Author Archive: Brian

Belgium Beers

It wasn’t exactly a “Beer Tour”, but it was fun to try several new (and some familiar) beers that I don’t see much of in the US.


The Trappist Rochefort 10 was probably my favorite. The “10” is the alcohol content, so maybe it’s everyone’s favorite by the time they’re done. But I genuinely enjoyed it from the beginning.  Rochfort-10


And the Westmalle Triple was probably #2. It’s very Belgian, in that it’s much sweeter than typical American beers – or any others that I’m familiar with, for that matter, but it had enough hints of hops that I liked it.Westmalle-triple

This was not so much for the beer – though it was reasonable – but for the drinking partner and the fact that the Delirium has 27 beers on tap upstairs and “3000” different bottled beers downstairs. Articles I’ve read about the place say they maintain at “least one beer for every year in the Christian calendar.” so whether it’s 2014 or 3000, it’s really impressive.

Nonetheless, I ordered their IPA, and it was still Belgian: Sweet, thought it had more hops than anything else I’d tried thus far. Delerium ramee

Stella is a good g0-to pils. I’m familiar with it, and it’s easy, and while it’s light and not hoppy, it’s also much less sweet than typical Belgian beers. Leffe is simlar.

leffe-stella Grimbergen

NOT what I would traditionally call an IPA, but hey, they know beer here, so maybe *I’m* wrong. Prearis-IPA

Farewell Belgium

Farewell Belgium – Lessons Learned

 We have left Brussels now.

Now that we’re warmed up for a couple weeks and know how to live our lives and be comfortable in someone else’s home, we’re ready for the big time. We’re heading to Paris for a few weeks.

Now that it’s been a little while, and we’ve been proving the “Workation” concept – that we really can work from anywhere, I’m reflecting on a couple things that I would consider next time, and pass along as lessons.
We’re working California hours because the fact that we are doing this at all is a privilege. We don’t want to make the people we work with have to adjust for us or be inconvenienced at all. But being 9 hours ahead means we’re working a 6:00pm to 2:00 am shift. That’s fine in itself. We just sleep in, but THAT, in turn means, a couple things to keep in mind…

  1. As much time after work as one might normally spend socializing, or hanging out with the family, or doing whatever tasks and chores one does, is as much time as we have before work to do what we do. The fact that we’re not paying bills, or making home repairs, or other being-at-our-own-home responsibilities provides a little more time, but still, we don’t have full days to do our sight-seeing.
    Therefore, I am grateful that we had over a week in Brussels, and 4 whole weeks in Paris. We’re not getting out of the house until noon or so, and need to be back by 6:00pm. If you ask the kids, 6 hours is more than enough, but when you factor in travel time, and all the “what-exactly-should-we-do-and-how-do-we-get-there” time, it leaves room for about two attractions.

    So lesson 1: Know that you only have a limited time for sight-seeing. Use it wisely.

    We’re going with the front-loading plan and seeing the big stuff early, and then nibble at the rest over the second half of our stay. It worked great in Brussels. We’ll try again in Paris.

  2. Everything above would normally be fine in most places and you just make your adjustments, but there’s a lot of beer here. And I did what I could to try several Belgian beers, but the problem is THEN I’m going to work. While that SOUNDS like a good idea, well…, you understand.

    Lesson 2: Maybe don’t try to work from the road if the road leads you to an endless supply of good beers to drink.

    I don’t know. This one’s thin, at best.

  3. An extension of problem 2 is that we didn’t get out at night in Belgium. I would have liked to spend some time in the city center at night, but that couldn’t happen. We’ll make sure it does in Paris, but it’ll have to be weekends.

    Lesson 3: Make your Weekends count.

    That might translate to real life too, but it’s a challenge for me at home, so this is good practice.



Vanessa’s here too

Here’s a post so eveyone knows Vanessa is here with us. She’s carefully avoided all posts thus far, hasn’t she?






Our street in Brussels


We haven’t talked much about the fact that we’re in Brussels. It’s a three-city tour and we’re here for 10 days. That’s our street above. It’s quite magical, really.


From the Atomium

Several people have asked, “Why Brussels?” And the truth is, “because someone there wanted to swap with us.” But it’s actually a beautiful city. Plus, because of our work schedule, we only have a few hours per day to go see anything, so I think it works out perfectly. There aren’t a lot of touristy things to see – the Atomium is just around the corner, the Palace area, and we went to the Musical Instruments museum yesterday (see Vanessa’s post) – but we love just being in a new place and eating new foods (not mayonnaise on our fries, mind you), and seeing people living their lives outside of our bubble. If someone else was touring Europe on vacation, I don’t think I would suggest a whole week and a half in Brussels. But if someone was doing their “Work from home” thing from a swapped home, Brussels  is as cool a place as any.

All that said, today we’re heading to Bruges for the weekend on several people’s recommendation. It looks beautiful, so I’m  psyched.


Back to Work

We’re back to work now.

I started Monday, and Vanessa started up again today.

To recap – we both work from home full time, with occasional in-person meetings with clients. We figured if we can work from OUR home, then we can probably work from ANYONE’S home. And then we went even further and guessed we could probably work from anyone’s home in EUROPE! So here we are.

But we started the trip in Southern France (which sounds less pretentious than “the South of France”, right?), so we decided that week would be a vacation. I’m glad we did that because it let us get somewhat acclimated to the time change. “Acclimated” in this case, means somehow the kids got onto a sleeping schedule of midnight – 11 or noon, and I was more like 2 – 10. We sort’a did it on purpose (or didn’t fight it) because we’ll be working 4-midnight at best, and sometimes later shifts depending on meetings and client needs. But that meant we weren’t getting out of the house until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, we went to the Orange (Verizon of France) store in downtown Sete earlier in the week and got new pre-paid SIM cards for our phones; Made sure we had reliable Internet at the house; and upgraded our Skype accounts to $3/mo for calling land lines in the US (3 frikin’ dollars! And Skype works on the mobile phones too – though it does eat up data usage). We’re all set on the technology front.

Monday comes around and I have a meeting at 7:00PM. We had gone back down the beach in the early evening, and being the showoff that I am, I didn’t put too much energy in getting back in time, and took the meeting from the beach…in (this time it is pretentious) the South of France. I used my mobile phone because “hey, I have a mobile plan”, and the International rate of calling the US ate up my free $5 credit-toward-anything and my $20 card plan didn’t include international calling. So I called back into my meeting with Skype – as I should have done in the first place – and connected ok initially, but after a few seconds of me apologizing for falling off the call the first time, the quality drops and I can’t hear or say anything.


This working from abroad thing isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

So I walked back to the house, by which time I missed the meeting, but in the end, really, everything worked out with the client.  I wish I tried to start a little slower though. It turned out I had forgotten to disable WiFi on the phone, so I wasn’t using the mobile data. Instead, I was using France’s Free WiFi, I was getting France’s Free WiFi’s quality.

Lesson learned!

Sete-WorkstationBut now to get into the working groove. I set up a workstation for myself. I stand at my desk most of the time, rather than sit. So I got something set up, and can look out the windows at the Mediterranean as I work. That doesn’t suck. You can’t see it in the picture because of the lighting, but the lower half of what looks like an all-white sky in the picture is actually blue sea. A picture tells a thousand words, and sometimes a few more words are needed to fully describe the picture.

Day two: I accepted a meeting at 4:30PST. That means 1:30 – 2:30 in morning here. That should be fine, right? That’s what I signed up for. Except we moved from Sete to Brussels yesterday, and had to get up at 7:30 to catch a 9:02 train, and then travel most of the day, and settle in, and figure out everything we’d need in the new house, and learn that Orange doesn’t actually have coverage in Belgium as we were led to believe.

But I made it. Thank you Skype…and coffee, and a short nap.

And now it’s Day 3. We got new SIMs for Belgium and learned how to make cheap Intl calls without Skype if that’s what we need to do, so that’s all good. And I’m working a full day (including writing this, or course), and had a few meetings, and we juggled the kids, and dinner, and bedtime, and more meetings, and it’s all good. We’re tired for sure, but I think this is going to be fine.

Stay tuned.

Sans Issue

Sans Issue

The other night was a little bit stressful because things didn’t go according to plan and we had to adapt. In truth, the only real issue that caused any amount of concern was getting replacement tickets for the train ride we had missed (see the previous post). We really had no idea what to do. Vanessa had taken care of all the train plans, so I was just following along – so I felt completely unfamiliar with what was going on, or even what we were trying to even do. I’m not so sure she had any more confidence than I did, but she handled it perfectly. We wandered around the train station for a little while, and found what looked like ticketing windows. In fact, there were 3 different lines for what appeared to be 3 different services. One was clearly for International travel, but the other two lines weren’t obvious. The shorter of the mystery lines seemed like a fancier service than the other, had one open service window, about 5 people waiting, and was labeled something related to “Immediate” plans. The other line was a mystery, but had about 15 people in line and 3 open windows. V had the tickets and got in the fancy immediate service line, and I got in the longer one to hold a place in case hers was wrong. She got to the one window, explained the situation (we missed our train 15 minutes ago) got tickets for tomorrow’s 9:15AM train, and learned that the 5 or 6 hotels that the woman on the other side of the window would normally recommend were all full. My line didn’t move at all in that time.

We had new tickets for tomorrow’s train, and needed to find a place to sleep, ideally near the station, and it was starting to rain a little. Rain? It’s Summer. My Marin County-native mind does not get this. 2 Weeks ago I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a meeting with DHL and it rained. It seemed so wrong. Winter = rain. Summer = sun. Right? Well, apparently not outside the bubble.

So, light rain, new tickets, need a place to stay. Oh, and we don’t really have phones because we’ve shut off all data/voice in fear of million-dollar charges. BUT, we got online using the free WiFi throughout Paris, searched for hotels in our vicinity, and picked a pair based on price. We dragged our luggage 3 blocks and got a room. A tiny, tiny room. It did have a queen-sized bed and 2 twins, but those took up pretty much all the space. But it worked, and only cost a couple hundred bucks. <gulp>. We dumped our stuff and went out to eat at one of the many curb-side eateries while watching the Germans smack the bejeebers out of the Brazilians in the World Cup semifinals.

Here’s the fun part, and the reason for the photo: Anyway, 20 years, ago, when I did a Eurorail-style tour of Europe with my friend Danny, early into our trip we adopted the ideal that “everything works out,” because, well, everything worked out. We lost a passport in Amsterdam, but got it replaced; We had trouble finding places to stay in Pamplona, but eventually found a spot in the park; Got lost in London, but found our way back; and so on.

Forward to now: Outside our tiny hotel room, across the tinier hallway was a sign on a door reading, “Sans Issue”. Within the confines of our extremely limited French, we liked the idea that it meant, “Without Issues” (knowing it probably didn’t). Here we are again: No train, no language, no hotel, but it worked out fine. No Issues. Just a reminder that little hiccups in plans and hurdles to work around will happen. They’re only as big as we make them.

Hopefully, we don’t read too much into the fact that it actually means “No Exit”

Leaving Marin

The Calders’ Epic 2014 Summer Adventure – Episode 1

We are in France.

As I write this, the four of us are on a train racing south from Paris to Montpelier where we’ll hop onto another train to Sète. I’m really struck by the landscape. Of course I’ve heard of the beautiful French countryside, and I’m seeing a slice of it. And maybe this is what people have been talking about. But specifically, what I’m loving about this are two very specific differences to what I see in the states (or at least my Californian bubble as I drive up highway 5 or something):

farmlandThis is primarily farmland. But the different farms, or plots, or crops, or whatever they are, rather than a nice, even grid of rectangles, are all different shapes separated most of the time by a row of thick, mature trees – like a giant art-decco stained glass window was carved into an old, dense forest.

villageSecondly, they have “villages” here. Real frikin’ villages. Every few miles, popping up within these random polygons of crops is an old church with a blatantly tall spire surrounded by 20 to 100 virtually identical houses tightly gathered around it. I never really knew what a village was. But there they clearly are scattered all over – mostly the first half of this journey – being real villages…I think.

All of this was supposed to happen last night, but we missed tht train. And now I’m kind’a glad we did because I would have missed all these real-life villages in the dark. We flew in from San Francisco yesterday evening, landed at 5:15 or so, and after a very easy stop in customs and an uneventful wait for baggage claim, we caught a taxi to an intimidatingly large train station. We had about 2 hours to accomplish all that, but we fell into “Paris Traffic,” as the driver labeled it. I would have explained that it was very similar to “California Traffic”, but he didn’t speak any English. Come to think of it, he’s the only person we’ve run into over the last 36 hours who we can’t talk to.

Obviously, we got it worked out, but spent the night in Paris last night and caught the train this morning.

Why are we on a high-speed train heading toward the South of France? Because that’s the first (planned) stop in the Calders’ Epic 2014 Summer Adventure. Apparently, Paris was the actual first stop, but whatever. That’s what makes it an adventure.

The plan was set in motion back in February of this year, when we were in Sayulita, Mexico, and decided that we should spend the whole Summer THERE. Actually, the plan was set in motion many years ago when we both starting working from home full-time, and I’ve been whining about the fact that we could live virtually anywhere in the world, yet I’m spending my 44th year in the Bay Area. Vanessa finally pointed out, in Sayulita, why don’t we just start with 2 months instead of actually MOVING? Why not? Turns out Sayulita, Mexico is really, really hot in the Summer though, and really, really humid. And there are bugs the size of antelopes. Or not – depending who you ask. Half the people we talked to who live there year-round said it’d be too hot for us, and the other half smiled and said THEY love it.

So, when we got back home from Sayulita, we created an account on and started poking around. Somehow, we settled on Europe, and one Sunday afternoon, we sent out 127 emails to people all over Europe whose profiles indicated that had some amount of interest in coming to California. Many were only looking for a week or so, or already had plans, or weren’t interested for one reason or another. But, a few people responded favorably, and after a couple weeks and some back and forth emails, we’re set up to swap homes with one family in Belgium and one in Paris. Throw in a week visiting a friend in the South of France and voila! Here we are.

And when you’re doing something like this, friends and family want to know how it works, and what kind of success and complexities we encounter throughout the planning and execution. Because they want to do it too. So, here’s the blog that will hopefully serve as both a communication of our day-to-day experiences in an international home swap, AND, a shared log of our musings of the French culture, wine and beer, fast trains, villages, and who knows what else.

Stay tuned, please.