Tag Archives: travel

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.

ImageImageImage

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.

IMG_6712 IMG_6713

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. 😉

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

forget it… it’s china[town]

the second big trip in 2013 (i also went to california, but it was strictly work so and nothing really worth reporting) was to china. every year the company i work for does three “town hall” meetings- it’s a chance for the president to answer employee questions and do a progress report for the year. there is always one in des moines, iowa, usually one in belgium (our second biggest office), and then one in another global office. this year china was selected.

i have to admit, i wasn’t super stoked to go to china to begin with. not because i have anything against the country. it’s just… it’s just that i’m asian. and that gets confusing. because i’m the fakest asian there is. i really know nothing about my heritage. i can’t speak the languages. oh, and i’m not chinese, i’m korean.

but my boss was going with me and she and i got along really well. slowly but surely she convinced me that this trip was going to be amazing. we planned out fun things we could do in our free time. and, she reminded me, i’m adventurous. it’s not somewhere i’ll probably ever go again. i should be soaking up this opportunity and enjoying every second of it.

i hate it when she’s right.

the best part about this trip was that it was a 16 hour flight. well, that wasn’t the best part… the best part was flying FIRST CLASS for a 16 hour flight. i’ve never ridden in first class in my life. and it was everything i dreamed it would be and more.

first classsorry for party rockin

i mean, the seats laid ALL THE WAY DOWN. they offered us champagne. and wine. and port (which, turns out, is disgusting). and an assortment of cheeses, appetizers, and snacks. the meals were almost restaurant worthy. the attendants smiled. it was a happy, beautiful place i hope to someday return to.

so, when you fly to china, you have to go into hong kong first. we got to hong kong in the afternoon, took a taxi to our hotel, and got ourselves situated. that night we went out for dinner and to explore the area. our hotel was near the water and we apparently hit a good time, because as we were walking we noticed a crowd of people starting to form along the dock. wondering what was going on, we stopped as well, and we witnessed hong kong’s “symphony of lights,” which essentially is the world’s largest laser light show. 44 different businesses/buildings along the victoria harbor participate in this ten minute show and it attracts around 4 million visitors each year.

hk laser show

the next day we did a little more exploring of hong kong. we decided the best way to see the sights in one day (not enough time) was to take a tour. we booked the tour through our hotel, which was recommended to us so we wouldn’t get ripped off and everything would be organized. our tour guide picked us up and we headed off with a bunch of other tourists with cameras strapped around their necks to victoria peak.

victoria peak is the highest mountain in hong kong. it’s referred to as ‘the peak’ by the natives and it’s a huge tourist attraction because it has a breathtaking view of hong kong and the surrounding islands.

hk-victorias peak

peace-1
oh, and i also accepted my roots and threw the peace sign as often as i could.

…a little bit of immaturity. while we were at the peak we saw this and couldn’t stop laughing. i’ve always wondered where that went.

cum recycle

after we left victoria peak, our tour bus brought us to the aberdeen fishing village, which houses around 6,000 people who live on the boats. we paid 60 Hong Kong dollar (approximately $8 USD) to ride a sampan and help support the fishing industry. aberdeen is one of the most important fishing ports in kong hong, but due to the increasing costs of the industry the community in aberdeen has started to decrease in size.

aberdeen:

sampak

aberdeen  sampak2

after the sampan ride we walked around the hong kong market for a bit, then made our way to the docks. you see, the reason we were only staying in hong kong for a day was because we were going to go to macau that night. i really knew nothing about macau except that it was supposed to be the “vegas of asia” and that one of the james bond movies had a scene there.

a little fun fact about me. i get motion sickness. like, crazy bad. the sampan wasn’t too terrible (surprisingly), but i felt absolutely miserable on that boat that took us from hong kong to macau. chalk it up to being tired or just lucky throughout the day, but i fought the headache and stomach until i made myself go to sleep for the rest of the ride.

so we arrive to macau; tired, sickly, and starving. we had chose a hotel that was not on the “strip,” but rather in a different part of the city. it was kind of remote, but well-kept and very pretty.

macau by night

the strangest part of macau is the mix of cultures- it has influences from china, but cantonese and portuguese influences are found throughout the country as well. we decided to do a bit of gambling (when in rome), but a lot of the games were different than the ones we are used to in the USA. even so, slot machines seem fairly universal, and stephanie ended up winning $200 on the slots!!! well… $200 HK dollar, which is about $28 US dollar… but still!

winner winner

the next day we decided to do a bit of exploring of macau on our own. i had a list of things we should check out, so we took a taxi to the casa gardens, which is just a cute little park in macau. attached to casa gardens is the old protestant cemetery. apparently back in the day macau was a strictly roman catholic country, and china refused to bury any outsiders, so the protestants had to bury their dead at night. they also risked being killed for this procedure if they were caught. in 1821 the land was bought and they got legal status to bury their dead. we also saw plenty of temples, the old city wall, and the ruins of st. paul. macau is a fairly small place so most of the sights are easily walkable if you don’t mind some hills. i loved walking around the city and seeing the different lifestyle- old buildings are a weakness of mine. i have to take photos of things that are run down or interesting, places that seem like they have a story.

casa gardens
casa garden is faaaabullouussssssmacau air macau

another highlight of macau was going to the macau tower, which is the 10th tallest tower in the world.

macau towerview from the macau tower

the reason i liked the macau tower so much, though, was not the impressive heights or the view (those were fine, but you go in one tower you pretty much go in them all), but the fact that you could BUNGEE JUMP OFF OF THE TOWER!

macau bungee macau bungee2

um, say what?! i wanted to bungee jump so badly (i’ve never done it before), and it seemed like a prime location to do so. i mean, how many people can say they’ve been to macau alone, let alone jump off of the 10th tallest tower in the world? unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, we’ll never know), stephanie was pretty against it. don’t get me wrong, she would’ve supported me going and actually encouraged me to, but she wasn’t going to go herself. and i decided if i was going to fall and break every bone in my body, doing it so far away from home before my work trip actually started might not be the best idea.

oh well. next time.

after we left the tower, macau started going down hill. not physically or probably for anyone else, but this was the point in time where stephanie and i had to go through the immigration line to leave macau and enter china. the three hour, hot, disgusting, immigration line where no one spoke english and stephanie was constantly gawked at for being a white female. i pretended for a bit to join in with everyone else, but even that lost it’s appeal after hour two. 😉 and then i lost my immigration card and thought i was going to be stuck in macau forever…. whew, i made it out, though. he basically swore at me and called me lucky and then stamped my passport. then we waited in another two hour line to actually get into china.

once we got to china we were already in the town we needed to be in (zhuhai), so that was a little bit of luck in our favor. we hitched a taxi to our hotel, got settled in, and started prepping for our work meetings. besides doing the town hall (which i am in charge of), we had to give a few presentations, meet with the teams, and tour the facilities.

besides the meetings and everything going according to plan, two things happened out of the ordinary that came to mind during our time in zhuhai.

1) the heads our specialty crop improvement team were also in china to check out their team and plants. they are two of my favorite people who work at kemin, and they invited me out to dinner with their team that night.

sci

2) i experienced my first squatter toilet. no, i didn’t use it (at that point), but it was a new and startling experience in itself.

toilet
no, no thank you.

from zhuhai we went to shanghai for a few days, where we had dinner with a different team (apparently we have 4 offices in china- zhuhai, shanghai, beijing, and ningbo) and attended FIC, the largest food ingredient trade show in the world. the last night michael took us out for hunan food. he started us out on level 1 and the goal was to gradually go up as we got acquainted with the flavor… we ended up staying on level 1 the entire night, but we also drank a lot of strange chinese budweiser beers. apparently it’s americans contribution to the world of beer.

after our time in shanghai, stephanie and i took a train to beijing, along with another one of our coworkers, alex. alex is head of marketing for our health division, and he is a pretty funny character. he was in good humor the entire train ride, doing a bit of work, a bit of army stuff (very dedicated soldier), and conversing with stephanie and me. well, they tried to converse with me. but to be honest, i am a terrible transportation friend. i like to fall alseep, listen to music, or watch television shows when i’m in route. i’ll make some small talk, but honestly, it’s one of the few times i actually like to be left alone. after the talking wore me out, i watched a few episodes of the walking dead and then fell asleep for most of the 4.5 hour train ride.

when we got to beijing it was already pretty late at night. we hadn’t had any dinner yet so we had a drink and some food, and then we got ready for bed. even though it was already 2am, we probably would’ve stayed out later, but we had to meet our driver in the lobby at 7:30am and that didn’t call for much sleep. xuemei was kind enough to arrange this for us, however, and we wanted to see the great wall of china which was a bit out of the city.

and the great wall was just that- great. it was phenomenal, in fact. we opted to walk the wall instead of paying for a ride up, and i’m really glad we did. the sights along the way were great, and it was rewarding to get to the top and look over it all. makes a person feel rather small!

i have tons of photos of this 13,171 mile wall, but i will spare you photos of my “brilliant” photography and just narrow it down to a few. 

great wall

great wall2 on the wallin this photo you get to see the beauty of one of the seven wonders of the world.
…and then behind me, you also get to see the great wall of china.

one of the coolest parts of the trip to the wall (once you got over how old, how big, how well constructed the wall itself is), was the fact that you could toboggan to the bottom of the mountain for only 60 RMB. since i already regretted not bungee jumping, i decided there was no way i was going to pass up this less-potentially-bone-breaking opportunity. and it was a lot of fun!

the rest of the day we did typical touristic things in beijing. alex was leaving early that next morning, so we mostly did things that he wanted to see. those things included going to the forbidden city, which was right next to tiananmen square. the forbidden city was where the emperor lived during the ming dynasty. for around 500 years it was home to their households and was also the ceremonial and political center of the chinese government. the architecture was amazing. the buildings were beautiful. but no matter where i go in the world, the best part of being in old places is…

…pretending to be a gargoyle.

im a gargoyle

what can i say? even with thousands of tourists milling around, some habits die hard. alex also pretended to pee in the corner and that also made for a funny photo. he pretended, though. i swear it.

later that day the taxi driver took us to mcdonald’s, which i don’t even go to in the usa. i’m just sharing this because it made me really annoyed, although it shouldn’t have. he was a great driver and very attentive, but there was enough of a language gap that he didn’t understand me when i said i’d rather eat my own hand off.

i didn’t. i ordered some mcdonald’s, which was very cheap and tasted very much like the chicken sandwich i was hoping to get. i was also very impressed with the waiter’s english. we got to sit down and relax, and it was a really enjoyable time. (but i haven’t had mcdonald’s in the usa since either.) that night we made up for it, though, by going out for peking duck, ordering some fresh octopus, and then walking around houhai, which is a pretty trendy bar area near the water.

the last day xuemei took us out, along with her adorable daughter lele, to see some more sights in beijing. we went to the olympic park (where the… olympics… were held), and she handed us a few of those fancy masks the asians wear because of the smog. i put mine on and her daughter lele just started giggling and pointing at me. i wonder why?

invisible woman

i think because of this silliness, lele felt drawn to me (probably became i’m immature and act like a child), but it was great because she hung out with me all day. we goofed around at olympic park, she wore my sunglasses at lunch, and we pretended to be kittens while we wandered around the temple of heaven, which is a complex of religious buildings that are visited during worship. what was really cool about the temple was that all the steps were in sections of nine, because nine represented a heavenly number. everything was blue, green, and yellow; the colors were a symbolic representation of heaven, the mortal world, and earth.

xuemei also took us to the pearl market, where we bought pearl necklaces in the same place as hillary clinton and barbara bush. i had a few fake pearl necklaces, but i gave the helpers my price range and they brought me back a few strings of pearls to choose from. i picked one out and they sat down and started putting together my necklace, which was amazing to watch, and a necklace that i wear almost every day to work now! then we parted ways for the day and stephanie and i made our way on to the last leg of our journey, ningbo.

Xuemei Lele

there isn’t too much to report on ningbo, to be honest. it’s not a very busy area of china. i had edited the town hall meeting so we showed it to the employees (which chinese subtitles as many could not speak english) and then toured the factory and gave a few presentations and answered questions to help people practice their english.

that night a few members of the ningbo team took us out for dinner. that was potentially the highlight of the whole trip- the ningbo team was so nice and the food (traditional chinese foods like lotus root, various fish, etc) was good and shared family style. since there was no more work to do, we finally felt like we could relax a bit! as we were leaving we got a group photo, which is pretty common. but then the waitresses asked if they could have a photo with stephanie… which was maybe the funniest thing that happened during the whole trip. one waitress even shoved another out of the photo because she wanted one by herself with the white lady.

waitresses

the strangest part of being in china, at least for me, was that the chinese assumed i was also chinese and spoke to me in mandarin. i got really good at my ‘ni hao’ (hello) and ‘xie xie’ (thank you), but they were always startled that i didn’t understand the language. i guess it kind of makes sense, because i look the part, but like i stated before… i’m korean. even if i knew korean, i would have no idea what they would be saying. in talking with a few people about it, a lot of the chinese thought i was also chinese. apparently i look either like a northern chinese or a korean woman, which i found incredibly interesting. since i was adopted at such a young age and out of south korea, i always assumed i was a full korean. but who knows? i could potentially be half chinese. i don’t think i am, just some food for thought. i am tall for a korean. 🙂

anyway, stephanie was right. the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and i’m glad we got to go. xie xie for reading.

you say dubai, and i say hello

i thought i would try to play catch up with 2013 on this blog. not only because, well, it’s a travel blog and i haven’t been doing a good job updating my travels, but because i want to look back and remember things- the places i go, the people i meet, and the adventures i had. it’s fun to look at the photos, but there’s something cathartic about writing it all down.

so first up in 2013 was going to dubai. i went to dubai for work, for a sales and marketing meeting dubbed “Journey to the Vision.” my company’s vision is “to touch half of the people of the world every day with our products and services.” we are about half way to our goal, and we fully expect to get to the goal by 2017. so every four years from 2009 on we have had this meeting to build morale, to be encouraging… to get to go to cool places like paris and dubai.

and really, the place was super cool. we stayed at the world’s tallest hotel only hotel in the world. it’s called the jw marriott marquis, if anyone wants to check it out. it had tons of different restaurants and entertainment. oh, AND it had a bar called “the vault” on the top floor, which had bank vault type doors as the entrance. there was also a cigar lounge, so you could also smoke up there. not that i did or anything. 😉

smoking

i had to travel to dubai early to help set up for this 3 day meeting. normally i would have loved this opportunity, but for some terrible reason i was sick beyond belief at this point in the year. that, piled on top of a 14 hour plane ride, made for a pretty grouchy amanda. but i got there, we hammered out some last minute details, worked with the musical (yeah… we brought actors out to put on a musical), did run-through’s for lighting and sound, and i loaded up on cold medication. basically anything that would help me swallow, breathe, or sleep.

after a few days, other people started arriving to dubai and heading to registration. despite feeling so miserable, i was pretty excited to see people. besides the presidents of the different business units and the few of us on the plenary teams, we really hadn’t had much time to converse or even leave the hotel. so when the taxis started to pull up and a few of my favorite co-workers were spotted, my mood was lifted dramatically. it lifted even more so when most of the the corporate marketing group (aka: my team) went up for a drink in the vault. i got a grapefruit infused vodka for 40 dirham, which is a little under $11 US dollar. alcohol = expensive in dubai.

vault

vodka

marketing in the vault

the next few days were honestly a bit of a whirlwind. i had been in charge of producing the opening “skit” (it was a WWF parody), which went off smoothly. the opening reception was in full swing. when the reception was done, everyone meandered up to our private (poolside) bar and continued what we do best. drinking. networking. (ha, see what i did there? see?)

i won’t bore you with the details of the whole meeting, but i will say that the last night was something extremely special to experience. our closing ceremony was in the middle of the desert in a man-made stadium area. there were different stations for food, drinks, and there were people there to make it a more “authentic” dubai experience. i was able to hold a falcon, ride a camel, and get a henna tattoo. there were also arabic hand writing stations, palm readers, and a nice showing of fireworks. i thought six hours in the desert was going to be a ridiculously long time (again, had to go early to help set up). but the time flew by and i still hadn’t gotten to all the stations by the time the night was over.

camel

falcon

fireworks

unfortunately, all the energy put into the meeting made me feel even worse once it was all over. after the meeting, there was a tour for the people who had helped and didn’t get to go do any activities. it was fun, don’t get me wrong. we got to go shopping in the spices and textile souks, do a bit of sight seeing, a little bargaining… but by the end of the day i was napping in the van while the rest of the group was continuing. the souks were beautiful, though. so many rich textures and colors and even smells. i walked away with four different pashmina scarves and a few other knick knacks.

spice souks

the next day a smaller group of us went sandboarding and dune-bashing– the dune-bashing was enough to test even the strongest of heads and stomachs– and went inside the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world. i also got to see my friend tim kucera who is spending the year in afghanistan. he just happened to be in dubai at the same time getting his visa renewed, which was a great twist of fate as he got to join us for a few activities.

boarding

goofy feet

burj

the worst part of the trip, however, was that i had even scheduled to stay a few extra days with my friend rohit, who lives in dubai. i obviously stayed, but i was so sick at this point that i was unable to attend a VIP party at atlantis (underwater club in a fancy hotel) with a group of his friends and instead went to bed about 9pm and woke up at around noon the next day. but rohit really saved the day by getting me some more medicine (mine had ran out), and my co-worker brad and i still got to see some cool additional sights. i bought a really unique soapstone chess set in “Africa” in Dubailand, a theme-park looking area that has markets with food and merchandise from all different areas of the world. it was like a magnified and less cheesy version of disney world’s “it’s a small world” ride.

rohit and friends

dubailand

all in all, it was a great time and adventure, though! i don’t know if i will ever make my way back to dubai, so i can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience.

here are some odds and ends or highlights of dubai or my time there:

  • because it is a muslim country, alcohol is super expensive. it is so expensive, in fact, that we had to have drink tickets at this event to prevent people from going over our allotted budget.
  • if you want to get any of this said alcohol, you must be in a hotel or a restaurant located inside a hotel. brad and i ate at applebees *cough shut up don’t judge us we were in a bad mood cough* and almost ordered some tasty adult beverages before we realized they weren’t very adult at all.
  • tina is an awards master. we had an award’s ceremony on monday night of the meeting, and she won first place for every entry she submitted. as i do most of her graphics work, i felt a nice sense of pride for my teammate. T&A (Tina and Amanda, you perverts) Harmonious Way.
    TA
  • dubai is a strange culture of the very rich and the poor. when the recession hit, it hit dubai hard. rich business men dropped their cars off at the airport and just left, never to return because they knew they had gone broke. you will see extravagant and beautiful buildings next to worn down, half-built structures with construction tape wrapped around it.
  • bring sunglasses. there are dust storms.
  • be conscious of the culture- in muslim countries it isn’t appropriate for women to be scantily clad. they aren’t making you wear a burka- but they don’t want you wearing short skirts and strapless tops either (although we did see our fair share of those).
  • 14-15 hour plane rides suck. i did a non-stop in order to get there faster, but maybe would suggest taking flights in segments if you get the chance. your body might thank you.

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.

call me, may(be)?

ooh work. you take away all my free time and yet i love you so.

i haven’t been able to “blog” very much lately, but my month of may was a good one. the weather in iowa is absolutely beautiful and a lot of the month was spent hanging out with good family and friends. here are some good things.

  • i spent the first few days of the month of may in belgium with the most handsome man i know. oh, and evan was there with me as well. 😉
  • the avengers came out. let’s see… iron man, thor, and hulk… yum.
  • ^ and then i saw it again the next day.
  • went to the farmer’s market and got my first papusa of the year. also yum.
  • a group of us went out to north carolina for our good friend erin and sam’s wedding. it was southern, beautiful, and besides being alcohol-free, absolutely perfect. 😉

  • sand volleyball began. and we have continued our streak from last year….our losing streak, that is.
  • it was my daddio’s birthday.

february is for <3ers

forget philadelphia, it’s february that’s for lovers! ❤

oh, february. with only 29 days (leap year!), it seems our time together flew by so quickly. i feel like i barely got to know you. but here are some things that i will always remember about you:

  • evan successfully did not propose to me on valentine’s day, which was my only request for 2012. (i have no problem if other couples want to get romantic and sappy on february 14th, but that holiday honestly means nothing to me. i’d rather have romance and affection happen spontaneously rather than forced.)
  • i officially made it through a month of “a photo a day.” it was even more boring than i imagined or anticipated.
  • experienced the most pain in my life– got my side tattoo updated and expanded.
    (how lovely are your branches?)
  • evan decided he was selling his old toyota camry to grant for 2k. after having his heart set on a station wagon, he finally changed his mind and bought himself a 2009 toyota matrix. it’s a burnt orange color and super cool. it also only had 24,000 miles on it. now i have to learn to drive a stick so i can take it out too.
  • i tried to diet for about 1.5 weeks. i cheated miserably. still lost around 2-3 pounds though, so not completely unsuccessful.
  • baconfest! 4,400 attendees this year. i didn’t get tickets in time, but because “i know people” i managed to score free tickets by being one of the few “zombie helpers” during the baconapocalypse. basically i handed out bacon for about 15 minutes and then ate and drank away the rest of my day.

    (mmmm…. brains bacon)
  • basketball season is officially over.  😦  we ended with a record of 4-6, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great. we really should have won another game against a certain team, but oh well. while i’m sad it’s over, it was fun while it lasted. hopefully see you next november!
  • got my federal and state tax return and with it paid off all my credit card debt. now to build it back up for 2012. 😉
  • i will get to spend the last week of february in st. petersburg, russia. stressful (leading up to it), cold (while we are there), but extremely worthwhile and fun (i imagine).

while february really was a great month, i still stand by my statement that i think march may be the best month of 2012. stay tuned to see if my premonition is correct.

russia [[rough agenda]]

friday, february 24
– arrive at des moines airport at 2:00PM (they just got full body scanners so apparently international flights must be ready 3 hours in advance)
-board plane at 5:00PM
-arrive in minneapolis at 6:15PM
-find amsterdam gate. (no panic this round, traveling with co-workers)
-depart for amsterdam: 7:10PM
-sleep, eat, read, pass time on a plane

saturday, february 25
– arrive in amsterdam: 10:50AM
-find st. petersburg gate. try not to act annoyed or grumpy.
-eat, then probably feel less annoyed/grumpy.
-arrive in st. petersburg: 7:00PM
-get ride to 5-star hotel (i’ve never stayed in a 5-star hotel before). check into said hotel. [grand hotel europe]
-start to look presentable
-find a nice place for dinner [potentially teplo]
-discover night scene. [metro or taleon club]
-stumble back to hotel. i mean… no, it’s okay. stumble back to hotel.

sunday, february 26
-sleep in. try to get over jetlag
-sightsee, be a tourist.
-buy gifts. take too many photos.
-eat lunch.
-more sightseeing. more photos
-find way back to hotel to get ready for opening reception
-meet with robert regarding sales training videos
-meet with chandru for interview
-opening reception; meet up with product managers and technical service
-final final, in the words of the famous dr. james w. kessler (who will be there, making it officially a final final)
-sleep

monday, february 27
– wake up early
-meet with justin for interview
-quick breakfast
-meeting kickoff from 8-9AM.
-start regular ol’ graphic design workload
-lunch
-interview presenters of poster session a
-meet with monika for interview
-walk to group dinner at terrassa
-walk back to hotel
-final final
-sleep

tuesday, february 28
– wake up early
-meet with betsy for interview
-quick breakfast
-start uploading and editing video
-start regular ol’ graphic design workload
-lunch
-present during poster session b
-attend ‘branding update’ session
-attend ‘personal development’ session
-tour of the hermitage & russian dinner
-final final
-sleep

wednesday, february 29
– wake up early.
-meet with corey for interview
-quick breakfast
-start uploading and editing video
-attend ‘personality types’ session
-start regular ol’ graphic design workload
-lunch
-interview presenters during poster session c
-closing sessions and awards
-catherine’s summer palace tour & dinner
-dog sled ride around alexander’s park
-meet with RC for interview
-eating at mansarda with potentially one of the best small groups available
-final final
-sleep

thursday, march 1
-wake up
-email my niece and wish her a happy 5th birthday
-meet with tom for interview
-quick breakfast
-attend ‘one ag’ session
-start uploading and editing video
-hopefully grab other ag people for interviews, if necessary
-lunch
-hopefully grab other ag people for interviews, if necessary
-pack up
– arrive at st. petersburg, russia airport: 4:30PM
-board plane at 5:30PM
-arrive in paris, france airport: 6:00PM
-find verona, italy gate. have a minor panic as i can’t find verona, italy gate
(i suspect this will happen). have some nice stranger help me.
-depart for italy: 8:35PM
-arrive in verona, italy: 10:10PM
-have another minor panic attack thinking bruno forgets to pick me up at the airport.
-ride with bruno to destination.

{apparently i’m flying out thursday night instead of friday night, threw off my italy agenda}