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Friday, January 27, 2012

Some New Sounds

  I've always wanted to live in an urban neighborhood...San Francisco, New York, etc.  And when Brett and I "negotiated" moving to Brussels, I got my wish.   I love it, but it's noisy.

  There's a bus stop 200 feet in front of our house, convenient, but noisy buses.  There's a tram stop just a bit farther.  There's a grocery store right in front of our house.  There's a crowded street with honking drivers.  There's a big church around the corner.  The bells ring everyday at 745 and 1045 not just once, but for five or ten minutes. (Come on, you guys, it's time for Mass.)  There's road work all around us.  The folks in back seem to be doing some major "chain saw requiring" work.  There's a school through the block.  Recess and dismissal times mean an least 30 minutes of little girls screaming and playing .... amazingly the same sound as in the US.

  Then, there are the Angry Birds who live near our backyard.  I think they're crows.  But they have very assertive CAW-CAW-CAWS. 

    Then, the sirens.  There are a lot of them and some of them sound just like when the Nazi's come to get Anne Frank in the movie. 

    And the sounds in our house.  Our door bell sounds like someone stomped on a cat, but the washer and dryer play a little tune from Vivaldi.   We're still getting used to various beeps and bells.   What's that?  Oh, I think that means the dishwasher is done. 

   Last, there are so many different languages.  Since Brussels is officially bilingual and Belgium is offically trilingual, plus so many people speak English, we're getting used to lots of different languages.  Our cable TV has channels in French, English (stuff like Ice Road Truckers, What?!), Flemish, Italian, Arabic, and German.

  Still, it's an adventure. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I can DO that!!

  I  can mail a letter!  I can ride the bus!  I can read!   Very excited because this weekend, we visited the main post office where we learned what one has to do to mail a letter to the USA.  You need a "Priority" sticker and a one euro stamp.  We learned where to find mail boxes which are a little bit harder to find that the big blue ones in the US.  (Because of this progress, Jackson will get a birthday card.  Yay!)

   Next we found out how to buy bus passes and got a map of the bus/tram/train routes.  Therefore, I know how to go to my gym and how to go to my French lessons.  The ticket agent was awesome and helpful and fluent in English.    I took my first French placement exam.  Sorry, Madame Morck from Skyline High School Class of 1967, but four years of your wonderful tutelage in high school have been largely forgotten.  I think I may have passed the "barely beginner exam"   but will start real lessons on Tuesday.

   Finally, our next door neighbors, Valery and Emilie, invited us for drinks last night.  Emilie made many wonderful hors d'oevres, THEN Champage, then white wine, then red wine, then dessert wine, then more Champage.  They speak very good English and it was nice to meet some new people.  And they have some excellent wine.

  So far, we have a couple of folks who say they plan to visit.  We so so so hope that happens.  And it's garbage day tomorrow and I'm totally confident that our garbage will not be rejected again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reality shock!

Oh, living in Europe.  What a treat, right? Beer, chocolate, history, architecture, not Gwinnett County, food, wine and so on.  All true. However, this week I'm really missing home.  The people, of course, of course, my wonderful friends and family.  But there are some things that are just easier in the USA.

 For one, the language.  I speak English fairly well.  I speak French a tiny little bit.  I speak no Dutch at all. A couple of nice-looking people have tried to converse with me.  Just stuff like "Wow, what a lot of rain."  But I just stand there saying "Je parle seulement Anglais" with each syllable quieter and sadder than the one before.

 My Facebook friends heard about my aborted trip to the gym.  Going to the gym isn't all that natural for me anyway, but I used to hop in the warm car from the warm house, drive 10 minutes, and, voila!, I'm there.  And there are a lot of women who kinda look like me.  But not here.  It's a bus ride, then a walk, then a locker room with the most beautiful bodies in the world.  What the hell are they doing at the gym?  Some of these girls are goddesses. And, of course, Brett noticed.  Hell, so did I.

Then there's the garbage. And I know this is the right thing to do.  But the recycling takes some effort.  First, clean dry paper goes in the yellow bag.  These are collected on Monday.  Then, plastic bottles, drink cartons, yogurt containers, etc., must be rinsed first and then they go in the blue bag.  Also collected on Monday.  Glass must be taken to the recycling silos (after rinsing, of course) and sorted into colored glass or clear glass.  There's one right across the street, but at the rate I'm going through bottles, this has turned into somewhat of a chore.   Then, the regular garbage goes in the white bag and is supposed to be collected on Monday and Thursday, but there are rules about what they'll take and yesterday our garbage was rejected!!!  Was it the kitty litter?   Did I accidentally put a plastic bottle in the white bag??   So we have to reclaim our rejected bags, figure out what we did wrong and try again.

  Finally, the weather.  In three little words, the weather sucks.

But, like I tell myself (over and over)it's an adventure.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Faire le Shopping

   Today, we "faire le magasins or faire the shopping."  something that I always enjoy.  We went to the Home Depot of Europe, Brico, to buy some scratch cover the floor. We had a little teeny tiny scratch on the hardwords while we were moving. (Please don't tell our landlord).  Then we went to the pet store (Tom & Co.) where we got Science Diet for the cats because they don't have our sophisticated international palates and wanted their old food.  They had the cutest baby bunny there and now I'm trying to convince Brett we need a petit lapin for a pet.  They also have bird food so we have our bird feeder all set up and are anxious to see from Belgian birds.
   After that, the mall in Woluwe St. Pierre which is the same and different from American shopping malls.  I learned how "to compare and contrast" in high school so it it goes.

The Same as American Malls

Crying babies, kids running around, wide variety of shops, very crowded (see below why), department stores, upselling the damn extended warranty and a food court (only sort of the same, see below why)

Different from American Malls

Paid parking (one euro/hour); a fee to use the restrooms (thankfully, we didn't have to go): dogs shopping with their owners or maybe just the owners are shopping but the dogs are there, too; bi or trilingual retail workers who seem like speaking English is absolutely no problem and not that we shouldn't be in their country if we can't speak the language; very crowded because the government limits the time for sales  to twice a year (January and July); wine bars; and the fanciest damn food court ever--wine, cheese, bread, chocolate, and a store that sells oil and vinegar so you can mix your own custom vinaigrette (pictures to follow).  We went to a fromagerie (cheese store) and when we told the worker that we couldn't get Cantal in America (because it's unpasteurized), the patrons all gasped. 

And the other good news is our neighbor, a lovely man from France whose name I can't remember, invited us to his home for dinner next Saturday.  Still I miss all of you so much.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The first week, the premiere semaine, the eerste week

Today marks our first week in Brussels.  We traveled to the airport with five big suitcases, 3 carry ons and 2 cats (very nervous cats).  Just in case you plan on taking your cat on vacation, it costs $200.00 each for the little critters and they weren't even offered a cocktail.  Brett and I had a nice first-class seat with tons of food and wine, took a little nap, were awakened by a yowling kitty and, voila! (as they say here), we arrived at the Brussels airport where a driver picked us up and deposited all of us at our house. 

I've spent the last 7 days in three different beds (2 hotels and our lovely blow-up mattress when Brett was in Israel).  I feel like Yassur Arafat--never a night in the same place.  The first hotel is a converted 18th C. monastery and was just beautiful with the best breakfast ever, but it was too far away so we moved to a Best Western (funny, huh?) with a bathroom so small I could relieve myself and brush my teeth simultaneously if I wanted to.

We spent last Saturday at Ikea with 100% of the rest of Belgium population.  We bought a bunch of furniture with funny names, carted it  back in Brett's station wagon and spent Sunday assembling.  The day before Brett visited the MediaMarkt and got us a TV, Blu-ray player and picked up our itsy-bitsy dryer.  All which fit in the back of Brett's BMW. 

Our furniture is scheduled to arrive tomorrow and it will feel a lot more like home. I think I'm suffering a little post-"parting" depression.  I know it'll get better, but meanwhile, they have a very nice Sauvignon Blanc for 3 Euro at the grocery store around the corner. 

Right now, there is a massive orange truck in front of my house that says "Schneckenentleering in Container" on the side and has a huge pipe either sucking stuff out or putting stuff in a hole.  It sounds like a jet plane and has been there at 3 hours.  I said I wanted urban and I got urban, but does it have to be so damn noisy?

 I'll write later about my adventures in the grocery store, the best spaghetti I have EVER had and adjusting to living in a little tiny playhouse.     We miss you all.