Friday, November 30, 2007

Just when you start to get comfortable...

Ok, I have been here for almost 8 months and I have managed quite nicely driving myself to and from work without getting lost for some time now. Well, just when I thought I knew it all....things go oh so wrong!

I rarely use my GPS to get me to work anymore as I go the same way daily. However, this morning I left earlier than normal and thought I would be brave and try something new and see if I can avoid any traffic. The way I typically go is pretty much a straight shot but with a million stop lights, which in a lot of traffic, means you do not move too far too fast. My GPS has always wanted to take me through the city which is basically going straight through downtown along some of the side streets, etc. I went that way a few times, but the streets are so small that I cannot tell where I am suppose to turn when "Jack" (my GPS) tells me to. Luckily, Jack recalculates my route and gets me going again!

A while back, someone had told me if I take the route through the city it could save me over 10 minutes. Well, in the mornings, 10 minutes is a big today was the day I was going to try....since I am a total local now....and know everything, right??!! WRONG!

Anyway, I start on my new route and make only a few minor wrong turns. Then I end up in a tunnel where my GPS tells me to turn I do. Well, right after the GPS told me to turn right it lost satellite reception because I was in a tunnel. So, I thought, well, I better turn immediately right because that was what I was told.

Needless to say, it was the wrong turn (as you might have guessed) and I ended up in the European Union's very very very secured parking garage. I knew immediately this was not right when I made the turn. (By the way....remember when I first got here and got locked in a parking garage??!!!) This was almost the same thing...but not quite as bad. There were security guards to get me out and point me in the right direction!

So, I think it goes without saying that I will continue to take the same way to work that I have taken since I arrived....and leave the adventures for the weekends!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Berlin, Germany (Part 2)

Saturday evening we were able to tour The Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, which is one of Berlin's most historical landmarks. It was an interesting tour but I will spare you the details. There is a glass dome which was really cool. The dome is a gleaming metal and glass structure with a ramp that spirals up to a roof terrace with 360-degree views of central Berlin. The dome overlooks the debating chamber for the Bundestag and a central mirrored cone draws light into the plenary chamber! It was a beautiful site.

We were there at it is kinda hard to see in my pictures.

After dinner at The Reichstag we walked over to the Brandenburg Gate which is the only remaining gate of a series through which one formerly entered Berlin.

On Sunday morning when I woke up I noticed it had snowed overnight! I was so excited to see snow! It was just a little bit of accumulation but was melted off before breakfast!

Anyway, Sunday, we walked around the area which is known as Museum Island (and you know how I feel about museums)! Basically we walked and wondered around and learned some interesting history about Berlin. When it was time to go through one of the museums, the Beth's and I ditched the group again and went on our own tour of little cafes and tested out the hot chocolate from one cafe to another! It was awesome! Starbucks got my highest rating of 10 stars!

One thing I did think was cool was a place where Hitler demanded all books not in German be burned. It was on this spot where the books were burned and a monument was erected noting the empty book shelves. I thought it was cool because the monument is basically underground with a glass top where you can look inside.

We also walked by the famous Berliner Dom or Berlin Cathedral. Berlin Cathedral is situated on the Spree island and is a protestant cathedral built on the model of St.Peter's Dome in Rome. I believe it is the largest protestant church in Europe!

We also saw the The Fernsehturm (German for "television tower"). It is a well-known landmark, close to Alexanderplatz. The tower was built between 1965 and 1969 by the former German Democratic Republic, and its image was used as a symbol of Berlin by the GDR administration. The tower is easily visible throughout the central districts of Berlin, and remains a symbol of the city.

One last thing we did (before hitting up Starbucks) was to visit the Jewish Memorial. The monument to the murdered Jews of Europe is a field of 2,700 concrete slabs near the Brandenburg Gate. It was a sobering site.

Finally....we did some shopping! We went to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) which is the largest department store in all of Europe! It was HUGE! Despite all the shopping , I loved all of the Christmas decorations! Check them out below!

Also, I am trying to buy things specific to each country I visit. In Germany at Christmastime, you have to buy an original nutcracker (or two)! I will post pictures of my nutcrackers soon with the history of the nutcracker!

My overall impression of Berlin was very positive. It is a larger city than I expected and very crowded. It is also very very modern with a Starbucks on a lot of corners and many shopping plazas. Berlin has a fascinating history and a very prospering future!

This was my first trip ever to Germany....and I really liked the country. The people are very nice and very normal. You almost feel like you are in the US when you look around. It is hard to describe, but the Germans definitely looked 'more normal' than say people from France.

Overall, I highly recommend visiting Berlin (maybe in the springtime) was COLD!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cultural Differences (Part Quatre)

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a lot of college kids walking around in lab coats asking for money in the streets. I had no idea what was going on....until I read the blog of a friend here in Brussels. I am attaching her post to fill you in (I hope she does not mind!!). Here ya go....

It is hard to grasp just how different Europeans are from Americans until you live over here. Even having been here three years I am still sometimes shocked at what I hear.

For example, I take French class through a university here in Brussels. Out of the 21 students in my class, only one guy is actually also a student at the university (and not just an expat or trailing spouse). He was recently telling us about the student "baptisms" that have been taking place these past few weeks. Basically each college at the university has a co-ed fraternity (so there is one for Literature, Economics, Political Science, etc.) but only about 10-15% of the student take part in the fraternities.

The final act/hazing the pledges go through has been happening the last couple of weeks. For those reading this in Brussels, the pledges are the ones you see at intersections wearing white lab coats that are covered in blue, baseball caps with really long bills, and collecting change in beer glasses to fund their beer money. As it was explained to me by my friend, the final act is for groups of three to five pledges to put on a performance each night which lasts about two to three hours. The performance addresses current issues, makes fun of embarassing things that have happened to people, and can basically cover a wide area of topics. These are done outside at night in a big white tent in front of about 300 students. This might all seem normal enough until you hear the next part. The performers are completely sober, naked and covered in oil. The entire time they are performing, the audience throws this blue stuff at them (I saw it -- the blue stuff, not the performance -- and it basically looks like dyed blue chunky sawdust or crumbled crayon). Each audience member pays 8 euros to enter and then is provided with all the beer and pot they can consume for the whole evening. As if just being naked in front of 300 of your closest friend wasn't bad enough, remember we are in Belgium where it is currently 32 F this evening.

If that hasn't shocked you, then check out this link: (not suitable for people at work or those who are offended by nudity).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Berlin, Germany (Part 1)

I just returned from a great trip to Berlin, Germany. This is another trip sponsored by the American Women's Club. I love going on those trips because all I have to do is pay my money and show up...everything else is taken care of so it is very stress-free travel!

I really liked Berlin, but really did not have a clue as to what to see and do besides, of course, the Berlin Wall. A couple of friends went along with me so it was fun getting to know Beth and Beth (yes, they are both named Beth) better! The best part was having 2 ladies who are fun to be with and who also like to see cities like I do....experiencing the local culture and skipping out on a lot of the museums.

Case in point....

We flew to Berlin on Friday afternoon. When we arrived we went to the Schloss Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin. We had a wonderful dinner in the The Orangery Wing of the Palace. After dinner we attended a traditional and classical musical concert. Here, in the soft candlelight, you can hear classical and baroque music performed by the Berlin Palace Orchestra. The members of the orchestra dressed in original period costumes.

Ok, enough about that...the funny part was that after the first half, we ditched the BORING concert and headed out to have some drinks. It was nice to get cultured, but enough is enough and I am really not into classical music!! Everyone in our group was jealous that we left and they didn't!!!

On Saturday, we headed to Checkpoint Charlie and to the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I actually really liked this museum. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. Many other sector crossing points existed in Berlin. Some of these were designated for residents of West Berlin and West German citizens. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (by foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of east and west, and — for some East Germans — a gateway to freedom. It was given the name of "Charlie" based on the alphabet...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.

What I found very interesting about this museum was how people tried to sneak past the guards at the checkpoint. They would hide in the trunks of cars (sometimes curled up for hours in a tiny area) or take out the gas tank and hide there with only a small replacement tank to get them over the border. You have to remember that part of the wall was built in 24 hours which meant some families could have been separated which made for people to get very creative to get over the border and reunited with loved ones. I cannot imagine the feeling of being trapped.

One very interesting story I saw was a lady who shopped and went by the guards regularly. They were used to her having her shopping bag with one day she hid her son in the cart and got him over the border. Check out the pictures below.

This picture is another creative way of getting over the border. Someone put 2 suitcases together and hide in there for hours while crossing the border on a train. Very creative thinking!!

There were so many ways people would cross the border and too many to really post so be sure to check out my pictures on Shutterfly (link is on the side of this post under "My Favorite Links".

We then walked over the the remaining part of the Wall which still stands. The Wall divided East and West Berlin for 28 years, from the day construction began on August 13, 1961 until it was dismantled in 1989. During this period 125 people were killed trying to cross the Wall into West Berlin. However, a prominent victims' group claims that more than 200 people had been killed trying to flee the East to West Berlin.

When the East German government announced on November 9, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that entering West Berlin would be permitted, crowds of East Germans climbed onto and crossed the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were chipped away by a euphoric public and by souvenir hunters; industrial equipment was later used to remove almost all of the rest of it.

The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on October 3, 1990. Can you believe that was only 17 years ago! I vividly remember 1990!!! It is amazing to me that something like this happened during my lifetime.

They built a cobblestone pathway to show where the Wall existed before it was taken down. I thought it was interesting to be able to cross from east to west Berlin so freely and what it must have been like just 20 years ago!!


I just returned from a wonderful trip to Berlin, Germany! We had such a great girl's weekend and I cannot wait to tell you all about it. I will get pictures and stories posted soon so hang tight!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Birthday Maxie!!!!

Today is my Maxie's 2nd birthday! She is in Memphis enjoying time with her grandma, grandpa and Auntie GG. I will not get to celebrate with them; however, we will have a party when I get home!

Check out how cute she was as a puppy...and how tiny!

She has not lost any of her cuteness!!!

Happy Birthday Maxie!!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

T’was the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep.
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned, the dark meat and white.
But I fought the temptation, with all of my might.
Tossing and turning, with anticipation,
the thought of a snack became infatuation.
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door,
and gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey, and buttered potatoes,
pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling, so plump and so round,
‘til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky,
with a mouthful of pudding, and a handful of pie.
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees,
"Happy eating to all, pass the cranberries, please!!"
May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump,
may your potatoes and gravy have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious, may your pies take the prize,
and may your Thanksgiving dinner
stay off of your thighs!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fall in Brussels

A few weeks ago I got out to explore my neighborhood and to test out my new cool "I want to be a photographer" camera. This was the first time I've used this I am still learning about it and we are still trying to become friends!!! It is going to be a meaningful, long lasting friendship...if I ever figure out how to use this thing!!!

Anyway, these pics are not the best, but they were taken at the Abbey of la Cambre. The Abbey used to a community of monks and nuns...can you imagine!!?? It is located very near to my apartment and it is a great place to walk through! Today it houses the headquarters of the Belgian National Geographic Institute and La Cambre, a prestigious visual arts school. The abbey was founded in 1196. Today's building are from the 18th century.

The next set of pictures were taken just at the end of my street between the 2 ponds in my neighborhood! I love all the flowers!

Happy fall....although it feels like winter!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cultural Differences (Part Trois)

Since arriving 7 months ago I have really practiced my patience. I have always been a very patient person, but I promise here, you have to exercise patience or you will go insane.

Case in car, or better yet, cars!

Since I am here for a limited time (2 years) many leasing companies did not want to do business with us. They wanted to do more of a longer term lease (3+ years). We finally found a company that would lease me a car for 2 years. I will not go into too much detail about the insanity of this leasing company....but it has been awful.

When I first arrived, I received a rental car which was normal and what I expected. It was a nice Mercedes that I really liked. See below! It was large enough, yet small enough to get in those tight European parking spaces!

In Belgium you have to order your cannot just go to a dealership and pick one off the lot. So, about a month after my arrival, I ordered the Ford Fiesta which would be my permanent car. I got to pick the color, etc. The downside was that it would take at least 3 months to come in. Is that crazy or what??!! You cannot tell me there is not a black Ford Fiesta anywhere in the city of Brussels?? Guess not!

Anyway, I placed my order and was given a loaner car. Let me remind you that I arrived in April and we ordered the car in May. It was around June sometime when I received my "first loaner". I say my "first loaner" because it did not have air conditioning!! HA, I guess the leasing company did not know who they were dealing with by giving a Southern girl a car without air conditioning! I had this car for a total of 2 days during which time I made a phone call and was promptly given a new car with air conditioning!!!!

My next loaner was great! When I first saw it, I thought..."oh no...a station wagon"!! Let me tell you....this car was awesome! It was very long, in fact, that it has a sensor for backing telling you how close you were to something behind you!! It had air conditioning too! It came in very handy for transporting all of those necessary move-in items like closets and the many shopping excursions to Ikea!! I also had it for when my Mom and cousin came to visit as well as my friends (Jennie, Ginnie, and Gail). It was great to have a large car with the amount of luggage they all brought! The only downside to this car was the length. There were days where I would have to park around the block from my apartment because I could not fit into any open spaces on my street. The timing for this car was perfect with all I needed to buy, transport, and the family and friends who came to visit!

Finally, 1 week before I was leaving to go to Memphis in October, my Fiesta arrived.....4 months after we ordered it! Not too bad for Belgium standards! When I first got into the Fiesta I was amazed at just how small it really is! I have since learned to love it and so excited when I can squeeze into most small spaces! It is an automatic but acts a lot like a manual (you will have to see it to understand!). I know that I will have trouble with future visitors and their luggage (but we will manage so don't let that scare you away from coming!!!). I do love my little car and wonder what I will want when I have to buy a new car when I go back home???!! I am getting use to the mentality of it not mattering what kind of car you drive here. A car is a means of getting from one place to the matter the brand or size!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don't mess with Mamma!!!

Regina and Marco took JR and I out to a wonderful traditional Italian dinner on Tuesday night! I found it exciting because it was a local place where if you were not with a local you would have never found it.

Regina warned us that we may be the only people in the restaurant (and we were). I found that a little weird until I heard the story. A son (Mario) and his mother (Mamma) run this restaurant and the Mario loves to cook! He spends his off days traveling around the region looking for fresh ingredients, new cheeses and wines, pastas, etc to bring back and experiment. (What a life!!) You have to call ahead for a table so he knows how many people he can experiment with in one night. You even have to ring the doorbell to get in! Hilarious!

Here is a picture of Mario and Mamma!!!

The building is very old (I cannot remember how old) and there is an awesome wine cellar which dated back to the 1400s (I think).

Many of you know how picky I am...if you don't...well, I am seriously a very picky eater! I like a lot of different types of food...I just like it really plain! Italian is probably my favorite type of food and I like mostly red (tomato) sauces. From my travels in Italy, I have learned the northern part of the country has more creamy/white sauces where the southern part of Italy uses more red sauces. I heard this came from back in the old days where folks in the south could not store creamy sauces in the heat and thus they used more fresh tomato sauces. The folks in the north could use more creamy sauces and were able to store them because it is colder in the north! It all makes sense....and we witnessed it when I was here before! I personally liked the food in the south better than in the north (remember, I love tomato sauces!)!

Anyway, Italians also eat in many courses and the dinners last for hours (at least 4-5). We started off with an antipasta for an appetizer. I, of course, did not like many of the choices but did not let that stop the others from trying them! One traditional Italian appetizer is basically deli meat served on a plate (different types of hams and salami) so that is what I had. The others had an assortment of different types of seafood. I knew I did not want to eat much because there were many other courses coming. So about halfway through this course, Mamma comes out and wonders what is wrong with me and asks why I was not eating. It appeared as though I was offending her by not finishing my appetizer! I tried as best I could to get most of the plate cleared as she kept coming back and glaring at me! I was afraid I was not going to get my main course if I did not finish my appetizer!!! Also, Mamma only spoke Italian; however, I completely understood her glares!

There is a little menu to choose from but you can also ask Mario to make something special. I thought that was very nice considering there was not much on the menu I would eat...nothing like plain spaghetti with tomato sauce. We asked if he would make pasta or gnocchi with tomato sauce for me. He just happened to have some fresh homemade gnocchi and was willing to make me a tomato and cheese sauce! It was soooooooooo good! He thought I was a bit crazy asking for something like this....but after it was all said and done.....everyone at the table loved it! He even made an extra dish for the others to sample! It was probably the best gnocchi I have ever had! Everything that is made in this restaurant is completely fresh! While we were having appetizers Mario went out and picked fresh basil to make the sauce for my gnocchi dish! How cool!

We actually skipped the second course (meat/fish) because we had already had a lot and we wanted to make sure we saved room for dessert. When choosing dessert we have to first ask what Mamma has made! This particular evening she had something like a peach tart, cake with some fruit mixed in, and of course, tiramisu. I had the peach tart and it was fantastic! I especially loved the way she decorated the plate!

After dessert we had a coffee and then ended the night with limoncello! What a fantastic Italian night!!! Thanks Regina!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Update from Milano!

I am still in Milan and having a great time. The weather has been perfect since I arrived with bright clear sunny skies! I have not missed the rain and miserable weather in Brussels so we are soaking up the sun while we can!

We leave tomorrow with a few fun stories and definitely with full stomachs! Italians know how to eat and do it right! We have eaten our way through Milan and have more planned this evening!

I love Italy!!!


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Coming up next...

I just got home from Paris and leaving tomorrow for Milan, Italy. I seem to be the world traveler these days! I hope to start feeling better as I picked up a little sinus infection in Paris! I am a bit afraid of the winter weather and how my body is going to cope.

I will be in Milan for work next week but I am going for the weekend to stay with a friend of mine. Regina is originally from Memphis and has been living in Italy for over 20 years now. She is completely fluent in Italian yet has not lost her southern drawl! It is the cutest thing to hear! She has a lot of fun things planned for us this weekend so I will be sharing stories soon! She tells me we are going shopping for purses and shoes on Saturday!! I am sooo excited! Italian leather shopping with a local who knows where to find the bargains!!! Yippie!

Ciao bella!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fun in Paris!

Although I am in Paris working...we managed to have a little fun last night! The team and I are staying out by the airport due to only being here 3 days and the office is close to here. Anyway, we decided to go into the city for dinner and some Paris fun!!!
It was all fantastic...until we were out too late and missed the final train taking us back out to the airport (oooopppsss!). Oh well, a taxi came to the rescue and we made it home safe and sound!

Prayer Request

For those close to my family, you know my parent's grandchildren...they are Max and Maxie. Maxie got her name from Max and has looked up to him since she arrived in our family. Today my mom found out that Max is in the beginning stages of kidney failure. Max is 13 years old and has lived a full life; however, we are not giving up! The vet said he could eat some kidney diet food to help slow down the kidney failure and give us another 6 months to a year with him. He will start this food tomorrow. Please say a prayer for Max (and our family) to do what is best for our little man.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Disneyland Paris!

Last weekend Julie and I headed to Disneyland Paris and a fun-filled weekend! It was incredible! I have wanted to see how Disney looked in Parisian style and we were not disappointed. We were; however, very excited to see Disney was all decked out for Halloween. Halloween is not that big of a deal over I was shocked to see all of the wonderful decorations!

My first observation was realizing how similar the park is compared to DisneyWorld in Orlando, FL and Disneyland in California. I kept comparing everything...which started to get on my nerves after a while. I had to stop and realize where I was and stop comparing the good and the bad of this park. One exciting thing was the taste of America in the park's atmosphere....even Main Street USA was there! There were a few American food items on many menus...cotton candy, hot dogs, popcorn (although more like caramel corn than buttered popcorn)!

Disneyland Paris has been opened for 15 years! It is located in Marne-la-Vallée, a new town in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France (about 20 miles from the center of Paris). The complex has 2 parks (Disneyland and Disney Studios), an entertainment district (Disney Village) and seven Disney-owned hotels.

Here is a little history: Construction of then called, "Euro Disney", led to a lot of controversy during the negotiations by French labor unions and others. Also, as Americans, the word 'Euro' is believed to mean glamorous or exciting. For Europeans, it turned out to be a term they associated with business, currency, and commerce. Renaming the park 'Disneyland Paris' was a way of identifying it with one of the most romantic and exciting cities in the world...thus the name change!

Also, Northern France was not the initial chosen place for Disneyland. In March of 1985, the number of possible locations for the park had been reduced to four; two in France and two in Spain. Both of these nations saw the potential economic advantages of a Disney theme park and competed by offering financing deals to Disney. Both Spanish sites were located near the Mediterranean Sea and offered a subtropical climate similar to Disney's parks in California and Florida. Disney had also shown interest in a site near Toulon in southern France, not far from Marseille. The pleasing landscape of that region, as well as its climate, made the location a top competitor for what would be called 'Euro Disneyland'. However, thick layers of bedrock were discovered beneath the site, which would render construction too difficult.

Finally, a site in the rural town of Marne-la-Vallée was chosen because of its proximity to Paris and its central location in Western Europe. This location was estimated to be no more than a four-hour drive for 68 million people and no more than a two-hour flight for a further 300 million...and only a hour and a half train ride for me in Brussels!!!!

Ok, so now that you have the history...I will get into the fun stuff!!! The old favorites are there....Space Mountain (although very different and named Space Mountain, Mission 2)! It is an awesome ride, although it is very jarring so watch out! There is also "It's a Small World", "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad", "Indiana Jones", and many many more!

Disney Studios was much smaller than Disney's MGM Studios but had a lot of great rides as Aerosmith's Rockin' Roller Coaster and Crush's Coaster (which was my absolute favorite!). The Tower of Terror opens in January I guess I have to go back!! Darn!

Overall, it was an excellent weekend and one I will repeat soon! If you ever are over here and have the time, I highly recommend a visit to see Mickey!!

There are a lot of pictures to look through, but there are worth the time! Check out the Shutterfly link to the right of this posting!! Enjoy!