D. S. Friberg Blog

June 14, 2010, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We arrived safely home 12:30 a.m. Saturday, June 12th, 2010.  Our trip went smoothly, with the exception of the last leg from Chicago to Minneapolis.  A late departure from London caused us to miss our connection in Chicago, and the flight we were reassigned to was subsequently delayed.  We landed at MSP three hours later than scheduled, and almost exactly 24 hours after we took off from Brussels.

It is nice to be home.  Actually, we’re staying at the Borgen house in Bloomington until our house is ready July 1st, but it’s still nice to be home in the sense of being back in the Twin Cities.  We expected some sort of reverse culture shock, but so far it just feels a little like we never left.

I am traveling Tuesday to Oklahoma City for an audition, but after I get back I have a few more posts in mind to round out this blog.  I have pictures of our last trip to Paris, some thoughts on mouthpieces (I’m sure you can’t wait for that one!), and some general reflections on our year abroad.

June 11, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

We leave Belgium this morning to return home.  Departing Brussels Intl. at 12:30 this afternoon, we arrive at MSP at 9:30 p.m. after gaining seven hours along the way.  From within the whirlwind of activity this morning, it’s difficult to gauge our emotions, but it’s safe to say that we are simultaneously sad to leave Ghent and excited to return to Minneapolis.  Please pray for safe travels!

Farewells, Fries Revisited, Medical Tourism
June 8, 2010, 1:02 am
Filed under: Belgium | Tags: , , , ,

We have been saying our goodbyes to friends and neighbors in Ghent. Friday I went to a special B.A.E.F. luncheon (B.A.E.F. provides my funding here), where I said thank you to the B.A.E.F. staff, and Katie, Wes, Vera, and I said goodbye to Brussels.  Saturday I had my last clarinet choir concert, so I had to say goodbye to many friends from the Ghent clarinet studio.  Sunday we had a goodbye tea with our upstairs neighbor, Jasmien, and were later treated to a goodbye snack session with Danre and Gawein at Frituur Sint-Jacob.  And today, Monday, Wes said goodbye to the Paddington ride in Zuid shopping mall.

Goodbye Grand Place

Jasmien and Wes

Goodbye, Paddington!

Wes and Paddington (September, 2009)

Being in a reflective mood tonight, I was reading back over some of my early blog posts, made just after our arrival in Belgium.  Not surprisingly, many of my feelings about Ghent (and music, and kids, etc.) have evolved over the 9+ months that we’ve been here.  In some cases, I discovered that I had even written some factually inaccurate things.  For example, in September I wrote a few lines about fries.  I said that Frituur Sint-Jacob has “been run by the same family through several generations,” but I now know that the stand was sold a few of years ago AFTER having been run by the same family through several generations.  I also wrote that “most people choose mayonnaise” to go with their fries.  Really, I was in no position to make such a statement after only a few weeks in Belgium, and it turns out that people choose from a myriad of sauces (cocktail, andalouse, curry ketchup, samurai, etc.) and most often do NOT choose mayonnaise.  I wrote in the caption that the fries stand is “in Bij Sint-Jacobs,” but I now know that the Dutch word “bij” means “by” or “at,” so “in Bij Sint-Jacobs” is redundant.  I have also learned that fries are just one of many fried treats that people order at the frituur.  So, even about something as seemingly simple as “French” fries (a misnomer), I’ve learned a lot this past year.  I like to think that most of my fact checking throughout the blog is better than in this one instance, but I’m definitely not the last word.

Belgian fries

Deep-fried bonanza, Belgian style, courtesy of Danre and Gawein

Prior to leaving Belgium, we squeezed in a visit to the dentist.  Wes had his first check-up, and I had a very effective ultra-sonic cleaning of my lower front teeth, all for a total of 79 Euro. We waited just ten minutes, and the whole thing lasted about half-an-hour.  Based on our experiences with the Belgian health care system, and having talked to a number of Americans living in various other European countries, I’ve concluded that the U.S. healthcare system needs improving, to put it mildly.  If I had a lot health issues, I wouldn’t think twice about seeking care outside of the U.S.  In fact, if you need major dental work done, I recommend that you consider a medical vacation to Belgium.  You can get a European vacation AND your dental work for less than the price of the dental work alone back home.  Here is the name of the great, affordable dentist we visited, and whom Katie picked more-or-less randomly from the phone book: Tandarts VERBEKE, 9000 Gent, +32 (0)9 221 67 94

Wes’s first check-up. He’s fine.

Satisfied customers


May 27-31, 2010, we made our first-ever trip to London.  The Eurostar whisked us there through the Chunnel from Brussels in under two hours, making it an affordable and convenient trip.  We arrived at St. Pancras station at 8:56 a.m., walked to our hotel (Club Quarters, St. Paul’s), took showers, and headed right back out to explore.   

Being near St. Paul’s Cathedral meant that we were very centrally located.  Two blocks brought us to the River Thames and the new Millenium Bridge.  For lunch we had – what else? – fish and chips. 

Millenium Bridge over the River Thames

Millenium Bridge with St. Paul's in the background

Enjoying the funicular-style elevator by the bridge

Fish and chips

After lunch, we walked on to Tower Bridge.  Being a structure that so perfectly combines two of Wes’s main passions, towers and bridges, it demanded a climb to the top.  The observation deck is enclosed in plexiglass, which was somewhat disappointing, but the mini-museum there gave us a nice introduction to London.  

Tower Bridge

The descent from the top of Tower Bridge

We toured All Hallows Church, where Dr. Albert Schweitzer made some of his famous Bach organ recordings in 1935.  Like much of old London, the organ he recorded on was destroyed in a German air raid in 1940. The crypt floor in All Hallows has the original mosaic tiled floors of the Roman houses that once stood on the site.  A kindly old English lady enjoyed holding Vera while we explored. 

In the evening, while I practiced at the hotel, Katie took the kids out for a walk.  She came across a garden on the site of a former church, St. Mary Aldermanbury.  According to a sign in the garden, the church was destroyed during World War II, but interestingly the ruins were shipped to the United States and it was re-erected in Fulton, Missouri.  At least one other London landmark now stands in the United States, namely the 1831 version of London Bridge, which was bought and shipped stone by stone to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1967.

Wes in the Garden of St. Mary Aldermanbury

We ended our first day in London with a late dinner at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, across the street from our hotel.   

Friday we spent in and around Westminster.  We saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral (entirely different from Westminster Abbey, as I discovered), Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, and Trafalger Square.  Lunch was again fish and chips.  We rode the tube home and had a late dinner from another London chain – Pizza Express this time.  Each morning for breakfast, by the way, we bought muffins, shortbread, scones, pastries, and milk at a Marks and Spencer grocery.  The baked goods were so fresh and delectable that every day we bought more of them than we did the day before.  The fresh milk (as opposed to the UHT milk in Ghent) was about the best we’ve ever had. 

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Katie with the London Eye in the background. The long lines scared me away from riding it, but I sort of regret skipping it now.

Wes-minster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

The Quire of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Cathedral

Wes in sun cap with London cab

Buckingham Palace

Diaper change outside of Buckingham Palace

Baby Vera

St. James Park

We began Saturday with a trip across the Millenium Bidge,  past the Tate Modern and Globe Theater, to Borough Market.  A market has existed near London Bridge in one form or another for over a thousand years, and it remains a great place to buy produce, gourmet food items, and a quick, high-quality lunch.  I tried a Pimm’s lemonade and Katie and Wes shared a regular lemonade.  Next we took the Tube to Trafalgar Square to meet my friend Ramon.  Having not yet changed the clock on my phone from Belgian time, we arrived over an hour early.  Once I realized my mistake, we took the opportunity to visit St. Martin-in-the-Fields church and the National Gallery.  Most of the big museums in London, including the National Gallery, are free, which is a great idea in my opinion.  We spent just one hour there, but we saw enough to understand that it is one of the world’s great museums.  We managed to see most of the Dutch and Flemish paintings, including two Vermeer’s and a full room each of Rembrandt and Rubens.  St. Martin-in-the-Fields church was interesting to me because it is the original home of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields chamber orchestra, which is, so I’ve heard, the most recorded orchestra of all time. 

Millenium Bridge near Tate Modern

Borough Market

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Interior of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

National Gallery

Baby tourist

Saturday was the only day that we had any rain in London.  The rain was not hard and lasted just long enough to give us a taste of London in the rain.  It stopped by the time we met Ramon.  He took us through Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Covent Garden, and to dinner in Chinatown.  After dinner, he helped us onto a double-decker bus back to Club Quarters, our home away from home away from home.   

Staying dry in Trafalger Square

Dan and Ramon in Piccadilly Circus

Ramon is one of my best friends from the time I spent at the Yale School of Music.  He moved to London six years ago and has developed his career as a clarinetist and clarinet mouthpiece craftsman.  On Sunday, he came to the hotel and let me try some of his mouthpieces.  He also put a terrific new facing on the old Lelandais mouthpiece I found in our Sint-Jacob flea market.  

Ramon working his mouthpiece magic

After the mouthpiece session, Ramon took us via Kensington Gardens and Royal Albert Hall to the Royal College of Music, where he did an artists diploma.  We had Sunday dinner (Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for me) at a pub, and stopped briefly outside of Harrods department store.   

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Ramon in front of the Royal College of Music

Sunday dinner in a British pub

Monday we checked out of our hotel, visited the Tate Modern, met Ramon for lunch at a fantastic Turkish deli, and then went to St. Pancras to catch our afternoon train back to Brussels.  On our way to the station, we spent some time in Regent’s Park.  British gardens have a charm distinct from those of the continent.  They are more wild and whimsical, and to me more relaxing.  Katie had read online that a gate at Regent’s Park was the model for the one in Disney’s Mary Poppins where Bert makes his chalk drawings.  The park certainly reminded us of the movie, but we couldn’t pin down an exact match with any of the gates we saw.   

Bro and sis relaxing in the hotel

Tate Modern

The view across the Thames from a Tate Modern balcony

Turkish Deli

Wes's "house" in Regent's Park

English-style garden (St. James)

After nine months in Belgium, London felt several steps closer to home.  Everything was back in English, buildings and streets had a familiar feel, and in general we felt more at ease.  Moving from the exotic to the familiar, we felt a little as if we were on a vacation to home.  Indeed, we relaxed and slept quite a lot during our five days there, just like you do when you are home from college.  Talking to my Belgian friends, I was surprised to learn how many of them, given how short the trip is, had never been to London.  To me, this is a good example of why the European Union is not directly analogous to the United States.  EU countries have relatively little in common with one another culturally speaking.  Ghent is just 200 miles from London, yet almost everything about the two places is different.  

The differences between American and British English caused one or two misunderstandings.  For example, when we got on the tube for the first time, an older man asked us, “Are you alright?”  We replied that we were alright, but that we were getting on the Tube for the first time and trying to figure out the system.  He showed us the way to our train.  Later, a cashier asked Katie, “Are you alright?” and she responded that she was fine and then asked if he was alright.  We were beginning to think that we must really look like a wreck and in need of help, but Ramon later explained to us that in England “Are you alright?” is used the instead of “How are you?”  We were relieved to know that we don’t look like a total pity case.   

De Gekroonde Hoofden
June 3, 2010, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Belgium, Clarinet, Ghent, Travel | Tags: , , ,

As you may recall, back in April I played a triple clarinet concerto, Michael Kibbe’s “Triple Threat,” with Gawein Antonie and Danre Strydom.  In addition to the concerto, we played a different Kibbe trio, “Ebony Suite,” for our fall chamber music exam, and then a completely wacko trio by Vinko Globokar for our spring chamber music exam.  All in all, we spent a lot of time together and became good friends.  To celebrate a successful year, we three went out for ribs at De Gekroonde Hoofden (The Crowned Heads) with Katie and the kids.  Spare ribs are sort of a speciality in Ghent, popular with locals and tourists alike.  The most famous ribs restaurant is Amadeus (of which there are now three locations in Ghent alone), but there are a few other nice places as well.  De Gekroonde Hoofden is in a cool old building with the heads of kings carved into the facade, situated just across from the canal from the Gravensteen.  You choose from four different sauces (original, spicy, honey, sweet and sour), and the waiters will bring as many ribs as you can eat for a flat price.  Katie and I both prefered the ribs at De Gekroonde Hoofden to those at Amadeus, but we did miss the baked potatoes with garlic curry sauce that you get at Amadeus.  In any case, we recommend going out for ribs when you’re in Ghent.

Keeping Wes busy putting toothpicks into bread

Danre and Wes by the enormous fireplace

After the meal, we recruited Gawein to take a few pictures of our family.  Since one of us is usually behind the camera, we have relatively few with all four of us.

In front of the Gravensteen

On the bridge near the Vleeshuis

Earlier in the day, Wes went poopy on the toilet for the very first time.  As promised, he got a special present as a reward.  We haven’t pushed potty training too hard with him, but it is exciting to see steps in the right direction.

Wes with his new Lego circus train

Travel Plans, Summer Weather, Marionettes
May 24, 2010, 6:04 pm
Filed under: Ghent, London, Paris, Travel

After a lot of discussion and some back-and-forth, the date for our return to Minnesota is set for Friday morning, June 11th, 2010.  We fly British Airways (Brussels – London – Chicago – Minneapolis), arriving at MSP Friday night at 9:25 p.m.  We had planned on coming home the first week of July, but there is an audition I want to take in Oklahoma City June 16th.  Since our house won’t be ready until July 1st, we will stay for a few weeks with our parents. 

Now that we are sure of our departure date, we have begun preparing for the move: returning borrowed items, giving away things we don’t plan to bring home (almost everything), strategizing about packing, etc.  We have also booked two final sightseeing trips, one to London (May 27-31) and one to Paris (June 8-9).  If you think it sounds a little crazy to be in Paris two days before we leave for Minneapolis, I’m inclined to agree with you, but Katie is adamant about saying “good-bye” to Paris, so we will go.  London has been on our list of must-see cities since the very beginning.  Everyone gushes about it and neither of us has ever been there, so we’re excited.  These last three weeks will doubtless be busy and full of mixed emotions for us. 

The weather in Ghent has been unbelievably nice for almost a week straight.  Clear blue skies, temperatures around 80, and holiday crowds (Pentecost) have drawn us outside to enjoy some of the things near our apartment that we tend to take for granted.  Twice over the weekend we heard live music coming from Vrijdagmarkt:  first a small town band, then a fife and drum corp.  These were wind bands sounding their best in their native environment! 

Watching the band in Vrijdagmarkt

Is that a C clarinet?

Fife and drum corp

Saturday we took in the marionette show at the Huis van Alijn, a great museum of Flemish “everyday life.”  Despite being entirely in Dutch, the show held Wes’s attention for the full hour-and-a-half.  The plot was peculiarly Belgian:  

A statue of the town’s first mayor has stood in the same spot, in the same square, for 100 years.  The current mayor proposes to replace it with a statue of himself, resulting in protests from the town’s people.  A group of thieves make off with the statue and a bag of municipal funds, but the town clown saves the day, recovering both the statue and the money.  The statue is returned to its rightful place, and everyone is happy. 

Upstairs to the marionette theater

Marionette show with (left to right) the statue, the town clown, and a police man.

Sunday we had lunch at Eden Restaurant, a place we pass everyday at the corner where Baudelostraat meets Vrijdagmarkt, but where we had never eaten.  We ordered pasta (we continually see people eating pasta there) and listened to the fife and drum corps through the open windows.  We felt like real Gentenaars!

Out and about near Portus Ganda

Lunch at Eden Restaurant


May 22, 2010, 12:34 am
Filed under: Belgium, Expat, Ghent | Tags: , , , ,

Having completed my five-part April travel retrospective, I’m at last back to the present on the blog.  First, though, just a couple of pictures of our friend Merethe, who visited for a couple of days at the beginning of May. We had a nice time with her in Brussels and Ghent!

Merethe, Katie, Vera, and Wes on the train from Brussels to Ghent

Merethe and Wes at MSK Ghent (fine arts museum)

Besides keeping everyone back home up to date, one of the main objectives of this blog is to document our adventure abroad for future reference. As we begin to wrap up our time here, I want to devote a few posts to aspects of our daily life in Ghent.

The differences between Minnesota and Belgium range from the obvious (language, politics, weather) to the subtle (the kiss hello, pedestrian right of way at crosswalks, the not-quite-so-spicy “Spicy Italian” at Subway). It’s the many subtle little differences that have reminded us from day to day that we are living in a foreign country. One thing that has taken me the last nine months to fully realize, for example, is that fresh milk is almost non-existent in Belgium.  Small grocers and convenience stores stock only UHT, or long life, milk, which you buy in cartons off unrefrigerated shelves.  Fresh milk is hard to come by.  We used to be able to buy it at the Carrefour Express near our apartment, but it has recently disappeared there as well. According to Euromonitor International (via Times Online), 96.7 percent of milk consumed in Belgium is UHT, the highest of any European country.  Wes doesn’t know the difference, but to me it tastes strange. It’s somewhere between fresh milk and powdered or canned milk.

Milk selection at a Belgian grocery store

Another difference – one that we’ve adjusted to by now – is store hours.  Most retailers are open 10-6, may or may not close for lunch, are closed Sundays, and may be closed Mondays or other random days.  Then, if you need something after 6 p.m, you go to a nachtwinkel, or “night shop.”  Nachtwinkels are similar to, but not quite the equivalent of, American-style convenience stores.  Convenience stores in the States, as I think of them, are open 24/7, and provide one-stop shopping for essential groceries (like fresh milk), health/beauty products, magazines, a few car-care items (oil, anti-freeze, wiper blades), and (in some states) alcohol. In Belgium, or at least in Ghent proper, you go to any one of four or five different stores depending on what you need and when you need it: news stands, produce shops, pharmacies, health/beauty shops, auto parts stores, wine shops, or nachtwinkels. Nachtwinkels don’t carry everything, though, so if you need produce or a magazine after 6 p.m. you’re probably out of luck. The really puzzling thing to me is that sometimes a nachtwinkel is located right next to a grocery store, its day-time equivalent. It’s as if the shop keeper closes the grocery at six, and then walks next door to open the nachtwinkel. Why not just consolidate the two and stay open round the clock, thereby cutting costs practically in half and offering a wider selection of stuff? My best guess is that there is a law keeping it this way. One nice thing, at least, is that nachtwinkels are absolutely everywhere. We have four within a three-minute walk of our place.

J.J.S Nacht Winkel (left) and J.J.S Super Market (right). Same owner, basically same products, but different shops with different hours.

Incidentally, the owner of the J.J.S shops (pictured above) has recently taken over Pizza Bella Italia, our favorite Indian restaurant in Ghent.  They are now offering an all-you-can-eat buffet for 9.95 Euro.  It’s the first in Ghent that I’m aware of, and it’s very good.  I hope it will be a big success.  Every decent college town needs a good and cheap Indian buffet.  The owner says that they will be changing the decor to something more Indian, so hopefully they also change their name to something more Indian.

Pizza Bella Italia, Ghent's first Indian buffet!

Finally, here are two short videos that Katie shot a while back of  a strange scene by the river.  Maybe someone played a practical joke?