American tested for ebola in Ghana

A United States citizen has been tested for the ebola virus. Though most news outlets still seem to report that he’s being tested and writing how bad that is, the test already came back negative.

The unnamed man had been to Sierra Leone and Guinea in the past weeks.Those regions are infected with the ebola virus, especially Guinea. The Reuters infographic details the affected areas

Ebola outbreak

After having been to Sierra Leone and Guinea, the man fell ill. He was quarantined and held in the Nyaho private facility in Accra while his blood was being tested in the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research. The head of disease surveillance at the Ghana Health Service, Badu Sarkodie, said that the result was negative but that further testing will be done. While the blood was being tested, the staff from the Nyaho clinic that handled or had been close to the man was kept in quarantine as well.

According to Bart Janssens, who is the director of operations for France’s Médecins Sans Frontières, the outbreak is now in it’s second wave and in his own words: “totally out of control”. And unless there is real political action, it will spread to more countries. That’s pretty bad news, because anyone who contracts the ebola virus has just a slim 10% chance of survival. But also because political action is lacking, as Janssens laments. Local authorities mistrust the organizations attempting to help, and without them announcing to the public that caring for infected people at home does more bad than good this pratice will continue to happen. This undermines the efforts to stop the outbreak.

Ebola has an incubation period of about 3 weeks. Sings of being infected are (high) fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea. But they don’t show up right away, so it is possible for an infected person to travel and infect others. This poses a huge threat if the virus reaches large cities with many people on the move. The biggest city hit so far is Conakry which has an international airport.

Even if you don’t have any cancellation insurance for your trip and if you don’t need to be there for professional healthcare reasons, cancel your trip. I think you’ll agree that this is not the time for a visit!

London toursist take note … but don’t pay with them

At least not on the London buses. Because they don’t accept cash anymore, neither do they carry cash so even if they wanted to, they can’t give you any change back.

A modern London bus

A modern London bus

Transport for London (TfL) who run the buses, say that there won’t be a problem, surely not a big one, for the London people and tourists. Numbers show that most of them already use Oyster (Visitor Oyster for tourists), prepaid tickets, contactless payment cards or concessionary tickets. Only a small amount of people still pay using cash. That would be 1%, the other 99% use the previously mentioned payment methods.

For people who have an Oyster card but ran out of money on it, this is good news. Because as they can’t pay with cash, they are allowed to take a free ride. Just the one though 😉

A tourist version of the Oyster card, the "Oyster Visitor card"

A tourist version of the Oyster card, the “Oyster Visitor card”

The way people pay for things is evolving, more and more people are paying using cards or other wireless methods (paying with phone) and carrying less cash around. Transport for London believes that by eliminating the cash part it can deliver a smoother and more efficient service to the passengers but also that they can save £24 million per year. That money can be reinvested in the transport network.

So if you get to London and want to take the bus, remember to get some form of prepaid payment method as paying in cash is no longer an option!

Would you fly in this?

With “this” I mean an airplane ‘without’ a cockpit. Would you?

Maybe you will have to in the future. Airbus filed a patent titled “Aircraft with a cockpit including a viewing surface for piloting which is at least partially virtual”.

What does that even mean? Is it with or without a cockpit? Well, the truth is, it’s something inbetween. Everybody is used to the cockpit being in the front/top of the plane. That’s where people more or less expect the “driver” to be. Subway, train, bus and even though the driver seat in a car is more or less in the middle, we still feel as it being in the front because we see out of the big front window.

But there are some down sides to having the cockpit where it currently is. Most importantly, having the cockpit there is aerodynamically flawed. A cockpit like that needs windows, very strong ones. Those windows are heavy and need to be reinforced, which means even more weight. On top of that, the cockpit is room where passengers cannot e seated.

So what Airbus suggests is to relocate the cockpit somewhere else in the plane. The two suggested locations are underneath the floor, or in the vertical stabilizer as shown in this image taken from the patent document:

Airbus_new_cockpit_locations

But then how will the pilots see where they’re going?! A pretty good question if you ask me. So technology comes to the rescue. The pilots will have a “partially virtual” cockpit, which really just comes down to them having a big display to look at. Much like a flight simulator, just better. Instead of comparing a plane to a bus, you can now compare it with a submaring. Submarine operators also have no front window and rely on charts and technology to get to where they want to be.

Cameras mounted at various locations on the plane will provide the images that will be used on the display. The advantage is that the pilots will be able to see much more than with their own eyes from the small windows in the current cockpit. If you’ve ever been inside a cockpit, you know that visibility is actually rather limited. Here’s a sketch of what such a cockpit with a display may look like:

Airbus_new_cockpit

I’ve seen people commenting that cameras and the display can fail. But to be honest, that’s a bit silly. There is no reason why there wouldn’t be at least a few backup cameras and other systems in place, powered by multiple independent power sources.

As for me, I wouldn’t mind flying in a plane with this new type of cockpit. Let’s face it, you don’t get to see the cockpit now anyway. You just know it’s there but that’s pretty much it.

So how about you, would you? 🙂

High in the Netherlands?

Well done Netherlands! Beating Mexico in the last minutes, you sure made for an exciting ending. So let’s have a look at the Netherlands, and more in particular, Amsterdam!

Two posts ago I warned people to not do drugs abroad. But while watching the world cup it dawned on me that many tourists go to the Netherlands for a rather specific reason …

This is that reason

This is that reason

The Netherlands is a beautiful country with a long history. It’s often called Holland by foreigners. But Holland is actually only a part of the Netherlands. You can read more about it here if you’re interested in that bit.

The country is known for tulips, wooden clogs, mills and cheese. But let’s be honest, most tourists (especially Americans) are interested in the Dutch version of the coffee shop! The menu in a coffee shop looks a little different from what most people are used to.

A menu in an Amsterdam coffee shop

A menu in an Amsterdam coffee shop

There are coffee shops all over the Netherlands. However most tourists will hang around Amsterdam. Because of the large tourist industry in the city, you’ll find a large number of shops. Most of them are close to the red light district … I don’t know if that’s by accident or not. And in the same general area there are also a lot of restaurants … again, I can’t vouch for the coincidence! I can however vouch for the variety of restaurants in the area. Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Uruguyan, Tibetan, German, French, … If you fancy it, you’ll probably be able to find it. So dig in!

Yes, it is legal for tourists to buy and use soft drugs in Amsterdam. Which is a big contrast to most countries and especially the South East Asian ones I posted about earlier. But it’s not legel all over the Netherlands, at least not for tourists. In recent years a lot has been said, done, undone and redone when it comes to coffee shops near the borders with Belgium and Germany. The end result is that there are still coffee shops near the borders, but you can only buy drugs there if you have the Dutch nationality. The reason for this is of course drug trafficking. People from Belgium, Germany and France could easily cross the border, buy drugs and export it to their own or other countries to use or sell. The chances of getting caught were small since many countries in the European Union have abolished border controls. This is not a consequence of being part of the EU, but of the Schengen Agreement.

Tulips, also a plant but you shouldn't smoke it

Tulips, also plants but you shouldn’t smoke them

But the Netherlands and Amsterdam in particular are more than that. There are many nice sights to see. Dam square, the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank house, the Vondelpark are just a few of many other things to see.

Clogs are one of the things you’ll see. But mostly decorative or for sale. People in the Netherlands wear shoes, just like you and me

And of course, last but not least, the famous canals (grachten). Amsterdam is often called Venice of the North. Truth is that Amsterdam actually has more canals and bridges over them than Venice does! Amsterdam’s canals are more or less equally as old as the ones in Venice. But Venice seems to have a better PR machine. Or perhaps it’s because of all the old movies that feature the Venice canals in them. Whatever the reason is, the canals are very nice to walk by, and popular with tourists for photo opportunities! You’ll find many places to eat or just have a drink right next to them if you’re tired of walking around the city.

People enjoy hanging around the canals

People enjoy hanging around the canals

In fact, much like in the picture, local people often sit right next to the canals. Sometimes bringing some drinks and snacks to just enjoy the cooler temperatures and hang out with friends. I’ve even seen people enjoy entire picnics there!

There are many things to enjoy throughout the country. But if you decide to pay a visit to a coffee shop, take it easy. Every year tourists underestimate the effects or use too much drugs and end up hurting themselves, falling into the canals or worse, end up dead due to accidents. So enjoy, but be careful!

West Africa and the ebola outbreak

Doctors without borders has stated that they currently do not have the outbreak under control and that they need a massive deployment to fight the epidemic in West Africa. It is he most deadly and geographically widespread outbreak on record and is threatening to spread.

According to the World Health Organization, the first ebola outbreak was a simultaneous happening in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The last one was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

The virus is originally carried by fruit bats. It is transmitted from animals to people from wild animals and once infected, humans spread the virus to other humans in the general population.

Ebola has a 90% casualty rate, so things don’t look very well if you get infected. New drugs are being tested, but that’s pretty much as far as that goes. Casualty rates remain high.

The problem with the latest outbreak is that it happened in Conakry, the capital and largest city of Guinea, which has an international airport (Conakry International Airport) and a very mobile population that moves to nearby countries to work. With 635 people infected and nearly 400 deaths, this is not the best news. Local health care is poor and there is political reluctance to take action. Having been in West Africa myself, I can vouch for the poor health care and living situations. The ebola incubation period can take up to 21 days, so it’s possible for an infected person to show none of the signs and get on an airplane and fly anywhere in the world. The prediction is that it will probably happen.

Then again, thanks to the fact that it is a big city with an international airport, help is quick to arrive. So people are being diagnosed quickly and given the best care they can get in a big city like Conakry. That’s better than anything they could get in a small town far away.

Unlike what you may have heard, ebola does not spread very easily from person to person. So it is not very contagious. However it is very infectious. Only a tiny amount of blood or other bodily fluids can cause an infection. For this reason, it is mostly the family of an infected person and the health care workers who get infected.

I won’t go into what happens to your body when you get infected by ebola. If you want to know, you can read about it on Wikipedia. But it’s not pretty.

If you don’t really need to be in West Africa right now, you shouldn’t book a ticket over just yet. Because there is NO vaccine against ebola and the only sure way to prevent it is to simply not go into infected areas. This is a definite case of “better safe than sorry”.

If you are already in West Africa, avoid the infected areas and avoid handling live or dead wild animals. Some species of animals besides primates may carry the Ebola virus.

If you need to be there for professional reasons as a health care worker you can prevent infection by wearing masks, gloves, and goggles whenever they come into contact with people who may have Ebola.

An arial view of Conakry showing the city and it's harbour

An arial view of Conakry showing the city and it’s harbour

Vietnam will sentence you to death …

… but only if you are found guilty of possessing or trafficking of more than 600 grams of heroine or 20 kilos of opium. Vietnam has one of the toughest laws concerning drugs.

Whatever people do for themselves that doesn’t harm or inconvenience others around them is their business. But people should be aware that the laws in some countries will be enforced. And some countries’ laws are more strict than others. In South East Asia, you don’t want to test those laws.

Pham Trung Dung, a 37 year old Australian with Vietnamese roots, found that out the hard way. He got caught in May 2013 in the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). He was carrying two suitcases which contained four kilograms of heroin. More than enough to get into trouble!

At the time he was trying to fly back to Australia with his wife and children. Dung stated that an unidentified man offered him $40.000 to transport the drugs from Vietnam to Australia. Unbelievable as that may sound, things like that do happen. Criminals know that people will do crazy things for a big bag of money.

Best of luck to Dung, who can still appeal the case. But whether or not he decides to do that is up to him and his lawyers.

There are about 700 people on death row in Vietnam. Many of those got there because of drug offences. That includes dozens of foreigners, but it has been decades since a foreigner actually got executed.

For your own sake, don’t get involved in any drug related activity in South East Asia, not just Vietnam. Even though a lot of drugs can be found and is produced there, the big guys remain untouched due to the prevalent corruption in many countries. The little guys are the ones filling the prisons.

Just take in the culture, food, people, smiles and experiences as your high 😉

A shot of the Heroin drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency

A shot of the Heroin drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency

Belgium, country of festivals

There are many different reasons to travel. Perhaps you want to go for adventure, get lost in a foreign country, maybe you want to immerse yourself in another culture, for some people it’s all about the food. And others, they just go to party.

Belgium has an ace up its sleeve when it comes to that: festivals. Belgium has a lot of them, among them the one voted “Best Music Event Worldwide” a few times in a row by the IDMA (International Dance Music Awards) in Miami, as well as “Best Major European Festival”. You may recognize the name Tomorrowland. This festival alone was so popular it attracted people from litterally all over the world. It became so big that a spin-off festival has been created, Tomorrowworld. It even has it’s own party flights to fly people in. Aside from that, many great DJ’s and bands have Belgian roots.

dimitry vegas and like mike tomorrowland anthem time with million of people cheering hd wallpaper night

A shot of Tomorrowland at night

But it’s not all dance music. There are techno, electro, folk, metal, reggae, world music, jazz and other types of festivals. Some are big, some are small. Some of the bigger names are: Graspop, Rock Werchter, 10 Days Off, Gentse Feesten, Tomorrowland, Reggae Geel, Pukkelpop, Laundry Day and I Love Techno .

Pretty clear what kind of festival Graspop is

People come from all over the world for the chill out vibes of Reggae Geel

People come from all over the world for the chill out vibes of Reggae Geel

Gent Jazz

Gent Jazz

Here’s a list of festivals you can find in Belgium. This list will always be incomplete as there are many smaller festivals that come and go. The links are pointing to the English versions of the websites if available:

A bunch of festivals can also be found on this map. Click the locations for more info:

So, if you’re in Belgium around summer time, there’s always a festival to go to. Leave a comment if you are missing a festival in the list and I’ll update it. Enjoy! 🙂

Burmese Bamba, “una poca de gracia” in Myanmar!

I’m relatively sure that Richard Steven Valenzuela never saw this coming. Who? You probably know him as Ritchie Valens. Still no? Well then I’m sure you’ll know him from his hit song “La Bamba”

And if that still doesn’t ring a bell, you may very well recognize another one of his big hits, Donna. If you still didn’t know him, you do now 😉

Unfortunately he died at a young age in a plane crash in 1959, along with Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson. Three big artists died in one crash, which is why that day is referenced to as “the day the music died”. Artists today still refer to this, just check out Madonna’s song “American Pie“. You’ll find the reference in the lyrics!

However interesting all that is, you’re not here for a lesson in musical history are you? So what’s this Burmese Bamba all about? Well, during the festival in Lonton one of the singers brought her very own version of La Bamba. In Burmese of course.  I think sometimes it became “namba namba” and “lamba lamba” in this version, but nonetheless she did perform it with the youthful energy that the song is actually all about! I’m not really sure about the synth player though … 🙂

At least during this performance the drunk guys managed to keep things calm 🙂

The festival and everything around it was filled with local culture. Local foods, customs, songs, plays, comedy, references, … which is all good fun but hard to understand. So when something like this comes by it’s a rather entertaining and refreshing moment because it’s something you recognize … even if you don’t understand a word from the lyrics! The music itself is enough to put a smile on your face and get a bonding experience with those around you who enjoy it 🙂

Belgium, you got balls

Atomium_by_day

The previous post dealt with the Eiffel Tower which was built for the world fair of 1889. Today, we’re having a look at another world fair construction. This time it’s the 1958 fair, and as you can see from the picture, the building is the Atomium.

The name has been derived from the model it was built after, the iron atom. The amount of spheres doesn’t match the iron element’s number of electrons or anything. The similarity is based on the whole form of the structure which resembles a pure iron crystal at room temperature, magnified 165 billion times.

Again, if you are interested in the numbers, you can find those on line. But you should know that the 9 pheres were used to symbolize the 9 provinces Belgium had at the time (that changed to 10 provinces in 1995).

Originally, the building was constucted out of aluminium, which was a relatively new material to use at the time. During a long restauration period from 2004-2006, the aluminium was replaced with rust free steel as it handles corrosion better. To help out with the costs, the replaced aluminium panels were sold. A 2 meter triangular piece sold for about €1.000. Lights were present in the original design, but they broke rather quickly. So during the restauration better lights were put on so that in the evening the structure is lit up nicely for the next 150 years. At least that’s how long they estimate the lights to last. There are 4 support colums (called bipodes) present that were not in the original design. They were added when wind tunnel tests pointed out that the thing would fall over at wind gusts at about 80km/h (50mp/h).

The reason the structure is still standing is due to the fact that by the end of the world fair it had become so famous and popular, they decided to keep it. The original idea was that it would be dismantled after no longer than 6 months.

But it’s still there! And it’s still famous. Famous enough for CNN to award it as one of the 11 most bizarre buildings in Europe.

Good news for those who want to get in and up. You can! The 3 most outer spheres are closed off from the public for safety because they don’t have any direct support. You can take an elevator to the top sphere (at 5 meters per second!) to have a good view over Brussels and something to eat, as a restaurant is located there. For some more food you can go to the central sphere to find a snack bar. There is a “children’s” sphere, which is only accessible to groups on school outings and the children can sleep in this sphere. The other accessible spheres hold permanent or temporary expositions.

Atomium in the evening (picture from structurae.de)

Should you be around, do have a look. It’s worth a few minutes of your time. And while you’re at it, make it to the top sphere to take in the panaromic view!

Have a look over here for more pictures of what you can expect to see when you get there 🙂

France, how much Eiffel is there in the tower?

IMG_5342

The tower as you can see it when coming from the Trocadéro subway station

Before we get into the topic question, well played guys! 5-2 against the Swiss is a pretty decent victory!

Did you know that the Eiffel Tower has an actual address? It’s Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France.

But to get there most people just look at the sky and walk in the direction of the big tower. Or they grab a subway to the nearest subway station. That would be Bir-Hakeim by the way, but you should get off at Trocadéro if you want to make some of the iconic Eiffel tower shots.

Including it’s antenna, it’s 324m (1,063 ft) made it the highest tower in the world until 1930. But let’s not get into the numbers too much here. You can hit up other places on the internet for that, like Wikipedia or the official Eiffel Tower website.

For the 1889 world fair France wanted something that would catch the world’s attention and celebrate the 100th year since the French Revolution. As so often, it came down to a design competition. The tower itself was originally not designed by Gustav Eiffel but by two of his employees,  Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier. Gustav himself wasn’t very into the first design, but he allowed the engineers to continue with the idea. After they got the head of the architectural department involved, who spruced up the tower with some decorative arches at the base and a glass pavilion on the first level among other things, Gustav got on board.

Though the tower is now a major tourist attraction (and let’s admit it, if you’re around you should go see it), the public didn’t love the idea at first at all. There were those who said it was simply not possible to build it. But the biggest outcry came from the French artists. The painters, writers, poets, sculptors, … they hated it. For them it was just a huge ugly piece of metal that ruined the city. It wasn’t easy to deal with the criticiscm, but they managed it and after a 2 year construction the tower had been built.

Gustav Eiffel, an architect and engineer himself, got his tower. But more than that, he also made sure that he would get all the commercial income from the tower for the duration of the exhibition during the world fair, and for the next 20 years!

For those wanting to visit the tower, yes, you can go up. But be prepared to wait in line … for a long … long time! So be there early and bring a drink and a snack.

People queuing to get into the tower

People queuing to get into the tower

There is an elevator, but that’s kind of cheating isn’t it? 😉 All combined, the general public can climb the tower for up to 710 steps. The top level is usually closed (not always, just most of the time), so the general public can only get up to the second level. The step count is:

  • 9 steps to the ticket booth at the base
  • 328 steps to the first level
  • 340 steps to the second level
  • 18 steps to the lift platform on the second level
  • 15 steps to the upper observation platform

If you hang around long enough, well, until midnight that is. You can catch the “midnight show”. For a few minutes the lights on the tower flicker in a seemingly random fashion as you can see in the video. Pretty nice if you don’t expect it to happen, and a lot of people don’t seem to know about it. Even though it’s just a few minutes and just some lights, I think it’s worth the wait 🙂

Enjoy your visit!