Welcoming 2013

I’ve been MIA on this blog for a couple of months now. The last few months of 2012 were hectic ones — but in the good way. There are two rather big announcements to share, so without further ado:

  1. I found a job! And it’s in my field! You’re reading the blog of the new communications and administration officer of a lobby group in Brussels. I actually interned at the organization while I was studying in Leuven and when the position became available the executive director gave me a call to see if I was interested. Considering a draft blog post I wrote at the time contained such phrases as “spending the entire day filling out applications, tweaking my CV, and obsessively checking my e-mail for any response is not good for my mental health” and “my couch may be developing a permanent ass-imprint from my failure to get off of it”, interested was an understatement. I was thrilled, ecstatic, relieved. I had just started working on my back-up plan, which was to attend courses at the University of Ghent to work on a second master’s degree in communications in Dutch, and while I was doing alright understanding what was happening in the classes, assignments were starting to come around and I was freaking out about my elementary writing abilities in the language. So while finding a job has been good for my mental health, my wallet, and my couch, my Dutch has become stagnant. But one of my resolutions in the new year is to speak more in Dutch with Joery — it’s too easy for us to fall back to English — and take some night courses to help clear up some of the errors I constantly make.
  2. The second biggest change is that Joery also has a new job. He left his job at KU Leuven in November and is now a lecturer at the University of Leiden (The Hague). This has been a huge adjustment. He found out he was offered the job in the Netherlands about the same time I was offered the position in Brussels and, due to a variety of circumstances — my finding the job in Brussels, not being able to rent our apartment in Ghent (for tax/lawsuit reasons), the fact that he still had classes to teach in Leuven — he was able to arrange his work schedule so that he only has to be in The Hague three days out of the week. The other two days he comes back to Belgium to work from home.  The Hague also isn’t so far away — two hours by car, two and a half/three by train — but it’s too far to commute every day. So Joery is renting a small room in the Netherlands for the few days he’s there, while I stay in Belgium. It’s certainly been an adjustment — coming home to an empty apartment is not so cozy — but both of us had opportunities that we couldn’t really pass up.

So there you have it. A new year brings new opportunities. Both Joery and I are very happy with our work and it’s a big step forward for both of our careers. We’re both still getting used to the new schedule — weekends always seem to be too short, since Joery leaves to go back to Holland Sunday afternoon — but we’re making the best of it.

For instance, this weekend we both drove up to The Hague to get Joery all settled in to his new place (which is just basically a small room with a shared kitchen and bath). His room is in a narrow row house in a quaint area of the city — lots of different shops/activities/wine stores nearby, so it’s definitely promising. It’s about a 30 minute walk from his place to the university, though by bike it’s probably just half that. We were walking around the city on Sunday morning and it felt like Joery and I were the only ones not biking. I mean, biking is big in Belgium , too, but in the Netherlands it almost feels as if people look at you funny if you’re walking. Like, walking? Why?

IMG_0283[1]Anyway, it was a lovely weekend. We left Saturday around noon from Ghent and arrived at his place (with minor detours) a little before 3:00. After unpacking, we moved the car to an area with free parking (FYI, we chose the street in front of the German embassy). This street happened to be right next to the Vredespaleis, or the Peace Palace (left), so we walked over to check it out.

The building is absolutely gorgeous. It was built in 1913 (or more accurately, between 1907 and 1913) and is the home of the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library. Andrew Carnegie backed the construction with a donation of $1.5 million, and the street around the palace is called Carnegie Lane.

Being the weekend, everything was closed so we didn’t have the chance to go inside, which was a bummer. The building is breathtaking from the outside, so I would love to see what’s within her walls. Next visit :)

IMG_0287[1]After checking out the Peace Palace, we wandered back in the direction of the apartment. I had read (thank you, Wikipedia) that The Hague features some great Indonesian restaurants, so we asked Joery’s landlord to suggest a place nearby. We’re definitely going to have to take his advice on where to eat again because the food we ate was awesome (restaurant Bogor). We ended up eating super early, since we hadn’t had time for a proper lunch and moving boxes makes you hungry. We chose to share a rice table, which basically was a bunch of rice with 12 portions of different dishes. It was a great way to sample the cuisine and I didn’t have anything I didn’t like. (Excuse the crappy iPhone pictures — the restaurant had a nice candlelit ambiance and, while I brought my camera to the Netherlands, I forgot to actually bring it with me outside the apartment).

The plan after dinner was to walk back to the apartment to drop off the leftovers and then head to the city center, but it had begun to rain a bit in the meantime so we decided to just hang out a bit. Turns out, when you turn the heat on in a small room with two people whose bellies are completely full of good food and wine, it’s pretty easy for them to fall asleep. To say this sounds so old, but we were both fast asleep by 9pm. Of course, an hour and a half later we both woke up, but with the crappy weather and warmness of the apartment we ended up staying in for the night, promising ourselves that we’ll wake up early the next morning to make up for lost time (which we did, more or less).

IMG_0291[1]Sunday morning we walked into the city center to find a place for breakfast, which was a good decision because the food we had was delicious. We went to a restaurant called Het Wapen van Den Haag (The weapon of the Hague) which had big signs out front advertising their all-you-can eat breakfast buffet for €9,95 (on Sundays). We popped in to check it out and the place was empty. And huge. Normally, that makes me a little nervous — why would a place that offers a Sunday brunch be dead at 10:00? Must be bad. But partially because we had already been walking around for an hour and partially because we had no other options, we decided to give it a try.

The interior of the restaurant is actually quite impressive. There were tapestries draped from the ceiling around gigantic iron chandeliers, and the whole place was paneled in rich wood. And the breakfast spread was really nice — fresh fruit, assorted breads, cereal (though the only milk they had out was karne milk, basically buttermilk, a typical Dutch drink), pâté, hard boiled eggs, and a chef on hand to make you a fresh omelet or pancakes. Not too shabby for €25 for two (the buffet included a cup of coffee, but I also had fresh-squeezed orange juice and Joery had a second cup… I miss the free refills of the States). The service was also really good — our waitress was super patient with my Dutch (and difficulty I had understanding the Dutch accent, which is very different from Flemish), which I always find really nice. More often then not, people just switch to English, so I like when they let me practice. Needless to say, we weren’t really hungry the rest of the day.

IMG_0301[1]Sunday was spent exploring the city center a bit longer. Joery showed me his university building and we got to walk around the Binnenhof, where the buildings of the Dutch government and a medieval Ridderzaal (Knight’s Hall) are located. The government buildings sit along a pond/canal, and there’s a great view of them from a picturesque tree-lined walking path on the other side (Lange Vijverberg).

I also did a bit of shopping — sales tax is lower in the Netherlands than in Belgium and the sales are a bit better. In Belgium there’s a “sales period” twice a year, in January and July (I think), which I find highly overrated. Between these periods, there are very few promotions so it feels like everyone and his mother decides now is the time I have to shop. Also, for being a huge sales period, some of the items are only marked down by 20%, so I feel a bit like I’m being duped. The difference between Belgium and the Netherlands has to do with how Belgium regulates these types of sales. Technically, a store can’t sell anything at a loss, with the idea that this protects small Mom+Pop shops from the unfair competition of major outlets. While I understand and appreciate this, I still miss scoring a $75 dress for under $10. Besides, it was Joery’s decision to walk through the shopping streets that were overflowing with huge sales signs. Also, De Passage was apparently the first covered mall in the Netherlands, so why wouldn’t we check it out? ;)

All in all, it was a lovely — though relatively quiet — weekend. It was definitely nice to see the city where Joery’s working (though I had visited The Hague a few years ago, I just didn’t remember much) and living, and I’m sure this isn’t going to be my last visit.