How Antwerp Gave the World the world “White Christmas”

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“Jullie zijn de derrrrrrrrde passagiers,” our museum guide Inez says enthusiastically rolling her “r’s” for emphasis. Today for our last day of our social orientation class we are taking a field trip to Antwerp’s newest museum The Red Star Line museum.

To say that this two-story museum is about the company that over two million people used to sail from Europe to America isn’t quite accurate. You do learn about what the ships were like and the different travel booking stations owned by the company all around Europe. But what this museum really focuses on are the people who passed through these halls and their experiences with the Red Star Line.   Continue reading

Cupcake Drag Queens, Hula Hoops, and the Family You Choose

Zsa Zsa Lamour in all her fantastic glory.

It’s been hard to get the motivation to write here. It’s been hard to share what I have been feeling about life here in Antwerp. I have done some awesome things in the last month and half. I scored €3 tickets to the Vlaamse Opera’s dress rehearsal of Rossini’s Otello, started and finished my social orientation course as part of my requirement for immigrating here, visited the Red Star Line Museum,  and went to a karaoke bar with potential new fellow expat friends.

But these past few months have been a struggle. It started with missing my best friend’s wedding in December, and just it snowballed from there when I missed Christmas with my crazy Filipino family, to having a six-hour time difference between iMessages from friends on New Years. I just missed home with its midwest charm and the wonderful people who let me call them my friends, the 24 hour grocery stores, and I just couldn’t stop.

I forgot how hard is building a new chapter your life. And I seriously underestimated that undertaking I was committing myself to when I decided to move to Belgium. I thought this would be so much easier than it has turned out to be.

But something happened on Saturday evening when a towering drag queen in a cotton candy pink cupcake outfit complete with a frosting fascinator, put a hula hoop in my hand and pushed me onto the catwalk. As I looked out onto the crowd and saw my three sister-in-laws and four of my husband’s female cousins, I realized how lucky I am. Maybe it was the combination of glitter and the cava that I drank, but as I was hopelessly losing this hula hoop competition I had been dragged into, I suddenly I saw my life with new eyes.

Saturday evening was my “vrijgezellen avond” or bachelorette night here in Antwerp, since our Belgian wedding celebration is coming up in two weeks. My sister-in-law planned a surprise night out complete with dinner, drinks and the formidable Zsa Zsa Lamour calling me “darling” all night.

In a time when I have been struggling to make friends, struggling to commit to speaking a new language, and struggling to bake using centigrade, it really was the most touching gesture my new  family could have done for me. And I don’t think they know what a heart warming surprise and gift they gave me by being there. They say you don’t get to pick your family, but on rare occasions you do — I picked a really awesome family to marry into.

So while I will continue to struggle to have adult conversations in Dutch and navigate the pitfalls of a life outside of college, I am now resolved to focus on what’s right in front of me. Because I can’t keep wishing for the life I left across the ocean and this really is one of the most exciting times of my life.

‘Cause My Tooth’s Too Sugarlicious For Ya Babe

I really enjoy cooking. An embarrassingly large amount of my free time is spent scouring the internet for new recipes to test. I like doing so even now more because I have someone who is forever forced to be my taste tester since he decided to marry me. My recent experiments this past week have been rabbit slow cooked in apple cider with onions and raisins, and recipe for sweet potato feta muffins, both getting positive reviews from Mr. Isinvar. More often than not he really enjoys my cooking, leading me to the conclusion that I am a decent cook.

However, there is one comment that surprises me every time I hear it, “It’s too sweet.”  Too sweet? I live in the land famous for its chocolate and waffles that have sugar clumps in the dough. How can anything be too sweet? Continue reading

Gelukkige Verjaardag vs Happy Birthday

This past weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday party. It was a lovely affair with lots of cava, good conversation, and delicious hapjes and cake. It was quite gezellig. I was actually really quite proud of myself because I enjoyed most of the evening conversing with Mr. Isinvar’s grandmother completely in Dutch.

My mother-in-law got a visit from Mickey and Minnie on her birthday!

We had a lot of laughs even though my Dutch is far from perfect and her particular accent was a little difficult for me to understand. However, the evening did prove that my Dutch lessons have been paying off and I can now spend entire evening comfortably conversing with native speakers, which is really exciting for me!

Anyway, in light of the party, I wanted to take a little time to talk about the differences between Belgian birthday traditions and American Birthday traditions. Continue reading

Opera Unchained

This past Saturday I got to enjoy my christmas present from my husband: tickets to see the Vlaamse Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavelier by Richard Strauss. I love going to the opera. In university, you get to hear many great arias in studios, area recitals, convocations, and student recitals, but only have one or two opportunities to see a fully staged operatic productions. So I try to go to as many different productions as I can.

Der Rosenkavealier, Op. 59, is a comic opera by Richard Strauss and libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Harry von Kessler. The story is about the Marschallin, Princess Marie Thérèse von Werdenberg, her young lover Octavian, her cousin Baron Ochs, and Och’s prospective fiancée Sophie. Continue reading

Today I Hate Living In Belgium

One of my best friends is getting married tomorrow and I can’t be there. We’ve been friends for 10 years, and have supported each other through every big and small occasion of note since high school. Despite the fact that we went to different universities, we always stayed in contact. He drove an hour to see my solo recitals and I made special trips downstate to celebrate his birthday. When I moved my wedding from August 2014 to June 2013, all he said was “I’ll be there.” Tomorrow he’s marrying a woman who is incredibly smart (graduated top of her class from the top university education program in the United states), who is dedicated to her profession, and is one of the most people beautiful people (both inside and out) I know.  It pains me more than words in any language can express that I can’t be there. 

I can’t be there because I am still waiting for my residency visa and I am not allowed leave Belgium until that’s processed. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to leave in time Continue reading

At Least I Don’t Hear Bombs

“So how did you end up in Belgium?” I ask, just trying to make small talk as we wait for our friends to get their sandwich orders.  Mohammad and I have only just met during the lunch break for our intensive Dutch Language course. The only thing I know about him is his name and that he is from Pakistan.

“I’m seeking asylum,” he informs me, his tone flippant.  Mohammad gave the statement the weight of a snowflake and it lands on me as an avalanche. I don’t know for certain, but I have pretty good idea that the reason he’s seeking asylum is largely influenced my country’s military presence in Pakistan.  To say I feel uncomfortable doesn’t quite capture the nuance of emotions running through me. No previous experience has given me a reference on how to proceed after such a response.  Continue reading

In Antwerp, Apartments Strip You!

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Mr. Isinvar at the beginning of the Ikea bed puzzle. It would take him 3 hours to finish.

Finding an apartment in Antwerp takes a healthy dose of patience and a ton of luck. We began our search for an apartment a few months ago, and since then there have been several moments when I was unsure if we would be able to find a place that suited our needs. I didn’t think we had such a difficult wish list: we were looking for a place that had direct tram/bus routes to work, a reasonable price, in good condition, and either had parking or was in a place where we could easily find parking — it was looking to be quite a tall order.

After scouring the newspaper and the internet, we finally found our first home as a married couple. It’s a lovely apartment with Continue reading

My Two Roads In A Yellow Wood

Maybe it’s because this is the longest I have lived outside the United States (124 days) or maybe it’s because I am sitting among the chaos of moving boxes, but I can’t help but wonder — how the hell did I end up here? I never expected to become an expat. I never expected to move to Antwerp. It’s stunning to me how quickly your life can change with one decision.

And for some unknown reason, I keep coming back to two lines from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Life gave me the chance to come back. I could have Continue reading

A New Belgian Find: BRNS

My first introduction to BRNS was a couple of days ago through this post from In Between The Tracks. (Sidenote: Some really quality stuff at In Between the Tracks. It’s definitely worth checking out. ) I saw that BRNS is a Belgian band from Wallonië and decided to check them out. I like supporting locals, and while they’re not Antwerpenaars, Belgium is local for me now.

Upon first listen to their track “Our Lights,” I was instantly intrigued by BRNS. I’ll admit am not sure I understand the music video and still find it a bit weird after 6 viewings, but I really like their sound. There is an element to “Our Lights” that reminds me of Jimmy Eat World’s “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” The sounds of the two bands are completely different, but the repetition and layering of the sounds in “Our Lights” immediately brought to mind end of “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” Continue reading