Category Archives: Europe

it’s raining men. [january edition]

back in august of 2013, while i was still living my humble little life in iowa, one of my belgian colleagues was in town for a meeting. while we were making small talk during a break, we started discussing my move to belgium. this led to one of the most quoted/repeated conversations i had that year:

Colleague: “And you never know, you might meet a man.”
“That’s not the point,” I said, a bit condescendingly, as if I was discouraging the road this conversation was going down.

“…the point is to meet a lot of men.”

fast forward to present day. i have officially been in belgium for a month. i’ve had my ups and downs, as anyone would who has moved to another country. but throughout it all, i did remain faithful to my word. in this past month, i have met a lot of men.

to be clear, i’m not looking for “the one,” “mr. right,” or whatever you want to call a life-long romance with the only person who understands me and fills that empty void inside my heart… i’m simply looking to meet people. yeah, good looking males would be first choice. but mainly, i want to make antwerp/belgium a home and enjoy my time while i’m here.

and i want to share this adventure with all of you.

so, what’s the easiest way to start meeting new people when you are alone and new to a country? a bar? sure. but meeting people when you’re alone in a bar can seem a bit desperate. and scary. and here in belgium there’s even the possibility that they don’t speak english. we could meet through mutual friends? also a decent idea- except that most of my friends over here are work colleagues who are either married, in relationships, or just asexual as hell (yes, jeroen. this is referring to you).

which leads me to… and you’ve probably already guessed it… online dating.

for the record, i was never against online dating before. i just never signed up for anything because, honestly, i pretty much knew what des moines had to offer. but a new, interesting, foreign, and different land? sign me up. no, wait. i get to make a profile and talk exclusively about me? i’ll sign myself up, thanks!

january:

date #1: “not-evan”

i started talking to guy #1 on okcupid for a few reasons. the first reason was that i noticed he was from the states and had just moved to antwerp a few weeks before i did. what better way to get to know the city than with someone who is in the same boat as you? the second reason, which i’m not too ashamed to admit, is that i thought he looked a bit like a nerdier version of evan. and despite all of evan’s flaws (i mean, he was the flawed one, that’s obviously why the relationship didn’t last, right?), he’s cute to boot. i mean, best looking guy i’ve dated, hands down.

so not-evan and i start chatting it up. he’s funny and makes a comment about his youthful appearance, something that i can relate to. he also drops some intellectually nerdy comments throughout the conversation, which scores major points with me. i love myself a good looking nerd. he suggests that we meet up at the museum of modern art, an awesome idea because it’s perhaps the one place i know how to get to in antwerp, being a 5 minute walk from my apartment.

18:30 rolls around and i see a boy-man (again, youthful appearance) sitting on a bench outside of the museum. when he sees me, he gets up and greets me with a good ol’ fashion (yet extremely polite), american hug. there are a few things i notice about him at this point:

a) he looks nothing like evan (though still very cute)
b) he is really fashionable

we make a bit of small talk as we walk towards the museum, and conversation flows with relative ease the entire night. i’m not overly impressed with anything on exhibit, but neither is he. he’s funny in person as well as online. he’s a bit pretentious, but in a way i could see myself being as well. he’s traveled a lot. you can tell he comes from a bit of money. he’s got a boyish charm, but also a bit of arrogance that comes with someone who thinks he’s a catch.

after the museum we walk to nick’s bar, a bar he tells me is named after some hemingway character. he’s a big fan of hemingway. cute. we drink. we chat. we try to one up each other on travel adventures. i’m here for work and nothing has gone right so far. his father is the owner of the company he works for and he’s over in belgium gaining experience to one day possibly take over. …there’s a clear winner here and it’s not me.

after we were done drinking our fill, we start to get a bit hungry. we walk over to den artist, a little restaurant that had been recommended to me from a friend. we walk in… i’ve been here before. shit. oh well. we sit. we eat. the portions are way too big so i do the most embarrassingly american thing possible. i get a to-go box. he smirks at me. i smirk back and tell the waitress that i’m boxing it up for him because he’s too embarrassed to do it himself. well-played, lundberg.
well-played.

overall, the night ended fairly well. we parted ways after dinner. i got a text from him the next day asking me if the food was delicious enough the next day to lose face over. a month later, we still talk occasionally, but i don’t think there were major sparks for either of us. don’t get me wrong, i had a good time and think that we could be friends. but one thing was really holding me back from actually being interested.

i’m not saying he’s gay. i’m not. i’m just saying that, if in the conversation somewhere he said, “i also like bicycling, photography, and dating men,” i wouldn’t have been surprised. still super cute though. and damn, was he a good dresser.

date #2: the texan

i started talking to the texan for similar reasons as i did guy #1– i saw he was an american. a cute american. and while i was stalking, i mean, browsing through his photos, i found myself giggling at his verbiage. i mean, this guy was funny. he was quirky. he liked sushi. yeah,  i was going to attack.

we talked online for a bit and i was immediately impressed at the texan’s bantering ability. i have a tendency to be overly sarcastic sometimes and that can come off as unkind, but he matched me step-for-step. i offered to get sushi with him when i got to town and he shot the idea down, saying he liked to reserve dinner for a second or third date as he had some weird first dates over dinner that felt like a waste of time and money. brutal and honest. respect. we switched from okcupiding to texting. banter continued. we decided to meet for drinks. he picked the time, i picked the place.

i picked den engel. it’s in the grote markt, which is about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. sounds a bit far (for an american) to walk, but it was somewhere i had frequented enough that i knew i could find the bar with relative ease. and, in case he was catfishing me like he claimed to be doing, i could easily run back home without having to check my map on how to get there.

a few minutes before 19:00 i walk up and see a perfect-heighted male speciman standing outside of den engel with a very stylish coat. i give him the eye, wondering (hoping?) that it was the texan and was reassured with an awkward half-wave that it indeed was. we went in for a drink.

first off, den engel is not really a place where you bring younger people. it’s an old person bar. but i absolutely love it. it’s a bit of a dive, but it’s got great character and a good view of the markt. we sat down and had a few drinks. he asked me how i had heard of the bar and i said i was taken there by a friend the last time i was in belgium. he asked if my friend was 80, which seemed to be the average age of the bar patrons. i laughed. still brutal and honest.

the date went, by my standards, exceptionally well. there were no lulls in conversation. we walked around the city for hours, popping into occasional places for a drink or to warm up. i outdrank him, but i’d like to think i can outdrink most people who, well, aren’t belgians. belgians can really drink.

the date ended at my doorstep. there was some playful physical contact throughout the night, but no kiss, which was fine. i would’ve accepted it, but i wasn’t going out of my way for one. plus, he had already admitted to me earlier in the night that he was going to the netherlands the next day for a second date with a girl. i went up to my (barely furnished) apartment with a smile on my face. it was a good night.

— as a note, i’ve been out with the texan a few times. the second time we went out we went on a bike ride and for a walk around the lake. i thought it was going rather well so i immediately sabotaged it by losing my phone. he later tried to cheer me up by offering to buy me a girl in the red light district. the next time we hung out he taught me how to play magic. he’s way into magic. then we got dinner (third date rule), drinks, and parted ways. still no kiss, which in my mind, puts me/him in the “friend zone.” but honestly, i’m not too worried about it. regardless, i like him and he’s someone i’d like to continue hanging out with.

date #3: the pho-phriend.

i met the third guy on my beloved app, tinder. i don’t know if you are aware of my love/hate relationship with this app, but if you aren’t you should know that i find it extremely addictive. i also have the tendency to forget that the people i am rating are real people, so i have a ton of matches, most of them who i have never said a word to.

but i was feeling bored and feisty one night, so i logged into tinder to scam on some hotties. i came across a guy with a belgian name i really like, so i made sure to tell him i dug his name. he quickly responded with “thanks. i have no particular feelings about the name amanda.” oh. it’s on.

we talked a little more- how i had just moved to antwerp, typical small talk chatter. he offered to show me around town that night, but it was cold and dark and i was comfortably in sweatpants on AB’s couch watching orange is the new black so i respectively declined. but we kept chatting. somehow we got on the topic of food and i mentioned that i was on the lookout for a good pho place.

HE HAD JUST HAD PHO THAT DAY. um, say what?! no one in this country has even heard of pho, and this guy talks about how he has it all the time. one of his favorite foods. i knew then and there this was, at the very least, a wonderful friendship blossoming over our love of asian food.

so we made plans to go get asian food the next day. the pho place closes at 18:30, which is absolutely ridiculous, so there was no possible way we were getting any of that beefy noodley goodness. but he said he would take me to one of his favorite authentic chinese food places called fong mei in the chinatown area.

the main problem for meeting was one of logistics. he was living in antwerp, but was from more of the city center and i was from the south side and no idea how to get around. solution? meet at the grote markt after work and go from there. if we were hungry we’d eat there, if not, we’d move on to the other area.

…but if we were at the grote markt to begin with, we might as well go to den engel. 🙂 i pretty much decided after i set the meeting spot that it’s a good place to go at some point during a date to judge reactions. plus, it’s not too loud so you can talk. plus, i love it there.

my pho-phriend was cool. he does finance for a company in brussels. he likes to travel. we had good conversation and he didn’t laugh too hard at my attempts at the dutch language. after a few drinks neither one of us were so hungry we felt the need to gnaw our arm off, so we took that as a good sign to take the subway to chinatown.

the food at fong mei was pretty decent. the conversation was better. i learned how to order a “pintje,” which is essentially a draft beer of whatever’s on tap. the night ended with him showing me how to order a tram ticket on my phone (and it will just be added to my phone bill at the end of the month, which is totally swank) and a quick hug. when i got home i shot him a text to let him know i made it in one piece and we both agreed it was good to meet one another.

overall, i didn’t feel an overwhelming amount of romantic chemistry, but i really enjoyed my time and hope to hang out again soon. he had sent me a text the next day asking if i wanted to get pho that weekend, but my days were already filled up. i’m sure we will get together fairly soon, though. just thinking about how long i have been in pho-withdrawal gives me the shakes.

date #4: the unexpected

i’m not going to lie- i didn’t expect too much out of the date with guy #4. and it was nothing that he had done wrong, he just didn’t really strike me as my type. maybe it was our lower match percentage. maybe it was the fact i read on his profile he was really into the gym. or maybe it was that he had “casual sex” checked as one of the categories he was looking for. it really could’ve been a mixture of all three. and besides him telling me i had a cute pic on my profile, there wasn’t too much of a spark. (i mean, his photo was pretty cute too, but he only had one and sometimes it’s hard to judge off of just one angle.)

regardless, i’m new to an area and he said he would come to antwerp to get a drink with me some weekend. perfect. we exchanged numbers and, to my surprise and delight, i would occasionally get some witty text from him that would allow an equally playful response.

but the first time we were going to go out, i ditched him. i can’t remember why exactly, but i’m guessing it had to do with my laziness. i think we were planning on doing a dinner on a sunday night, but i had gone over to AB’s earlier that day and she and her fiancee were feeding and watering me and letting me use their internet and watch their tv… yeah, there was no way i was leaving that.

the second time, he ditched me. he sent me a message online (i had just lost my phone) to let me know he had forgotten he had to go to a car show that day for work. i didn’t think much of it. when i got my old phone reactivated i let him know and we made plans for the following sunday. i jokingly asked him if he was sure he didn’t have some fancy, manly motocross race to attend instead and his response was that he usually fights bears in the woods on sundays, but they’re hibernating, so for now he’s all mine. good answer.

so sunday rolls around and i make my way to the grote markt, where we agreed to meet. he was from a different town and had to take the train in, since drinking and driving is a big no-no in this country. we meet up around 14:50 and walk until we find a cozy bar his antwerpen friend had recommended. we get two bollekes (which i’m getting pretty damn good at ordering, if i do say so myself).

his profile picture didn’t disappoint. he’s very cute. he’s short too, which is always a plus with me. by looking at him, you could tell that he was in shape, but he wasn’t a meathead at all. he was actually kind of soft-spoken. at first, when i realized he was a bit quiet, i was worried that we wouldn’t have much to talk about. however, after a few hours of constant conversation that fear dissipated. he spent a year living in japan and spoke fluent japanese. he liked karaoke. he wasn’t afraid to go dancing. i was having a blast. at around 17:00, he asked me if i was hungry and if i would like to get some food.

now, here’s the thing. if you live in japan for any time, chances are you probably like my favorite food, which is sushi. the best sushi place in antwerp is in the grote markt. but it is SUPER expensive. i casually mention to him that there is a good sushi place close by, but it is pricey. he shrugs. he doesn’t care, he wants good sushi and is willing to pay for it. major points there. it’s not that i care if people have money or not, that’s really not an issue to me. but i liked his “go-with-it” attitude. i check their website, but they don’t open until 18:00. whatever should we do in the mean time?

two words: den engel. i mean, come on, it was really close by! we walk in and i warn him it’s a bit of a “brown bar,” but he laughs it off and calls it charming. we order a few drinks, continue chatting, and then we notice the bartenders are moving tables outside. the bar is getting more and more crowded. something is going down. i immediately text my friend jeroen because den engel is “his bar” and if anyone was to know what was going on, it was going to be him. guy 4 and i finish our drinks and decide to go back to the bar after we get done eating to see what is happening.

we went to go eat at roji, which again, is the best sushi i’ve had in antwerp. okay, truth be told, it’s the only sushi i’ve had in antwerp. but i’ve heard sushi palace is sub-par, and i’ve seen some of the maki in the stores and it doesn’t look all that impressive. i order a ginger mule because this is the only place in antwerp that i know of that has ginger beer, and guy 4 follows suit. he loves it. we cheers over my good decision and look at the menu. he doesn’t even flinch at the price and instead suggests we get one assorted sashimi and one assorted maki plate. um… done and done.

130 euro later we exit the restaurant, fully stuffed and satisfied by our selections. conversation has gone from good to great and we are already planning where we are going to go the next time we go out. he’s from leuven so i agree to go there for some exceptional pasta next weekend. but the night can’t end quite yet. not when our curiosity has been peaked so high to see what is going on at den engel.

it’s ‘sunday night fever!’ (that was the only thing i got back from jeroen, but from that we had gathered it is some sort of dance party.) we get back to the bar, grab a bench seat, and watch old people dance to techno versions of old songs. it’s fantastic.

the night ends with us agreeing Sunday Night Fever is one of the coolest things ever, cheersing, and downing our drinks. he walks back to the train station and i take off in the wrong direction for home, then realize my mistake and do a 360 to get situated to the right direction. no one saw, it’s fine.

guy #5: smuggy mcsmuggerton

i started talking to guy 5 on okcupid not really because we were a match, but more out of boredom. truth be told, we weren’t really a match at all. 46% match, 53% friend, and 26% enemy. (wow, really, okcupid? you rate your enemies?) but, he seemed decent enough to look at and definitely had an adventurous attitude. every time we talked he came across as smug and arrogant, but in a way that made you feel he was just kind of elbowing you in the ribs to be funny. the online version of a boy pulling your pigtails.

honestly, what really made me inclined to meet him was that he pretty much flat out told me he just broke up with a girl and wasn’t looking for anything serious. just moving to a new country and in the spirit of meeting new people, i was thinking a bit of the same. i felt we could easily go out without having too much of an expectation in either direction.

this date activity was definitely my favorite that i’ve done in antwerp (so far). mr. mcsmuggerton took me to a basketball game. he picked me up in his BWM (that he has paid for in full and, of course, had to mention),  and we walked arm in arm to the stadium- halfway for warmth, halfway because he initiated it and you got to give a man credit for that.

at the stadium we met two of his friends, who were both extremely handsome. is it terrible of me to maybe have wished i met one of them first?! (answer: yes). we watched the game, which apparently was a very good match up because the antwerp giants are the best team in belgium and they were playing some very good russian team. and the game was incredibly fun to watch– even though the giants were very obviously the underdog team, you could tell their fans were very dedicated. guy 5 and i didn’t really talk too much during the game, but that was perfect because… well… i love basketball.

the game ended, we left his friends, and we got in his car to go back home. he had told me earlier in the night that he didn’t drink very often, and because of the drinking/driving rule in belgium, if he was going to have anything alcoholic he was going to stay over at my place.

i assured him he was not. i mean, i liked him all right, but definitely not that much. maybe we had different ideas of “not looking for anything serious.” i saw that more as meeting people with no expectations and i think he saw it more as sleeping with people with no expectations. oh, well. potato-potato. 🙂

because of his smugness/arrogance/confidence/whatever you want to call it, i will say he was the only guy that initiated a kiss at the end of the night. and i was impressed with that. i mean, heck, he was probably mad because that’s all he got and he wanted to sleep over, but honestly, if i was eyeing his friend the whole night it probably isn’t a match made in heaven anyway. at least he wasn’t looking to get serious. 😉

guy #6: male me?

i went out with the last guy on the very last day of the month. we had chatted online here and there, but not often enough or with enough zing to make him a forerunner in the game. (i mean, in the dating. it’s not a game. it’s dating.) but he was cute and we were a 92% match, so i figured, what the hell. he lives in gent, which is about a half an hour away, but offered to come to antwerp for a night and have a few drinks.

the idea of going on the date was a good pick-me-up during the week, but it was actually the first date that didn’t go according to plan. we originally planned to meet on the south side at a pub at 20:00, but the closer it got to 20:00 the more i felt like i was about to be stood up. he wasn’t responding to texts or calls. 20:00 rolled around and he was nowhere to be found. (i did make some random friends in the pub, though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.) at 20:40 he called me to let me know he had missed the exit and was making his way into antwerp. at 20:50 he called back to say he was in the city center area instead of the south side like we had planned. i told him i’d meet him in the grote markt and started walking.

i get to the grote markt around 21:00 and park myself down on a bench. a few minutes roll by and i text him that i’m at the statue. he calls back. he is also at the statue. hmmm. puzzling. turns out he was in the groenplaats, not the grote markt.  it’s starting to rain. i tell him to head to the cathedral. i see him there, and we finally meet.

now, this would normally be a large turn off, but i can’t bring myself to blame him. for one, i have to admit, it sounds like something that i would do. i’m not the best with directions and even with a gps i can get lost at times. this guy drove over a half an hour to see me, doesn’t even have a gps, and i should cut him some slack. fine. let’s go to den engel and get some drinks.

we sit down and order a few drinks and it is at this point that male me asks me if he can stay over, because of the drinking and driving law.

okay, i’m also a bit annoyed about this. what is with these belgian guys just assuming they are invited into my apartment? he isn’t pushy or insistent on it. he admits that he is a bit of a lightweight and is more than happy to sleep on the couch. i inform him i don’t have one yet. maybe something he could’ve asked before he drove into town with plans to drink.

but, whatever. our drinks are here. we cheers and begin drinking and actual conversation. the first thing he says impresses me. he knows the capital of iowa is des moines. he knows we are ‘the hawkeye state.’ and how does he know this? he plays pub trivia every week. he also has board game nights with his friends. um, what? kind of irresponsible, but loves pub trivia and board games? i feel like i’m describing myself here!

we had a few drinks at den engel. he sat on the same side of the bench as me. i don’t really know what to make of that, but i think it’s interesting to point out. it wasn’t like we were staring each other down across the table like an interview. but even though it wasn’t an interview, he did get one strike against him.

…he was currently unemployed. that’s not shallow of me, is it? i mean, i can overlook tardiness and unpreparedness if it’s not a reoccurring theme, but unemployment kind of bothers me. but he was unemployed because he was taking classes and wants to be an engineer. he wants to do something. he’s got ambition. okay. i can respect that. …for now. if it’s true.

after we finished our drinks we started our walk back to the south side. i knew i couldn’t send him home drunk, so i resigned myself to realizing i was actually letting someone stay over. also equally surprising- i wasn’t as annoyed about it at this point as i was at the beginning of the night. we stopped at the bar on the corner by my place for another couple drinks, but mostly to get out of the rain.

sidenote: how come rain makes guys look disheveled yet handsome and makes me look like a messy, drowned rat?

we finish our drinks around 1:30 and it’s very obvious the bartender wants to kick us out. we nod and pay and basically get escorted out the back exit. we walk the fifty steps to my apartment door. when we get in i give him a quick tour of the place and show him that i was serious, i honestly have no couch. “that’s okay,” he says (a bit drunkenly). “i can sleep on those pieces of carpet.”

i have two disgusting rolled up segments of carpet that were left by the previous tenant and i don’t know how to get rid of them because they are too big for the garbage sacks and i don’t know the number for the oversize loads. but anyway, the statement in itself was so cute that i told him he could sleep in my bed.

“but,” i warned, so he didn’t get the wrong idea, “i’m very tired and drunk. if you try anything, i will make you sleep in the hall.” he grinned. i grinned back… but i was serious.

to sum it up: i’m not sure how i would feel about dating myself. but i did have a good time and i will probably see him again to find out.

mi casa es su casa

so… yeah. i think i found a place to live in belgium.

i spent most of my wednesday in antwerp getting shown around different areas by housing agencies. i decided  that (after dealing with that crazy lady) using an agency probably was:

a) easier and
b) more processed and organized.

both good since getting a place in such a short time, working with people overseas, etc. will require a lot of extra work and i want someone with experience.

the first agency showed me places in berchem. i grew really attached to one place almost immediately. first of all, it was HUGE. it had three bedrooms. it looked well kept. no parking, but parking at a grocery store which was fairly close by. it was close to the train station and a tram line ran almost right outside. i had three other places to look at in that area, but i was almost sold on that one.

almost. until the taxi ride home where the taxi driver asked me why a young, single, beautiful (yeah, i didn’t have to throw the last one in there, but it made me feel good) woman would want to live in berchem? he said that the youngest man at the bar next to me would be a 70 year old. in talking with people from the area i found that berchem was really a sleepy, nice, suburb of antwerp. but if i wanted to go out… if i wanted to meet peopleif i wanted to live my belgian life to the fullest… i needed to live in the south of antwerp.

so when i got back to my hotel i scheduled two more visits with a different agency. one of the places was in the city center area and one was in the south. i hopped in a taxi and made my way to the first.

first off, the agency lady was awesome. she was young, maybe late 20s or early 30s and i knew we would hit it off right away because she had a nose ring and she was wearing chucks. she didn’t have a car so we took public transportation to get to the places. she gave me some good tips and pros and cons of the areas as well.

the city center apartments were pretty awesome. the one i was looking at was very modern, very chic. very expensive. over $1500 for a 840 sq ft apartment (733 euro rent + 99 euro common costs + 70 euro provision for water, heating, electricity + 110 euro for the parking). and you definitely need a parking spot if you are living in the city center. the bedrooms were kind of small, but the bathroom was nice because it had a small standing shower and also a bathtub (which I didn’t need, but whatever). the kitchen kind of blended to the living room, and didn’t have a microwave. it had a dishwasher, but it was basically there by accident and if it broke it wouldn’t be replaced. but it had a nice view, it was in a good area of town, and it was connected directly to the train station and a lot of businesses, shopping places, etc.

but ultimately, i wanted to see the place in the south. admittedly, i wanted to see it because everyone had talked up the area so much… but also because it scared me not to because EVERYONE talked it up so much. and not just the “hip and trendy” people who lived in the south– the taxi drivers, my co-workers, random belgians i met *cough*tindered*cough* all agreed that the south was the best place to live, if you had the choice.

so eveline (the agency lady) and i took the tram, then we walked in the rain, then we cut across parking lots, and finally we arrived to a cute little street on the south side near a sort-of dead end road (apparently ideal for guest parking), across from a well-known “brown pub.” (by the way, i wasn’t sure what those were but everyone said it… apparently they are not dressy pubs. maybe a bit like a dive? i will have to test and see.)

before we went in to the actual apartment, she showed me the garage that i could rent for 100euro. i mean… it was literally a full garage. it already housed 3 other cars, and each had ample amount of room. driving/parking/getting around antwerp is a bit crazy, so i liked the idea of having a covered, enclosed space for my car. that was a big plus.

then we went into the 970 sq ft apartment. i will include photos (most photos taken from the Quares listing).

so you walk in and you can either go straight, into the living room area, or take a left to the bedrooms/bathrooms. let’s go straight.

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view upon entering living room

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view of living room, from the other side

okay, yeah i hate the floor paneling too. anyway…

from the living room you can get to the kitchen. also, if you look in the last photo above, you can see a combination microwave/oven? i’ve never heard of it, but apparently they are pretty common.

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here’s the kitchen. it has a small (as in, ridiculously small, probably will get another) fridge, a small dishwasher, and an old kitchen sink and stove top. again, it’s not the most awesome kitchen in the world… but let’s be real. i’m not the most awesome cook either.

okay, so that part of the adventure book ends. let’s go back to page 1 where we enter the apartment. only this time, we are going to take a left.

first off, in that little hallway there are a few closets with a nice amount of storage space. there is also a toilet that is separate from the bathroom, one thing that i cannot seem to get used to, although it is very common over here.

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after the closets there is the actual bathroom, which has a sink and a bathtub with a shower head and some weird partition thing. i actually would rather have a shower curtain and eveline thought that would be an easy fix for the owner since they usually cost less than the partition anyway.

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then the two bedrooms. the smaller (guest) bedroom/my office is on the left hand side. then the bigger bedroom, with the door to small balcony, is on the right.

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the smaller bedroom/office

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IMG_6710my bedroom

from the bedroom there is just a really, REALLY small balcony. probably just enough to fit two chairs or so. but ideal for spying on people. 😉

821470HL

so… yeah. that’s the grand ol’ tour! stop on by anytime. afterall, i have a guest bed for you.

“Birth.”

as some of you may know, i am moving to belgium next year for work. for those of you that don’t know, don’t feel bad. i mean, how could you have know? i haven’t updated this thing for nearly a year. but yes! it’s happening. living and loving abroad for at least two years starting january 2014.

the move is a little bittersweet for me. don’t get me wrong, i’m beyond excited for a new adventure. and as far as countries go, you really don’t get much better than belgium. for instance, most of the belgians i know can understand and flip sarcasm just as well as an american. and they do it in a secondary language (i’m sure they can do it in dutch too, but i wouldn’t understand). but that’s a huge thing. they speak english. they are known for chocolates, waffles, beers, bicycles… you know. the finer things in life.

and i’m attempting to learn dutch. i already drink a(n un)healthy amount of beer. i’m not too terribly worried about making friends. having said that and expressed my excitement, i must admit there is a bit of sadness as well.

you see, there is a part of me that will always love and have a loyalty to iowa. sure, our four seasons are brutal. we get mocked for having so much corn growing across this fine and flat state. outsiders don’t know the difference between iowa or idaho or ohio… but the people in iowa are wonderful. we have that “midwestern work ethic” which means we don’t stop until we get the job done and we get it done right. but we not only WORK hard, we play hard too. we are loyal. we’re nice. we’re a little backwards, not on the peak of fashion or the finest, but we are good people. and i will miss that.

so to bring a little bit of home with me overseas, i’m commissioning art off of some of the greatest artists/designers/inspirations i know… my friends. that way i have a constant reminder of people back home and i also get to display some damn good art while i’m at it.

the first piece of art i collected is a piece by my good friend Jon- the title of the piece is called ‘birth.’

i absolutely love it. i originally requested a painting from him about two years ago and jon gladly accepted the challenge. i told him i didn’t care what he painted, i just wanted something unique. i also told him there was no hurry or deadline on the piece, which i think he took to heart. the painting traveled with him for 2 years between three different apartments, and a multitude of people had the opportunity to see it in its different phases. it started out much like a skeleton head, then slowly turned into outlines of fish. then we watched in amazement as the fish became more detailed, and beautifully so. also, the piece is huge, like 27×39″, so i plan to have it be the center piece of my “iowa-inspired” wall in belgium.

birth by jon pearson

birth by jon pearson

fishy fishy2

i’ve known jon for about as long as i have been in des moines. one of my favorite things about this silly guy is that he just does not understand sarcasm. with me being one of the most sarcastic and flippant people i know, i’m not sure how our friendship budded the way it did, but i am so glad for it. he’s one of the most genuine people i know- he is always thinking, questioning, and pushing himself to be better. and throughout the years i think his art has really reflected this.

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if you want to check out any of Jon’s other work, you can go to any of the following. he also does commission work (although if it’s anything like mine, it may take awhile). 😉

thanks again, jon! it will be the highlight of my des moines wall.

waffles and chocolate and beer, oh my!

oh man. besides saying that i wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life, what is there to say about belgium? it’s beautiful. it’s clean. it’s biker friendly. its… its… it’s 1/5 the size of iowa and yet so rich with culture and history.

evan and i took off for belgium on friday, april 27. i was being sent there to help direct and edit our company’s first town hall meeting of the year, and evan was going because he’s always dreamed of going to belgium. since the first part of may was a holiday for europe, we decided it would be a convenient time to go and have a mini-vacation before my actual work week started.

we had to take separate flights because we booked at different times, but we arrived in the brussels airport roughly about an hour apart. while i was waiting i caught up with our hostess with the mostess, adrianna, a colleague who used to work in the united states but was transferred to our europe office a year and some ago.

once we got our bearings (and our luggage), adriana took us back to her apartment in antwerp where we promptly took a nap. i know they say you’re never supposed to nap when you get somewhere because you won’t adjust to the time zone, but eff that. i’m always tired and when i’m tired, i will take a nap. don’t even try to stop me.

that night, after waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed from our slumber, evan and i went exploring around antwerp- he had a meeting he wanted to attend and i had a friend i wanted to see. while evan was at his meeting i went to the something-plaats (it’s been awhile, the name escapes me) — DAGERAADPLAATS! (i remembered 15 minutes later and came back to update, but had to leave what i had before to show how proud i was that it came back to me) …

…ahem. i went to the dageraadplaats and had dinner with jeroen, a sarcastic former-coworker who loves antwerp with his whole heart and loves to bad mouth/trash talk my love for des moines, iowa even more. we shot the shit and drank beer for a good hour before evan showed back up, and then we went to a different restaurant (the one we were at was closing) so ev could have a meal. he ordered a steak tartare, which is basically raw meat mixed with some onions, capers, and some seasonings. what a daring man. i mean, i wouldn’t order it, but i did try it and it really wasn’t too bad. it kind of tasted like meat loaf.

after we left jeroen, which was around 11:30 pm, we realized the buses had already stopped for the night. the city bike rental places also had shut down– all of which probably would’ve been a problem for most people. i mean, sure it was quite the distance back to adriana’s apartment. and sure, we could’ve gotten some internet or phone access to get ahold of her to come pick us up. but like any good ol’ iowa farm couple… we walked. and we got lost. and we read some maps. and we got caught in the rain. and evan got to babysit a slightly tipsy amanda. and we walked some more.

we finally arrived back at adriana’s apartment at around 2:00 in the morning. we were tired and wet from the rain, but still extremely happy. antwerp was such a great city to walk around and get familiar with. we loved the idea of the “red lane” in the middle of the sidewalk which was reserved strictly for bikers and motorbikes. we loved how the city felt safe and everyone was friendly. we got home and immediately crashed into bed. the plan was to meet my co-worker drew and his wife chelsea in bruges the next day and figured it’d be good to at least get a little bit of sleep.

let me just stop to say, i do not have an international plan on my phone. i think it costs a ridiculous amount of money for the purpose it serves, and as long as i am somewhere with wireless t i can contact other iphones and use the internet. it may not have served me so well in italy (uggggh that day), but i think it served me fine in belgium. i will admit, however, it would’ve been easier if drew and i had phones to contact each other, because getting the hook up for bruges was a mess. we finally got connected and agreed to meet at the train station a little before noon. evan and i had adriana’s car and drew and chelsea were taking a short train from brussels (where they were staying).

by the time we had met up with d&c, we were all starving. i was on the verge of getting hangry (a mixture of hungry and angry) so we walked around the small city of bruges and scoped out what restaurants struck our fancy. it was starting to rain, so chelsea picked a nice little place and we ducked in for some heat and for some food.

the place was a bit expensive- not only pricewise, but because of the exchange rate from the euro to the dollar. but we weren’t going to let that hinder our good time- we got ourselves a feast. drew and i sampled a few different types of belgian beers and he and evan also tried mussels (i’ve had those before, highly enjoyable). our menu was set- we got to pick from an appetizer menu, then a main course, and a small dessert. it was all really good, and from the restaurant we had a nice view of the lake and watched people do boat tours.

side note: have you ever seen the movie “in bruges?” if you haven’t, first off, you need to. it’s absolutely hilarious; subtle humor mixed with over the top, ridiculous situations, beautiful scenery….

and it has the best quotes. “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me… but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

so many things to see and do in bruges. we explored some abandoned streets, had our first belgian waffles, took a boat tour, saw a carnival area, and just soaked in the belgian life. okay, sure, bruges is probably the most touristy part of belgium, but i can’t really blame people for that. i mean… it’s like a fairytale town.


“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f*cking thing?” 

the next day we all agreed to meet in brussels for the day. again, this is where having a phone would’ve come in handy. it took longer than evan and i anticipated to get from the bus to the train station, and by the time we got to the train station, we found our train was delayed. so while we were already a half an hour late to brussels, we ended up being closer to 50 minutes later than the time we told drew and chelsea we would meet them.


evan sleeping on the train

determined to not let it ruin our day (as we assumed drew and chelsea had given up on us), we did some touristy things and explored brussels by ourselves. as fate would have it, i found a small coffee shop with internet access and drew happened to be on skype at the hotel at the same time. they met back up with us and we continued on our merry way, onto one of the merriest places of all: a place with beer. lots and lots of beer.

we also got a little reckless, in our own harmless way. we went to a casino and blew a bit of money and smoked a few cigarellos we picked up in a shop (evan had bought some cigars for my dad and the cigarellos were nice and cheap.) you know… when in rome. we also had our fill of belgian waffles, chocolates, and well, beer, of course.

the next day was probably the most low key day of our vacation. adriana brought us out to this little town called balen (which jeroen says translates to “it sucks” and advised us not to go) because koen had convinced evan that he should go orienteering while in belgium. since evan had never done that type of race before, the boys did a little bit of practice orienteering for the afternoon.  i sat on a terrace, drank, and watched gliders go up.

afterwards we had dinner with koen and his wife hendrika, and then they took us to the b&b where we were staying at, an adorable little place located on a sheep farm.

the rest of the trip was rather boring overall, so i will spare you all the details. basically i got to go to work and evan got to rent a bike and ride around belgium. sounds like he got the better end of the deal.

these were the highlights of the rest of the trip:

  • being able to network and meet new coworkers– i love the people/company i work for. it’s always good to get to know them better.
  • helping (successfully) organize the first town hall meeting of the year.
  • koen gave me a ride to work every day. (i love koen.)
  • i ate horse. don’t judge me.
  • recapping with evan at night about what we each did during the day.
  • going out to dinner with a fun group at the Kathedral restaurant.
  • airport hang out time with penny (i love penny… but in a different more work appropriate way)
  • actually getting to sit next to ev on the plane ride home

^Ja, ik zal.

april showers

and a sneak attack by the month of april!

this year is FLYING by. just when i thought i had my head and hands wrapped around this so-called life, i look up and realize that april has already passed me by. no joke, i’ve felt so busy in the past month that i’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone blog.

but april, though busier than fuck (a friend of mine says iowans say “as fuck” or “than fuck” more than any people he’s met so i am trying to live up to the hype), has treated me rather kindly. here are a few highlights for the month.

  • it was around 90 degrees the first day of april. it was so warm that we had a pool party. that is unheard of in iowa.
  • krista and i took a mini-road trip to madison wisconsin to see Fun. and it was. (fun. it was fun.)
  • celebrated easter with evan’s family. it is great because the kids are all getting to an age where they recognize me every time they see me. last time we were back brookelynne called me “aunt amanda.” and i think i’m okay with it.
  • game night. it had been so long since i had a game night. we were over having a grill out at katie and tony’s. it started raining, we went inside to play fireball island and it from the pit. best games i had never played.

    (we have to go back, kate! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!)
  • april marks the beginning of the horse racing season at prairie meadows. i only went once, but i came home $20 dollars richer.
  • i’ve kind of gotten into running. i know, it surprised me too.
  • vacation. i went to belgium for work and evan got time off to come with. it was an awesome time, not only being in belgium, but just being with each other. evan thinks we could live in belgium. i think i agree.
  • on vacation i also got to see a person i used to work with who i hadn’t seen in around two years. it was good to catch up and even better to make new memories. also got to see some other employees/friends and make some new ones as well.
  • secretary of agriculture, tom vilsack, toured kemin and also did a press conference at our facility, encouraging young farmers to stay in the industry. i hung out with his six body guards.
  • my parents celebrated their 37 year anniversary. that is nuts to me. sure, they’ve had their ups and downs, just like any couple. but in the end they decided to that they were to be together for the rest of their lives. and there’s something incredibly normal yet romantic about that.

[[what really happened in italy]]

written in response to my earlier post italy [[rough agenda]]

thursday, march 1
-had amazing airport companion that made the trip from st. petersburg airport to paris, france much easier. a few perks: getting to cut lines and save hours of time, using the business class lounge, good plane conversation/no motion sickness, had someone carry my luggage for me.
-had assistance finding my gate for verona. hung out in the airport for a few hours, got something to eat. boarded plane. fell asleep. woke up in verona.
-went to car rental place– realized i either forgot to bring my license or lost it in russia. (i am praying i forgot it.)
-took a taxi to san bonifacio to the soave best western hotel. approximately 70 euro, but very typical.
-checked in to my hotel room. fell asleep immediately.

friday, march 2
-woke up– tried to find a way to get from the best western to the eurhema facility. was suggested to take the train. colleague would pick me up at reggio emilia station at 3:05
-terrible idea to take the train. had to switch trains twice; one time a full station.
-friendly italian man who was helping me turned very creepy and wouldn’t leave me alone. kept trying to kiss me and put his arm around me. followed me from train to train even though he had not paid for a ticket for himself.
-friendly turned creepy (FTC for short) was very adamant that we got off the train at a certain stop. since he was right about verona station i followed– he was wrong. supposed to get off at modena. got off at mantova, putting me about an hour behind schedule…
-spent about 1.5 hours trying to get someone to help me as my phone doesn’t work internationally. no one speaks english. i bought a phone card. didn’t work. no one would let me pay to use their phone or internet. FTC still following me around.
-finally convince a taxi driver to talk to me- he lets me borrow his phone to call his son (who speaks english); i explain the situation, he tells his father. his father calls the eurhema plant and talks to them for a bit. they tell me to take the taxi to the plant.
-i get into the taxi, very frustrated. taxi driver speaks minimal english, i speak minimal italian. still, we make small talk, lots of gestures. i cheer up.
-i arrive to eurhema plant. it is now 5:00pm. i meet lauro and pamela, reintroduce myself to claudia and diego.
-get quick tour of the plant by claudia and lauro.
-take product shots of our products produced in the plant.
-take photos of the laboratory areas/facility for reference.
-ride back home with diego. he’s got a great accent- rolls his Rrrrss. he owns a restaurant and is a waiter in his spare time. he said american accents are very hard to understand because american movies/films are dubbed over in italian when they are at the cinema or on television so they never get a chance to hear them.
-got back to best western around 7:30pm.  realized i have not had any food all day.
-ate in the hotel restaurant. very good food. watched a family play with a small child.
-went back up to my room and uploaded photos from st. petersburg.
-tried to talk to my parents through skype but they were not home. they called back at 2:15am my time.

saturday, march 3
-woke up late.
-go explore san bonifacio- not much to do in town but find a nice little cafe. people are drinking wine and beer at the counter. it is 1:00pm.
-i order a panini and hot chocolate. the hot chocolate is not a drink, but hot chocolate pudding, served with a spoon.
-the italians try to ask me questions and joke around with me. i answer back with my minimal italian. lots of smiling. they were drunk. at 1:00pm.
-finish my meal, walk to train station. buy a ticket for vicenza.
-arrive in vicenza, walk around and soak in a new city. vicenza is beautiful- lots of parks and rivers. buildings are tall and old like venice, but the town is a lot smaller and less touristy.
-asked “dov’è il teatro olimpico?” (where is…) about 100 times. very helpful people, but no english. that’s okay. i know “sinistra” “dittro” and “destra” thanks to rosetta stone.
-found the theater. took some photos.
-walked back near the train station. got “e cafe” and sat outside and watched people.
-went to explore the city some more- took some off roads. bought some gelato. consumed said gelato.
-barely missed the 6:22 train back to san bonifacio. hung around the train station (it was getting cold/dark) until 7:27 train. bought some earrings and some snack food.
-got back to san bonifacio around 8:00. approximately 700 amanda steps from train station to hotel.
-ate dinner at hotel restaurant again. realizing how starved i am for real human interaction and conversation.
-got back to hotel room, uploaded photos from vicenza to computer. talked to my parents. and anyone else who was online. (again… starved for conversation.)

sunday, march 4
-woke up, ate breakfast, drank coffee, soaked in italy
-cleaned up my room a bit to get organized for the week.
-talked to some more people who were online. courtney made it to turks and caicos okay.
-read a bit, surfed the internet. stalked people on facebook.
-took a nap.
-got ready for the day– brian (our new HR trainer) was in italy too and had just gotten to soave.
-met brian for dinner. decided to have an aperitif first; ended up having about 3 glasses of wine.
-all restaurants full or not serving food. went back to hotel to wait. drank a few more glasses of wine.
-all restaurants officially closed. took a taxi back to san bonifacio and found little pizzeria that still happened to be open.
-got kicked out of the pizzerria after we were done eating because they were ready to close.
-went back to hotel and brian went back to soave.

monday, march 5
-woke up, ate breakfast, got ready for the day.
-benjamin picks me up on his way to work.
-traditional stop at gas station for cigarettes and coffee.
-work with benjamin on SOT (sound on tape) bytes.
-interviewed benjamin.
-tour of facility and equipment with benjamin.
-regular work.
-saw koen.
-re-fell in love with koen.
-discuss life, love, and happiness with bruno.
-toured sirmione/lake garda.
-broke camera. used phone to take photos.
-fixed camera. still used phone to take photos.
-ate in verona. walked around in the rain. (i love the rain.)
-saw giuseppe. bantered.
-back to hotel in san bonaficio.
-final final.
-sleep.

tuesday, march 6
– wake up. grumble. press snooze.
-quick breakfast.
-car pool to veronella.
-catch up with needed work for des moines office, review projects and workload.
-shoot b-roll for video.
-take photos for record.
-work with koen on SOT bytes.
fall in love with  interview koen.
-upload video content; make sure footage comes out okay.
-do graphic design/other video work as time allows.
-meet up in soave with kn europe sales team.
-feel awkward for about 5 minutes. get over it. socialize.
-dinner in soave.
-embarrassing conversation.
-new friends/colleagues.
-early retirement.
-sleeeeeeeep.

wednesday, march 7
– wake up way too early. grumble. can’t press snooze.
-taxi to verona airport. arrive at airport: 6:30am
-catch flight to paris, france: 7:40am
-arrive in paris and find gate just in time to board for minneapolis.
-board plane. excitement builds.
-watch about 4 movies. sleep. eat. get restless. get excited.
-touchdown, usa.
-call parental units. assure that i will be in dsm by 4:40pm and will need someone to pick me up.
-text the love and let him know i’m okay.
-get back to des moines: 4:30pm.
-food time.
-nap time.
-…karaoke time. (the first wednesday of every month is carl’s karaoke. i haven’t missed one since it has started and i’m not going to start on the account of jet lag!).

|| fav shots of italy ||

 

russia: the bad and the ugly

have you heard?
there’s a rumor in st. petersburg….

(thank you, sarah, for getting that song stuck in my head on repeat)

oh, russia. let’s see what i remember about you.

this post might have to be broken into two segments: the arrival and the worst day of my life in the first post, the best and brightest in the next.

i got to the airport about two hours before my flight took off. the des moines airport got the new sexy machines, i mean, the hot naked, i mean, the tsa full body scanners so we were supposed to get there a little earlier than we normally would. i thought i’d be the first in my group to get there, but surprisingly i went to my gate and found dave and mark already sitting. jen joined us about 10 minutes after that and stephanie another 10 after her.

now tell me how this works out. all five of started in the same airport and were taking the amsterdam flight to st. petersburg, all arriving at 7:00pm. and yet i was the only one on my flight out of des moines. i was going dsm>msp>amsterdam and the others were doing dsm>memphis>amsterdam. not a big deal overall, but c’mon! i should’ve seen that as an indicator on how the trip was going to go.

i managed to sleep a decent amount on the minneapolis to amsterdam flight. i watched a movie, drank a bit of wine, and had some crappy airplane sleep. but by the time i got to amsterdam i was feeling pretty sickly. i had a headache, needed some real food in my stomach, and was not used to the new time. by the time i boarded for st. petersburg, i was miserable. add on top of that the fact that i get motion sickness fairly easily, and you can go ahead and say that the last flight was potentially the worst flight of my life. stephanie and i talked for about an hour and it helped take my mind off of things, but by the second hour my head was spinning and i was having trouble concentrating. when the plane landed and i stood up i was afraid i was going to black out. stephanie and mark both said i was getting paler and paler by the second and suggested once the people started moving to get out of the plane and they would grab my bags.

first off, i’m going to go ahead and fake that from now on to get people to carry my bags off of planes.

secondly, if i fake it i won’t have to make a beeline to the bathroom to throw up. so really, it’s a much better idea.

yep. what’s the first thing i did when i got to st. petersburg, russia? i threw up in the airport bathroom. awesome. top that.

but enough about that. we got to the hotel, got checked in, and i went to my room real quick to start feeling a bit more human. the plan was to have supper in the bar and then call it a night. i even made a pact with someone (who shall remain nameless) that we would not go out to the bars afterwards because we were tired, we were dehydrated, and it was simply not a good idea.

all our best laid plans, huh? 🙂

i stumbled back to my hotel around 1:30am. i know/can confirm it was this time because i skyped with tina when i got back and iMessaged jessica about my adventures. the night is a bit hazy, but these are the things i DO remember:

  • “Na zdorovje” means “to your health” in Russian. It is not normally used as a drinking cheers- but it has become more popular with tourists who know it’s very important to say something before you slam a shot. I just learned how to spell it a few minutes ago, but I could definitely pronounce it correctly (with lots and lots of practice). 😉
  • russian standard is the best vodka i’ve sampled- it is extremely smooth. too smooth. i was struck by a smooth criminal. i was not okay.
  • apparently i have very strong back muscles. i was told this after i was able to dip a 6’+ male without falling over.
  • there was a grey horse on the sidewalk and no one would believe me until the second to last night when mark confirmed that he saw it too, when he was escorting me back to the hotel. apparently i had wandered off with some russian women who “looked like they were going to have their way with me.” i’d like to think he meant that in the fun way and not that i was going to get Taken (with a capital T, Liam Neeson style)

so, i got back to the hotel, talked to some people and passed out.

i woke up at around 7:15am, very alarmed. where a nightstand once was, now sat a very large television set that was not there when i went to sleep. i was very concerned- was i in the correct room? yes. did someone bring a television to my room while i was out? was the television there before i went to bed? no. did someone deliver me a television while i was sleeping? that is extremely creepy. i would’ve thought i’d wake up to that. it’s kind of the opposite of robbing someone.

i thought about going back to sleep and probably would have, except my body was now paying me back for what i put it through the night before. i won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say it was the worst i have ever been. i couldn’t keep anything down- after 6+ hours of continuous puking, i was afraid i was going to die of dehydration. around 3:00pm i finally started feeling a bit better and ate some of my room service sprite and crackers (i think i scared the poor bus boy who didn’t speak english and had to decipher my grunts of where to set the tray). i fell asleep immediately after and woke up again around 5 and started getting ready for the opening reception.

once i got down to the reception i exchanged knowing looks with a few that had been out the night before as well. i don’t know if i felt the worst, but i definitely was a contender. people at my table gave me sympathetic smirks while i ordered a sprite instead of enjoying the provided wine or beer. a woman at my table pushed food around on her plate to make it look like she was eating– eventually, after dinner and mingling, she went up to her room. i stuck it out and got to feeling better and better. i didn’t drink anything that night (or the next). and i definitely learned my lesson. i wasted my whole free day in which i had planned on sight-seeing st. petersburg. i was angry with myself. but it really was a night to remember (or not remember and be reminded of).

oh, and it turns out the television was INSIDE the end table. there’s a switch (that i obviously must’ve hit while trying to turn off the light) that raises and lowers the television. …oh.

…Na zdorovje.