Saturday, February 16, 2008

Daydreaming of Antwerpen

Even though my friend Iene sees nothing special about Antwerp, all I can do now is daydream about where we can go, what we can do, and (look out waistline) what we can taste again.

I can't wait to walk up Sint-Katelijnvest to the Meir, stroll along past the shops, see again the baroque majesty of the buildings along Leysstraat, go to Nachtegalen Park on a Wednesday afternoon with friends when school lets out early, go to Linkeroever and visit the park along the river at van Eeden, hang out in the Groenplaats, explore the markets in the Hoogstraat neighborhood, visit the art museum, Korte Gasthuisstraat and the sweet little shops in that neighborhood, and on and on and on. We want to hang out at Het Elfde Gebod (the Eleventh Commandment) and take pictures this time! And I am going to email JieJie and MeiMei's former school to ask whether the girls might be able to go to school on a Friday around lunchtime and stay for the weekly puppet show, just for old times' sake. The girls rattled off the names of several people they hope to see again, not just at school but also Mr. K and his wife. We'll see the proprietors of the Highlander pub...the woman who runs 't Keizerke...the sweet ladies who sell bread at Goossens...the retired dancer who serves up great coffee and hot croissants at Chicco di Cafe...even though we were only there for four months, I have these faces in my memory...again, must take pictures!

John wants to go back to Brugge (gotta see that new movie In Bruges by the way). I'll be visiting a new business associate in Brussels--more on that later as we make our big announcement in the next couple of weeks. Because John is an historian, his half of the trip is tax deductible, and because I'm visiting T in Brussels to officially shake hands on a joint venture, my half will be tax deductible too! Unfortunately, the girls' visit to Plopsaland is not deductible as a professional expense...but hey, I thought "play was a child's work"!!! Does an established precept of developmental psychology carry no weight with the IRS? I guess not.

I have been hoping to work with more and more EU-based clients as I grow my small business, so another task on the to-do list for this trip is to open an account in euros that EU clients can transfer payments into without either of us having to pay a currency exchange fee. And really, with the euro as strong as it is right now, it makes a lot of sense just to keep some euros. If we keep traveling across the Atlantic every so often, we can use the euros while we're overseas and won't have to pay for currency exchange. Just have to check into tax liability...I'm sure there are some nuances there!


It's official - we can have the same apartment where we stayed in 2007!

In case you're going to Antwerp and don't have a "connection"--let me give you a great tip: go to and click on Holiday / Vacation rentals. There is a studio apartment on Korte Gasthuisstraat that lets for 800euros / fortnight (two weeks)--that's REALLY cheap compared to a hotel, and you'd have a kitchen, AND you would be right across the street from Goossens Bakery, the 7 & 8 tram lines, the Meir, Super GB supermarket, Groenplaats, you name it. That was our backup plan if good old 3B didn't come through.

This is so perfect - the girls already know the apartment, the rules, their way around, and we won't have to worry about paying twice for lodgings if we would like to take a small side trip in the midst of the Antwerp visit.

Now our travel agent at Carlson-Wagonlit is looking at flights. We can depart from anywhere on the East Coast between Richmond VA and New York City, and can fly to Brussels or Amsterdam, so that should give us some flexibility. Hoping to get roundtrips as cheaply as possible but right now they're (gulp) around $1,000 for a full-price ticket. Thank heavens the girls are under 12!!!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Europe '08, Revised

Once again, experience proves that a little research goes a long way!

Tuesday, John and I did not have classes to teach. It was Assessment Day (cue the choir) at JMU, the day when we see what our students have learned...or the day we see just how much they detest sitting in class taking long multiple choice tests when some of their friends have the day off...

And it was also Primary Day in Virginia. We dropped the girls off at school, voted (oh yeah!) and headed down I-81 to I-64 to Volvo of Charlottesville to check out the vehicles and the whole Overseas Delivery Program.

Pretty quickly, we settled on the Volvo XC90 because it seats 7 passengers. Even though the girls are just starting school, I've already seen the interdependence of the parent network around here. If you want people to be able to give your kids rides to stuff, you need to be able to reciprocate. It's only fair. So to get a vehicle that pretty much guarantees we could never bring a friend each for JieJie and MeiMei to the fair, the park, the mountains, or even just home from school...short-sighted to say the least.
We test-drove the xc90 and both found it comfortable, easy to handle (the thing has a gyroscope in the middle to keep track of "yaw"!) and with lots of extra little goo-gahs that make it feel extra luxurious. Knowing how much we'd save off the retail made it even more fun to drive.
We got some information about the Overseas Delivery Program. Basically you tell them when you want to show up in Sweden and what you want and they build it for you.
Just for fun, when I got home I made two different cost lists. One was the price of a new xc90 minus the OSD program discount and the cost of airfare to Europe. The other was the price of a Certified Pre-Owned 2007 xc90 and paying our own way to Europe.
Guess what? We come out better the second way!!! Especially when you take cash flow into consideration. A lower monthly payment is paramount. Once the euphoria from the trip wears off, there's that payment every month for five any trip worth eating ramen noodles half the month for? If we didn't have kids, maybe, but let's get real.
A brand-new xc90 is in the mid-40K range...OUCH. But a certified pre-owned '07 with 15,000 miles on it can go for just under $35K, and get this: the warranty is actually longer than it would be on a new car (6/100,000 vs. 4/50,000). Go figure! AND the used ones tend to be program cars that have some nice packages on them, but we wouldn't have to pay extra for those. The price is the price.
John says if the right one comes along, we could be driving a new-to-us xc90 in a matter of weeks, or even days. I'll let you know what happens, but FINALLY we have found a car that we both like, that has the mixture of sporty, practical, roomy, safe, and well-appointed that we were hoping to find. The gas mileage is not great (17/22), I have to say, but we really don't drive all that much, so it's ok. This car is the long trip-mobile, and it will be plenty comfortable. And if we can scratch together a decent downpayment, we can swing it as far as monthly payments go.
Next job...finding cheap fares to Europe. Good luck on that one, eh? If you see any deals from Dulles to Brussels or Amsterdam, lemme know.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...