I Get a Taste of New York… in Belgium

It wasn’t too long ago that David, Sushi (our cat) and I used to live in a two bedroom apartment in East Harlem. It was just last October that I was interviewing Richard Branson in Battery Park City for an article that made the cover of the November issue of Entrepreneur magazine. It was just last December that David was preparing a Christmas feast for his employers in their Manhattan penthouse that included celebrity guests and $1800 per 125 gram “000” Beluga caviar. It was just last last winter that I and the rest of New York couldn’t wait for Spring to arrive and it was just earlier this year that I strolled through Central Park on a gloriously beautiful Spring day. But since we arrived in Spain where the pace of life is slower, the average worker only works 36-38 hours per week, and taxis don’t dominate the roads, our life in New York has started to feel like it happened a long time ago.

And just when it was starting to feel like another life altogether, I got an email from a PR friend in New York City that would bridge the two worlds. I was being invited to cover the inauguration of a new train station in Liege, Belgium. The station had been designed by architect Santiago Calatrava – interestingly the same exact architect now working on the World Trade Center. Press was arriving from the US and from all over Europe, and Calatrava, himself, would be giving a personal tour of the station the day before the official inauguration.

It was an absolutely amazing opportunity, and I was thrilled to get the chance to go see it for myself and to visit a European city that I had not yet been to. But going on a press trip meant that I had to look professional and after wearing sandals and tank tops all summer, I wasn’t in the least bit prepared to be attending such a nice event. So David started opening all the boxes that we had pretty much left untouched since they had arrived in the 59 footer and together we searched for my business casual clothes. They were in there somewhere. We got lucky and found my suit pants in box one, but it wasn’t until box 22 hidden in the closet that we finally pulled out my suit jacket. I packed my one cocktail dress and David and I headed out to the mall and found 2 euro shoes to go with the dress.

After about two days preparing, I was ready for the trip. And at 7:30 in the morning last Wednesday, we packed the scooter with my garment bag and duffel bag and set off for the airport. I hopped on the plane, arrived in Belgium four hours later, and, though I was still in Europe, I was immediately immersed in the New York style of life. The press kit in the room briefing us on why we were there, the six Americans all commiserating about how unfortunate it was that New York had lacked a real summer this year, the work days that never really ended as emails bounced back and forth across the Atlantic on constantly active BlackBerrys, and the exchange of business cards that held promise for future meetings and work partnerships.

It was New York business but in a setting of European charm. French all around me. How I absolutely reveled in being surrounded by it! I could understand, I could speak, I could even translate for the group! A beautiful river passing right in front of the hotel that started in France, passed through Belgium and continued on to Holland. And the beautiful architecture that just doesn’t exist in the US.

I have always loved Europe’s architecture. When living in Paris for a year after college, I walked the streets hours on end, thrilled to be in the presence of such magnificence. But when we met Calatrava and got a personal tour of the train station, just prior to the unveiling of a 12 year project, it was an entirely different experience. His work came to life and I could suddenly look beyond just the aesthetics and see and understand the beauty of architecture on a much deeper level.

Already, it was fantastic and then it just got better. We were invited to a special dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in Liege and dined in the company of Calatrava and his wife, the ex prime minister of Belgium, and the president of the station. We got to stand in the VIP section (with about 3,000 other people) at the inauguration of the station, just feet away from the Prince of Belgium, and we got to see the only showing of a Cirque du Soleil performance created just for the station’s inauguration.

I am back in Torrevieja now. I haven’t seen a single American and there isn’t a BlackBerry in sight. Hand out a business card here and people aren’t quite sure what they’re supposed to do with it. But, as my New York life collided with my European life last week, I realized that life’s different paths don’t always lead to a clear cut end. Sometimes, two independent paths lead back to a single point where they intersect, even if only for a brief moment in time.


7 responses to “I Get a Taste of New York… in Belgium

  1. That is so awesome that you were asked to do that. What a cool way to travel. I hope you got to do some sight seeing along the way.

  2. What an unbelievably incredible experience! You know you have always been a VIP to me but I’m glad you got the treatment you deserve! Meeting Calatrava & being in such company – wow! The world is so interconnected & you definitely revolve in some impressive circles! I’m totally amazed – just reading about where you’ve been & what you’ve done!

  3. Wow Sara!! How amazing, I have no words. You got to be part of a historical moment. The station looks absolute breath taking. Seems like it might make being in Europe well worth it!? Congratulations! No doubt this is an event you will cherish forever. I am glad to get to experience it with you through you blog!!!

  4. What an amazing experience! you definitely deserve it. I am glad that even being here in Spain, you get these kinds of opportunities. I love You

  5. I love that David went shoe shopping with you. He’s the best. 🙂 And ah, European architecture…sigh. You made me long to see it again.

  6. The experience was an amazing one, and I felt extremely fortunate to be a part of it all! And, yes, David is the best. Not only did he go shoe shopping with me but he ironed all my clothes so that I would look my best. Can’t ask for more!

  7. All I can say is Wow! Harry and I are so envious! Belgium looks cool. I love the pic with the bride and groom in it! And the train station looks really beautiful. I hope this is just the beginning of many exciting adventures for you!

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