Tag Archives: travel

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!


Eclipse 2017

August 21st 2017. The first total eclipse in a century moves from West to East over the USA. 2min34 seconds of darkness at 2:34pm EST. We drove towards Greenville, SC for this event. Leaving at 6:30 am from Atlanta for fear of traffic. It was my second total eclipse. My first experience was obstructed by the northern French clouds ~15 years ago, so expectations were high.

Unfortunately, a cloud blocked the sun for about 10 minutes, including the 2’34″ of totality. Another missed chance!

Moral in our road trip gang did not improve during the 6 hour commute back to Atlanta. 3x longer than the drive up to South Carolina.

It was fun, and exciting. The darkness, cold wind, and confused animals; are worth it. But next time seeing the corona during totality is preferable. Let’s make sure to go somewhere with a 0% chance of clouds.

The US gets another opportunity in 2024, who knows where I’ll be then…


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!

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.

The story of a Belgian in America: Company Blog Post

We’ve published 4 blog posts about my expat experience the past weeks. Please follow the following links to read the 4 posts.

I’ve had generally very good feedback on these, and many LinkedIn requests. However, I’ve also had some remarks that I’m not very positive about the USA in my writing. I’m sorry to say, but the people who understood that from the blog post, completely missed the point. The blog was not meant as a glorification of America. It is about the experience, the transformation, of a person moving abroad and integrating/assimilating into the “foreign” society. It is not meant to be about America, it is meant to be about the expat, the person. Things you experience, things that are different, roadblocks, etc. Immigrants are a different breed. It is something people that never lived abroad for an extended period of time will never understand. I’m not asking for understanding or (dis)approval. My intention is to give people who are willing to take the jump, an idea what to expect. Do not give up while waiting for your visa, do not stop your life while waiting. Pay attention on remuneration, comparing is difficult, it is OK to miss things, but don’t get homesick. Understand you will change as a person in every way possible and understand the people around you will most likely not understand. Just like Steve Jobs was nervous every time he had to go on stage to show the latest Apple product, so does the expat feel nervous every time he/she ends up in a new situation. And just like Jobs, the expat will come out of the situation stronger and a step closer to perfection. But, and this is a big but, it is not for everyone. You need to be the type of person who wants to be nervous about things, who wants to be put out of your comfort zone. THAT is the point of this 4-series blog post.


1) How it all started
2) The paperwork struggle
3) Discover the people, discover yourself
4) Atlanta is Home


Uber vs. Taxi

Uber vs Taxi. It is a fight that is happening in all major US cities and many European cities as well. Here’s a story from my personal experience. Just throwing it out there…

When travelling for work, it makes sense (financially) to take a cab/Uber to the airport if I’m staying for longer than 8 days. From experience I know I pay around 150 USD (including tips, 2-way) for being driven, and parking at DFW costs 20 USD/day. So 8 is the ‘tipping’ point for me in deciding to drive myself or take a cab/Uber.

This time, I was out for 2 weeks, so I decided to not drive myself. Usually I use a cab driving to the airport, but this time I somehow forgot to reserve a car, so I ended up using my Uber app. usually Uber drivers are very nice and you have great conversations with them. This guy… not so much. He had his radio really loud on some Muslim praying channel in Arabic or some Middle East language. I do not like people forcing me to take part in their religious (or other) believes, but I figured I would survive the 30 min trip. Uber apparently has fixed fees driving to the Airport, and I ended up paying 75 USD (For a ‘Black Car’, the classic Uber). Which is the second highest fare I ever paid going to the airport from my apartment. Goodbye myth of Uber being cheaper than cabs!

On my return, I decided to get a cab, because that is what you do getting out of the airport. The driver and airport guy were joking about something about the tire… which made me not feel comfortable. Unfortunately nobody else was waiting for a cab, and since this is ‘first come, first serve’ I had no choice. The cab driver ended up being a Kurd, thanking the Belgian government for their involvement against ISIS. “Your accent is from Europe, no? What part?”. Not a lot of good words for the Turkish government. “Oh I need to get gas, I will stop meter”… (OK… could you not get gas before picking people up at the airport?… whatever). We continue and when I get at my apartment I pay with my Wells Fargo visa card. “Ooh Wells Fargo, they lost me lots of money! I not trust them!”. (Ok… weird, but whatever). Then he adds some bullshit about that he needs my phone number as a prove of ID otherwise they are not paying him. I’m already thinking to put a fake number on that paper (because that is just plain weird), but I’m tired and before I know it I have my real number on there. He gives me his card in case I need a reservation in the future, and urges me to contact my government “to do more for the Kurds”. It is late, and I am already just happy that I’m home.

Waking up this morning, I think about all the things that happened and start searching the internet to check why on earth they need a phone number. The reason is simple: to commit credit card fraud in your name.  Yup, that shit again. I called the guy (from his card that he gave me), it is voice mail. I tell him that I want him to remove the number from the paper. (I’m not sure if he is the one going to scam me, or if it is his boss that is basically abusing him to scam me), and that I want him to send me the name of the person asking for that information, so that I can go to the police. Let’s see if I ever get anything back. In mean time, I have blocked my card again. And Wells is going to send me a new one in 10 days.

So all in all, even though Uber being cheaper is a complete myth (we figured that out in New York last weekend as well), at least it is safe. You do not need to worry about credit card fraud, these cars are tracked all the time and that makes it so much safer. You can give your driver a bad rating if they decide to get gas while they are driving you, etc. The main argument taxi services have against Uber, is their price (“unfair competition”); but that seems a myth. So why are we still having this discussion? Uber is a perfect addition to the market, and should in the end raise the standards of cabs. I feel like it is much easier to become a taxi driver, than an Uber driver, given the quality of drivers I have had. Even though Uber is not always perfect, on average it ranks a lot higher in my opinion.

Additionally, Uber can be used anywhere. No language skills needed (only a working internet connection on your phone).  If you are interested in using Uber, you can get a free trip up to $30 by using the following link (I will get the same as well, thank you for that) https://www.uber.com/invite/4ddz9


Never a dull day

Lots of things happening in the USofA. Media and people are going crazy over Ebola, midterm elections coming up next month so lots of political hilarity to be found there and fights with terrorists in the middle east. All in all, great times for shows like the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”. I was very disappointed, however, in both shows during the whole Scotland Independence Referendum. Sure, they mentioned it, but when the President gave support to the English prime minister, neither show even covered that. I felt it was a very bad move for the president to give support to the English. I get it, the UK is America’s greatest ally, but still the best move would have been to just shut up about the subject. Or if something had to be said, it should have been support for the democratic process. The US did gain its independence from the British, after all. It is kind of sad to deny other regions the same.

Anyhow… I’ve been travelling a lot for work the past months and with weather being as weird as it was, I got to experience some interesting things. There is always the ‘normal’ delays, of course, but we also had a direct flight from Atlanta to Dallas landing in Austin to refuel. Last time I checked, Austin is not on the way to Dallas… Another flight from Dallas to Altanta, ended up flying west instead of east (see photo). That was kind of weird. The new American Airline planes have GPS tracking with interactive maps, so all the frequent flyers were playing around with the new screens, taking pictures and joking around. This is obviously something that does not happen often.

Flying west instead of east.

Flying west instead of east.

I also visited the doctor, and just had to take this picture…

Ebola protection masks at the doctors office in AtlantaEbola protection masks at the doctors office in Atlanta


Traveling for work

I cannot count the number of times I traveled abroad for work the past 4 years and this has never been a problem for me. I had my credit card, my passport and cellphone with me and never had issues.

So some weeks ago I am told I need to travel to Belgium for work. I think: cool, visiting my friends and family and getting paid for it. However then I start to think about what I need; my basic travel-kit: credit card, passport and cellphone. I cannot see the passport being a problem at all, but I start to wonder about the credit card. Credit cards need to be activated abroad before you travel. I’m sitting at the bank, using the clerks phone to call customer service and get the card activated for my travel destinations in Europe for the travel period. As everything in America, you cannot call the customer service without them activating all kinds of new programs for you. This time I apparently qualified for 1% cash-back on all my credit purchases. Fine, activate it (one wonders why they did not activate this before). This was not a very difficult task.

Then I figure, I cannot even call foreign numbers, so I need to get that fixed and activated too.
Now, Americans reading this should know the following: When you have a phone contract in Belgium, and you want to go abroad, all you need to do is not forgetting to take your phone charger with you. You just call and text and use roaming all you want. It may cost you a lot of money (especially the data), but everything simply works. If you are travelling a lot you can get special plans at reduced prices. Here I start chatting with one of the AT&T employees (they have some kind of weird messaging system, they sometimes feel like talking to bots) on how I can activate this stuff: Calling foreign numbers from the USA, calling US and other numbers from abroad. Now she transfers me to the ‘international calling’ department (the what? ok whatever…) and this guy explains to me that he cannot do this online and I need to call the customer service because my account is not active for more than 90 days. (eh what now? Well duh, I didn’t even live here 90 days ago)!
Now the customer service department can only activate this using a “special procedure”. He goes trough some security questions and at the end he said the result turned out false. So according to the ATT system, I am not me, which is very interesting given the questions he asked me. I also wonder who I am and who is supposed to pay that insane high bill I get from them every month.

Anyhow, I gave up and decided to go to Belgium without my phone. I guess I can still activate my old Belgian number again once I arrive and pretend not to have a US phone.
Why is this country making it so difficult for people to just do what they need to do? What can go so horribly wrong by activating a phone?
Every day is an adventure…