Rotterdam

Waiting at gate to board my flight to Barcelona. Very grateful for aforementioned healthy time buffer as traffic round Rotterdam was appalling. Was starting to sweat but made it in good time. Amused to discover that Rotterdam Airport could more accurately be described as a shed in a paddock. I’m waiting at gate 8 of 8 and gate 1 is only about 15 metres away. They even share doors to the tarmac! Reminds me of Palmerston North airport.

My plane is waiting so hopefully we leave on time. I was going to attach picture but not sure if that is possible from iPhone app. So if u find a picture, it is. If you don’t, it isn’t.

Next blog from Barcelona!

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North African Solar Power Generation

I’ve just read an article on electricity generation via solar power in North Africa here. Apparently the Moroccan government has pledged to generate 40% of their electricity from solar energy by 2020. And they even have a realistic plan and funding from the World Bank, the European Commission, Germany (the world’s foremost solar electricity generator) and Desertec, a coalition of energy companies. Also in Morocco’s favour is the fact that they are one of the sunniest countries in the world with over 3000 sunshine hours per year.

Sure it’s going to cost them around $9 billion to achieve this lofty goal but even at that price it is an easy decision in my opinion. Morocco does not have any oil reserves so they are, like most countries, beholden unto the Arab states from which most of the world’s oil is produced. So this project will give them energy security as well as significantly improving their environmental credentials and, given the low running costs of a solar plant after the initial investment, long-term economic benefits as well.

But this is not the main reason for my interest in this story. Although Morocco has a large population approaching 32 million people and thus a huge energy demand with all its associated environmental impacts, they are insignificant next to the 730 million people in Europe just across the Mediterranean. And this is where the real economic opportunity lies for Morocco and their North African neighbours Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and perhaps even Egypt. The consistent sunshine hours, large open desert spaces, and proximity to Europe make the installation of large (by which I mean enormous) solar installations connected to the European grid an obvious solution. It is only 14 km across the Strait of Gibraltar at its narrowest point so a cable is no problem. Indeed this is not a new idea and planning is already under way for just such a project. Desertec is one of the parties involved and I recommend following their updates on Twitter or Facebook. The hope is to provide 17% of Europe’s total electricity needs from North African & Middle East solar by 2050.

The question is really, why is it taking so long? And why is this concept not being implemented everywhere that there is desert in close proximity to large population areas? There were plans drawn up for an enormous solar turbine plant outside of Melbourne, Australia some years ago but the project was cancelled. Such plants could easily supply all the cities in Australia due to the proximity of the desert and the high sunshine hours. It’s not like they are lacking in space to put them! It’s purely a lack of commitment and political will to make it happen, in Australia and other countries. Assuming that the Moroccan government manage to execute their plans in the timeframe they have indicated, countries like Australia should watch and learn.

Ready for Barcelona Citytrip!

Tomorrow will bring my Spanish debut. I am off to Barcelona for a long weekend and am very excited. This is a city I have long fantasised about visiting.

So, bright and early tomorrow morning I shall drive from Antwerp to Rotterdam (giving myself a healthy time-buffer due to awful traffic in that region) in time for a 10:45am flight to Barcelona. I’m flying on Transavia who I had never heard of but they offered the cheapest (admittedly last minute) price and also the most civilised flight times.

Will certainly make a Barcelona posting soon!

To get the ball rolling…

First post, what to say? Well, despite the fact that this blog is going to be primarily about all things urban and of the city, I’m going to write about my weekend in the tiny French village of Montreuil-Sur-Mer. I’m contrary like that.

My good friend Caroline from Wellington is visiting London and upon learning that she and her brother and his family were going to be spending the Easter weekend only 271km or 2.5 Google Map hours away from Antwerp, I decided to go and visit. So, bright and early on Saturday morning, having filled and washed my car the night before, I set off from Antwerp, destination picturesque French coastal village.

Naturally, being the weekend, it rained and after several hundred motorway kilometres my car cleaning efforts had been thoroughly thwarted. Oh well, I still enjoyed the relatively light traffic and high speed limits of France, not to mention the fact that they clearly signpost all upcoming speed cameras. Very sporting of them.

I arrived in M-S-M around 10:30am as scheduled and after some minor confusion involving tiny cobbled 1-way streets and street numbering that bore no resemblance to the reality that the lady in my satellite navigation system inhabits I located the Gites where my friends were staying. Tres bien.

First order of the day was to head to the market and purchase food for dinner and the next few days. Being only 400 metres away, it didn’t take long to get there on foot and we were soon browsing the most beautifully presented fruit, vegetables and produce I had every seen in a farmers’ market. One stall-keeper was selling gorgeous, fluffy live rabbits and (in a ‘here’s one we prepared earlier moment’) ready for the oven, not-quite-so-live versions… Caroline was unimpressed at being exposed so explicitly to the harsh reality of where the chief ingredient in Lapin a La Cocotte (French Rabbit Stew) actually came from. Nonetheless we were soon well stocked with cheeses, vegetables, racks of lamb and a delicious tray of bright red strawberries.

As Sarah was feeling slightly under the weather, Caroline, Edward & myself headed out for lunch at Le Darnétal, a fairly traditional French country restaurant. Caroline has blogged about this here so I will say no more other than that it was delicious and I was stuffed. Following lunch we wandered a little further to a rather impressive wine shop of which Edward was a member to purchase some wine, one of which was a 2007 Maison Dieu Bourgogne Pinot Noir for that evening to compare with the rather special bottle I had brought with me. More on that later.

It had begun to pour whilst we were perusing the vintages so we hurried back to the cottage. We spent the afternoon in conversation and were, at some point, even able to sit out in the courtyard when some sunshine broke through.

Caroline was chef for the evening so wine, cheese and sausage ensued to tide us over until dinner. I personally found the sausage (a variety of flavours – purchased at the market) rather chewy, fatty and not-particularly tasty but the cheese was magnificent. We began the evening’s drinking with the French pinot noir, very quaffable but not particularly meaty. A little sharp to begin with, it certainly mellowed once it had been open a while. But I found it lacking in depth and character. This was highlighted further when we moved on to the second wine which I had brought (maybe I’m just biased) which was a 2005 Dry River Pinot Noir from the Martinborough region of New Zealand. This was a much more complex and meaty wine, both in colour and taste. I’d been staring at it in my wine collection for nearly 5 years so it was a great relief that it turned out to be fantastic.

Dinner was rack of lamb and roast vegetables followed by the aforementioned strawberries for dessert and yet more wine. Delicious.

I had booked myself a cheap room in a hotel nearby. The hotel itself was fine albeit very basic and my room was quite large. Oddly, and I’m upset I didn’t take a photo of this, it had a completely space-age shower unit which had been wedged into the tiniest bathroom you’ve ever seen. Tiny to the extent that, in order to open the shower door, one had first to open the bathroom door as it was in the way. The shower unit (finished in faux graphite and carbon fibre by the looks of it) had a rain shower from above, a regular nozzle on a hose, and 6(!) massaging nozzles in the wall. This would have all been fabulous were it not for the fact that there wasn’t even close to being enough pressure to run more than 1 nozzle at a time and the massaging nozzles produced nothing more than a luke warm dribble down the wall. The absurdity of it all…

Anyway, the room was quiet… right up until the point when the people in the next room got home about 12:30 (4 of them by the sounds of it) and proceeded to party loudly until around 2:30 by which point I was so enraged I couldn’t sleep anyway. I spent the next few hours plotting my revenge which essentially consisted of waking them up at an ungodly hour early on the Sunday morning. Simple but effective. Imagine my disbelief when they began crashing around noisily at 6am anyway. Had I actually managed to fall asleep I would have been woken up again! Then I would have … [censored]

As I mentioned, the hotel was cheap… thank Christ. Despite my lack of sleep I was feeling relatively intact and I meandered back to the Gites around 9:30am looking forward to a very French breakfast. Caroline did not disappoint with croissants, pain-au-chocolat, scrambled eggs and coffee. C’est magnifique! Suitably refuelled I elected to head back to Antwerp and so bid my adieus. Satellite navigation lady was able to find her way flawlessly back to the motorway and I was back in Antwerp not long after lunch.

An enjoyable weekend.