Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and I can’t think of a better day to post it on then on the USA's Thanksgiving Eve.

I really didn’t realize I was so spoiled in the USA. Pre-MBA, I would hop in my car drive to my SuperTarget about 5 miles away where I could find groceries, meat, bread, electronics, and pharmaceuticals, all in 1 place! I would load enough provisions to last me for a month and take up every inch of space on my shelf or in my freezer.

It’s a bit different here in Belgium…

There is a local market on Saturday mornings where there is always a line at the large fresh fruits and vegetables stand. There are also stands at the market selling dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, olives, and bakery items, just to name a few things. I have 2 butchers near my place. I can’t tell which one is better because they both are packed each day with customers! And then there are the bakeries. Oh, the bakeries. I could write an entire blog on them alone. In fact I will. Stay tuned for the bakery post…must do more research. Mmmmm…
pics from the market

If you’re wondering yes, Belgium does have grocery stores. Since I don’t have a car, and I have to get all I buy home with my own two feet I have to go there almost weekly. I bought a fun little cart from a past student and it’s served me very well on my voyages to the grocery store. You’d be surprised how many things it holds!

Inside the grocery store still is a maze to me. I worked in a small grocery store during in my high school years, so I’m too stubborn to ask where something is located. I wonder around the store and make a mental note where things are. Today I found that sugar (granulated and powder) is conveniently kept by the coffee and tea, 3 aisles away from the flour. And the flour is kept in the baking aisle near to the maple syrup – YES! I found real maple syrup here!


So I’m finding my way around the store, but many items are just different here. Vanilla extract for cooking is replaced by vanilla sugar. Bacon is only thin sliced. And there is no comparable peanut butter here. I really didn’t eat a lot of peanut butter pre-Belgium but now I miss it. One of the other USA-ers here reintroduced me to the jelly sandwich (which I don’t think I enjoyed since I was 12) – but it’s missing something, like a big smearing of Skippy. I miss it so much I asked my family to “Please send peanut butter” along with my winter wardrobe in my care package.

There are a few Belgium-isities in the grocery stores related to the country’s fondness to chocolate and waffles.
Here is a pic of the chocolate section of my small local store.

And here are some pics of the waffles area. Waffles here are a snack, not breakfast, and come in many shapes, forms and food-ness: ie. the honey filled waffle cracker a friend introduced me to.

One note on grocery stores is most close at 7/8pm and are not open on Sundays.  That just adds a little fun to this student's life. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and think about me the next time you're walking through Sam's Club, Rainbow, or my fav SuperTarget!  Would you be able to carry everything that's in your cart home?  :)

And last but not least HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  Thank you to everyone out there for letting me be in your life!  I have SO much to be grateful for this year: all my family and friends that are constantly supporting me, my new friends in Beligum that have taught me so much, and this year I'm especially grateful to all the Rotary family members who work each day to better the world - thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity.

See you later!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rotaract Road Trip: Brugge & Oostende

I did a quick recap of my vacations (aka. holidays) the past few years and realized that most have been because of Rotary - Chicago, LA, Ireland, Denmark, Germany. It’s pretty much guaranteed that each year I take a Rotary trip to the PreConvention and usually add on my own a pre or post trip on top of it. I go to the PreCons (our cool slang term) because they are loads of fun - there are so many incredible people from all over the world and we form instant friendships through our connection to Rotary!
Pic from PreCon 2010 in Montreal, Canada

So it’s no wonder when my Rotaract friend Lars (on the pic above - on the right in the hat) & I headed on a road trip to Brugge this last weekend we had a great time. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since I arrived in Belgium. But that’s most likely because Lars has known me for years and not just months like my classmates.

If you’re not familiar with Brugge…well read about it on wiki or to see it with a Hollywood flair check out the movie In Bruges (warning – it’s a bit of a dark comedy and rated R). Some of my non-Belgian-familiar friends might be confused ... Brugge = Bruges, Brugge is the Dutch spelling and Bruges is the English.

Anyway, back to the weekend -
Shortly after arriving we went to the chocolate museum. Yes, I did say the chocolate museum and you can stop drooling now. It was a very educational and interesting place – I learned about the history of chocolate, what makes milk, dark, and white chocolate different, I saw a chocolate Pres Obama and even a chocolate “fountain” Manekin pis that pees chocolate.  I couldn't possibly make that up - see below.

Saturday we went on a night tour of Brugge in the rain. The rain made it a real Belgisch (yes that’s a word – see photo album link below) experience because it rains nearly every day or at least it looks like it’s about to.

On Sunday we hopped a canal ride for a new view of the city and the rain actually stayed away. But see, it still looks like it’s about to rain.

And since I’ve never been to the North Sea and Lars has a car, we went up to the coast to Oostende for a seafood dinner.   Still looks like it's going to rain, doesn't it?

Surprisingly, we made it the whole day on Sunday with absolutely NO rain.

It really was a great weekend, I had a lot of laughs, spent time with a good friend and for a weekend I forgot about all my classwork waiting for me in Leuven.

See you later,

PS – You can click here to see my entire photo album from the wkend.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Festival of Nations

Last week we had an all campus celebration of all of countries (over 40!): The Intercultural Event. It was such a great time we’re still talking about it. There was great food, great drinks, awesome singing and dancing by our classmates! The only unfortunate thing about it was there was so much food I didn’t get to try it all!  Hopefully the night happens again and I make it over to the tables I missed this time.  :)

I’m sure your wondering what the USA brought to the party. Well after much discussion we decided on s’mores. S’mores are something known to the whole US AND is not from another country. Really what else could we have done? I know my friends in MN are thinking “Why not a hotdish?”, well I don't think that would represent my friends from Texas, Colorado, or NY. And of course there’s other dishes, but each of those (like we US citizens ourselves) comes from someplace else…hamburger, hotdog, chips, etc. So s’mores it was. Did you know that not many people outside of the US knows what a s’more is? We weren’t able to find a suitable fire, so we had to use a microwave but it worked and they were a hit! My favorite comment of the night was, “Leave it to the USA to invent something like this”.   Note to all s'more lovers - they are 110% better with Belgian chocolate!

me with the s'more and James demonstrating how big you have to open your mouth to eat them

I also cooked with a couple of my classmates from Slovakia. I have such a strong Czech ancestry (75%) I guess we could be cousins! So we held a family reunion of the former Czechoslovakia and cooked koblihy (or shishky in Slovakia). We made over 130 and cooked for 7 hours! It was a lot of effort but mostly tons and tons of fun. And as for our results – well the koblihy didn’t turn out as good as grandma’s but for our 1st attempt they were pretty good (besides grandma’s been making them for decades). I was also sharing with the guys that I grew up in Veseli, near a town called New Prague - which has Dozinky days.  I also shared with them the Czech phrases I know: “How are you”, “Give me a kiss” and “Lick my butt.”. Can you tell which ones I learned from my grandma and which one from crazy uncles?

Marek (his 1st name!) showing off the koblihy

So it really was a great time and I can go on and on.  But since a pic is worth 1000 words, I'll let them do the speaking!

a live music performance

dancing from all over the world

just one of the many many delicious tables

too many countries to count

Enjoy your week and see you later!