23 October 2011

Friday night on the town!

Well, before I get to Friday night, I guess I should say a little about the rest of the week. Since Monday I didn't do much beyond working and some running... but that's exciting stuff when you're in a new country! Adjusting to my new project at work has been going pretty well. I have an excellent mentor who spent all week with me explaining the new systems and processes I need to learn to navigate, and everyone has gone out of their way to make sure I have everything I need to have a happy and productive stay here, both in the office and out. On Wednesday I went running around my apartment again, visiting the horses up the street :), and on Thursday I ran on a bike path right across the street from The Company! The bike paths here continue to impress me. Also been enjoying some excellent foods... have you ever had an organic, fair trade banana? Not really a Luxembourg thing... but I've never had one before, and I had no idea a banana could taste so good! I also bought a loaf of bread and enjoyed a slice every day this week... probably the best bread I've ever had. Haha.

On Friday I finally made another attempt at the bus! It was actually really easy. The stop is right at the end of my street, the bus comes every 20 minutes until about midnight, and I can take it downtown and be there in about 10 minutes. I already knew this, but it definitely hits home the fact that Akron could learn a thing or two about public transportation :). I went to a restaurant called Mesa Verde that was suggested by a fellow mostly-vegan friend who did a similar 3 month assignment here a year or two ago. I thought I might be able to get my first legitimate vegan meal, but my monolingualism failed me again, and my plate was pretty much coated in cheese. Luckily, however, the friendly Indian restaurant owner (who probably speaks 5 languages) was able to steer me clear of the fish on the menu, and despite (or perhaps because of...) the cheese, my dinner was delicious, and as enjoyable as eating out alone among many groups of happy friends celebrating the weekend can be :). I also got to see a little bit of the city at night... the pictures do it no justice of course, but it was beautiful!

I think I'm also finally digesting the fact that I'm actually here. I think because everything happened so quickly I wasn't mentally prepared for picking up and moving to a new country... so I've been trying to find my way through a weird daze for the past week or so, but this weekend I think it really started to hit me. I'm starting to really realize how crazy, different, and exciting the new things I'm exploring are... everything from driving to work, to exploring an ancient city fortress.

At the same time my tough "world traveler" shell is cracking a little, and I'm realizing how much I wish I could be having these new experiences with my best friend, or sharing the all the beauty and valuable lessons with family and friends at home.

I feel a lot better burning off the fog in my head, but with all the excitement of moving and flying and adjusting and exploring, I'm also seeing how easy it is to get caught up in myself and my many "problems". After all, this is a pretty challenging endeavor... within a week learning that I'd be moving across the globe and then showing up in a place where I can't speak in any of the local languages, living truly on my own for the first time in my life, and trying to make the best of everything without the support of my loved ones that I've gotten so used to. It also doesn't help that I've had to put my work with the Fuller Center and Engineers Without Borders on hold while I'm here, basically abandoning all my outwardly focused efforts for a pursuit that is pretty much purely self-motivated (however right it may be for me to pursue this opportunity!). I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to remember that I'm in one of the top three (depending on who calculates it...) richest countries per capita in the world (I wasn't sure exactly where Luxembourg fell on that list so I looked up this wikipedia article... how ironic is it that the last country I tried to travel to invariably falls at the bottom of the list...). I have to remember that I am so fortunate, not only to have this unique opportunity, but to be so comfortable and capable, despite the challenges!

To make sure I don't forget this I've been trying not to lose track of some of the things I did at home to stay in touch (in whatever small way possible) with the world outside my bubble of comfort. My normal commute with NPR has been replaced by Aljazeera TV (today I watched a documentary on two girls my age in India who started a home for daughters of sex workers, terrifying footage of the earthquake in Turkey, and live coverage of Libya's liberation ceremony), Brett's been keeping me updated on his latest adventures (stay tuned for a guest post from him about the 2011 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Louisiana!), and I've been keeping up with my usual blogs. Here's something awesome I found today:

... still can't make huge contributions to the solutions the world needs, but I suppose at least I can still feel informed and grounded... and inspired by new bicycle riders :).

In other news... I won't be alone for long! Next weekend I'm going to Rome (!!!!) to visit my friend Lisa, Fuller Center Bicycle Adventurer and World Traveler extraordinaire! Then my friends Mike and Charlotte, who will be moving here soon, will be in town for their home hunting visit, and we have plans to explore together the following weekend! Not long after that I will hopefully receive a visit in return from Lisa :), and four other friends from Ohio--Jamie, Lisa (different one... there are a lot of Lisa's in my life apparently), Ryan, and Karla--have made plans over the past week to visit in the beginning of December (... although last I heard, some of them don't have passports yet... :) ). And of course Mr. Brett and I will be taking on Europe for Christmas and New Years! I definitely have some crazy friends, but I love them, and I'm so glad they're coming to visit!!

More soon about the adventures of Saturday and Sunday... this post is already long enough!

Gudden Owend!

"When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together."
- lessons from kindergarten

17 October 2011

Preserver l'environnement, c'est dans ma nature!

A couple of exciting things happened yesterday (Sunday) and today!

1. I went grocery shopping :). Probably doesn't sound that

exciting, but it seems to be at least a small accomplishment. One of my co-workers from Akron, who's been here for a year or so now, asked me today "where have you been eating... have you been eating??". Haha. Yesterday I found a place that was open (pretty much everything is closed on Sundays) and got some staples, and today a co-worker told me about a bigger store that I went to this evening. It's not really that much different outside of a few things:
  • You have to pay for the normal plastic shopping bags--I guess pretty recently the government mandated that stores charge for them to encourage the use of reusable bags... to save the earth :)! Go Lux! The title of this post is on the side of the new re-usable shopping bag I bought (google translate it... I did :) ).
  • The big one I went to tonight had the biggest wine section I've ever seen ... by a lot!
  • They don't have banana peppers, jalapenos, or italian dressing!!?!??!?!?!? :( :( ... I did, however, find something called "American Sauce". No, I did no buy it.
2. Same co-worker showed me a sweet interactive map online that shows you where the buses go, so I will now be able to go downtown without walking 4 miles through the deserted banking district in the evenings or on the weekend. However, he said he never uses this fancy online map because he has an iPhone app that just tells him what bus to get on no matter where he is. One point for smart phone users... :).

3. I went on an awesome run on a foot / bike path that starts less than 1km from my apartment, and runs between the horse pasture, and mega-mall / movie theater. hahaha.

4. I went to see a castle!! Sunday, after visiting the grocer, I drove about an hour north east to Vianden where there's a fully renovated castle turned museum. I suppose it was a little touristy, but it was absolutely beautiful!!! And if you're in Luxembourg you have to see a castle, no matter how much of tourist that makes you. The drive there was beautiful too, with hills reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains, but with forests in some places that just seem to feel old, and in other places the iconic sheep grazing in pastures and wind turbines in corn fields! It also seemed like there are places to pull over and have a picnic or just enjoy the scenery everywhere (I think I stopped at almost all of them :) ).

Here's some more from my trip to Vianden:


15 October 2011

Settling in!

Not long after I wrote the previous post in the Frankfurt Airport, waiting for my flight to Luxembourg, I received an email on my fancy blackberry (provided by The Company) that the car I had reserved to be picked up that afternoon when I landed in Lux was not going to be ready until the following morning :(. I sort of figured something like this would happen... everyone I talked to about getting an automatic transmission car in Europe either thought I was crazy to even ask, or had their own story about reserving an automatic and getting a manual. Thus I already had the back up plan in my head--take a taxi to my apartment, and then another taxi back to the airport the next day to get the car. I started the string of emails to everyone saying that I'd be in late on Friday because I won't have a car in time. I was annoyed for sure... but also a little relieved that I wasn't going to have to try to drive in a new country after a few days without sleep. When I got to the Luxembourg airport though, I decided to go to the
rental car desk just in case, and they had a car for me after all! It's an Audi a3 TDI (automatic!)... probably the nicest car I've ever driven, and it might even get better fuel mileage than my Hyundai. Its diesel engine is probably more efficient of course, but it also shuts off the engine after you've been stopped for more than a few seconds, and turns it back on when you take your foot off the break. The engine turns on and off a lot in the city, but I've always heard / read that idling for more than about 15 seconds negates whatever extra fuel is used in starting the engine... so hopefully it actually improves fuel economy a little (and doesn't wear out the engine too quickly...).

So anyway, I got the car, and managed to make it to the apartment that was reserved for me! It's a nice place, and the owner seems nice. It's fully furnished complete with a small kitchen, laundry service and internet (for a fee of course), and fold out bed :). I'll post a virtual tour soon!

Thursday night I pretty much passed out as soon as I got in and settled, and it was still hard to wake up Friday morning. When I finally got moving it took me about twice as long as I thought it would to get to work both because my route took me right through traffic in the city, and because I got lost, but I made it eventually and had a full day of meeting people, trying to understand French, etc. The people hosting me are great--they're all trying to make sure that I'm both able to contribute to the work they've brought me here too do, and able to have an excellent personal experience here traveling and learning about new places and cultures! I really am so lucky to have this opportunity!

I got home late Friday... about 7:45 :(. That shouldn't happen too often... just a long first day. Today (Saturday) was more exciting though! Here's the first official mel-cast about my day today!

Also, I forgot to mention that I found people on the street who had a big truck full of apples and some wooden barrels, and they were selling bottles of apple juice that they made right there on the street! Delicious!

13 October 2011

En Route

I’m on my way! After much anticipation (actually only about a week…) I’m headed to Luxembourg! I left Cleveland yesterday afternoon… my Continental flight was delayed of course… but I still made it to Newark, New Jersey with plenty of time to catch my 7 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. So now its 4:30am Akron time (10:30am here) and I’m waiting for my flight to Luxembourg. I really haven’t slept, so I’m not sure how coherent these thoughts will be, but I think writing about this experience a little will help me digest it little.
Traveling like this shouldn’t be foreign to me really. I’ve even helped lead people through experiences with international travel, and to destinations that are much less inviting than Germany or Luxembourg. Doing it alone, however, is an entirely different experience. There’s no one to confer with when you’re not totally sure where you’re supposed to be or what you need to do to get to the right place and when and how. It’s really not that challenging, but I guess it’s been a little more stressful than I anticipated. For example, the departing flight display screens here doesn’t have my flight listed yet because I’m here too early I guess, so I’m not sure where my gate is. I also initially thought I was supposed to go through customs with my checked bags here in Frankfurt (based on the instructions we were given on the plane), but it turns out I don’t have to do that until I get to Lux. Certainly more intuitive that way, but at the time I started having these visions of my bags being quarantined in Germany because I didn't get in the right line or something. Luckily, I found a very friendly Asian man (why is he working at the Frankfurt airport?) wearing a red vest and a button that says “Ask me for help!”, who kindly answered my stupid questions :).
I suppose I’m also not used to traveling to places with a higher cost of living, or with currency worth more than the US Dollar. Until now, when I’ve bought things in another country, my money ends up being worth like 7 times more than it is in the United States. Not only is everything probably just going to cost more where I'll be living and traveling for the next couple of months, and not only is the dollar worth like 75% of a Euro right now, but since I won’t have a local bank account I’ll also be charged international transactions fees of at least 3% when I use any of my cards to by anything (and of course additional fees if I need to get cash from an ATM). I figured I would try to get some Euros at the airport in New Jersey to at least avoid the 3% transaction fee, but I think I was probably ripped off anyway by this Travex company that charged some percentage to make the transaction. I think the moral of the story is just that I need to get over it though. Haha. Hopefully most of my expenses will be paid for anyway :), and whatever lessons I learn are probably worth a few transaction fees.
Also, final observation for the day… I noticed this at work already, but I’ve concluded that Europeans have much cooler socks than Americans. Everyone seems to have some kind of sweet stripes or colors—hopefully my socks are up for the challenge. Hehe.
More soon...!

05 October 2011

Not so small things!

So I just started writing in this blog again, prepared to document my small adventures as a tool to help me appreciate the “every day” until it’s time for the next big adventure… but before I could even write a second post the next big adventure has already arrived! The Company (I’m stealing that pseudonym from a friend who also occasionally mentions The Company in her blog) is sending me to Luxembourg for two months!
Perhaps just the act of openly recognizing the fortune I’ve had in creating joy in my 9-to-5 (or 7-to-5…) life summoned an opportunity for adventure. That was sort of my indirect purpose for writing about my “small adventures” anyway… I figured that by making a conscious effort to create and recognize the little things that are great in my current spot in life, even within its perceived constraints (however self imposed they may have been) I would become more content and more open to bigger opportunities when they arise. So maybe it just worked faster than I expected!
Or maybe it was just luck... :)
In any case… this corner of the internet is going to abandon its short lived purpose as a small adventure blog, and become a big adventure blog once more!
Per the current plan I’ll leave at the end of next week and return at the beginning of January 2012… and I’ll update whoever wants to read about it here! I’ll definitely miss everyone until then (I’ll miss you less if you come to visit... :) ), but I’m so excited. Wish me luck!
"When you write things down, they sometimes take you places you hadn't planned." - Melanie Benjamin