Saturday, January 31, 2009


So I have completed my first of 12 weeks at JDS.  I will try to bring you guys an update about what the office is like with some photos eventually, but I don't feel like being a tourist in the place I'm supposed to work... yet.  I will say this, Friday is WINE DAY!  Tonight I'll share with you two things: one subway based, one room mate based.
Exhibit 1:  On your left you see an image.  That image is a representation of me being dumb.  I decided to re-enact the events that lead to me being done in this photo.  This is my subway stop on the work side of my commute.  Maybe I'll include more photos later of my trip to and from the office, but for now this is all you get to see.  This is St. Catherine and there are two entrances.  This one, and another one really far away.  One night I heard the train coming so I thought... Oh, the escalator isn't working I'll run down the stairs and try to catch the train.  WRONG!  Clever Belgians have escalators that start moving when you step on a plate near them.  I almost tripped and fell tumbling into eternity on an upwards moving stair.  I am now beginning to understand the subtlety of the bright red circle with a line through it.
Exhibit 2:  A few people wanted to see some of my room mates, and tonight seemed to be the best possible night to introduce Kellim.  Kellim, Niall and Lynn are like my Belgian Clippy.  If you have to ask, Clippy is the wonderful animated paperclip from Microsoft products that offers useful information when you're doing things.  These three individuals have given me so much extremely necessary advice and help in my first week; I'm not sure I would have made it without them being so kind.  So, Kellim... He is an American, which is nice.  He is rather blurry, but promises it isn't contagious.  I also just finished having an hour long conversation about African Tribal War chief Staves... Oh, that's Central African Tribal Warchief Staves.  Kellim is an African art dealer, and just showed me his prized collection.  He is also an architecture fanatic and has explained how necessary it is to go to Rotterdam.  Finally... Kellim is the person quoted my first day saying "Dude... Brussels Sucks."

Friday, January 30, 2009


I haven't fully explored the outer reaches of the Metro lines, but I can explain some of the nuances of the Belgian metro that I've learned.  The first is the ticketing system, since almost every city I've been in has some variation.  Brussels uses the "trust" and stamp method.  You can buy a ticket and put it in a machine where it stamps it with the time.  You then have a period of time (between an hour and 90 minutes... depending on who you talk to) that you can travel on any public transportation.  There are either three or four main lines, but the majority of the time you'll only use three (or two).
Brussels is a radial city (think a bicycle wheel with everything aiming towards the center), so one subway line rings around center city.  The two other main lines actually converge through the majority of the center city going east-west.  Once they pass the edge of center city they separate and head out in different directions.  My favorite part about the subway so far is the timing map.  In each station there is a map that shows the location (and time estimate) of all the trains on the lines.  You can run down the stairs and see that 2 trains are coming... the A train will be here in 4 minutes the B train will be here in 9 minutes.  
My exploration out to the Atomium took me the furthest out to the grounds for the '52 Worlds Fair.  I didn't spend any time going to the huge spanning warehouse sized museums of the exhibits or "Europe land."  Europe land is a miniature sized map of Europe for children that has small replicas of popular landmarks (from the 50's) in the major cities.  I thought I'd include a little more on the Atomium since the waffle may have obscured its true beauty.  The second photograph is taken on the escalator going through one of the connective tubes.  That was probably the most interesting part.  Unfortunately the restaurant at the top was like 20 Euro per dish... with a meal consisting of 2-3 dishes.  Its kinda like being offered Steak au Poivre as the ferris wheel comes around to the top of the circle. 

Anyway... I'm getting a little more used to 12 hour days.  #4 is done with #5 most likely on its way.  I'm not sure what I'll write about tomorrow, maybe suggestions?  Questions? Email me... Scott DOT Corey AT Gmail DOT com.  (I've heard if you include your real email address in these things your spam will increase even MORE than usual)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm a TOURIST! pt. 1

Add ImageWhile I'm in Brussels I will attempt to be a tourist on as many occasions as possible (which I am now learning could be very few and far between).  In addition to being a tourist in Brussels I would like to see Antwerp, Bruges, Rotterdam and Paris.  The first two cities are local... half an hour to 45 minutes on the train.  Rotterdam and Paris require a little more than a day, with probably one over night.  Both of those train rides are still under 2 hours on the High Speeds.

OK... So my first few days I did light tourism because I was trying to get acquainted with the city and know what was around.  I avoided public transportation for a day or two and just walked everywhere, only learning that my apartment isn't very close to the center of the city.  I needed a Duvet cover and had to go to the Centre Deux, a department store.  I knew approximately where it was, looked in the direction and just walked.  I found this cool orange wood sculpture down a street entirely by accident, the thing was massive, extremely dense and towered over the street like a cloud.  

Another day I got the chance to meet up with someone who lives in my building and works at the EU.  He got me into the EU Parliament which is a massive network of structures that is for all intents and purposes a miniature city.  I saw the main meeting rooms with all the different language translation boxes.  It was a fun experience, I imagine similar to getting to see the inner workings of the UN in NYC or Geneva.  The image is of the unnecessarily foreboding entrance.  

That afternoon I wanted to measure how far a walk it is from my apartment to my office.  I would like to walk it every day, but the time involved was a little much.  That night I found the huge pedestrian district with the "restaurant alley" that I wrote about in a previous post.
  The overall district is pretty lame; most of the restaurants, chocolate shops and retail spaces were boring chains.  It was mostly tourists, as I wasn't the only one taking photos but it was fun to people watch.  I also found "Chinatown" which is comprised of one street with about 3 Asian grocery stores and a few Chinese restaurants.  Its the only place I'll find Jasmine rice, soy sauce or sesame oil so that's where I'll have to go.

My final tourist day was Sunday.  I took the metro out to my office for a real estimate on my daily commute and found a cool little chocolate shop with some good prices.  I'll talk more about it, but the short of it: Basil Truffle... delicious.  My second and major stop for the day was THE ATOMIUM!  The Eiffel Tower of Brussels... and vastly underwhelming.  
Basically it is a big ugly set of spheres that you can occupy, and they're tall or something.  Oh, I thought the only real way to represent this place was with a Waffle.  You guys read the post about waffles right?  Anyway, I'm gonna go and get some sleep... Three 12 hour days in a row are taking their toll.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Work... Day 1

So I made it through my first day.  No worries, just the first of many 12 hour days I imagine.  They believe in teaching through doing... which is a cliche that works pretty much everywhere.  I was tossed onto a project and had to take charge of the entire digital site model.  It wasn't a bad days work, and everyone on the project team had some say in different portions of the project.  I liked how included everyone was in the process.  I also had some fun new intern jobs, like building boxes for transporting mail.

A few nice things about this place.  No one has a computer.  This is because there is a locker full of laptops.  Every morning you come into the office, grab a laptop from the locker, find a seat at a team table and start your days work.  No personal physical space, no personal digital space... I actually liked it.  There was also some computer trading through out the day, at one point someone didn't have rhino and another didn't have illustrator.  There the trade comes in. 

I meet my boss for the first time Wednesday morning... 8:15 AM.  Oh yea, he's not around too much and my project team was scheduled for the first slot out of his two hours.  We also have to go through a process of documenting all the physical and digital work done at the end of each and every day to send to him so he has an idea of whats going on.

There is a well used coffee machine... but no waffle vendor near by.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spending Report: Week 1

To keep me honest (to myself and to you guys) I'm maintaining a spending Diary.  I will try my best to record every euro cent I spend while I'm out here just to get an idea of cost of living.  This first week isn't great because I've got some bigger necessities and some tourism food (i.e. overpriced) under my belt.  I'd like to get the number way down to make some future out of town trips.

Overall: 201.23

Breakdown (let me know if the math is wrong, then I know I've done the spreadsheet wrong):

Necessity: 90.99
Restaurant: 45.25
Phone: 34.00
Groceries:  24.04
Misc. Food:  5.25
Transportation: 1.70

Necessity is things like my taxi ride, which was entirely necessary because no sane human could navigate the luggage I had on subway or bus and somehow make it to the area I live in.  Also included is a Duvet cover, not a cheap thing... but at least I didn't have to get the duvet as well.  Finally is an umbrella, who doesn't bring an umbrella to Brussels?

Restaurant is a range of things from smart to dumb.  My first night in
 town I had a wonderful dinner with a beer and coffee for 12 euro in my area of town.  Last night I went on a tourist night and paid 18 (should have been 12) for an OK meal.  I found a street packed with restaurants, and it seemed like the Red Light District of restaurants.  Men stood outside trying to sell you into their restaurant "come in, its only 12.50, 3 courses and a beer ON ME!"  I roamed around for a while and decided to go into one without talking to the door man only to realize at the end of the meal it was 18 euro unless you let them convince you to come in.  Dumb tourists...

My phone.  I have a whole post on my phone, but the overall price breaks down to a SIM card, an unlocking fee and a replacement charger.

Groceries... I have a whole post for this too.  I'd like to go to another store or two before I divulge the experiences.  I will say I've cooked a few meals for myself, and they have been wonderful.  More later.

Misc. Food is my general snack budget.  This is mostly waffles for the time being, but in next weeks I will include things like chocolate and frites.  Soon I will no longer be a tourist required to purchase waffles and chocolate, just frites so maybe that number will come down.

I should write a whole post about the Metro as well, so I'll save it for later.   That 1.70 is for a single trip, I am saving money next week through the purchase of a 10 trip pass.

Expect posts like this every Sunday recapping the previous weeks spending... we'll all watch my savings go down the tubes!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Very important news!

WAFFLES!  I'm convinced Brussels has designed its street food to make people fat... which apparently doesn't work on Europeans but Americans beware.  The three big street foods:

1. Waffles, I wish I could do justice to true Belgian waffles.  They are unlike any waffle I have had.  They are very airy but crisp.  I imagine the batter has quite a bit of sugar because when you chew these waffles it has a caramel stickiness to it.  They also dip them in chocolate... ridiculous.

2. Pomme Frites, "french" fries I've been told are actually of Belgian origin.  To be safe, continue calling them Freedom Fries.  I don't have much to say about these just yet as my original studies have been purely in waffledom.  I will note that there is usually a large variety of sauces and fun little forks involved.

3. Chocolate.  I guess its not really street food, but in the pedestrian areas its not uncommon to be 3 chocolate shops in a row, all filled. I'm not entirely sure if I may have been in some special "chocolate shop area,"  it was absurd never the less.  I avoided these for now but when I attempt to enter a chocolate shop, I will tell the tale.

The Weather

It isn't great.  I took that on a day where the 10 day forecast looked the BEST.  I'm getting pretty excited about even the Mostly Cloudy Days, and the Partially Cloudy... I may just go to the beach.  Oh, and 4-6 C is actually pretty nice.  Leaving 5-25 F in NYC is never a bad thing.

It seems like it rains every day, and I've been told that's usual.  I've come to accept that.  The bad days are the ones that have wind in addition to the rain.  I bought an umbrella my first day, only for it to be destroyed by wind my second day.  Back to the drawing board.  Today I saw the sun for the first time, which was amazing and it made me feel great.  Seeing so little of the sun means when it comes out the day is that much better!

Oh, and the sun... We get one hour less sun every day.  Unfortunately this extra hour is in the morning which makes for a very difficult time waking up.  I'm pretty sure the sun doesn't come up until 8:15... which means I want to sleep in every day.  Work comes Monday, so lets hope I can start waking up early.

Friday, January 23, 2009

French, or why I will begin to embarass myself

My quest was to leave the "easy" and stretch my boundaries to enable new learning paths.  I probably could have gone further from easy, like any Asian country, but after two days living in Brussels I've learned that there are a lot less English speakers than I had assumed.  All of my previous trips were relatively easy.  I've spent time in northern Europe (Scandinavia) and Ireland where it is hard to find someone who doesn't speak English.  In haphazardly roaming the city, it seems as though a full 25% speak absolutely no English at all.  I can barely begin to communicate with these people.

Belgium is a bilingual country comprised of Wallonia (south & French) and Flanders (north & Dutch).  Brussels resides within the northern half and while it seems almost fully french, the city is required to do everything bilingually.  This is confusing for a whole slew of reasons, but the most inconvenient is street names.  Every single street in the entire city is named twice.  As an example my new office is on Rue Des Fabriques (french)... and ALSO on Fabrieksstraat (dutch).  That doesn't look too bad on paper, but I can barely hear French yet.  The words are said quickly and smoothly so I can barely piece syllables out to look for them on my maps.  I think its time to get serious about really learning French.  Until I fully understand my office schedule I won't be paying for lessons, I will stick with Rosetta Stone.  

My sister had a blog from her experiences abroad in Argentina titled: Shanna Speaks Spanish... Hilarity Ensues.  She could probably be considered fluent BEFORE she went down there.  Maybe I should name this blog: Scott Doesn't Really Speak French... Insults Abound.

Wish me luck... 

Thursday, January 22, 2009


My new living arrangements are quite different from JC.  The main difference is instead of renting an apartment, I've rented a room and bathroom.  My comfort with the metric system clearly did not prepare me for the size of an 11 square meter room.  Had I known it was this small I would have brought one less piece of luggage (2 instead of 3).  Oh, I also didn't realize that B3D (my room number) was going to be on the 5th floor of a walk up.  This also made me wish I'd brought less luggage. On to the good: one thing I really like about the room is the window /skylight, it brings a ton of light into such a tiny room.  It also has a pretty open view to my area of the city.  I also have about 8 roommates that I share the building with.

"Dude, Brussels sucks."  I meet one of my new room mates.  Everyone shares a living room and kitchen, and the common space is nice: high ceilings, well lit, efficient.  My first afternoon/night in the building I have a short discussion with one or two of my building-mates.  "Brussels sucks," sounds like a general consensus in the building, with the amendment that Brussels is also great.  We are within a hour or two train ride from 3 major cities in 3 different countries, so it is a very convenient city for travel.  Brussels is also the home of the EU congress.  This makes it a sort of commuter community: busy during the week... empty on the weekend.  Even non-EU employees seem to travel quite a bit, apparently even the native Belgians in my building are gone one week a month.

I will spend my first few days finding things I need for my room and randomly roaming the city.  I start my new job on Monday but I'd like to get a few tourist things out of the way first, like cheep wonderful Beer (for the sake of comparison, a beer with dinner was 1.50 Euro).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

5 things to do before you leave, pt. 1

Around October the move started to cast a shadow over me and I had to start making real preparations to leave.  I made one big master list of things to get done, and I'll share with you all the things that I accomplished before I left.  This is a list of things that, once completed, made me feel a lot more comfortable before I left.

1. VISA:  Make sure you know what the rules are for getting a visa where you're going.  Many of the EU countries work under the Shengen Laws which allow you to stay in a single country for up to 90 Days and you can't return to the same country until you have been out for another 90 days.  This also means you don't need a visa for stays of less than 90 days, as you can travel through out Europe on 90 day periods.

2. Passport/ID:  You should have paper copies and/or a scan of your passport so that you can reproduce the information if you happen to lose it.  In addition, its always useful to bring a bunch of extra passport sized photos for any other form of ID you want to get in the EU.

3. Driving:  I'm not big on driving, but in the off chance I want to take a road trip I don't want anything to stop me.  I got an International License from AAA.  There are plenty of websites that will get you an International License but AAA is the cheapest and easiest.  Go to their website and fill out a form, bring some passport photos and pay $15.  It took 15 minutes.

4.  Money:  I've been following the Dollar to the Euro for months, I can't rationalize it at all so I just hope and pray that while I'm using my Dollars they're worth something.  One thing I wanted and had to set up was a bank account in Belgium.  The primary method of paying rent is through the bank, so not having a bank account makes life a little more difficult.  On the same note, its not always easy to wire transfer money over seas.  My existing bank accounts (a local and ING) both had different issues with wire transferring.  You would think that because ING is a Belgian bank it would be easy to transfer and set up accounts but it is not, and the American ING does not transfer ANY money over seas.  Thus I found a bank (Citibank...) that allows me to make wire transfers ONLINE.

5.  Cancel/Sign up:  Talk to all your insurance companies BEFORE you leave so you make sure you aren't paying for insurance for no reason.  Also, BUPA is an insurance company from the UK that does pretty inexpensive insurance for expats.  Moving overseas is one of the only ways you can get out of your cell phone contract without paying a cancellation fee.  I put myself on Vacation Mode ($15 to suspend the account for 90 days) so that I keep my account for now and can turn my phone back on when I arrive back in the US.  Try to put yourself on paperless bills for all your credit card or other bills so that you get them in your email and make sure you can pay your bills online.  

Leaving the US has a lot of fun issues to deal with, and I will cover more eventually.  This was the first batch that I thought was most important to cover.  Leave questions in the comments and I will try to answer them in another post.

Making the Move

A few years back I was fortunate enough to take a short (4 days) trip to Copenhagen, Denmark.  This was my first trip to Europe, and I was amazed at how comfortable I was in such a foreign place.  Fast forward to 2008 and I am given the opportunity to work for a Danish Architecture firm whose work was inspirational to me during my first trip to Denmark.  I jumped at the chance and decide to make the move, the catch is that I need to do an internship period in Brussels, Belgium before I can move up to Copenhagen.  

This blog is meant as a recording of my experiences in moving and working as an architect abroad.  I will be documenting travel, personal development, food, work experiences and what it takes to move overseas.