So, a few weeks ago, Brussels had its annual Food Truck Festival - food? festival? Yep, I'm gonna want to check that out. Luckily, Shannon from Almost Bilingue, along with her husband, a friend and her ex-flatmate of the sadly defunct I Fly a Starship blog also wanted to discover the delights of the food truck festival. Shannon and I have been talking about meeting up since I moved to Brussels nearly a year ago (gasp), thus bringing me pretty close to Lille, where she lives, but there's never been a good time until now.
Blog relationships are a funny thing - it's strange to know so much about someone you've never met, and vice versa, and at the same time you're conscious of all the gaps in the story - some people don't blog about relationships, many about work, or their friends, or the mundane, everyday parts of life. So it can definitely be weird meeting someone you've known for years - nearly six years in this case - and seen through major life events - moving, marrying, changing jobs - all without ever meeting.
Shannon is in fact one of my oldest blog friends, since I think she first got on my radar via the old Assistants in France website, sometime in 2009 before I moved back here. That was during the year-and-a-half or so that I wasn't blogging, since the blog was, at first, mostly a way to let people back home know about my exciting adventures in Europe (most of whom no longer read this as far as I know), so there wasn't much point keeping it up when I was having less exciting adventures as a student and worker back in New Zealand.
So, six years ago I had not long moved back to Auckland from Wellington, and I was working full-time as a librarian (the first and only time in my life I've done that, despite that supposedly being my profession) while finishing up my second Masters degree at night. I was beginning to develop horrible RSI in my arm from spending all day and all night typing away on the computer, and contemplating whether or not to chuck in the 9 to 5 and move back to France to work as a language assistant after I'd finished my degree.
The other option would have been to move back to Wellington, to cover a former colleague's year-long maternity leave. It would have been a big pay rise, working with a nice team of people I already knew, and probably a good opportunity for career development. Plus I like Wellington, and at the time still had friends there from university, although most have moved away now. It was hard to know whether to pick that option - I pictured myself in a nice flat in central Wellington, sipping lattes in one of the many cafés (not really though, since I don't drink coffee) and barhopping through chic cocktail joints at night. Versus moving to France and trying to survive on the Côte d'Azur on 780€ a month while going back to teaching English, which I hated the first time round...
It was a tough choice, but in the end, I decided that if I didn't give it a go and see what happened heading back to Europe, I might fall into a settled-down life in New Zealand and it would never happen. I had to try and see where I ended up. The plan was always to try and parlay the seven months as a teaching assistant into a more permanent job in my chosen field, but even if I just ended up having a seven-month break in the South of France, that was worth experiencing, right?
The Assistants boards were a big part of ironing out the anxieties and uncertainties of taking this leap, and I remember in particular getting a lot of advice and reassurance from people who had already been there and done that, like Shannon, Ksam, Eyeleen and Jennie. I suppose these days new assistants just join groups on Facebook or follow people on Twitter, but I hope there's some resources out there for them, because even though I'd lived and travelled in Europe before, it was scary trying to figure out how to turn up halfway across the world, find somewhere to live in an expensive city on a tiny income, with zero help or communication from the new school I was meant to be starting work at within a few days of arriving.
Anyway, all this to say that Shannon and I go way back, a lot has changed in the last 6 years, and it was cool to finally meet her! I think there were no big surprises on my end at least, we hung out, ate good food, had some tasty cocktails, and had a good time! Since we were hanging out as a group and eating lots of yummy stuff, I probably didn't get the inside scoop on all the behind-the-blog gossip, so I have a good excuse to schedule a return visit to Lille some time :)
The Food Truck Festival was fun too. Lots of people and a fun atmosphere. My only complaint was that pretty much everywhere was serving full-meal sized portions, i.e. whole burgers or whatever, so it was hard to sample stuff from many places. Luckily Jules and I ended up going back the next day (since I went with Shannon on the Friday night before he got to Brussels) and spent really quite a long time there, plus we shared one of everything we got, so we ended up being able to try quite a few things.
|Jules enjoys a mid-day mojito, as you do|
|Time for some classy street cider-chugging. Strongbow FTW!|
|Hmm, not so sure about this?|
|Nope, it's all good!|
Our other favourite snack, delicious Japanese fried chicken strips from the equally cute Peko Peko van.
Walking back from drinks with Shannon and crew on the Friday night, we came across an illuminated Grand Place - I've never seen it lit up like this at night before, really pretty!