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    October 12th, 2010EuropasionariaLife

    The brown bag © Jerine Lay/Flickr

    I was at the Personal Democracy Forum last week. As expected, it was fabulous. I had a great time with old and new friends, and I met inspiring people.

    It was fantastic, except for one thing. The very first night, my handbag got stolen on a terrace downtown while having dinner with colleagues. We saw nothing. I just realised at some point that my bag was gone. It contained everything: all my credit cards, some cash, the keys to my place, my BlackBerry, and my passport among other important things.

    So I learnt the hard way what you are supposed to do when you lose everything:

    1. Report your stolen credit cards. My colleagues googled on their BlackBerry and managed to find a number to call but it seems there is no unique one. Each company has a different number, so good luck with that. If you have any tips, please share them in the comments!
    2. Deactivate your phone’s SIM card. Then again I couldn’t find the right number and had to wait until Monday for my office to do it for me.
    3. Check with the airline company you are flying back with whether they can take you on board without a passport. Good to know: if you fly back with the same airline that got you to this foreign country, then they must accept you on board. It was not my case so I had to have a new passport done.
    4. Go to the police and claim your stuff was stolen. They’ll give you a paper that says you are officially a ‘victim’, which will enable you to get a new passport and get your money back from the insurance company.
    5. Go and have your picture taken, specify it’s for a passport. The format is not the same as for an identity card.
    6. Go to your consulate. If you’re as lucky as I was, they’ll be fast and you’ll manage to have an emergency passport within 24 hours.

    My impressions of the whole thing: Barcelona thieves are pros, the Catalan police -los mossos- are stunning, and the French consulate staff are simply amazing. Long live public services!

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    September 16th, 2010EuropasionariaLife, Quote of the week

    Everything I like is either illegal, immoral, or fattening.

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    September 16th, 2010EuropasionariaLife, Web 2.0

    This is not my aunt although she has a similar haircut... and glasses too © Lisa.B/flickr

    A week ago my aunt joined Facebook. First, she started ‘liking’ everything I posted -and I post a lot, I’m a Facebook addict. Then she started posting things herself: youtube videos, texts, newspaper articles, pictures… all sorts of things! I am frankly absolutely amazed at how fast she picked it up. And I just love to read and listen everything she posts there. This shows that you can be a grand-mother and still open to new technologies. Clearly my aunt has an amazingly fast ability to understand how social media work… not that I ever doubted she had it in her!

    My aunt lives far away from where I live so we do not talk as much as I would like to. But now, thanks to Facebook and my aunt’s openness to trying new things, I get messages from her everyday. This truly warms my heart. As my other beloved aunt -her sister- likes to say: what matters is not physical youth but being young in your mindset.

    Love you, auntie O. and anti E. 🙂

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    September 2nd, 2010EuropasionariaFrance, Life

    My Worst Ennemy © Alberto Garcia Quesada

    I’m a mosquito magnet. As a child, while I was spending holidays in Camargue, in the South East of France, I once counted the mosquito bites on my body. I had 56 of them. Yes, 56… and in spite of my extensive use of all kinds of anti-mosquito products. This summer on the French Riviera, I got devoured as usual. But this time, I discovered a far worse nuisance.

    I had been dreaming for months of putting on my bathing suit, diving mask and snorkel and going to observe the magnificent fish of the azure-blue water. First day, first beach, first swim. One breast stroke, two breast strokes, and then Ouch! Electrical choc on my arm, a nasty little jellyfish had bitten me. The jellyfish is a tiny defenceless looking creature, almost transparent, that likes to squat the warm waters of sea shores… I later learned.

    The Culprit © Emmanuel Froissant

    The burn is not very painful but the problem is what comes later on. Itching that keeps you awake at night and a persisting burn mark two weeks later. A burn mark that’s probably going to stay on my skin for a much longer time.

    Advice if one day you get stroke by this sea scum:

    1. First, don’t listen to the lifeguard’s advice. He knows nothing about it, I later found out.
    2. Scrape off the wound with a plastic card in order to remove the invisible particles of jellyfish that are still stuck on your skin.
    3. Rinse off your skin with sea water, no soft water.
    4. Against the itching that starts a week later, apply lavender essential oil every 5 minutes until the itching calms down. Twice or three times a day after that.

    A few days later, as I was scanning my whole submarine environment through my mask before every breast stroke, I got electroshocked again. Right on my forehead. It was the only place where I didn’t have visibility. Fortunately, this burn is not visible anymore. It seems I had just head-butted the nasty little creature without touching its tentacles. Damn it.

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    August 3rd, 2010EuropasionariaBrussels, Life

    They’ve become impossible to ignore. Bright yellow bikes have invaded Brussels. They are called Villo!, which is a smart contraction of the words ville (city) and vélo (bike). Public bikes have existed for years here but until a few months ago, there were still very few stations available. But as the map below shows, this has changed drastically! The Villo! website tells me there are now Villo! stations every 450 meters in the central communes of Brussels. That’s right, not every 449 or 451 meters, but every 450 meters. You got to love the precision of this figure.

    Here is what the city currently looks like:

    Map of Villo! stations

    Clearly, Villo! stations are everywhere. And if there is still none around your place, don’t worry as that will change soon. Villo! stations are currently spreading like wild mushrooms.

    This year the subscription is for free so why do without? Click on the image on the right to order your Villo! pass online. Hold two weeks patiently and the Villo! pass will be delivered directly in your mailbox. Then go to a station, put your pass on the terminal. That will unlock a bike. Take the bike. Cycle gently until you find the closest station to your destination. Return the bike. Now if you’ve managed to do all that in 30 minutes, your ride was for free! If it takes you longer, the extra half an hour is 50 cents. Almost nothing.

    I think Villo! is great. I have my own bike, which I use every day to go to work. But from time to time, when I go out right after work, I let my bike at my office’s car park because I don’t want to burden myself with it. Then later on to go back home or the day after to go to work, I take a Villo! The Villo! bikes are even of better quality than my own, although it is brand new. For instance, there are 7 speeds on a Villo!, only 5 on my personal bike.

    There’s just one hiccup. It seems the production of Villo! bikes has not followed the same rate as that of Villo! stations. Here’s an example, Friday morning, 09:05 at Mérode:

    The Villo! station at Mérode - Friday at 09:05

    30 terminals but not a single Villo! available. Unfortunately, empty stations are still very common.

    There is a way to avoid to go to a station full of enthusiasm only to find it empty: you can check the Villo! website to see whether bikes are available at the stations around you. However, as far as I know, there is no BlackBerry application. There is a Wap application for mobile phones. I’ve tried it on my BlackBerry but I can’t get it to work. It seems there is an iPhone application. I don’t know whether that one is working.

    So there are still improvements to make but it’s really worth ordering your Villo! pass and using it from time to time. Cycling gives you a whole other experience of the city. But be careful, the streets of Brussels are still rather dangerous for cyclists.

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