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Showing posts from September, 2012

Amsterdam | So High You Can't Move

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Amsterdam, the home of near-naked women standing in a bath of red light, coffee shops that sell marijuana laced brownies, and joints to anyone trying to escape reality. Vegas has nothing on Amsterdam. Welcome to the true Sin City. It's a place so high on life, you'll find yourself at some point during your visit sitting upon the city's pavement, head leaned back against the facade, smoke pouring out of the nearby door, wondering where and who you are.

It's a vibrant, wonderful city that whispers in English from every nook and cranny, often better than most southern accented Americans do. It's quite an odd phenomenon having spent the last six weeks in Brussels. Amsterdam is filled with gluttony that ranges from the New York hot-dog, to native Netherlandish food. One night we were greeted by a singing Italian man as we ate dinner just outside the red-light district, the next we ate from a curbside cafe as the smells and sounds of Amsterdam fell upon our table.

However…

Conviction of the Heart

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Welcome to your life, there's no turning back.   -Tears for Fears

How can I possibly keep going down this path, blinded by reality, faithful to my convictions that a destiny awaits before me? Faith is rather scary word, especially when I use it to describe my life but yet I find it most accurately reflects my hope, my dreams, and most of all my future. Not in a religious sense, but maybe a "religious sense", that somewhere out there is the life I will live.
Never having figured out how the paths we chose yesterday seem to never lead to our expected arrivals, I'm never-the-less grateful to advent the terminus of choices from the past. So why do we continue to expect the outcomes of tomorrow to follow the actions of the present? How long must I wait to change? It's been too long coming. Certainly I know that life is never planned, life is lived at one moment at a time, in the dark, randomly circling in chaos waiting for the precise combination of fortune to make livi…

Thank You Wonderland : Brussels

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Somewhere in the past my life split off into this tangent. The moment it happened I fell into a reality, a life which forever what reasons became my life here in Wonderland otherwise known as Brussels. Life here isn't "normal" (meant in the nicest way), you can't explain it to someone who doesn't live here. You can't define what life is here. There's bad here, but it's usually outweighed ten-fold by the good. The mood of the city can shift from one neighborhood to another. One moment in your in deep solace, in a grey building with a vacant cold-war building and Dutch speaking friends and mindset, the next your in a rainbow building with puckered lip French people listening to vulgar songs and who seem to arrive drunk-on-life and always seem to have food in their hand. (I stereotype of course, which you're free to hate me for.) My American mind wants to make sense out of it all, but after a month you start adhering to the need of compartmentalizati…

Burger Republic | Best Take-Away in Brussels?

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It would seem my gastronomy radar is improving the more I stay here. Every time you think you find the best  food in town, it's overshadowed by the next meal. However this one does not come cheap. It's a $16 (12 Euro) burger that's out of this world. It could just be amazing since it's one of the few places in town that actually caters real American style hamburgers (though not really).

So what's the deal? Try hand baked bread made daily, homemade truffle sauce, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, gobs of cheese and Irish Angus ground beef cooked to perfection. I'm not saying it's the best burger I've ever had, but it definitely is one of the top-three. It's uniqueness factor alone is unrivaled, with the truffle sauce being the culinary indulgence that makes this sandwich worth 12 Euros. No not really. $16 dollars for a burger? I must be out of my mind! (That's just the burger... fries and drinks are extra.)

Burger Republic is at Place Flagey. It's the …

Forging A New Path

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Expectation leads to disappointment. Surely when I began this adventure I had many expectations. Ideas, hopes, and dreams of what this adventure was to be, and the many people I had yet to meet, and how they'd be a part of it. Life never turns out the way you think it will, and indeed this journey hasn't either. Not to say that any of this should be construed to be negative, because it shouldn't. Life here in Wonderland is truly fantastic. It's just that, in order to move forward, in order to stop myself from constantly trying fulfill those expectations, it's time for me to break free. It's time to forge a new path, a future of chaos, unexpectedness, where up is down, where I shed my reliance on those imaginary phantoms I had longed to manifest into reality. The truth is, those people, those places, only truly ever existed in my head, and it's now time to give myself over to a world without limits and forge this new path. A path distinctly mine, a life whic…

Love Versus Need

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I walk off the Marius Renard tram, down the escalator at Saint Guidon where I stand beside a trench of cables and rails. The ground begins to shake, a breeze begins to blow against my face, my hair begins to tousle, and a roar from the dark tunnel indicates my pending train. For a moment I close my eyes, and I brace for the impact fearful that when I open them I won't be here in Brussels. That I won't be the person who I've become as a result of this journey. That it was all imagined, a dream, and I'll wake up in that horrible cubicle of corporate Hell I once defined as my life.

The last five years of my life have been like a whirlwind of running, flying, and amazing times. I wouldn't trade this life for fortune and fame, nor would I ever return to who I was before: that shadow of a person, from which I've now come a long way from. (Thank you Nickelback and Avicii.)

Life it seems has a way of teaching you lessons. Some of us refuse to be learned. It took me a mon…

Hot Dogs in Brussels?

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Perhaps you think I fell of the metro and hit my head. A hot-dog in Brussels? That's what I thought too. There are these ironic deficiencies of very obviously popular foods among Brussels diverse gastronomy network, but then in some tiny corner of town you'll find it, often re-invented with a European twist. Such is the case at HopDog, a small restaurant situated in a crack of the busiest shopping area in Brussels (near De Brouckere). Here's the thing, it's idyllic, and what they're doing there is amazing. Through the window, or a two seat counter you can order up a gourmet hot-dog in rather unique packaging. No this isn't the New York dirty water hot dog, it's artisan bread, high-end sausages, and toppings like crunchy BBQ that round out one of the best take-aways I've had. Which is rather ironic since I'm in Belgium not the U.S.

Lawrence Peter once said "The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog, it feeds the hand that bites it." Indeed I…

Do Good: Serve The City

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Someone once said “Virtue is incomplete without practical action.” I tend to agree. To me the deed is far more important than the "vow". In America there's a deficiency of secular organizations/movements allowing those from all varieties of life to come together in a single unified team to change the world for the better.  A place where we set aside our differences to make a dent in the universe. It's not that I don't want to be a part of an organization like that in the U.S., but in my particular corner of the world, saying you're an atheist generally closes the door in your face. Tell them you're an atheist who wants to mission not for proselytizing but to merely to do good and feel needed, and likely their head will explode.

Despite only my limited experience with Serve The City, it appears that this aspect is the truly unique part of the organization:  that it welcomes anyone, from any belief (or non-belief) to give something back to this world. It'…

What Do You Do When All Your Dreams Have Come True?

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So you know that scene in the middle of the movie where the lead character is in some foreign country on a bike, moped, or motorcycle flying through the city at break-neck speeds, hair blowing in the wind, and then she puts her arms outs, her head back, and we know as an audience in that moment she has found brilliance, even happiness?

Today I rented a Villo bike in Brussels and did just that. I flew through the business district weaving in and out of cars. It started to rain, but I didn't care. Bumpy cobblestone roads? Who cares! Of course I was supposed to be reading endless chapters on economics with math functions that make me want to gouge my heart out with a broken beer bottle, but I couldn't take it anymore.

So here I am, in the midst of my dream-come-true, realizing the answer to my question I posed several years ago in a article I called What do you do when all your dreams come true? It's from one of my favorite movies called Coyote Ugly, based upon the experiences …

La Drague | The Art of Seduction and Harassment

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La Drague, as in to pick up, as in the initial verbal word play of courting is a popular topic in Brussels right now. Not because the art of seduction is a good thing, but that La Drague has become associated with something very, very bad: harassment. More importantly, the "cat-calling", or often offensive sexist slang or vulgarities that are commonly associated with harassment of women. In America we iconized the concept through construction workers whistling at the passerby woman. Here, in Brussels it's much, much worse.

My first encounter with harassment on the streets of Brussels was last year on a visit to see some friends. Not knowing where anything was or where to go in our unguided free time, me and Shannon ended up in a neighborhood I now know as Schaerbeek. While parts of Schaerbeek are safe, and void of this phenomenon for the most part, other parts are colloquially know as Petite Moroc or La Capitale du Moroc, (little Morroco) in reference to the very high eth…

Durums, the Best Street Food in Brussels?

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So I travel different then most people. Definitely a lot different than most Americans. I would rather have cheap street food from a cart vendor in some back alley than spend 25 Euros on sit down meal. Don't get me wrong, I like a good evening out with friends and wine for the socialization, but when it comes to the really, really good food- I've just found it usually comes from the unlikeliest of places: street carts, hole-in-the walls, and sidewalk vendors.

Brussels is of course known for street-food with their often permanently anchored fritures and gaufre vendors in commune squares selling fries and waffles late into the night. Of course I've already mentioned the pitas from Pita Alley, and the numerous combinations of foods you get from this restaurants. It's all delicious. Then again, I'm always looking for that next fix. I tried the mitrailletes (sub) which I had hoped would be more like the French's Americain (not the Belgian version of minced raw meat w…

Nostophobia | The fear of going home

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I've now been in Belgium three weeks. I'm feeling comfortable here, though I've seen several of my fellow students suffer quietly in their discomfort for their surroundings, their culture shock (difficulty shopping, refusing to go out, etc.). I think I'm quite honestly to the point I'm fairly adjusted. I may butcher the hell out of French, but I can get what I want, and do. I think I've got the Metro down, and can go most anywhere. I'm independent, yet building an ever growing social network. My worse fear now is not really anything about adapting to Belgium, my condition is: Nostophobia, the fear of going home.

Look I know it's not rational, I've just got here, but in another week almost 1/4 of my time living here will be gone. Soon my dream, though fulfilled, will go back into its glass case to become nothing but memories, a glorified dream I can say I once lived. What I mean to say is I love it here, and as much as I look forward to Christmas with…

How to get to Waterloo

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Napoleon has always been near and dear to my heart. A man who conquered a world for a single woman? What's more is this man was amazing, and despite his dark side, you can't doubt that he fundamentally changed the world, perhaps even for the better. So my admiration for the man has always led me to want to visit the place of his downfall: Waterloo. Having had visited Brussels twice before moving here, and never having visited it, I was certain I would this time.

Indeed I now understood the kind and gentle persuading by my friends that thwarted my visiting Waterloo in previous trips, as the journey isn't exactly a short one. By all means it's a day-trip by public transportation unless you own/rent a car. Ask most locals about Waterloo and they say "it's just a big hill", which of course is similar to the response when I first visited Stonehenge: "It's just a bunch of rocks." No you idiot, it's a bloody time-machine! Where in the world can …

Pita Alley

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It's called the Rue Des Pitas, or Pita Street in Brussels Belgium, and it's where you'll find some awesome Greek food, most importantly gryos and pitas. An entire street off the southwest corner of Grand Place is filled with nothing but Greek restaurants.

Which of course makes you wonder, how that happens. Because for the most part all of them sell the same stuff. While I'm certain each has their own flavor, and much like Butcher's Street the phenomenon of similar ethnic food vending isn't uncommon, but what makes one Greek person say to themselves: "Where should I put my pita shop? Oh yes, right next to the other pita shop in the alley." Is it some cover-up for illegal activities, or is there just that much demand for Greek food in Brussels, that the competition doesn't matter?

I went to find out.  One of the things I'm learning is that most restaurants will love to have you sit down and order 25 Euros worth of food and drink, or you can, if yo…

The cost of water in Brussels

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So I'm not setting out to offend anyone, and my limited views are just that, limited.... but I've noticed some interesting trends I think that are worth talking about.

In America, I'd say most people aren't ecological friendly, and they're okay with that. "I drive an SUV, I don't recycle, I take 2 hour showers, yada, yada, yada.... It's my God given right" And we all know how I feel about that. I live (in the U.S.) in a house were every room has motion sensors to shut off lights, where water-flow is restricted with the latest fittings, I'm a member of the electrical "shut-off club" (not sure what it's really called) where I allow the power company to control my A/C unit in the summer. I have programmable thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, yet I live a really great awesome life, that's cheap by US standards.

I realize I'm a rarity in America, and when you arrive in Brussels everyone tells you how ecologically friendly they are,…

Best Frites (Fries) in Brussels

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Yesterday, I attempted to obtain the best waffle in Belgium, today I went in search of the best frites, or as we call it in America, Freedom Fries. After staring at myself in the windows of Vesalius's Pleinlaan 5 windows, and realizing exactly how fat I've gotten (living in the U.S.), I decided to pretty much stop eating right then and there. No wonder people look at me strange here, it's not because I'm American, it's because I'm the fattest person in Belgium! Interestingly, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum and I ran into Liz, another study-abroad student attending Veco, outside of the Petillion Metro station. She was in need of a transit card, and I knew where the place was. We ended up hanging out on the way, and then catching a bite to eat afterwards. Social interaction always trumps dietary promises, and I was grateful for the companionship. Where to go though?

Well if you ask around where the best fries are, the one friture that continuously …

The Best Waffle in Brussels : Jean Gaston

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Waffle-Land, otherwise known as Belgium is split not only with their culture and language, but also their waffles. You could call it a Tale of Two Waffles, as everyone has their preference as to what is the best waffle. Me, I like the Liege waffle with its caramelized sticky sweet sugar, and I'm far from an expert but in my short time abroad I've had some truly great waffles, and some rather horrible ones too.

The worst of course are the ones in cellophane which I would never ever buy, but people keep trying to give me. It's like candy corns back at home. Everyone gives them out for Halloween, never eats them, and then passes them out the following year to someone else. I'm certain there are remnants of the first candy corn ever made sitting in someone's pantry in the U.S. Which brings us back to the waffles. Why in the world would you ever buy the store bought kind when you can either make them fresh yourself, or buy one almost everywhere in this fine city of Bruss…

Homestays

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Placed in a tower, Alice ate the cake from the step mother and she grew so big she could not walk out the door. It might sound the likes of Brother's Grimm or Lewis Carroll, but it actually accurately describes my last home stay. A home stay which lasted just a few days, but included numerous head wounds, a unintended split in the bathroom, some quite odd behavior on behalf of my host (like buying us chocolate milk for our breakfast), and some rather emotional abuse birthed from the thought of living like that for the next four months.

I'm not someone to complain either, but interestingly enough we (my roommate and I) were placed in the third (or fourth [I lost count after a few flights]) floor of the house, in what likely was once an attic. It was obvious at one time it was meant as a nursery, then for small children as there remained a baby gate and what to me looked like a baby changing table like we have in the U.S. The ceilings averaged less than five feet high, and even t…