about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, regardless of whether we agreed with them or not. That’s why it’s time to Read & Remember the stories of the men and women that were there. They have something to say.


Friends, again, I can’t recommend this book enough. There are some great insights into the human soul and the writing is fantastic. Here are two more excerpts, but believe me there were many to choose from: 

from Smile, There Are IEDs Everywhere, by Jacob Siegel 
"For us, there had been no fields of battle to frame the enemy. There was no chance to throw yourself against another man and fight for life. Our shocks of battle came on the road and it could always explode. There was no enemy: we had only each other to hate."

also from Redeployment, by Phil Klay 
"So here’s an experience. Your wife takes you shopping in Wilmington. Last time you walked down a city street, your Marine on point went down the side of the road, checking ahead and scanning the roofs across from him. The Marine behind him checks the windows on the top levels of the buildings, the Marine behind him gets the windows a little lower, and so on down until your guys have the street level covered, and the Marine in the back has the rear. In a city there’s a million places they can kill you from. It freaks you out at first. But you go through like you were trained and it works. 
In Wilmington, you don’t have a squad, you don’t have a battle buddy, you don’t even have a weapon. You startle ten times checking for it and it’s not there. You’re safe, so your alertness should be at white, but it’s not. 
Instead, you’re stuck in an American Eagle Outfitters. Your wife gives you some clothes to try on and you walk into the tiny dressing room. You close the door, and you don’t want to open it again. 
Outside, there’re people walking around by the windows like it’s no big deal. People who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died. People who’ve spent their whole lives at white.  
They’ll never get even close to orange. You can’t, until the first time you’re in a firefight, or the first time an IED goes off that you missed, and you realize that everybody’s life, everybody’s life, depends on you not fucking up. And you depend on them.  
Some guys go straight to red. They stay like that for a while and then they crash, go down past white, down to whatever is lower than “I don’t fucking care if I die.” Most everybody else stays orange, all the time.  
Here’s what orange is. You don’t see or hear like you used to. Your brain chemistry changes. You take in every piece of environment, everything. I could spot a dime in the street twenty yards away. I had antennae out that stretched down the block. It’s hard to even remember exactly what that felt like. I think you take in too much information to store so you just forget, free up brain space to take in everything about the next moment that might keep you alive. And then you forget that moment too, and focus on the next. And the next. And the next. For seven months.  
So that’s orange. And then you go shopping in Wilmington, unarmed, and you think you can get back down to white? It’ll be a long fucking time before you get back down to white."