Thursday, August 27, 2009

it's done.


Preparing to leave Brussels has been very different than I imagined it being. To say I've been "counting down the days" until I go home, all summer long, wouldn't be totally accurate, buttt it'd be pretty close. However, when the countdown reached 2 weeks I knew I was as good as done and quit focusing on going home and started cramming in everything I wanted or needed to do before I left. And honestly, in the past two weeks I haven't been really anxious to go home because Alex isn't coming with me. So really, I feel like I've been pretty indifferent to the situation, until today.

Because of "goodbye parties" of sorts, two nights ago was our last meal together in our apartment here in Brussels. I hadn't thought twice about it until we sat down and Alex mentioned it in the prayer for our food. And I was suddenly struck with emotions I didn't think I would have. There were tears coming down my face! What?!
How could I possibly be sad about leaving these long, lonesome days and this very unusual city? (We've talked about if we ever want to come back here...the jury's still out.)

But I realized during that prayer that I've learned really valuable things here.

I've learned how to cook. I've learned how to be healthier. I've learned how to be brave...er. I've learned that I can still be "friends" with people I can't talk to. I've learned a lot about myself - I've been spending a lot of time with her lately. I've learned that I actually hate being late! And get this, we've actually been on time here...mostly. I've learned that the posters are true - I really never am alone. I've learned to love reading again. I've learned how to paint a tiny bit. I've learned how very blessed I am to have always been surrounded by so many people that I love, even here; we've met some great ones. I've learned that writing hundreds of thank you cards has it's benefits - helping to remind me how generous people are. I've learned how to keep a house, or at least an apartment, clean. I've learned that Alex is my joy. Our marriage has strengthened in a way that couldn't have happened back in Provo - or maybe anywhere in an English speaking country. We've had to depend on each other for pretty much everything. And on more than one occasion I've thought how happy and lucky I was that it was Alex who I was spending so much time with, and not anyone else (as much as I love so many other people).

So really, the tears were ones of little sadness and much gratitude.

Alex, Steph, Dominika, Ewelina, Kasha, Carolin, Junaid, Nephi

Candy and I.

Rachel, Alex, Me, Viktoria and Brandon enjoying our daily luncheon.

Alex's high school friend Rich Nash and his wife are taking over our spot and arrived last night to our apartment. It's so fun having them here with us. With their arrival came the realization that this place is now no longer ours. And although it has never been ours to begin with, the entire city of Brussels has always felt like it kind of belonged to just Alex and myself. A place and life so "our own". A place that no one from our previous lives played any part in, except of course for the blessed visitors we received who were able to catch a glimpse of it. But it is "ours" no longer. Pretty soon we'll both be gone and it'll be Rich and Kristen's apartment and Rich and Kristen's Brussels. And I hope they have just as memorable a time here as we have.

This morning I woke up excited for Provo.
It's done now, and I'm ready to go home.

Hopefully, Alex won't take too long to follow suit.
-annie


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

brussels is...?

Before we moved here, I talked to just a couple people who had lived in Belgium before. I felt like neither of them could really give me a straight answer when I asked them what it was like. After I had asked one woman if Brussels was a neat city, she responded, "No" and later added,
"But you'll have a good time".
So, a little wary and highly curious I began this Belgian experience, determined to be able to exactly define this place upon my departure. But I find that after almost 3 months of living here and D Day just 4 days away, I too am at a loss for a description of this place. The best I can do is give a few images that may help provide some sort of Belgian vibe.

Manneken Pis, the national symbol.
Apparently in 2007 the fountain was stopped for a day
due to prostate cancer.
Naturally.

St. Catherine's Cathedral - a public urinal has been installed on the side of it for anyone to "drain the potato" as they say. Confused? Me too.

If you thought this was a 12 year old boy bartending, you'd be correct.

Typical children's ride at a Brussels fair.

And while this street performer was in Antwerp, it's Belgian nonetheless.

video

So weird.
And don't worry, I still confuse Belgium and Brussels.

Now add on a few of these

and these

surrounded by this

and this

and you've got it.
Brussels in a blog post.

-annie

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

luck of the irish?

Indeed, luck there is in Ireland. Now, whether it be good or bad luck is debatable.

Last weekend Al and I visited my cousin Andrea and her husband Brenden in Ireland. I flew out a day earlier than Alex so as to take advantage of Ryanair. I arrived Thursday evening and took the two hour bus ride to my cousins' house in Hillsborough, 15 miles from Belfast.
I knew it was going to be a long bus ride and came prepared. I made myself comfortable with my bag of Haribo gummy bears and Alex's tattered and cut in half copy of LOTR. About an hour into the bus ride, I turned the very last page of Tolkien's masterpiece with tears streaming down my face. I still had quite a bit to go but no longer any
Frodo Baggins or Samwise Gamgee to keep me company.

I so unfortunately began to doze.

I woke up after what I truly believed was a five minute nap to find that we were pulling away from some bus stop. I looked around the bus to find that some old man and myself were the only passengers left, and of course the bus driver.
We must not forget about him.
For a minute I was worried that I may have missed my stop. However, I figured I couldn't have been asleep for longer than 5 minutes and there were three stops before Hillsborough. But as we continued to drive and pass road signs, there was no sign for Hillsborough anywhere. Finally, I got out of my seat and walked to the front of the bus.

Me: "Excuse me?"
BD: "Yes?"
Me: "We haven't passed Hillsborough yet, have we?"
BD: "Yes."
Me: *Gasp*

You must understand. I was on a bus all alone with two grown men at 11 pm headed for Belfast Ireland, 15 miles from my cousin's home, with no phone.

Me: "Really?!"
BD: Obviously bugged, "Yes. You said you were going to Belfast!"

I then quickly and desperately explained that I only asked if the bus was going to Belfast to make sure I was on the right bus.

BD: "It's okay, I'll just give you a ride home in my car after I drop off the bus in Belfast."
Me: Too overwhelmed with relief at the possibility of not being stranded to consider the oh-so-dangerous situation that had just been posed, "Really?! Thank you!".

What else was I to do?

So we dropped off the last passenger and the bus in Belfast and the bus driver and I hopped in his car. It wasn't until Jim (that's his name) made his comment about the gate keeper of the parking lot that the reality of what I was actually doing began to sink in.

Jim: "He probably thinks I'm taking you home with me."

Yeah.

But it turned out that Jim was just a 49 year old, Irish bus driver who was just as friendly as his accent and not nearly as scary as his picture.

Andrea and Brenden showed us a wonderful time on the Emerald Isle.

Seeing the Tall Ships make their stop in Belfast during their
around-the-world sail.

Some murals in the city.

I never knew Northern Ireland has such a violent history.
They too have a "Peace Wall" dividing the Catholics and the Protestants.
It felt a little too similar to this:


Brenden and Andrea planned a BBQ for us and invited Brenden's entire family.
We were very touched.

Brenden's nieces
Fiona, Andrea and Erin

The next day was spent touring the country side.


Honestly, it was some of the most beautiful scenery either of us have ever seen.



The Giant's Causeway

Thank you Andrea and Brenden!

Alex left Sunday night and I was scheduled to leave Monday morning at 7:30. I was wanting to go home to him just as much as you are wanting this post to end, but alas, we don't always get what we want.

Despite being at the airport an hour and a half early, making it through security and waiting at the actual gate for 45 minutes, it wasn't until I was boarding the plane at 10 minutes before take off that they told me I hadn't received a stamp of approval. I needed to run to the front of the airport, back out through security and get my ticket stamped before I could enter the plane.

After a lot of running, sweat and a lot more tears, I missed my flight.

They put me on standby for a flight that evening at 7:30 for a mere 100 euros.
Turns out that's how Ryanair gets away with 8 euro roundtrip tickets from Brussels to Dublin.

With twelve hours ahead of me and my cousins 2 hours away,
I decided to take a bus into Dublin to see the city.

After realizing the bus seats were covered with the same multicolored, velvet material as the London buses, I figured Dublin couldn't be too bad.

Top Shop, Museums and Castles confirmed this.

I also happened upon this market

This rainbow rose bouquet should give you a feel for the quality of it.


In the end I made it on the flight that evening and had a great day in Dublin.
Maybe I was lucky after all.

-annie

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

...put a little money into traveling

The night before Alex's first day of work here in Brussels I coaxed him into trimming up the locks on the back of his neck that he holds so dear. I thought that it'd be a good idea to just clean him up a bit so as to look sharp on the first day of the job. He conceded to then let me freshen up his mullet. My sense of confidence in the task was much greater than what it should have been considering that my experience with cutting real people's hair is limited to the occasional summer trims I give to my grandmother Jinny's classic, one layer bob she's been sporting my entire life, at least.

So with that false sense of confidence I grabbed the kitchen sheers and started cutting.

Is it really that big of a surprise that it turned out much the same as my grandmother's?
It shouldn't be.

So when Alex found out our friends had some clippers he did this handsome do


And I, accidentally, did this


A little hasty?
Perhaps.
But I was more careful after the first swipe and did just the tiniest trim
(what I was aiming to do from the beginning) with the rest of my hair.
Besides, at the rate my hair grows, it'll all be the same length again in just 2 short years.

Oh and a quick recap on our Saturday in Amsterdam.

A couple things tipped us off that this might be an interesting day.
The extra potent, spiked hair, diamond studded, pink and purple shirted men on the train and the protestor outside of the station raised our suspicions, but it wasn't until we saw this

and this

that we realized we were in Amsterdam on their Gay Rights Day.
And in all honesty, I was thoroughly impressed with the parade planners and enthusiastic attendees.

It was by far the longest and most highly attended parade I've ever been to (and the Provo Freedom Festival Parade is no small deal).
We did manage to eat lunch at Gratine, the tea room Cassie, Chelsey and I found a few weeks ago.

It's a tiny, husband and wife operated tea room that uses ingredients from their own garden, decorated with their own, hand picked antique collection.

Really, it alone is worth a trip to Amsterdam.

After lunch we forked out the dozen and a half euros to see the totally-worth-it Van Gogh museum and then spent probably too much time at this too-good-to-pass-up photo op.


Oh, and we did make this exceptional spotting.

He's up there. Up high in that small window of the building between the
"We Are" rainbow signs.
Ta Da!
So maybe JK really does know a thing or two about Dumbledore and his personal life.
But she also claims that Harry Potter is just a made up story, so...


I just so happened to be wearing the wrong/right (however you want to look at it) color that day, cause apparently, pink is the new purple.

Hoo-Gay for Amsterdam!
-annie