Day Twenty Six: Dîner Chez Moi

When I worked in Salem, my favorite place to get lunch was A&J King Bakery on Central Street. Incredibly sweet people serving incredibly fresh and delicious food. You should probably go there for lunch… right now. I usually ordered the same thing every time, and it inspired me to make my own salad sandwich here. Except ‘artisan’ is just ‘corner market food.’ (Sort of like how ‘military time’ is just, you know, time. Still getting used to that.)

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The bread’s the most important part. Pick something crusty, preferably still warm. If you pick the bag that calls it nutritious then you can feel better about the amount of bread you’re about to consume. Mmmm.

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Then the greens! (Side note – I can’t believe how over-packaged some of the foods are here. No recyclable boxes here. Even the apples and bananas come shrink wrapped.)

 I forgot to take a picture of the next part, but I made my own salad dressing with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and herbs de provence. Then I let the cheese hang out in the mix for a while.

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Sheep’s milk! I thought it was goat cheese all along. Regardless, it was REAL tasty. Now spread your homemade dressing on your crusty bread, sprinkle the balsamic-y feta cheese on your greens, and admire your handiwork.

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And don’t forget the vino.

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It’s a beautiful day outside, so you should probably open the window and let the breeze in while you’re eating.

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Immediately close the curtains when you see the creep across the street watching your every move.

No, not him. The vampire cat upstairs.

we're not friends, you can't have any.

we’re not friends, you can’t have any.

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Days Twenty Four & Twenty Five: Funemployment

Not here! I didn’t lose my job. I’m okay, mom.  🙂

I’ve started to give more serious thought to what’s going to happen after I leave Europe. Part of me wishes I didn’t have to, but I know that come August so many things are going to change that it won’t be the same anyway. Everyone will be on holiday or going home, my apartment will no longer be my apartment, and whatever warm days we’ve been having (75! yess!) will be over. Maybe I’ll come back someday but I understand that this fall is probably not that time.

So back on the job hunt it is! There isn’t so much out there now as there was in the spring, but I’m trying to be creative and find new avenues and organizations. There are a few consulting firms I have my eye on, but I think policy analysis or something in the environmental-policy-economy mix is where I will be firmly planted.

There are just so many being-an-adult things going through my head that my job and adjusting to another country have become easily the least of my worries. But enough of that!

Aside from job hunting, I spent Wednesday at my friend’s beauuuutiful apartment. Flat. Whatever. (I’m currently compiling a list of things I’m taking home with me, and I think the word flatmate sounds so much better than housemate. I’ll have to add it to the list.) And Tuesday was catching up with everyone and their mothers. KL, I think we Skyped for two hours? I’m okay with that.

Tonight I’m going to Place du Luxembourg – every Thursday, the hundreds of interns from the European Parliament get together in the plaza for happy hour. So excited!

I’ve been really bad at taking pictures and there’s only so many pictures of my dog I can share with you. Granted I have like, seven thousand of her, but that’s not why you’re here, yeah?

how about a little carlos sant-amsterdam?

how about a little carlos sant-amsterdam?

Day Twenty Three: GATSBY.

But really. GATSBY.

It’s a small miracle that it’s still playing over here, I feel like it came out ages ago. My roommates and I went to see it after I got out of work Monday. I have no problem admitting my love for everything Leonardo DiCaprio does. Inception! Shutter Island! The Departed! Blood Diamond! Romeo and Juliet (also Baz Luhrmann) is one of my top three favorite movies. (Note: I have not seen the Beach or Django Unchained yet, and once was enough for the Titanic because movie rocked my eleven-year-old world.)

I loved Gatsby for everything it made me think and feel, besides being stunningly designed. And the soundtrack! I have always loved Fitzgerald’s story, but Leo brought Gatsby’s desperate infatuation to life for me. Definitely a movie I want to own.

The theatre itself was very similar to those back home, but there were a few slight differences that I noticed. No announcements about smoking, texting, or where the exits were. Unbelievably comfortable seats that were better designed for napping than movie watching. And of course, the subtitles in French and Dutch (you know you’re in Brussels when…).

Afterwards we got ice cream  ‘à emporter’ at Haagen Daazs where A works, and I just had to try Belgian chocolate. They also have a Creme Brulee flavor that doesn’t stand a chance next time I visit her at work. Thanks lady!

(PS. I didn’t post on time yesterday because of crazy deadlines and being the last person to leave the office. And I’m happy to say it wasn’t that I was stressed about deadlines, but it was because I genuinely love what I do here and I didn’t mind staying late to finish. Besides no one eats dinner until late anyway, ha.)

I don’t have movie theatre pictures so here is a completely unrelated photo of my lovely puppy after her summer haircut. She’s the best. 🙂

my pretty precious girl.

my pretty precious girl.

Day Twenty to Twenty Two: Summer is Here/Brussels Bucket List

Friday afternoon, after getting out of work, I realized that I’ve already been here three weeks. Three weeks! I feel like I just stepped off that plane yesterday. I wasn’t going to make a bucket list, since I already have one for life (we’ll save that for another post), but then I realized I only have 5-8 more weeks here.

This weekend I knocked off a bunch of them. It was so beautiful out! Saturday morning I set off to find the Marolles flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle. I love wandering around these little markets even if I don’t often take things home. I fell in love with an oil painting of an old fisherman, but I left him alone because he was a little big to cart home in my suitcase. I’m also trying to save up for a trip in August! I feel like I’m vacationing from vacation.

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someone PLEASE explain this image to me hahaha

someone PLEASE explain this image to me hahaha

The whole area around Place du Jeu de Balle looks a hundred years older than where I work – you even have to take a glass elevator down from the Palais de Justice into the old city. I also discovered this store with hundreds, if not thousands, of carved African and Indonesian sculptures and beads, it was this quirky little oasis surrounded by general stores and sandwich shops.

In the afternoon, I walked to Parc Cinquentenaire for a picnic, then wandered around looking through the crazy sales Brussels has in July.  After my housemate got out of work, she and I and five of our friends walked to the African quarter, Matongé. We had dinner at this delicious little hole in the wall called Soleil Afrique, and let me tell you. I cleaned. my. plate. The whole street is full of Congolese and Cameroonian restaurants, I will most definitely be returning. Afterwards, we skipped over to another patio for espressos (the Italian), martinis (I felt adventurous), and beers (everyone else).

Sunday morning after sleeping in, I met up with Jess at Garde du Midi again. It must have been the weather, but this was more packed than usual. And I mean, elbows up, make sure your feet don’t leave the ground busy. We took the metro downtown for lunch at the Irish Bia Mara, just to eat these fish and chips. Another one for the clean plate club!  When I came back I took a nap with my new book in the garden. Heavenly.

Suggestions for things I can’t miss in Brussels are welcomed and/or encouraged. Five weeks? I got thisss.

Brussels Bucket List: Summer 2013 edition

Bia Mara Fish and Chips

Try at least five Belgian beers (so far Leffe and Blanche)

Snag a table for outdoor dining in Place du Luxembourg, minus the smoking

Zinneke pis

Guinness at Michael Collins, Ave Louise

Coudenberg museum (15th century Brussels ruins)

Eat Congolese food in Matongé, the African quarter

Palais de Justice (can I get in? not sure. currently covered in scaffolding.)

Vintage market at Place du jeu de Balle

Rits Cafe (Monday movie screenings)

Picnic in Parc du Cinquentenaire

Chaochow City, cheap Chinese food

Buy yourself a pair of shoes, girl.

Intern social at Place de Luxembourg, Thursdays

The Atomium

Non-touristy waffles. And more of the touristy kind too.

Photograph all the graffitti pencils I can find (up to five or six now)

Museum of Musical Instruments

Go to the beach. Any beach. Three tons of sand being dumped in the city center counts.

Day Eighteen & Nineteen: I host a UN meeting.

And by that I mean a Fourth of July party. Countries represented were Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Finland, and the good old US. And by “good old,” I mean the Irish person pointed out that Guinness is like 75 years older than my country.

First of all, good on you for knowing that off the top of your head. But what!

I tried to have as many American foods as I could find… by some kind of miracle I found Fluffernutter (which I don’t even eat at home, but whatever). But there was not a single graham cracker to be had in this entire city, gosh darn it. Fortunately there was a non-cinnamon French version, and my Pinteresty version of S’mores was a success. I also made homemade mac n cheese. 🙂

This was the first year I’ve spent the Fourth outside the country. It made the whole day feel rather anti climactic, what with going to work and no fireworks and all. The only event I saw for Americans in Brussels was discounted food (with your US ID) and “live American-style music” at the Hard Rock Cafe in the middle of the city. I was tempted to go just to find out what music they’d be playing.

'merica 2012

‘merica 2012

Last year I had a super, small-town-America Fourth of July – fireworks, little parade, everything. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being home for that, but it also gives me a new sense of pride for the US. When people approached me to say happy fourth, it felt just as good as a happy birthday to me. 🙂

Granted, despite the American pride I have, Snowden is becoming quite the polarizing topic of conversation when you’re talking to a roomful of Europeans. That situation comes up almost daily now, what with the Bolivian president’s plane being searched and jokes being made in meetings about choosing one’s words carefully, ‘because you-know-who is listening.’ (I pictured Snowden cracking up in the Moscow airport when he heard what they did to President Morales. That was a baaaad move.)  I don’t quite know what a happy resolution will be to this situation, or if there is one, but I hope we find one soon.

To all mes amis back home, I hope you had a fabulous Fourth, I miss you, and wave some sparklers for me.

Day Sixteen & Seventeen: Listy McListerson*

*Young House Love reference. They’re sort of my favorite.

Monday and Tuesday were about meeting deadlines and staring at a computer screen until I actually felt dizzy, so let’s make some fun lists instead of recapping work!

Things I didn’t expect to do in Belgium.

  1. Eat raw meat. One of the other interns introduced me to the “American sandwich,” which you would think, you know, is a peanut butter and jelly or something. Nope. It was this literal RAW MEAT PASTE mixed with chopped onions and topped with lettuce (usually topped with fries). And you know what? I ate the whole damn thing. I think I had skipped breakfast that day.
  2. Ice my ankles. One weekend-day of wandering around with my reef sandals on, and boom. Elevated, iced, drugged. Seriously, none of my shoes are comfortable enough for long term walking, and I don’t even see tourists in sneakers. The young ladies of Europe must be trained from a young age to walk on cobblestones in heels, because even with a few years of stumbling through Quincy Market under my belt, I’m doomed here.
  3. Develop a sense of direction. It may be limited, but for those of you who know me and how easily/frequently I get lost and/or use my smartphone (even when I drive to the same place every week for months), this is something of a Big Deal. Mayyybe it’s because I don’t have a car, or GPS, or any support besides a quick Google Map check before I go somewhere. And it’s not like I can always ask for directions (see next list).
  4. Use my phone! If you have Viber or What’s App and my number, I can text you and send you absurd emoticons anytime. Expect something like this (Roo is another favorite blogger).
  5. Feel weird about telling people where I’m from. Not weird as in sorry-I’m-from-the-US weird, but my whole life the answer has been Boston or New England. Now it’s like, I’m from the US. And I’m a minority here. That’s weird.

Things I learned in my first two weeks.

  1. Just because I can ask for directions in French doesn’t mean I have a darn clue what they say back to me.
  2. Dresses > skirts > dress pants > jeans > shorts with tights > shorts > sweatpants.
  3. Calcified water is the devil, and my hair is pretty sad.
  4. Quality Belgian chocolate has a similar cost/weight ratio to printer ink.
  5. Stay updated with your news, always. People will ask America questions and say sorry for America things and you need to know what they are talking about. So far that’s been Snowden, Keystone XL, fires in Arizona, and Obama’s visit – I was the happy one to share the news about DOMA. 🙂
  6. Always carry an umbrella. As long as you have it, it won’t rain.

Things I thought I could live without but really miss. (Or, things I took for granted in the US.)

  1. Sweatpants. Disregard above statement. I need warmer sleep clothes but I want to spend money on nicer things to bring home… so I found a cheap blanket or two instead.
  2. Please excuse the moment of vanity but the other 90% of my makeup and hair products. But I only need like two or three more things.
  3. Sunshine, but this is getting significantly better. “In Belgium, the summer comes on Saturday.”
  4. A clothes dryer. It’s frustrating to have to time your clothes washing appropriately with the weather, so I haven’t washed things often. Fortunately I brought more than enough to wear, and if I’m stuck I can bring them to a laundromat.
  5. More books in English! They’re expensive here, so I’ve been trading/borrowing for reading in my free time.

Things I’m OK leaving behind. 

  1. Eating dinner before 830 PM.
  2. Leaving work before 6PM.
  3. A smartphone. Really.
  4. Expensive wine. 🙂
  5. My car (but only in this context, because I love and miss you Leopold and don’t you forget it.)

To finish up with my crazy amount of pictures from the Netherlands, these are from Annika’s adorable little city Utrecht:

the netherlands from the train. i could get used to that. mostly unedited photo, too, it was that bright outside.

the netherlands from the train. i could get used to that. mostly unedited photo, too, it was that bright outside.

the dom is the highest church tower in the netherlands

the dom is the highest church tower in the netherlands

the canon saint of the dom.

the canon saint of the dom.

i lit a candle, i hope there's no rules against lighting protestant candles as a catholic, haha.

i lit a candle, i hope there’s no rules against lighting protestant candles as a catholic, haha.

i was so proud of myself for remembering all the religious relics were destroyed as part of the reformation. which instantly made this the oldest thing i've ever been in the presence of.

i was so proud of myself for remembering all the religious relics were destroyed as part of the reformation. which instantly made this the oldest manmade thing i’ve ever been in the presence of.

inside the dom

inside the dom

i love the cat sneaking through the old garden. annika said this place isn't usually open to tourists, so he probably watches over it in our absence.

i love the cat sneaking through the old garden. annika said this place isn’t usually open to tourists, so he probably watches over it in our absence.

Day Twelve: The schedule.

7:46AM: Where am I? What time is it? %**&%$! 
Forgot how to set alarm on new phone, wake up twenty minutes late. Rush through a shower anyway, you’re all welcome.

8:25AM: Breakfa…just kidding.
Forgot to buy soy milk too.

8:40AM: BONJOUR pain au chocolat.
The market on my block is dangerously full of pastries and cheap wine, and nearly all markets have a delicious homemade bread section. I just went for the cheapest (.60 euro) option, obviously.

8:45AM: *bip* *bip* *bip*
That’s me playing the absurd, midi-tone-filled game on my cell phone on the metro. Did I mention the phone cost 20 euros?

9:02AM: *bip*
That’s just the elevator. I’m on time-ish. Wait though, how crazy is this? The elevators aren’t enclosed!

9AM – 100PM: …
If you think we’re totally silent for four hours you’re nuts.

100PM: BONJOUR brie.
Lunch is jasmine rice with melted brie and breakfasty potatoes. There were also some leftover sweets from yesterday’s work picnic. I’m going away for the weekend so it’s leftover city for me. I also take a trip to the mall, again, during lunch. I need a blanket, okay? It’s cold, and I don’t want to sleep in my jacket anymore.

100PM – 600P: …
Crunch time, I actually am pretty quiet. There’s a Monday deadline and I might be away for the weekend.

600PM: Special boyfriend!!
Skype date time 🙂

615PM: I didn’t eat enough unhealthy food today. Let’s remedy this.
Two of the interns and myself hop on the metro to “The House of Haagen Daazs” to visit my roommate working there. Almost five euro to sit on the terrasse with one ‘boule’ of ice cream! That’s ball (like, just bigger than a golf ball), not bowl. But caramel cone explosion is SO GOOD.

730PM: Must. See. Gatsby.
No, not tonight. But on the long walk back to the metro, we pass a big theathre and it’s still showing… and I haven’t seen it! (Trishy, I hope you didn’t wait for me.) Now here’s the big question – what language will it be in? (Turns out it depends on what theatre you watch it in.) We’ll be back next week.

800PM: *bip* *bip* *boop* GETOVERHERE!
Metro. Not playing Mortal Kombat, but that would be funny, right? No? Fine, whatever.

830PM: Saiddd one two princes kneel before you, that’s what I said now…
Cooking dinner. The radio plays the WEIRDEST STUFF here, switching between that and French singers. Dinner was spinach and ricotta tortellini (fresh, obviously, because it’s cheaper) with peas and carrots.

845PM: Salut, comment s’est passée ta journée?
Roommate #1 back from Haagen-Daazs. I’ve been trying to work on my French with them. Some days are more successful than others. “I would have rather” was a tough one to translate. Facebook says it’s roommate #2’s birthday, so we whip together a chocolate cake in the microwave. She’s too clever.

1036PM: I don’t think she’s coming home… oops.
Sad cake on the counter. Almost time for another skype date with boy, and then with mom, and then zzzzz.

Note: This is not a typical food day for me, haha. Which just makes it all the more important to remember when I’m dreaming of cheap French cheese and fresh German ice cream.

WAIT WHAT? HAAGEN DAAZS IS AMERICAN?? I feel lied to.

In other news, shout out to my bestie in the whole wide world who is not turning fifty today. Happy birthday anyway! (And wish I had thought to send you an AARP card you old lady.) Miss you like crazy KG!

sistah from another mistah

Day Eleven: Le Chat Noir

Have you ever tried Meetup.com? I’ve used it once before back home, and I’d rate the experience 6/10. I had a much better time with the people I came with rather than meeting people who shared common interests. I decided to give it another go in Brussels, as they have an expat group meeting at the Musée d’Ixelles. My expectations were:

– To meet some young expats. American a bonus but not necessary.
– To meet someone to trade “can you BELIEVE they do that here!” stories with.
– To trade said stories in English.
– To enjoy some lovely art in the most cultured corner of the world.

See, the thing about expectations though…

– I was the youngest person there by psh, twenty years.
– I didn’t meet a single American. They were all European expats that I overheard talking. Which, like I said – bonus but not necessary.
– But in fact I didn’t meet anyone at all, as the group dispersed to take in the museum at their own pace. Which meant, if I so chose, I could walk up to someone and say HI my name is, and they’d be all, 0_o ?? becuase they might not be with our group.
– I didn’t hear a single person in the museum speaking English anyway.
– The French labels describing the different paintings were in way more advanced language than I have at my disposal. I found a packet that generally described why the rooms flowed the way they did, and why the Belgian artists were breaking from the traditional French styles, so I read that as I walked along.
– French artists, I’ve got your back. Matisse, Manet, Gaugin… infinitely better in my (however uncultured it may be) opinion.

Literally. Look at this thing. Who? The what? No.

Anyway, I appreciate what Meetup does, and maybe I’ll try it with des amies in the future. And it was cool to see some Toulouse-Lautrec pieces, the original Chat Noir, and posters from Jules Cheret, so thank you for that Ixelles. (You’ll recognize these Moulin-Rougey pictures from… every college poster sale.)

But I think I’ll stick with exploring the parks of Brussels this summer for now!

king leopold

king leopold II

Day Ten: I lose my tomatoes.

Across the street from our office is a park, which will simultaneously bear witness to prostitutes, young professionals walking (quickly) to lunch, parents pushing their kids on swings, teams of boys playing football, and little old ladies carting prams behind them. It’s quite the microcosm of diversity. One end is a man-made pond (using that definition loosely), and at the other is a playground. But in the middle… well, I’ll let you guess. Ready, set, go.

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During my lunch break today, another intern and I went for a walk to the big Carrefour supermarket nearby. She needed supplies to bake cookies for tomorrow’s work picnic and I went along for moral support. I only brought my wallet, which was smart because I ended up picking up some cherry tomatoes, mozzarella (CHEAPY), and a basil plant for these little dudes. Trying to pick out a wine that would satisfy a diverse group of Europeans was a daunting idea, so I went for something simple. Turns out we “found enough bottles in the office kitchen” to obviate the need to buy some anyway – LOVE you Europe.

Now one of the things I expected about Belgium, along with the rest of this continent, is the heightened sustainability and environmental awareness. They keep their food waste to a minimum at home, have much better public transportation, and live in smaller spaces. Belgium was one of the first countries to implement marine spatial planning (my favorite, of course), and its neighbor to the north, Holland, can claim the title of “the original cool” partly because of their old-school use of windmills. I love that video, by the way, they totally won me over and I’m coming over to say hi.

Belgium’s recycling system is elaborate – different color bins/bags for different materials, they don’t couple outdoor trash bins with recycling ones, and have these Dugtrio looking things placed around the city to collect glass – but different colors go in different bins. Take me back to single stream!!

One of the sustainability features I simultaneously admire and get annoyed as heck about is that there are NO FREE PLASTIC BAGS. I mean it. They’ll charge you 5 or 10 cents, even when you realize after you paid that you forgot your reusable bag. The cashier will ring you up through the register again, no matter how long the line is. Not that I know from experience or anything, of course… anyway. So today, I didn’t even bring my purse to carry things home in, and I refused to pay for a stupid bag. I carried everything back to the office in my arms and ended up feeding cherry tomatoes to happy pigeons by accident. Guuuuh. I heard someone holler “TRISTE!” as they rolled everywhere, and I’m like yeah I get it, it IS sad, thanks for staring. I may also have been eating lunch and walking and talking at the same time. AKA I deserved it.

I tried to make myself feel like less of a tourist by dropping my bags when I got home, turning around and walking to the market a few doors down for a baguette and a bottle of red wine. It worked… and I didn’t drop a thing. I’m okay with happy pigeons, but not intoxicated ones. I think they’d be really sloppy drunks.

If you think reading about Europe & sustainability is cool (if you’re not my mother, I assume that why you’re here, haha), you should LOVE reading about Guatemala & sustainability! One of my friends and former interns is blogging about his summer in Central America putting his environmental engineering degree to good use. Read it here: http://skysetsail.tumblr.com/

Day Nine: Coffee.

I drank it. (What!)

Monday was fine.  We had a late afternoon work meeting on islands and climate change, so I needed to rally. It worked in my favor though, because we had company at our apartment after work and I wasn’t able to nap like I wanted to anyway. One of my roommates works for Haagen-Dazs, so she brought us home Liege waffles.

OhmyGOD the Liege waffles.

Instead of the sugar-coated ones I had, there are literal sugar cubes baked into this kind so that every bite feels like you’re crunching a spoonful of sugar. I mean that it in the best way possible? We put chocolate, pineapple, and strawberries on them (which is totally illegal, you’re supposed to eat them plain) to make the Belgian flag… photos to follow, of course.

I wanted to share some of the pictures I’ve been editing of my walking tours of Brussels (click for better viewing). Enjoy!

parc royal

parc royal

royal palace gardens

royal palace gardens

grand place

grand place

grand place

grand place