Uni-Verse-City Blog is moving! Visit NicoleBasaraba.com

It was over two and a half years ago that I started this blog. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and look forward to continue writing over at my new website and blog now called The Chron-nicoles Blog!

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Uni-Verse-City Blog’s new home!

I started the Uni-Verse-City Blog back in August 2010, about seven months after I had moved to Brussels, Belgium to live and work. I wanted to keep a blog for a number of reasons: I wanted to write, and it was also a great way to show and tell my family and friends back home what I was up to. But the best bonus of all about keeping this blog, was getting to know the lovely community of bloggers and readers!

The Uni-Verse-City concept is a little abstract as detailed the About page, but this name left me room for versatility so that I could write about: travel, culture, books, and living in Brussels.  So I wrote one (uni) blog entry (verse) as often as I can no matter where in the world (city) I was.

The Chron-nicole’s Blog will have the same topics: travel, culture, lifestyle, and literature. It will chronicle my (Nicole) adventures and experiences = The Chron-nicoles. Over the years I expanded my blog’s content and The Chron-nicole’s Blog will continue to grow.

I will write about:

  • Travel (on Mondays)
  • Writing and literature (on Wednesdays)
  • It’s Canadian/Cultural reviews (on Thursdays)
  • Lifestyle pieces on fashion, holidays, city living, etc. (on Fridays)

The best way to follow The Chron-nicole’s Blog is to subscribe via email.
(You can also follow me on my Facebook page and Twitter.)

So please subscribe by email over at The Chron-nicoles Blog to keep receiving/following my blog posts. Feel free to say a quick hello by commenting on one of the blog posts or tweeting about the new website, so I know that you’ve made it over.  

Thank you to all my fabulous readers and I look forward to interacting with all of you over at Uni-Verse-City’s new home!

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21 Things I Miss About Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Capital Region Iris

Brussels Capital Region Iris

Now that I’ve moved back to my home country in Canada, there are several things I miss about living in Brussels. I came up with a list of 21 things. I stopped because I probably could have kept going for a while. The funny thing is that some of the items on this list were things about Brussels that I couldn’t wait to get away from.

Things I miss about Brussels:

  1. Carrying a freshly-baked baguette under my arm
  2. Strangers yelling “Excuse moi madame”
  3. Dodging huge potholes and bags of garbage on the cobblestoned sidewalks
  4. Taking the Metro
  5. The women’s voice in the Metro saying the next stop in three languages
  6. The misty rain
  7. The Arc de Triomphe

    Arc de Triomphe

    Arc de Triomphe

  8. Speaking in broken french
  9. After-work drinks on the patio with (~15) of my office colleagues at one table
  10. The cold rudeness of service staff
  11. Grand Place

    Hotel de Ville, Brussels Grand Place

    Hotel de Ville, Brussels Grand Place

  12. Frits (fries) in a cone
  13. Australian Ice Cream
  14. Leige Waffles
  15. Cote d’Or Chocolate
  16. Tiny coffees
  17. Manneken Pis

    Manneken Pis

    Manneken Pis

  18. Working in an office building that is in an old mansion
  19. Place Lux
  20. Random worker strikes and other news that’s so odd that it doesn’t sound real/true
  21. Markets, especially Christmas markets

When I look at photos from Belgium, I feel nostalgic so I have a feeling that it won’t be too long before I’m booking a vacation to Europe.

Did you come back from living abroad and miss “random” things about the country/culture? Were there things that you were surprised you missed?

Posted in Lifestyle, Living in Brussels, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Labrador Retrievers – They’re Canadian

Welcome Canadian Thursdays, the day of the week when I talk about something or someone you may or may not have known is Canadian.

It always surprises me when someone doesn’t know what a Labrador Retriever is, especially if they’re a Canadian. Labradors are most commonly referred to as labs and I happen to have a big soft spot for them.

Black Labrador Retriever

The modern Labrador’s ancestors originated from Newfoundland, now part of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Labs descend from the St. John’s Water Dog, another breed from Newfoundland that most likely resulted from mixing Irish English and Portuguese working dogs. Labs sometimes have the adorable tuxedo markings of their ancestors, the St. John’s Water Dog, with white spots on their chest, feet and/or chin.

St. John’s Water Dog

The St. John’s Water Dog was utilized by fisherman to carry ropes and retrieve fishnets in the water and they later became known for waterfowl hunting. Labs are known to be great hunting companions particularly for duck hunting because they retrieve the birds and carry them with their soft mouth so that they don’t damage the bird.

From experience of growing up with three labs, caring for a litter of 9 puppies, and fostering a few other labs, I can tell you that stuffed birds that “quack” are the best toys you can buy for a lab. They will walk around with the toy in their mouth as if they were the King or Queen of Retrieving and they’ll be so proud to show it to you every time even if the toy bird’s head is falling off due to being carried around so much.

The modern Labrador breed was established by the first and second Earls of Malmesbury of England through importing and breeding St. John’s Dogs in England, which became known as the Buccleuch Avon dogs. The St. John’s Dog’s were called Labradors in England to distinguish them from the larger Newfoundland breed.

Newfoundland dog

Labs come in variations of three main colours: yellow, black, and chocolate. Yellow labs were established by English breeders in the 1980’s and chocolate labs came to be through crossbreeding with Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

In addition to different colouring, Labs also have two main lines known as Confirmation, which is English or show-style, and Field, which is an American and working line. Conformation labs tend to be shorter, stockier and cuter because of their fuller face and Field labs are often taller, thinner and tend of have a longer nose.

Conformation yellow lab

Field Black Lab

Chocolate, Yellow, and Black lab

Conformation labs tend to be calmer and Field labs are often have higher energy levels. Many people may know of Labradors from the movie (or book) “Marley and Me.”  This movie bothered me not only because it has a sad ending but also because it gives labs a bad reputation. If you watch the trailer they say “the world’s worst dog” multiple times. Not all labs have the personality as portrayed by Marley. In my opinion, Marley was not a well-trained Field dog who needed more exercise and his behavior is a reflection of his owners. The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed (aka TOP DOG) since 1991 according to the Canadian Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, and UK Kennel Club! And it’s the most popular for a reason: because it’s a great dog to have.

Having grown up with a female Conformation black lab, a male Field chocolate lab and a handful of other black labs, I can tell you that each lab definitely has its own personality. It’s true that labs have a lot of energy and they love to play fetch and retrieve. It’s in their blood. And yes they love to chew everything when between six weeks and three years of age (like a human baby puts everything in its mouth) and maybe they will chew throughout their whole life, but it usually tapers off and becomes limited to their own toys.

It has happened on more than one occasion to come home and find a carpet or the armrest of a chair chewed to bits. However, I have never seen a lab rip through a house and destroy all the objects in its path like in the movie Marley and Me. Nor do most lab owners tie their dog up to a rickety patio table for cinematic effect when the dog takes off chasing after something like a bird. A well-trained lab would stare at the bird, maybe stand up and bark at it and it might start lunging towards it if it got closer, but it wouldn’t bolt after it.

They do like to play and if you make trying to get whatever they’re holding in their mouth a game, you will always loose. Labs, like any other dog breeds need to be properly trained. You need to teach them when its time to be serious and “work” and when its time to play. Labs love you unconditionally and they are outgoing and friendly. They stay by your side. They are known to be even-tempered and a great family dog.

The chocolate lab I grew up with will always be my favorite dog. No dog will be able to replace him and I still miss him. Man’s best friend.

You know you want one

Have you ever owned a lab? Did you know they were Canadian? What did you think of Marley and Me (movie or book) and its portrayal of labs?

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Actor Kevin Zegers – He’s Canadian

Welcome Canadian Thursdays, the day of the week when I talk about something or someone you may or may not have known is Canadian.

So this is the first edition of Canadian Thursdays. Being a Canadian who lived in Belgium for 2.5 years, I’ve written a lot about my travels and I will continue to do so. But now that I’m back in Canada, I’m getting back in touch with my “Canadian-ness” and so I’m going to highlight cool things about my home and native land.

Good Day Dr. Muir

Since I wrote about Titanic Belfast on Monday, there was no way I could skip over talking about Kevin Zegers. He is playing the role of Dr. Mark Muir on the TV series currently airing on CBC called “Titanic: Blood and Steel.” Hello history with a side of yum!

Kevin Zegers is a Canadian actor born in Woodstock, Ontario. His grandparents were born in the Netherlands, which may explain his last name, tendency to wear his hair long, and his eyes that are as blue as the Irish Sea the Titanic set sail on. You may recognize him from the Air Bud movies. Yes, he was the cute little boy who played along side the cute basketball-playing golden retriever. Zegers’ first film appearance was at the age of 7 in the comedy titled “Life with Mikey” starring Michael J Fox. If neither of these are ringing any bells, you might have seen him more recently on Gossip Girl or The Big Bang. He’s 28 by the way and living in Toronto ladies!

I think this is his mysterious-model look

I’m glad that he has graduated from child star to rising star with his role in Transamerica, an Academy Award-nominated independent film and his sophisticated role as a Metallurgist (aka Materials Engineer) in “Titanic: Blood and Steel.”

Known as Dr. Muir in the show, Kevin Zegers plays a difficult character with a past that has complicated his future as an employee of Harland and Wolff, which is run by wealthy Protestants. Hint hint, as to one of his difficulties he faces in the show. The series showcases the struggles of workers rights, women’s rights, and those of the Catholic faith, with the Titanic’s construction serving as the backdrop action. I enjoy learning about the history and seeing what was happening during the time when one of the greatest steam-powered ships was being built. It lets me get some more insight into the background information I read about while visiting the Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland. I also really enjoyed seeing places I’ve been in the TV series. I recognized parts of Dublin and the Botanical Garden in Belfast.

In addition to his film career, Zegers is also a model. His dark hair, striking eyes and cheekbones make watching “Titanic: Blood and Steel” even more entertaining. It might even be hard for the ladies to concentrate on the dialogue and plot sometimes because he wears clothes of the early 20th century and speaks with a not-spot-on, yet still charming, British accent (he is Canadian after all).

Hollywood Style

So did you know Kevin Zegers is Canadian? Are you watching Titanic: Blood and Steel? If so, what do you think so far? (no spoilers please for fellow readers – email me for a more detailed discussion)

Posted in It's Canadian, Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

An Experience of Titanic Proportions – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Titanic Belfast is the name of the signature building located in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland, the birthplace of the majestic ship.

Titanic Belfast Building

The architectural design was influenced by several maritime themes, including ice crystals, ships’ hulls and the insignia of the White Star Line. It looks like the front of Titanic’s hull at all four corners. Standing in front of the building facing the docks, I didn’t know what the metal posts were running down the sides like an aisle. I found out later from a tour guide that those posts act as an outline of the Titanic’s hull.

Construction began in May 2009 and the building opened on 31 March 2012, the centennial year of Titanic’s launch. The building, paying tribute to Titanic which was built by Harland and Wolff, has nine galleries of interactive exhibition space, including a dark ride, underwater exploration theatre, and recreations of the ship’s decks and cabins.

The first gallery focuses on Belfast city and the type of industries that were flourishing at the time. It’s easy to spend over an hour reading about Belfast and its history.

The second gallery has a ride that takes you in a car, built for four, through the shipyard. You get to see the hot metal and other dangerous materials the workers had to handle on a daily basis. I was surprised to see a to-scale model of the Titanic’s rutter. It was much bigger than I would have imagined. Titanic was huge!

Galleries three through six shows visitors what the launch would have looked like from the shipways, what the cabins for first and third class looked like, and a simulated video taking a tour of the ship from bottom to the upper deck. These galleries reminded me of the Titanic movie (1997).

Scale model of Titanic’s dry dock

Third-class cabin

When you get to galleries seven and eight, after reading about it’s sinking, the aftermath seems to be less reported. There wasn’t as much material to read and I would have thought that there would be lots of coverage. Of course the building of Titanic, its voyage and sinking are the most intriguing parts of the story, but I felt like the “story” didn’t have all the loose ends tied up at the end of the museum.

There was a special theatre at the very end, which had viewers taken below the ocean to see the robots explore the sunken Titanic. This left me wanting more as well. It could be that I have a true interest in Titanic and the history and also perhaps the goal of the museum is to show you the history and to get you to want to buy the books from the gift shop afterwards.

I would visit the museum again and make sure that next time I had more room in my suitcase for souvenirs.

If you want to see more on the period of when Titanic was built, I recommend tuning into “Titanic: Blood and Steel” weeknights at 7:00pm. The show is focuses on the building of the Titanic, workers’ rights, women’s rights and religious tensions. Although, I can tell it was filmed in Dublin and not Belfast, which is kind of a shame, but it still gives you a feel for what happened during period. I’m always wondering what’s going to happen to Dr. Muir (Metallurgist working on the Titanic) next.

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Getting back on the horse – ROW80

Me trying to climb up on the horse and the ROW80 crew trying to get it moving.
Source: (http://nzhorses.co.nz/featurearticles/learn_to_ride.htm)

So I’ve been absent. Very absent, I know. I finished my first novel and then I took a break and was undecided of what project to start on next. I came up with a second novel idea and started the first chapter. I have a few notes on it too so maybe I’ll take it forward eventually or think of something else. My struggle was if I could write about a character who is about 15 years older than me and in a very different part of her life than me. Can I make it realistic and believable if I can only relate to her on one level? Ok maybe two, she is a female.

I’ve missed the ROW80 crowd, “A Round of Works in 80 days” writers, who provide a great community a wealth of advice and some very interesting times on Twitter.

So I’ve decided to join this round even though I don’t yet have concrete goals. Actually yes I do, I think I’m just being reluctant:

  • Blog regularly (preferably 3 time a week) – need to determine content schedule
  • Edit current work, which includes novel #1
  • Read lots of books (I’ve been slacking this month, but did well over the summer)
  • Oh and learn the in’s and out’s of Scrivener, I did do a few productive things during my absence
  • and if I’m really ambitious as winter hits, work out plot for novel #2

So I’m using the fence to climb back up onto the horse that seems so tall and lazy to move, but hopefully with the help of the ROW80 crew and my own motivation, I will be galloping by the end of this round.

Happy Thanksgiving!

So how’ve you all been? What did I miss?

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Celebrate Arthur’s Day – Guinness brewer

Today: September 27, 2012 is Arthur’s Day! A day in which we celebrate and raise a glass of Guinness to Arthur Guinness, an Irish Brewer and founder of the Guinness brewery.

In 1759, Arthur Guinness took a 9,000 year lease on the four-acre brewery in St. James’s Gate for an annual rent of 45 pounds. Another fun fact is that he went on to have 21 children with his wife, Olivia, Whitmore. He was a busy fellow.

Guinness is a stout which has a distinctive burnt flavor to it that comes from the roasted malt barley. Having had my first Guinness in Dublin, I can tell you that if you’ve been putting it off because of its colour or the sound of “burnt barley”, then give it another try because after the first sip the flavor really grows on you. Its a beer like no other, it’s creamy and delicious.

When I visited Dublin, I remember seeing advertising signs on the pub walls and finding them quite entertaining. Some of the metal signs looked like older advertisements and some appeared to be newer. I remember seeing one that said something along the lines of “give your baby guinness for strength”.

Here are a few ads to get you excited about the black stuff for your Arthur’s Day celebration:

As you can see, black is beautiful, size matters and Guinness is good for you, so if you’re on board with the advertising, love guinness or are just looking for an excuse to go out for a beer on a Thursday at an Irish pub near you, let’s cheers to Arthur’s Day!

Do you like Guinness? Will you be celebrating Arthur’s Day? Where will you be raising a glass?

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Book Review: Manhunting by Jennifer Cruise

Used book sales are a great place to find cheap books and to discover new authors you haven’t read yet. Jennifer Cruise is a name I recognized, but I hadn’t picked up one of her books yet so I thought I would give it a try. You can’t go for $1.00 a book.


Kate Svenson is attractive, successful, a brilliant businesswoman and miserable. After three failed engagements, she realizes it’s time for a plan…an organized, detailed agenda with a clear goal: finding Mr. Right.

The Cabins resort is ripe with eligible bachelors, all rich, distinguished and ambitious–just her type. And they’re dropping like flies around her…at least, that’s how Jake Templeton views the situation. After he’s stuck pulling her latest reject out of the swimming pool, Jake’s convinced this female fatale is trouble. Especially for him.

But can a man who’s sworn off ambition for good and a woman hanging from the top of the corporate ladder find common ground in the unpredictable territory called heart, where the word proposal takes on a very different meaning.

Cruise writes a letter to her readers explaining how Manhunting, originally called Keeping Kate by the author, was the first book she got published. She notes that “its full of flaws, there’s some head hopping, there’s probably infodump although I tied to edit it out, but I don’t care. I love it.”

I thought it was great that Cruise wrote a letter to the readers at the beginning because it gives us some context, especially readers who are also writers. I can’t say that any head hopping stuck out to the point of distraction, but I did notice a lot of internal dialogue and some over explaining/infodump on Kate’s (the protagonist) part. She gave herself a lot of pep talks about sticking to her plan, concentrating on finding Mr. Right and trying to prevent herself from getting discouraged. However, following Kate to The Cabins resort was an adventure. Living through her mini-dates with the eligible men who met her criteria and some who failed miserably to impress her.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the setting, the golf course, nice cabin rooms, rich people and the lake. There was always a social itinerary and Kate was rarely sitting alone brooding. My favorite thing about the whole book was the hilarious and witty dialogue between Kate and Jake. Every time Kate and Jake interact, it’s sure to make the reader smile. Whatever this book lacks in its flaws as Cruise mentioned in her letter to the reader, it makes up for in action and dialogue. I think I’ll have to read the book again to study the dialogue in greater depth because Cruise has mastered it even in her first book.

Have you read a recommendable romantic comedy lately?

Posted in Books | 7 Comments

Summerspiration – Live it up because summer is NOT over!

Its August and everyone is starting to come back from vacation, parents and kids are preparing for school and the immanent frenzy of September is upon us….in another week.

So make use of every last day of sun. Go out for drinks after work, even if its Monday night. Sit on a patio, feel the warmth on your face, wear your sunglasses and talk about nothing. Not your workday or what things you have to get done. Talk about your favorite TV shows, movies, favorite foods. Anything that makes you smile and feel relaxed.

Listen to summer tunes like this one. In fact push play while you read the rest of this post:

Go for a drive, roll your windows down and turn the tunes way up. If anyone in the 5 o’clock traffic jam gives you a look, smile back, wave hello and start dancing in your car. There’s a high chance they will smile back.

Have a BBQ. Take your dog for a walk. Go to festivals, see the street performers and eat mini donuts. Get carbo-loaded to the point where you wouldn’t dare to put on your swimsuit because hey beach bodies are already on their way out right?

In Canada, the September long weekend is coming up in one week, which means that the labour force is supposed to celebrate and let loose. So if you can’t go away somewhere for the weekend, take a day trip, or even just get out there are go to the park. Go out to eat, treat yourself to whatever it is that summer means for you. Go for ice cream! Get ice cappuccinos or margaritas or all three, in the same day, everyday.

I know that I’m up for everything listed here and I’m going to keep enjoying summer until I have to dig out my winter jacket.

The first day of fall is September 22nd, so celebrate summer until the very last day!

Here’s another song for some summerspiration (translatation = summer inspiration).

What’s your summerspiration? Your favorite thing to do in summer? Your favorite summer beverage?

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Book Review: The Perfect Man by Sheila O’Flanagan

The Perfect Man by Sheila O’Flanagan has more substance than its title implies and is less heavy on the romance than one might think.


When Britt McDonagh’s literary agent can’t join her on a Caribbean cruise which she convinced Britt to do in order to promote her best-selling novel The Perfect Man, Britt enlists the help of her sister, Mia. Britt is assumed to be an expert on love based on the success of her romance novel, but since the breakup of her marriage she is certain that the perfect man is just a myth.

Single mother, Mia, does believe in soul mates. Still secretly in love with her old flame, she’s barely aware of other men. As the two sisters spend more time together than they have in years, there’s a danger that interfering in each other’s lives will push them apart forever.

This book has everything a girl looks for in a beach read: a Caribbean cruise, two single sisters ready to hit the seas together even if they don’t see eye-to-eye and a hint of impending romance.

Reading the back cover and knowing the subject of the book, I was ready to dive right in for an exciting and light read, but it turns out that O’Flanagan had different plans in this book and perhaps another title would have been more fitting.

Britt and Mia can’t stand each other at the beginning of the novel. Britt is an uptight divorce lawyer who is bitter and everything she says is cynical. She takes the fun right out of being on the all-expense paid cruise Mia needs being a single mother who hadn’t had a vacation in years. Britt brings Mia along as moral support since she dreads discussing romance and writing with the ship’s passengers and employs Mia as her assistant. The two girls come head-to-head not about Britt giving Mia too many things to do, but they bicker back and forth about romance, love, men, and even whether to relax or focus on work while aboard the ship.

In addition to the negativity between the two main characters, there are about 100 pages of back story at the beginning. I was surprised to read all this back story (which is a no-no in writing fiction 101) from a novelist who has written over 10 books, most of them being bestsellers.  After having read the book through, the back story would have been more powerful if the characters had revealed it to each other or the reader found out piece by piece.

Mia and Britt meet a few men aboard the ship, but the story focuses more on Britt and how uncomfortable she is being a best selling author and having to talk about romance. And there is lots of introspection for each character. There are a sprinkling of conversations between the female characters and the two single men on the ship. It would have been nice to see more interaction between the characters, more dialogue and action, rather than focusing on the characters’ struggles through introspection.

Mia being outgoing, appreciative and warm helps Britt to break out of her hard shell and become more relatable through the book. The book continues after the cruise when Britt goes back the Dublin and Mia to Spain. The story becomes deeper after they return to their normal lives and also gets more enjoyable. I became involved with Britt and Mia when they got home and I started to wonder what was going to happen to them.

The last third of the book was by far the best. The Perfect Man is worth a read if you’re willing to wait for it the story to pick up. Overall I did enjoy it and the going with the characters to the different locations throughout the story.

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