Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Belgian Summer 2007

It is official. According to an article I read today in 'Het Belang Van Limburg', we have had 11 days of summer this year in Belgium when the temperature rose over 25ºC: 4 in June, 4 in July and 3 in August. 2 days were considered tropical as the temperature rose over 30ºC: 15 July and 5 August. I was away on the second day so missed that.

July 2006 was the hottest on record with the highest ever temperature recorded here in Limburg on 20 July - the day we arrived from Spain - 36.7ºC.

The Proud Leonidas Belgian Chocolates

Belgian chocolates are legendary. Whilst Neuhaus and Godiva probably offer the most exquisite and decadent chocolates in beautiful packaging, my favourite Belgian chocolates are from Leonidas.

Leonidas Kesdekidis, an ordinary Greek citizen was the founder of Leonidas Belgian Chocolates. His company bears his name as the founder of the company who make wonderful delights like pralines, truffles and other heavenly chocolate assortments. Mr. Kesdekidis arrived in Brussels in 1910 and married a local so decided to settle. He made a large array of pralines in his place close to Rempart de Moines.

Mr. Kesdikidis and his descendants’ goal was to bring his home-made wonderful delights of pralines as close as possible to as many consumers, not to mention every creator’s dream to let the rest of the world know of their chocolate concoctions. His strategy of combining world-class quality and the best price is still unbeatable. Leonidas’ products are far different from the chocolates of other brands. The fact that only Leonidas has such concern for the freshness of its chocolates makes it unique and unbeatable. Meanwhile other brands’ strategy is to make their products fresh so they repackage the product but what about the product itself? Yes, the package is fresh but the content is still the same. Whereas at Leonidas, the chocolates will only be boxed on the day that the customer’s order is received. Other chocolates’ quality of freshness may be risked for the necessity of longevity. They are likely to be pre-packed ready to be on a shelf in department stores or supermarkets, but not Leonidas.

At Leonidas, longevity is not a problem because of the packing strategy; instead the main concern is not to compromise the quality of the produce in other terms. The same applies to the ingredients. Most chocolate makers use vegetable fats in their chocolates but Leonidas prefer to use genuine cocoa butter. Their very high standards meant that Leonidas were able to obtain an ISO 9001 certificate for the produce’s quality, which is much over the minimum requirement for the production of chocolates.

Leonidas deliver only where there are Leonidas outlets like Hollywood and all over United Kingdom and Belgium. However, they refuse to export for the reason that they do not want to risk the freshness of every chocolate that goes out of their stores. To date there is only a small number of sellers of Leonidas chocolates because of the high standard requirement that every seller has to comply with for the very cautious storing and freshness concerns.

The chocolates are wrapped in 500grams, 750grams, and 1kg boxes. There are different sorts of gift wrapping, as well as the standard wrap, luxury and seasonal choices.

These chocolates are supposed to be consumed within 21 days from purchase. They should not be kept too long otherwise the freshness and or the quality will not be the same as is expected, although keeping them refrigerated will prolong the shelf life. If storing in the fridge, you must keep them away from other foods with a prominent smell, otherwise the chocolate will be ruined because it may absorb the odour of that affect the taste and quality.

Leonidas chocolates online in the UK
Leonidas chocolates online in the USA

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Blotevoetenpad in Vlaanderen - Barefootpath in Flanders

Today we did something we have never done before. We walked on a specially prepared 2km long barefoot path in Zutendaal, Belgian Limburg. This is the first such path in Belgian Flanders. We walked over wooden logs, wooden planks, small stones, gravel, rocks, grass, squelchy mud, in knee-deep muddy water and sand. We felt cold and warm underfoot, wet and dry, hard and soft. We climbed up and down log steps and a four storey lookout tower. We balanced on treestumps of different heights, walked across a wibbly-wobbly wooden logs bridge and attempted stilt-walking on logs.

My children squealed with delight as they experienced all the textures and knowing they were allowed to get dirty.

My photos of the Barefoot Walk on Flickr

It is also peaceful, well apart from people's screams in the freezing puddles, and far from traffic and everyday noises. Walking over the different surfaces gives a chance to heighten other senses, just like a baby learns about the world through its mouth.

Walking barefoot is healthy. It stimulates the heart, blood circulation and regulates blood pressure. Paddling and gymnastic balancing promotes the vascular system particularly in the limbs. True contact with the earth is relaxing and works on the mind and spirit. Walking barefoot is said to stimulate all the zones of the body just as in a reflexology massage.

"The theory behind barefoot walking/running is that the nerve endings on the bottom of the foot when stimulated cause reflex muscle contraction to avoid the irritation. Stepping on a something sharp or rough is painful; the muscles in the foot and leg contract in order to get off the irritation. This constant cycle of sensory stimulation and reflex muscle contraction is thought to improve the strength of the foot and leg muscles." (Source: http://www.damienhowellpt.com/pdf/barefoot5.pdf)

"Barefoot walking is associated with decreased dynamic knee loading compared to walking in normal footwear."

Foot showers and scrubbing brushes were provided next to the lockers for our shoes.

Blotevoetenpad in Vlaanderen

Some other sites about barefoot walking:
Engage Gluteus maximus
Happy Feet (not the film about penguins!)
Parents for Barefoot Children
article on barefoot walking/running
alt.lifestyle - barefoot walking FAQ
walking barefoot on dew

By the way, in Belgium, the driving code does not explicitly ban barefoot driving, but article 8.3 requires drivers to be "constantly able to perform any maneuver". According to the federal police, this implicitly bans barefoot driving. (However, barefoot drivers dispute that lack of shoes impairs their ability to perform maneuvers. It is not known whether this dispute has been tried in Belgian courts).

© Antonia Stuart-James 2007

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Nordic Walking

Whilst in Austria, I enjoyed Nordic Walking seven times so looked up the following information about this sport:

"Originating from summer training for cross-country skiers, Nordic Walking works your upper and lower body at the same time, strengthening your back, legs and arms, and reducing neck and shoulder tension - all this while improving the health of your heart and lungs. You can gain all these health benefits, and more, while Nordic Walking with your friends; exercise intensity is determined by upper body effort so people of differing fitness levels can walk and talk together, while working to their own level with Nordic Walking.

With a little bit of Nordic Walking practice you will find that even though your heart, lungs and body are working harder Nordic Walking can feel easier and less tiring than normal walking.

Developed in 1997 in Finland, where 12 per cent of the adult population engage in it every week, Nordic walking is sometimes described as cross-country skiing without the skis and it is quietly winning over an army of outdoor enthusiasts. It is estimated that about 3.5 million across Europe now do it regularly, urged on by some 3,000 trained instructors.

The activity's ability to boost fitness levels has been recognised by politicians and business. In Germany, the government refunds the cost of attending a certified course for hospital outpatients. Two health insurance firms in Switzerland offer policyholders financial bonuses if they attend Nordic walking courses.

Nordic walking's chief attraction is that, unlike normal walking, it exercises the whole of a person's body, rather than just their legs. As participants use their arms to push off from their flexible poles, the whole range of upper-body muscles are used, helping to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. Enthusiasts say it uses 90 per cent of the body's skeletal muscles. With more muscles being used, energy consumption increases, allowing the average Nordic walker to burn off up to 46 per cent more calories than a normal walker. And because the arms take more of the strain, a lighter load is placed on the knees and other lower body joints, which has made the activity popular with elderly outdoor enthusiasts. Among claims made for Nordic walking is that it can strengthen bones, combat the effects of osteoporosis, reduce neck and shoulder tension and alleviate symptoms of repetitive strain injury."

me Nordic Walking to the Krimml Waterfalls in the Tirol, Austria

So, I am glad I bought my own poles and have a local Nordic Walking instructor here in Ham, Limburg, Belgium. We go walking on Sunday with my instructor, An Caelen, who can be reached on an.caelen@telenet.be

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Summer Holiday in Austria

I so appreciate being in Austria again. This is such a beautiful country with awe-inspiring mountains, friendly people, simple but hearty food and clean air. We are fortunate to stay in a Kinderhotel where they care for our children from 9am to 9pm six days a week if so required. They offer an interesting programme of activities and there is always time for the children to paint a picture, play table football, bounce on the trampoline or bouncy castle or whatever they wish. They go pony riding, nordic walking, play games in the pool, walk in the mountains, paint stones to remind them of their stay here. Sometimes they spend time with us such as when we visit somewhere.

Today we went to Europe's highest waterfalls in Krimml. I had bought new nordic walking boots and sticks yesterday so was glad to try them out on the steep climb. The waterfalls are so dramatic.

On Sunday we enjoyed the annual dorffest with a marching band, traditional dress, gun salute and plenty of eating and drinking schnaps.

Photos of the Dorffest in Gerlos

Back at the Almhof hotel in Gerlos, we enjoy the wellness area with beauty and massage treatments and an area with sauna, steam room, tepidarium, special showers, a Tiroler Schlafstübe for relaxing and a deck in the fresh alpine air where we can just gaze at the beauty of the scenery.

My husband has been suffering with leg pain for years and lower back pain recently. He has had two sessions of Tui Na Chinese massage with the Austrian masseur, Claus, who studied for 18 months in a Chinese hospital. The first session included moxibustion with cups containing burning candles being moved up and down his back and today gave him his first experience of acupuncture in his legs. He feels wonderful and is confident that all discomfort will be gone completely by tomoorow. Today he walked with us to the waterfalls which he could never do on previous visits here as he just could not walk.

With the same Austrian I went nordic walking for two hours and today tried Qi Gong at 8am on the grass as the sun warmed us up. We started by wiping the ball of our foot in one direction nine times then in the other direction nine times which wakes up the Kidney 1 point so helping the kidneys to perform well. I already practice Tai Chi so this useful extra information which I can use for preserving my health and achieving optimum energy. Klaus is very enthusiastic about China and reinforced my desire to visit that country on an extended trip at some point in my life. I would love to practice Tai Chi at dawn with the Chinese. I am not so keen on the food though.

The food in this hotel is wonderful with many choices at the buffet breakfast, salads and a choice of two dishes at lunch then up to six courses at dinner with a starter, soup, salad, main course,dessert and cheese. Soft drinks, choice of teas and coffee are available all the time and there is a bar with a choice of cocktails, selection of malt whiskies for some unknown reason and plenty of board games, chess, draughts etc. so families can relax together.

Photos of the Hotel Almhof

The adjacent hotel owned by the same family has a cowboy bar open three nights a week which our children love because there is a train which runs round rails all around the bar. We were once here on my husband's birthday and they sent round drinks on the house delivered in a wagon of the train!

Tonight the grandfather will play his zither, a sort of harpsichord as background music for our entertainment.

For alternative entertainment, we always enjoy visiting De Singende Wirt in the Hotel Gerloserhof with his evening of Austrian fun.

Photos of an evening with the Singende Wirt

For ways of travelling to Austria, visit Eurotravel.