Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm back pt. 2

Clearly the first "I'm back" was a lie.  At the same time, I'm pretty sure I worked 80 hours so far this week.  I did keep up with my push ups and sit ups and I've finally got a clear enough mind to write, but unfortunately I'm just too tired  to write tonight.  So, I'm back, but not.  In addition to the "but not" portion, I'm going on a trip.  Depending on how confident I'm feeling tomorrow morning I may end up anywhere from Antwerp (close) to Rotterdam (that's my goal). 

I'd like to be an architectural tourist and enjoy the city a bit, but with my week the way it was I'm not entirely sure I'm going to be confident with the planning of what to see and do for a weekend.  It looks like the weather could be nice and I really want to go up there.  But I don't know... like I said, I'll find out when I get to the station.  This means I will have a HUGE backlog of stuff to cover once I return on Sunday.  Next week should be a good writing week.

Side note:  In Belgium, iced tea (Lipton variety) is carbonated.  True Story.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pommes Frites Part 1: NYC

This post has been a long time a comin but it is finally here.  Two weekends ago I took a trip down to a place that is proclaimed to be on of the best Frites based locations in Brussels.  Near this time one of the readers: Lauren, thought she would help me out and compare them to "Belgian Frites" in New York.  This will be a 2 Part post:  Today I'll put up Laurens post and some photos and tomorrow I'll put up mine.

From Lauren:

After a disappointing inability to locate the Belgian Room (apparently it's address was listed incorrectly online but I still think it is gone) on Friday night we returned to 2nd Ave on Saturday afternoon to indulge our taste buds in some double fried wedges of potatoes at Pommes Frites. Since it was nice out we were already in a good mood and rode our bikes over from Brooklyn so we worked up a bit of an appetite. At around 2pm the line was already out the door. This little shop is usually pretty busy but we didn't expect to see much of a crowd since we usually see everyone show up 
here after a night of drinking. They have a menu set up on the outside of the shop which is convenient to figure out which sauces you want before squishing inside. We chose the Rosemary Garlic, Sweet Mango, and Curry Ketchup sauces. There are three sizes: Regular ($4.50), Large ($6.25), and Double ($7.75). Justin and I ordered a double (which we later realized we didn't need) and Viren and Mike shared a large. It's important to point out that our frites were not from the same batch. Inside the shop they have a bar with holes cut into it to hold your paper cone of frites. Since it was crowded and the weather was nice we sat on the steps of a church across the street to eat our pommes frites. Although this caused us to miss the experience of utilizing the paper cone holding contraption it did put us in a pleasurable mood. The fries were super hot and steaming since they were just pulled out of the fryer. The frites were pretty decent chunks of potato and they seemed nice and crispy from looking at them but they weren't as crispy as they should have been. Viren and Michael's batch were the right crispiness, perhaps our batch was only single fried? Justin forgot to order the Curry Ketchup so now we only had the Rosemary Garlic and the Sweet Mango sauces. The sauces were good but I can't help but think we missed out on something by not just having a regular mayonnaise and ketchup mix. Even though our batch wasn't crispy, they were still delicious. I like to pretend that the bigger the potato chunks are the less unhealthy they are for you because the insides haven't been totally reached by the frying. I'm sure that it seeps all the way through but it feels better to be ignorant on this topic. We ate every Pommes Frite, even the
 shriveled up ones on the bottom that look like they have been through the fryer 6 times. As expected they were a little greasy (as you can see from the photograph I sent along). I would say they are definitely better than your normal fries. I still wish we just got normal European mayo and ketchup though. I feel like we tried to dress them up too much with these other sauces. Plus ketchup and mayo are free while the sauces are $1.00 each, and in a floundering economy who can afford fancy sauce? We'll be on the streets in a week.


WELL, I've been to Pommes Frites in NYC and I remember the sauces were really good.  I will say this... I think its bad form to use ketchup here... pure mayo is the way to go.  BUT, I'll save the real info for tomorrow when I publish my own Frites based experience.  I hope we'll get some more people to go out and find Belgian things and let me know how they end up in the US.

Random Musings

This is definitely going to be a tough week to keep up with.  I've got my first really big deadline coming up and I got back to my room around 3am... I almost skipped out but pushed through the urge.  I'm going to answer a few related questions I've gotten about my trip here.  These are usually related to my day to day life and are somewhat different than the US so they deserved a post.

Homeless People? Whats the deal with them?

I may have mentioned in a previous post (probably the one about the Metro) that I'm actually pretty safely guarded against pan handling.  I have a very easy time completely ignoring people when I have no idea what they're saying.  In NYC there are plenty of times that pan handlers are able to convince you they're speaking normal human language when they are in fact speaking gibberish... French gibberish doesn't get the same message across allowing me to escape unscathed and without paying off the homeless.  They are very strategic in Belgium though.  Women make sure to hold their children (who could very well be in their teens, and also look healthy) to convince people to donate money to them.  Others stand at the exit to the escalator, which is very devious because its like a yuppie pez dispenser.  I've also seen a very different breed of pan-handler/musician here:  the grinder.  Seriously, they've got an accordion / weird music box thing and someone dances in front of it.  They move around to different store fronts and Metro stops.  Its fun, but I still have no care to give them money.  Finally there is the pick-pocket.  Apparently Belgium has one of the largest populations of pick-pockets in Europe.  There is a big produce market on Sundays at one of the large train stations and I've been told that I should basically staple things to myself before going so they don't get lifted.

Well, that's one question answered for the night.  If I get home a little earlier I'll try to lay down a plan for my trip this weekend.  I also have some Frites based text to put down "on paper," and I'm not sure how long that'll take so we shall see what goes up tomorrow night.  I'm also happy to blog that even though I got back super late I still kept up with my workout for the day.  Honestly, doing the push ups and sit ups was what gave me enough energy to push through this post.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I'm here I'm here.

SO, I've missed two days.  In a row.  Don't worry, all is well and I'll catch up.  Friday I went out with the company and wasn't really "awake" enough to post when I returned home.  We all went out to celebrate.  Celebrate what you may ask?  Well, Friday of course.  It doesn't really have the same effect since I went to work Saturday and Sunday, but I enjoyed the night anyway.  Last night I made it home early (from work on a Saturday...), unfortunately our building had some weird Internet outage that delayed my posting until today.  Instead of trying to catch up in a few different posts I'm just gonna put up my two weekend posts (personal development & spending report) into one.  

I brought my spending WAY down this week, and it woulda gone down even further without Fridays get together.

Overall: 58.15

Restaurant: 27.80
Beer: 15.30
Miscellaneous Food: 13.55
Groceries: 1.50

Clearly restaurant and beer have gone up.  This is what happens with a super busy week, it could very well happen this week as well.  I went out to lunch more often because our office had some US visitors and it was nice to be a little social.  The only thing that went down this week is Groceries.  Basically I was a little hung over and then worked Saturday and missed my chance to do my grocery shopping.  I went today and kept it pretty low.  Then I spent some money on Sesame oil and Soy sauce to flavor up my fried rice cooking.  Overall I'd like my spending to stay this low from now on, maybe lower if I can but not soooo much on beer.  

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT:

I'll keep it short for this week.  I'm happy to report that I've followed the push ups and sit up schedule almost exactly this week.  I skipped Friday but caught up on Saturday.  In addition to my regular M-W-F schedule I added things on the "off" days.  Total for the week I ended with over 300 sit ups and over 150 push ups.  Most of the push ups were under the scheduled daily events and next week I'm on Week 3.

As for French?  I'm getting there pretty slowly.  I did about two hours of Rosetta stone which is starting to sink in a little bit and five lessons from the "coffee time."  I haven't really tried using it but I'm starting to "hear" things a little differently while I'm on the streets or in the office.

That's about it for this weekend update.  We'll be back to our regularly scheduled posting this week.  I've got one partial guest post (about POMMES FRITES) and a back tourism post or two to fill in.  I've also scheduled a trip to Rotterdam for next weekend so I should have some good content for next week.

OH YEA, I'VE BEEN ABROAD ONE MONTH! WOO!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I'm Learning French.

So after ALMOST a month of being here I finally decided to dive into the whole french thing.  I'm very motivated to learn a language while I'm here because I'm not sure when I'll get another opportunity to learn a language in a native environment again.  I've been frustrated with myself since I got here just because I haven't been able to make the time to fit in the french.  THUS, I will add my french language time to my weekly report on my "working out."  Not only will you know how many sit ups I do in a week, but how many hours/minutes I spend trying to learn french.
For those of you that are interested, I'm doing two things to start.  I'm trying to spend half an hour to an hour on Rosetta Stone every day to get a weird basis of vocabulary.  Rosetta stone is really good for vocabulary because they never give you English words just images and you pick up the language through context.  I haven't gotten far enough to see how useful it is for conversation or grammar just yet but hopefully I get there soon.  In addition I've downloaded a "coffee time lesson" set from Itunes.  There are almost 60 lessons and they're around the range of 20 minutes.  This is perfect for me because I can listen to one going each way on the Metro in the morning and sometimes I can repeat them during the day for reinforcement.  The podcast is free and I'll let you guys know if I like it soon.  Know this: If you follow the same program, you will also be taught French by a Scottish guy.  Think about that accent.
Once I work up the courage, I'll start embarrassing myself in the name of education.  It won't be hard, I can already guarantee embarrassment.  The hard part will be making sure I learn something from ever occasion.  
If anyone has tips on learning sources leave them in the comments or send me an email.  I'll share how well I deal with them.

QUESTIONS!

I wanted to open up the "floor," and answer any questions you guys have.  I usually leave a bit out of each post to give me some room in the future to elaborate so if you have questions ASK THEM.  I got a few this week and I'm gonna answer a bunch from Philly and then make some promises I'm not sure I can keep.

Shannon (Philly, USA):
What is the music scene like over there? are you going to go to any shows? or perhaps see one of your fav bands that happens to be playing there? what are the kids listening to over there. roommates, coworkers...

I like this question because I had a conversation on my flight about popular music.  We didn't really talk about specific bands but about the differences in the culture of music in Europe v. US.  It all really boiled down to marketing:  The EU doesn't have genre specific radio stations.  They may have genre specific shows within a single day, but very there is usually a very wide variety of music on the different stations.  
On Shows:  I can only hope I'll be around in July and August.  Two of the biggest festivals in Europe take place IN Belgium.  There is Pukkelpop and Rockwerschter.  Pukkelpop last year was Metallica, The Killers, Sigur Ros, Bloc Party, Soulwax, The Editors... I could keep going for a very very long time.  I kept scrolling and kept seeing names I'd love to see.  The list looks to be about 80 bands long.  Rockwerschter has recently announced a portion of their lineup with Oasis, Kings of Leon and Limp Bizkit (seriously, I can't make that up).  These festivals are pretty serious and I'd love to go to one. 

Shanna (Outside Philly, USA)
Maybe you could let us know what is going on in Brussels right now, current event things- it could even go beyond Brussels to Belgium and some neighboring countries.

Well, As much as I don't want to admit it... I don't really know French.  This makes it difficult to read news papers or watch the news on TV.  In her question she also added I should look up expat news sites and English papers in my area.  I found them, they weren't very interesting.  I have basically absorbed two pieces of news since I arrived here.  The first was that the EU Parliament got robbed.  This is pretty spectacular because there are banks and bars and shopping necessities within the parliament so that dignitaries don't have to go OUTSIDE to do their errands.  This means that someone was able to sneak a weapon into the facility and then hold up the bank within the Parliament and then get out.  Why not just steal from a bank that is only attached to the outside through one set of doors?  Unsure.  The majority of the article covered the fact that no one knows if the bank was held up with a real or fake gun.  
The second piece of news may or may not be global at this point.  A Dutch diplomat to the EU publicly stated something (I wasn't sure what was said I'll guess something negative) about Islam.  Because of this he was banned from England.  I had a discussion with one of my room mates that I'd love to be important enough to get banned from a country.  Its said he was banned for the public safety of all English, but that makes the assumption that a Muslim will decide to take a violent action against this diplomat because of what he said.  No one questioned this.  I'm not sure how the saying goes, but I think its: "The more things change, the more they stay the same"?

Greg (Patterson, NJ... in a very sassy tone):
Night Life... Do nightlife you jerk.

I admit, I'm not "living it up" very much while I'm here.  I work late and then come home and write.  This is a promise that I'm not sure I can keep, but post deadline I'm going to try to go out with a few co workers.  I'll chalk it up to more beer related research.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where I live

This is Brussels as seen from Google Maps.  I'm gonna be using it pretty often soon to let you guys know where it is and to demonstrate things like the subway trips and such.  Just for a little more perspective I'll give a comparison.  Brussels is located at Longitude 50 where New York is at Longitude 40 (about).  The equivalent city as far north as Brussels in North America is Vancouver just north of Seattle.  Also, as a measure of scale the width of the big Ring in the center is about half the length of Central Park.  This is a tiny city.  
It is relatively easy to see the big "ring" in the center with yellow lines going out.  The ring is the old town and the city proper.  This is where much of the historical and financial areas are located.  Near the south is Gare Du Midi (Noon Station... doesn't make much sense does it).  Gare Du Midi is where the Eurostar leaves, I will eventually be taking Eurostar to Paris.  The Northern portion has Centre Deux, a big shopping mall where I purchased a duvet cover and network cable my first day in town.  These are the only two landmarks I know well enough to share.  I'll say again, this is a tiny city but there is a catch.  When you begin to look more carefully at the map you'll realize there are almost no thoroughfares or boulevards.  When you look at the distance as the bird flies you have to add almost 40% to that distance to account for zig zagging your way through the city.  This makes for fun moments where you discover things you weren't planning on.  Frustrating moments occur when you realize you got onto a side street that starts south and ends north when you wanted to go only south.  I've learned at this point I'm much better off just taking the Metro and Trams every where I go because trying to traverse through certain parts of the city is just CONFUSING.
The main purpose of this first map is to show my route to work.  The Green dot is pointing to where I start my trip:  Avenue Brabanconne.  I walk south to the Cyan dot, and if you look closely you'll see a pretty cool park at the center of the trip.  I hope I'm around when the trees start to bloom because this park will be absolutely beautiful.  This park is elevated in comparison to the main city and provides an OK view.  If I were a jogger, this would probably be the start point of my trip.    The Cyan dot is my Metro stop, Schuman, and favorite waffle man; the walk from apartment to metro is around eight minutes.  From Schuman I take the metro goes to St. Catherine, the Blue dot.  The Metro ride is usually around sixteen minutes and from there I have about a six minute walk to the Red dot on Rue Des Fabriques.  The whole trip is almost exactly one half hour.  Unfortunately there aren't really any variations in the trip as every other road I take would be very very out of the way.  Walking can take up to an hour even though its barely two miles away.  We'll see what happens when the weather gets a little warmer.
I've gotten a bunch of emails so far and I'll probably do the Mail bag tomorrow but I could always use more questions for future weeks.  scott DOT corey AT gmail DOT com.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Going out with the office

This may not be much of a post, but I thought I would cover some of the social events we have in the office.  This is not to say that we have social events beyond the office, all social events are within or related to office business.  This is usually the only reason I will not eat lunch or dinner prepared by myself.  There are two kinds of eating events:  IN office and OUT but the most fun events are within the office.  I've been around for two full meals and a lunchtime snack.  
On Fridays in the office we've had two meals prepared by our own staff.  I will get a mass email asking who's interested in lunch and for a donation of three euro.  Following this one of my co-workers made some couscous with pesto with some good veggies a fruit salad and bread.I will always spend three euro for a meal like this.  Another day we had "poisson puttanesca" which is a take on an Italian dish with a lot of tomato and olives baked with some fish.  I don't often go out for lunch because I don't' want to spend the money, but it is a lot of fun to have lunch in the office.  For a snack one day someone actually made Crepes with brown sugar and lemon.  This stuff was all very good for morale during a tough week.  Finally to break things up a bit we celebrate each Friday with FRIDAY BEER or wine... this is when I get to try the worst beer in Belgium and work at the same time.  I have actually gone out to lunch and dinner once with the group to celebrate the finish out a big deadline.
One more social event that wasn't food related but still a lot of fun was a valentines day prank.  Some of the employees that have been around for a little while thought it would be fun to pull a prank on the Copenhagen office and one of the dorky, awkward employees.  Every single person in the office was "required" to create a loving valentine and mail it to this employee in Denmark.  I spent my time writing semi-erotic Haiku's for a few of my co workers cards.  My prized piece of niche writing was based on a card someone made with some dinosaur cookies:

In the Ancient Past
A horny Triceratops
Primal Love and Lust

This is how we show our love to our sister office.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beer!

The first time I saw the shop "250 beers" I realized I was way out of my league.  I started looking around online and contacted a blogger by the name of Chuck Cook (http://belgianbeerspecialist.blogspot.com/)  who admitted he may not be the best person to point out places within Brussels and aimed me towards Joe Stange (http://www.thirstypilgrim.com/).  Chuck is a blogger from the US who writes about all beer from Belgian origins, he's been to Belgium on more individual trips than I've been here days and I imagine he can probably drink me under multiple tables.  Joe is an American Expat living in Brussels who is literally writing a book on Belgian beer.  He suggested two different places to start in Brussels:  Cantillon Brewery and Chez Moeder Lambic, the latter he will join me at when I get there.  I don't think I will take a trip there for a week or two to get past a big deadline so for now I just tried my best with Cantillon and some store bought beers.
Cantillon was one of the better alcohol based tourism events I've participated in.  On a previous trip I went to both the Jameson and Guinness tours in Dublin and they aren't really worth it in comparison to Cantillon.  The pull of this trip is the reality of the beer production.  At the Jameson tour they tell you it is a farce and just show you some historical artifacts.  Guinness wasn't much better, but at least they are situated on the site of an existing factory.  Cantillon is a functioning small brewery, as you walk around you can smell the hops and see the storage barrels foaming because of the fermentation.  It was wonderful and ended with a tasting of two classics:  Gueuze and Kreik, Lambic beers.
I've decided I'm entirely unqualified to discuss the subtleties of these beers in depth so I'll give you the technical explanation first.  Lambic is a "spontaneously" fermenting beer.  I'm not sure what that means and guess its similar to how the Baby Jesus was made:  Magic.  There is no added sugar or yeast to this beer and all fermentation occurs naturally.  After spontaneous fermentation they barrel up the beer for one to three years.  Afterwards they mix it all to make Gueuze and some of the other mixed beverages or bottle just the three year old Lambic for the special reserve.  You can actually store these beers in a cellar and they will mature for up to twenty years.  My father is now thinking that instead of having a wine cellar, he needs a Belgian beer cellar.
The tasting was interesting, Gueuze is literally the "champagne of beers" and I'm not talking about Miller High Life.  I really can not begin to describe it beyond this very cryptic statement:  It doesn't taste like beer at the beginning, but by the end of the glass it does.  It is sweet and sour, but still beer.  The Kreik may be a little easier for me... It is mixed with cherries for almost six months and it makes the beer smell horrible.  I can actually see my fathers face scrunching up a little at the thought of Cherry Beer.  I'll say this though, it was not sweet.  It was more like cider and had a sour bite to it.  Needless to say, I bought three bottles of different types and drank a bunch to "test" them out.  I did save one bottle of Grand Cru for a personal celebration later.  Those of you in NYC can try out Cantillon beers at (http://www.beermenus.com/beers/cantillon-bruocsella-grand-crua few fine establishments.  Know this though... you will pay at least four times what I paid.  I would suggest the Gueuze to start as it is very accessible and tasty.
Today I decided to buckle down and do some more research.  I went down to my local corner store and bought some Chimay and some Grimbergen.  These are examples of Trappist and Abbey beers.  Chimay, as a Trappist beer, is produced under the supervision of real life monks.  When you purchase a Chimay you are helping to pay rent for their monastery... seriously, their monastery.  Grimbergen is an Abbey Beer living a dirty lie.  Abbey beers were created to look like they are from a monastery and are usually commercially produced under a licensed name.  When you purchase something like Grimbergen or Leffe you are supporting a lie and should be ashamed of yourself.  I enjoyed Chimay before I left NY but wouldn't get it very often as it was cost prohibitive.  Eight dollars for a smallish bottle was a little much for me at my well priced beer drinking locale.  Now that I can get the same bottle for 1.50 Euro I'll drink it at lunch if I'd like because its still cheaper than the bottle of water you may get.  I tried out Chimay Red and Chimay Blue.  I prefer the Blue, but after finding out that its 9% alcohol decided it may not be the best choice as a lunch based beverage.  The Blue is still one of my favorite beers in general, though I won't begin to try comparing it to Guinness they are different beers for different occasions.  I didn't actually like the Grimbergen very much.  This isn't because refuse to support a lie, I actually don't mind the lie.  I didn't like it because it had a metallic taste to it that I couldn't get over.
I promise I will continue to test as many beers as I can as often as I can.  I can also promise my blog entries may start to get a little funny if this I keep up with that much beer.  I will document my struggle between Lambics and Trappists, you guys should send me beer types that say "Belgian" on them and I'll do my best to research them here.  LaurEm posted a suggestion last week that we do a Pomme Frites comparison and because of that you guys don't get the Frites write up until some States Side folks send me some images.  Anyone can send me pics and descriptions of their favorite Frites in the US and I'll try to put together an objective comparison.  We all know the French version is also a dirty lie, so try to only show me Belgian style.

Spending Report: Week 4


Numbers are up a little off the usual.

Overall:  89.90

Breakdown:

Restaurant: 34.30
Groceries: 23.25
Beer:  11.00
Shipping: 10.90
Misc. Food: 5.45
Tourism:  5.00

Restaurant: A little high this week because of the moderately expensive appetizer sized portion of mussels that taught me that I'm still allergic to shell fish.  I also went out with the office for lunch for the first time to celebrate an all nighter (that I didn't participate in).  Finally I bought some pomme frites at a famous place on Saturday.  In accordance with a recent request, I'll save that for a comparison to a NYC Frites shop.

Groceries:  A lot of the normal stuff... nothing to add this week really.  I added some shampoo to the list also added a day where I bought peanut butter and jelly from a corner store during my lunch hour to make lunch.

Beer:  I bought a few bottles of a Lambic Beer.  There will be a post about beer soon, and you may have already read it.  I had to buy a bunch of different beers from the same brewery to make a good comparison.  During a discussion with some friends in NYC we tried to find bars that also serve the beer I purchased... I bought a few bottles for around 3 Euro a piece.  In NYC the bottles go for 12-18 dollars.  Quite a mark up.

Shipping:  I sent those chocolates out for valentines day using the normal post with great success.  It cost me a little over Ten euro to ship regular, and the package made it on Friday after being sent Monday.

Misc. Food:  Waffles and cookies... I've never had a sweet tooth like I've had here.  I found my favorite waffle stand so far.  It is very convenient, maybe too convenient.  I actually had a conversation with the owner at my metro stop, he is thinking about opening a shop in NYC after his friend graduates from Yale.  I may actually be facebook friends with him soon.  I will let you guys know if he introduces Belgian waffles to the NYC Public.

Tourism:  I went to the Cantillon Brewery and there will be photos up.  This trip was entirely worth it and there are some special people who are going to get credit for it later.

I've only gotten two emails with proper questions so far... You guys are the inspiration I have for doing a lot out of the ordinary.  Some time this week I'll answer questions but email me.  scott DOT corey AT gmail DOT com.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pushups plus

Time for the weekly mini-post.  This wasn't a great starter week, I definitely slept in a little more than I would like almost every day.  There are two causes, the first is a perfect black out shade on my one window.  The second is staying up super late calling the US to deal with some banking issues.  Oh well, I still did my Monday Wednesday Friday.  My overall goal is to do my push up and sit up schedule M-W-F and then T and Tr do supplementary stuff like the indian pus ups and maybe some cardio... but I'm pretty sure we all know that won't happen.  
According to my msword diary I followed both the 100-push ups and the 200-sit ups schedule perfectly.  Sit Ups:  M-18 W-25 F-38.  I recognize this is a small number, but there's no reason to rush into something.  Moving slowly helps me see that its not so hard and I don't get frustrated with it.  I didn't really feel much Monday, but Wednesday I noted that I felt I was doing them correctly.  I'm still feeling a little bit from my Friday session, so I'm excited to start up again Monday.  I didn't work on breathing or my break times yet because it was a low number but I will need the correct break starting soon.  Push Ups:  M-28 W-43 F-51.  This wasn't hard, like I mentioned in the first post about push ups, I need to get back into the rhythm.  Friday I did the normal sets, but in the fifth set they tell you to do as many as you can with a minimum.  I think the minimum was around six and I decided to see what I could do and went for twenty straight.  This isn't my max number, right now I can probably do twenty eight to thirty in a row but it is a good start.  
Like I said at the beginning, I didn't wake up as early as I wanted but before the end of every day I accomplished what I aimed for.  This is a good start for the following weeks.  The image at the top of this post is a hint about the weekend post.  If I am sober enough before I go to sleep I'll try to write it up.  Otherwise, everyone enjoy their Valentines Day;  I'm gonna go cook a romantic meal for one.

Caffeine.

This is one of my new best friends.  Don't judge me for befriending a machine, she speaks the only language I need:  Caffeine.  A side note:  Romance languages assign sexes to all objects animate or otherwise.  This makes for very interesting conversations between myself and my new Portuguese friend (not the pastry, an actual human).  The coffee machine is a She, and vacuum cleaners are male.  Anyway, I have become fast new friends with this machine for a few reasons.  The first is that she speaks in signs, not french, not english.  There are really only two buttons, "strength" and "amount."  Second, she is a free source of caffeinated goodness.  
Before leaving NY I had a full fledged addiction to coffee from Starbucks.  I weaned myself off, not because I didn't want the coffee but because I wanted the two dollars every day.  I replaced it with tea made in my office.  At one point out of the blue I decided to see if I could stop drinking caffeine all together.  I have absolutely no idea what drove me to this, but I just wanted to stop the addiction.  After a few days of pounding head aches I was clear.  Fast forward to my third twelve hour day in a row and I need some coffee.
I stared at the machine for about five minutes before someone came by to give me an idea of how the dials worked.  It is a genius machine that everyone should have.  The dial on the left controls the amount of coffee/espresso you want.  The dial on the right controls how strong the coffee is.  After the Italian in the office leaves the left dial is turned way down the right dial is turned way up.  It is basically hot espresso syrup.  After I leave, the left dial is turned all the way up and the right dial is turned way down.  I also use the "double cup" button at the top.  This is the American/Irish coffee.  I sometimes have an issue with bitterness in coffee and kill it with a little milk.  This is never the case with my new best friend.  The machine makes coffee that is almost sweet outta the tap even without sugar.  
This machine has become a necessary part of my morning and day.  It is a money saver because I no longer purchase coffee and I still get my needed caffeination.  Though, I've learned that Brussels is one of the only places I've been so far that doesn't have much of a "take away" coffee culture at ALL.  I have only found two shops that will sell me a coffee to go, and it is not a coffee, it is an espresso.  I actually crave a large cup of coffee from anywhere... even Dunkin Donuts.  Alas, this will not happen until I take that trip to Antwerp, Paris (which is known for having the nicest Starbucks in all of Europe) or Rotterdam.  
Tomorrow I will be heading around to do three things:  Buy some quail, find the best pomme frites and Brussels and go to a Belgian brewery.  I will surely blog about one of them tomorrow in addition to the promised update on my personal development.  I have a request of you guys.  I want some help writing posts once every week or two.  This can happen very easily.  I just want you to email me questions you have about things I've already talked about or things you want me to talk about.  scott DOT corey AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What I eat: Daily Edition

By now it should be pretty obvious I don't go out to eat all that much.  In Belgium it isn't too hard to find a bargain for a meal, but the best bargain is in preparing food for yourself.  I imagine this strategy is not location specific.  I will consume a meal or two outside of my my own creation but it is either in the name of tourism or The Office.  Since starting work I have kept up cooking at least four out of five nights a week.  I've only left the office for lunch once, though I only make myself lunch four days a week so far.  I have eaten every single breakfast since I arrived in my apartment... and I don't buy coffee.  I'll write an entire post about European caffeination habits at some point, but I don't have the time or patients to do that tonight.  I think this has been a pretty good way to save those euros for better usage.
I've usually got a few minutes in the morning to have breakfast while I make my lunch.  It is multi-tasking I enjoy.  I'm a cereal guy, and I usually prefer kids cereal to start my day.  I was in for a huge disappointment when I arrived in Brussels.  There are two kinds of cereal, really expensive and really bad.  The really expensive cereal isn't very good either, but they have an amazing looking cereal filled with nutella... those boxes are an obscene five or six euro.  I tried some choco-wafers that were much cheaper and they actually tasted like cardboard.  Seriously, cardboard, I could have cut up the box near the end and sprinkled it on top for flavor.  Since then I've just gone with corn flakes with some banana for sweetness.
While I'm eating my breakfast I prepare lunch:  A sandwich and apple.  It is basic and satisfying.  Until you go to the grocery store and can't decipher what kinds of deli meat and cheese they have.  I was baffled at the fact they didn't have American cheese... I learned non-aged Gouda is a pretty close substitute.  Europeans love cured meats so its much easier to get salami or pepperoni or PROSCIUTTO.  I'm pretty sure I never made a prosciutto and Gouda sandwich for lunch before my day in NY.  There are only two portion sizes in the stores though:  super mega tiny and enough for that family of eighteen that has their own TV show.  Bread has become an issue during sandwich construction.  I've purchased two loaves of packaged bread and been disappointed by their shelf life.  Almost half a loaf of bread has submitted to mold under my watch so far.  I have discovered a new solution:  real bread.  Lately I've been getting a baguette which is long (think your whole arm) and thin (think your whole arm).  I slice off a hoagie lengthed portion and prepare my sandwich.  The end goes stale by the next day so I slice off about a quarter inch and make another sandwich.  There are about three or four sandwiches in a single baguette that costs about 80 eurocents.  Plus its fresh bread from a bakery, so the soft inside portion is like cotton candy:  wispy, light and sweet.  The crust is hard but not tough... it makes a damn good PB&J.
I got back to my apartment last night around 11pm.  I still cooked myself dinner.  This is probably not the best habit for digestion, but entirely necessary for sleep.  I used to have the bad habit of unwinding from a day at work by watching unnecessary television or some other media source.  That isn't so easy any more, so the cooking of my meals every night relaxes and pulls my mind off of work.  My dinners are usually incredibly simple.  I make some jasmine rice, maybe enough for three portions.  I'll eat the first portion cooked normally and then usually make fried rice with the other two portions.  If I'm eating fresh rice I will steam some veggies: carrots, green beans, broccoli... usually a good mix.  If I'm making fried rice I'll stick to carrots and green beans with some garlic.  Lately I've only cooked protein on the weekends.  I have been purchasing small single portions of pork or steak but this weekend I'm going to get a little adventurous and try to cook a Partridge.  That's a small bird, or Danny Bonaduce.  I'll throw an egg into the fried rice to get extra protein during the week, but I'm not overly concerned with how much or how little protein I'm consuming.  
This is a pretty basic diet that I enjoy day to day and is very easy for me to prepare quickly.  When I have the chance to get home early or have a weekend off I may cook something a little special, but usually I stick to my basics.  The next "what I eat" will cover those few meals I don't prepare for myself and are outside the range of "tourism."  I think I cover the tourism food pretty well so far, but I've gotta find something else to try next.  MAYBE BEER!  Ok, I'll work on my ideas on how to test out a lot of beer for you guys while trying to criticize (and remember) the experience.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Metro, pt. 2

After two weeks of constant Metro usage I thought I'd bring an update with a little bit more on the nuances of the Brussels Metro.  I think one of the most fun things about the metro so far is the unpredictability.  Sure, they have the timer showing when every train is coming in the near future.  You can even see exactly what stops trains are at before and after your stop.  I'm not entirely sure why you'd need to see trains that are beyond you... but you can.  The unpredictability comes in with train types and crowd.  I've been on 4 different train types so far.  I'm pretty sure you can measure their age by their colors, sea foam green is clearly 70's... white and beige: 90's.
The image to the right shows what I think is the newest train.  This is probably the coolest subway I've ever been on; they've got the neat tri-peel hand pole in the middle.  This means that those jerky lean-types who hog an entire pole with their love handles can be bypassed with a bifurcation (this sentence was very self indulgent, the rest of the post won't be like that).  That's not all folks, the cars are not separated and the image looking down the train corridor was not produced with smoke or mirrors.  If you've ever been on a double bus where they have the accordion thing in the middle so they stay attached... think of an entire train like that.  If you happen to get on the train near the end, you can actually walk up to the beginning (which is usually where the escalator exits are) while you are still ON the train.  Neat idea.  Now, the unpredictability of Brussels:  This is only ONE of the FOUR train types.  The older train actually has no doors between cars.  That means, when the oddly scented homeless guy wanders onto the train you can't easily pass to the next car.  I do have the luxury of being unable to understand his pan handling catch phrase, so I can completely ignore the homeless man anyway.  
Another interesting contrast between these two trains is seating.  The picture above shows parallel seating, in line with fitting more people.  The no-door cars have perpendicular seating, like an airplane.  This conceptually makes sense in a car that is based on lower transportation.  The similarities in the trains  are completely antithetical.  I have been on each of those trains at every time of day/night/weekend/whatever.  This means high traffic rush hour:  Big train = comfortable.  It also means high traffic rush hour: Small Train = dumb.  It is completely random which train type will come at which time.  I am completely baffled by the efficiency involved in running both train types during all times of the day.  Then again, I have yet to nail down the regularity of the traffic.  I have seen two busy mornings and they were not similar in time.  In New York I could, with some accuracy, predict how much available space there would be on a train at any given time in the morning.  Here... no such luck.
NEXT!  There is a button on the doors.  This doesn't sound too complicated, unless its your first time using the train.  The first or second time I used the metro I wasn't paying too much attention...  The third trip I stood outside the closed doors that no one was coming out of... then the train just left.  I didn't pull the handle (older trains have handles... newer ones have buttons) and tell the train I wanted to enter it.  The trains have become fickle and don't want to waste their time opening all their doors if no one is getting on or off.  I'd love to see the system implemented in NYC to stop all those late entries that block up the door.  There's no way you can run down stairs and jump through the closing doors if the doors haven't opened to begin with.
I think that's a pretty good representation of some of the fun facts about about the Belgian Metro.  I'd like to make a nice map of my route and the places I've visited in the surrounding area.  How about this, if I get outta work "early" tomorrow I'll make the map.  It may not be a part of the daily post and may go up later but I'd like for it to be ready for a nice long post about my walk to work.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Critical Updates

Instead of writing a true update tonight (I had some ideas but got in late) I thought I'd upload some proper pictures and maybe a link or two.  On the right hand side --->  You should notice I've moved and added things since the beginning.  I thought it would be nice for you guys to follow the Euro and Dollar with me and see how much it changes on a daily basis.  Also, you can be a voyeur and check up on what the elements are doing to me hour by hour... I guess that's only if I happen to be outside.  I also added a link to my Picassa photo albums that I've finally gotten around to uploading.  I will usually keep that as the link to the latest days album, you can navigate around and find the rest of the photos in there if you'd like.  Sooner or later I'll also re-link all the old photos in the blog so you can click to larger, more visible images.  
Next, some links.  I was asked by many people (or just my mom...) to put up some links that I follow for the math and push ups etc.  The math simple:  http://www.freemathworksheets.org/  Go through it start to, chapter 4 or 5 or whatever.  I think I only made it to chapter 7 but its more important to read the early chapters than the later ones, this also means reading the introduction.  Next:  Push Ups: http://www.hundredpushups.com/  That's pretty easy, same with Sit Ups:  http://www.twohundredsitups.com/  Duh.

That's all for maintenance, I've gotta learn a little HTML so I can make those links look better next time.  UPCOMING:  Cooking, Multi-culturalism... Tourism and The Metro pt2.

I'm a TOURIST! Pt. 2

The subtitle to this weeks episode of Tourism is "Wherein Scott finds out he is still allergic to shellfish."  I was born in Maine, both of my parents are from New English.  This means I am genetically required to enjoy shell fish and sea food.  Unfortunately genetics also decided to throw a cruel wrench into those requirements and made me allergic to most shell fish.  My parents thought it was a passing phase when I was young and kept feeding me Scallops... Einstein said insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  I do enjoy shell fish (except scallops, I am psychologically opposed to scallops) from time to time. 
 But it has become a bit like alcohol, if I consume too much... well, you get the picture.  This weekends adventure brings us to Ste. Catherine.  I am lying a little, this is two different weekends that I happen to put into one.  This is probably a secret most travel writers wouldn't tell you.
A few days ago I told you guys I was starting to get into a morning routine: Wake up, shower, breakfast, headphones, work.  This is kinda like NYC except I've got a real commute and time to actually get into my music.  When I decide to TOUR things, I ditch the headphones because I want to pay attention externally not internally.  I only made this a conscious decision when going to Ste. Catherine as it is the same Metro stop as I go to for my office.  Immediately after getting out of the train, I took my headphones off so I could see my routine walk in a different light.  While I have noticed my surroundings during my morning routine, I haven't really examined them.
It turns out (according to mr. Time Out Brussels) Ste. Catherine is the old fish market, with the mass of restaurants as the only relic of that age.  I went to two separate places, one known for their Mussels the other for something different.  Now, if we were to consider mussels liquor, I have an extremely low tolerance so I found a place that had Appetizer portions.  I still ended up insulting the waiter by eating half a bowl of mussels, "You only ate Six."  I corrected him, "Huit" (that's eight in french, and I'm a jerk).  I'm unsure if he would have preferred the alternative had I finished the entire bowl.  
The second place I stopped at was Mer Du Nord, or North Sea.  This place was awesome for a lot of reasons.  You stand outside at a bar and order small plates.  This isn't necessarily a physical small plate, but more of a metaphorical small plate. The plates are meant as a tasting... going to a "small plates" restaurant you would usually order a bunch of small plates and enjoy the ride.
  Mer Du Nord is a ride in the North Sea:  Cold, lots of seafood and wine for lunch.  I watched the chef cook some shrimp on the grill while he fried my Haddock.  They had a wine list stocked with both White House Wine and Red House Wine.  I spent like seven Euro on that plate of fried fish and an OK glass of white wine.  I actually really enjoyed the experience because it was more about being social than it was about the food itself.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the haddock and the tasty salad with tartar and mayo, but the food wasn't the highlight.  
That's all for today, I thought I was gonna add more of the tourism in but there was plenty of content with just the two restaurants.  I've got some blog posts planned for the next few days, but we'll see what happens with office time.  Oh, I pulled 70 hours last week...  AND got sick from Mussels yay!  I think I just need more waffles.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spending Report: Week 3

So this week I paid my rent.  This brings my number WAY up for the week.

Overall: 941.09! UGH! or 71.09 sans rent...

Breakdown:

Rent: 870.00
Transportation: 0.00
Groceries: 26.79
Miscellaneous food: 20.05
Restaurant: 9.25

Rent:  I had to pay daily for the first 11 Days I was in the apartment and then I had to pay my first month so all in all it was a lot.  Also, my bank account wasn't fully set up so I had to pay in cash.  I will say one nice thing about the ATM's here, they give you options of what bills you want down to a 5.  

Transportation:  I just wanted to show that I spent nothing on transportation this week... This and Rent should be done for the month unless I can take a trip out of the city.

Groceries:  This number is a little high because I got some long term ingredients like Margarine and Parmigiano.  The first time I shopped I got butter, but I hate putting butter on bread and sometimes don't like it for other applications.  Margarine was NOT easy to find though and using logic to decipher the terms... not really gonna help.  I also decided to get garbage bags (the wrong ones) for the apartment.  Belgium has a crazy recycling scheme where you have 3 different color garbage bags:  White for trash, Yellow for paper and Blue for plastics.  All glass has to be taken to bins placed throughout the city.  I knew we needed bags and got Blue... even though we needed Yellow.  OH WELL.

Miscellaneous Food:  This was just things like Beer, Chocolate and Pasteis De Nata... all pretty acceptable.

Restaurant:  This number is way down, I only ate "out" twice.  One time I'll write about during a tourist blog the second is in the Office.  On Fridays someone usually cooks lunch for the office and collects about 3 Euros to gather food for the meal.  I considered it "restaurant" because I paid for cooked food.  It was very nice because it breaks up the monotony of the sandwich and it was relaxing.

Again I'll bring a call for comments.  If you don't want to comment publicly and you want to suggest a post, email me: Scott DOT Corey AT gmail DOT com.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pasteis De Nata & Chocolate


I believe you've met my friend Pasteis De Nata... I'm sorry I didn't introduce you guys the first time around.  I'm amazed that I've found one of my favorite pastries in Belgium, and its a Portuguese pastry.  This is a tiny little custard creme cup thing.  It tastes like pudding flavored with toasted marshmallows.  OH MY GOD!
I found a Portuguese speciality store around the corner on my way to the Delhaize (the grocery store).  I walked in, looked around at some three euro bottles of red wine, some of the meats and cheeses, and then noticed pastries.  I'm a sucker for pastries so I ordered two different ones and Pasteis De Nata was by far the winner.  I got some more today for my office and they went over very very well.  Its kinda like the best Boston cream donut you'll ever eat for 1.05 Euro.  I've been told that there is an entire city in Portugal devoted to this one pastry... though it still pales in comparison to the Danish.
I think there were only two things I knew about Belgium before I arrived:  Waffles and Chocolate.  We all know about my penchant for Waffles, so I thought I would look into the other Belgian Icon.  Near the Metro stop on my way to the office is one chocolate shop that I stopped in my first or second day in the city.  While I was there I tried a small sampling of the "popular flavors."  I got 3 especially unique flavors:  Chili, Wasabe and Basil.  I guess chili isn't too far off the deep end, it was very good spicy but still mild.  Wasabe was not good, there was no spice to it and the flavor does not lend itself to chocolate very well.  Basil was a very very happy surprise.  I never thought the herby flavor of basil would work well with chocolate but I would suggest it to anyone if they get a chance to try it.
This past weekend I went looking for the real chocolate shops.  I've been told the best place to get chocolate in all of Belgium is Bruges, but that's another trip all together.  I found my guide book had a section on chocolate and there was one square they mentioned.  I took a trip to this square and went into and out of about five or six shops absorbing the scent of chocolate.  I decided to get a box to send back States side and ended up at Wittamer:  the canonical Brussels chocolate shop.  I think its been around for almost 100 years and is very classic.  Some of the avant garde (see I am learning french) shops were interesting but really only to look.  At Wittamer I purchased a box of 40 pieces (100 grams) for only 15 Euros, which is a steal considering that is priced just above a Hershey bar by weight.  I also purchased a small sample for myself to know what I was sending.  
I decided to try three of my choice and one of the employees choice.  My selection was Earl Grey, Passion Fruit and Cannelle, the employee picked one without a name on it.  They were all very creamy and had the same exact texture (except unnamed).  The shell itself was thin but strongly flavored and had a little snap to it.  If you're given a choice of the same four I ended up with, I would suggest the Earl Grey first.  It was unique, I will definitely aim for more aromatic flavors to mix with chocolates for any future purchases.  The Passion Fruit was well done, it didn't have the pucker some passion fruit dishes share and was very subtle.  The Cannelle was cinnamon, I did enjoy it but it wasn't my favorite.  Now, I don't really know what to call the last unnamed one.  I'm pretty sure it was a praline, or a crunchy hazelnut flavored piece.  I know it wasn't a "hazelnut" flavored one, because they have those.  This is why I think it was a praline, and it seemed less sophisticated than the rest.  That doesn't mean I didn't like it, but it was much more sweet than the others.
As with all other food based blogs, I will continue studying and repeating these experiments to make sure they produce similar results.  I want to be absolutely sure that the chocolate is very chocolaty... and that the waffles are very waffley.  I should have a post about some fish tomorrow, along with the weekly spending (ugh... rent).  The BBM (big boss man for future usage) will be in the office around 6 or 7 pm tomorrow so I do get a day of tourism before work, I hope I find something good.

Personal Development pt. 2

I've been told that last post may have been a little over the top. There was a little more nervous energy than usual, that's because I was nervous writing the post. It isn't really very difficult to document what the City of Brussels does to me, while it is much more difficult to admit things that I am doing to myself. I imagine these posts will be few and far between, and I think most of them will have to do with my push ups and trying to fit in french lessons. The main reason I am keeping up with the personal development end of the posts at all is accountability. Making things like this public (as public as this blog is) makes me accountable... I don't want to fail but if it is a private only failure oh well.
On to lighter things: This won't count as my post for the day, this is more of an update to tell you guys I'm not going crazy. Today I'll either write about a tourism day I had last week or more about food. I'd also like to write about beer, but I need more experience first. Or both since I think I have to make up for Monday or Wednesday or something. Also, tomorrow The Big Boss Man will be in the office, so we're cramming a little for the informal meeting.

Routine, Pushups and Personal Development

In my first blog post I mentioned that I'd like to speak about Personal Development. So far I have yet to "tag" anything in such a category. I'm getting there... slowly. Before I left NYC I started quite a few things that I think were helping me grow into a smarter, stronger person. I believe this was because some portions of my life had become SO routine that I was able to start to push those routines around a bit to make room for new ones. My life in this new place is different. It is starting to feel better, more comfortable and easier every day. In a later post I will write about my problems with this concept but for now I'll say this: Pushing myself into new personal growth routines is difficult when I have to move towards an entire new set of routines that are just based on Survival.
I talk about one routine; Get home, make dinner, write blog. I've done this sequence almost every night I've been here, for better or worse. I'm basing this routine concept on the writing of Leo Babauta from ZenHabits. This is a blog I've read for a little while and is generally pretty motivation to get off your butt and do something new. A lot of his writing comes off as repeated fluff, but some of the more simple posts click with me. He came up with a challenge this new year to "begin a new habit." The idea being that you make 5 minute concrete goals on a daily basis always after a similar "trigger" event. This is how I am doing my blog... though its not really a 5 minute habit. I had a little more practice with this idea from summer of 2007 until I left.
In the months leading up to New York I started practicing a bunch of different daily rituals and other things to test me physically and mentally. Two I really enjoyed were basic Arithmetic and Push-ups. Arithmetic... sounds dumb for a 24 year old to practice, but even before I left I learned the idea that Americans have an awful upbringing in mathematics, specifically arithmetic. Eastern cultures teach the basic algorithms like adding and subtracting in a completely different way. I began practicing these methods for a little while every day and it was very satisfying how much growth I saw in a very short period of time. After about a week of practice I could add a stack of five or six digit numbers in a fraction of the time it used to take me.
Secondly: push ups, lots and lots of push ups. I will be the first, and maybe second person to admit that I am not a physically in shape person. I'm pretty sure I paid fat tax (wherein you belong to a gym and don't go for a month) more than once in the year I belonged to my gym. I found some challenge on a website to do 100 push ups in a row. I have absolutely no idea what attracted me to this concept except that it had an incredibly structured spreadsheet for me to follow. It had a plan for three days a week for three different levels of competence and lasted for six weeks. This was something I was dumb enough to follow. Let me tell you, the first week was rough and I have no idea why I followed up. The second week the numbers jump up enough to scare you... but you can do it. It wasn't the adrenaline of push ups that drove me to continue, it was the results of small daily growth that pushed me further. I made it through four weeks and was doing five sets of over twenty-five push ups in a single session. I recognize the fact that that is more than 100 push ups but they had timed rest sessions in there. In a relatively short period of time there was not only a noticeable difference in how MANY push ups I could do, but in my physical appearance. Then I took off a day for a dumb reason and stopped doing them all together. AWESOME!
(Now for the meat and potatoes of today) In a previous post's comments someone suggested they would start doing the 100 again if I did. SO, I will. I'm starting from scratch because it helps build the routine more than the muscle. In addition I will be adding two more small exercises to my morning routine. I found a similar challenge for sit ups... 200! sit ups in a row. Look it up. The last exercise is the most fun for me, the Indian Push up. LOOK IT UP. Now, to keep me honest I will do one of two things. I'll make a once weekly post of my daily commitment: What percentage of the exercises I completed, was I happy with my routine, my morning timing? what are my triggers? Did I do it no matter what? If I find I'm not keeping up with it, I'll move to keeping up a side bar post to show my day to day progress. You can track me loosing my mildly overweight American butt daily or weekly, its up to how lazy I am. I'll post tomorrow about other things I'd like to add to my growing list of things to do. But for now its late and I have work tomorrow (yes, Saturday... maybe no extra tourism reports for a little while).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Cell Phone

I'm gonna level with you guys. My original goal was to write one post per day. I told you my strategy (the routine) of getting home, making dinner and then writing before anything else. This week I came across a snag in my strategy. The All-Nighter. I originally assumed everyone reading my blog would know me, but that is naive now a days so I'll explain what I do. I am an architect. I work long hours for low pay. I like my job and sometimes I like my job more than sleep. Because of this, I am likely to stay awake over night. By Thursday morning of this week, I had finished more hours than most would work in a full week. My new goal is to post 7 post per week. If I get smart, I will write one or two extras and hold them back as I would like to keep a once per day thing if possible.
OK, On to the real post. Cell phones, they're different here. That much should be pretty obvious. During my first few trips to Europe I tried out 3 different things, with the 3rd being the most successful. My first trip, I rented a phone from a US company. Not an awful choice, but a little more pricey than necessary. Second trip, NO phone. I like this method because it meant I wasn't really tethered to anything at all: not time, not people. On the other hand, the off chance that I needed a phone? Out of luck... obviously. The third trip, Dublin, I did a little research before I left. Economically, the best method is to purchase the cheapest cell phone in the country you're going to and just keep it for later trips. In Europe you have a SIM card (like a memory chip) which links you to a specific country, contains your contacts and generates your phone number. If you go to another country in Europe you can swap the chip and use it there. The first day I was in Dublin I went into a phone store at random, found the cheapest phone there and bought it for around 30 Euros including a 10Euro credit.
There are two concepts to understand with a European phone, UN/Locking and "Topping Up."  It is a common practice for mobile service providers to "lock" a phone and make it usable only within their network.  This means if you get a phone through Vodaphone and go to a country without Vodaphone service, its very likely your phone will not work.  There is also a huge market for UNLOCKED phones in Europe.  A lot of times you can buy them from the store unlocked, there are also shady looking places where you can get unlocking done.  Finally, about 10 minutes of GOOGLE searching should provide you with a legal, free, easy way to unlock your phone.  "Topping Up," occurs when you refill the minutes in your phone.  Almost everyone runs their phones on pay-per-minute service and refills when necessary.  You buy a card from almost any corner store and go through a few menus on your phone.  Simple.  Except those menus are only in French or Dutch, and I don't' know French or Dutch.
My phone... I bought my phone locked through Vodaphone.  I moved to Belgium, which doesn't have a Vodaphone representation.  So I did the obligatory 10 minute Google search.  This yielded some interesting information.  Of all the phone manufacturers on the market, Motorola are some of the more difficult phones to unlock.  In addition, my ONE specific phone model is not unlockable by any of the standard means.  Usually you just put in a number on the back of the phone into a software, and the software generates a code to unlock your phone.  People produce software that works for a huge number of phones, and not a single one is compatible with my phone, awesome.  I thought, I'll go roam around and find one of those shady places that will unlock my phone for me.  I go to a phone store, the one I purchased my SIM card in to ask about unlocking phones.  He tells me, "It is illegal to Lock phones in Belgium, so there isn't a large number of options, just this guy down there street."  It is my luck to bring the only unlockable phone to the country that doesn't allow locking to begin with.  I found the guy, realized he didn't speak English and just showed him the phone.  He says, "20 Euro,"  I know this is still 10 -15 Euro cheaper than buying a new phone so just hand it over.  He takes the phone in the back, is gone for 5 minutes and then my phone works.
That is basically the end of the Phone Story.  Though an interesting event occurred a few days later, while I was in my office.  I was walking around and all of a sudden heard an awful and very loud ringing noise.  Everyone, including myself, looks around for this loud noise.  Until I realize that awful noise is centered on my pocket.  One of my co-workers says, "That is your ring? That's horrible."  "I guess that is my phone, no one has ever called me before."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Office pt. 1

I didn't post yesterday. My original goal was to create a habit of blogging every day, after I finish dinner and walk upstairs. I arrived at my apartment at 4am, and didn't feel like cooking dinner. This means my whole routine was broken. Because of this missed day, I want to make it up to you guys by putting up some real information about my job, office, and working life in general.
Right now there are about 13 employees with a pretty wide range of nationalities: 3 Americans, 2 Irish, 1 French, 2 Belgian, 1 Portuguese , 2 Italian, and 1 German. I think I'm the only one that can not speak French, but the office functions in English. Most of the people from will slip and communicate in their native language, with French its not so easy, Dutch on the other hand is great. I can usually guess my way through Dutch via hand motions and similar Germanic syllables. I'm not confident enough to answer phones yet... what if the person who's calling only speaks French? What if it's the principle of the firm and he has an important task that I'd rather not do? Too many unknown variables for me to feel safe.
I've told you guys about the laptops. First arrivals usually grab the better computers, but there is inevitably some swapping later in the afternoon or night when people realize they don't have all the software they need and someone else is using the best computer in the office to listen to itunes while sketching on trace. We have an office network that is very well structured and contains a "bible." A quick read provides all the information you need when starting in the office in Copenhagen... which is as useful as it sounds for the new BXL (Brussels) employees. Everyone communicates in the office via email and Outlook. I don't have to know any ones email address because I can just allow the network to pick the correct one based on their first name alone. Passive aggressive tendencies flourish in a system where you can send an email to the entire office about the trash by using "BXL" as your recipient.
That brings me to my position in the office. I am a member of the GRO team, and the irony may not reach many of you, for some it exists as a wonderful inside joke. We are working on a large scale housing competition for the town of Gronigen in Holland. The photo at the top is of a model built in the past week, and it represents 100,000 square feet of housing. I am on a team with the design architect of the firm, and the two Belgian guys. Every single day we set up images of what we've completed and make a daily report to send to the Principal of the firm. He (usually) sends a one line reply that gives us another days worth of tasks to figure out.
I have also been placed on team "Office Look." This team is headed by the Portuguese guy and also has another American. We are in charge of documenting the office and deciding if we need more storage, a different layout... any office infrastructure related things. Last week I changed light bulbs for an hour. Finally, I am on a two person rotating "Slick Office" team. There are 7 of these in the office and when it is your turn to be in charge of "Slick Office," you make sure the kitchen stays clean, the garbage and recycling are taken out. You are also in charge of dusting the models. There is a lot of work involved in the office.
I've realized the depth of difference between this office and my last, and probably many other offices of both architecture and otherwise, that I should probably take a little more time and separate these posts a little. I may continue tomorrow... I may talk about chocolate. There's also a 90% change I'll be starting work in Belgian time and ending work after east coast time folks. Not only is there a big milestone presentation on Thursday for GRO, but "Office Look" is in charge of building new tables for the office on Thursday. Wonderful.