travel

Adventure in Brussels

Brussels

I’m not much of a traveler. The process torments me and I have a general aversion to being the classic annoying tourist wherever I go. However, I recently had a lovely opportunity to explore Brussels, Belgium, and I wanted to give my review of this cute little city. Hopefully as the years progress, I’ll have many more opportunities to review many more cities in this crazy, beautiful world we live in.

Brussels is Clean and Smells Great

The first thing I noticed about Brussels was the ease of getting around. The trains were fast and pleasant and very centrally located. I felt getting from the airport and back, as well as storing your belongings, were both simple and convenient enough to truly benefit from a long layover with ease.

Next I noticed that the city was very clean. Whereas there was a fair amount of graffiti in the downtown area, there was almost no litter anywhere, which I appreciated. The city smells amazing! Everywhere you walk smells like chocolate and fresh waffles.

Brussels Keeps the Christmas Spirit Alive

It was already two days after Christmas, and I still felt the holiday spirit coursing through Brussel’s veins. I was in Target in Staten Island the day before, and it felt like they couldn’t wait to move on to the next holiday. Modern music was playing on the radio. All Christmas remnants were being systematically dismantled. America had overdone it once again, and was ready to move on. But the Christmas spirit was alive and well in Brussels!

The atmosphere and architecture in Brussels were lovely. The main area everyone recommended going to was called the Grand Place (sounds nicer in French), which was just a cute little centrally-located square with large and attractive buildings. From Grand Place it was quite easy to walk to all sorts of interesting city attractions.

Groping Statue

Right off the side of the square was some statue in the wall that everyone seemed to be approaching and groping for no particular reason. Sadly, I wasn’t able to find an explanation before I left. Although I did speculate that it was part of some elaborate practical joke whereby some folk went up and started petting this statue, causing others to do the same. And 15 years later they’ve been able to keep the ruse going. If so, kudos! I for one am quite impressed.

Pissing Boy

Far more important of a statue is one of a small boy urinating. I found a list of must-see sites in Brussels before we went, and when I saw this I thought two things: 1) I need to see this. 2) This must be some sort of humorous list, dedicated to silly things you can do in Brussels.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Apparently our friend the pissing boy is a fundamental part of the Brussels scenery (see the picture above). There were endless paraphernalia dedicated to this li’l guy and loads of tourists standing around taking pictures. We even stepped into a museum about sculptures and they must have had over thirty different post cards dedicated just to this statue.

Interestingly enough, the sculpture itself was actually a bit disappointing. It was really small, so small that when I went into a store and asked if they knew where the statue was, it turned out we were just a matter of feet away and didn’t even notice it.

Museums in Brussels

I got to go to two museums while in Brussels: The Chocolate Museum and the Magritte Museum.

The Chocolate Museum began with a fantastic demonstration. A woman gracefully and quickly showed the process of creating praline-filled chocolates. It was magical and really fun to watch. And it was quite impressive that she gave her presentation in English, German, and French.

The rest of the museum was very mediocre. Some charts and objects teaching about the history of chocolate. Fun to look at. A lot of reading for an exhausted traveler.

The Magritte Museum was fantastic. It included countless original paintings from Magritte and his contemporaries. Many were incredible. I especially enjoyed that there was an original Salvador Dali, my favorite artist. Magritte is quite the enjoyable artist, and the gift shop was a reflection of how engaging and entertaining his art is. Sadly the museum lacked some of his most famous works, but all in all it was engaging from start to finish.

Shopping in Brussels

Brussels is a fun city for shopping. There were great stores everywhere we turned, and different markets. We especially enjoyed a trip to a costume shop. The customer service left a bit to be desired (but I was returning to Israel, so it was probably best to start getting back in the groove), but the store itself was loads of fun.

The worst parts about this city were the coffee, and the culinary experience for the kosher consumer. I had two cups of coffee in Brussels, and they were both awful. I’m not ready to condemn the city and recommend no one ever step foot in such a horrendous place that can’t even dazzle my tastebuds with coffee delight. But I’d only give a few more tries before I’d be willing to say Brussels is a city where you should stick with Diet Coke to get your caffeine fix.

Unfortunately, Brussels is most certainly a city that tantalizes with its amazing aromas. So if you maintain a strict kosher diet, you might find yourself wandering around drooling at every corner, but never truly getting the benefit of the best part of the city.

Brussels Summary

In short, Brussels is a clean, relaxed city that smells amazing. There are a few good museums, some nice shopping areas, lovely sites to gaze upon, likely crappy coffee, and more important than anything else, a urinating statue. If for whatever reason, you can’t partake of the many food opportunities in Brussels, in might be worth looking for other cities to check out. But all in all, I had a lovely time and might even visit again.

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Posted by jaffeworld in travel, 0 comments

Back in the States, Part 2

the states

The big trip to the States is rounding the corner and coming up on its end.

The excitement of ubiquitous Christmas lights and shopping craziness will soon be behind me until the next time. The second leg of my trip was colored by a handful of interesting experiences.

The Street

The most noteworthy part of the whole adventure was my walk up a street that will forever remain in infamy to me. Some loyal readers may remember that a while ago I talked about an intense moment in my life where I was walking up a street to avoid a fight.

While on the street I was beaten to a pulp, and left with a couple of physical scars and who knows how many emotional scars.

Not too long ago I had mentioned to my fantastic bride-to-be that I had a quasi-bucket list item of one day walking up that street once again. In my heart, I knew I had to do so fearlessly with my head way up high. Devorah contemplated for a moment, and then said she wanted me to go there on this trip and she wanted to do it with me.

And so I returned to the scene of the crime, a mere 26 years later. With zero recollection of the details of the incident, and not a clue how I might react to seeing the spot where such a tragedy had occurred, we took a late night drive to the middle of nowhere.

And I did it.

What Does It Mean?

How do you feel, walking in a place knowing in heart that the last time you were there you were physically assaulted? Knowing that your only connection to the spot where you stand is that one intense moment there cataclysmically and permanently changed the entire trajectory of your life?

I’m still collecting my thoughts and feelings. Considering it took me five years to realize the significance of the original event and 26 years to revisit the place, I can only imagine how long it will take me to fully grasp what this moment will mean to me.

Escape Room

We had our second proper date night of the big vacation. This time we checked out an escape room in good ole Staten Island (check out the picture) and we had quite the good time.

Not to brag or anything, but first of all, the room could accommodate up to 11 people, and Devorah and I did it by ourselves. According to the man in charge, we should not have been able to finish it in time with only two people.

But apparently, we’re one super-smart couple. And we came and conquered that room like the champs we truly are.

Saving The States

And while I’m not bragging… please note that the game was a World War III simulation in which the two of us were single-handedly responsible for saving the entire United States of America. So, we didn’t just kick butt in the escape room; we saved the entire country from inevitable violent and grotesque deaths.

You’re welcome.

Seriously, if you find yourself bored in Staten Island (not an unlikely scenario), check out Unreal Escapes. It was quite the fun evening, very reasonably priced, and, of course, who wouldn’t want to get fun pictures of themselves in silly sailor hats?

Christmas in Staten Island

I know I mentioned Christmas lights in my previous post, but I got to see everything at a whole new level that’s worth mentioning.

I’ve often said that Staten Island really only has one thing going for it: Pizza. Sadly the only bad pizza on the Island is the kosher one… so basically I can no longer even benefit from the thing that makes the place great.

But I had forgotten about the magic of overzealous destroyers of everything electric! This area is covered in brightly lit magic. And one house I went to was so over the top, it was truly unforgettable. The house was covered from top to bottom with moving figurines and gorgeous lights. And there was music playing and a snow machine. People were lined up down the street to see every part of the house.

I was feeling the Christmas spirit!

Odds and Ends

Speaking of which, I can’t get these songs out of my head. These ubiquitous catchy melodies are flooding the country right now! I swear I’ll be singing Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer in my sleep tonight.

So, here we are. The trip is coming to a close. I’m about to swing past Belgium for a brief moment, and soon I’ll be back in my good ole routine.

Israel might drive me insane sometimes (all the time), but one thing is abundantly clear to me. I like routine. In fact, I thrive on it. This trip has been hellish on my body. I still loathe just about everything involved in the travel process. I miss my kids a whole lot. And I definitely need to get myself back into my normal, everyday crazy.

More Stories

But I’ve got a few more experiences under my belt. I was blessed to meet a whole bunch more of Devorah’s friends and family. Shabbats in Washington Heights and Cambridge, Massachusetts, were lovely. My parents met my future wife and fell in love with her. And they were angels throughout the vacation.

Some wedding clothes were purchased. I’ve got more stories to tell. I’ve been more places and seen more sights. I actually felt what a night shift feels like that’s done at nighttime (good job wonderful co-workers… I do not envy what you do all the time).

Now I’m ready to get back to relative normality. I’m ready to hug my son and let my dog jump all over me and excitedly lick my face.

I’m looking forward to getting back to wedding preparation. And seeing how my whole life unfolds.

A bright and happy future awaits!

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, travel, 0 comments

Back in the States, Part 1

The States

I’ve been in the States for a few days now, my first time out of Israel in over two years.

I just wanted to share some observations, if I may, through the eyes of the (often unnecessarily) overly observant.

Israel vs The States: Simple Differences

First of all, here are a handful of small differences between Israel and the States, things that I can’t help but notice each time I come back:

  1. There’s a real lot of water in the toilets in the States. It certainly has it’s advantages. However, it does play tricks on the mind though. The toilets in the US always look like an Israeli toilet when it overflows. It can be a little jarring sometimes.
  2. And while we’re in the bathroom… something that’ll never make sense to me about Israel is why bathroom light switches are on the outside of the room. And despite the senselessness, you still can get used to just about anything. And boy is it odd how many times I’ll walk into a bathroom here… and turn on the hallway light while feeling confused as I walk into a pitch black bathroom.
  3. Maybe it’s overstated at this point, but the shopping experience in the two countries couldn’t be more different. Everyone in the States is oozing an artificial politeness; whereas in Israel you’re still lucky if you can even get a clerk’s attention.* The variety of choices is beyond overwhelming here. And, boy oh boy, I can’t tell you how excited I was at having the option to put that amazing little plastic divider thing in between customers’ groceries. It was a small slice of heaven. Oh Israel, please figure that one out soon!

Business Class

I was beyond ecstatic to cross a major item off my bucket list right away on the trip. I got the unbelievable experience of flying Business Class for the first time in my life. And man oh man, the differences couldn’t be more pronounced.

Several times throughout the flight I had to walk around and take a peak into coach just to remind myself how much of an upgrade this really was. It was like driving my Mercedes out from the mansion in order to come and peak at those on skid row, who were eating dirt off the floor and wallowing in their own filth.

I almost feel guilty for how much I enjoyed it!

Well, almost…

Back in coach, you’re cramped into a wobbly little box, eating off of paper and plastic, while those of us enjoying the pleasantries of fame and fortune are lounging with couch-like comfort, and getting champagne from flight attendants who are actually acting as if they want us there.

Weddings: Israel vs. The States

While here in the States I attended a wedding. The wedding was lovely with tons of delicious food. However, if there’s ever been something that I love more about Israel than America, it’s the weddings. True, it’s very possible that at an Israeli wedding (or even a funeral) someone might answer their cellphone. And there might be an unfortunate cloud of cigarette smoke that wafts over the ceremony.

However, the same ultra-laid back environment that creates these unfortunate realities, also creates weddings that are objectively more fun and entertaining. You’re inherently more at ease due to the extremely lax dress code. There’s nothing more refreshing than wearing an untucked white shirt and sandals at a wedding! And who doesn’t love just piling around the ceremony? No seats, no patterns, few expectations. You just come, stand, and enjoy. 

All of this combines together with a society that simply adores weddings, and you have a beautiful recipe for an event that is fun and non-stop excitement. 

Date Night: Part 1

Last night was date night, a rare combination of shopping in excess and the mass excitement and stimulation of Dave and Buster’s. I didn’t have a lot of goals for this trip, but one was to introduce my beautiful bride to the entertaining wonder that is Dance Dance Revolution (the greatest arcade game in the world).

Sadly, they didn’t have the original. They had the far inferior (and much weirder) Japanese version. I’m not going to lie. It was super fun and I did get a bit sweaty along the way. But it still doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

The world is a crazy place, where you can have what feels like a giant amusement park smack in the middle of a food court of a local mall. I don’t see such things coming to Jerusalem anytime soon, but that would certainly add a bit of fun and color to a relatively colorless city.

Odds and Ends

Today my beautiful fiancé and I went hat shopping (check out the post’s picture), saw the absolute best view of the New York City skyline from the Staten Island Ferry, and were mesmerized by all the Christmas lights covering Staten Island homes. I am not even close to a fan of my hometown, but to date, one of the best things about this ridiculous borough is the over-the-top decoration insanity that dominates the month of December.

So, my initial thoughts of my big return to the States: The land of plenty is still the overly simplistic mecca of stores on top of stores. It’s still quite frustrating how required a vehicle is to live comfortably in most places. And in a short period of time, I seem to have consumed enough sodium to kill a small rhino.

But honestly, I miss it. I miss the ease of the States. I miss the variety. And the ability to hunt for bargains. I miss customer service. And I miss English. I miss endless fun activities. And I missed my parents so damn much.

And let’s not forget those lovely dividers in the supermarket. God, do I miss those! (Part 2)

*For the record, one store clerk (of unknown gender) was completely obnoxious to me… leading me to feel a bit homesick. I called it “Israeli-style customer service”.

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, travel, 4 comments

The Insecurity of Security

Security

Over the last decade I have been overwhelmed by security overhauls, both physical and now virtual. One thing has become apparent time and time again. In most of these situations, there has been a ton of work only to make everyone feel highly inconvenienced. Yet I have no evidence that anything is actually more secure or that anyone even feels even somewhat more secure.

There have been others, but I want to explore four security overhauls I’ve experienced in my life:

1) The Folly of TSA

We’ll start with the most obvious. I was living in Israel when terrorists tragically attacked my city of origin. I can honestly say I felt very detached from the events, since at the time I was in the Israeli Army, and we certainly had our own fair share of security concerns.

However, I surely felt the magic of security overhaul the first time I went to the States post-9/11. I remember noticing that nothing felt even remotely more secure to me. It just felt like the convenience levels had dropped several notches, and the security personnel were a lot more comfortable being rude and obnoxious to all of us.

I can’t imagine a moment when I’ve felt grateful that someone forced me to remove my shoes, or randomly selected me for an extra pat down. I’ve never been too keen on traveling. This certainly hasn’t helped the matter.

But seriously folks, does anyone who passes through an American airport feel more secure than they did in 2000? Granted I’m much happier that smoking on flights is no longer a thing. But there’s sill a lot of room for improvement.

2) Happy Fun Baltimore

My next major security overhaul came while I was teaching at a school in Baltimore. There was a terrorist attack in a Jewish institution in Toulouse, France, and we did what anybody would do under the circumstances. Across an ocean in an entirely unrelated facility, we decides now was the time to become concerned with security.

Screw all the students who lived in danger up to that point!

We just needed the right excuse to uproot everything we were doing, in order to make those who felt completely safe now feel uncomfortable. And we needed to provide no measurable feeling of security for anyone who really thought much about the endeavors. What do I mean? You have hundreds of innocent children, without a care in the world, now ducking behind desks and learning terms like “active shooter”… because it isn’t daunting enough to be a child.

And  then you have adult and child alike who can so easily pick apart every policy that’s been set. You have everything from the hardly secure gyms and bathrooms, to those who point out that a terrorist might just not be stopped by locked doors… when there are entire walls made out of glass! I’ll never quite understand the mentality that says psychotic murderers would always be so impolite as to gently knock.

So what do we get at the end of the day? Endless meetings, countless changed policies, and worlds of inconvenience.

3) Kansas too?

I left silly ole Baltimore for the good life of Kansas. I remember the first impression when I saw the building I would be working in. There was a sign prohibiting guns, and an unarmed security guard in front of the building. I thought this was crazy. It’s fine to feel safe and to not believe security is relevant to your location. However, what in the world is the point of an unarmed security guard!? Is he there to open the door and give a pleasant greeting to the visiting terrorist?

Sadly, all humor aside, I was living there only a matter of months before a psychopath drove in from Missouri and shot up the building. And before you knew it, I was back again in countless mindless meetings, watching from up close as convenience started decreasing alongside unchanged feelings of insecurity. And reality did not change. First of all, an organization that does not recognize the folly in an unarmed security guard until after a shooting is unlikely to wizen up and recognize its inherent need for protection.

Second, again, random door closing and inane, mindless drills don’t make for a safer community. They do, however, annoy just about everyone.

4) The Mighty GDPR

And finally, the reason I keep thinking about all of  this lately: The dreaded GDPR. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a new European law with steep, steep penalties, designed to protect people’s data. For most of us, it just means we have been receiving copious amounts of emails requesting us to push buttons agreeing to things.

And for some of us, who work for companies that handle huge amounts of customer data, it has meant a giant overhaul of our workflow.

Whether security is physical or virtual, the same rule applies: The more “secure” we are, the more inconvenienced we are. In the most extreme (and ridiculous) examples, the school with no doors or windows is the most secure environment, and disconnecting from the internet is the best way to keep all data as safe as possible. But we die of lack of oxygen and starvation, if the lack of Netflix doesn’t kill us first.

My Security Predictions

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows the hackers are becoming more sophisticated by the second. And they’re more than happy to go old school and rummage through your trashcan to find out your identity. My guess is, if history proves anything, one year after this law disrupts industry on top of industry, this is what we’ll have to show for it: Employees and customers will have grown disenchanted with the new systems so much, there will be greater job turnover and worse customer retention than in previous years. Countless companies will be fined due to violations. Most likely the violations will not be due to malice, but due to careless errors or lack of a large enough staff. The major companies that could afford large staffs and giant legal teams to deal with the issues will be safe. However, smaller industries will get irreparably damaged by the penalties.

And finally, there will be zero decrease in data breeches. No one will walk around feeling any safer than they did the day before. And we’ll have yet another instance of a security overhaul that disrupts without actual protection or feelings of security.

Those who commit the acts, from terrorism to school shootings to giant data breeches, are well aware that while we continue to suffer, they dance home with smiles on their faces and money in their pockets each and every day.

And finally…

Please understand, I don’t mean to pick on any particular city or institution. I think it’s pretty much a universal issue. People usually don’t think about security until it’s too late. And when they do think of security, it’s often in the most asinine and inconvenient ways. The bad guys win by hurting us… and then we kick ourselves when we’re down by making life more annoying. And we still don’t feel any safer!

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, politics, travel, 0 comments

Domestically International

international

My Bucket List

Years ago I sat down to write a bucket list. When the ideas slowed, I hopped online to see what other people had come up with.

Two things immediately caught my attention. First, I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought I was. Top items included getting degrees, getting married, having kids, living in other countries, and becoming fluent in a second language. Check, check, check, check, and checkity check.

The second thing I noticed was how many lists were loaded with multiple travel aspirations. What I found noteworthy about that… is that personally, I had none.

None.

In fact, I hate travel. I don’t like airports, planes, or jet lag. I don’t mind seeing new places and getting out of my comfort zone, but I always feel like the travel portion of traveling ruins the entire experience.

Why I Hate Traveling

Weeks before you travel are spent on preparation and packing. There are nerves and logistics galore. The next step is sitting around mindlessly and endlessly in an airport, after undergoing an unnecessarily invasive investigation. Where else in life do you give someone an insane amount of money in exchange for being treated like a criminal?

If you make it through the airport shakedown, you get the lovely experience of hours of being cramped in an uncomfortable plane with nasty food and constant interruptions from a pilot who thinks the altitude is more important to you than watching Eddie Murphy’s latest film.

Hopefully you’re among the lucky few who isn’t dehydrated with stuffy ears and an achy back from the experience. Now you get to move on to the oddly long wait for your luggage, assuming that it actually arrives. And we’re off for several days of fighting off exhaustion and breaking through jet lag in order to be able to properly enjoy the vacation.

And when all the smoke clears and you’ve fully enjoyed your trip, you get to do all that crazy one more time.

Now, I’m aware that some people are far better at traveling than I am. Hell, I don’t even like to travel to other cities! Nevertheless, all this is why I can’t bring myself to be excited about travel.

Knowledge of Other Nations and Cultures

Yet, I noticed in recent months that I experience travel in a completely different way. Despite my aversion to actually going anywhere, I devote an uncanny amount of time to gaining an in depth and profound knowledge of other nations and cultures.

I read books and articles about history and regional differences. I study geography. I’ve hosted hundreds of people for lodging and meals from all around the world, and I seek to really understand where they’re coming from. I look for subtleties in behaviors and mannerisms, ask questions about languages, and I’m always learning fascinating things about cultures.

(Fun side notes: Did you know that in Spain, they use the word “tortilla” completely differently than in Mexico? In Spain, it’s something more comparable to an omelette! And in the very not superstitious Germany, they still have a couple of odd ones. Never wish “Happy Birthday” before the actual day. And ALWAYS make eye contact when saying “Prost/Cheers”, for not doing so is a bad omen for seven years of bad sex.)

Studying Languages

I study languages. Lots of them. Sadly, I have not been blessed with any gifts at picking up foreign languages at all, and cursed with the desire to speak about a dozen of them. But I don’t get discouraged easily and I will continue to push forward every single day, always learning a little something, even if I know mastery is unlikely in my near or even distant future. Just because I love it.

And so here I am. A guy who over the next decade or so will be wildly familiar with world geography and history, familiar with multiple languages, with connections around the world and insights into culture and customs everywhere… with no obvious use for any of it.

So why do I do it? How did I end up this way?

To be honest, I’m still not sure. There’s plenty of room for exploration. I’m mulling around two potential theories at the moment.

Why am I Domestically International?

First, I like the idea of being safe and comfortable no matter where life takes me. If my job wants me to take a trip to Germany for a conference, I want to be able to order a coffee in German, understand the person sitting next to me making fun of my haircut, appreciate some local television, and not embarrass myself by doing something culturally inappropriate. Furthermore, one cannot truly appreciate a foreign nation without speaking its language. Growing up in America it’s easy to feel like you speak the only language anyone could ever need.

However, I have met countless people who can barely eke out a sentence in English. There are countries where few people speak English or where different generations do not speak English well. How miserable would it be to visit a country and only experience 10% of what they have to offer because of my own limitations?

The World Through the Languages and Cultures of Others

Second, experiencing the world through the languages and cultures of others is a quick way to their hearts. True, some cultures do not want to hear you breaking your teeth on and butchering their language (you know who you are, Frenchies!). But most of the world loves that you took the time and effort to appreciate that their world matters too.

Try it. Learn how to say “hello” in Russian. Say it to the next Russian person you meet. Watch their face light up. It’s worth it every single time! It’s fairly likely that the next moment will be a little embarrassing as they then sputter out a million sentences in Russian, and you stand there smiling and clueless. Still worth it.

When you take the time to interest yourself in the language, culture, and history of other people, you step into their realm. You become a part of their world. You become a stronger and more tolerant member of society, and you generate feelings of belonging for all those around you.

I might tour across Europe or other parts of the world one of these days. It would be nice. But even if I don’t see the world out there, I’ll be satisfied so long as the world out there still becomes a part of who I am.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in couch surfing, opinion, personal story, travel, 0 comments