Monday, October 02, 2006

Life in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Finally what you might call "settled" in Brussels, it's time for another update on my adventures. I had a whirlwind three days in New York City, during which time I got two more courses of antibiotics to try for my mysterious Chinese illness. After that, Ernie (my dog) and I flew to Paris via Detroit, a major detour because it turns out it's nearly impossible to fly internationally with a dog. Customs in France didn't even blink at us, and D. met us at the airport and drove us to Brussels.

We spent the first few weeks at a temporary residence that was in a very "ethnic" neighborhood - we picked it because it was the only one in Brussels that took dogs. After several days recovering and both courses of antibiotics, I finally kicked what has been most likely identified as a weird form of pneumonia, though I guess I'll never know exactly what I had or how much damage I did to my lungs. We got to know some of the neighborhoods and ultimately picked a great, sunny, 2-BR apartment with a huge terrace in Ixelles, a section of Brussels south of the center that is home to lots of students, artsy types and immigrants. It's a cute neighborhood with lots of character and diversity, nice parks and fantastic markets. We then started to learn about Belgian bureaucracy.

Not only do you have to register your lease with the government, but you have to register yourself with the police, which is followed by a home visit to make sure you actually live in your house (tax reasons, apparently). Even tourists are supposed to register with the police if you are staying over 3 days, but I doubt anyone ever does. And I thought I had left scary Chinese-style Big Brother behind... We tried to get a phone installed - we were granted an appointment SIX WEEKS after the day we requested it. Electricity required some strange paper that of course we didn't have when they came to turn it on, and the list keeps on going and going. Things don't work, no one answers their phone, things get done at a snail's pace. Very frustrating when you are trying to move into an apartment but have no light or hot water or internet.

Meanwhile, I still have seen very little of what tourists think of as Brussels. Instead of all the famous monuments - the Grande Place, the statue of the peeing boy, the Atomium, etc - I have visited more furniture stores than I care to recount, including the biggest Ikea in Belgium, where D. and I spent many long hours. Actually we learned they have great food at Ikea, but when D. started suggesting we decorate the apartment with a yellow and blue theme, we knew we'd hit our Ikea limit... We even went all the way to France to look at a store there, brought back a desk chair that we left in the car in front of our hotel overnight, and woke up the next morning to find the car window shattered and the desk chair stolen. The police came to take the report looking awfully bored, and they told D. that he should speak with his work to find out where to live, cause he shouldn't be where we were. Anyway, our new neighborhood seems a lot nicer, luckily!

And the apartment has come together now - we have all the basic necessities like furniture and electricity, and Ernie has made himself at home in my new favorite chair. It's funny the things you miss, though - right now I'm dying for some Mexican food... or good sushi... or even a measuring cup that has cups and ounces on it. But we've found that here there's great Turkish, Greek, and Vietnamese food, excellent waffles and fries, and some great ice cream places. So even though I'm missing the diversity of the offerings at home, there's fun stuff to discover here as well.

D.'s job officially starts on the 16th, so in the meantime he is going to Paris every week to work there at a temporary job, leaving me working in Brussels all alone. So now that I've caught up on most of the work from this summer, I'm taking advantage of the last week he'll be away to go to Morocco. I'll be leaving Saturday and coming back the following Sunday - a bit of a short trip, but I've been dying to see Morocco and it's close by, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

I still haven't had a chance to get up my pictures from China, but I'll be working on that soon, hopefully. In the meantime, here's a map of my route, and below is a picture of D. and me in the Yellow Mountains.

Most of you should have received an email by now with my new contact information. If you want it and don't have it, just send me an email. I'm available on skype and through the local New York number I sent out, and the time difference here is 6 hours later than New York. It's always good to hear from people, as it's tough to be away from you all over here. And now that we have a nice futon and a couch, of course anyone is welcome to come visit. Heck, maybe if you come visit me, I'll actually finally go see the sights of Brussels.

In the meantime, watch for another update post-Morocco, and I'll be back in California November 18-26, and in New York Nov. 27-Dec. 4, so hopefully I'll get to see a few of you then.

Keep in touch!

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Adventure map for 2009...