Category Archives: My American adventures

Do what you love, love what you do

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted something, and I’ve been bubbling over with inspiration, so here we go!

Even though 2017 started almost three weeks ago, in my head 2017 didn’t really start until last week Monday, when I went back to work after a two-week vacation. Right off the bat it was incredibly busy at work and at home, and it still is, but it’s a good kind of busy. I’m finding the time to go to the gym, plan activities and preparing my lessons. And all because of one thing: I started cooking again.
There was a time when I cooked my lunch the night before, but when I started working downtown, there were just so many restaurants in the area where I could go grab lunch.
But now that I’m cooking again, I realize I’ve really missed it. Cooking is the perfect way to relax after a long day at work, and it also gives me energy to prepare my classes for the next day as well as research potential new activities for students. Plus, it saves me a ton of money!
Most people that know me see me as a baker, and it’s still something I love to do and am good at, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking more and trying out some new things and so far I haven’t made any cringeworthy mistakes. (Fingers crossed!) There’s something powerful to turning an idea in your head into a dish and have it taste exactly like you imagined. Carrot-ginger soup, anyone? These types of small successes have given me the life energy I didn’t know I was missing.

The past year was a year of change and finding my way in the world of work. I quit my job as a teacher at LaL and started working full-time at Stafford House. I went from helping out with Student Services, to becoming Housing Supervisor and then in November transitioned to Activities Coordinator/Teacher. On top of that, I moved from Dorchester to Allston to West-Roxbury and became single after 2+ years.
I feel like 2017 is going to be a year of stability. I’m not planning on moving away from West-Roxbury and even though the decision to become the activities coordinator at Stafford House Boston was a hard one, I’m incredibly happy I made it. I was looking at the activities calendar and not only am I going bowling, visiting the aquarium and seeing a Celtics game with our students next week, I’m getting paid to do all these things. At this point, I can’t believe I put up such resistance to becoming activities coordinator. Although it can be quite overwhelming because there is quite some administration that comes with it and I have to teach in the morning as well as work as an RA in the residence twice a week, it is mostly a lot of fun and I keep getting better at it every day. And the more fun I have, the more fun the students have!

Going back to Belgium for the holidays made me realize that at some point in the last year, Boston has become home for me. I love walking in Boston Common, wandering around the (gigantic!) Museum of Fine Arts and showing the students around “my” city. It also definitely helps that after a year and a half of being here, my friends (and family as well of course) have stopped asking me when I’m coming home and are instead planning on visiting me. I have a good set of friends here that are there for me when I need them and when I need to get away from the craziness for the weekend, I just drive down to Pennsylvania and visit my dad’s AFS family. AFS truly is for life. And as I sit here eating some chocolate from the TAZA chocolate factory from Sommerville that we visited this afternoon, I realize I don’t even need to go to Belgium to find some amazing chocolate.

 

Sales

It’s a well-known phenomenon how in Belgium de shops are always busier in January and July, thanks to sales. These are the only two months stores can put up posters outside to announce sales and discounts. Not so in the USA. Stores don’t even need an excuse to have sales: Black Friday, End of Summer sale, Start of Summer sale, Memorial Day sale, Fourth of July sale, half of the time you can buy clothes at a reduced price.
Even though it’s nice, it’s also tricky. Before you know it you’re going home with two pair of pants because they were having a BOGO 50% off sale, or three shirts even though you only needed one but they had free shipping if you spent more than $50 etc.
In the beginning I was lured in with these promotions, but now that I’m about to move I’m going to clean out my closet and then I’ll  notice if there is something I really need. I’m gonna go ahead and say it won’t be the case. but now with my new position I might want to invest in some basic formal clothing. Thank god there’s another sale happening 🙂

Warm greetings from Pen Argyl!

Ready for summer!

Ever since I got back from my vacation in Ecuador, I’ve been working full-time at Stafford House and I’m really having a good time. Last week I replaced one of my colleagues and it was perfect to get back in the work routine. I’m very glad that I made the decision to work full-time at Stafford House because I’m a lot more at ease here and my colleagues are as nice in the morning as they are in the afternoon. Sometimes I still have to get used to all the students I don’t know, especially because there are ten times more students here than at LaL and in the afternoon they have a wider choice of modules, so many of them are never in my class.
Last week I had a short meeting with Jon, my boss, to figure out my schedule  for the next couple of weeks. As it happens the student administration department is understaffed so for the near future I’m helping out there as well as teaching. Right now upper management is quite stressed because ACCET is coming at the end of June and we are also expecting a lot of students for the summer. ACCET is a company that gives language schools their accreditation, which allows the school to issue student visas. This is super important because without this accreditation we would have around 15 students in our full-time program instead of 130. Every couple of years they pay the school a visit, making sure we comply with all the prerequisits that are expected of an accredited school.
Summer is also a very busy time for language schools because so many people have vacation and come to improve their English for a couple of weeks and we need to be ready for when they come. Every week in July we already have between 10 and 35 students arriving so summer will be busy!
Helping out in administration is definitely interesting and ofcourse it’s a good way to earn some extra money.
Apart from administration I am still teaching. In the morning I teach business English for an hour and a half to a very nice Brazilian woman who works at IBM. It’s something entirely new for me but I have a good book and because it’s just the two of us, I have some time to get into the subject. In the afternoon I teach a module on conversation skills to low-level students and three times a week I give private lessons to a student who’s been studying English since March but still has a lot of issues introducing himself. Stafford House was nice enough to offer him these lessons so he makes at least some progress during his stay here. I’ve taught him twice now and I have the impression he’s not stupid but very shy. He is afraid to make mistakes, which hinders his speaking, which is the best way to make progress at such a low level. He doesn’t like admitting he doesn’t understand something and in a group of 7 these things can go unnoticed but in these one on one sessions that is ofcourse impossible. Plenty of repetition and patience here are key!
In the evening I still teach my level five (B2 according to the Common European Framework of Reference) and I’m really enjoying myself. I’ve taught the whole book before so I’m a lot more comfortable with the material, know what generally causes problems and where I can expand. I only have three students left from my previous six-week session and it’s very nice to see they are head and shoulders above the others when it comes to speaking. I hope my other student will be this fluent in acouple of weeks. I also have a very good mix of nationalities so everyone speaks English automatically and it keeps things interesting.
This weekend I have a long weekend thanks to Memorial Day on Monday so I’m definitely going to enjoy it!  If car rates aren’t too crazy I might drive down to Pennsylvania and visit my dad’s AFS family and if they are, I’ll find something else to do!
What are your plans for the weekend?

Ecuador: a travel report

No matter how much I like writing, maintaining a blog is something I’m less good at than I initially thought. I’ve been back from Ecuador since a week and it’s high time I put all my adventures on paper, before I forget them.

After three flights I arrived on May 2nd at San Cristobal, one of the main islands of the Galapagos, which are about 2 hours flying from mainland Ecuador.

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I could see my parents as soon as I passed through “security” and what I noticed right away was their tan. Even my dad, who only wanted to take long-sleeved T-shirts with him because the sun is so dangerous for your skin. We walked back from the airport to the marina and ordered lunch in a small bar so I could eat and use the internet to send some messages.

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The local street dog of San Cristobal: sea lions

After that we went to the boat, I dropped of my bag and changed so we could take a nice walk on the island.

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Dad and me with Kicker Rock in the background

It was a really nice walk and good to get back in active mode. Luckily I wasn’t jetlagged either because there’s only a two hour time difference between Boston and the Galapagos. After our hike we walked around the small town and I learned our plans for the next day: a snorkeling/walking tour to Punta Pitt. I discovered my Spanish isn’t as rusty as I though it was going to be and mom and dad were grateful I was there.

The next day we left on our tour to Punta Pitt and on the boatride we passed a bit closer by Kicker Rock. It’s a very popular snorkeling place as well, but we just stopped to take a couple of pictures. Tourism is pretty much the only source of income here, and everyone keeps to their own business.

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Closer look of Kicker Rock

I saw a lot of very pretty and colorful fish while snorkeling, but we also got a chance to play with the sea lions in the water. (If you have their attention and do some tumbles or so, they mimick you)

Punta Pitt is a very popular naturepark on San Cristobal, because that is where the blue-footed boobies build their nests.

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They’re very funny looking birds!
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Building a nest together

The blue-footed boobies build their nests on the ground, which allows them to be observed at a very short distance. They are also used to human visitors and know we have only good intentions, so they are not bothered by all the people gaping at them and taking pictures. Sometimes they even seem to pose!

Apart from the blue-footed boobies there are also the red-footed boobies. They have, as you might have guessed, red feet. But their beak is still red, which is a very strange combination if you ask me.

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A couple of red-footed boobies

It was a busy day but I really enjoyed it, the guides knew a lot and I learned and saw so much!
On the boat ride back we also got treated to this spectacular view:

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A group of dolphins started showing off on our way back

When we got back to the boat, we had some unwanted visitors:

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They look funny, but smell and leave terrible stains everywhere they go!

De volgende dag was lekker rustig, we zijn naar de kant gevaren en hebben wat inkopen gedaan en op een terrasje iets gedronken om te profiteren van het internet. Mama en papa hebben ook dankbaar van mijn Spaans gebruik gemaakt om wat betere deals te kunnen doen op de markt en in de late namiddag waren we onderweg naar het volgende eiland, Isla Isabela. Het varen ging vlot, er was een goed windje dat ‘s avonds helaas weg viel en we verder op motor hebben gevaren. Mama en papa hebben ondertussen al een mooie routine om ‘s nachts te varen en toen ik de volgende ochtend opstond moesten we nog maar twee uur varen.
Isla Isabela is een pak groter dan San Cristobal, maar dat wil niets zeggen. Er zijn geen bankautomaten en betalen met kredietkaart kan, maar dan is er wel een oplage van 22%. De taxi’s zijn er niet zo talrijk en het “toeristische” gedeelte van het dorp beslaat 1 straat van ongeveer anderhalve kilometer. Maar er zijn niet zo veel zeehonden, dus ook minder stank.
Nadat mama en papa de boot hadden ingecheckt bij de agent van dienst (geen politie, wel iemand die zich bezig houdt met het inchecken van zeilers) zijn we op zijn aanraden naar de reuzenschildpadden gaan kijken. Onderweg kwamen we ook deze prachtexemplaren tegen:

The next day was very relaxed, we did some grocery shopping at the local market, got some souvenirs and had a nice drink to take advantage of the internet. My Spanish got us a couple of good deals at the market and late that afternoon we were on our way to the next island, Isla Isabela. It was smooth sailing, we had a nice wind in the beginning but unfortunately when evening came we had to use our motors. Mom and dad already have a pretty solid routine when they are sailing during the night and when I woke up the next day we were about two hours away from our final destination.
Isla Isabela is a lot bigger than San Cristobal, but don’t let size trick you. There are no ATMs on the island and you can use your credit card but get a surcharge of 22%. There are not as much cabs and the “tourist” part of the town is one street of about a mile long. But there aren’t as many sea lions either, so it smells a lot nicer!
After mom and dad checked the boat in with an agen, we went to see the giant tortoises and on our way there we also got to see these beauties:

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Even though he doesn’t look it, he’s still alive. Being an old giant tortoise isn’t easy!

On our way back we booked our activity for the next day: snorkeling in Los Tuneles. The organisation was nice enough to pick us up on the boat and from there it was only an hour sailing. Los Tuneles (The tunnels) is a complex of bridges and tunnels made out of lava and there is much sea life to be found because of the shallow and warm water.

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With some Galapagos penguins and a blue-footed boobie

Contrary to Punta Pitt the fish weren’t as colorful, but I did see sea horses, rays, turtles and sharks. I definitely can’t complain!
On the way back I also saw a couple of manta rays jumping out of the water in the distance, which was pretty spectacular.
The next day was pretty quiet, mom and dad took out their bikes and after renting one for me we cycled to El Muro de las Lagrimas (The Wall of Tears). It was quite the climb at the end but we made it and even saw some nice things on our way.

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Mom and me with a giant tortoise, who pulled his back quickly when we got too close
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At the Wall of Tears
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At the top, with a view of the harbor in the back

The Wall of Tears was built from 1945 until 1959 by the prisoners that were on the island at that time. There is absolutely no use for it, except to keep the prisoners busy. The wall is about 33o feet long and 80 feet high and has taken the lives of many prisoners. Sad, but impressive nevertheless.

The day after that was already my penultimate day with mom and dad, and we booked a trip to a volcano for which we had to rise early. The volcano, Sierra Negra, is one of the many active volcanos on the island  and the last eruption dates back to 2005. There is however no real threat to the inhabitants because these volcanes erupt in the same way a pot of sauce boils over.
It was about a three hour and a half walk to the top but luckily we started walking at eight so temperatures were very bearable.

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View of the volcano
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Dad and his tradional way of dressing

We were very lucky, the guide spoke understandable English and it was a very nice day. Mom had heard from others who made the hike and couldn’t see anything of the volcano because the fog was too thick. Talk about bad luck! On the way back talked a bit with mom and dad and around three we arrived back on the boat. I did some reading, some sunbathing and the day was almost over! In the evening we went out for dinner and then sailed back with our dingy to the boat. Low tide, light of a flashlight and a lot of rocks. Definitely not easy! But with our help, dad managed to avoid the rocks and we got home safely. And that was my last night on the boat. It’s incredible how fast everything went by! The sailing in itself is pretty calm, but everywhere you go there is so much to do and see, especially for mom and dad, because what are the odds they’ll ever be back there?

Of course I’m very grateful for this amazing vacation and super proud of my parents that they have taken this decision! It is definately very inspiring for later!
More about Quito later this week(end) 🙂

Mirrors

When we moved in 2014 from a house to an apartment, it came with the necessary difficulties (to put it lightly). After all, it’s not easy to put all the things that fit inside house, into an apartment.

But the apartment came with one major benefit: an elevator.Well, it wasn’t really the elevator that mattered to me, but the mirror that came with the elevator. Normally they put mirrors in elevator to make them seem bigger, so people don’t feel too trapped, but even though I don’t feel trapped quickly, I was grateful for them. Before I went somewhere, I could check quickly if my hair looked okay, there was no food around my mouth lipstick on my teeth and I looked halfway decent.

I don’t take the elevator as much in Boston as I did back in Belgium, and maybe that’s why, but every time I take the elevator here, I unconsciously look for the mirror. only to realize there isn’t any. Maybe it’s because the elevators, much like everything else here in the USA, are bigger than in Belgium, or because Americans don’t feel trapped as much as Belgians. I’ll never know for sure, but I still have to adjust every time I step onto an elevator here.

America, it’s a strange country.

 

Liability issues

They say the USA is a “sue-happy” country, and having lived here for a couple of months, I tend to agree with that statement. It’s not that I have proof or anything, but whenever I go out for dinner with friends or grab a quick lunch after work, my attention is always drawn to that one line you can find on every. single. (food) menu.

“Consuming raw or undercooked foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness.”

All of this is done so the restaurant/chef/waiter cannot be held liable just in case someone does order a steak rare and gets sick. This way the customer is at fault when they get salmonella, food poisoning or some other food borne illness, as Americans call it.

Or that time when it started freezing and I was texting with my mom and she told me: “Well, if you slip and break something, you can always sue them.”
And I just knew that this has happened before, but I also think sued homeowners have started sueing the city because every person on my street got a bag of salt delivered right before the snow it, just to make sure everyone had the means of keeping the sidewalk in front of their house free of snow and ice and thus no longer a liability issue.

All of these liability issues, I’m always going to find them funny and bizarre at the same time.

The USA, it’s a strange country.

Eating with a fork

I’ve been in the States for about five months, and something strange that I noticed Saturday yet again is that people here usually eat with just a fork and put their other hand in their lap (most of the time the left one, unless you’re left-handed obviously). In Belgium this is considered extremely rude, whereas here in the US it’s strange and even impolite if you use both fork and knife while eating. It’s gonna take a while before I eat with only a fork , even in the comfort of my “own” home I still use fork and knife. How else can you get that last bit of food on your plate? (Unless you have a special tool to push your food on your fork, but so far I haven’t met anyone in Belgium, apart from my mother’s side of the family who knows what I’m talking about, let alone here)

The USA, it’s a strange country.

New England roadtrip part 2 (Saint John, Canada-Augusta-Montpelier-Woodstock-Boston-New York)

It’s been three months since Bertrand and I went on our roadtrip and I think it’s high time for some more details on all of the things we did after Canada.

After just one day in Canada it was time to cross the US border once more. Seeing it took us only a couple of minutes to cross into Canada, I thought this would be a piece of cake. Obviously I was wrong. We were stopped at the American border and there we had to show our documents, declare what we were carrying in our cooler, get out of the car and wait inside. You might’ve forgotten that neither Bertrand nor I had a credit card to rent the car, so my friend Kenna had been nice enough to lend us hers. The border patrol agents did a double take when I explained she’d rented the car for us, especially because I was stupid enough to tell them I’d only known her for two months. Bertrand’s passport was also slightly worrying to them because he had quite a lot of stamps from all of his travelling and that coupled with the fact that we only spent one day in Canada, it was all suspicious to say the least. For a while I kept thinking to myself I would have to call Kenna so she could explain the whole thing, but after about 45 minutes they let us go and we were on our way to Augusta, Maine (Thursday 5th of November). Bertrand was obviously happy to be back in America and bought a dozen donuts to celebrate. I just had a burger king milkshake 🙂
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Bertrand and I had found a French-Canadian/American family in Gardiner where we could stay with and that was an experience on it’s own. We picked apples in the yard, played with the kids (two boys of three and five), Bertrand tried to do some slacklining (which looked difficult) and we drank some home-made cider. They try to live as eco-friendly as possible, which is why they have a self-composting toilet. (spoiler alert: what follows is better not read when eating). This is a bucket underneath a toilet seat in which you do your business and when you’re finished instead of flushing, you put a scoop of sawdust on top it and you’re done. The bucket is obviously emptied in time. They also had a selfmade sauna of which Bertrand and I took advantage and later we watched Aladdin with the kids. I also ate tofu for the first time and even though I’m not really  big on tofu, with some sauce and vegetables it’s not too bad.
That morning our hosts recommended we go to the A1 diner for breakfast, pretty much the only thing you can do there. They don’t have a website, but here is the link from Tripadvisor.
Here are some pictures of a sleepy little town on the way:


After breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts and around noon we were on our way to Montpelier, Vermont. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any couchsurfers so we went hunting for a cheap but still decent motel, which we found in Barre. There’s nothing to do in Barre but because our motel was such a good deal, we decided to go out for a nice dinner in Montpelier. Pretty fast I found a restaurant that looked worth a visit: NECI on Main. The restaurant is run by students of the New England Culinary Institute and they didn’t dissappoint. Bertrand and I consequently decided to donate $20 to support them.

The next day (Saturday 7th of November) we were on our way to Woodstock, Vermont but not without stopping in Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forest. It was supposed to be a moderate walk of maybe two hours, but because there were hardly any indicators and we didn’t have a map, it turned into a walk of nearly four hours. Luckily we made it back to our car before dark. Despite the fact we got lost and had to double back for a long part of the walk, it was very nice. Take a look yourself:


Before we left on our roadtrip I’d seen that the Ben&Jerry’s factory was in Vermont, but I’d completely forgotten it until we suddenly saw a sign pointing us in the direction of the factory. That was of course an opportunity we couldn’t miss. We turned our car, bought a ticket ($3), sent a message to our host we were going to be late and five minutes later we were learning all about Ben&Jerry’s. It was really fun and I learned a lot. Even though they’re a huge company now, they started out small and still support small businesses. The founders (Ben and Jerry) are well in their eighties by now but they still come and visit once in a while to see how everything’s going. The best part of the tour were obviously the free samples! And you can’t leave the factory without some ice cream for the road…


After that we arrived at Jake and his friends’ house in Woodstock and it was a pretty fun evening. We played Exploding Kittens, sat by a campfire and made some music. The only sad part was that everyone was drinking, but Bertrand and I didn’t bring any alcohol and no one offererd, so while everyone was getting more and more drunk, I was just getting more and more tired. However, Bertrand and I were one of the last ones to leave and after a quick shower to wash the smell of campfire smoke out of our hair, we went to bed.

On Sunday the 8th of November we were headed back to Boston, but not without a quick stop in Salem to go see the exhibition of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests. I had never heard of it before but Bertrand his enthousiasm was catching and I really enjoyed our visit. It’s very interesting to see how the artist/inventor takes cheap plastic tubes and turns them into big constructions that make my head spin. Here are a couple of pictures of Bertrand walking with one, but to see them in their “natural environment”, click here.


After the exhibition we went to Burlington shopping mall and checked out what was so special about the Cheesecake Factory. After two pieces (one per person) of American proportions we had eaten for the rest of the day and were on our way to Boston city. That evening we arrived in our airBnB and emptied the car because we had to return it the next day. It took us a couple of times walking up and down the stairs but we eventually managed to clean everything out.

On Monday (November 9th) we brought back the car and visited the Harvard campus and the Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum. Personally I thought the museum was too expensive but worth the visit if you enjoy Italian art. They also have a very nice indoor garden where it always looks like summer.

 

Because we were too late to climb the steps of Bunker Hill Monument the first time, we did it the second time around. I had hoped for a slightly prettier view up top, but it was nice to stand up there huffin’ and puffin’ with some other people who had also just climbed the 294 steps.

In the evening we invited Sally and Kenna for dinner in our very limited airBnB but unfortunately Bertrand had misjudged the spicyness of the peppers we used… That night I learned that I could probably live in Thailand without any food problems and even Bertrand was quite surprised at the (apparent) ease with which I (almost) finished my plate.


On Tuesday November 10th we were on our way for a couple of days in NY. I had found a nice airBnB and after regrouping we were ready to discover the city. We visited the World Trade Center Memorial Museum and without realizing it we had a chance to get free entrance tickets that are handed out every Tuesday between six and eight. It was a long wait but eventually we had our tickets and were able to go inside. The first time I went I had apparently missed quite a large part of the museum (without realizing it of course) so I was happily surprised. It’s not a very happy museum but I knew that from my first visit and I learned a lot, so I was happy by the time we left the museum.
On Wednesday we went to the Guggenheim, where there was an exhibition of Alberto Burri and I thought it was particularly interesting. The works of art weren’t always to my liking and Bertrand and I rarely agreed on what we liked, but that’s art. Why don’t you be the judge of it:

After the Guggenheim we went to the American Museum of Natural History because I only saw the exhibition on strange animals and the dinosaurs, and I had a feeling there was so much more to the museum. When I saw there was an “exhibition” with real butterflies, I was sold. I mean, who can say no to walking around in a cage with living butterflies?

We also went to the hall of mammals where they exhibit taxidermied mammals in their natural environment, pretty impressive and especially educational. The hall is quite extensive and I could’ve spend the rest of the day in that museum but Bertrand wanted to catch some fresh air so after we went to go see the dinosaurs we took a walk in Central Park. After that it was back to the appartment so Bertrand could pick up his stuff and an hour later I said goodbye to him at the airport. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy after spending two weeks in his company, but luckily I had Taylor Swift and Omi to keep me company on the Greyhound back to Boston.

That was our roadtrip, I know it’s quite a lot but I solemnly promise I will write more in 2016. There are quite a few updates coming up, so keep a close eye on my blog/Facebook.

New England Roadtrip: part 1 (Boston-Hanover-Portland-Bar Harbor-Saint John, Canada)

Hi everyone!

I’m writing this post from the cold but gorgeous Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada. Bertrand and I crossed the border this morning around eleven o’clock and are in Canada until tomorrow. But allow me to give you a quick update on everything we’ve done so far.

On Thursday the 29th of October Bertrand arrived in Boston after a long journey. It was a happy reunion and after making a light midnight meal we crawled into bed tired but very happy. The next day we went to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard, which is only half an hour walk from my house, and in the afternoon we walked the Freedom Trail. In the evening we went out for dinner with some people from the CELTA course but we went home pretty early ‘cause Bertrand was slightly jetlagged and it takes us a while to get home with public transport… Saturday morning we went to the public market in Roslindale and visited the Sam Adams brewery. After that we had planned to go to the Isabella Gardner museum but in the end I was too tired and the museum is quite expensive. Instead we planned our roadtrip and took a nap. (Worthy alternatives, if you ask me). That night we went out for a romantic dinner and had lobster, really good and pretty cheap. Seeing as it was Halloween that night we were going to watch a scary movie (Primal Fear, with Richard Gear and Edward Norton, I can really recommend it!) but Bertrand was still tired and we had to wake up early the next day, so after ten minutes we went to bed.

For the people without Facebook, here are some pictures:

Arnold Arboretum
Arnold Arboretum
Peters Hill panorama
Peters Hill panorama
Bertrand eating Boston Cream Pie
Bertrand eating Boston Cream Pie

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The next day (first of November) we had to wake up early because I still had to pack all of my things, clean the room, empty the fridge, just gather everything before we started our roadtrip. I had indicated online that we would pick up the rental car at ten AM and calculated that we should’ve been able to leave for Salem by noon. Unfortunately Bertrand and I didn’t know that you need a visa card to rent a car and Prepaid Visa is not the same thing… A couple of phone calls later we were lucky enough that a friend of mine (major shout-out to Kenna Totty, friend for life!) was willing to lend us her credit card. (We only have to pay the rental amount when we bring back the card and that we can do with a prepaid visa so she doesn’t have to pay for anything) and around twelve thirty we were finally able to go home, load everything into the car and by three PM we were finally on our way to Salem. Dusk was already settling in when we arrived in Salem, but we were able to enjoy daylight before we drove to Hanover, ME. Here are some pictures we took in Salem:

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After Salem we went to Hanover, ME. It was getting pretty dark by the time we left Salem and totally dark when we arrived in Hanover. We couchsurfed with Vanessa, Mindy and her boyfriend, all three of them very nice people that gave us good advice on things we could do in the neighborhood. The next morning (Monday November 2nd) we woke up early to quickly drive through the Dartmouth campus and then we were on our way for a good hike in Crawford Notch State Park. We made a quick stop in Bretton Woods ‘cause it was on our way and now we can honestly say we saw the very fancy hotel where IMF came into existence. Yeey!

Bretton Woods hotel
Bretton Woods hotel
Bretton Woods hotel
Bretton Woods hotel

In Crawford Notch State Park we made a gorgeous hike along Arethusa Falls trail and Frankenstein Cliff (not named after the monster but after a painter). It was a 5 mile hike and it took us about three hours, breaks included. Really nice, but the path wasn’t always easy, which was actually pretty nice!

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After our gorgeous visit to the White Mountains we drove to Portland. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a couchsurfing host so we booked a room in a small and charming inn. After a well-deserved shower we made our plans for the next day and had dinner in the Great Lost Bear. It’s an impressive bar with 69 different beers on tap, and the drinks were really great, but the food was typical “American”. I believe the words Bertrand used were: “It tastes like diabetes”.
Normally we were going to kayak in a bioluminescent lake in Bar Harbor the next day, but when I called the organisation they told me it was way to cold to go out on the lake at night and we would never get there by late afternoon so we abandoned that plan fairly quickly. Instead we visited the brewery of Allagash the next day (Tuesday 3rd of November), which is a brewery that was inspired by Belgian beers, so that was definitely worth the visit! Bertrand bought a 75ml bottle of Allagash Interlude, a nice bear we got to try at the tasting! Pretty strong and with its spontaneous fermentation inspired by a beer from Brussels.

Spotted on a barrel in Allagash brewery:
Spotted on a barrel in Allagash brewery: “Friends” in Dutch

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After our visit to this nice brewery in Portland we drove to Bar Harbor by way of Camden. It was a long drive and we were happy to be able to stretch our legs in Camden, a small harbour village in Maine.

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At night we arrived in Bar Harbor and seeing as it was dark (now that winter is coming, it gets dark here at four thirty PM) we drove directly to our couchsurfing host for the night, Preston. Preston is a nice guy that is working for the US Navy as an engineer but moving back to his hometown, Alabama. He’s not sure what he’s gonna do there but seeing he’s an engineer I have no doubt he’ll find a job pretty easily. We cooked, watched TV (Fast and Furious 6) and crawled into bed because it had gotten it into my head that a sunrise seen from Cadillac Mountain would be a nice view. That means that we woke up this morning (Wednesday the 4th of November) at five o’clock to get leave at 5:40 AM for Cadillac Mountain, which was a twenty-minute drive. At six we had found a nice spot by a lake in between to hills and then we played the waiting game. It was very pretty, but unfortunately we didn’t see the sun come up, she was hidden behind the hilltops. 😦  But we did get a nice picture!

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From Bar Harbor we drove non-stop to the Canadian border and once we crossed we made a short stop in Saint George and then we were on our way to Saint John. We arrived around 12:30 PM and had a quick lunch in Tim Horton’s (when in Canada…) After having discovered the city, we went to our host of the night. After saying hi and reorganizing ourselves, we left for Irving Nature Park. It was only a short drive and it’s truly a wonderful park! We made a very nice walk that lasted about 2 hours and then we went back to our host (with the necessary detours because I was reading the map and Bertrand was being the good boyfriend and not arguing 😛 )

Here are some pictures of our walk:

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We spotted a porcupine! He had quite the duck walk!
We spotted a porcupine! He had quite the duck walk!

Okay, that’s it for now, it’s a lot, I know, but we have done and seen so much already in this short time period. We have a busy schedule ahead of us so I’ll try my best to upload some more pictures and stories on the blog.

The family we’re staying with at the moment are a mother and father with three daughters between the ages of 12 and 6 (I guess), so very similar to my sisters and me. It’s pretty interesting to see the dynamics as an outsider.

I made it!

The past four weeks have flown by and crawled by at the same time, but I made it. I can’t remember the last time I worked that hard for four weeks non-stop, but now that’s officially over. Of course I’m happy I don’t have to get up at six am tomorrow, but the fact that I’m not attending input sessions every morning and teaching every afternoon also means I won’t see my course mates as often, and that makes me not so happy. Luckily a couple of us are staying in Boston for now and I won’t be all by myself. The next two weeks my plans are pretty limited: meeting friends, finding a job, and finding a new place to stay. Let’s hope I can find the last two fairly easily.
Bertrand is coming to visit from the 29th of October until the 11th of November and we’re going to do a road-trip through New England. We don’t have a detailed plan yet, but Bertrand bought the Lonely Planet and I’m checking the Internet for good advice. We have ten days to see how far we can get 🙂 I’m looking forward to our little vacation, I’ve never seen the American east coast and it’s the perfect time to discover the beautiful nature New England has to offer us.
I’m nervous for what comes after that, but also excited. The independence work will give me, living in the US of A, teaching, these are all things I’ve been dreaming of for a while. And even though it won’t be easy to miss Bertrand, I know we’re strong enough to be able to do this. And I’m not all alone here. I have made friends during the course (CELTA 8 for the win) that I won’t soon forget, dad’s American (AFS) family is here for me and now that I’m the proud owner of a smartphone, my sisters, parents, and friends back in Belgium are never far away.
Talking to everyone I have met here, I realize once again how privileged I was growing up. I never had to pay rent before now, or make sure I had food, clothes and transport. My parents paid for all of my education and I got pocket money every month over the years. But at the same time they taught me the value of money. Much more than before I think twice before buying something, try to look for sales and buy as much as possible in cheaper supermarket chains. I know I am lucky to have such great parents! They prepared me as well as they could’ve for my adventure and they’ve definitely deserved their own adventure. Thanks mom and dad!