The gratitude post.

jenclinton/07172013mThe past 60 odd days of my life have been some of the best in recent memory. In any memory. Yesterday was my last day of work at my internship and MAN am I going to miss it. The projects I contributed to, the little ways I could help around the office, my coworkers, even my little desk that turned into a jungle with all that plant life.

That’s not just it though. It’s like being here in Europe has made me more aware of things. Like all the little ways and all the big ways that I am so completely and unbelievably fortunate and blessed and all those good things. I do think luck sometimes has something to do with it, but also hard work, and putting yourself in the right place, and then sometimes things just fall in your lap when you least expect it and for seemingly no reason.

I’ve become aware of these ‘seemingly no reasons,’ too, those hints that the universe is listening, gosh darn it. I don’t want you to think I’m narcissistic enough to believe that  things happen because I want them to or because I’m important and the universe must pay attention to me. But I think it drops hints sometimes, like when I noticed the other day that the houses I’ve lived in so far have been numbers 322 (3+2+2=7), 17, 77, and 7. 7 is home. Or when you see  someone succeeding and thriving doing something you’re afraid to do, exactly when you need to learn to do it, and you finally can start telling yourself, hey, me too. Let’s do this.

Before I get lost in my own tangent, I wanted to make a short list of the things I am grateful for today, the universe-hints and the things that make me so crazy proud of my friends and things that just make me stupidly happy.

1. I passed in my thesis today.

Passed. In. Done. No more writing and stressing and reviewing and checking sources and hating SAS. I feel more like I’m going to toss my cookies rather than feeling relieved at this point; it’s a little scary to throw it out into the world, but that will come.

c/o dickens molo osano

c/o dickens molo osano

2. I’m completely broke (it happens with unpaid internships in Europe), had no more plans to travel, and then I won a trip to Paris. And then a friend had housing. I’m going to Paris, for free. I’ll take that as a universe-hint, that I’m supposed to see this city, haha. Thank you a million times over to Cheeseweb for this opportunity (it’s an expat-focused blog for Belgium, and I highly recommend it even if you’re visiting for a short while. They showed me where to get the best waffles in town).

3. Also down the completely broke but still somehow traveling path… my dad surprised me with a trip to the Azores!! I don’t know much about anything there, besides I can go swimming with dolphins and hiking and laying on the beach and there are festivals, so that’s all I need to know really. Epic.

4. I’m grateful for those of you who make me laugh just because.

5. The thing that I am most super proud of today is the announcement that came from the Sierra Club. I’ve held onto this nugget of knowledge for FAR too long – UConn was selected as the #1 “coolest school” in the US by the Sierra Club!!! This is a huge deal for the university and to me, as my friend LD and I, as the university’s sustainability coordinators, and my fantastic group of 8 interns were mostly responsible for UConn’s submission. It was hours and hours and spreadsheets and phone calls and tears and late nights for days, for MONTHS, but it was alllll worth it in the end. So, GO HUSKIES, this is wonderful news.

what would we do without our people?

what would we do without our people?

Five things is a lot of big things to be grateful for today.

(Also this is the first time I’ve posted anyone else’s photos on my blog, that feels odd. PbyP gone rogue. And thanks again Dickens!)

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Birthday & Antwerp

Um…oops? 🙂

The last two weeks have been a blur. I had a birthday on Friday, and celebrated quietly… for four days straight, haha. Thursday night, my friends and I (including KB who was also celebrating her birthday!) went to the best restaurant around, Soleil d’Afrique in Matongé (I went earlier in the summer as well.)

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On Friday, my actual birthday, I took care of business at work and then let myself catch up with my far-flung friends. I heard from some people I haven’t seen in ages and it made my day. I vaguely remember some of my college friends discussing buying our own retirement community when we’re old and have money and nothing else to do, I think that would be awesome. Can we make that happen?

Birthdays are like New Year’s Eve to me (my favorite holiday, BTW). They’re time for reflection and re-assessing and updating and changing habits, not just celebrating surviving another spin around the sun. I took myself for a long walk around my neighborhood and ended up finding a cozy little restaurant serving one of Belgian’s specialities – moules frites. It was everything I wanted and more, haha. I’d like to point out the mayonnaise in the corner, which is for the frites. Ketchup isn’t a thing.

I also needed to knock two more beers off my bucket list, so I tried I Chimay Rouge. (I had the ‘misfortune’ of finding my favorite beer on the first try, so I’ve had to force myself to branch out).

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OEP kids, it wasn’t until I sat down that I noticed the name of the restaurant was Carpe Diem. I felt like it was an appropriate end to the year, hahaha.

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JB took me out for drinks that night at L’Athenee because she’s a doll, and I tried a caipirinha? I’d never heard of it before but apparently it’s Brazil’s national cocktail. Olé indeed. The next day we met at Bruxelles Centrale and took the (crazy-€4-cheap) train to Antwerp. It was beautiful.  Afterwards we sat outside in Parc Royal listening to the sweet jams of K’s choice and drinking margaritas outside the Brussels summer festival entrance.

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This guy was amazing - Tobias van Hattem. I found him on Facebook but I don't know if there are any videos of him playing. He rolls the piano around to wherever he's playing.

This guy was amazing – Tobias van Hattem. I found him on Facebook – and here he is playing price tag, haha. Awesome.. He rolls the piano around to wherever he’s playing.

I did some research on the big statue in the middle of Grote Markt. It depicts the hero of Antwerp Brabo cutting the hands off the giant who used to take money from ships who wanted to enter Antwerp's harbor (because if the sailors didn't pay they suffered the same fate). It's actually a major swipe at the Dutch who used to restrict traffic going into the harbor - HA!

I did some research on the big statue in the middle of Grote Markt. It depicts the hero of Antwerp Brabo cutting the hands off the giant who used to take money from ships who wanted to enter Antwerp’s harbor (because if the sailors didn’t pay they suffered the same fate). It’s actually a major swipe at the Dutch who used to restrict traffic going into the harbor – HA!

because why not.

because why not. oh, and that’s an inflatable dragon behind me, haha.

grote markt. very typical flemish architecture I learned.

grote markt. very typical flemish architecture I learned.

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Today was the last day of my internship (I’m really sad about this), but I need to pass in my thesis by… oh, tonight. ReadysetGO.

Also! Thank you to the newly-discovered-by-me blog Journeys of the Fabulist that gave me a shout out on her recent post about visiting New York and Boston. I hope I was helpful! 🙂

Days 49 & 50: MIM & PRICE.

MIM
On Saturday I set off an adventure with my camera in the morning. I wanted to knock something off my bucket list, so the Museum of Musical Instruments it was. I wandered from West of the city center all the way to Parc Royale and the museum (Note, this long walk is important later.)

jenclinton/08052013aFrom MIM’s website: “Besides the well-known Scottish version, many more countries appear to have their own type of bagpipes, Tibetan monks make musical instruments out of the bones of their deceased colleagues, and African slit drums are the local form of Twitter.”

I don’t know what genius decided the concept for MIM but I’m kind of in love. You get a little transponder thing in your language of choice when you walk in, and there are markings on the floor that you stand on in front of most of the instrument displays. Once you’re in the right place, you hold the transponder to your ear, so you actually hear what the instrument sounds like! I mean really. That’s the point of an instrument right? It was so simple it was obvious, but it sort of blew my mind when I realized what the deal was, haha. So clever.

Many of the pieces were from Eastern Europe (lots of Romania), and most were instruments I’d never heard of. I apologize in advance for picture quality but lighting was definitely not conducive to picture taking, not with my little camera dude anyway. Let’s give out some superlatives, shall we?

Creepiest :

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn. I thought a femur flute would be a great alliteration but would be decidedly less intimidating in battle I suppose.

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn from Tibet.

Most ornate:

I'd be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it.

I’d be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it. She’s so dainty.

Most BA to play (listen to it here):

the SERPENT from RUSSIA.

the SERPENT from RUSSIA, distant cousin of the tuba.

Most difficult to play:

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

Best Smile:

:D!

:D!

Best Dressed:

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

Most “what the?” moment:

"it's a little weird that we're blowing into animal intestines, ya? let's cover it in fur so it's less conspicious. much better."

“it’s a little weird that we’re blowing into animal intestines, ya? let’s cover it in fur so it’s less conspicious. much better.”

Personal favorite:

phish guitar?

phish guitar?

I will say this though, I did enjoy the museum but it would  be much better for you if you have a pretty deep-seated appreciation for classical music. I only appreciate it in small doses, usually when working, which is not something pleasant to think about on a free Saturday afternoon. That’s probably why the nature museum was the one for me. 🙂

On the walk back I took a few more pictures of the city. Isn’t she pretty?

PRICE
So Sunday was designated write-your-damn-thesis day. It went, eh. Okay. I took a break go to the insanity that is Garde du Midi on a Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately as I was walking through the crowd my right knee just gave out for no reason at all. I’m like, hello old lady. I was able to put weight on it fine so I kept on keeping on. I actually got some delicious food today, look look! And aside from the provolone I didn’t spent more than… seven euro?

pêche, pastèque, fraises

pêche, pastèque, fraises

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

When I got back to my work space I tried to stretch my legs out to the chair on the other side of the table. OWWWW OWOW OW. So I can walk on it but I can’t straighten it. Gah. My several-knee-surgeries boyfriend suggested a strained tendon and PRICE – pressure, rest, ice, compression elevation. It’s not swollen or anything, and I’m sure it’s from walking so much in not-made-for-distance-walking shoes. Just PLEASE no crutches, they don’t have normal ones here. Everyone uses the hand ones and not the underarm ones and excuse the vanity but it would make me look all the more pitiful.

Sad face. I should probably wear my sneakers to work for a while. I’ll be the only one in BRUSSELS wearing running shoes, I think even the women who run wear cute flats at the very least, haha. Ah well. Body says slow down, you better darn well listen.

Day 47 & 48: I try baking. Curse you, Pinterest.

Happy August! 90% of my office left on holidays this week, so we’ve been trying to fit all the work in we need to do together into a very short time period. I’m going to miss the whole group. I baked some Italian almond cookies as a goodbye present/early happy-birthday-to-me last night. They’re goooood.

This goes out to all my friends who are on Pinterest, and have discovered for themselves that pins are never what they seem.

Cookies baking in the oven.

Cookies baking in the oven!

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F. Panic, check on cookies, let the oven cool down, moving on.

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner's sugar and milk, could this be easier?

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner’s sugar and milk, could this be easier?

apparently yes, yes it can be.

apparently yes, yes it can be. oh look, i match my bowl.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

 

So the blog has gone from photography to travel to food, basically. I’m okay with it. (Funny, today’s daily prompt was about origins of your blog – she was all photography six months ago! See my about me, now en français aussi!) It’ll be back to travel and photography this weekend – thesis on one day and adventures on the other! And my poor neglected camera can come back out of hiding.

Day 46: Plan de Dieu.

Some of you might have seen the post that went up earlier this week titled honesty & anxiety. It’s private now. It was a little too much to share, but it was cathartic to get off my chest. Mostly it had to do with the nerves surrounding the job search and flying home into  unemployment. I’m not a girl who likes having a plan, I’m a girl who lives and dies by having a plan. It’s just my nature and I can’t do much about it. (On a related note, I could feel myself being annoying in Italy when I kept asking what the plan was. Sorry about that, E. haha)

I’ve got a whole pile of job applications out there. Some I like a lot more than others, some I think I’m much more qualified for than others. But it’s summer, so it seems like many orgs are dealing with the hiring process post holidays. One position that I really loved is listed alongside HR manager… so I’m not holding my breath there.

I was in a crap mood after work so I went to the food store to de-stress. Don’t laugh. It’s like clothes shopping but much more practical, haha. Right before I left I decided to wander down the wine aisle, and one of the bottles caught my eye: Plan de Dieu. I wasn’t 100% sure if plan was the same word in English and French but I thought, huh. God’s plan. (Turns out I was right.) My friend recently reminded me that I can only help my future so much, I’m not really the one in charge here. So I thought what the heck, it’s a good reminder. I bought it.

I came home and checked my phone, and there was an email for me requesting an interview. I literally leaped for joy. 😀

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Since most of my colleagues are going on holidays within the next week, we had an ice cream send off party today. Here are some of the people that make work so darn enjoyable. 🙂

Day 45: You’d think I was hungry or something.

I really, really enjoy cooking. My living situation right now is not terribly conducive to doing so however (sharing a small fridge with 6 other people; no real oven; not much counter space), so I’m afraid my skills are heading downhill. I’ve been making lots of sandwiches for lunch (mozz/prosciutto/roma tomato/ciabatta) and lots of veggie things for dinner.

For example, last night:

Step 1, Cut your veggies. (Zucchini, onion, mushroom, tomato.)
Step 2, Heat in an oiled pan on the stove, in that order. Add spinach.
Step 3, Break a few eggs over the top. Curse yourself for not using the non-stick pans.
Step 4, Melt mozzarella into it. Eat the whole pan guilt free.

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And I’m still not very used to the food shopping situation here. I talked about my first food shopping trip here; I think next time I go to Carrefour or DelHaize I’ll take more pictures to show you my progress. Or non-progress, since I discovered Tiramisu gelato, haha.

There have been a few times that I try something and say OH MAN that tastes just like ______. Or I was looking for something for a recipe, and I had to come up with the closest thing because graham crackers just plan don’t exist in Belgium. So of course these equivalents aren’t exact, but I’ve been trying to come up with a list of acceptable substitutes.

Spa Citron = Sprite

La Beurre crackers = graham crackers

Toast and cheese spread (la vache qui rit! translates to the laughing cow :)) = bagel and cream cheese

Nutella = peanut butter (of course)

I’ve also swapped in fresh mozzarella for pretty much every instance I eat cheese now here, shredded cheese is so expensive! And cheddar isn’t easy to find sadly.

Fortunately I’ve been trying to eat more veggies and less processed food here, which makes shopping easier as long as you know the french word for flaxseed is graines du lin and zucchini are courgettes and what not. I did get busted the other day for printing a price sticker for zucchini and sticking it on cucumber but in my defense concombre AND cucumber were not listed as options on the price-sticker-printing-machine. I didn’t think I could explain that quickly enough in French so I pretended I didn’t know my vegetables, haha.

Other food quirks I’ve noticed…

The loaves of bread are made on site, and not sliced. Most grocery stores worth their salt have a free machine you push the bread through and it slices it automatically. I haven’t tried this yet.

I wish I actually liked orange juice because some of the stores near me have a fresh juicing machine. It’s got a pile of oranges near the top and you have to crank the machine and hold a bottle at the bottom to catch all the fresh juice.

One of my coworkers puts cottage cheese in her soup. Which was orange. Sorry if you just ate. hah

It’s becoming progressively more difficult to avoid chocolate in my every day life. I have mixed feelings about this, haha.

Food packaging needs a major overhaul here. I thought we were bad, until the bananas and broccoli started coming shrink wrapped here. Or I’d open a package of crackers to find several small individually wrapped packages inside. Not necessary!

 

All the Way to Day 43. Darn.

I never like to plead for forgiveness when I don’t get around to blogging regularly like I should. For one, I’m not getting paid to blog. (Is that the economics student in me? haha.) Second, that means I’m having too much fun to spend time in front of my computer. So don’t forgive me! 🙂

Here’s some speed blogging for you:

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Italy Day 4: Perugia

On my last day in Italy, before my flight, my friend and I went to the town where she went to university. We stopped for lunch, where I tried some tomato-basil pesto pasta, then I had one more caffe gelato (I mean come on, it’s Italy) from GROM. She did that on purpose so if I really miss it I can actually go to NYC and grab some. Much cheaper than a flight to Italy, haha. Wasn’t that kind? We got some super last minute shopping in too. Yay presents!

The little bridge-looking thing is a Roman aqueduct through Perugia.

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Back in Brussels

Since coming back from Italy, I’ve been trying to get a grip on writing the rest of my thesis. Today I found a place that was not only open on a Sunday but they sell BAGELS! I didn’t realize how hard they were to find until I looked. No picture necessary because you know what bagels look like. I knocked Chaochow City off my bucket list Saturday though. That would be 3,80 euro for lunch thank YOU.

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Thursday was one of the intern’s last day, so we celebrated Friday night with a dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. (On the life bucket list, trying food from a new country. Check.) The whole process was so strange, but it was delicious!

I finally saw the little pissing dude. He’s really small for such a major symbol of the city, haha. Next on the list is zinneke pis, the peeing dog.

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And pissing bees, which just cracks me up. I’ll never look at honey the same way. (Completely non-scientific judgement on my part of course.)

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Otherwise, I have deadlines squared coming up at work, so back to work! Ciao ciao.

Oh ewwwwwww I just realized my flight is a month from today.

Days Twenty Nine to Thirty One: ACK it’s been a month.

What! Seriously. I let this little gem of a milestone slip by unnoticed yesterday.

Except for the fact that I bought myself ice cream, haha. I mean gelato has been relatively cheap and all, but you get one stinkin’ little boule like (thisbig) for 1,50 or 1,60. I went to the grocery store around the corner to see what I could find, and now I understand that I will need to buy a cooler to sneak a stack of these home.

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Holy moly. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce hiding around the sides and like, a pound of cocoa powder. In case you don’t understand this level  of deliciousness yet, here’s a close up.

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I won’t show you the aftermath, haha. (No, it’s not gone. I’m not totally crazy).

I’ve been working and thesis-ing mostly this week, but I’ve also been checking things off my Brussels bucket list. I went to Place Lux on a Thursday night with all the Euro Parliament interns + JB…

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We also ate the fish and chips at Bia Mara… best meal I’ve had in Brussels, besides Soleil Afrique.

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I also had my Guinness at Michael Collins…

jenclinton/07172013awhich was followed up by LITERALLY the weirdest set of nachos I’ve ever had in my life. Now, to be fair, some of the best nachos at home are from an Irish pub. Like, go out of your way to go there and eat tortilla chips and guac and sour cream and olives and peppers and omg. But when I ordered Mexican nachos at the Irish pub in Belgium, I ended up with American doritos, Thai sweet chili sauce, guac and cheese. For real? I was told it was an interestingly misguided decision, and I couldn’t say it better myself.

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My retinas, ow. (And of course there was the museum trip.)

There will be some more radio silence this week, as I’m off to ITALIA! Good thing I’m flying or I might get off in Switzerland or something. Here’s some more of life through my phone this week:

I think I’m hungry. There’s a heck of a lot of food in this post. The best part of traveling is for sure expanding your food horizons, as long as that’s the only thing that’s expanding. Amiright?

Side note, exciting news! I was interviewed by a (pretty big if I do say so myself) newspaper today about my environmental policy work. Can’t wait to share! 🙂

Day Twenty Eight: Natuurwetenschappen

Or the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, I should say. I took my six year old self to the museum armed with a student ID, an empty afternoon, and my camera. Let me just tell you. GAH I fell in love with their little Arctic display. I’ll show you. Warning, tons of pictures. Too late, you’re already here. Here’s a peek.

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First let me explain why I went. A few months ago I came across this little youtube channel called The Brain Scoop. A grad student in Montana, Emily Graslie, talks all about ecology and evolution and why animals are the way they are. She worked in the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum at her university, including helping to prepare animals for their collection. Taxidermy! What makes her story so amazing, besides the whole women-in-science-girl-power-thing, is that her little vlog blew up big time. She just landed a job at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (big leagues!) as their cultural ambassador. Smart, smart museum they are. Her videos have changed my outlook on museums, especially for natural history. I had to go and see how the Belgians did it! I wanted to ask a million questions about their animals, where the whale bones came from and why did someone donate a tortoise and what happens when their elephant finally falls apart. I didn’t know how to ask in French, and seeing as only the first floor of the museum had english translations, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to understand the answers.

REGARDLESS. I loved this quirky little museum.

They’re really big on iguanodons, as there was a major discovery of them in a Belgian mine.

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look at those plates! and spikes! you’re so odd, evolution

I played with an interactive, attacks-you-when-you-move dinosaur, and I got to draw my own Jurassic creature. (He was kind of ugly, but I’m okay with it.) Instead of going up one flight of stairs like a normal person, I scooted all the way up to the top because I too excited for the hall of WHALES. They’re the best. The skeletons were massive of course.

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And they had this quirkly little diorama/book of whale facts. I took a picture of every page.

But it turns out that the whale room was not even my favorite. To get there, you had to walk through the section on the Arctic and Antarctic. You know those aquariums with tunnel tanks? The ones you have to walk through and you’re surrounded by fish and reefs and anemones? Well it looks like that was the original intention but someone realized that stuffed animals require far less maintenance.

Behold! The life-size Arctic diorama.

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I didn’t know whether to laugh at the earnestness of it, or just soak it in as art. I nearly teared up at any rate. NARWHALS, guys. And there were polar bears and walruses and penguins and puffins and an intimidating looking leopard seal. (This section in particular I wanted to ask about the background of the inhabitants.) This little vignette was one of my favorites – don’t go towards the light little dude!

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Back downstairs, I wandered through the biodiver-city exhibit. Urban ecology was one of my first exposures to environmental studies as a career field, and the backyard-biologist thing is great for kids.

There was a hall dedicated to shells too, but the light was a little wonky for picture taking.

The only no-talking room in the museum was full of tarantulas and cockaroaches. I imagined them trading stories about the obnoxious tourists that wouldn’t shut up. This one had a really messy room.

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I would love to learn more about this process, too: the museum had a little corner dedicated to what animals WILL evolve into, fifty million years from now. This was a capybara in the future. He looks straight out of the Avatar set.

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This little stick was one of the earliest indications that humans could do math! It’s like an early ruler, sort of. I wonder if they hated math as much as we seem to now.

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The mascot of the museum was their beloved elephant, a former resident of the Brussels Zoo He was stuffed in the 19th century (!) and restored in 2007, so he’s got quite a patina, shall we say?

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All in all, I learned a lot and am happy to check this one off my Brussels Bucket List. Thanks R-BINS!