Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lonely Planet: John's version :)

After catching up with some family and friends, I've realized how long it has been since I last wrote an update! Cheap travel + close provimity of European countries, has lead to many a great weekend adventures over the past 2 months and I think it's about time I start writing my own Lonely Planet: John's version :)

So let me give you a run-down of the travels - I'll try and keep this as short and sweet as possible!

Vienna, August 15-17
3 Words to Describe Vienna: Pristine, Elegant, Refined
I spent the August long weekend with a great group of friends (Maqui, Bo, Marianela, Augustina, Mitul, Steliana) adventuring the pristine capital city of Austria, Vienna. The entire visit felt like I was in some form of 'Wonderland', as every building had manicured gardens and mammoth statues. The city was almost 'too perfect' for me though, as it was missing that fun, vibrant and young vibe. We spent 2 days touring Schonbrunn, Hofburg Palace, St. Stephen's Cathedral, the State Opera House, among many others.

Salzburg, August 18
3 Words to Describe Salzburg: Scenic, Photographers Paradise
As I had an extra day in Vienna, I ventured out to Salzburg for the day, the home of Sound of Music. After taking an early morning, 3-hour train ride from Vienna, I arrived in what still is one of my favourite European towns. This compact town is full of tourist-hot-spots and amazing views! After the "city" experience in Vienna, I was craving a town with nature and Salzburg was exactly that! A river divides the town and has a small mountain range around the edges of the city - providing amazing views from the top! Here I visited Mozart's home, Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mirabell Palace and Gardens, among many other mountain-top look-outs. I would love to head back to this winter wonderland again once the snow flies, as there is some great skiing nearby!
Copenhagen, September 12-14
3 Words to Describe Copenhagen: Young, Clean, Crazy
This weekend was the European Beer Festival in Copenhagen, so a few friends of mine all met up for the weekend to attend! Assem joined us on the tail end of his European tour, Rob was our humble host and it was GREAT to see a fellow Edmontonian again - Kristan. Although a good 75% of this trip was dedicated to drinking beer and partying until the wee hours of the morning, we still managed to hit the tourist hot-spots on foot Saturday afternoon before the Beer Festival. This city has so many great things going for it, as it's on the water, isn't as expensive as the other Scandinavian countries and still maintains a vibrant, young and some-what crazy character. This is definitely a city worth visiting again!

Oktoberfest, Munich, September 26-28
3 Words to Describe Munich: Beer, Green, Did I say Beer?
What 5 InBev interns thought was once impossible - was a reality! Marianela, Max, Sole, Miguel and I all wanted to attend Oktoberfest and were willing to do anything to make it happen! We all rented a van on Friday after work, drove 8 hours straight to Munich, and after arriving around 5am, we got a couple hours sleep in the van, then headed straight for the beer tents of Oktoberfest. The one peice of advice we got from everyone was 'Get there early!'. We started the day at 9:30am, at the Lowenbrau tent and soon enough, we were in, had our beers and scored ourselves a table! This was absolutely one of the craziest parties I have ever been to! Imagine 6000 people, inside 1 tent, all drinking 1 litre schooners full of beer and singing 'Hey Jude' at the top of their lungs! After a cozy sleep in the van Saturday night, we toured the city to see what it had to offer. We came across lots of historic landmarks and one HUGE green park that reminded me of Central Park back in NYC. We then jumped back in the van, drove our 8 hours straight and made the last train back from the car rental place with 10 minutes to spare :)

Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux, October 3-5
3 Words to Describe Geneva: International, Expensive, Watches!
3 Words to Describe Lausanne: Hills, Olympics, Students
3 Words to Describe Montreux: Picturesque, Moutains!, Peaceful
Bo, Mitul and myself booked this trip initially based on a great seat sale through EasyJet back in August. Little did we know what a great time we would have (and also how much money we would end up spending!). We spent Friday adventuring Geneva, including running beside the massive water jet on the lake, touring the UN and taking full advantage of the free city public transport! One tip in Geneva - the best Sunday brunch you will find is at Alhambar - soooo good! Saturday we took the train around Lake Geneva to both Lausanne and Montreux. In Lausanne we visited the Olympic museum, climbed up and down the many hills and enjoyed a mid-day stroll on the waterfront. Montreux is the smallest of the 3 cities, but definitely my fave. When we visited, the mountain tops were covered in snow, but down on the water, the flowers were all still in bloom - reminded me a lot of home (Rocky Mountains!). All-in-all, an amazing trip and worth visiting again once I win the lottery :p

Antwerp, October 11
3 Words to Describe Antwerp: Shopping, Diamonds, Fashion
Last weekend I was on the hunt for a winter jacket and I had been told that Antwerp was the best city for shopping in Belgium. I can now confirm that this is true! I took a cheap 7 euro return, 1-hour train ride to Antwerp Saturday morning and shopped all day. I left that night on my train home around 9pm, with a great new winter jacket from Zara and a new favourite shopping hot-spot :)

So that officially concludes Lonely Planet: John's Version #1, but stay tuned for Version#2, which will include Nice, Monaco and the French Riviera!

Of course, I also have lots to update about work, life, ect., but that will have to wait for now. In a nutshell, I feel amazing and the pace of life here is a nice break from the rush-rush back home. Although sometimes I find myself working late or rushing to meet someone, my mentality has changed and I am no longer stressing myself out over the small stuff. I'm genuinely happy, relaxed and overjoyed with life. I'm loving the independence of having my own place and have a great group of friends always up for adventure!


Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Can Hear It All...

It's Sunday afternoon and as I sit here posting this entry, I open my window at home and what do I hear? Live music of Marktrock coming from Oude Markt right into my place! Now if I could only see it all...

As I try to think back about this week, I find it a difficult task over Monza's music, but I can't complain, Marktrock has been a blast! When I first looked at the bill of bands to play this weekend, I really didn't recognize anyone. I fast realized the benefit of this is discovering countless new bands I want to run home and download.

Anouk will be on later tonight - and at first I didn't recognize her name, but I checked out her myspace page and she has a very popular song out right now...can't remember the name. Anyone know her?

The best live show I saw this weekend was Pete Philly & Perquisite ( ...awesome tunes. They're a 5 man band with saxo, piano, bass, electric bass, and lead singer freestylin'! Unique and very cool.

Even better than the bands though was the rrrandom fun with friends this weekend. Getting entry to private parties and just being straight-up-silly. Miguel and I randomly met the original organizer of Marktrock for first 24 years in the Stella Artois Hospitality Suite!

This week at work I officially received my targets that I will be measured on and must achieve. Next week is going to be extremely busy, as I'm presenting my first major project to the Stella Artois team and then leading a status meeting on another project, back to back :) So work has been a great challenge...I can't wait to get my food vouchers though - will make lunch more affordable!

Work has also arranged for me to have French lessons, as my ability to speak french will be a key criteria for returning to the Canadian offices and surprisingly, my spanish came in handy this week too! The Brand Manager of Becks needed some changes done on a design, but needed a spanish speaker to send the request. All other spanish speakers were out of the office, so I offered my services (and I'll admit...I was holding my breath to see if the design was going to come back as requested)...and it did! I knew all of that language work would come in handy sometime!

This upcoming Friday is a national holiday, so a group of us interns are off to Vienna for a few days. Has anyone been there and recommend a place to visit or things to do? Let me know as we're open for ideas!

I think I'm going to venture back out into the madness and go see another show...sounds like a new band has just hit the stage.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I Love...

...Life as an intern!

On Friday night I was in Brussels at the AIESEC MC transition party at the club Puro Brasil and Landry and I were compairing our lifestyles from when we were on the MC vs. being on an internship. What a difference!

There is never a dull moment! One of the things I love about Leuven is that it is small, quiet and charming, but if you want to find a party - they're easy to find. Also, having such a huge intern community is GOLD - always groups of friends ready and willing to meet up or travel at any time. If you miss the big city, you can visit any of the London's, Paris's and Amsterdam's within a couple hours train ride away.

This week was highlighted by many fun events; our last salsa lessons on Wednesday night (until they begin again in September), July 31st was the final day of sales (everything on sale in Leuven! Mad shopping.), hosting friends for a Parijstraat dinner at my new studio on Thursday, our Friday night trip to Brussels and Eric's Bar last night with the intern crew.

Work is going great and has been getting progressively more challenging as I'm given more responsibilities. Deadlines are nearing, so this week will be busy. I've been making full use of the free gym at work too!

What's up next? Leuven is preparing itself this week for it's largest festival of the year this weekend, Markt Rock. It's a 3 day massive concert right in the heart of Leuven...only a block from home...meaning limited sleep this weekend! A group of us interns are going to be travelling to Vienna the weekend after - should be fun!

Hasta luego amigos!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

4 cities. 24 hours.

After enjoying a nice long weekend and getting myself settled into my new flat, I was ready this weekend for adventure...and adventure was what I got.

First part of business: due to popular demand, I have uploaded some photos of my new flat. Enjoy :)

Let’s go back a bit to Tuesday. I raced out right after work to pick up a last few things for my place before the shops closed at 6, went out for ‘half-chicken’ dinner at ‘the chicken place’ (or so we like to call it) with Juan, which miraculously turned into a late night out at Louvain Louvain with friends.

After waking up Wednesday tired, I wasn’t off to a good start! I knew tonight that a bunch of us were off to the Dark Knight (Batman) premiere...the 22.30h show, which was 2.5 hours long. Before the movie though, I had a nice surprise – visitors to my new place! It immediately turned into a pizza party and then we were off to the movies.

Imagine Thursday morning...I had to ROLL myself out of bed! But that night, the social activities weren’t going to end :) It was Anna’s birthday dinner at Amiche Mia’s...we had a table of 20ish set up for us right on the street – cheap pizza + great company = good times. Between courses, I ventured off to find my laundromat nearby and had yet again, another “foreigner” moment...literally studying the washing machine for 5 minutes before getting it to actually operate! (Apparently it doesn’t take Euros, only the little coins you buy at the front – how convenient!) . I forced myself to pack early and get a good sleep as tomorrow, Juan and I were off to Amsterdam!

So if you were wondering why this entry is titled ‘4 cities. 24 hours.’, this weekend, I was in Rotterdam Friday night for dinner, partied all night through till’ morning in Amsterdam, pit-stopped in Brussels on the train home and finally, danced to live music in Leuven Saturday night. Today – I recover.

Rotterdam was Shirley’s birthday party and conveniently a Canadian AIESEC Member Committee team reunion! Harshitha, Messalina, Juan, Shirley and I all got to catch up...and we were definitely the loudest at the apartment party – probably not a good thing :p

Harshitha, Messalina, Juan, Coco and I trained back to Amsterdam that night, toured the Red Light District in all its glory...(wow)...then met up with Lanchanie and friends at some club to party till 3h. As Juan and I planned to stay up all night and take the morning train back, we were looking for the next best party! We were off to another club and then after a quick snack of fries (Amsterdam style), we rested our feet for a couple hours till sunrise in a nice little park. Let me also mention at this point that the weather was incredible! HOT and CLEAR skies...yes, I am talking about Amsterdam!

That morning, Juan and I experienced the ‘not so nice side’ of the Red Light District...”the morning after”. The streets were covered in garbage...with everything from condoms to joint papers scattered on the sidewalk. I officially know the worst job now in the world: the house-cleaners for the Red Light District’s local ladies. Juan and I ventured over the canals in a bit of ‘Ah’, just wishing that it was dark again and everything was like the night before. After finding a great buffet restaurant near the train station for breakfast, we slept on our train ride all the way back through our connecting city...and thus, ended up in Brussels. Not far away from home, we connected trains and I crashed the second I got home.

At 18h, I woke up to loud music outside, which can only mean one thing – concert in the Oude Markt! I grabbed my camera and ran downstairs. 2 minutes later, I was in the middle of a massive karaoke session! Everyone had a newspaper with songs and lyrics...and it was honestly one HUGE sing-along. After meeting a few locals and borrowing a newspaper, I fit in just nicely – one local girl tried teaching me the lyrics to one Dutch song...which I failed miserably, but at least I tried (while singing at the top of my lungs!)

What a way to end a great weekend.I sit here now, on the patio in front of PurPur Cafe, typing this entry and enjoying the sunshine. Soon I’ll be off to Bo’s for a nice Chinese dinner. Recovering nicely from what was one crazy week of 4 cities in 24 hours.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Week #1: Complete!

“Life Is Like A Box of Chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” is Forest Gump’s famous line, but I’d also like say it is fitting for anyone doing an internship in Belgium. One, you never know what to expect...and two, there is LOTS of chocolate!

My first week has been incredible. I love my job and life in Leuven is fantastic. Let’s rewind to Monday. I’m staying at Juan’s and I wake up for my 1st day of work only to find out that InBev is now a new company! (Over the weekend they bought Anheuser Busch in the US). So everyone at work was welcoming the “new guy” into the “new company”.

My first two days at work were meetings back-to-back, learning about all our global and multi-country brands and of course – my major responsibilities; leading the World Draught Master event in October 2008 and creating monthly Brand Fact Books for Stella Artois. (I must say, it’s quite cool working for a beer company where in the town of Leuven, Stella Artois signs are literally EVERYWHERE).

On a more personal note, I went out Tuesday and found a studio right in the centre of Leuven! Literally 30 seconds from both of the major markts and right in the heart of the shopping/restaurants/bars/everything district...couldn’t be better! Work is only a 15 minute walk away and everything in my flat is brand new and super modern..muhaha! This weekend I was out shopping buying everything from towels to plates to a TV for the new place. I’m now officially ready to host!

Otherwise, I’m keeping myself busy – just started salsa lessons this week with some other interns, went to dinner with a member of AIESEC Leuven, and have toured most of the major sites of Leuven! Here are a few things I found interesting during my first week here in Leuven...

1. Everything is just a little bit smaller...Elevators, flats for rent, beer glasses, with the exception of food portions - WOW.

2. Everyone parties on Friday night and the city comes absolutely alive!

3. Similarly as in Mexico, the movies here have breaks. I went out to see Kung Fu Panda and half way through the movie, all the lights came on. After a 5 minute break for drinks or a visit to the lou, they proceeded with the movie.

4. Everyone has been telling me to prepare for September when 30,000 students move back to Leuven for school!

5. The amount of beaurocracy here is incredible: Last week I went to the Commune to get myself registered, but even though they were open until 8pm, they only accept foreigners until 7pm?!? I’ve come to expect everything will take twice as long here.

6. Store hours: It is so difficult to catch them! All stores close immediately at 6pm – they’ll even turn the lights out on you! Then there’s market madness on Saturday right outside my flat and then EVERYTHING shuts down on Sunday...and I mean everything.

7. Music is the same as in Canada! I’m still listening to all the same stuff on the radio, with just the odd European band mixed in.

8. Waffles, ice cream and chocolate: These should be Belgium’s 3 national foods! It’s no wonder Belgians love sitting out on patios letting the day pass them by...the food and drinks are incredible here!

9. Prices of interest: Beer – 1.8 Euro, Coke – 1.8 Euro, 2 scoops of ice cream – 2 Euro, Movie – 8 Euro, Meal out with friends – 10 Euro

10. Preferred Mode of Transportation: Car 40%, Walking 25%, Bike 25%, Bus only takes 20 minutes to walk from city centre to edge of Leuven!

Next week looks to be exciting! Two major team meetings at work and a trip to Rotterdam / Amsterdam to see old friends on the weekend.

With the national government in trouble as the Prime Minister handed in his resignation earlier last week, today is going to be like a big box of it’s Belgium’s national holiday and no one knows what they’re gonna get.

Monday, July 14, 2008

And so it starts :)

Today was my first day of work!

What a way to start my first day...I roll out of bed only to read in the New York Times that InBev has bought Anheuser Busch. WOOT! New job, new country, new life....and new company!

As I arrived this morning at work with Juan, I went directly into a breakfast with my Marketing team and followed with meetings all throughout the day! I learned all about the Stella Artois brand, Point of Connection materials, Becks and all it's performance indicators, signed my contract, chatted with my boss about all of my responsibilities AND enjoyed a great lunch with the interns.

Seriously...I think I love this job :)

Tomorrow I'm going to have more meetings with my Marketing team about the World Draught Master competition and get to know the other multi-country brands (Brahma, Leffe, ect.)

EXCITING NEWS!!! I also just signed for a flat today after work! I will send pictures vvvvery soon - I get to move in tomorrow! It's small, only around 22 square meters, but absolutely brand new, fully furnished and in the centre of town...WOW! I couldn't believe I lucked out! I'm paying my deposit and picking up the keys tomorrow, muhaha.

Ookies, just enjoyed a master feast a la Juan and we're about to watch a movie.

I'm out for today - photos to come soon!


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

On The Road Again...

"On The Road Again" by Willie Nelson is a fitting title for my 1st blog entry since April, 2007.

As of the end of June, I've packed up my life (and last 2 years in Toronto) into boxes and have left it in the hands of Purolator to ship back to Edmonton. I sold off my furniture, packed up my guitars and rented this red convertible Ford Mustang for my final Hoorah! in Toronto. Words cannot explain what an experience I have lived these past 2 years, and I don't even feel I have fully realized this either...but I will with time.

Before Willie could even sing, "Just can't wait to get on the road again"...I was off to PEI for a golfing trip. We had wonderful hospitality in Charlottetown and traveled from point to point on the island! Apart from letting many-a-golf-course eat my lunch, it was an incredibly relaxing and well deserved vacation to rejuvenate and recharge.

Glasgow Lobster Supper, watching the sailboat races in Charlottetown harbour, seeing the home town of Stompin' Tom and golfing till' I couldn't golf any more...this trip was deamed an absolute success!

Next thing I knew, I was back to Toronto for a 2-day pit-stop to pack up my final things and have a lovely and completely random Edmonton reunion with friends in Toronto. Euro Cup celebrations and Pedestrian Sunday's in Kensington Market...what a great way to end my stay!

After a 4 hour flight to Edmonton, I jumped in a van at the airport and drove 12 hours south to Spokane, Washington. After arriving in the early afternoon, saying my 'Hellos' to relatives, I was off to the airport for a 3-day trip to Boise. During my stay in Boise, I went fly fishing for the 1st time on the South Fork of the Boise River. Unfortunately the fish weren't too hungry :(. After catching up with family, the whirlwind trip returned me back to Spokane, to celebrate the 4th of July in style! The next morning, we stopped for breakfast with more relatives in Spokane and then it was a straight 12-hour-shot home to Edmonton. After a quick visit out to Barrhead and spending some great quality time with my family, I'm all packed up and ready for my next adventure.

As I write this blog entry on the eve of my 1-year departure to Belgium, Willie Nelson sings "On the road again, Goin' places that I've never seen"...and it finally hits me. I'm starting a new chapter in this book called Life and I just can't wait to find out what it holds!

More to come very soon on my new job and life in Leuven!