Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brussels -WHEW!

Hello all,
Thanks to everyone who posted a message on here or Facebook. It's nice to know that these things are getting read! I am writing this from a lovely hotel in Amsterdam. It is almost midnight, but I could not let another day pass without posting. We had AWFUL wi-fi service in Brussels, so I was unable to do much posting the last four days. However, the situation is vastly different in lovely Amsterdam, so, I can again share this adventure with you.

I don't know what I expected from Brussels. I am going to all of the cities with an open mind and heart and trying to limit or eliminate expectations. Brussels was a nice surprise. It is the capital of the European Union, so it is the D.C. of Europe. There is a government culture, and many highly intelligent people are walking about. It is a very international city; everything is in French, Dutch, English and German. I talked about the wonderful food earlier. The mussels and the waffles are indescribably good. Like many European cities, it is easily walkable and has a great public transit system. Most of all, the GMF crew in Brussels were very good and gave us some wonderful experiences.

Before I tell you about the experiences in Brussels, I have to take a minute to talk about our really great group. There are 14 of us, and we have all really clicked. I am energized by the conversations we have and by the caliber of people involved in this fellowship. I feel like I am part of a group of up and comers, and it is a club of which I am very proud to be a part. I will be in contact with these amazing people forever and I have built a major network.

Anyway, back to Brussels. At last post, I had arrived in Brussels. On Sunday, we took the train to Antwerp, a small city about 35 minutes outside Brussels. It was a cute place, with some interesting history. I had fruit beer and Antwerp stew, which were both surprisingly good. We could not stay long, because a bad storm was coming, so we came back to Brussels and early. We were very tired, but we had a dinner that evening with some MMF alumni and David Rennie, who writes for "The Economist." This definitely perked all of us up! He was great, and told us of his promotion to Political Editor. I've read his work, so this was a big deal for me and for all of us.

Monday we went to NATO, and it felt like being in an alternate reality. It was just as you might think. Lots of diplomats and whatnot. (I say this like I do this everyday, LOL!) We got briefed on some things that I have to be vague about (;-) and we weren't allowed to take pictures, but we did get to eat lunch in the NATO dining room. Very fancy!!! Later, we each had individual professional appointments. Mine was with Luca di Preso, and MMF alum who heads up foreign affairs for Parliament. He's also a lawyer. He is a very elegant and wonderful Italian man whose first comment to me was how much he loved my Southern accent! We had a wonderful meeting, and he gave me some great information and a framework to better understand everything that we are learning. He was so generous with his time and I appreciate it, so Luca, if you're reading this, Grazie Mille! We also had host dinners on Monday and mine was with Zoltan Simon, and MMF alum from 2007. He is a PhD who works for Parliament and his lovely wife Szonja, is a lawyer. They took us to dinner at a really great steakhouse. It was a wonderful night to just relax after all of the things we did on Monday.

On Tuesday, we went to GMF offices for briefings and then to European Parliament to meet with four members of Parliament. It was wonderful to get an up close and personal audience with the lawmakers for the EU. They were very generous and answered all of our questions. We had some free time, so I joined 3 of my teammates for what turned out to be a very cool experience: we did laundry. We stumbled upon a cute little laundromat and the proprietors were like a French farce. One of the workers swore that my teammate Blaine was Barry White, because he said he looked like him (he doesn't). So I told him I was Beyonce. I don't think he bought it! We ended the day with a briefing from Jason Anderson, the head of European Climate and Energy Policy fro WWF. He's an American from California. One thing that you might not realize if you've never spent time outside of the U.S. is how surprisingly comforting it can be to hear a real American accent. I know that sounds silly, but it's true. He was great and we had an interesting discourse on climate change and Louisiana. Of course, it's not a last day in Belgium without some beer, so we had a nice time doing that and having a great dinner.

Our group split this morning for different countries. Some are going to Copenhagen, some to Hamburg, but I won the MMF lotto and am in Amsterdam with four other teammates. I'll try to behave;-) I am at the beginning of this adventure, but so far it has been wonderful. Stay tuned.

Oh, just wanted to share some observations. My gifts from Louisiana (Mardi Gras beads, shirts and Community Coffee) are going over very well. Thanks and much love to Kelly and Sarah!! I am having some of the best food and wine of my life, and I am doing an okay job of not being "overserved" (Emily R. will get a kick out of that one!). I am walking about 5 miles a day and realize that I need to do it more. First to keep it together with all this good food, but also to keep up. I've got a big life ahead, and I must be ready for what's around the corner. I am loving the European lifestyle and am finding new things to incorporate into my life back home. Last, because I am starting to ramble on (I am just exhausted, but in a good way), I am having the most amazing experience of my whole life. Thanks for reading,

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