Monday, August 6, 2012

Au Revoir Bruxelles...until we meet again

The time has come to end my adventure in Brussels. Today I re-read the journal entry I wrote on February 5th in which I outlined what I wanted to get out of the upcoming 6 months. My objectives were to get knowledge, an internship, a part-time job, friends and exercise.

I definitely gained knowledge and a lot of it. The hole there once was in my bank of legal information under the heading 'international law' is slowly beginning to fill. I found most of my courses very interesting but my favourite by far was international peace and security law. I can literally pick up the newspaper every day and apply what I learnt in that class to the stories that appear within.

Exercise-wise, I didn't join a gym, a squash club or a yoga studio as I might have liked, but signing up for the 1/2 marathon gave me the motivation I needed to get my butt out of the door on many a chilly day. The race went so well that I got a bit carried away by registering for the Montreal marathon in September. I'm afraid I have to report that my training has hit some bumps. I was advised to follow an 18-week training program - the only problem was, my race (at the time) was 10 weeks away. So I fast-forwarded to week 8 and my first run was 22km long! That was followed by 2 shorter runs and a 24km run the following week. That on top of the two hours I had walked to work and back every day had my body shouting STOP! So I did. I'm still waiting to feel back to normal and then I'll see where I stand. I may have to accept defeat this time...we shall see.

Dinner in the African district Matonge - plaintain...yum

My part-time job ended up working out remarkably well. I think it's the best job I will ever have. Cooking, baking and chilling with teenagers during the day, then chatting to their diplomat and lawyer parents in the evening? How am I going to top that? After I cooked the family a farewell feast (roasted tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil quiche + grilled veggie salad and three choices of dessert: lemon loaf with berry coulis, pavlova and pasteis de nata) they gave me a lovely card and a very well chosen book to read on the plane. I must have done something right. I also became close with the two Filipino women working there. I was touched by the sacrifices they made in order to support their families. It left me wondering whether I would do the same.

Setting the table for the diplomat's official residence dinner

My internship at the Center for International law at l’Université libre de Bruxelles was very challenging. Research is not my passion - I love to learn but I way prefer working with people rather than a computer screen. Plus, it was difficult researching Canadian law in a foreign country with no one to bounce my ideas off of. I owe tremendous thanks to the librarians at l'Université de Montréal who patiently answered my never-ending pesky emails. I spent all day yesterday in my supervisor's office putting the final touches on my work. I am pleased to say it is now online! Check it out here out if you dare... (I wrote the whole 'Au Canada' part)

My last time hosting Sunday supper club

Re: friends; it's funny. I spent my first few months here wishing I could find a kindred-spirit and now that I'm ready to leave, I realize how many great people I have had the fortune of meeting these past 6 months. I loved that everyone came from such different backgrounds - it made our discussions so interesting. For the first time ever, none of my friends were students. On Saturday my housemates threw me a farewell party. They were so sweet. They decorated our living room with a Canada flag and wrote me a card signed by everyone. The following day I bid au revoir to the Sunday supper club crew who know me all too well - as a goodbye gift they got me two dark Green & Black’s chocolate bars :) My favourite.

My farewell party in my house
House mates and friends

Above all, my semester in Brussels has helped me cement a 4-year plan. This coming year I'll study the Common Law in English at l'Université de Montréal (which I am kind of dreading to be honest. I don't fancy going back to subjects like contract law, property law, etc. but I know it's knowledge that I need.) Then in August 2013 I'll start bar school and assuming I pass, I'd like to do my articling at the International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva. Following that, my sights are set on a two-year bilingual Masters in International Law at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. All of this is far from certain, of course, but at least I know what to aim for.

Mustache party

All in all, I really enjoyed my stint in Brussels. It's a city with a lot to offer and is very well situated. As is my tradition, I'd like to end on the top 5 things I've come to love and love less about the city.


1. How Belgian men (adolescent ones included) give each other a kiss hello/goodbye. It is so endearing!
2. How the second I gracefully step on to a zebra crosswalk the cars immediately come to a halt. It's almost as if they don't want to run me over (which comes as quite a shock to a Montrealer)
3. Being in the center of the action. Often while I'm listening to the CBC news, they dispatch to a reporter in Brussels for the latest on a decision by the EU or the European Commission.
4. How there are statues everywhere! I count 7 on my walk to school - here's my fave

5. The bread. Most of you are aware that in Canada I have to go gluten-free. But for some reason, my tum can digest Belgian bread as long as I don't eat an entire baguette in one sitting (which is challenging when a) it is so delicious and b) you know it will be hard enough to use as a weapon the next day)

What I will not miss:
1. Cobble-stoned sidewalks. They looked quaint when I first arrived until I had to drag two suitcases across them for 30 minutes. I also never forgave them when they once snatched off the heel of one of my boots. Not cool.
2. For some reason Belgians don't believe in putting screens on windows. I could have done without all the insects that crawled their way into my room.
3. How you have to go to 5 grocery stores in order to find all the ingredients you need for a standard dinner party (I shouldn't have to go to an Asian specialty store to get Shitake mushrooms and tofu - come on people)
4. Doing my laundry at a laundromat. Enough said.
5. How you really have to watch where you step - much like in France, no one picks up after their dogs.

Until my next adventure, thanks for reading. I appreciated your comments and support throughout this experience.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Still jumpin'

It's hard to believe that this will be my second-to-last post. I am scheduled to depart Brussels in just under one month's time. 

The teens I am minding are now on their summer holidays as well, so I have switched to full-time working hours.  They don't really require 'babysitting' so I have poured my efforts into baking. Theirs is a household after my own heart: they LOVE desserts. Yesterday's Pavlova didn't even survive for 24 hours! This week alone (in addition to the Pavlova) I've cranked out a carrot cake, a peach crumble, an apple crumble and Portuguese egg tarts. So clearly, I am working hard ; ) 

Due to the increase in work hours, I've had to fit in researching for my internship project on evenings and weekends. Sometimes it feels as though I am still in school. Why do I do this to myself? I met with my supervisor this week and after submitting four subsequent versions to her, my work is inching ever so much closer to final draft status.  If all goes well, by the end of July the fruit of my efforts should be published online for all to see. So that is exciting.

On the exercise front, I had to let touch-rugby go. The game was just so boring and ridiculous that no amount of fresh air, exercise or new people could keep me going back. On a whim, I decided to register for a full marathon taking place on September 21st in Montreal. I toyed with the idea of doing another half but that seemed boring. I already know I can run 21km but 42? That sounds tough. I've been contacting marathon-running friends of mine for some advice and upon reading their responses, I am trying to remain calm. They reiterated that running a half is do-able if you're a relatively fit person with a half hazard training program (i.e. me) but that completing a full marathon is a different story. Uh oh. I figure, tons of people out there successfully run marathons all the time so it must be possible. I guess I'll find out soon enough...

In line with my summer objectives, I've also been having a lot of fun. 

Most recently there were Canada Day celebrations - I planned to have a barbecue with some Canadian friends but this being Brussels, we had to move it inside and grill my veggie kebabs in the oven. At one point, our festivities got somewhat out of hand and our Canadian flag went flying onto a neighbour's balcony several floors below. I was designated the 'flag-retriever' since I was the only one who spoke French out of the group. In 10 minutes, I had met more of my friend's neighbours than he had in 2 years! After knocking on 3 doors, I finally found the flag clinging to the balcony of a much-amused Congolese lady.

Canada-Day-inspired caprese salad

Happy Canada Day!

Then of course were my birthday celebrations! I was absolutely spoiled. I organized a birthday menu of my favourites which I enjoyed with my housemates and some friends: grilled veggie and goat cheese pizza, salad and citrus cheesecake, chocolate cake and cherry cake for dessert. I was given flowers, a plant, wine, a book to practice my Spanish and LOTS of chocolate :) I feel very fortunate to have lived such a stimulating and enjoyable 26 years and hope the adventures have only just begun!

Birthday dinner with my roomies
Yum cake

I haven't been feeling very touristy while living in Brussels. Bruges and Ghent are less than 2 hours  away and yet I prefer to spend my time going to the market and meeting up with friends and family. On that note, I made a trip to England recently to reconnect with some members of the Busbridge family who were unknown to me until now. I took the train to the most typical English countryside I have ever seen: farms as far as the eye can see and strawberries and cream for dessert. I literally slept in a barn and the main house was built some time back in the 1600s. During my stay, I met my grandfather's twin sister, Daphne, two of her sons and their families. Spending time with Daphne made me feel like I'd really missed out on having grandparents. While mine were alive, I never had the opportunity to ask them the questions I would now. I asked Daphne about her childhood and what the most amazing thing was that she had witnessed in her 94 years. She came out with a story about Polish paratroopers during the war. I was in awe. I don't think I have ever conversed with someone of sound mind who has seen how our society has developed (and regressed) over that span of time. She showed me pictures of my grandfather when he was young and her Doll's House. The items contained within it, she began collecting as a child. She gave me a small picture of Frank Percival Busbridge, my great-grandfather, to put on the wall of my own Doll's House. Cool! That visit was so special and I really hope I get to see Daphne again before she dies.

Dinner with Daphne (center), her sons and their wives

Daphne and me looking at her Doll's House
My grandfather and his sisters posing with their father, Frank Percival Busbridge. Check out their hats!

My grandfather as a young chap

For my remaining time in Brussels, I plan on wrapping up my project for the Center for International Law, working, of course, relaxing and having fun! (and I should probably start training for the marathon at some point - only 10 weeks to go. Eek)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jumping for Joy

I'm done! I'm done! I'm done! Even though it was pouring rain and cold when I exited my last exam, I couldn't help feel anything but elated. I have yet to receive all my marks, but if I have passed everything, then I can legitimately say that I have survived law school! (In French nonetheless.) The novelty of finishing exams still hasn't worn off. I can now chat with my housemates after dinner without having to rush off and go study, read books that have nothing to do with law, watch movies and generally, just have a good time.

Jumping for joy - literally

 All this to say, I have not exactly been twiddling my thumbs for the past two weeks. I celebrated the end of exams by attending a conference: an international study day on the proposed amendments to the Rome Statute (for all my non-law readers, that's the legal foundation for the International Criminal Court). I was amazed as I looked down the list of participants - there were so many VIPs (at least in my eyes). I made sure to chat a few of them up over lunch ; ) I’ve also discovered that there are one-hour lunch time discussions at the nearby European Peacebuilding Liaison Office. The subjects vary from how to reintegrate Taliban fighters into Afghanistan to the impacts of donor and government policies on youth and urban violence.

A German dessert made with crushed meringue, cookies, nuts and dried fruit all delectablty covered in dark chocolate.

 I've also been devoting a lot of time to my internship at the Centre for International Law at l'ULB. I'm adding Canada's experience with universal jurisdiction to the information available on their website. (Again for the non-law people, universal jurisdiction is when you can prosecute an individual on Canadian territory regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the perpetrator. At this very moment, the trial of Jacques Mungwarere is taking place in Ottawa. He is the second individual to be accused using Canada's universal jurisdiction laws which came into force in 2000. His case is related to acts that he allegedly committed in Rwanda during the genocide. I submit the third draft of my work to my supervising professor in two weeks so I had better get cracking on that. 

 I'm also still working at the Irish embassy as the Help. It continues to go really well. The kids have been excelling at school and eating food other than macaroni and cheese so I think I'm doing ok.

Most of my new house mates and some friends
 Funnily, after the race, I lost all motivation to run. I just didn't see the point anymore. I have therefore joined a touch-rugby team. "Touch-rugby" you say? You are quite right to chuckle - I had never heard of such a game either. Apparently the sport is gaining ground, particularly in the UK and Australia. It's co-ed so that ups the intensity a bit. I still have a hard time taking it seriously, being a former 'real' rugby player myself. It's kind of like a child's game of tag except the person you touch must be holding the ball. At the very least, it gets me exercising in fresh air and meeting new people. That is what I tell myself every time I feel the need to roll my eyes.

 I've also been doing some holiday stuff - I organised a huge house party last week which was great fun. The composition in my abode has changed significantly: out went a German and a Latvian girl, and in came a Brazilian and a Czech girl, and a German guy (but he has an English accent so in my mind, he's English). We're a great crew and the conversations at the dinner table are certainly entertaining. I also treated myself to a meal out and a shopping trip in Antwerp, and had brunch at my favourite café Belga. I'm trying to appreciate every ounce of my stress-free life before I resume school again at the end of August.

voted once of the most beautiful train stations in the world
Ginger tea at Lombardia's in Antwerp = divine
Eclectic veggie meal at Lombardia's
 Some of you might recall my first blog entry (if not, scroll down) where I announced my lofty goal to meet Louise Arbour. She is someone who I have admired for quite some time. Not only has she had the career of my dreams (notably, she was a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada, Chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia and UN Human Rights Commissioner), but she is a Montrealer, a woman, and attended the same university as I have. That is why, after persistent and regular hassling, I freaked out when I was asked if I was free on Thursday to meet with her. My excitement soon gave way to nerves - what had I gotten myself into? I spent the eve of our encounter pouring over her most recent speeches and reports for International Crisis Group (of which she is President), making sure I knew as many details as possible regarding the state of the world's affairs. The morning of, I wore my most powerful power suit, took a few deep breaths and entered her office once I was given the green light. The meeting completely surpassed my expectations. She was warm, friendly, interested in what I was doing and eager to share her experiences. I had prepared a list of questions but I didn't turn to it once - our conversation flowed naturally from topic to topic. I kept on expecting her to say: ‘listen, it's been fun, but I've got to get back to work’ but she didn't! We talked for an hour before I insisted on not taking up anymore of her time. Then, as if I wasn't already walking on air, she said: don't hesitate to contact me if you need anything. Really? I replied, clearly in shock. She gave me her card which reassured me that she meant it. I had to restrain myself from hugging the FedEx man I shared the elevator down with - I wanted to shout out: I just met Louise Arbour!!! I’m not sure he would have been too enthused. So that pretty much made my day, week and year.

Me and my new friend Louise

Monday, May 28, 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter

These past few weeks have been tough. I know memory is selective, but I don't recall ever studying this intensely for exams before. My first two went ok... they were both oral exams which I am not at all accustomed to. We were pummelled by questions from the prof 15 minutes after having received the case we were meant to analyse. Your entire mark boils down to how you perform in those 15 minutes. Talk about inducing utter panic. I have yet to receive my marks for those exams, but following the quizzing session, both profs said they thought I could have done better. Comforting. Thanks. I most recently suffered through my international economics exam (the one for which I hadn't attended half of the classes.) At 6pm on Friday evening we received two questions: one legal and one economic. I don't think I have ever drawn such a stark, white, BLANK upon reading an exam question. We had until 6pm the following day to send our answers in. While everyone in my house was partying in the kitchen (2 of our house mates just had a send off party), I was buried in the basement tackling the law of the WTO. (In particular, the EU's Generalized Preference System and the principle of non-discrimination between trading partners). Not fun. Somehow, despite lack of sleep and waning mental concentration, I managed to pull something together - I figured if I inserted enough economic acronyms into my text it would at least appear that I knew what I was talking about. To reward myself for a traumatizing 24 hours, I headed out to soak up the late evening sun and take in some of the Jazz Festival acts on an outdoor stage nearby. The upside to this whole sordid affair was how happy I felt after having finished it. I could not wipe the smile off my face!
On the subject of grading and evaluation, the Brussels method differs greatly from what I've become used to in Canada. Here, all grades are on 20 - the highest you can actually hope to attain is a 17 and a pass is a 12. That doesn't leave much margin between an A, B, C, or a D. Also, the system is much less anonymous. My profs in Montreal haven't the foggiest idea whose exam they are marking when they correct it. Here, you write your name on your exam and obviously for the oral evaluations the prof knows exactly who you are. Furthermore, everyone in the class finds out how everyone else has performed! I hate sharing my marks let alone finding out everyone else's so that was an unwelcome throwback to high school. All this to say - only two more left to go. Come June 4th, I will be FREE. I cannot wait.
Before you begin to feel too sorry for me, I have been making time for a little bit of fun ;) We had a 4-day weekend in honour of the Ascension so I took off to Lyon. I had forgotten what a beautiful city it is. I stayed with friends I met when I was living there in 2007. Even though I had a lot of studying to do, I spent my breaks going on trips to the market, running along the water, and meeting up with friends. I requested that we have a crêpe dinner like we used to do back in the day.
Day trip to Annecy:
Finally, I am proud to say, I completed my 1/2 marathon yesterday! My goal was to make it past the finish line in less than two hours and my official time was 1:50:08 so I was happy with that. There were bands keeping us motivated along the way and crowds lined up on either side of the path cheering for anyone and everyone. About 30,000 people ran it, so once you hit an up or a downhill you saw the most spectacular sight ahead of you. I was surprised to find that it demanded more mental concentration than physical prowess. You had to focus so hard on not tripping on the crushed water bottles and caps all over the ground or on the feet of the people in front of you who suddenly decided to stop running and walk. I almost fell trying to pass someone in a tunnel. I witnessed a couple of people go down though - it wasn't pretty. I know it sounds cheesy but events such as these really lift my spirit and renew my beliefs in the good of humanity. A mass of people from all over the world running together while being encouraged by strangers - it gives me hope.
After spending the afternoon recovering in bed, I rallied 'round to attend my friend's birthday celebrations - it was a beautiful, warm, summer evening and there was a festive mood in the air. Birthday cupcakes and chocolate-covered strawberries = yum
last night's sunset.
Today we have a public holiday due to the Pentecost (gotta love Belgium and its religious holidays). I am heading to the park with a picnic and my international criminal law notes. Nothing is going to stop me from enjoying this sunshiny day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Academic ups and downs

This month the light course schedule I had in the first half of the semester has come back to haunt me. Remember way back when in February when I was the taught the first half of my "Law of WTO" course? Well I kept waiting to hear when the next prof would pick up where we left off. Turns out the remainder of the class is scheduled to take place every night this week from 4 to 8pm - the exact same hours that I work. If I don't pass this course I cannot graduate so I somehow have to figure out how to write an exam for which I have only attended half of the classes. If only that were my only challenge - due to the classes that were cancelled/started late in the term/public holidays, this week I have seven extra classes to attend. On top of that, I have an exam (my very first at ULB = eek) all day Friday. I am quite worried about it because I find the format very challenging: we will be given a topic at 9am and will have until 5pm to write a response to the question. The following Monday the prof will meet with each student individually to ask them questions about our written submission as well as the course material in general. All this to say I am feeling quite stressed.
On the upside, I have had some memorable moments at l'ULB these past few weeks. A guest lecturer from Cambridge came to speak to us about the complementarity principle of the International Criminal Court. (The complementarity principle means that the ICC can only try cases that states are unable or unwilling to try themselves). This actually leads to a paradox: because the ICC relies so heavily on cooperation at the state level, in reality, it can only try cases that the states are willing and able to try. Madam Justice (and Vice President) of the European Court of Human Rights, Françoise Tulkens, also dropped by to discuss the influence of extrajudicial elements on the court's decisions. I had a question to ask but of course I had the typical fear that it was a stupid one. In my bumbly French I tried to pose the question as logically as possible and much to my surprise a great hush befell the classroom. The judge didn't know what to say!
The greatest highlight by far, however, was our visit to the Hague. We caught a 6am train there in time to arrive bright and early at the International Criminal Court. It was so cool! After hearing from an intern, we were ushered into the viewing gallery to see first-hand where the trials take place. Absolutely no electronics are allowed in the gallery because there is a 1/2 hour gap between real-time action and when the proceedings are posted online. This is to allow for any names to be eliminated from the record or any other confidential information. We spoke to a lawyer who works in Chambers for a judge and he was recounting that everyone assumes international criminal trials are nail-biting and dramatic when actually, that couldn't be more far from the truth. Due to the fact that every word has to be simultaneously interpreted, there are rules about how fast one can speak. If you ask or answer a question, you have to wait 5 whole seconds for the interpreter to catch up. Once, the accused spoke a language that no interpreter on Earth knew how to speak so one had to be trained from scratch! Such basic factors as language greatly contribute to the glacial pace at which these trials proceed. After a picnic lunch in a park nearby we headed for the International Court of Justice where we heard the pleadings of Colombia regarding a land dispute it is trying to settle with Nicaragua. For some reason it surprised me that the lawyers representing both countries were not nationals of Nicaragua or of Colombia - they were British, Belgian and French. I should have realized that of course, it's like any court case- the parties want to be represented by the top dogs wherever they happen to be from. Another surprise was that the lawyers inserted jokes into their oral arguments. One even quoted Winnie the Pooh at one stage! Some judges cracked a smile while others remained completely stone-faced. It was awesome that we got to meet privately with the lawyers from both sides (separately of course) so they could tell us about what it was really like to argue on behalf of a state. It sounded like a lot of sleepless nights spent in hotel conference rooms, a ton of research, then fingers crossed for the outcome. At the end of our intellectually stimulating day we all shared some tapas at a Chinese restaurant and headed back for Brussels on the train. I was beyond exhausted when we finally arrived at 12:30am but it was definitely worth it.
(outside the ICC)
(outside the ICJ)
Even though it's now May, Spring has yet to arrive. To remind myself that it's on its way I went to see the Royal Palace greenhouses which open for only 3 weeks a year. Other than getting very irritated at the slow walkers in front of me, it was quite a pleasant experience. It was interesting seeing the king's digs (if only from the outside) and venturing into another part of Brussels altogether.
(weirdest flower I saw) The 20K is now less than a month away and I'm still going on my haphazard training runs. I haven't been for a long run in a few weeks since my last one was a bit traumatizing. I got completely lost in the forest and after having run for 1.5 hours I finally spotted a family to ask for directions. When I inquired as to my location, they just kept repeating how far I was from home. Not helpful or comforting! They told me to go back the way I came. I couldn't mentally wrap my head around heading back in the same direction knowing I had 1.5 hours of running ahead of me (thirst and hunger were beginning to kick in - I had only planned on being gone for 1.5 hours total after all). So I hitchhiked on the side of a country road back to civilization. The man who picked me up also happened to be running the 20K. He was rather amused at my predicament. I was not - especially when it still took me an hour to run home from the point where he dropped me off. The only upside I could see to this whole fiasco is that at least I now know I can run over 20k! Even though it's been raining a ton, we still get the occasional burst of sunshine which has rainbows popping up all over the place. My friend took this last week from his office window:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Holiday

First off, signing up for the Brussels 20K definitely has had the desired effect. I feel as though my runs have a purpose now and I have managed to put together a more or less consistent training regime. Each week I go for one fast 6-8k run, one very slow and very long run (to which I add a k or two per week) and one interval training run. This week I discovered a running track where I can do my interval training so that people don't think I'm a nutter when I randomly burst into 30-second sprints. The longest run I've clocked so far has been 13k so I've got some way to go...

My courses begin again tomorrow after the two-week Easter break. I think I certainly made the most of it! Touring around Amsterdam with my parents was such fun (despite the cold and windy weather). We went to the Rijksmuseum, strolled around the artsy/fashion district and went out for some fabulous meals. It was lovely just to sit together and catch up. Here we are about to dig into our Indonesian rice table:

(outside the Rijksmuseum museum)

There were only two lowlights. The first was that we couldn’t stroll aimlessly since there was an endless stream of bikes ready to run us over at any given time. The second occurred as mum and I were calmly sipping our fresh mint teas in a nice café. Suddenly, I saw a mouse poke its head out of the kitchen! We were able to maintain our calm initially, but once we saw a second mouse scurry across the floor we were too creeped out to stay. The weirdest thing was that the servers were completely unphazed - they looked at us with astonishment: of course there are mice, they retorted, this is an old building!

The following day we set off for Brussels on a high-speed train and met up with my Uncle Michael and Aunt Claudette. I got to play tour guide to four willing victims. I'm not huge on touristy things so I showed them the essentials on the first day (making sure to stop at Pierre Marcolini - the most high end chocolate shop in town - to pick up my Easter treat) and we went out for a fabulous meal that night, enjoying kirs beforehand:

The following day I took them on a tour of my life: we picked up lunch at Place Jourdan market and I invited everyone home to consume it at my humble abode. In the lovely afternoon sunshine I managed to get them to walk all the way to the ULB campus and then further along to Bois de la Cambre where we rewarded ourselves with tea and hot chocolates. As a child, I was known as Annabel "are we there yet?" Busbridge but now the tables have turned - the adults were now the ones asking the question.

(mum and I in front of the law building)

(enjoying a break in the sun)

Since we had seen most of Brussels, I decided to take the group on a tour of Antwerp on their last day. Antwerp is a world leader on the fashion scene so us ladies had lots of fun window-shopping while the brothers chitchatted. We also went for an enjoyable "alternative" lunch at Lombardia and for a lovely walk along the water. The port in Antwerp is Europe's 4th largest. We ended our sojourn at this incredible Italian restaurant in Brussels that I'll be dreaming about for a while to come... truffle ravioli...oh my...

(us at Lombardia)

I didn't have time to feel an anti-climax after my family's departure because I set off for London the very next day. I took the bus (oh the life of a student...) but the 7.5-hour drive wasn't actually as painful as I had forecast. We drove through lovely French and English countryside and I had a completely unique experience: our bus drove into a train compartment to cross the English Channel. We weren't allowed to leave the bus and it was so strange feeling as though I was in a train while sitting in a bus! I was also happy that the large shwarma-consuming men that hopped on at Lille found places to sit other than the one next to mine. In short, I had a fabulous week in London. I met up with cousins, aunts, second cousins...I saw 23 family members in all. A highlight was spending Passover with my Jewish cousins - even though I was ready to pass out by the time we got to the eating part, I did enjoy participating in a proper Seder and listening to all the lovely Hebrew songs.

(Seder #2)

Back in Brussels I began to feel the postponed anticlimax setting in. Luckily, it was only fleeting - one of my housemates had planned a huge party for the next evening and I had a great time. I feel so lucky to have found this crew. I contributed devilled eggs and homemade dark chocolate ginger bark to our dinner. After a few sangrias and mojitos, we headed out on the town.

In effort to squeeze the last drop out of my vacay, I thought I'd take the opportunity to host an official housewarming party for my supper club crew. We started with an experimental summer appetizer of watermelon, feta and mint leaves speared with a toothpick (which I declare a success despite the lack of summertime weather – it is NOT fair that Montreal is warmer than Brussels at the moment!); followed by mushroom risotto served in cooked pepper bowls, a cinnamon-infused sweet potato boat and a funky side salad. After an adequate pause, out came the "pièce de résistance": pavlova and chocolate bark. The conversation, wine and company was lovely and I feel adequately rested and ready to get back to work.

(please ignore my posture in this pic and concentrate on the colour composition of the plate)

I now have my exam schedule in-hand so it's starting to sink in that I'm not in fact here on an extended holiday. I have two assignments due this week. I had better get on that...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fries down, beer down...only waffles to go!

I'm slowly making my way through the Belgian specialties. I knocked off chocolate right away - that goes without saying - my next move was to sample the famed Belgian fries. Someone brought a cone to one of my Spanish conversation meetings so I took the liberty of tasting some. I would say they are good - the double deep-frying makes them extra crisp on the outside while maintaining a warm and squishy inside - but I'm not sure they are worth the marathon one would have to run to work them off. I think the main attraction of the Belgian fry is that it comes with a variety of dipping sauces (50 are listed at my local friterie) which are delicious (try Andalouse if you ever get the chance: no idea what it's made of but it tastes good!)

For St-Paddy's Day, I was invited to a beer tasting. I have only ever had cheap Canadian beer at hockey games and outdoor concerts so I was determined to keep an open mind and put my distaste for the beverage aside. The hostess of the event poured us each four glasses of different top-quality Belgian beers. We then proceeded to write down our comments and vote for our favourite one.

Everyone taking the beer tasting very seriously...

Having now tasted first-class beer straight from the source, I can now confirm my aversion to the drink. My comments read as follows: Beer #1: tastes like feet, Beer #2: tastes less like feet, Beer #3: Ew. Beer #4: Why drink this when you can have a glass of red wine instead? I must admit, however, that I did enjoy the bottle of raspberry beer I consumed - probably because it tasted nothing like beer at all.

Me, creepily leaning over a variety of Belgian beers, unaware of what was to follow

After fries, chocolate and beer, the only thing I have left to try are waffles. I find this one quite challenging because over here, waffles are eaten as a street snack - not at Sunday brunch. When I'm in the mood for a snack, however, I don't feel inclined to trek to the nearest truck handing out freshly baked waffles - I reach for an apple and cinnamon. I think the only solution to this conundrum is to wake up one Sunday morning and have a waffle for brunch!

Life at the house continues to go brilliantly. If I'm due for a study break and looking for some social interaction, I just have to ascend to the living room where I'm sure to find someone with whom I can share a cup of tea. I have now met the second German girl and the Franco-Italian guy and both are very nice. Last week we had two huge house dinners.

Here we are about to consume the feast. On the menu: tortillas to begin with paired with an Asian veggie stir-fry (made by me) that was too spicy for some (that would never happen with my Montreal roomy - would it Teo?!), followed by spaghetti carbonara, and apple crumble and ice cream to wash it all down. It's also great having so many hands to help with the cleaning-up.

My house mates minus Sarah who was working.

Thursday night 'anyone who is anyone' assembles at Place Luxembourg for a drink (or two). It's right by the European Commission so the crowd is quite interesting.

Last weekend, the highlight was going to an international food festival with two friends. Luckily for me, I had been pre-warned to bring tupperware containers. I have spent the week enjoying paneer masala, samosas, a Brazilian thing I can't name and a Turkish dish made with aubergines. YUM. The Belgian booth was giving away Godiva chocolates - I was beginning to wonder if they noticed me after my 3rd visit to their table...

The Easter vacation is almost upon me! Thursday evening I take off for Amsterdam were I am reuniting with the parentals. We'll frolic about town until Saturday when we come back to Brussels and meet up with my Uncle and Aunt from England. I'm so excited to show them my side of the city (and eat some fab meals at some of the restaurants I've been eyeing from afar). After that, I'm off to London for Easter/Passover. It sounds funny to say, but one of the things I'm most excited for is getting tons of hugs. When you move to a new city, you take for granted all the affection you receive from friends and family (not to mention having conversations with people who have known you for more than two months). So I'm looking forward to that.

My rash move of the week was to register for the Brussels 1/2 marathon taking place on May 27th. I felt like I needed some motivation to give my leisurely runs more of an edge. I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew - all the training programs I've seen online are at least 10 weeks long - I've only got just short of 8! So I've decided to follow the Annabelly program and just do my own thing. My goal is to do at least two 20km runs before the big day. Oh my. That does not sound enticing.