Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adventures of the Traveling Fleece

Yesterday after staying up until almost 5 in the morning to take Hary to the airport (he's in Syria for 2 weeks now) and taking a nap, Janee and I went to do a little shopping. We went to Decathalon, which is more or less like an Acadamy, and I decided to pick up a new fleece. When I was living in Spain I could never get warm so I finally went to the Decathalon there and bought a pink pullover Quechua fleece.

And then never stopped wearing it.

If you have paid any attention at all, you have seen me wearing it. When I travel, I almost always take it with me. In fact, it is almost comical to look through my travel pictures (from any that are not in the absolute middle of summer) because I am wearing it in almost every picture.

Anyway, the new one is almost exactly the same but black and oh-so-soft. And I think I bought it just in time--it's getting chilly! So here is the new fleece, get used to it!

Some pictures of me in my old fleece. It got around.

My fleece peaking out in Santorini

My fleece and me in a Scottish glen

Wearing my fleece in Portugal

Fleece in Casa Blanca

Me in my fleece with our Berber guide out in the Sahara

Me, my fleece and a Viennese fountain

And finally, me wearing my fleece getting really excited about a kebab.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

They found me...

One thing that really dragged me down this summer was allergies. It rained so much in Abilene this year that things grew for the first time in decades down there and my allergies were having none of it. Going back and forth between Fort Worth and Abilene about every week would mean that I had just enough time to start to get sick in each city. Each week. I was looking forward to changing locations completely and hopefully getting away from my allergies.

Shows how much I know.

Turns out Brussels is not only the capital of the European Union, but also one if it's allergy capitals. I've had headaches for a couple of weeks now, and been really tired for a while, but yesterday they really hit me. So for any of you out there worried, I will not be living here permanently. Here's hoping that I'm going all-in and getting them over with and that I'm not going to be sniffling until December 4th.

Update: I didn't even bother bringing any allergy meds with me. None of it works for me (or it makes me crazy). I'm medicating with extra-dark Belgian chocolate instead.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week in Review: Week 3

Whoa, I have been here for 3 weeks! Week in review:
  • This week Hary, Janee and I went to the Syrian/Lebanese part of town. The food from these two countries is basically the same. And delicious. We had the best pizza I have ever had. And they were 2 euros each!
  • I also had a bite of the worst olive I've ever tasted. One bite and I had a sore in my mouth for two days. Hands down the saltiest thing I have ever eaten.
  • Syrians are a lot like the British in that they love to call everyone "love." But more so. Habib and Habbibi ("love" and "my love") get thrown around a lot. When we decided we wanted yet another Syrian pizza, Hary called to the guy--Habib! Another pizza, please!
  • The greeting, Key feck habibi? (How are you my love?) cracks me up. There's not necessarily anything romantic intended, but it reminds me of some guy going, what up, baby? Which is an odd thing to say to your 60 year old neighbor.
  • While in that part of town someone asked me if I was Syrian. Close, but no.
  • Thursday I got to go to the biggest Moroccan market in town (pretty much just like being in Morocco) then walked down the block to a Flemish midwives office (for Janee, not myself obviously). Talk about culture shock.
  • This week was my first week back teaching classes. We have about 33 students registered in 3 different levels. So far they are pretty awesome.
  • As class began on Wednesday a man came by wanting to register his daughter. I was trying to explain everything to him in my crappy French (which is actually just French sounding Spanish with a few French words thrown in) when he stopped me about 5 words in and asked if I spoke Spanish. Turns out they are from the Canary Islands! Fun!
  • For one of our conversation classes we talked about things that annoy you (which is a good way to get people talking!). I realized that I do a lot of things that really annoying people.
  • Sorry.
  • إسمي لورين
  • My name is Lauren.
  • We went to visit a friend in the hospital across town and randomly came across a 14th century (?) castle.
  • Fanta's Red Berry flavor is not good.
  • Arabic orange soda tastes just like whatever it was that McDonald's used to sell when I was a kid.
  • It's getting cold. Apparently the weather report on the street is that it is supposed to rain every single day from now until spring. Awesome. We are down to low 40s already.
  • Krystal: He was not TDH.
  • I took a little break from using my free time to write papers and started thinking through post-graduation trip plans. Who's excited?!?
That's all for now. A few pictures below!

Clockwise: Cheese, Cheese, lamb, tomato and peppers, and olive oil and herb. The cheese was definitely the winner in my opinion.

We also picked up some Halawa--kind of like a soft, slightly sweet peanut brittle made out of tahini and pistachios. Or something.

Spices at the market

Why hello castle!

NOT recommended.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Happens...

What happens when you invite 2 Americans and a Syrian over to the house of a Turk and a Syrian for a French meal?

A whole lot of fun. A friend of Hary and his wife invited us all over to their house for raclette last night. Now if you don't know raclette (as I didn't) it is kind of like fondue meets a Japanese grill experience. There is a machine, which looks about like this:
You can grill little pieces of cut up meat on top (we had chicken, beef and little kebab/sausage patties) and then you place thick slices of the raclette cheese on the little paddles underneath. There is a boiler over the cheese that transforms it into melted goodness. After a few minutes you pull out the cheese and pour it over whatever else you are eating. We also had potatoes, broccoli and brussels sprouts (!), mushroom sauce, some kind of spiced up salad, and bulgur with vermicelli. And lots of it.

The couple was there, along with her father, two of her brothers, their two children and some random friend who stopped by. All of the family mixed with the overflowing food gave the evening a very Thanksgiving-ish feel. This also could be because I was sat next to the host who felt the need to dump cheese and potatoes on my plate at will. It's just a good thing that none of the food had tryptophan in it or I would have been out for days.

Between the 9 adults there were probably 10 languages...most of which I can only muster up a few phrases in. (A fun aside: even though they are from different countries the family (and Hary too) are all Syriac and speak Aramaic--you know, like Jesus!) Anyway, language wasn't a problem and one of the brothers made sure there was a translator so he could tell a bunch of slightly off color jokes...half of which he forgot the punch line to. He did bring me to tears on one that involved Michael Jackson and Barack Obama...but I think you just had to be there for that one.

And then, because no evening would be complete without it, one of the brothers, who was sitting across the table, was offered to me to marry. Awkward!

After dinner tea, brownies and Syrian cookies were brought out. And then, when we were quiet for a second she asked if we wanted ice cream. No!!

Overall it was a great evening.

And I am still full.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Living Quarters

In case you were wondering about where I am living...

I live in the Laken area of Brussels. It is a mostly Moroccan neighborhood not too far from the Atomium. The bottom floor of our building (there are 3 floors) is used as our English classroom as well as a few other random things--like an African church and a school. The second floor has most of the living space and then my bedroom is up on the third floor. A few pictures:

(And...I didn't bother to pick up before taking just ignore the clutter.)

I've almost bit the dust on these stairs about 17 times so far.

My bedroom

A look at the other half of my bedroom

The toilet is in a separate room (closet) from the bathroom and bedroom.

The bathroom is huge though!

The other half of it (it's even bigger than it looks)

And the best part...the view!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hello New Shoes, Bye Bye Blues

Before I left the for Brussels I had to buy a few colder weather layering items. I also decided I needed to buy a new pair of tennis shoes. You walk so much in Europe and with it being cold and rainy here I knew I had better buy a pair before I left.

It has been a really long time since I bought a new pair of tennis shoes. They feel very back-to-school-ish. And...I really like them. I know that I am very easily amused, but I can't help it. I partially am just enjoying having something new. I find myself being a bit poetic about it--thinking about all the places I will walk in these tennis shoes--but then again, I just mostly think they are snazzy. And so far my toes have stayed warm and dry. Unlike these guys.

So as I put Paulo Nutini on my September playlist I thought I would share them. : )

In a semi-related note, I also heard a French version of "These Boots Are Made For Walking" today...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week In Review

Welp, I have finished my second week in Brussels! A few random bits from the week:

  • Today (Saturday) we fed the homeless--we made at least 400 butter and ham/cheese sandwiches and a giant tub of soup then fed almost 200 or so people at the main train station. I had a blast.
  • It was nice to do something where language wasn't an issue.
  • Afterwards we ate Domino's Pizza, which tasted almost exactly the same as Domino's stateside.
  • Ta Sharafna--That's Arabic for Nice to meet you, but it's so fun to say it that I like to use it as an exclamation and/or insult.
  • Friday I helped with the youth. For fun I gave them a random assortment of items and told them to build something that could transport an egg safely to the sidewalk from the third floor balcony.
  • They were 2 for 4. I was surprised no one used the pillow case or trash-bag I gave them to make parachutes.
  • By Tuesday I was really fed up with French.
  • By today I had reconsidered. I also realized I have already picked up a surprising amount of French (at least when it comes to understanding).
  • Probably the most used French word I have learned so far is méchant which translates more or less as mean, or mischievous.
  • Hary told me I seemed older than 24. Why? He said it was because of my big head. Janee tried to persuade me that he was trying to say it's because I had such big (mature) thoughts.
  • Méchant
  • After dinner conversations have ended almost every night since I got here with Hary trying to persuade me to marry some random Arab guy or another.
  • We registered 29 students for English classes. We are offering 2 grammar courses and a conversation class. Students range from Moroccan, Belgian and Brazilian to Congolese, Syrian and Sri Lankan.
  • I adore our Moroccan neighbor's tiny 14 year old son Houssin. He even offered to bring over tea for us when we were doing inscriptions (registration).
  • Actually, I pretty much love the entire family.
  • The African church that meets downstairs in our building is LOUD. I mean, crazy Hell-fire-and-brimstone loud.
  • I have started thinking through travel plans for after the beginning of the year. Very exciting.
  • Greetings I have received so far: wave, handshake, head nod, one cheek kiss, 2 cheek kisses, 3 cheek kisses. It is incredibly hard for me to judge what I am supposed to do. Needless to say I have already created some awkward moments.
  • The songs/instruments/rhythms of the Arabic music last Sunday made me feel like I was going to church where they were singing flamenco
OK, that's probably enough to give you a taste! I should probably also mention that I have been tasting Moroccan/Turkish/Syrian/Iranian/Iraqi sweet after sweet. Life's not too terrible these days! : )

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Syrian Food

So, again, Hary is from Syria. Janee has learned how to cook some typical Syrian dishes since they have been married. (As an aside, apparently Syrian and Lebanese food is almost exactly the same.) Last week we made a variaton of stuffed eggplants. Normally you stuff small ones but to make things easier, we just made it a layered dish using large ones rather than stuffing the individual vegetables.

To make it we diced up an onion and cooked it up and then browned enough ground beef with it to cover the bottom of a baking dish (the recipe called for 1/2 of ground lamb). To that we added some 7 spice mix, salt and pepper. The 7 spice mix includes cinnamon, cloves, allspice, black pepper, nutmeg, ginger, fenugreek (which is "Greek hay," you can just leave that one out if you cant find it) in equal quantities. Once the meat is done, set it aside and heat up some oil.

We sliced about 3 larger eggplants in 1/4 (or so) and then fried them in the oil until they were golden (about 5 minutes). The eggplant pieces were layered in the bottom of a glass baking dish, covered in the meat mixture, and then topped with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste mixed into 2 cups of water (add more if necessary). Season with a little more salt and pepper if you want then bake it for about 15 minutes at 350.

Serve it with white (basamati) rice--if you want to be extra Syrian, brown and cook the rice with small broken up bits of vermicelli noodles.

I thought it was delicious and, to me, it tasted even better the next day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grocery Store

I love to go to grocery stores in other countries. I think it's fascinating to see what they have on offer, and I also like to take mental notes for things I can use to cook some of my favorite meals. While we were out we decided to stop in at the Carrefour, which is usually equivalent to the average super Walmart. I felt the need to take a picture of a few things:

Belgians LOVE their beer. There were two giant isles.

Fruit beers

Mini kegs

Each beer has its own particular kind of glass. These glasses were made so that they could hang from your carriage without spilling.

They also had 2 entire isles of international food. There was a small Mexican section with assorted meal kits. I appreciate the effort, but sorry Carrefour, that is not a burrito.

Finally we found these bad boys and decided to splurge (they were only 50 cents anyway!). They are made with real sugar, so they taste like the Dublins (not my favorite) but hey, not bad for being across the ocean!

They were also playing Vampire Weekend while we were in there, which was an odd, but awesome choice.


Today we got to get outside of the city a bit more. Janee had a doctor's appointment this morning in a little town just outside of Brussels. While we were out and about and had the car for the day we made a little trip over to Waterloo (the battlefield where the English and Dutch finally defeated Napoleon in 1815--for those of you who had football coaches for history teachers like I did). The town itself was cute, green and peaceful. It is amazing how everything changes when you get just a few miles outside of the capital.

Part of the battlefields

There were lots of bikers making the trip out to Waterloo, too.

William of Orange wanted to build a monument on the battlefield to mark the spot where his son was wounded in battle. Because they used almost 400,000 cubic meters of dirt to build the mound they actually ended up changing the topography of the actual battlefield quite a bit.

It was really cold and windy so we looked through the gift shop rather than climb to the top.

A look from further away.

Napoleon did get a little statue across the street--but it is obviously not that well kept (see lettering).

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Bit of an Introduction

OK, I've got a wee bit of time before dinner, so I thought I would throw out some introductions and a bit more from around town.

First off, this is Janee and Hary when we went to look at the Atomiam at night (we don't live to far from it).

Janee is from Illinois but has lived here for over 6 years and Hary is from Syria but he has lived here for over 10 years. (They have been married for 2.)

Hary has been trying to get his Beglian papers for a long, long time now, and finally this last week we went down to the city hall to pick up his temporary papers (his official ones will be ready in two weeks). After waiting for 10 years it was a pretty exciting moment.

As you can see.

Now for a bit more of Brussels:

This is in front of the Royal Palace where I thought I saw the princess. Turns out we are pretty sure it was just a part of a wedding party.

Part of a nice old cathedral.

There was a nice little park by the church...

With a statues of famous Belgians. This guy is the most famous--he is the one who figured out how to put the map on a globe.

This cemetery is in our neighborhood and has one of the original casts of the Thinker statues on someone's grave. It was randomly closed today, but I'll check it out again.
And finally this is the neighborhood cathedral--I can see its steeple from my bedroom window.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Well I have been in Belgium for almost a week now. There are lots of things I could talk about and lots of things we have done so far, but I'd rather talk about chocolate! Yesterday afternoon Janee and I got out of our neighborhood and went for a walk and tour of what I am going to refer to as the chocolate district. It is really just a nice area of town that has all of the famous chocolate shops in it. We tasted our way through--It was kind of like a wine tasting...but tastier.

We took the tram and got off at the palace and had a walk through the gardens (which are supposedly mirrored after the gardens of Versailles...although they were not that impressive). There was a statue of an angel baby slaughtering a pig (pictured up top, although it is a bit difficult to make it out). I thought that was interesting.

We saw an American flag flying at one of the buildings bordering the gardens, and after Janee told me that it was not the embassy we went to investigate what it was. After staring for a while I crossed the street to ask the guard what it was. It was the embassy. OK, so it was the back side (which apparently looks really different) so I guess that is why she was so confused. Anyway, the guard then told me that I couldn't take a picture (not that I wanted one) because if I did the van full of cops next to him would cross the street and delete it from my camera. OK. I kind of thought he was joking at first, so I asked him if I should try it out. He said I could, but that it was kind of scary. All right. Duly noted.

Anyway, from there we went into all the different shops looking at, smelling and tasting all the best chocolates.

We stopped at the only Côte d'Or chocolate shop in the world and picked out some interesting fresh chocolates including pecan and peppercorns, cranberry almond, marshmallow nougat, pistachio and sea-salt, pineapple, and cherry and green tea.

From there we went into a couple of well known shops such as Leonides which is really good and probably the most reasonably priced.
Then! We went into what Janee called the Tiffany's of Chocolates. Everything gets wrapped up in black boxes with black bows and, no joke, there was a consultant explaining different kinds of chocolates to a couple at a desk helping them to purchase what they wanted. Everything was also ridiculously expensive. They had fresh chocolates you could pick out and buy by weight, so considering it was the best of the best chocolate I figured I would splurge on a single piece. The guy behind the counter recommended his favorite--dark chocolate with a caramel espresso filling--and then gave it to me for free! I don't know if it would have been worth what I would have had to pay for it, but for free, it was a delicious bite of chocolate.

We stopped at the real Godiva shop for some fresh truffles.

This is my Irish Coffee truffle

Then we rounded out the day with a trip to Neuhaus for one last bite.

These were milk chocolates with toffee and a coffee/fudge/caramel-y center. Delicious.

All in all it was a great day! For one thing it was nice to just be in a different part of the city and it was a good reward for the 1500 ESL fliers we stuffed into individual mailboxes the evening before.