Tour d’Europe Number 2, and counting!

The London Tower Bridge in the background

The London Tower Bridge in the background. Isn’t this the most beautiful view ever?

Earlier this year, I had a great opportunity to go to London, UK for a business trip. It was my first time there and I was thrilled about it. Thankfully, my work location was in central London, right by the River Thames. Mind you, before you are ridiculed because of pronouncing the Thames the American way, you may want to ask a Briton first or consult Google, or Siri, or what have you! Apparently, Britons read it like “tems” and rhymes with “gems”, or “James”.

Fortunately, my black cab driver from the London Heathrow Airport was extremely friendly. After a long red-eye flight into Heathrow from RDU, NC, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride. Although I was very exhausted and sleepy, since I was up the entire flight (we landed around (5am London, 1am EST, my bed time), my brain was surely awakened by the beauty that this city is!

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The cab driver of 40+ years of experience under his belt, kindly explained everything from the airport to my hotel, without even being asked. He gave me tips on must see places and where to be careful. As we crossed the River Thames bridge to my hotel, he made it clear that it’s pronounced like “tems”. Oh how I love the British accent. Although later I was told that Britons will hide their annoyance behind a pleasant smile, I personally found them to be extremely kind. During my 8 day-stay there, there was not a single person who wasn’t extra nice to me!

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for Changing the Guards ceremony

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for the “Changing the Guards” ceremony

Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace encompasses colorful spectacle and British pageantry. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. ” ~ Royal Collection.

I must say though that people there aren’t necessarily good at giving directions: when you ask someone where the bus or metro station is, they will simply point that it’s over there, when there’s no such a thing in sight. I found that quite interesting. I got to ride the London tube once, otherwise I mostly took taxi cabs. While in Europe, I also got to visit Belgium and the Netherlands. My last time on this continent was in 2012. Remember the post “Tour D‚ÄôEurope, In My Own Words!”?

  • FOOD

Now the fun part of my experience there besides the fact that it was bitter cold and windy the whole time I was in London, was food. What’s up with arugula on every meal? The first time my meal arrived I wondered if it was a mistake; I definitely remembered my order at this Italian restaurant pretty well. Also, while in London, if you order chicken, make sure you specify that you want chicken breast. Otherwise, chicken legs/thighs will land on your plate. When I ordered the chicken pasta meal, at an Italian restaurant, I was shocked when they brought this:

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie's Italian Restaurant, London

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie’s Italian Restaurant, London!

I undoubtedly signaled the waiter that he may have brought the wrong order. To my shock, he confirmed my fear. I may not know much about different cuisines, but this doesn’t look like chicken pasta to me. Not only that there was bread in lieu of pasta, the chicken didn’t taste good at all :(.

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Arugula salad for ever meal! I guess I eat a lot of pasta. I must be Italian somehow, somewhere!

If you know me very well, you know that I can eat pretty much anything, right? Kidding aside, even in a place like London, it was not easy for me to venture outside my hotel and find food that I like :(. My taste in meals is a real challenge for a frequent traveler like myself. The good thing is that at least I now know restaurants to go to and meals to order during my travels. Salmon is my favorite fish.

When I searched for seafood places near the London Bridge and the Borough Market, I was excited to find the Wright Brothers Borough, a seafood restaurant. It was only minutes from my hotel. When I got there, not only that there was no salmon to save a life there, they didn’t have fish. I am not kidding! Luckily, I found Black and Blue Steakhouse right across from them, and I finally enjoyed a normal American looking meal there.

That's more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can't help it

That’s more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can’t help it. @ Black and Blue, London 

  • A playground for grown-ups ūüėÄ

London has other many unique things, such as this one here in the picture! Those people are not children I promise.

I didn't get a chance to explore it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I wasn’t brave enough to bounce on it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I loved London and its people so much. I hope to go back when it’s warm and sunny.

  • Belgium

Now, moving across the water south east to Belgium. Judging from the next picture, I am pretty sure that this country may never have an issue with obesity, in my opinion. After a long day visiting the Netherlands, I was very hungry when I arrived back to my hotel room in Brussels. I was too starved to wait for room service, so I immediately headed down to the hotel restaurant, Bien Belge.

Fish of course is always my first choice and lucky for me, they had salmon on the menu in French and English. I don’t always eat large portions, but when the waiter brought my dinner, it made me wonder if they thought that I needed to lose a few pounds ;). I will let you judge for yourself, from the next picture. Salmon is in there somewhere ūüôā

A $USD 22 meal to quench your hunger

Lo and behold, a $25 dinner to satisfy your hunger. I am not kidding!

  • Bedding

Another observation while in Europe was about bedding. This sounds like an odd one, but please bear with me. I grew up in Rwanda, where a normal bed has one fitted and one flat sheet, or 2 flat sheets, and a comforter on top of that. This is the same in the United States. Europe is different apparently. You only have a fitted sheet and a comforter. You should have seen the look on their faces, every time I asked the hotel staff for a second flat sheet.

Of course the sweet housekeeping ladies spoke practically no English, so the front desk was the main contact. The only problem, every morning when the housekeeping came through, my flat sheet was obviously gone, understandably. Then it’d be the same thing over again in the evening. I just don’t understand how people use the comforter only. I am going to spare my imagination from wondering if they wash the comforters every time a guest leaves!!

  • Egg mystery

First, I must say that the European hotels breakfast is nothing similar to what I often see here in the United States, even in similar hotel brands. In the US, many hotels don’t offer complementary breakfast to their guests; and some that do, choices are limited. Take it from someone who has had her share of traveling, although I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before work.

In European hotels, not only that breakfast is absolutely complementary, they have no shortage in breakfast item choices. That was my observation in all European countries I have been to so far. I may be biased toward the Hilton hotel chains I stay at, but I can’t imagine that it’d be different from other hotel brands.

The Hilton Executive Lounge, London @ breakfast

The Hilton London Tower Bridge Executive Lounge @ breakfast

Now, while in Brussels, one morning after breakfast, I grabbed a snack for later. One of the few items I took was an egg. I was pretty sure that it was a hard boiled egg that I was going to snack on later. Well, “later” came around, and with excitement, I cracked the egg, only to be surprised with a mess everywhere on my room desk. I was horrified. The egg was raw; I will spare you the rest! I guess I can’t tell the difference between a hard boiled and a raw egg, but I think that I simply did not pay too much attention.

One thing I remember though is that in the morning when I was at the restaurant, there was no chef, I am positive, to make omelets for guests on spot, or hard boiled eggs for that matter. I spent 3 nights at this hotel, and grabbed breakfast every morning. What raw eggs were doing next to bread, fruits and other breakfast items is beyond me. I still haven’t found an answer to what Belgians do with raw eggs on the go ūüėÄ

The sign says it all ;). I enjoyed touring the city of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal: I enjoyed touring this city too

In addition to Amsterdam, I also visited Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I plan to write about my trip specifically to Haarlem in another post. I am so thankful to my friends in Brussels who took me to Amsterdam and Haarlem. It made my trip easier rather than having to figure things out on my own, especially that apparently Amsterdam is known for drugs and prostitution, and I was certainly there for neither!

While in Haarlem, it was obvious that it’s not a diverse town, whatsoever. I have never laughed so hard than when one of my friends (all from Rwanda) made a joke. She said that if our other friend lowered his hat and held it upward, that everyone around us would have started putting Euro coins in there. Not sure if poor people there are mainly black but the town is exclusively white for sure. The joke made my day because I laughed so hard!!

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience and getting to connect with my friends in all these places made it even more enjoyable. I hope that my next visit to Europe will be to Germany and Poland at minimum. Can’t wait!!

Confessions of a Westernized Mind!

Remember that post I wrote a while back on expatriate living? If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. You can get the link here: Expatriate Moments of Brevity: Life Abroad!¬†This next article¬†is almost a continuation of this previous post; yet again, I write¬†about my own experience and some observations as I compare¬†first and third world countries. My intention is NOT to offend anyone or point out weaknesses. I only share my personal experiences (good or bad), and hope that you will be entertained, or encouraged!

When you relocate¬†to a western country, some of the following¬†things may¬†be a true sign that you have indeed adjusted and feel at home in your new home. In this context, the western country is the United States. I haven’t lived in any other country besides the US and Rwanda. So, buckle up and enjoy yet another one of my life’s experience blog post.

NY JFK Airport. My heart holds lots memories from this one including my very first day in the US!

In my opinion, you’ll know that you have truly blended in when:

  • Your life absolutely revolves around¬†a Calendar

In United States, every single person has a calendar. When I say a calendar, I don’t mean the one you hang on the wall or stick on the refrigerator and use it to remind yourself what day of the week it is. Although that one is good too, but that’s not what¬†I am talking about. This is a list of plans and appointments¬†one has per day, week, if not the whole year: it be meetings, doctor’s appointments, shopping spree, dinner plans, an afternoon at¬†the park, going on vacation.¬†I won’t even go¬†there for those who have¬†kids.

Seriously, you have to live off of one of those otherwise your life will be extremely complicated. A single day gets¬†filled with so many stuff that can barely fit in 24 hours. Whether you have an easy or the busiest job, everyone just has a busy life around here. It’s normal to hear that someone cannot get together because their schedule for the whole week or several weeks is all booked up.

In Rwanda, a busy schedule like that is normally¬†for important and super rich people. If you told someone in Rwanda that you will have to check your calendar first before responding¬†to their dinner invitation, they may wonder if you just fell from another planet!¬†If you are a foreigner living in Rwanda, they’ll assume that it’s foreign stuff; if you are Rwandan, you’ll definitely¬†be called¬†arrogant.

Which one do I take :D. Waltham, MA

Which street do I take? So confusing :D. Waltham, Massachusetts 

  • Your patience shrinks¬†over time

I often joke¬†that my patience stayed behind when¬†I left Rwanda for the United States. In Rwanda, everything is almost¬†in slow motion, people are always late and have no decency to apologize or show remorse for their being late. When you arrive on time, it actually indicates¬†that you have nothing better to do. Being on time doesn’t just mean anything to anyone over there. During one of my visits home, my siblings and I attended a service on¬†New Year’s Day at a local church. A preacher was announced and given 30 minutes to talk.

Almost 2 hours later, the preacher didn’t show any sign of¬†wrapping-up. It was very hot inside, which is normal there because most places aren’t air conditioned. As soon as the preacher finished his message, I made my way out as soon as I could. When it was noticed that some people started to leave (I wasn’t the first one to leave¬†I promise), the ushers closed and guarded doors to stop¬†people from leaving. I was in shock!

Then, I remembered that I was in Rwanda, where people can go on and on and ignore that others have other plans for the day or families to go to. Some religious or government events may last for 3-5¬†hours and people don’t complain¬†or threaten to leave, even if it’s very hot! Like most Rwandans,¬†this¬†is something that never bothered me before, not until I moved to the US. Most events in Rwanda have a start time, not the end. Everyone knows that it ends when the last person leaves.

On the contrary, in the¬†United States, you better be punctual¬†in everything or¬†you may end up in a¬†room by yourself. Everything and everyone has a determined schedule. Unlike in Rwanda, a meeting scheduled to start at 10 am¬†does actually start at 10 am in the US. As you drive down the street, there’s always someone in so much hurry to get anywhere but there.¬†You certainly cannot be late for a meeting; everything is on time and according to the schedule. I am not saying that everything is perfect; but comparing to what I was used to in Rwanda, it’s definitely the opposite.

The aerial view of the Dallas Fort Worth Area

  • You complain often¬†about¬†“simple things” ¬†

I like the name it has been given to justify the frequent whining reasons: “first world problems”. It does not matter who you are, there is always something to complain about around here everyday: a long line at the grocery store checkout counter, a long wait before you are seated at a¬†restaurant or the meal arrives, how unfriendly the website browsing experience is, a slow internet connection, an order that took an extra day to arrive, a hard time finding a parking spot or parking too far from the door, a slow computer application, forgetting your phone/computer charger, no free Wi-Fi¬†in a public place, and the list goes on.

If you live in United States, just recall one of your long days. If you live in a developing country just google “first world problems” and you will understand¬†what I am talking about.

My fav hotel of all the time. Simple, friendly, clean, affordable!

My favorite hotel of all time: simple, friendly, clean, affordable! I whine less here ūüėÄ

I have to admit that it makes me sad when I find myself doing exactly the same. For instance, I travel often on business¬†and get to stay at¬†very nice 4 or¬†5 star hotels. Perhaps because¬†of my hotel loyalty status (frequent traveler) or my employer, sometimes junior suites type of rooms get priced the same as a regular room or close for my stays. So, when I book one of those but the hotel staff doesn’t honor my reservation, I get so annoyed.

I feel disappointed¬†when a fancy hotel room has¬†towels or a room that¬†is not so clean, a small bathtub, a TV screen that’s not as fancy as the hotel, or simply when I get a rental car that’s not the same one I booked online. I complain about US Airways all the time; this airline services have been¬†so bad every time I flew¬†with them so far. I was very disappointed when I learned their merge with American Airlines, my favorite airline. Silly things like these!!

When did I become¬†so spoiled, I often wonder!! How do I get carried away and tend to forget my¬†past hardships, for example when I didn’t have a place to stay at some point in life or food to eat? I have to say this though, growing up in a third world country, I learned to keep my frustration to myself.

To be honest with you, it’s easy to get irritated here for reasons I still don’t grasp myself. I’m not sure if it’s because of the possibility to dream here (the American dream!), or the freedom of everything that tends to make you take life for granted. Whatever the reason is, when you move to the US, you will know that you are home when you experience the first world problems and you aren’t ashamed to freely express your frustration.

  • You need¬†some “ALONE”¬†time¬†

I don’t know how it is in your home country but everyone knows everyone in Rwanda. Whether you keep your life private or not, people will know where you live, the school that your kids attend, when and who comes over to your house, everything. Don’t worry, you won’t have to give anyone¬†a memo. For things they are not sure about, they will map out a scenario sometimes to complete your life story, in their view point.

A Treat by Embassy Suites during one of my travels!

A Treat by Embassy Suites (New Jersey) during one of my busy travels!

For example if you are my age and still single, they will come¬†up with the reasons why you’re not married, even thousands of miles away. If you are too skinny, it’s definitely because you are poor and don’t have enough food. No explanation needed! Everyone is in everyone’s business. It gets better: when you have a ceremony, party etc., you have to invite everyone and their brothers. If you don’t, then there comes your enemies and you become¬†a talk of the whole town.

Fortunately¬†though, when you are sick or need help, everyone will be there even if they are not that close. They will visit and stay until you hope and pray that they will leave so you can rest your eyes and tired body. People¬†will bring food and be there for you even if they are not your friends. So, that’s community in Rwanda as I know it. There is never a quiet time; there are always people in your home and everywhere, talking and whatnot. There’s no such a expression as “alone¬†time” in Kinyarwanda, not for general use anyway!

SO, when you move to the US, you will definitely want some time to yourself, at home or somewhere alone, sometime doing absolutely nothing. If you have felt or been through any of these, welcome home! You are NOT into this alone! You have just been Westernized ūüėÄ

IMG_2130

Bienvenue au Paris, France! 

I love what both the American and Rwandan cultures have to offer; I enjoy learning new things and writing about it. What has been your experience when you moved or visited a first world country from a developing country or vice versa?