Thursday, May 15, 2008

Brussels Brussels

I have now survived my first year in Bremen. I would say that my German is excellent relative to the average person who is not a native speaker and has taken no German classes. I would say that in German, but can't.

The trip to Brussels was busy, and I wish I had more time to explore the city instead of work. The work part itself went fine. My talk went very well. After the talks were complete, there was inadequate discussion, and thus the afternoon was increasingly dominated by Jose Millan, the guy in charge of the other big BCI proposal that got funded, and me. Fortunately, he and I agreed on just about everything, including the theme I mentioned a few posts ago, which was nice because it validated my whining. I was starting to think it was just me. Maybe I am in over my head. Maybe I just can't handle stress. Maybe I am not as good at BCIs as I thought. Maybe someone else would be better at this gig. Maybe I could get away with the last five lines in another venue, but blog readers know me too well for such ostensible humility.

I really liked the double street names in Brussels. They had streets like Viaduc Viaduct, Naples Naples, and Trone Troon. This amused me over and over until I worked out that these were actually single street names printed in French and Dutch. You see the risk you take when you try to mock a foreign culture? Better to pick on ducks.

We also had a joyous double billing experience. I went to dinner at La Bergerie in Brussels with 3 of our grant partners, 2 guys from Philips and Paul McCullagh from Ulster. The waiter said he would take care of us. 4 PhDs, and none of us recognized this obvious warning flag. Our bill came to €86.50 each. We only had 1 wine bottle and 2 coffees; the main charge was €75 each for dinner. We were pretty sure we ordered the €24 each seafood combo. I am suspicious that the guy has a second menu that he busts out for just such an occasion. This experience doubled my record for most money ever spent on a meal. That had been my trip to Spain - both the glorious steak dinner and the paella feast cost me about €40, and each had a lot more wine, better food, a more relaxed atmosphere, and a less scurrilous waiter. We were actually rather accepting of the situation, we were tourists getting screwed, but the waiter really pushed it by whining about no tip. I told him that my best tip is that he should look both ways before crossing the street, but I don't think he got it.

Since Brussels, I have been catching up in sunny Bremen. If you quote me on that last sentence, remember to keep it in context - it is not normally like this. But the last 2 weeks have been sunny, warm, and quite pleasant. This is scheduled to change tomorrow, and may rain with a vengeance. Which would also be nice. It's the intermittent, omnipresent drizzle - and the threat of it - that I dislike.

More blogworthy tales may appear in a couple weeks. I just scheduled a road trip with a Romanian labbie and his wife to Prague, then Budapest, then Romania. As soon as we pass Prague, I will be further east than ever before. Woo hoo. Adventure awaits. Or perhaps banality. Or getting mugged. Or some legal hassle. Or lots of drinking. Or some mix. C'est la flaneur.

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