Belgian Football: The Red Devils

Since moving to Belgium I’ve made a concentrated effort to learn about and enjoy European Football. I must admit it took me a while to get over pansy players who dive compared to the rough and tough hockey players of the NHL. I’ve been slow to learn the ‘hard’ rules and still can’t clearly define what constitutes a “offside” call. Regardless of these small details I’ve come to enjoy watching football, especially since the Belgian National Team has been in action competing for a World Cup spot in 2014 taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Belgium’s national team has a long history that dates back to 1904 with their first official game against France. Since then, Belgium has earned itself a reputation as a strong second tier team. While they don’t often win major championships, they are a challenging team to meet during competition. The Red Devils had an excellent track record in the 1980’s and throughout the 90’s. Then, the team didn’t qualify for two consecutive World Cups, once in 2006 and then again in 2010. Belgians have been frustrated with the team’s progress but remained loyal and hopeful.

2011 offered a bright spot for the Red Devil’s chances to make it to the world stage once more. Young, hotshot Belgian footballers started to make a big name for themselves in the English Premier League. There’s Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany, Tottenham’s mid-fielder Moussa Dembélé, Everton’s mid-fielder Marouane Fellaini, and Chelsea’s temperamental forward Eden Hazard. Kevin de Bruyne, a hardworking ginger kid, is another favourite who has had two amazing performances in the past two games.

My personal favourite is forward Romelu Lukaku, a giant at 6’4″ with dreadlocks, who has been a phenomenon in the Belgian league since he was 16. When he started playing for Anderlecht at 16 he finished as the league’s top scorer. At 18 years old he was then bought by Chelsea, fulfilling his lifelong dream, but is currently on loan to West Bromwich Albion. To sum it up in two succinct words, he’s dreamy.

Recently, me and a couple of the boys went to the Belgium vs. Scotland game in Brussels. This was an important game for the Devils to win in order to keep their high ranking in their pool. Belgium stomped Scotland, who played like a bunch of wussies, with a score of 2-0. Seeing a game live really increased my interest in football and I would definitely go to another game. Sadly, the next one isn’t until March when Belgium will play Macedonia.

Since I’m finally beginning to understand football rules, club politics, and player gossip the game has become a nice substitute for watching hockey or CFL games at the pub. Plus, the atmosphere at the live game is so fun! People are dressed up, drinking beer, and feeling jolly. Then again, I haven’t witnessed a loss yet…

Is anyone else in Canada starting to warm up to European Football in light of the NHL lockout?

Crowd Control – This is the section of Scottish fans, clearly separated from the rest of the stadium. Wise planning…


Smartphone Tips for Expats

Traveling with a smart phone is glorious. However, bringing a locked smart phone from Canada was a terrible decision. I thought I could easily get it unlocked but what happened was the opposite. I had no idea the amount of red tape and rules I would uncover. Nonetheless, my smart phone had become a luxury I didn’t want give up.

Smart phones bought in North America are cheaper because they have a carrier-lock, a pesky nuisance that keeps your phone on the providers network. While abroad, your phone will be roaming, increasing your phone bill to atrocious amounts. To prevent this, many will “jailbreak” their iPhone in order to have the ability to completely customize their phone, find free apps, and install a carrier unlock so their phone will work with other SIM cards. A word of warning, unlocking a phone under contract will make your warranty invalid.

A jailbreak is not so difficult, but updates of your phone can prevent it from working and then it will need to be installed again. The iPhone can be unlocked with relative ease, as long as its modem firmware (or baseband) is compatible. A list can be found with a quick Google search. iPhones with a modem firmware of either 4.12.01 or 4.11.08 are locked with no solution.

If you have a modem firmware that can’t be unlocked yourself, you can call your service provider to ask about unlocking the phone. This is to gain access to the IMEI code. For me, the outcome wasn’t good; I was told I could buy out the rest of my contract for a price of $400 with the option to keep my phone number for an additional $30 a month. I didn’t go with this option because it is ridiculous compared to other mobile providers around the world.

My advice is to do your self a favor and invest in an unlocked smart phone. It’s more expensive but the mobility it provides is invaluable to the avid traveler. Mobile phones in most European countries are all sold unlocked and priced between €250 to €800. Afterwards, it is easy to find a cheap mobile provider to get a SIM card for a number and an affordable data plan. For example, in Belgium, the average 2 GB data + voice + sms package has an average price of €15/month.

There are a few smart phones that are known to be “travel-friendly” such as Blackberry and Nokia, which are typically used for business. If you prefer the higher-end web browsing and camera capabilities of an iPhone, but with more flexibility and a better price, consider buying an Android. Two great choices are Samsung and HTC; both are high-powered devices that are customizable with limitless free apps and more affordable than the iPhone.

Mobile freedom can be yours with some research and investment; believe me, the juice is worth the squeeze!

Belgian Beer Weekend: The 14th Edition

Back in September, the boys and I journeyed out of Leuven for the 14th edition of the Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels. I haven’t been to Oktoberfest in Munich yet, but I think this could rival the famous German festival in terms of quality beer.

There were three beer stations set up in Central Brussels; the Grand Place tents, Beer Street and Beer & Food. The location of the festival is charming because it’s in the heart of Brussels, mostly outdoors, and surrounded by unique architecture. Beer lovers from all over Europe come to visit. We met Germans, Dutch, French, as well as some Americans. Most of the Americans were noticeably drunk. Obviously, they have become accustomed to what we folks in Canada call “watered down beer” and they simply can’t handle the intensity of Belgian beer.

The event featured 51 breweries who offered over 350 different beers for one to choose from. The selection was immense; I even tried a “Speculoos Cookie Beer”! The feeling of excitement I had must have been the ‘grown-up’ version of a “kid in a candy store”.

The only disappointment we encountered was at the Beer & Food station. The selection of beer and food trios changed hourly, but when we showed up the trio was terrible. The set included an Arend, a Leffe Ruby, and a Reserva dark stout. We couldn’t finish them and decided to skip on the food pairing because it was simply over priced for the portion sizes. On the bright side, I really enjoyed the Stock Exchange setting and I sincerely hope the rest of the pairings were more tantalizing than what I experienced.

Looking back in my blog archives, I’m happy to see that my beer knowledge has evolved considerably in the past year. After some experiments and research, I can say I know the basics of pairing food with beer.

The general rule for food and beer pairing is to keep sweet with sweet and tart with tart. Of course, there is a lot of playing to be done by offering a contrast. It’s important to experiment because this is fastest way to build your knowledge of flavours. Here are some general rules to get you started:

Blonde Beers compliment dishes with lots of spices and heat; Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and BBQ are all fair game. You and your guests are going to need a cool and refreshing beverage with carbonation to soothe the taste buds. As for cheese, blonde beers compliment those that are nutty, tangy, sharp, or pungent like Gorgonzola or feta.

Amber Ales go hand in hand with pork, poultry, and salads. Try one with a weekend lunch, as Amber beer is great with hamburgers, sausages, sandwiches, and soup/stew. Pizza and Mexican cuisine are also a safe bet. The best cheese would have peppery or sharp flavours like a pepper jack or cheddar.

Dark Beer are great for beef, smoked meat, and BBQs. Try a dark beer paired with a fruit and chocolate dessert or a dark chocolate cake smothered in raspberries and you will be in heaven. As for cheeses, bring out earthy and buttery flavours such as brie, camembert, gouda, havarti, and Swiss.

The Belgian Beer Weekend was one of my most enjoyable events of the summer. I made sure to take a bunch of photos as an added effort to convince beer lovers it’s an event not to be missed. Skip Germany and come Belgium if you are on the hunt for some top quality beer made with passion and tradition.

Wine Tour of Loire Valley, France

Back in July, I was invited on a couple’s weekend wine trip with my fella, his sister, and her fiancé to help pick out the ‘bubbles’ for their upcoming wedding reception in October. Early one Saturday morning, we jumped in the car and made the ten-hour road trip to Chinon, France.

Chinon is a village in the Loire Valley, a famous wine region of France. The Loire valley has several small regions within it that produce different grape varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Chinon is famous for making light and fresh red wine, fruity rosé, and dry white wine. As legend has it, vines existed in the area when the Romans invaded and wine production began as early as 380.

We stayed in the charming Hotel Diderot, who offers a great price for excellent quality. We were all satisfied with our rooms and the breakfast in the morning. The hotel also sells its own homemade jams and jellies that were scrumptious when paired with fresh goat cheese and the house multigrain bread. Chinon is very picturesque and made this girl feel like she was walking around the set of Cinderella. The village is accommodating to tourists as well as easy to navigate and find the various vineyards. We made a point of checking out the organic and biological vineyards and cheese farms; it is easy by a free guide of the local and bio food and drink of the Loire Valley that listed 171 producers and growers. We discovered goat cheese to die for and learnt about using knowledge of the solar system to harvest wine. Amazing!

I do suggest a brush-up on your French before you go. I didn’t, and mine is atrocious to begin with, which left me feeling a bit confused and out of the loop a couple of times. Yes, this is partly my fault but once again while I was in France I was confronted with proud French attitudes and an unwillingness to accommodate. I found this a bit surprising as Chinon and the Loire Valley is a hotspot for North American tourists, with their fat wallets, who have a taste for fine wine and French cuisine. Maybe those people buy wine out of embarrassment of being sophisticated enough to drink French wine but not so much as to learn the language? I don’t know, this could just be me, but the feeling of being ‘uncultured’ is one that I continue to grapple with when I visit some regions of France.

All in all, it was a quick weekend trip but we all felt that Chinon was a great little getaway where we were able to decompress from the week and re-energize. I definitely recommend a visit to Chinon if you love wine, cheese, and admiring the French countryside.

The Grand-Daddy of European Festivals: Rock Werchter

On June 25th, I arrived in Belgium, my new home for the next year or so. Belgium is a fun and busy place to be in the summertime. There are multiple festivals every weekend in this tiny country and because of Belgium’s size it’s very easy to hit up as many as possible. In addition to the BIG festivals that are filled with international acts, there are city and town festivals, day trips to the beach, or wine filled picnics.

From the first time I met Billy, he would tell me wild stories of all his adventures at Rock Werchter. An endless list of famous bands, throngs of people, camping shenanigans, and mouth-watering food and drink. I had to go! So plans were made, tickets were bought, and I arrived in Belgium just in time to unpack my suitcase and pack my festival backpack.

Billy’s hometown is ten minutes away from the festival grounds, so I was camping with some Rock Werchter veterans. Billy has been to nine Werchter festivals, so he has packing and festival organization down to a fine art. Very appreciated on my end because the sheer massiveness of this festival was a tad overwhelming. Bright and early Thursday morning, we managed to fit in 5 people, 4 hiker’s backpacks, sleeping bags, mattresses, 5 tents, 4 lawn chairs, and food coolers into a Mazda 2 (the smallest Mazda). After hiking to our camping spot, all-night party campground B0, we got everything set up, got a beer and we made our way to the Wei (Flemish for festival grounds).

Festival goers enjoying drinks and food

The weekend was filled with great friends, sunny weather, and rockin’ bands. The crowd vibe was excited and chill. I thought the festival was extremely well organized and well maintained, an exceptional feat when considering the numbers of people attending. According to the Rock Werchter website, this year set a new attendance record, with 85,000 festival-goers each day and a total of 139,000 unique visitors for the four day festival.

Out of the 81 acts that preformed these were my favourites:

Jack White killin’ it!

1. Jack White– A show that took us on a time-travel journey of Jack White’s impressive hits. White’s five piece band of extremely talented musicians were all dressed in impeccable suits. White was rippin’ it on the guitar, further proving to me that he is probably the guitar genius of my generation.

According to interviews, Jack White tours with TWO complete bands that are completely male or female. Each are amazing in their own right and White chose them while recording and producing in his studio over the past three years. He says that he decides which band to use the morning of the show and never plans a playlist because he prefers to play songs that suit the vibe of the crowd. Kudos to Jack White and his preformance, I think he just became my rock’n’roll hero.

Eddie Vedder

2. Pearl Jam– In the past I haven’t been the biggest Pearl Jam fan. I enjoyed them but never felt much of a connection. After this show, I realize I’ve been missing out for years. The show was big, loud and Eddie Vedder was a pleasure to watch. He is so genuinely grateful to be preforming for all his fans and that sentiment really came through. The magnitude of the crowd was awe-inspiring from the front; they were full of energy, singing along and enthusiastically fist waving.

Before Werchter, I had watched “Pearl Jam Twenty” directed by Cameron Crowe. It has amazing concert footage, insightful interviews and covers the band’s long history. It gave me high expectations for this show and Pearl Jam didn’t disappoint. I can now say I am a full-on fan!

3. The Cure– I have been wanting to see The Cure for the past couple of years and their performance on Thursday night did not disappoint. The sun had just set, the weather was still balmy and many festival goers had a dreamy buzz washing over them.

Robert Smith was looking as eccentric as ever with green eyeliner, red lipstick, and wild mad scientist hair. He seemed to be in an exceptionally good mood, happy to please the crowd by playing their biggest hits. The Cure is one of my most memorable and enjoyed performances of Rock Werchter.

4. Metric– Metric had the difficult task of opening Werchter on the smallest stage, the Barn. No matter, the tent was packed and ready for a sweaty and energetic show. The band was sharp and put together a great party set list that got everyone moving and jumping.

Of course, Emily Haines had all the boys swooning. Her leather short shorts earned her ‘best legs of the festival’. Her performance was entertaining and vibrant. Overall, I was super proud to show off one of my favourite Canadian bands to my Belgian friends, who were very impressed.

5. Wiz Khalifa– Wiz Khalifa got the party started on Friday! I didn’t know much about him before and now I love him. Charismatic and fun show that had everyone singing along, swaying to his hip hop beats, and practicing their best gangsta arm wave. He had a heartwarming shout-out to the crowd about the free download music scene and attributed his success to it. I really got the feeling he was overjoyed to be playing for such a huge crowd at such a renowned festival. It’s always nice to watch someone preform who truly wants to be there.

6. The Editors– This show was another big surprise for me. The Editors are absolutely HUGE in Europe but I haven’t heard much about them in Canada. I thought it was going to be a fairly mellow show, a la Snow Patrol who I skipped, but I was proven wrong. It was an onslaught of hard electic guitar, heavy piano, powerful singing and oodles of fireworks. According to my Werchter veteran friends, the performance from The Editors was a worthy and impressive headline act. I definitely agree and will be revisiting my Editors albums.

6. Nneka– I discovered Nneka while living in Kenya last year and was eager to see her show in Belgium. I had a friend see her live in Tanzania who said she was phenomenal. Her afternoon show was a great opportunity to sit in the grass to chill listening to a smooth and soulful singer. Her performance and comments throughout her show felt genuine and I enjoyed her soulful music on sunny Saturday afternoon.

7. Mastodon– I arrived late for this show and had to stand in a long que to withdraw money but Mastodon’s heavy metal got me pumped up for the day ahead. Great set! I’m planning on getting their albums for days when I’m feeling feisty.

8. Dropkick Murphys– This show was really fun! However, I don’t remember too much of it because of a bit too much sangria. I spent the entire show jumping and dancing. The energetic and raucous music of this punk rock Boston band got me feeling rebellious and ready for a party. Obviously, a great addition to the line up for a heavy last day of Werchter to keep everyones energy up.

9. Black Box Revelation– BBR is a Belgian band that has a very unique sound; part garage, blues electric, with some 60’s and 70’s flair reminiscent of the Kinks and Led Zeppelin. In any sense, BBR was a gritty rock’n’roll show that captured the crowds attention in the heat of the late afternoon. Their sound is mature and full for a band that is incredibly young- Jan Paternoster is 22 and Dries Van Dijck is 20 years old. Amazing! This band has a bright future ahead of them.

10. Florence & The Machine– I was really excited to see Florence + the Machine and I enjoyed it but I also expected more. Her voice was amazing but I think that their set would have benefitted being on a smaller stage. According to my friends, the band played in the pyramid stage two years ago and it was an amazing show. This show was a bit darker and more intense, which is hard to pull off from the main stage.

Florence’s stage presence was different from previous video clips I have seen. Instead of the fragile and feminine songstress with the shockingly powerful vocals, this time she seemed empowered and commanding like a high priestess leading her followers. I’m a big Florence + the Machine fan and even though the show wasn’t what I expected it still makes my top 10.

Overall, I had a fabulous time; Rock Werchter is world class festival, one that I would go to over and over again. My friends and I have only one regret, which is not exploring and seeing more of the smaller acts that attended (especially the Alabama Shakes!). But it was great to have so many awesome acts to pick from. Rock Werchter 2012 was simply the cat’s pajamas.

A quick guide to nailing your visa application

In true blogger fashion, I’ve gone into full research mode to prepare for my move to Belgium. There is so much information on the web to help anyone organize a move with relative ease. I’ve looked at long stay visa requirements, job ads and, of course, expat blogs to get a sense of the international community in Belgium.

Moving abroad is a heck of a lot easier for me than most because I’ve never really been in one place long enough to set down roots. I only own three pieces of bedroom furniture, my clothes and shoes, quite a few books, and a few kitchen gadgets. And there’s my car, which I just hand over to my parents for their own use (and safekeeping). The trickiest part is getting all the documentation lined up for the visa application. So here is a helpful how-to for those who are like me, indecisive and like to do things on the fly. The following list is full of little tips and tricks I learned from getting all my visa paperwork organized in one short week.

Long-Stay Visa Application Tips
1. Order your Criminal Record Check ASAP. I ordered mine from the RCMP; it’s important to note that the process generally takes a week and it must be ordered from your local detachment (going by the address on your driver’s license). Also, the criminal record check must be picked up in person and can not be picked up by anyone else.

2. Make sure your passport validity has over one year left. To avoid any headaches or an early departure I went to the passport office and ordered a new one. I have a friend who once found out he could not buy a flight from New Delhi to Germany because he had less than 6 months of validity left on his passport. Needless to say, it was a headache for him to search for a Canadian embassy to renew his passport and it resulted in a few unplanned days in New Delhi.

3. Call the embassy and explain your situation. Employees of the embassy often provide illuminating clarification on the often vague descriptions on consulate websites. To ease the confusion of the person on the other line, write down all your questions and take notes on the answers so no stone is left unturned.

4. Get to know your bank. The application needs a bunch of financial information to ensure that the incoming visitor won’t become a welfare moocher. I made sure that my bank statements for the past 3 months were stamped by the bank, to make it über official. Most banks are very helpful, but be aware that there could be some extra costs for services such as money orders.

5. Find a Dr. to sign the medical certificate. I didn’t think this would be a problem but it turned out to be a bit tricky. Since I recently graduated, then hopped on a plane to live in Kenya, I returned to find I was no longer welcome at the University clinic. Turns out it’s tough to find a Physician in Alberta because they are very busy with many patients. If you have a Dr., be sure to call in advance for an appointment. Luckily I found one in the village, booked an appointment for the following week, and after a short 15 minute meeting I was out the door with my signed certificate. The link for the required blank medical form can be found on the consulate website.

6. Travel insurance costs a lot of money. Prepare yourself. Health insurance is worth it, so try not to cheap out.

7. Follow up! If you have a small timeframe to get your passport back, make sure to follow-up with a polite phone call (or email) to the consulate to make sure that things are going smoothly and they have all the information that is needed.

Now that my paperwork is sent off and awaiting approval, the fun research can begin! Through the world of blogs I can find out about what the Belgian fashion trends are, where the great restaurants reside, what the best cell phone plan is, and when the raddest music festivals occur. There are some amazing blogs out there! After cruising through many articles, I must say I’m really looking forward to joining this community. Here are some of my favourites:

CheeseWeb This blog is done by an experienced expat couple from Canada (woo hoo!) and they are full of information on restaurants, European destinations to check out, and all sorts of tricks to settle into Belgium life quickly. They have an up-to-date article on choosing a smart phone mobile plan that I found very helpful. And lots of stunning photos to boot!

Best of Brussels A current guide to everything that is hip in Brussels.

Adventures of a Puertorican Girl in Brussels Gain some keen insight into to the world of marathon running, cooking, and international dating at this feisty blog.

The Petit Four A very cute and well-written blog by Emily, an American girl, who loves travel and beer! She has some hilarious tales about her life in Brussels that are fun to read, such as her adventures in preparing a big Thanksgiving feast for Belgian work friends.

I hope that you enjoy learning about Belgium through these blogs as much as I did!

A Shout Out to my friends at Expat Blog

Mount Longonot in the Rift Valley

Since I created “curiousmeredith’ in August of 2011, many of my visitors have been fellow adventurous spirits about to embark on their own adventure in Kenya. I had such a fabulous four months there that I am eager to share all the information and tips that I can. One of the best facilitators of the blogging community in Kenya is Expat Blog, a blogging and travel forum that aims to provide information to ease the huge transition of moving abroad.

I have found that blog forums, such as Expat Blog, are especially useful to find information and links to many useful topics such as running groups, expat nights, or special events. Expat Blog is a platform that was created seven years ago. It now boasts 420,000 members and generates 1.8 millions visitors a month. There are 3 150 members are registered on the Kenya forum alone! This month, I received an email from Julien (the platform creator) letting me know that Expat Blog has created two new features dedicated to jobs and housing to help expats in their search.

The new features are aimed at helping people in their job and accommodation search in Kenya, two essential steps when expatriating.

You can post or discover job opportunities in Kenya, in more than 100 jobs and fields. Follow this link to take a look!

In the housing section, ads are available by kind of accommodation, whether you are looking for or offering an accommodation. Find your new cozy home in Kenya here.

Best of luck to all the future visitors to Kenya! And a hearty thank you to Julien for his dedication to the expat community 🙂