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. ūüėÄ

20130731_140410

—-

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. ūüôā

Advertisements

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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!

 

Italia Part 2: Fano & the Mediterranean

This is the second of two posts on my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 here!

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early for our beach day. My friend and her mom and I drove over a mountain or two and headed east towards the Mediterranean! [note: apologies for minimal photo editing today, i’m out of time this week!]

Part of the issue with talking in three languages is that I miss a lot of what the plans are, so Saturday was full of surprises for me, despite my friend having told me in at least one of the languages what was happening. What I definitely understood was that there is abig weekend market in Fano, and I would be there. If you know me IRL, I can shop. We’ll call it a strength and a weakness.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

jenclintohn/07262013q

jenclintohn/07262013p

I was far too busy actually shopping to truly capture the feel of that market, and besides, I couldn’t ask in Italian if I could take pictures. (Puis-je prendre des photos? was a sentence I learned on day one in Brussels, especially after pissing off some fishmongers at Garde du Midi). I’d call it a success though – I may or may not be coming home with a new pair of Italian shoes. ūüôā I felt like Cinderella.

After the market it was time to head to our… campground? Here was surprise #1 of the day. I somehow completely missed that my friend’s family has a campsite on the sea, complete with a car trailer, and that I’d be meeting the extended family over lunch, haha. We showed up and this delicious plate was staring me in the face.

jenclinton/07262013i

It was made¬†with all kinds of fish, from shrimp to clams to lobsterlike¬†things to bony white fish from the market. In the top corner is a zucchini salad, and we also had green beans, white rice, and fresh Italian bread. Surprise #2 – Italian bread tastes completely different from home, it’s far less salty but equally as¬†useful for sopping up tomatoes and herbs. Mmmm¬†mmm. They got a kick out being able to talk to me in “francese,” but I liked listening to the Italian¬†surround me while I was eating.

This was my first view of the Mediterranean.

jenclinton/0762013j

I did what any sensible ocean lover would do and walked right out to the water and swam. It only lasted about ten seconds before my friend was sent¬†to calmly ‘rescue me’ because ‘people have died swimming after eating as much as I did beforehand.’ Seems a lot more severe than the ‘wait 20 minutes or you’ll have a stomach ache’ I was used to hearing, haha. I didn’t want to concern anyone though, so I “forced” myself to nap in the sun for a bit, haha. Did I mention how much I love this country yet?

We were on the beach for hours, collecting shells and playing with the one year old in our company. One thing that was different from home was the people walking up and down the beach selling things, like knock off purses, bracelets, hair wraps, and pinwheels. The only time I’ve really seen that was in Haiti (and I still wear the necklace I bought from that man to this day). Not only that but they’re walking around in jeans and long sleeve shirts! Eesh.

When we got hungry again, my friend took me to the best little piadina¬†restaurant in Italy. I’m not even sure if it was in a town it was so remote. But surprise #3, piadina is REAL darn good.

jenclinton/0762013n

jenclinton/0762013t
Especially when accompanied by Italian beer. I got prosciutto, rucola, and stracchino. Oh look at that, we’re back to the best meals of my life list. Deliciously filling and warm and gooey and quintessentially Italian.

I learned about six or seven words while I was there – per favore, ciao, grazie, si, francese, inglese, and machina, haha. Putting on my (miserable) Italian accent even allowed me to order a meal for myself by pronouncing the menu appropriately and throwing “e vino per favore” on the end. I was a little proud, though I’m sure the waitress choked back laughter when she heard me speak.

In my last post I mentioned our drive to the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. This time it was to see an ancient Roman tunnel carved out of the mountain. The plaque on the outside said 76 AD. Like… thirty years post Jesus, we’re talking. Italy, you’re SO OLD. But you’re aging so gracefully so it’s okay. ūüôā

The tunnel was really small, but this picture should give you an idea of how fast you’re supposed to drive through it regardless.

jenclinton/0762013o

On the other side we pulled over because the sun was hitting the mountains just right. I love the color of the water and the sun together.

jenclinton/0762013u

Too tired to continue our day, we passed out as soon as we got home… again. I’ve never fit so much into a vacation and yet felt so relaxed! Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the 16th century farmhouse we ate at, with an infinity pool next door. If it sounds like heaven… that’s because it was.

buona notte, italia

buona notte, italia

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 Seven & Eight: Playing tourist

After settling all my affairs Saturday, I hopped on the metro and let myself wander without a map throughout Brussels. There was a music festival going on this weekend, so if I stumbled into some live music – lovely. If I found a museum I wanted to try – probably better, because it’s raining again. And if I find waffles, you know what’s going to happen there. Just by following the sounds of music and random groups of people* I ended up smack dab in the middle of tourist country, Brussels.

I can’t even tell you the names of all the things I saw – I really do need a walking/biking tour to understand the rich history here. (Fun fact I did learn is that Belgium recently broke Iraq’s previous record for length of time existing without an official government in place. Ha!) At one point I managed to stumble into this gorgeous plaza with intricate, soaring buildings all around me. Statues and gilded pillars studded the facades, and people all around me were walking in slow circles with their camera above their heads. (What did we do before panorama mode?) I asked the nearest British tourist to please not laugh at me and tell me where I was – I had found Grand Place! (Don’t ask me what that means, though. Not yet.) I took pictures in zooms of three to show you some random details.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surrounding Grand Place are lots of famous chocolate shops, lacemakers, and countless restaurants. I stopped in one for a drink and chatted with the waiter trying to rope people into the restaurant. His 20-something friend stopped by, another waiter, and when he found out I was American, he bellowed, “OBAMAAA!!!” which of course made me happy. He asked me to come to his restaurant so he can make me a plate of mussels, and I could kindly please take it to “meester president obama” because he would be so honored to have the president eating his food. Don’t know how far past security I could get but hey, the thought counted.

Other major Saturday accomplishments included securing a local phone, my monthly metro pass, and walking around so much I was icing my ankles all night.

Sunday afternoon, I met two of the other interns for the market at Garde du Midi. This is the market I went to, very first thing after arriving in Belgium. I saw more of it this time, from the clothes to the wallpaper to the cutlery demonstrations and, of course, oh lordy the food. The expense for onion and garlic surprised me but I also got a pineapple and some bananas anyway. OH and those naan wraps, thank you anonymous internet tipster that told me find them. In the market there’s one really long booth close to the bridge where you can order custom-made naan wraps.¬† I got one with chevre, olives, artichokes, figs, sundried tomatoes, and an olive/pickle/celery mix. If it wasn’t so darn filling I would have had two. I also tried their tea – supersweet but the hot drink was good for a drizzly day.

Next I wandered around Avenue Louise, one of the shopping areas, afterwards. The Chanel store is looking very scottish-kilt-meets-grune-meets-80s-makeup-mannequin these days. We dropped into a super great cafe for lattes in the afternoon too, Workshop, and traded travel stories and baby pictures on Facebook. We also found some wonderful live music – I highly recommend you listen to some Ga√ętan Streel. For different songs, he sounded like Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol, Jack Johnson, and Marcus Mumford. After our adventures, I trekked back to my new apartment, pineapple in tow, and learned the history of my new residence.

Which means… new house tour coming soon! In the meantime, here are some pictures from my two days of walking through the capital of Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Yes, I did that. I look less like a target for thief-ing when I’m in a group, and if I hover just far enough back the group doesn’t notice

PS – If you want to read something much funnier than I will ever write on expat living… please please PLEASE read Oh God, My Wife is German. I was peeing my pants laughing at his wedding tips and the story of getting a haircut by a Turkish man in Germany.

Day Four: The supermarket.

On the bus ride home today I realized just how completely my life has changed in ten days. I went from essentially having a 2 bedroom apartment to myself in the woods, to sharing with six people in a house in a neighborhood I’ve been told not to hang out in alone. I had a car and access to all my money; now I have public transit and a very small sum I’m making work for as long as possible. My shoes are pretty much all useless, my back hurts from carrying everything with me, and still, I’m happy. I very much feel like an outsider, but seeing the similarities between all the different cultures is a good reminder. Like hearing a little kid yelling at his mom in Arabic, and she responds in French, and I still understand exactly what SIT DOWN WHILE THE BUS IS MOVING / NO GO AWAY means in either language.

But the supermarket. Guys. I’m lost.

I didn’t take any pictures inside today, but I did take pictures of my loot. (Bought, not stolen… Don’t worry, no international arrests.) The first supermarket I walked in, I literally recognized two brands of food: Ben & Jerry’s, and Philadelphia cream cheese. Think about how big Stop n Shop, Shaw’s, Big Y are… and then to see NONE of that here. (It also freaks me out that Palmolive is a major shampoo brand here – dish soap much?) It all came to 23 euro something and please don’t make me convert it because my bank account cries a little when I do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tomorrow is finding Zara. Seriously. Jeans were a horrible choice today, for so many reasons. Mainly, it’s toasty. Especially on the bus. (I took the wrong one for a bit today too. Dammit. Need to figure out the monthly pass thing! But I might need passport photos and everything? Ergh. Research for tomorrow.)

Now I’m going to go make dinner, even though 745PM is EARLY, according to this crazy continent, because Tommy V told me I could.