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2015 as our family experienced it

16 February 2016

The year began with both children here, a rare pleasure now that they live on opposite sides of the Atlantic.


But soon after this picture was taken, I found myself in Madrid airport, saying goodbye to Moses.


Lars came to visit as he does every January, and we spent a couple of days in Barcelona. We met up with my friend Lluis.


We looked at art, at the Joan Miró Foundation and elsewhere.


It was a very nice trip, although it ended on a sour note: Lars’s rental car was broken into and our backpacks were stolen while we were out and about during the day on Sunday. We did not lose our photo gear, since we had that with us, but I did lose my laptop and iPad, a major headache. And this was in a supposedly guarded parking garage on Plaça Catalunya!

Monica was still here, so we did some things together, including eating at L’Indret, a vegan restaurant in the centre with an awesome salad bar.


And of course Lars treated us to a delicious evening meal at home.


But then it was time to say goodbye to Monica as well, as she headed back to Cardiff for the spring semester.


After Monica’s departure, Lars and I engaged in one of our two shared passions, cycling (the other is photography). One day we climbed the Puerto de la Carrasqueta, one of the mountain passes in the Alicante area which sometimes features in the Vuelta a España bicycle race.


I finish January with a portrait of our dear Cheeta. The pets have aged during 2015 (who hasn’t?) but they are still with us to love and to cuddle.


February is usually a quiet month for us, and this year was no exception. We got together with friends.


I continued to feed the cats that live on the golf course.


And on February 14th, our own Taco turned 15 and received his serving of tuna.


Later in the month, I had a brief business trip to Mannheim, a city I had not visited before. It was cold and rainy.


On the last day of February, we visited our friends Carmen and Hilarión in Almoradí. As always, it was a day of friendship, delicious food and relaxation amid the orange trees.





In early March, we took advantage of Moses’s weeklong business trip to England and met up with him and with Monica in London. We arrived on the 6th, and Monica came by train from Cardiff. It was nice to be together again. We took Monica to one of my favourite pubs, the Chandos near Trafalgar Square.


The next day, Moses flew in the from US. He was tired but we spent the whole day out and about in the great city, including having some fun at the Southbank book market.



As always, we ate well, and we did not go thirsty either.


Back in Alicante, we went to visit friends whose little dog had a rash and therefore had to wear a “lamp shade” to keep him from licking it.


Later in the month, I had yet another trip to Brussels, a city I visit often in connection with my work. This time I was there for St. Patrick’s Day. The City Hall on Grand’ Place was illuminated green for the occasion.


As usual, I went for a beer at Poechenellekelder, my favourite watering hole.


And later I got together with a visiting fellow photographer from England for a pint of Guinness at the Six Nations pub.


Then back home for a couple of days of rest with Aixa and the pets.


And then it was time for another business trip, this time to Geneva, for a meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a UN body based there.


We celebrated Aixa’s birthday with a party at our place. By late March it is nice and warm in Alicante, and our back terrace, adjacent to the den, is a perfect venue for this kind of thing.





On March 31st, I had an all-day meeting at the OECD in Paris. I took advantage and flew to Paris already on Sunday morning so that I could visit my cousin Francis whom I had not seen for 5 years. We went for a relaxed bicycle ride along the Seine.


Later, during dinner, we were joined by Francis’s daughter Iris who is now an 18-year old young lady.


As always, I enjoyed the magnificent sights of the city.



But then it was back to work, and I spent all of Tuesday at the OECD headquarters. Afterwards, I had a drink with Piotr, a Polish economist at the OECD.


April began with Semana Santa, the week of religious processions which culminate on Easter Sunday. I always enjoy these events because of the photographic opportunities they provide.




The high point of April was my first ever trip to Latvia–in fact, it was my first trip to any of the three Baltic countries. Latvia held the rotating EU presidency during the first half of 2015, and so certain institutional meetings that we organise every spring were held in Riga. I really loved the city.


We have a very good working and personal relationship with our Latvian colleagues, especially Linda (on the right) who had basically organised the entire 3-day event from their side.


Linda had arranged a truly wonderful evening for us, dinner at Folkklubs Ala Pagras, a restaurant with traditional Latvian food and traditional Latvian dancing.



From Riga I flew to Copenhagen to visit my parents’ graves and my childhood friend Beata, here lounging with her children.


The Japanese cherry trees at Langelinie, close to the Little Mermaid, were in full bloom.

Explosion of colour

And then it was on to Brussels for some more work-related meetings, but also an opportunity to help open a photo exhibition by members of Viewfinders, a photography club in Brussels to which I have belonged since we lived there in the 1990s. Our exhibition was at Halles St-Géry, a great location in the centre of Brussels. I participated with two images.


In early May, something truly joyous happened. Both my American and my French families came to visit! Here are the two senior men of the global Wajsman clan, uncle Zev from Florida and uncle Joseph from France.


One of our traditions is to play an international match of pétanque, a game at which Joseph of course excels.


The American side provided stiff resistance…


…but in the end, France prevailed.


The elder Wajsmans flew off to Israel from Madrid, but first I took them to  Toledo, a city not far from Madrid which is one of Spain’s most interesting places to visit. It is a place where the pre-1492 Jewish and Moorish culture is very much in evidence, of course along with the now dominant Catholicism. All this gave rise to many interesting, serious and not-so-serious conversations.


Late in May, the Miracle of the Cactus happened again. A bit of background: when my mother died in 2001, I took one of her beloved plants, a round cactus, to Switzerland (where I lived at the time). Later, the cactus moved with us to the Netherlands, and in 2007 to Spain. The Spanish climate apparently suits it well, because after a couple of years of living here, it has started blooming a couple of times a year.


Also in May, the younger generations of US and French Wajsmans came to visit–my cousin Nicole from Brussels and Renata from Florida, with assorted offspring. It was great to have them all here.


We put the young ones to work at the BBQ.


And I still fed the golf course cats.


On the last day of May, I cycled to Puerto de Tudons, one of the most challenging rides around here.


In early June, we got together with our Spanish friends to watch “el clásico”: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona.


Later that month, I went to Denmark to spend a week in my hometown with Lars. His daughter Klara works part-time in Den Gamle By (“the old town”), an outdoor museum of life in the 19th century. She has to dress in 19th century clothing and becomes Jensine.


Lars and I spent two days cycling in Jutland. It was very intense, 250 km the first day and 266 km the second day.

Denmark has a lot of water which means that often you have to take as small ferry like this one to cross a fjord.


Towards the end of the first day, a selfie somewhere in western Jutland. My lip is swollen due to an insect bite.


After a long day, we have arrived at Klitmøller on the west coast of Jutland where Lars had reserved a bed & breakfast for the night. We found a place to have a much needed dinner.


The next day was really hard. It was cold and rainy for the first several hours. Utter misery. Lars is wringing his socks which have become totally water-logged.


But the weather improved and we made it back to Aarhus before it got dark. It helps that it does not get dark in Denmark until 10 p.m. in June.

Later in the week, I attended the midsummer celebrations on the beach in Aarhus. It is a very traditional Danish celebration, going back to the pre-Christian era.


Then Lars and I drove to Berlin and spent a few days there, hosted by his friend Dominique.


We also did some sight-seeing, including a visit to the former Stasi headquarters, now a museum.


Back in Aarhus, we were visited by Lars’s daughter Marie, along with Lauge, Lars’s first grandchild.


We also visited Aros, the local art museum, one of the best in the world.


And we took pictures, including my portrait of Lars, inspired by Helmut Newton’s famous portrait of Stravinsky.


On July 2nd, we had the last wine tasting at the office before the summer break.


Then we had our friend Iñaki’s birthday party.




July and August are lazy months. The heat of the Alicante summer means that both people and animals spend most of their time lounging around.



Monica was home for the summer. She has recently developed a taste of beer, in particular Belgian fruity beers such as Mort Subite.


At the office, we had a festive luncheon to say goodbye to a departing colleague and to usher in the summer vacation.


Then August arrived. I continued my cycling in the mountains around Alicante. This is the kind of landscape that I traverse on two wheels.


Every year, EU employees have a medical checkup, part of which is an urine sample. I always try to inject a note of humour into the procedure.


We were going to the US to visit Moses for 3 weeks. Instead of putting the dog and cat in the usual pet hotel, we arranged for my sister and brother-in-law to come and house- and pet-sit during our absence. Here they are, arriving at Alicante airport from Poland.


Before flying off to the US, I took Irka and Telesfor for lunch at our favourite beach eatery, Hostal Maruja in La Marina.


Then we flew to Philadelphia, rented a car and drove to Lansdale, where Moses was staying. On the way we stopped to buy a few things at a drug store. It was nice to be together again.


And the babies (who are no longer babies) are together again!


Philadelphia is a great city, with its history, its monuments…and its vegan pizza!


It also has great bookshops. A proper bookshop needs one or more cats, and this one, near the Barnes Foundation, ticked all the boxes.


One of the really great things about Philadelphia is that my friend Jim and his husband John live there. They are great guys in many respects, and they have the coolest car of any of my friends.


They treated us to dinner in a Brazilian restaurant, transporting us there in this magnificent driving machine.


The food at the restaurant was great, but the company was even better.


Jim, as always, told funny stories. I think this one involved a woman with large breasts.


And then there was dessert…


Another Philadelphia delight we discovered was the Barnes Foundation.


A few days later, we drove to Montreal, the first visit there for all of us. We arrived tired and hungry but fortunately there was a Korean restaurant near our hotel.


Montreal is a wonderful, multicultural city, where you can get sushi even in the metro.


There are lots of cool neighbourhoods in Montreal.


We visited Montreal’s cathedral where the children lit candles for their grandmother.


And we tasted some nice locally brewed beer.


Just before driving back to Philadelphia, we visited the iconic park at the top of the hill. Moses and Monica assumed the American Gothic pose.


Back in the USA, we visited the part of New Jersey where we lived in the early 1990s and where Monica was born. This is the bridge across the Delaware River which forms the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.


We walked around Princeton, the town where Monica was born.


August 13th is Aixa’s and mine wedding anniversary, and we celebrated it with the children at a nice restaurant in Doylestown.


We also went to Washington for a day, with a visit to the Holocaust museum the first item on the agenda.


I have been there before, but not Aixa and the children. We had an important mission; Moses took with him one of my late father’s war medals and we photographed him with it in the Hall of Remembrance.


And I made sure to pass by the exhibit that always makes me so proud of my beloved country.

A boat used to ferry Jews from Denmark to Sweden during the rescue in October 1943.

A boat used to ferry Jews from Denmark to Sweden during the rescue in October 1943.

We also visited the monuments on the Mall.



Back in Pennsylvania, we visited Amish country. The town of Intercourse is quite touristy.



We also went to see a Phillies game, just as we had gone to see the Yankees during our 2014 visit to New York. Sadly, the Phillies were quite inept, and we left during the 7th inning, secure in the knowledge that the game was decided.


In Moses’s apartment in Lansdale, Monica is doing some exercise, following directions on her computer screen.


We then flew down to Florida to visit uncle Zev and the rest of the family there.


It was wonderful to be together with our Florida family. A highlight of the trip. Zev and Alina treat Monica and Moses as if they were their grandchildren.


My cousin Renata with one of Ilan’s doggies.


We stayed one night with Ilan in Jacksonville, and then moved on to Zev and Alina in Jacksonville Beach. In the morning, this is the view from their back porch.


My cousin Dan who lives in California keeps a bicycle at his parents’ place, so I was able to do a proper ride, about 100 km to St. Augustine and back. The coastal route A1A is not the most exciting cycling road, but I still enjoyed it.


On the way back, I met another cyclist, a nice man from Alabama. We had a chat outside a convenience store where we had stopped for a drink and a snack. And I got him to take a picture of me.


We spent the last few days of the US trip at a hotel in Philadelphia, since Moses had moved out of the Lansdale apartment. He works a lot on the road, like this.


On the last Saturday night, my two children went out in Philadelphia. Monica got nicely dressed for the occasion.


We spent one of the last days in Philly walking around the Reading Terminal Market, an utterly wonderful place.


We walked to Rittenhouse Square, where a farmers market was taking place. We had a chat with this nice couple from Lawrenceville, NJ, the town where we lived for five years.


We walked through the gay neighbourhood.


And to top off a great day, we happened upon the Naked Bike Ride.


And then it was time to say our goodbyes and to fly back to Spain. September was around the corner, which meant return to work.

Back home, we were greeted by my sister and brother-in-law who had been house- and pet-sitting while we were in the US. A win-win-win situation, for them, for the pets, and for us.


And then, just a couple of days later, I was off to Scotland to attend a conference at the University of Glasgow. I was very pleased with this, as I am one of the few people who actually prefer Glasgow over Edinburgh. After arriving and checking in at my hotel, I walked to the other side of town, to the Brewdog pub (the mothership of Brewdog pubs, so to speak) to meet up with a former trainee and consultant in my team, Antanina, who is now doing her PhD in Italy.



And then I spent most of the next couple of days at the university.


Glasgow has a rich history, and the main gate of the university has the names of famous alumni. Since I am an economist, none is more important than this one.


On the last day of my stay in Scotland, I rented a car and drove north from Glasgow. It is an incredibly beautiful country, and I intend to return soon.


I stopped for lunch at a famous restaurant by the shore of the lake of the same name, and had the best oysters in my life.



Just over a week later, I was back in the UK, but this time further south. Monica was going on a placement at a hospital in North Wales, and I accompanied her there. We flew to Liverpool and spent the first night there, having a good time, including a visit to the local Brewdog pub.


The next day we enjoyed Liverpool some more. The city is home to two of my lifelong passions, Liverpool Football Club and The Beatles. Both are much in evidence, from the moment you land.


We did some shopping in the Liverpool One shopping centre. Our kind of shopping.


And Monica had something or other done to her eyebrows at one of the department stores.


And we ate well too, at Wagamama, a favourite for both of us.


But then it was Sunday morning and it was time to head west in our rented car, to the town of Bodelwyddan. It is a very small town with a very big hospital, where Monica was going to spend the next three months. To say that this is a rural area is an understatement. Here is Monica with one of the neighbours.


But the house turned out to be very nice, and Monica shared with a lovely young doctor, working at the same hospital (which was just a few hundred metres away).


In the second half of September, I had a meeting of an international group of photographer friends in Barcelona. This is a group that originally met through the internet but have since become friends in real life, and we get together occasionally. As usual, we met in Barcelona, with my good friend Lluis as the host. Here he is (on the left) at our customary restaurant, El Julivert Meu, with Geoff from Australia. As I said, this is a very international group.


Here I converse with the lovely Mariela, a friend of Lluis’ in Barcelona.

LUG-Meeting in Barcelona

The ancient Catalan art of drinking wine from a porrón was demonstrated by the natives and attempted by the rest with varying degrees of success.


At the end of the evening, stained shirts and all, a group photo outside the restaurant. The people in this picture live in Spain, Australia, France and the USA, and between them probably have at least 7-8 different citizenships.


Back at work in Alicante. A new restaurant called Moments has opened on the beach just a few minutes drive from our office, and it has quickly become a favourite among my colleagues. I took my team for lunch there one day in late September.


I finished September in Brussels, a city where I go so often (for work reasons) that it feels almost like a second home. The fact that I lived there in the 1990s helps, of course. I am always struck by how seriously the Belgians take their comics. I know of no other airport in the world which is decorated with Tintin artifacts.


I had a free afternoon, and I walked to the European Parliament where some vegan activists were giving out free food. As an economist, one of my mantras is that “there is no free lunch” but in this case there was. The main esplanade at the Parliament is named after Poland’s Solidarity movement which was one of the main forces behind the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1989.


The vegan food was being cooked on a truly industrial scale.


This nice lady showed me around and explained the political agenda to me. I always enjoy seeing the various demos and other happenings around the EU institutions in Brussels. One can get cynical about things sometimes, but this is real democracy in action.


One of the pleasures of visiting Brussels is to walk through Parc Cinquantenaire. This time, they were getting ready for celebrations of the 25th anniversary of German re-unification.


Back home, I went to an interesting photo exhibition in the cultural centre of El Campello, called Tales from Lemuria, a strange and wonderful fantasy world created by photographer Mitar Terzic. I got him to pose for me with one of his images.


I continued my almost daily cycling. In El Campello, just one km from the beach, one encounters a completely  different world.


Aixa has taken up golf in a big way, and spends many days on the course.


On October 13th, my sister turned 70. To celebrate the round birthday with her, we flew to Wrocław for the weekend. The day before, we left Cheeta in the good hands of the people at Canicat, the doggie hotel we always use.


Wrocław has become a nice, dynamic city since 1989. This is the view of the Ronald Reagan Circle from my sister’s balcony.

Plac Grunwaldzki, Ronald Reagan Circle

My sister and brother-in-law are both in their 70s now but they are keeping well.



Irka had made my favourite Polish dish, bigos. This is simple, delicious food.


Aixa and I really enjoyed Wrocław despite the usual autumn weather.


Then it was back to work. In late October we hosted a big meeting with participants from all EU member states and other organisations. As always, one of the evenings was devoted to a nice dinner, and I had the opportunity to meet my friend Linda from Latvia again.


The following weekend, I had the pleasure to visit Oktoberfest in the sunshine, hosted by Jenni and Hilarión in Rojales. The weather was Spanish but the food and the beer was totally German–wonderful!



November began with my first ever trip to Vienna, to attend a conference there. It started terribly, thanks to the utter incompetence of Iberia, Spain’s old national airline. The picture below will give you an idea. For the details, look at the special web site I set up to express my disdain for this joke of an airline.


But once I got to Vienna, I fell in love with the city. So much wonderful art–just like Rome, except that the streets are clean and the public transport works.


Johan, a bit closer

November 11th is the anniversary of the end of World War One, but it is also Poland’s independence day. So the Polish people at my office arranged a festive lunch to celebrate the day. As this was a Polish event, the vodka flowed freely.


Later that month, Aixa and I went to visit Monica in North Wales. We spent an afternoon across the border in Chester, a beautiful town. However, English weather in November is not the best.


But thanks to all this rain, the Welsh countryside is lush and green. This is a view of Monica’s house in Bodelwyddan as seen from the neighbouring farm.


We visited Bodelwyddan Castle which provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

Rainbow over the Marble Church, Bodelwyddan

Rainbow over the Marble Church, Bodelwyddan


There are many interesting things to see inside the castle. One of the interesting bits was an old-fashioned photo studio where period clothes are available to the visitor.



We drove around the countryside and visited the various towns and the coast. There is a certain stark beauty there.


On Monday morning we said goodbye to Monica, who posed for one last picture in her NHS Wales uniform.


We flew home from Liverpool. There is a statue of John Lennon in the airport terminal. I really “dug” that.


As we usually do, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Saturday in November. We invite our Spanish friends and Aixa makes all the traditional Thanksgiving foods.



20151128-pies and whisky

I had to be in Paris on November 30th for some meetings at the OECD. I took advantage of the opportunity and travelled to France the day before so that I could visit uncle Joseph in Le Mans.


We had dinner with his daughter Isabelle who lives very close, just a few minutes walk.


The next day I took an early morning train to Paris and spent the day at the very fancy Château, part of the OECD headquarters in the 16th arrondissement.


Before flying home the next day, I had just enough time to visit Place de la République to see the Marianne monument which had become the focal point for people to pay their respects to the victims of the terrorist attacks in November.


Back in Alicante, there is a more modest impromptu memorial on the main seaside esplanade.


There was a parliamentary election in Spain just before Christmas. The campaign here is short, only about 3 weeks, and quite low key.


The approaching holiday was in evidence both in the streets of Alicante and at our office.



A few days before Christmas, we released a report on counterfeit toys. The press conference was held at a toy factory in Ibi, a town near Alicante. Not the typical corporate setting.


My colleagues Claire and Carolina with the genuine and fake articles.


The holiday season officially started with the arrival of Monica.


We had a Danish Christmas lunch at the office.


On December 22nd, I drove to Madrid and picked up Moses who flew in from Philadelphia. A few hours and 440 km later, the family was re-united, and the holidays had truly begun.



On Christmas Eve, we had our holiday dinner of turkey and other assorted goodies. Cheeta just waited patiently on the kitchen terrace.


But then she took a more active interest in the proceedings.


Moses got to do the honours.


On Christmas morning, Monica is waiting for the distribution of presents to begin. She and Moses are now adults, but on this day they are children again.




At the end of the gift exchange, we made the official Christmas portrait for 2015.


Between Christmas and New Year, we just relaxed, watched football on TV, and I took advantage of the good weather to cycle in the mountains.


We welcomed 2016 at our favourite restaurant, La Ereta.



And that was the year that came and went.

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