Tag Archives: holidays

Thanksgiving 2017

Bit of a last minute arrangement this year, decided to go visited my Czech friend this year in the Bay Area (California) for Thanksgiving. Starting off with a typical American turkey, stuffing, bacon and beans, raspberries and gravy. Great cooking! The weather during the Thanksgiving weekend was lower 60ies to higher 70ies. Perfect for some hiking and sightseeing.

Friday we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, which was cool. Followed by Muir Woods National Monument, where they have the famous Redwood trees. Many Redwoods in this national park area are 900-1300 years old, and among the oldest living things on this planet. Where their cousins the Sequoia are growing wide, Redwoods grow tall. Very tall. The Cathedrals of trees.

Then Saturday we drove to Napa Valley. Visited the Sterling vineyard. Some of the best white wines I ever had there. Also took some pictures of the 10 year old historic castle.

10 year old historic castle

To conclude the Thanksgiving weekend, on Sunday we went whale watching in Monterrey. It was awesome. We saw hundreds of seals, all kinds of birds and 2 types of whales. In total we estimate there were between 12 and 16 whales. With a total of ~50 sightings, if not more. We saw several whales breaching, hunting for food. Saw magnificent tails in the water. A good 3 hour boat trip was not the most pleasant for everyone on board, but the trips was well worth it!


Orlando, FL

A quick trip to Orlando Florida, just because I can. Decided to visit Orlando for 2 days, needed a quick trip for my miles (I know for those who are not traveling all the time, this sounds totally ridiculous, but trust me, this is going to save me hours in check-in and makes travel for work a lot more comfortable for 2017.

Perfect start in a plane packed with children, with an upgrade to 1st class. Always nice, even if only an hour long flight. I left Atlanta with ice on my car windows, I got off the plane in Orlando around 68F (18C). Ticking off another state from my travel map, and fairly certain I will be back. Decided to check out Sea World. Wanted to see the Killer Whales in action before they stop having shows, due to haters who dislike people enjoying experiences they could typically not have. Travel tip for  people visiting Sea World: During the last weeks of the year you can buy a “fun pass” at the same price of a normal ticket that allows you access to the park for the next year (this year even 18 months). So basically during the holidays you can visit every day, for the price of 1 day. Also good to know, is that literally everything is in the Christmas spirit. My mind can only handle so much Christmas songs a year, and I got well past that mark this year. The lines were not that bad, and I could visit every attraction I wished and see every show I wanted (actually saw the Killer Whales twice, once in a “normal show” and once in the “Christmas” show).

The second, and last, day I went to Universal Studio’s. Didn’t really know yet which park to visit (there are 2 parks, and they are building a 3rd one next to the others as we speak). From my friends I heard the 4D experiences are awesome, so I chose “Adventure Island” seeing Spider Man and Jurassic Park were in that park. It’s pretty expensive, but an amazing experience! Visiting the park alone, I was able to do all the rides I wanted to do, even with as many people in the park as there were. Even did Spider Man and the Tower of Doom twice! Without a doubt, “Kong” is the greatest attraction around. very much worth the wait. Talking about wait times. Universal has this very interesting concept of “single rider” lines. These are used to fill rides with just 1 seat left. In some cases (like with “Kong”) they take probably as much time as the “normal” lines, but certain times you win a LOT of time. Especially when waiting times are rather short (<30min), the single rider queue was very interesting reducing times to ~10-15 min. Not the same amount of fun when you are in  a group, but when you travel alone, a perfect alternative as fast as the (expensive) “preferred” lines.

I’ll be back to Orlando. It’s a crazy expensive, but Oh so much fun!

Thanksgiving 2016

The Most American of holidays: Thanksgiving & Black Friday!

(Yes, I know Canada, you have Thanksgiving as well… but let’s face it, you are just the 51st state of the USA in many ways).

Some days off, dinner with friends, The President performing his most important job. All joking aside, I do home that President Trump next year only pardons 1 Turkey and gives the other one a “You’re Fried“, statement. Just because, you know, he can. As every year, the Cowboys play the Redskins (Think about it for a second). And Black Friday has resulted again in a number of shootings and deaths. It is good to know America is still the same.

I thought about going shopping, but just the idea of having to go through the masses makes me ill. Plus, I did a bunch of game shopping this week with Targets’ 20% off deal. Checking the prices today on Black Friday, it seems I made a good deal, since most games are now NOT on sale any more. Only select items have huge discounts. Everything else is normal price. For those who are interested I can advise the following website: https://blackfriday.com/ ; and all of your Turkey related issues can be covered by calling the Turkey Hot Line: http://www.butterball.com/turkey-talk-line. If you are lucky, you got Stephen Colbert on the phone this year.

It all began in 1981 when six home economists worked the phones that holiday season to answer 11,000 turkey-cooking questions. Since then the Turkey Talk-Line has grown in both the number of calls answered and experts responding.

I took the liberty of making some changes to my blog. I updated the name. Although I meant nothing with the original title: “Niggy in the USA”, it seems my American friends cannot get used to it. So I changed it, to the very original “Living in the USA”, Although it should probably state “Working in the USA”, as I am not a resident here.

I also added a new page for Games. Since I am very much into board and card games these days.

4th of July – Trip to Denver Colorado / Rocky Mountains

Ever since I moved to the USA, I have promised my friend and former colleague (now customer) Dexter (not real name) to visit him in Colorado. Living in Denver, I refer to him as “the mountain man”, which -so I learned- is not 100% correct.

Denver is an interesting city. Being at the altitude it is, it makes you breath differently. I thought I was just going to make a fool out of myself just asking the question, but turns out I was not going crazy; Denver does make you breath differently.

We visited the arts festival, lots of weird and/or creepy things. Was very nice, and makes me want to visit more of these things here in Atlanta area (my walls are still very blank). July 4th weekend, decided to go and search for “South Park” Colorado.


I’m a huge fan of the show, and discovered that South Park is not a real city, it is a region of plains within the mountains. Funny how we could see the snow on the mountains, even in summer, just like in the show.




IMG_0297We hiked the “Colorado trail” to a point higher than any mountain in Europe. (See picture above). And found several Colorado state flowers still in bloom (which apparently surprised my guides). Very pretty and a great way to celebrate the 4th of July.

We ended my short trip to Colorado with a visit to the Colorado history museum. Learned there is still one tribe of Indians, we learned that Colorado once closed its border from the other US states (exactly what happens in Europe now), we learned that the Americans once migrated and overtook the Mexicans, we learned about the deportation of Japanese Americans during World War II. We learned a lot about today, by reading about history of Colorado. At times, scaryly accurate to today. And, last but not least, we learned that Casa Bonita (from the South Park episode) is a real place.

Thank you for a great experience!


Niagara Falls

One of the benefits of traveling for work, is that sometimes you decide to stay a little longer and discover amazing places.

Last week, I was flying to Massachusetts for a client, but plane ticket prices were insanely expensive. The cheapest ticket I found was flying into Boston, MA and flying out of Buffalo, NY. That seemed like a short drive on the map (if you scroll out really far)… I decided to see what was around Buffalo, and found “Niagara Falls” on the map. For some reason I have been hiking a lot the past months and I tend to be intrigued by waterfalls. So Niagara falls kind of fitted naturally in the list. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to see the falls ever since Bellewaerde park built the “Niagara” attraction many years ago (I had a season pass for many years as a kid and teenager). The attraction is built with Canada as its theme, and since it had been a while since I was in Canada (6 years), I decided to go to the Canadian side to see the falls. I also found a great deal on the Marriott on the Falls hotel, which had awesome pictures. Many (very superficial) reasons to go there.

The drive from Boston to Niagara Falls was long, but likable. The landscape of Massachusetts and New York state is very pretty. The mountains, the views, and a really nice long highway. I found an extreme conservative radio station praising the British for voting on Brexit. The stupidity of the radio host was only surpassed by their callers leaving an opinion. Ignorance was the rule, intelligent conversations non-existent. It was funny for a out an hour, but then got scary and I had to find another radio station.

Getting closer to Canada I found a nice radio station (great music). I only noticed it was a Canadian one when there was a commercial about the government of Ontario spending more money on doctors and hospitals. Then the weather was talking about weird “Celsius” temperatures. I found myself recalculating Celsius to Fahrenheit… that put a smile on my face. I only realize how ‘Americanized’ I am, once I go near (or over) the border. I just enjoyed the music and the (very un-american) news and radio-host stories the last couple of hours driving to the falls.  Crossing the “Rainbow bridge”, connecting the USA and Canada, I realized this was the first time I stopped at a boarder with an actual customs checkpoint. Kinda cool to think about, especially the day after England and Wales decided to leave Europe, where borders are scares.

I had two days, two nights scheduled to be at Niagara Falls, Canada. I had asked some friends if they wanted to join me, but nobody was able or willing to join. I wondered if I would have enough to do for two full days. I mean, what could there possibly be to do. It’s just a lot of water falling to a lower point, right?  On my way there, I kind of felt I perhaps made a mistake booking two days at the falls, instead of visiting Buffalo a day. Boy, was I wrong… I was setup for one of the best weekends ever!

Checking into the hotel, I got a free upgrade to a “Falls view” room. Amazing view walking into my room. Just stunning. I had already heard the waterfalls from the parking lot, but actually seeing them was unbelievably cool. The noise of the falls is so loud, that it actually trumps the air conditioning machine noise. Really impressive. I booked a 5 hour (five hours?!?) tour for Saturday with all kinds of activities. I was a tourist without a plan, or idea of what to do, so I did not really know -nor cared- what those activities would be. I got a free ticket to visit the “daredevil” museum, so did that while it was still open. It is a small museum, but really cool. People are crazy, that is all you can say after visiting it. I remember reading a comic book (“Karl May – Duel with Niagara Falls“) back as a kid about one of these people. Coincidentally, as these things go), last week the new episode of “Another Period” also featured the first person ever in recorded history to go over the falls (also a woman). I was starting to get really hungry from the long drive, and decided to find a restaurant. Found what looked like a really nice Italian restaurant to eat, only problem was that I could not find the door to get in. The restaurant turned out to be part of the Casino (there are two casino’s in Niagara Falls). Got an amazing dinner, with a great view (not talking about the falls here). I had never been in a real casino before. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to kind of hang around and figure out what this was all about. Hundreds of slot machines (I really do not get it). The poker tables were very busy, and a bit too intimidating for me (needed at least 1,500 CAD to join, and although the people in England just helped my weekend get 10% cheaper overnight, that was still too much in my opinion). I decided to watch people play some blackjack variant game, and once I (thought) to understand the game (a bit), I decided to get myself some colorful paper out of an ATM. All in all a very good experience. Played a few hours and then went to bed, after all I had a 5-hour activity to join the next day.

Saturday, was up fairly early and walked down to the falls. The walk down was pretty, going through a park with lots of city wildlife. Then noticed there were actually 2 falls. The smaller “American” falls (~900 years old) and the Canadian “Horseshoe Falls” (the ‘original’ falls and ~12,000 years old, or just a few years, depending how you look at it). Looking at the Horseshoe falls, the “Niagara” attraction in Bellewaerde made a whole lot of sense. It is basically mimicking the shape of a horseshoe and dumping a boat into the water, creating a massive displacement of water. Well, exactly like the real Niagara falls (without boat), but smaller. Went to visit the “Niagara White Water Rapids (Category 6; basically meaning you will die if you go in them as a normal person). Crazy stuff. A waterway with 6 meter high (18 foot) waves, created by simply the sheer volume of water being pushed from the falls to lake Ontario. I have pictures and video’s, but they do not do justice to the magnificent view.

Walked back to my hotel to start the tour, almost missed my bus because I’m a tourist and do not care about time. The five hour tour featured a tour on the boat going really close to the falls (a must-do!), a walk -behind- the falls and standing right next to the Horseshoe falls. You cannot imagine how beautiful, and humbling, it is to stand next to a literal sea of water just falling into the deep at a rate of over a million liter a minute. Just insane! Nia-gara means Gods of Thunder in waters, or something like that, according to the movies. Wikipedia does not agree, but I’m all for it. IMG_0204 IMG_0239 IMG_0240

I could go on about the beauty of the falls for another thousand words. But the point of this post is that no matter what your situation is (single, couple, family), there is a lot to do for you at Niagara Falls, Canada. And I encourage you to go see it. It is beyond believe. Additionally, at the rate the Canadian government is adding new attractions, this place will just keep on expanding in the next years. You go for the falls, and they are by far the coolest thing I have ever seen, but there is so much more to do than just that. Niagara Falls should be on your agenda of places to visit. Period.

Holiday Season


Year end, the time when families come together and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to celebrate ‘the american way’ with two families accepting me into their homes and treating me as family. I’m sad to announce I am leaving Texas and move to Georgia, to be closer to the office, and that sadness is largely due to the wonderful Texans I have met the past 2 years.

We celebrated Christmas by introducing the Flemish tradition of “Lukken” (a type of Belgian butter waffle) and Cointreau, to my American family. A Belgian family tradition they seemed to enjoy. Thank you for the wonderful times!


Visit from the Momma

After living in the USA for about 18 months, my Mom, aunt, sister and her boyfriend visited me. I took some days off to join them in New York. and after that they flew to Dallas, TX. What an amazing place New York is! it was my first time there and is was simply awesome. I used my Marriott reward points to stay at the Fairfields Inn New York – Time Square Manhattan. The hotel has a bar on the rooftop ‘Skybar’ which is apparently the place to be. As a hotel guest I could go up for free and skipping the lines. It was a pretty amazing sight and if I was not supposed to be up really early to meet with my family again, I would have spend many hours up there that Saturday evening! Its a great hotel, but prices are pretty insane too on Saturday evenings in summer. (Thank you reward points!),

My family visited most of the ‘typical’ tourist attractions already, so I ended up visiting only the 9/11 museum (really interesting and -forgive my words- kinda cool to visit), a bus tour and the 9/11 memorial. They are still building parts of the freedom tower and surroundings, but the monument is done really well. It is touching, extremely powerful and peaceful. It is really well done and a fitting way to remember the deaths and events of 9/11 2001.
Also went to see the musical ‘Chicago’ which is the longest running musical on Broadway (like 20 years or so). My family was very disappointed about it, it was better than what I expected. They had seen ‘Book of Mormon’ a few days before (before I joined them), so I guess they were just too overwhelmed by the South Park people to love a 20 year old production.

Lots of updates in the map (see ‘my places’).

We flew back to Dallas, basically because my mom wanted to see my apartment. They had enough of visiting museums, so I took them to some ‘American’ places that I know: Pei Wei (‘Oh my god, this is so good and cheap for fast food!’), The Cheescake Factory (‘I thought this was a fake name used in the Big Bang Theory!’), Jakes Hamburgers (‘This meat is soooooo good!!!’), Sammy’s BBQ (‘These people are so friendly and this meat is so good and cheap!!!’). Took them to ‘TopGolf’, which was really fun and did a little tour around Highland Park, Dallas to see scenery. They enjoyed their holiday and I enjoyed the company.

My family does not realize it, they enjoyed some time at my apartment pool, but they in fact visited Dallas at a historic day. It was only 65F in July, the coldest day ever recorded in Texas in July. It was raining, a horrible day. But we enjoyed playing cards together. I felt bad for them to be in Texas during the worst day ever, but they seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Waiting for my Brother and friends to join me in Dallas/USA, in August! It will be fun again, and it saves me a long trip to Belgium to see people.



Going to the dentist in the USA…

Aaaah, May 1st. A national holiday in all socialist loving countries such as Belgium, France, Russia and North Korea. Funny enough, it actually commemorates something that happened in the USA, in Chicago (although, what happened was not funny to those it happened to! – See wiki link at end of this post). A holiday in Belgium means that, if you are working with Belgians on a daily basis as I do, no work will come form over the Atlantic and you have a nice quiet day (but not a day off!). So I decided to work from home these 2 days and schedule a dental appointment. Here is my story.

In the USA, healthcare is connected with your job, your employee health care plan. Step 1 into finding a dentist is to go to your healthcare provider website and find a dentist that accepts your dental plan. In Belgium, you just go to the dentist, nobody thinks about checking ‘coverage’ first. I needed a ‘normal’ cleaning and checkup, so I choose to find a ‘general’ dentist.

Found one walking distance, so called to schedule an appointment. First thing they ask is my coverage ID number, which I give. We schedule an appointment and I return back to work.
5 minutes later, they call me back that the number I gave is not valid. I apologize, say this is the first time I use a dentist in the US, and promise to check with my provider. I call to my provider and they figure it out pretty fast, give me my number and I’m good to go. There is no such thing as a ‘works from the first time’ for immigrants :-) .

Anyhow, my actual appointment… Usually this takes about half an hour in Belgium. You get a teeth cleaning using some kind of sand and water brush and the dentist checks for cavities. Everything is done by 1 person, the dentist. My visit to the dentist here, was quit amazing. First there is the secretary desk. 2 people working there, then there is the dental assistant who first checks your blood pressure (wtf?), then cleans your teeth (no brushes, very time consuming). You also do not have a cup with water to spit and rinse. In America, they suck the fluids out of your mouth with a machine! This took about half an hour. Then they moved me into another room. Walking through the building, it looks like a factory where patients are treated ‘en mass’. Then I get into a special room where an assistant takes 18 (!) X-ray pictures of my teeth. Apparently they do this every 5 years, and ‘only’ 4 pictures every 6 months with the check up. For a Belgian this is insane. X-rays are pretty dangerous toys. Of course, the X-ray is very powerful in finding cavities and discovered 4 of them. I only had 1 filling when I was 13 years old, none for the past 14 years and now 4. Danm X-ray :-) .

Now the funny thing is that, In Belgium I pay 48 EUR (65 USD) for this checkup. Here in the US, my dental check up (including X-rays) was free. All covered by the dental plan. Pretty amazing.
Now the fillings will cost me 554 USD, of which 330 USD is covered by the insurance. I have no clue how much this costs back in Belgium. Fun-fact: there is also a ‘regular’ price listed (understand: for the non-insured): this i 980 USD for the same thing. Almost double!

Another experience. And I will be back in a few weeks for my fillings.

Oh yes…
Want more info on May 1st labor day? See Wikipedia


Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season in the USA.
The great American holiday celebrating the first harvest in the New World; is probably the holiday of the year. It is the most important family day in the USA and it is the busiest day for traffic (air, train and road).
Turkey is the national dish that marks this holiday, pretty much like Christmas back in Europe. Americans love traditions, much more than the average European, so almost everyone in the entire country is having Turkey.

Being here for the first time, my mother (back in Belgium) was kind of worried about me spending the holidays alone. I have to admit, this was a concern to me too before I moved. Would America and the American people accept me in their lives? Living here now, I know Americans are very friendly and open people. Several people have invited me to their homes to celebrate all the major holidays; including Thanksgiving.

So I went to the parents home of some friends I made here in the past months. All the people (family and friends) were really nice and friendly. The food was… amazing. The common perception back in Belgium that Americans never cook and cannot cook food, is just plain wrong. The picture below, was the best turkey I ever had, and without doubt one of the better meals I’ve had since moving to the USA.


It was a really good experience and I want to thank my hosts for the invite! Another great American tradition I can tick off my to-do list.
Thank you!

My First Halloween

Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is a tradition brought to the USA by Irish and Scottish immigrants. From personal experience, it seems that Halloween, for those around my age, is fairly similar to that other Irish-American holiday of Saint Patrick’s Day. You dress up (for the first time in 10 years in my case!), obviously, but other than that there seems to be a lot of alcohol involved…

It is amazing how much effort Americans spend on Halloween. All over town front yards and houses are covered in Halloween style, there is tons of candy for the children and people wear all kinds of cool or just very clever costumes. It is not just about the costume, it is also about the time and thought you put in a costume. Some costumes are pretty expensive, others really cheap. It is kinda cool to see how couples dress up to be ‘hot-dog and mustard’, for example. Lots of creativity and everything is possible.

Another great American experience to tick off my checklist :)