Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunny Snapshots from Pula, Croatia!

Mardi, le 26 juin.

When people find out that I work in Brussels, their first follow-up questions are almost always about travel. "You live in Europe? You must travel all the time!" But as I've explained before on this blog, living and working abroad is just that -- living and working, abroad. I know that I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to live and work in a foreign country, but 90% of the time my life no more resembles a backpacking trip across Europe than yours. I can count on one hand the number of times that I've left Belgium for reasons other than work since starting my job nearly a year ago -- and that includes three trips back to the United States for holidays and my sister's graduation.

After nearly a full year in Belgium, I have made it a personal goal to travel more in the coming twelve months and to finally visit some of the not-so-Francophone-friendly countries on my travel bucket list.

I just got back from the first of these adventures -- a weekend in Pula! -- and can't wait to share some reflections from my weekend in sunny Croatia.



If you've never heard of Pula, you're not alone. I had never heard of the city before booking this trip and had not intended to start off this year of adventurous travel with a trip to northern Croatia. But I had been trying for months to meet up with a friend from high school who is spending the year in a master's program in Dublin ... and when she proposed meeting up in Croatia, I couldn't say no!

For those wanting to know a little more -- here's your crash course. Pula is the eighth-largest city in Croatia and the capital of the region of Istria. While archaeologists have found evidence of human presence in Pula as early as one million years ago, the city came into its own in the second century BC when it was conquered and colonized by the Romans. (More about them in another post!) Over the past two thousand years, the city has been ruled by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Venetians, the Genoese, the Hungarians, the Habsburgs, the French, the Austrians, the Italians, the Germans, and the Americans -- just to name a few. Hints of the city's complicated history are everywhere, from the bilingual Croatian-Italian street signs to the ancient Roman ruins for which the city is best known.


Although Croatia has been slowly increasing in popularity among tourists for the past several years, the effects of the tourism boom are not immediately apparent in the industrial city of Pula. As a result, we were able to wander around for a couple of days without being surrounded by tourists or feeling pressured to check off a long list of "Must Sees" and "Must Dos".

I'll post another blog post in the coming weeks with more information about the things that we did see and do ... but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite snapshots from downtown Pula.



Not everything is old. Check out Pula's version of Charleston's Rainbow Row!




Stay tuned for more photos from my Croatian adventure!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday from the Francophone Files | 26 May

Vendredi, 26 mai

Back in Brussels from a crazy week in Luxembourg (more on that below) -- just in time for a second installment of Friday from the Francophone Files!



UN
Listening to ... Brussels Jazz Weekend

Whether it's running on a treadmill versus running through a park or sitting in a dark theater versus going to an outdoor film festival, I'm a firm believer that everything is better outside. While my level of appreciation for jazz leaves something to be desired (insert joke about La La Land here), I'm pretty sure that an outdoor music festival in the city center of Brussels will be right up my alley. Read more and plan your weekend on the Brussels Jazz Weekend website.

DEUX
Eating ... Avocado Nests

One of my goals for 2017 was to be more aware of the things I was putting into my body, and to make a renewed effort to eat healthy -- but that's easier said than done in a country whose most famous foods are fries, waffles, beer, and chocolate! In an attempt to kick off my day the healthy way, I decided to give a new breakfast recipe a try last weekend. The recipe for avocado nests seemed simple enough: cut an avocado in half, pour an egg into the hollowed-out middle, season with salt and pepper, and bake.

Needless to say, it didn't quite work out that way. (It turns out that unripened avocados will not magically turn from rocks to deliciously ripe fruits in the oven, so DO NOT EVEN TRY.) Better luck next week.

 

TROIS
Talking about ... Gauthier Destenay


Amidst all the media coverage of the president's first trip abroad, one story stuck out to me. When the wives of NATO leaders gathered for a day of tours and museum visits in Brussels. they were joined by Gauthier Destenay, the husband of Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, the only openly gay head of government in the world. This isn't Destenay's first time on the world stage: the couple, who have been together for nearly a decade, recently made waves when they visited the Vatican together earlier this spring. But reporters went crazy with stories about the "First Gentleman" amidst the First Ladies of NATO ... and since it is always nice to have your favorite grand duchy go viral for something positive (looking at you, #LuxLeaks), I am all about it!

QUATRE
Reading ... Walkable City

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time was published in 2012, but since I often joke that Brussels lags about five years behind the United States in terms of trends, you could argue that my recent discovery is actually right on time. Written by architect and city planner Jeff Speck, Walkable City provides fascinating look at role of walkability in the revitalization of Americans cities. Over a couple hundred pages and dozens of compelling case studies, Speck argues that walkable cities are better cities, and lays out the steps necessary to make that happen. It's informative, accessible, and so interesting that you won't be able to stop yourself from spewing fun facts about walkability to everyone you know. Just ask anyone I've talked to in the past month!

CINQ
Thinking about ... Luxembourg!

I spent the past couple of days in Luxembourg representing the Fulbright Commission at the fourth annual Transatlantic Dialogue: Creating Human Bonds through Cultural Diplomacy. The conference brought together higher education professionals and artists from the United States, Luxembourg, and neighboring European countries to discuss questions related to education, art, diversity, and more.

Of course, the best part of the conference was getting to spend time in my favorite little country.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday from the Francophone Files | 19 May

Vendredi, 19 mai.

TGIF, or as we say here, Dieu merci, c'est vendredi! I've just finished my first week back in the office after a two week holiday in the States and I don't think that I've ever been so relieved to make it to a weekend.

My recent trip back to the States gave me some time to think about my priorities and, in particular, about my plans for this website. I've had this blog for almost four years now and the quality and frequency of my posts has changed a lot during that period. As I figure out where I'll be taking the site in the future, my hip and social media savvy younger sister suggested that a short weekly post series might help to keep me on track. Friday from the Francophone Files will be just that: some of the things I'm reading, watching, listening to, and thinking about as an American gal in Francophone Europe. Let's get started!

UN
Talking about ... POTUS Comes to Brussels

Donald Trump is coming to Brussels and I've got the inside scoop. (Just kidding!) The president will be in Brussels next Wednesday and Thursday for a NATO summit with leaders from the other member countries as well as meetings with EU and Belgian leaders. Given the president's previous criticism of NATO, it will be interesting to see how he fares in the city he described as a "hellhole" -- and to see how the rest of Brussels fares under the increased security of such a high-profile presidential visit.

In case you were wondering, there's no presidential meeting planned for me! I'll actually be out of town for work during the second half of next week, so unless Trump makes an unexpected detour to Luxembourg, I will be missing the entirety of the visit.

DEUX
Listening to ... Pod Save the World

I listen to podcasts all day long, from basically the minute I wake up in the morning until the moment I fall asleep to Meditation Oasis. (Don't knock it till you try it: their 18-minute "Relax into Sleep" pod ends with five minutes of music, which I cannot confirm because I have never NOT fallen asleep before the end.)

One of my favorites is Pod Save the World, hosted by Tommy Vietor of Crooked Media. I've listened to every single episode and have learned things that I did not even know I didn't know about foreign policy, from the history of U.S. relations with China to the secret negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal. The podcast most recently featured an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman, the author of Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival. The episode that I've embedded below, however, is a throwback to April 2017 with an in-depth look at the political situation in France. Even though the election has passed, I highly recommend it for an introduction to the political situation in France and to the challenges facing the newly-elected president!



TROIS
Thinking about ... New Election, Same Old Misogyny 

One of the most interesting side effects of the recent presidential election in France has been the misogynistic and just plain mean commentary surrounding new 'First Lady of France', Brigitte Macron. The wife of Emmanuel Macron has been attracting attention for her style and looks, as well as for her age: Mme Macron is 64, having met her husband -- 24 years her junior -- when he was a student in high school. Their story is romantic, unconventional (at least to us Americans, who prefer our presidential age differences in the opposite direction), and perfect fodder for mean-spirited critics, with inflammatory magazine Charlie Hebdo wading into the fray just this past week. Will Macron's bossy older wife exert too much influence in his presidency? Is marriage to an older woman the way that Macron is covering up for his homosexuality? And how much plastic surgery has she had anyway?

In short ... ugh.

QUATRE 
Talking about ... Belgian Pride

This weekend is Belgian Pride 2017. Now in its 22nd year, the event is a colorful celebration of the LGBT community in Belgium and the European Union. The theme of this year's event is Crossing Borders, with a particular focus on the experiences of LGBT+ refugees, both in their country of origin and at their arrival in Belgium. I'm not sure if I will make it out to this weekend's events, but recommend that you check out the variety of parades and events going on in downtown Brussels on Saturday!

CINQ
Thinking about ... Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

It's easy to forget how much better flowers can make everything. I picked up these chrysanthemums on a grocery store run and for the price of a coffee, I now have a week's worth of enjoyment from these happy little flowers. Yippee!


And hold up a minute ... do y'all have suggestions for the blog? What aspects of the site do you enjoy? What do you wish you could see more of (or less)? And how do you feel about Friday from the Francophone Files? :)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flowering Forest of Hallerbos

Samedi, 22 avril

"Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking."

This Miranda Priestley takedown one of the most enduring lines from The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that I have seen so many times I have lost count and that gave me incredibly unrealistic standards for the amount of time and effort that employees are supposed to commit to their jobs. Which, come to think of it, is perhaps why I found myself in Flanders this weekend, having volunteered to lead a group of American Fulbrighters on a seven kilometer walk through Hallerbos.

But when your office looks like this, wouldn't you want to work on weekends too?



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter at the Laeken Royal Greenhouses

Dimanche, 16 avril

It is Easter Sunday and spring has sprung in Belgium! Or so they tell me. While the weather does not have any apparent plans to get any warmer (my winter coat is still in a depressingly regular rotation), the flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer, and -- as of this weekend -- the Laeken Royal Greenhouses are open.

Located on the estate of the Royal Castle of Laeken, the primary residence of the Belgian royal family, the Royal Greenhouses open to the public for several weeks in April and May as an annual spring treat for locals and tourists, who line up by the hundreds to get a glimpse of the unique flowers and plants in the historic royal collection. And what better way to spend Easter than surrounded by fancy flowers?!


The Serres Royales de Laeken or Koninklijke Serres van Laken were built by Leopold II, the second King of the Belgians. During his forty-four year reign between 1865 and 1909, Leopold II was known as the "Builder King" due to the number of public buildings he constructed across the country, including the triumphal arch in Brussels' Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station.

The stunning Jardin d'Hiver, or Winter Garden, was the first of several greenhouses to be constructed on the estate. Built between 1874 and 1876, they still contain many of the massive palm trees that were part of Leopold II's collection. And that roof!



 

Built of steel and glass in a style considered quite groundbreaking for its time, the greenhouses were envisioned as a shining city of glass by architect Alphonse Balat. The structures marked a stylistic departure for Balat and an important step toward the Art Nouveau style that would later be developed by, among others, Balat's own apprentice, Victor Horta!

The greenhouses are home to a historic collection of trees and plants, many of which date back to the reign of Leopold II, but gardeners add a particularly colorful touch to the rooms of the Pier Greenhouse for the annual public viewings.


Monday, January 2, 2017

The Year of the Grown Up

Lundi, 2 janvier

Over the course of the past twelve months, I've taken some big steps into the Grown Up World: chief among them, starting my first real job. But there's still a lot to be done when it comes to truly adulting (if using that word is still acceptable?), and it feels like 2017 is the year to do it.

That's right, folks. It's New Year's Resolutions time.

First up? Eat my fruits + veggies and walk my ten thousand steps. One of my resolutions for 2016 was to "take better care of myself" and a year later, I'm honestly not sure whether or not I have met that goal. Why not try again in 2017? This isn't a resolution to start working out three times a week or stop eating sugar (LOL), because I have little doubt that those are the kinds of resolutions that wouldn't last long. Instead, I'm going to try to keep up some of the healthy little habits that make me happy: trying to eat fruits and vegetables with every meal and hitting the 10,000 step mark on my Fitbit at least five days a week.

Find a grown-up place to live. If you are a person who loves me, then I have probably taken advantage of that fact in the past few weeks and peppered you with endless questions about housing that, really, only I can answer. Do I want to live in a studio? I need to have a washing machine, right? DO I REALLY NEED TO BUY A COUCH?! And so on. This panic is due in part to that fact that while I've enjoyed my shared residence, I think that it's time for me to find something of my own. In my current place, with flatmates moving in and out every few months, it is hard to feel like I am not another temporary intern. Having my own place will help me feel more settled and give me a little corner of Brussels to call my own. Unfortunately, having your own place takes work and five consecutive years of living in university dorms did little to teach me about things like paying for utilities, installing curtain rods, and hiring a lift to move furniture in through the living room window of an apartment. (Apparently in cities, this is a thing people do ... what?!) And having your own place in a foreign country means that all the utility-paying, curtain-hanging, and furniture-moving has to happen more or less alone.

Become financially literate. It's a fact that while women put more of their paychecks in savings than men, they ultimately wind up with less money in the bank by the time they retire. Not if my mom has anything to say about it! She has taken to texting me daily investment tips from my grandfather, who knows more about this stuff than the rest of us combined. While I have always been Ebenezer Scrooge pretty good at not spending my money, the next step to successful savings is understanding and making smart choices about how to invest it.

Stay ... literarily ... literate. One of my favorite goals for 2016 was to read more books. There is nothing that I love more than curling up with a good book, but it had become so easy to curl up with a movie on Netflix or a series of 30-second cooking videos on Instagram that I was no longer prioritizing books. With the help of my home library's online catalog (shout out to Fairfax County Public Libraries for being hip with the times), I managed to turn that around. Getting back into my true bookworm state was so refreshing and one of the accomplishments I am the most proud of! Some of the titles that stuck with me from the past year for various reasons were The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah), The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)and At the Water's Edge (Sara Gruen). My most recent obsession is the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, as something about this 20th century lady detective fills the Downton Abbey-shaped void in my heart.

This year, I've gone a step further and created a GoodReads account to help me track my reading! Visit my profile to connect and see what books I'm loving! 

Prioritize quality. This is perhaps the most important resolution on my list. When I say quality, I'm not talking about expensive clothes and nice purses ... well, not entirely. I think that part of becoming a grown-up is figuring out what you consider to be a worthwhile investment -- of your time, money, caloric intake, and so on. For me, prioritizing quality in 2017 means allotting the time and money to cook quality meals (at least on the weekends). Spending less of my screen time scrolling through Snapchat articles on my phone and more time reading real newspapers. Taking a few precious minutes to sit down with breakfast and a cup of coffee in the morning instead of scarfing down crackers on my way to the office. And hey, maybe there might even be a nice purse somewhere down the line.

Cheers to a great new year!