Thursday, October 30, 2008

hangin' tough

i just heard that NKOTB is coming to the e center this november and that the show isn't even sold out yet. my question to all of you lucky suckers living in utah- what are you thinking? if only they had a european tour...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

amsterdam: an eye opening experience

after managing to snag a nice room for a good price at this artsy hotel, we were more than excited to visit 'the venice of the north.' it was a little chilly with rain and wind, but that didn't stop us from getting out and seeing the sights in amsterdam.

first stop on our list was the outdoor market. i loved this place. name something you would like to buy; they have it.... in multiple colors. my favorite booths were packed with fresh flowers or handmade jewelry. as you will sadly note in this video, our travelers budget only allotted 'necessary' purchases like socks and leggings (cade argues leggings are not considered 'necessities'and secretly i agree, but they were a great price). we did manage to find room in the budget to purchase a plethora of warm, honey-filled waffles. this is for sure a necessity we both agreed on.

after making our purchases, we headed towards the city. we found a strange little uruguayan steak house that had a little stand outside stating the special of the day. 'tourist special: sirloin steak, salad and fries 9.95 euros.' cade loves steak and the price of meat here has made us involuntary vegetarians, so we ventured in. we both ordered the special despite our server telling us over and over how small the steak was and recommending the 25 euro option. the steak wasn't bad at all- but the experience made me miss american restaurants where the customer is king.
the next day was colder and rainier but again- you can't let that hold you back. we managed to make it to the anne frank house where we huddled in line under our little umbrella while tuning into a little more harry potter.

we loved, loved, loved the anne frank house. this is the actual place anne and her family hid during the war. we climbed the narrow steps up to the room with the movable bookcase, slipped through the opening and found ourselves in the middle of her book. it made history real for me. i felt a complete loss as we saw how the war changed everything here. it reminded me of the time in japan when my family and i were touring nagasaki at the exact place they dropped the atom bomb. they had a plaque which coldly stated the death toll along with other statistics of that horrific day- but it didn't feel as real until a little woman approached us and explained that she was the only member of her family who lived that day. the death toll on the plaque no longer looked like a massive statistic, but rather this poor woman's mother, father and siblings- real people. anne's hiding place had the same effect. the number of people who died is staggering, and amongst the statistics is anne, margot and the rest of her family. they had small excerpts from anne's diary written on the walls and old photographs of the families who shared this space as you walked from room to room. we weren't allowed to take photos, so... we didn't. all we have to prove that we were actually there is this picture of the sign in front of the door.

after anne, we came to know a little more about amsterdam than we anticipated. we had heard from so many travelers that amsterdam was a 'must see' in europe. i will agree- with a disclaimer: it is definitely not a place for the faint of heart. with the legalization of marijuana, various soft drugs and prostitution, amsterdam prides itself on being one of the most tolerant countries in the world. i will give them credit- they for sure get an 'a' in tolerance.
as cade and i were wandering the streets we found ourselves in the infamous 'red light district.' sure, i make it sound like an accident but we decided to take a quick walk through the 'tame' part of the district during the day, just to see what all the hype was about. this sleazy street is packed with brothels- yes, even at 3 in the afternoon. the worst part is, the prostitutes sit in the windows and wait for someone to come 'choose' them. i was a really disturbed by this and honestly the women were giving me the willies. i could not understand the lure of this place or the reasoning of it all. most of the prostitutes were pretty old, one was covered completely in tatoos and- i'll just say it- for the most part, they weren't attractive. it all seemed so worthless. i just wanted to yell through the window that there is something better out there to do with your life. needless to say- we didn't stay here long. cade spent the majority of the walk looking down at his shoes while i stared with gaping mouth at the craziness of it all with no shame for my look of disgust. places like this really make me realize how important the simple principles of the gospel are. principles of real happiness. lucky for you, we passed on taking pictures here. you're welcome.

i hope this last part doesn't leave you with a sour taste in your mouth about amsterdam. it really was a beautiful place. the dutch are very nice. anytime we pulled out a map, someone would offer to help us find our way. the buildings here are so old and charming and just outside the city you'll find miles of tulip fields. cade loved amsterdam because the bike to person ratio is nearly 1:1. it has one of the highest rates of bike riders in the world and bicyclists have the right of way- even over pedestrians. with miles and miles of bike lanes in front of him, cade was in heaven.

would we go back to amsterdam? in a second.

Monday, October 27, 2008

luxurious luxembourg

perhaps my favorite part of living in europe is the feeling that i am in the middle of history. so many things become more than just a history lesson or a story from the 'standing tall' princess series my mom had us listen to when we were young. everything is more real.
a little while ago we were able to travel around with sarah and kevin before they left to go back home. lucky for us, we scored big when a member in the ward lent us his company car and accompanying gas card (beat that ryan air). so we all packed it up for a day trip to luxembourg; however, as you will see below- the path to little luxembourg was packed with little treasures all along the way.

for our first treat, we stopped off in the infamous bastogne. if this name does not sound so 'infamous' to you, you're not alone. although i smiled big and nodded along to the old, belgian, war verteran's story, if it weren't for the informative plaque at the entrance, i would still be lost. bastogne was actually a really cool place.

during the war, this area proved to be a very important place where allied troops teamed up with the belgian troops to win a crucial battle. because the american troops were able to step in at just the right moment to lend a hand, a huge monument was erected to show the relationship of respect between america and belgium. the monument also gave a beautiful view of the belgian countryside. (warning: do not cross reference any of the above information...)

after walking around the site, we headed into town where we all gorged ourselves on belgian pastries and sweets. this part of european living has become a sort of standard. a day just isn't done until you've snarfed some sort of priceless pastry.

after bastogne, we packed back into the car to take a scenic drive through more green hills and countryside. it was beautiful and i wish that our pictures could really do the sights justice... but just know how beautiful the land is here. as we wound around hills and made our way towards the city, we eventually ran into the most charming little castles. they were always built on some hill in the middle of nowhere. we made a stop and toured one castle that had been there since 360 a.d.. while ruler after ruler built onto the castle and made it lager and better, i could not get over the history of this place. cool kitchens where servants prepared big meals, huge dining rooms, dance halls, big was straight from the 'bill and ted's' movie and i loved every second of it.

after winding our way through this castle, we headed on to other castles with equally impressive beauty. i have never wanted to be a princess more in my life than i do right now. i would walk along the corridors and stare out over my kingdom, all the while wondering what dress i would wear to dinner that night, while my prince could be found climbing over walls and spitting down the water wells. charmed....we really did have a blast.

after all that royal business, we were ready for some burgers. i realize i have already praised this mcdonalds in a previous post, but i think it is necessary to point out what a gem this place is. free refills, free ketchup, free balloons, tv on the walls with table tennis, and nice workers. if all luxembourg had was this small mcd's, i would love it all the same.
needless to say, all of this was packed into one day, which ultimately means that by the time we reached the city- this is all we saw. here's luxembourg.

we loved it all the same. it was a great day trip and a fun way to spend the weekend. gee, thanks europe!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

expo '58

when cade and i were planning out life here in belgium, we pretty much blocked off all weekends for travel to other countries. little did we know, world expo '58 was hosted right here in brussels and we needn't look any further than our own backyard for hours of entertainment.
meet the atomium. belgium pulled out all the stops when hosting the world by creating this large atom thing to bring awareness to atomic power. it was only supposed to be a temporary display, but years later, it's still around.
each ball has a different theme, and we spared no time inspecting them all. most of them were filled with info on the '58 expo. pretty much we now know everything about the expo... including how many babies were born at the actual fair, how many people committed suicide there, how many waffles were consumed and so on.

to get from ball to ball, we traveled on long escalators through the tubes you see pictured above. very space age.

from the top of the atomium, we saw loads of great places to see next including:
an entire building made of beer crates (the belgians love their beer)

and this huuuuge park. we spent the rest of the day walking across the park and wandering back to our apartment.

not everyone in the world has a huge atom thingy in their backyard. we are blessed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

obelis hooks us up and so on...

our first few weeks at work, there were some fun events we were able to be a part of. yes, i realize that was over a month ago, but i will post the pictures nonetheless.

Obelis celebrates 20 years of business this year and luckily for us, we made it just in time to enjoy the best of the festivities. to mark the occasion, they hosted a garden party for all our clients, friends and collaborators. we got all gussied up and met at the office for a night of live music, great moroccan food, dancing (much to cade's delight), and fine wine in large quantities (not really a delight- but they were nice enough to supply orange juice and water for us prudes).

it ended up being a really fun night. at first, i was worried we were going to be under-dressed and out of the loop. getting 'gussied up' while practically living out of a suitcase is quite the experience... but we managed to look presentable and we met a lot of interesting people from all over europe. and yes, we danced the night away.

the next week, we said goodbye to sarah and kevin, the two interns from utah state we were sent to 'replace.' they had been here in brussels for 6 months and obelis was sad to see them go. to say goodbye, management took the office bowling and out for super yummy greek food for dinner. mmmm....

cade and i haven't been bowling in a while but he still managed to get the top score and my 'poor form' left me near the bottom but it was still fun to socialize with everyone away from the office and to hang out with kevin and sarah.

we really like the people we work with. every week, the interns will get together at someone's apartment for dinner and we'll play games. this last week, we experiemented with various european cheeses and had a 'movie night.' we watched 'dan in real life' and the interns really wanted to see 'napolean dynamite' as well. they really enjoyed 'dan in real life'; unfortunately, napolean's butt load of funny phrases didn't quite seem as entertaining to a foreign audience. at the end of the show i found myself trying to explain what a 'fat lard' was and they, seemingly intrigued with puffy dress sleeves, asked all about american prom traditions.
william, a byu intern, has become our new travel buddy. this week we are going to paris with him and in early november, we have a huge roadtrip planned through germany, switzerland and the czech republic with william and another byu intern. between work and the ward, we have met so many great people. it makes brussels feel more like home.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

lessons learned...

there are plenty of lessons to be learned while living abroad. here are a few cade and i are learning...

lesson 1. mcdonalds is stealing from europe.
i don't really like mcdonalds and that doesn't make me any less american. in logan, when i have the choice between pita pit or mcdonalds, wendy's or mcdonalds, arby's or mcdonalds, even beto's or mcdonalds....i will always choose the former, whatever that may be. but i think others can relate to me when i say that there are few sights more beautiful in a foreign country than those infamous golden arches. in utah, it may be low on my list- but in a city of unfamiliar food options where every meal leaves cade and i feeling ripped off and still hungry, i tear up at the sight of this blessed fast food mecca.
even in familiarity, however, there are lessons to be learned. for some reason, the european mcdonalds' must think their ketchup is better than the american kind because they make you pay for every packet you ask for. no matter how many pleas from cade or dirty looks from me are given, we still have to fork out for ketchup!
secondly, why....why...why are refills only in america?!? i wouldn't mind paying 1,70 eruos (2.50$) for a small drink if i knew that i could put a little more in later, but when i have sucked the cup clean before i have even sat down...i start to wonder what kind of joke they're playing.
conclusion: an essential part of the mcdonalds' training book is missing in europe.
there is, however, a small country filled with hope. a few weekends ago, we went to luxembourg on a day trip and were sucked into a mcdonalds despite our learned lessons. to our surprise, we found a self serve drink refill station and the ketchup packets poured down like rain. cade was so overjoyed, he needed a picture to hold onto that moment. one of the smallest countries in the world got it right...good on them.

lesson 2: there is cobblestone everywhere; dress accordingly.
cobblestone sidewalks and old streets add a romantic flare to any european city. i love feeling the age of a city by looking down and realizing the time and energy put into the ground. europe wouldn't be europe without it.
my lesson to be learned here is simple: coblestone eats heels. although i only brought a few, select pairs of shoes on this journey, i did manage to pack in a few pairs of heels for church and dressy days at work. the only part i didn't plan on was walking on a sea of river rocks wherever i go. this picture was taken as we started an evening walk after a great sunday dinner at a ward member's house. wanting to avoid breaking my ankle or the heel of my shoe off, i had to borrow a pair of his flip flops. sarah, who learned this lesson months ago, had another pair packed in her bag.

lesson three: grocery stores give me anxiety.
it isn't that i don't know how to cook. despite the years of my mother's warnings, i learned that lesson the first week of marriage. ok- so not really... but by googling 'easy recipes' and with a nearby walmart, i think i can pull of making an ok dinner.
now... the story is a little different here. i walk into the grocery store and start to panic. our first week, i asked cade what he wanted for dinner for the next little while... his choices were pasta, pasta or pasta. he just smiled back and announced that pasta sounds great. my meal options are getting a little better- but as you can see below, branching out is a dangerous road filled with miscellaneous pork products and crusty beans (yes, this all come out of one can).

needless to say- we sure do love the bakeries here.

lesson four: when you spend 24 hours straight with one another, any argument can't last long.
cade and i really are together all day everyday. when we call home, i am surprised to hear so many questions asked about how 'that' is going. the answer is: fine! we love it. we are always 100% updated on one another's lives which leaves us much more time to talk about politics, religion, movies, memories, etc over dinner rather than updating one another on our day. we are learning so much about each other and i love how we are learning to trust, love and share. it really is so great. i love cade's guts.

we still have some moments. cade took this picture of me when i was mad at him for buying these really ugly shoes. he needed some athletic shoes for basketball and running and such and the ones he brought just up and quit on him the first week we got here. so, we went to the mall and he found 'the perfect shoes.' i hate them and he loves them but what can you do. you can't be mad because that just makes life miserable.... unbearable. so we just let life happen.
on my mission, i remember thinking that being with a companion 24 hours a day was sometimes a bit much. i looked forward to alone time. now- i fear going back to school where i will inevitably have to walk to school, go to work, eat and breathe without cade right next to me. it gives me the creepies.

there are more days to be lived and more lessons to be learned. wish us luck!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

welcome to our life n belgium.

well... here it is. this is the way we live. no more pizza in rome, warm spainish beaches or moroccan money hagglers. but we aren't complaining... we are loving it here in belgium. here is a short introduction to the main elements that make up our life here.

first- this is our apartment.

we live high on the seventh floor in a great part of town. when we first walked in, i saw the moldy shower and the two, twin beds pushed together and thought that i had landed myself in the belgian projects. this thought was short lived, however, as i realized that big beds are hard to come by and mold is a natural and beautiful part of belgian life. we have met two neighbors: nora/laura (i think her name is nora but cade swears he hears laura, so pretty much we avoid using her name- which is actually quite easy because we rarely see her) and another lady who we have seen brief glimpses of as she pokes her head out the door if she hears us in the hall. she rambles off in french and we smile and push the elevator button harder, wishing it could climb to the top just a wee bit quicker. other than that- i swear we are the only people who live in this building. overall, we like it here.

this is the park across the street from our apartment.

sometimes we jog here in the mornings or we take walks on sunday afternoons. there is always something going on here. in fact, just last week we wandered into a wine tasting festival over there. you should have seen the vendor's face when we actually refused free wine. i love this park.

this is a big monument at the park across the street.

(no further description...)

this is where we work.

here at obelis, we work monday through friday 9-6. the company is small, meaning that there are only 5 full time employees; however, the client list is ever-growing and our company is extremely global. besides the full time employees, the company operates on intern power. currently there are 7 of us in the office: 3 americans, 2 slovenians, one polish girl and one girl from the uk. so basically because the company is small, the interns are given pretty big responsibilities and the management is raking it in. smart business. you're welcome, obelis.
cade works in marketing, where he is currently focusing his efforts on creating these huge banners and signs for an upcoming trade show in germany. he is really good at what he does. he is also working on developing a new side of the company called GiDoS, which works primarily with helping companies who sell products in europe follow 'green' directives and regulations. his desk is the top, left window in the picture.
my job title says i am in marketing as well, but basically i just do whatever my boss tells me to do. right now, my main project is planning the next trade show in germany. it is going to be a crazy event, but i have actually enjoyed the planning process. i am also in charge of finding new clients- so i spend a lot of time calling people all over the world... which actually is pretty entertaining. this part of my job reminds me of my telemarketing days when amber and i sold herbal breast enhancement pills over the phone. a different sell...yet just as entertaining. my desk is inside the main, middle window.

this is our boss, doram.

this is our boss' boss, gideon.

this is a video of us on our way to church. it takes us about 45 minutes to get there by tram which makes me miss logan where the church to member ratio has got to be about 1:15. this particular sunday was 'no car day' which obviously did not effect us much and explains why people are on bikes and such...

we love our ward here. who knew there were enough english speaking people here to form a ward?? we have all different nationalities in our ward- uk, africa, china, usa- but we all get along quite nice. cade was just called as the young men's advisor and i was called as the young women's advisor. although there is a lot of youth in the ward, they only have the presidency and one advisor for each auxiliary. we love it so far. we have activities twice a month. last week, cade taught the boys about hygiene (avoiding the topic of facial hair) while the girls had a pajama party and did pedicures. the ward really is so great. people invite us to dinner, there is basketball every wednesday night and we get to work with the missionaries quite often. the church is true in belgium, folks.

on the weekends, we travel or just hang out at our apartment and eat eclairs and waffles. it's pretty much great.