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When a rainy day gives you closures, you make belly-pleasing adventures

Yesterday Belgium celebrated the name of my street — okay, not the street or its name (Onze Novembre), but the date since it commemorates the day WW1 ended on paper.

Most stores are closed on Sunday, so a friend and I planned a shopping day for Saturday. We had it all planned out, meet for breakfast, hit Ikea (yes I AM a glutton for punishment), the mall, other household stores, etc., etc.  It was going to be our apartment decorating day.  What we found was locked doors and Ferme signs all over the big-chain establishments.

Belgium takes its memorials serious, so employers take heed.  Who wants to shop on a day off anyway?  I wasn’t happy about this at first, but we strolled on down to a cafe I assumed would be open since it caters to English-speaking folk (although of course they’ve got the French down pat too).  Hahaha a coffee house named after Texas and run by a southern man, who I’m assuming is from Texas.  I love going to local places, and, for the most part, I’m all about imbibing in the local flavour and saving my Americanisms for when I’m home, but this weekend I needed to have my first cup of coffee where I didn’t need to point and pantomime, and it was awesomeness.

Turns out a lot of privately owned places were open.  The Belgium bakery two or three doors up from the Texas place was also open, and I’ve been told that place is wonderful too (so it’s on my list).  When we finished eating, we stopped into what we thought was a wine shop to learn it sells only beers.  The owner is a lovely woman who works hard to find the right beer for you.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time there and got some Christmas shopping done.  If you’re ever in Mons, stop by Cave a Biere on Rue d’ Havre (a street that juts off the Grand Place, Infotel hotel is on it — everything else I mentioned is there too).  Something tells me I’ll be a regular at this little speciality shop/bar.

The Fromagerie was also open, so heck yeah Mama bought some specialty cheeses.  I love that I live in a place that has stores dedicated solely to cheese — with bakeries to boot.  My two biggest weaknesses (well besides wine) have their own stores!

The Grand Place was loaded up with carnival rides and games for kids, so despite the rain everything smelled like roasting sugary goodness, which makes you hungry no matter how much you already have in your belly, so we ate again at a little place off some other road. That one wasn’t as great as our other stops, but we still had a good time.

We even got lost and ended up at the park near the Belfry, which has beautiful views of the city.  I purposefully have not gone to any of Mons’ main attractions, The Belfry being one of them, because I’m saving touring those with Joe when he arrives.  But woo hoo there are so many hidden gems in this city that I get to discover.

Soooo, my rainy Saturday didn’t earn the cube shelves I want for my living room, but it turned out way, way, way better.  Later on today, I go to another friend’s house for curry pumpkin soup and more goodies — yeah, I know my buddha belly is never going away.

As for all the other stuff going on:  my furniture did arrive last week (woo hoo), my cable/Internet did not (boo hoo), my car still looks great parked waiting for its tags, it’s getting chilly and I’m loving winter fashion, work is still great, my apartment is coming along (will post pics when I’m finished decorating), oh and I got to visit my relatives in Germany last week.  I LOVE that all I have to do to travel is walk to train station, get to airport, land and then hop on a train again — it’s so, so easy.  LOL although, lugging a suitcase up the cobblestone hill that leads to my place is a bit of a cardio workout.

So all is well, and my weekends are booking up with all sorts of holiday festivities, and then before you know it I’ll be home baking cookies and sipping bevies with my kids, Joe and Arizona friends.  This year is flying by!

p.s. my crappy old phone (it’s a 3 in its series) has been annoying me forever.  It’s insane, I know, but I’m wasting my hard-earned euros and buying the iPhone X soon —— soooooooooooo, better pics will be posting in the near future.

 

 


 

 

Foie gras and Paris!

It’s been a great, much-needed weekend of food, wine, laughs, new friends and new experiences.  Just up the street (a 5 minute walk if I’m wearing shoes I need to carefully navigate on cobblestone) from my place is this adorable little place called Osmose.  It seats only 12 people at a time.  Your waiter is the chef and owner. Two of my new friends, now neighbours, made reservations for Friday night and were kind enough to invite me to join — and thanks to them this will be a go-to place every time I have guests in from out of town.

They suggested I just go with what the owner says to try, which meant me eating things I never really saw myself liking.  The entree (appetiser) of the night was foie gras, but he also had an alternative scallops dish for those of us who aren’t fans of the foie.  I got those, but Beth Ann said to heck with it and gave the goose liver pate a try, so I tasted a smudge and it really was delicious.  The main dish was duck — again not a fave of mine, unless it’s the crispy Asian kind — but I went with it.  OMG I didn’t know poultry could be served medium rare, and I didn’t know a bird could taste like steak.  It was an amazing meal with little surprises here and there, fantastic wine, and fun times getting to know the owner, chef a little bit.  Our reservations began at 6:30; I didn’t roll down the hill back to my place until midnight.

Way too early Saturday morning I had to drag my carcass out of bed to rush to work.  For 25 euros all of the staff at the international schools on base had an opportunity to hop on a day-trip bus to Paris.  In a little over three hours, I could spend the day eating, drinking, etc. in PARIS.  I crawled into that bus with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do, or whom I was going to do it with — other than I was getting out of town for a day and walking the streets of Paris.

A group of new friends lured me into their day by saying they were starting off with champagne at a cafe — win!  It’s amazing how quickly a wine hangover and not enough sleep disappears when you’re sipping bubbly on the street.

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Then we had lunch at Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris.  It’s where the male (thinking women not yet welcome at that time) revolutionaries, philosophers, artists, writers, etc.  met and some of its guests included Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson — just to name a few.  Love that I’m teaching American History and some of the historical figures I’ve made my kids remember sipped and burped right at the same place as I did in Paris.  I wonder if they too marvelled at the creme brûlée,

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Ignore the wine stains on table (we had a few) and inhale the goodness of this giant brûlée.  I should’ve known it was going to be huge when they gave me a soup spoon to eat it with.
Anyone else think of Beauty and the Beast here?  I know I’m a terrible teacher since I should be pointing out all the historical amazingness of this place, and I did take it all in, but you aint got time for my geeky side.  Just know I loved being here touching the banister so many great minds have leaned on — while wondering what their women counterparts were doing elsewhere.

After lunch it was walk, walk, walk on over to Notre Dame and then the Picasso museum.

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It’s funny how the Picasso experience haunts me.  While in the museum I was mostly just hot and tired and thinking to myself “dude, why so much dick in your work?”  A funny side note:  one of the middle school teachers asked us if we saw the penis on the face of his famous painting The Dream.  We all did, and she was amazed because for years she’s been having her 8th graders do a replica of this and never noticed the phallus until someone pointed it out to her today.  Oh Picasso see what you’ve made good women do!

Unknown-1 It’s all I see, plus the naughtiness I think she’s up to.

I honestly don’t get a lot of his work, and as a woman I find the portraits of the women he loved disturbing, BUT some of his paintings pulled me in and stuck with me.  His sculptures not so much. The black and white sketches made me want to understand this world of his, but then again I’m thinking the whole point is I’m not supposed to understand.  I can’t tell you why his paintings keep coming back to me because … lol like his art I don’t exactly understand it … but his work haunts me.  Some of it I found funny and some of it scared me.  So, I’m glad I went because now I’ve taken an interest in getting to know what the Internets have to say about him, and for whatever reason it makes me think.

On this trip I did not get to go to all the other museums I want to visit, but that’s okay because it’s just a short train trip away, and some of my new friends said they’d totally do an art weekend with me.  I’m a very happy girl!

I’m also procrastinating because instead of walking to the market like I had planned today, I’ve told myself I’m putting together another Ikea thing — my version of Picasso hell minus any sexual play — and I’m here typing to all of you looking at that damn box waiting for me to open.

Okay, gotta go do this thing.  Hope you all have had as lovely a weekend as I have.  It feels good to have gotten away from the stress of moving and working!

 

Ups and Downs

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Image taken from http://www.laprovince.be/425439/article/regions/mons/actualite/2012-05-30/mons-fin-des-travaux-a-la-rue-de-nimy-ce-mercredi

Oh this moving thing is always a bumpy ride.  Add moving to a second floor apartment on a street like above, and you run into some extra issues.  You see the stairwell and elevator are too small to lug up furniture, so delivery trucks need to use an “outdoor lift” to haul it in through my front windows.  But, in order to do that, a large spot in front of building needs to be off limits to others for parking, which I thought my landlord was reserving for me.  I was mistaken.  I need to learn French STAT!  The department you call to do this needs 5 days advance notice.  Luckily, I discovered this on Friday, unfortunately an Ikea delivery was scheduled for Monday.  Lol back to sort of luckily, I called Ikea to reschedule and they were just about to call me to let me know that they couldn’t come Monday anyway, so now that delivery is scheduled two weeks away! Um, I will be without a bed longer than I like now.

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Image taken from http://www.glugo.pl/jak-zabezpieczyc-transport-mebli/

I’m still taking Monday off because I have two other deliveries being made on Monday that don’t require the lift thingie but do require me being home.  Guess whose buying herself an air mattress this weekend?

That said I’m still excited to be moving into my place TODAY.  Woo hoo! And, despite the setbacks, I’ve been getting a lot accomplished these past two weeks:  got my Belgian ID in the works so that I could set up my local bank accounts, so that I could pay my deposit and first month’s rent. I set up an Internet and mobile plan, rented a car and I’m in the process of checking out cars to buy, while my driver’s license class/test is on Tuesday.

I don’t know when my furniture shipment from America will arrive, but the Ikea shipment includes a sleep sofa for the guest room and some other things that will tie me over until the rest of my furniture arrives (if I’m lucky maybe at the same time?).  Basically, my place will be bare bones for a bit, but it’s all good I’m getting that much closer to leading a ‘normal’ life.  FYI I could borrow a bed for free from the base’s loaner program, but I’ve decided it’s just easier to do it the air mattress way because I don’t want to have to worry about being home for the bed’s return pickup within its 90 days return policy.  I did, however, take advantage of being able to borrow a washer and dryer for the life of my lease —- how cool is that?!

But, enough on my move (I’ll post pics next post), on the work front there’s plenty good to share.  I work a block schedule, so I don’t have the same kids every day, that said some of my students are in all three of my classes, some are in two, a few are just in my seminar (study hall/tutoring) class.  Each class I teach a day is different because I have history, English and ESL, so it’s never the same lesson period to period.  I see my ESL kids every day, and while it’s a small class I have two different sessions going on because two of my kids are in the early phase of learning English, while the others are a year or two ahead of them.   Long story short:  I’m busy, busy, busy, but never stale or bored, and I’m really enjoying what I teach.  I wish I could tell you more about the kids because their personalities and cultural nuances keep it fun and interesting, but I don’t want them to ever feel like I’m blabbering their stories all over the internet — just know that I’m glad to once again get the privilege to work with cool kids.  My school is one of a variety of countries’ schools on campus, and last week the entire campus celebrated 50 years of the International School being open.  All the schools took part in a parade and group panoramic while kids waved flags from all the different countries.  It was so cute seeing the elementary kids from the U.K. school in their little uniforms proudly waving their flags.   Some of our Polish students became Captain Poland by wrapping their flags around them.   For me it was pretty darn awesome to see children from all these nationalities together just having fun and being kids — if only it could always be this easy.

On Thursday the entire campus celebrated International Teacher’s Day.  The kids were given a day off, so that we could use the morning to catch up on some mandatory trainings and then eat lunch with all of the other teachers.  I got to meet some German English teachers who’ve been here the same amount of time as me, and who also live just a few blocks from me.  New friends in the making?  I hope so.

I’m sometimes frustrated with all that still needs to be done and the things that pop up that I didn’t know I needed to know, but I no longer feel overwhelmed.  I know that by the time this semester ends I will be settled and ready to begin the next one, hopefully, rested and organised.  Oh, and on that note I bought my ticket home for Christmas, so woo hoo the countdown to see my family again is back on.

And, if I want to meet my landlord at 10 a.m. to pick up my keys, I better finish packing up this hotel room and begin the big move.  Can’t wait to show you my new home pics — hahaha bare bones and all.

More on my life in Mons…

patio pic My hotel patio

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sipping my coffee while listening to the maids clean the rooms near me.  I’ll be getting the knock soon, which is annoying because I’ll have to answer the door with my bed head and sloppy sweats and repeat what I say every weekend, “non.  I’m okay.  Merci!”

This time in two weeks, I’ll be in my apartment, scrubbing away, getting it ready for my furniture delivery.  My little hotel studio is the perfect place for me to temporarily live.  It has a little patio and friends two doors down, but hotel life is hotel life even when you have your own lil yard, fridge, stove top and microwave.  Besides, I’ve heard enough of my revolving neighbours’ noises — from snores, to off key singing, to their kids banging on my back sliding glass door, to their phone alarms. Thank God I haven’t had overzealous couples or loud bathroom goers!  There’s also the crappy Internet, but it will all soon be another memory to add to the pile.  Hopefully, the Internet at my place will not ping out so much, and I’m told since the bedrooms face the backyard my mornings and nights will be quiet.

archway

That archway leads to a shortcut to my apartment.

Anyway, I’m soooooooo looking forward to moving into my new home.  That said when I move, I will miss coming home from work to a freshly made bed, fresh towels and a shiny bathroom, with a tub that says, “Come on in Darling.  I’ve been waiting for you.”  My apartment tub will be there for me, but my fat ass will have to clean it because I love my bubbles, and they love leaving a ring.

Some shots of my currently empty apartment.  That room in the middle is the entryway. The living/dining room is also huge.  I’ll show more when I move in.  And, I have two square toilets!

I finally feel like I’m somewhat settling into everything.  Oh, I still have a boatload to do, and I tense up when I think about it, but I’m more than halfway up the hill.  I’ve got this.  I used this weekend to relax, grade and plan a lesson (the plan was to plan more, but oh well I got one two-day unit covered).  I’ll finally rent a car and start driving next week, which will help me feel more like a resident than working tourist.

I’m getting to know Mons a little better as well.  The Grand Place (pronounced more like Plahss) is a cobblestone mecca of festivals, food and alcoholic goodness.  There’s almost always something going on.  Weddings with their honking horns (which I enjoy — makes you wanna get in on the fun) on Saturdays, parades, festivals and tourist events throughout the weekends.  A few weeks ago, I literally watched World War 2 jeeps and tanks parade about, while a band played favourites from that era. This weekend it’s street performers, outdoor concerts and fireworks celebrating Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium (which is where I am).

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Tanks in Town, the WW2 event, is such a big deal they’re already planning the next two years activities.  Click here to learn more.  As is this weekend’s  Les Fêtes de Wallonie – Wallonia Festival

The city is as Shannan puts it is a big wheel with The Plas (ewww what we locals call it) as it’s centre (although not quite the center), and streets and alleyways as spokes going out to the inner and outer rings, main roads that circle around the city.  The train station is on the outer ring.

The spoke my apartment is on runs parallel to The Plas, so I guess it’s more like a spider’s web (but I like the wheel analogy; it helps me when I get lost), and it’s a 5 minute stroll to all the good stuff.   My landlord said I’ll be in the perfect location for the Doudou, (sounds like do do) now, now it’s not a dog-park cleaning nightmare.  It’s a major event that dates back to the Middle Ages, and it involves pulling the hair off of a dragon’s tail.  So, Daenyrs ain’t the only blonde getting to touch a dragon.  This Mother of Heathens is gonna get her chance.  I’m fascinated by its story and look forward to visiting the Doudou museum, which just happens to be on my street.

There are so many alleyways and off streets to explore as well.  I love walking to get lost and then finding my way back to the way that leads to the hotel.  I now know enough food words in French to somewhat figure out menus.  I know that Filet Americain is a raw hamburger (the Belgium version of steak tartare) and that poisson won’t kill me since it’s fish.  Entre’ is an appetiser and chaud is hot.  The salads are almost always big and not low cal, and frites pretty much go with everything.  I usually order jambon (ham), fromage (cheese) scampis, boeuf or poulette.  I bet you can figure the last three out no problem.   LOL so eating is not a problem!  Nor is drinking — order the house wine; it’s usually good.  I even like the beer, so all is well in my quest to destroy my liver.

The job is still great, and I’m adjusting to wearing close-toed shoes.  It’s been in the 60s, which was a bit of a shocker for me since I’m not used to temps dropping that low until February.  I’m not complaining though — love experiencing Fall again!

And, last, but not least, some random shots of Mons (although the doggy sign pic was taken at another village; I’m sure Mons has one too).  My phone isn’t the greatest, so I promise to bring my camera the next time I walk to take some better pics.

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Bon Jour!

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A view of the backyard for my new apartment complex.  Flowers, stone walls and green … lots and lots of green!

Hello from Belgium!  I’ve been busy, busy, busy.  I would’ve posted something sooner, but, well, I’ve been busy.  The few times where I had a moment to write, I was torn about sharing my good stuff while shit was happening elsewhere.  August has been a whirlwind of “wtf.”  But, in between the “is this really happening again?” and the chaos of devastation, there’ve been moments of people putting themselves at risk to help strangers.  As always there’s this mix of good and bad — I want to type balance, but let’s face it shit aint balanced right now.

I am so incredibly fortunate to be living my life, and nothing terrible has happened to me, but the wrongdoings in the world are very visible, especially in Brussels.  I now go to outdoor concerts with military men and their weapons walking around for protection (and I am grateful for it).  I’ve been asked to leave a park while security did a sweep.  It’s surreal to get off your train to see fatigues and big-ass guns casually strolling by.  That said life is certainly not taking a back seat.  Parades, festivals, restaurants and pubs are still belting out their fun, and the necessary added watch manages to blend in.  It is what it is.  In the villages and smaller cities you don’t see this, but the police are there doing their thing, and I imagine everyone is more vigilant than any of us were what feels like a long time ago.

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I wish I could say I’ve been going to a lot of the fun stuff, but right now I’ve only managed to fit in a few outings — thanks to a visit from Shannan and Ian and the new friends I’m meeting here.

Half the time I feel like I’m running a marathon backwards because there’s so much to do for the new job, the new bits and pieces of immigration, etc., etc.  The other half I’m in awe by where I am.  I cannot wait until Joe and Badger join me and we explore together (plus by February things should be way calmer for me).  There is so much to see and do — and eat and sip!

Until then I’m settling into my new job, country and all that goes with it.  It’s overwhelming, it’s stressful, and it’s full of lovely surprises.  Again, people who were complete strangers to me a month ago have stepped in to save the day more times than I can count.  I feel like I’m making another batch of life-long friends.

When I want to quit, throw a temper tantrum and scream “I can’t do this!”  Someone pops in to help me figure whatever out.  It’s going to be a very good life here.

I love my school — yeah, yeah I know I always love my school when it first starts, but this one is different.  I love the international aspect.  Students and staff have lived around the world and the mix of accents and languages in the hallway is music to me.  As a newbie I’m intimidated, but everyone assures me I’ve got this.  So, I trick myself into believing I do, and whalla! my classes have been going well.  And then the day ends, and I realise “oh shit, I’ve got a lot to get ready for tomorrow.”  InshAllah (will eventually learn its French equivalent) it’ll all be worked out by second semester, and I’ll be ahead of the game a bit.

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A pic of my room before school started.  I have my own classroom again!  WITH lots of shelves and storage and moving whiteboards and my own teacher laptop and printer and books and woo hoo!  My teacherly self feels whole again.

I’ve been lucky that I’m staying at the same hotel as another couple (who remind me a little of Joe and me — I’m thinking we have lots of fun times ahead of us), and I’ve been riding to work with them, so I haven’t had to worry about getting a car yet.  We’re in our hotel studio apartments until Oct 1 when they move into their new apartment, and I move into mine.  Sometime before then I’ll get my local drivers licence and buy a used car and deal with another country’s version of DMV (another thing on my life to-do list that I didn’t know I needed to do).

I’m excited about my new place.  At first I wasn’t sure I wanted it because it doesn’t have the exposed beams or brick walls I’ve seen in adverts for other places, it doesn’t have a private backyard, and, well, it’s not what I was envisioning at first.  BUT, it’s actually a pretty darn awesome place.  First off it’s huge with three bedrooms and an office room (which I plan on turning into a closet), it has two balconies that overlook a lovely garden, it has a storage cellar and a garage, it has marble floors and huge windows, and there’s an elevator that can bring us up to it — whew! for those days when I just don’t want to lug groceries up the stairs like I did in Al Ain.  And, it’s smack dab in the middle of Mons.  I can roll down the hill into the Grand Plaz, which is this place:

Unknown-1Unknown Internet pics again.  I haven’t had time to take good pics.

This is the street in front of my apartment (those second story windows that jut out I think are mine):

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So, yeah, I’m excited about it.  And just to show off my balcony view again, here’s another pic of all that green

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I’m meeting with the landlord next week to inspect the apartment before we do the lease signing, so I’ll take more interior pics and post when I get a chance.  There is also a park for Badger right down the road.  Badger is also going to like hanging out at the cafe bars with us.  I’m telling you we’re buying that dog a beret and wellies for his paws.  Pics will ensue.

Meanwhile back in Arizona, Joe is training Badger to get used to his kennel for his long flight, and  finishing up last-minute stuff on the house, so it can finally go on the market.  It’s been a long time coming, and we’ll both be happier when it and the last of our debt is gone.  At the same time it’s sad saying goodbye to the house I raised my children in, but I’ll just drown it out on the balcony.

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Oui, oui!

Of course there’s tons more to share, but I’m hungry and a coffee cafe is wooing me, so time to get dressed, explore my new town a bit, eat and then come back to do lesson planning.  I’m going to get ahead one way or the other!

Au Revoir!  I promise to post more pics soon.

 

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