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Licking, kicking and making a big mess

Posted 1 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

People who have visited this weblog know that I am quite a big fan of Poland. Thanks to the people I met, the language they speak, because of the nice time I spent there and because the great potential they have in so many areas.

Things are now starting to change. When Poland didn't speak up politically, their lack of self-confidence brought them quite some sympathy from the West. Nowadays, they still have the same lack of self-confidence (hence their paranoia in so many areas) but their politicians think they have now claimed a position where they have the right to shout at others and blame them for whatever comes to mind. Germany, their big example for the last 20 years, is the biggest victim of this new policy. Poland claims more voting rights that it should proportionally have right to. Why? Because there would have been more Poles if there had not been any second World War. Quite a statement for a country that only just joined the negotiation table and that owes so much to Germany over the last decades.

This situation is another example of the licking and kicking practice that is widespread in Poland. If you work for somebody, you do everything to keep that person happy, let's call that: licking upwards. Whenever somebody is working for you, they have to strictly obey even if you are unreasonable. Let's call that kicking downwards. Which works quite alright as long as everybody sticks to their position. When superiours become equals and equals become subordinates, things tend to go wrong.

Equal doesn't even really exist in this equation, because in spite of the communist past, there is no such thing in Poland as two people being equal without any fight being needed to decide who is the strongest. That is what Polish colleagues are inflincting upon themselves to safeguard their positions in highly hierarchical company structures, which are still largely prevalent. And now Poland is doing the same to Germany and the rest of Europe. Mess guaranteed. Zapraszamy :(

(© Warsaw - PL, June 2007)
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Bye bye Holland, Hello Europe

Posted 2 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

It's been lingering, in preparation and pending but it's now official: on 1 August, I am leaving The Netherlands for a year. The big European trip I have been planning - code name Us Europeans - will take me through all 27 countries of the European Union in a year's time. I am curious about what I will encounter and will keep you fully informed via both this blog (personal/general reports) and (for the serious material). Stay tuned for all the exciting stuff that is on the way!

(© Schiphol - NL, April 2007)
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Stage 1: Ireland

Posted 3 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Now that 'Us Europeans' has officially become a Project, I might as well tell some more about it :) My journey will start on the (very) 1st of August, when I'll be flying to Cork in Ireland. I have been to Ireland before: twice in 2003 and once in 2006, but never to Cork and the southwestern corner. In about two weeks time, I will travel west along the coast, then cross the island towards Northern Ireland, ending up in Dublin on 16 August to catch a flight to Kaunas in Lithuania. So far, I have not sorted out any places to stay so any (budget) recommendations are welcome.

I like Ireland a lot. The people are friendly and hospitable, they speak a lovely accent and they coutryside is quiet and peaceful. Even in Northern Ireland, except for some neighbourhoods in some cities, one would assume that peacefulness was invented there. The green and grey colours are very typical, although I prefer to 'record' Ireland in black and white.

Many people have asked me how I am planning to get around. There will be a lot of walking, some hitchhiking, bussing and training involved. It's all on quite a tight budget, but since this is a Serious Project, I don't mind the efforts. I will use the remainder of this month to try and sell some editorial concepts to Dutch magazines and see if I can compensate for some of the required spendings in that way.

Good additional news of the day: I will be able to keep my apartment in The Hague when I get back. That is a huge relief, especially for the reason that I can leave all the big stuff: furniture, fridge, bed etc. The contracts were signed yesterday and I am happy to have been so lucky to get this all covered before leaving. It will help me concentrate on the job ahead!

Tomorrow: about other projects similar to this one and how I intend to do it differently..

(© Ballymahon - IE, September 2006)
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More details about Us Europeans

Posted 4 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

I do not have the illusion that I am the only person who undertakes crazy projects. Just 2 days ago, Dutch daily newspaper De Pers sent out two groups of reporters to travel the world and report about their findings. The project is called The Great Inspiration Tour. Fortunately, they do things differently from whatever I am preparing for. Let me summarise some points so I can at the same time specify what my plans are - más o menos:

Itinerary: Although the agenda looks a bit random, the order in which I will visit 12 countries before Christmas is pretty smartly designed. I need four flights which I have booked a long time in advance, all of them with Irish airliners (Aer Lingus and Ryanair) and which altogether cost me no more than 250 euro until Christmas. For local transportation, I will probably walk a lot, develop some hitch-hiking skills, take local buses and trains. I may take a ferry from Finland to Sweden at the beginning of October and that will be it. I don't know how the Inspiration Tour guys do it, but they must be taking planes-only if they want to stick to their schedule. Of which I can't figure out the logics. One team travels from Amsterdam to Cape Town, the other one from Saint Petersburg to Dar Es Salaam. That all seems a bit random - I will just stick to 27 EU countries to keep things simple and measurable.

Company: The Inspiration Tour People (ITP) travel in groups, which is probably fun but will not help them get rid of their Dutch frame of reference. This shows to be a serious drawback already during their first 3 interviews. I'm travelling by myself and hope that will help me remain open-minded yet focused.

Subjects: The ITP seem to have pre-booked their interviewees, which is not something I'm planning on. They did some good scouting though, and the people they interview do have interesting things to say: about Esperanto, gender changes, life in Russia.. Still, I am not convinced that the same strategy works for me. Comparing it to food, I'd say it's rather easy to get good food in expensive, established restaurants. But the fun is to find that hidden restaurant that serves delicious meals at much lower cost. I am more interested in the inspiration of 'normal' people than in the ideas of established opinion leaders.

Photo material: I for sure want to score better on that and am convinced I can.

Publication: That's something they sorted out pretty well. They leave with a solid cash reserve and probably get paid for writing the articles. My mission inbetween now and 1 August is to also sell my concept to -let's say- 3 magazines or newspapers. It makes the whole thing more useful and more affordable. Added to that, most other preparations are completed so I have some time left to dedicate to commercialising the whole thing.

I hope this clarifies things a little further. Tomorrow, I will write about country nr. 2 on the list: Lithuania.

(© Hoofddorp, July 2007)
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Stage 2: Lithuania

Posted 5 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

The second country on the Us Europeans to-do list is Lithuania. I will be flying from Dublin to Kaunas halfway August and then have about one week to make it to adjacent Latvia.

Although I visited Lithuania before, in 2002, my experience was mostly limited to the city of Vilnius. Which showed itself as a nice city with diverse architecture, many beautiful women, and lots of daylight (which is not a suprise so far up north and during summer). It was an interesting visit because I remembered so well seeing on TV that Lithuania was fighting for its independence back in the early 1990s. Russia still seems to occupy people's minds these days - but in a different way.

Apart from that, I used to think of Lithuania as a small country and never realised that it is still three times as big as The Netherlands. I keep getting confused about their way of saying thank you - ąčiū (pronounced as Achoo which I mix up with Achee which in Dutch both refer to sneezing). Altogether, I still have a lot to learn about Lithuania.

Change of subject, in reference to what I wrote earlier this week about Poland, here's an article that pretty much reflects the same atmosphere.

Tomorrow's posting will be about RSS, subscription to weblog postings, and how useful it is.

(© Vilius - LT, June 2002)
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Stage 3: Latvia

Posted 7 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

After visiting Lithuania, I will have one week in Latvia. It's a country I don't know lots about. Hardly anything I must admit. So here's some facts from Wikipedia. I will be happy to add some of my personal impressions to that once I've visited. I imagine some places look a bit like the photo below, but that one could have been taken pretty much anywhere up north.

I am very happy to see many positive and enthusiastic reations coming in. Both spontaneously from people who happen to find out and from magazines and organisation. I hope all that will lead to something solid before I leave. So what have I got left to work on?

1) Writing a detailed questionaire. Not as an aid for the interviews, but just some qualitative support to help me understand more. I will send out this question list to everybody I know and would be happy if they could in turn forward it to their intra-European friends.

In order to provide external websites with continuously updatumd data from my website, I am building a small tool that any website can just integrate in their code. Their website will then automatically show the most recently added portrait, together with a link to the corresponding article. Interested in that? Keep an eye on the log or send me an e-mail.

(© Varnhem - SE, June 2007)
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Weddings and France trip

Posted 8 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

It's going to be a busy week with two weddings to photograph and a trip to France. Well, one marriage and the trip to France are combined. It's my cousin Arjan who's going to get married to Olivia. They have featured on this blog quite a few times already, since I visit them quite regularly. Below photo was taken in Holland however. Occasion: Arjan's brother's wedding, last May.

(© Hengelo - NL, May 2007)
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'Us Europeans' on Your website

Posted 10 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Over the last couple of days, I have been approaching media sources in Europe to introduce them to the 'Us European' project. The reactions have been encouraging so far: it seems like quite a few websites will in some way or another dedicate some place/time/attention to the project. In order to take this a little further, I have put together a small piece of coding that will allow all third-party websites to automatically upload the latest portrait to a page of their choice. As you can see, I have done it with Daily Photo - see menu on the righthand site.

If you as a photolog reader would like to use this service as well, please add the following code to your page, at the location where you wish the image to appear. I'm not sure you should do this before 1 August, because it will just be my face all the time and your readers may not be too amused by that. Also, if you would like to adjust the size, lay-out or content of the iframe, let me know and I will customise it for you.

Here's the code:

width="160" height="185"
valign="right" scrolling="no" frameborder="0">

(© Paris - FR, January 2005)
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Wedding photographer for a day

Posted 11 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

My upcoming departure on 1 August is for sure keeping me busy, but there's other things on the agenda as well. Today, I will act as a wedding photographer. That's a role I am not very much used too. Main reason for that is the fact that I don't like to have to sell myself, but I'm nevertheless glad to be wedding photographer for people who ask me to.

Below photo is one resulting from the first out of two marriages that I have attended as wedding photographer so far.

(© Tilburg - NL, May 2005)
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Départs Normandie

Posted 12 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

As announced, I am travelling to Normandy (France) today. Yesterday's wedding was a wonderful day and I will try and post one sample photo tomorrow.

Also, I would like to warn for delayed postings over the next few days as internet connectivity on my end is not guaranteed. Another issue I need to find a good solution to, when the big trip starts.

(© Paris - FR, April 2006)
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Catching up

Posted 13 July 2007 - Normandy (FR):

Sorry for having been slow over the last few days.. So where were we at? Let's see. Last Wednesday's wedding. I promised I would post a photo but since the couple haven't seen any photos yet, I'll simply post a photo that I took on the side - not one of the two of them.

So why did I pick this photo? It reminds me of (is not: looks like) another photo I keep seeing everywhere. It was taken by Rineke Dijkstra and I don't particularly like it, but I did find the resemblance funny. I do like the fact that the photo in question was taken on the beach of Kolobrzeg, Poland - which was one of the first places I visited during my Poland experience over the years.

(© Breukelen - NL, July 2007 )
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Family holidays

Posted 14 July 2007 - Normandy (FR):

Another marriage yesterday - between my cousin Arjan and his now-wife Olivia. I drove to France with my brother last Thursday to join my parents at the campsite and go to the wedding from there. We happened to spot them (= my parents) in a village some kilometers away from the campsite we intended to go to. That one had been pretty much washed away by rain so we needed to find another one nearby. And what great fun it is to be 'on holiday' with your parents again, after more than 10 years of independent travelling.. Quarrels about navigation, money, time, organisation.. Pretty much anything you can think of. We did have a good time though. As a nice coincidence it had stopped raining just before our arrival and it has been sunny throughout the weekend. (Photo below: breakfast on Friday morning)

Then about the wedding: it was absolutely marvellous. Two happy people, wonderfully dressed, a whole French-Dutch audience and the best meals ever (I from now on refuse to use the English word food). Nice company, nice weather, nice everything.

(© Ranville - FR, July 2007)
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Stage 5: Sweden and Crossroads

Posted 15 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Time for another edition of the Us Europeans project. After Finland, I will go to Sweden. Unlike previous visits, I will now spend most of my time north of Stockholm. Apart from portrait photos, I got caught by the idea of photographing combinations of roads, crossroads and traffic signs. So that is something additional I will do. I find infrastructure quite fascinating and there's a lot of graphics and logics involved on one hand. On the other hand they are very typical for each country.

Here's a link towards another photo that I referred to before. I find it wonderful for its simplicity and the eery atmosphere it breathes. Below is just an ordinary Swedish road:

(© Vällingby - SE, January 2004)
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Stage 6: Scotland

Posted 16 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

After Sweden, I intend to fly to Scotland. Again, because I was there hardly a month ago. I had the pleasure to attend a ceremony at Edinburgh Castle, during which the key of the castle was transferred to uhm somebody else than the person who had that key before. I suspected some kind of conspiracy against tourists - as if the ceremony took place every so-and-so-th day of the week during summer season just to keep tourist amused. This suspicion has not been confirmed which leads me to suppose that it was just a really nice coincidence to be there during this special event.

After Scotland, it's England and I'll dedicate a short posting to that country tomorrow.

(© Edinburgh - UK, June 2007)
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Stage 7: England

Posted 17 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Although it took me 22 years to get to England, I have been around there at several occasions since then. To visit Sinéad, to go see my brother who lived there for a while, for business, to see Footsweep play, for fun and to make it to Norway once, and also for the big Cannonball Run I organised with some friends last year.

It hasn't given me much insight in the English culture but what I do know is this:

- They care about mowing lawns like nothing in the world;
- They drive on the wrong side of the road and use illogical
   measurement systems;
- CCTV (Closed Circuit TeleVision) security systems all over;
- The worst possible names for the best kind of (imported!) meals;
- They work in offices that are packed with people;
- They always wear their ties too short;
- The same goes for skirts.

I hope my view of England will be a bit more detailed and correct after I have been there in October of this year.

(© Stratford upon Avon - UK, October 2006)
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Stage 11: Terra Belgica

Posted 21 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Next on the list are Luxemburg and Belgium. Both I most often use as transit countries to get somewhere to France. Belgium is known in Holland for being a bit disorganised. Houses standing in a row are almost imperatively all different from one another. Borders of property are not as clearly marked as in Holland and there's more waste in the streets.

About half the population of Belgium speaks an accent of Dutch called Flemish. There are some vocabulary differences, and these serve as a very useful conversation topic for Dutch and Belgian people. The other half of the population speaks an accent of French (Wallon) which, like Flemish, is very recognisably Belgian and not proper French. The language is maybe the reason for both Dutch and French to use Belgians as 'Direct Object' when telling jokes.

One thing Belgian is for sure better at than Holland: cooking and appreciating what they eat. Unlike France, nice restaurants are not necessarily very expensive. And so there's always a reason for a stopover in Belgium on the way to France..

(© Antwerp - BE, February 2007)
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End of part I: Christmas in NL

Posted 22 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Then, by Christmas, I will be back home for a week to say hello to everybody, and goodbye again because part II will follow soon after. I have neither booked not prepared anything yet. I simply know that I need to cover all remaining countries and that is it.

What else am I still working on?

1) Trying to find a sponsor for a GPRS card and associated data traffic, so I can get online without having to look for internetcafes every single day;

2) Sorting out my apartment;

3) Getting people to fill out my questionaire (you can access it at;

4) My final official working week at work. Replacement has been found and I am happy it could be arranged before my departure.

5) Notify authorities of my upcoming change of address.

(© Schiphol - NL, July 2007 )
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J - 9

Posted 23 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

I have been wanting to post this photo for a long time, but all that time there was no interesting and related information to post with it. I am posting it now anyway, although my posting has still not got anything to do with it.

I am now at 9 days from departure (in French: J - 9) and I am finishing things off and doing my final preparations. Fortunately, media attention is picking up. As it looks now, three websites will include my iframe, the number of links towards Us Europeans is increasing rapidly, there will be a radio interview on Thursday and I am getting back a lot of questionaires. All technical stuff for the website has almost been done, except the PHP upload. Something still seems to go wrong there, but I will try to fix that before I go.

By the way, there is only a few millimeters of hair left on my head. It is more practical for travelling but it looks a bit different from what people got used to over the last few years.

(© Arles - FR, July 2005)
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J-8: There's a last time for everything

Posted 24 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

I am counting down towards August 1st and I notice that there is a lot of things I am now doing for the last time before leaving. One of those things is business meetings. The last one of those took place this morning at Schiphol Airport. To illustrate this event, I looked up an archive photo from another business meeting I recorded on uhm.. chip (not on film). It shows our Telecom New Zealand colleagues who visited us in November of last year. We took them on a boat tour in Amsterdam as part of their visit.

(© Amsterdam - NL, November 2006)
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J-7: Don`t worry, be happy

Posted 25 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Next week by this time, I will be airborne for Ireland! I still got lots of things to do, but things are sorting themselves out quite alright and there is not too much time stress so far.

Some worries do go through my head though. I am sure they will not be as much of a problem, but:

- Will I find people with stories that are sufficiently interesting, will I get those out of them and will I remain courageous enough to just walk up to them and start a conversation?;

- Will my camera and laptop not break down;

- Will I not get into trouble with evil people or otherwise comprising situations (health issues, etc..);

- Will I have enough patience to really take communicative portraits and enough patience not to get bored and/or lonely?

One thing I am not too much worried about is getting lost. I have got a big map of Europe on me and I do not believe in getting lost so I will not.

Below photo shows Bas and me on the one and only real travel project I undertook so far: the one to Poland and Romania in 2002. You can tell that we are carefully investigating the terrain.. I will do that again this time, but on my own..

(© Kolobrzeg - PL, June 2002)
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J-5: Last arrival at Hoofddorp CS

Posted The Hague - NL, 27 July 2007:

In the category of doing things for the last time before leaving, here is another one: arriving at Hoofddorp Central Station at 9h30 in the morning..

(© Hoofddorp - NL, July 2007)
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J-4: Cannot get lost, will not get lost

Posted 28 June 2007 - The Hague (NL):

Did not I write last week that one of the few things I am not afraid of before going on this trip is getting lost? Yesterday was my last day at work and my colleague Mark gave me a GPS keyring so I can check my wherebouts and link it up with the data of my photos. I am going to use the day of tomorrow to find out how to operate it and whether I can integrate it in any way in my website.

Apart from this present, a wonderful goodbye dinner and lots of positive words, our main client offered me sponsorship for data connectivity! That means I do not have to go looking for internet cafes all over the place: instead I can just log in from my computer and that is just uebercool. A small logo will appear on the Us Europeans site within the next few days as a countergesture.

(© Copenhague - DK, June 2007)
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J-3: Women, women..

Posted 29 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

I did mention two months ago the birth of my first little niece. No photos at that time, but I do have one now: four generations of women in one photograph!

(© The Hague - NL, July 2007 )
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J-2: Last excursion

Posted 30 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

To Cruquius, one of the three steam operated pumping stations that enabled the Dutch to drain the Haarlemmermeer: the polder below sea level where the airport of Schiphol is located..

(© Cruquius - NL, July 2007)
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J-1: The big jump

Posted 31 July 2007 - The Hague (NL):

This is my last day in Holland for quite a while and I must say it is all getting a bit hectic. That does not mean that things are not sorting themselves out - they are - it just takes some organisation to get it all done in time.

Tomorrow`s post will come in from Cork, Ireland, how exciting is that! Below photo is quite a random one. It shows how thrilled I should be tomorrow morning to start on this wonderful project..

(© Breukelen - NL, July 2007)
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