Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Pat, Expat, Repat, Expat again

Well, Jason was right. I just needed a wi-fi connection. (I was on LAN at the hotel.) So, good news is I found one. Bad news is it's at McDonald's. Oh well, hardly a better place to get a fountain drink than here I suppose.

Our first day here in Brussels was a raging success. We arrived on the final day of the annual Belgian Beer Festival. How's that for timing?

Good beer helps with jetlag. It's a fact. Trust me. I'm a doctor.

Does this look like a girl who's just spent the past 14 hours traveling? (A little bit, maybe. But what beer can't fix, sunglasses can hide!)

We recalled being a bit bummed when we were here last January that the little Meneken Pis fountain statue was not dressed up in a cute outfit, as we had heard he often is. So we decided to walk by again to see if he was more prepared for our visit this time. We were not disappointed.

Later, back at the festival... We noticed this upside down rainbow and couldn't tell if we were a) delirious from jetlag, b) a few too many beers in or c) actually seeing it. So we took a photo. Et viola! We are not seeing things! In that case, I'll have another.

After we sat down at about 3:00 for a snack, we realized that we'd been here for only a few hours and we'd already had beer, waffles and chocolate - three out of the five things Belgium is most famous for. So we figured we might as well keep it going and get our moules et frites on for dinner. And boy, did we ever. A mountain of mussels in a garlic cream sauce and a side plate of fries - perfect for dipping in the leftover sauce at the bottom of the pot.

So now, we're just trying to settle in as best we can. And I kind of take back what I said about living in a hotel. If it were The Plaza or even a nice American chain hotel, I'd probably be okay. But I suppose I had forgotten how small European hotel rooms generally are. When you add in our suitcases which take up most of the floor space not already taken up by the bed, I'm already feeling pretty claustrophobic. We're hopeful our apartment comes through quickly...

I have to say though that I'm finding it a bit more difficult than London. When we arrived there, I immediately knew where to get groceries (Waitrose, right downstairs or Sainsbury's, in our tube station or M&S, on the way to the tube), where to buy beauty products (Boots, in our tube station), where I could get my brows waxed and my nails did (I walked by three salons on the way to the tube), where to get a phone (Phones 4 U, again - right by the tube station)... Basically everything was on the high street or in the tube station.

Here, I haven't seen a single grocery store, a single drugstore, a single salon or a single mobile phone shop. And I can hardly find any information about any of it online. It's getting a bit frustrating but I'm trying not to let any of that put a damper on the experience and just enjoy it for what it is. (But, DAMN. What do Europeans have against ice??)


andrea said...

In one day you fulfilled all my requests, you rock! I know you will find what you need, you are resourceful like that :) Have fun!

Kate said...

The main grocery stores are Delhaize and Carrefour (I think Delhaize is nicer), and you should find them all over, although I admit I had difficulty finding one at first as well.

And for the best frites, get yourself to Maison Antoine at the Place Jourdan. There is a long queue, but for good reason. It's just a stand in the middle of the square, but all of the bars around the square allow you to sit and eat your fries if you buy a drink. There is also a really good pizza place up there--Mama Romas I think was the name.

Kate said...

Oh! And just a warning--if you see something called 'Americain' (usually as a sandwich filler or dip for frites) just know that it is raw mince beef.

Heather said...

Thanks so much for the tips Kate! So so helpful :)

I was researching grocery stores online all morning and never once came across either of those - between dozens of expat help sites.

Sara said...

I totally agree, beer is really fun mixed with jetlag….. usually causes us to deliriously laugh at everything! The moules et frites just made my mouth water!! Yummy!

Maggie said...

I read your blog all the time. I got into it when I was living in the UK.

I am jealous. I lived in Antwerp for 2 months with my ex and it was a wonderful experience.

What kind of work do you do that allows you to travel so much? I want to travel but unless I move myself somewhere, I just don't find jobs with the opportunity to do so.

When you do find the supermarket you will see Belgians have an obession with mayo. And omg, I miss the curry ketchup and Leonida's. Enjoy your time there!

Alexandra Taylor said...

Ok, a few pointers:

1. Grocery stories - you have the full sized variety and the express variety. If you're downtown (assuming you are), there is a Delhaize on Blvd Anspach near the Bours. For an express sotre (decently stocked really), there's a GB/Carrefour express at the end of Rue Neuve (your main shopping street by the way - but if you're looking for Belgian designers head to Rue Antoine Dansaert or high-end stuff to Avenue Louise) near the square at the end (think it's Place de Monnaie).

2. Cell phones - I find Base pay adn go is the best - you shouldn't have any problems finding a cell phone shop on Blvd Anspach. If not, head down to Rue Neuve.

3. Drug stores - ah, the bain of my existence here. They don't exist. Seriously. There are two major chains that carry various make-up brands - Paris XL and Di. Di has a pretty extensive range of bath abd beauty products as well. For drugs - just pop into any pharmacy (on every corner just about) and you can get all the regular stuff over the counter.

4. Hair - no idea because I go to the hairdresser at my work (although, I've been told to avoid Olivier Dachin).

5. Brows & nails - I'm a fan of wax zone. If you ger a membership (10EUR/month), the prices are amazingly cheap (like 4.80EUR for brows). It's without appointment, so sometimes you have to wait. They have a website (www.wax-zone.com). Locations are at Louise, Montgomery and Stokkel (all metro stops).

Finally a great website for new comers is www.xpats.com - appropriately, they have a 'new comers' section.

Hope this helps! If you have any other questions, send me an email alexandra.taylor@gmail.com

(delurking after reading your blog for a couple years since you've moved to my adopted city)

Heather said...

Oh God! Alexandra, thank you so much! You and Kate have been so helpful with your info.

I did find a BASE shop yesterday (thank god for my international data plan on the iphone - the GPS has been incredibly useful so far) just as you said on Blvd Anspach.

Heather said...

Maggie - it's my husband's job that affords us these opportunities. He works in the audit/compliance field. Quite honestly, it's because the company he works for is very international, with offices just about everywhere in the world...

Kathy said...

Is Jason's company hiring ? Just joking. I admit that I'm not sure what audit and compliance means but damn, I'm jealous :)

The Tune's said...

Heather does Jason do SOX work? Asking because that is what I was moved to London for, that is my line of work.

Heather said...

Libby, I asked him and he said a little bit but it's not the main portion of what he does...

Michael Irwin said...

Aside from being jealous as all get-out that you're over there in Belgium (I guess you missed the F1 at Spa, though) and I'm here in NJ, Carrefour is probably the largest chain of supermarkets. If you are an olive-lover, then take the road out of Brussels direction Eindhoven and The Netherlands and there's a small store on a Y-intersection that offers a seemingly infinite variety of olives from all over the world.

Remember that you're in part of the heart of Europe - Paris and London are both only about two hours away by train, which makes eating Couscous food in Paris for lunch and curry in London for dinner and still being home for a (reasonably) early nigh a possibility!

Heather said...

"I guess you missed the F1 at Spa, though"