Monday, July 9, 2012

Caterpillar & a Bucket of Mussels



Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the first of Todd Gleason’s diary entries from the week long trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Monday June 25, 2012

We arrived three hours late in Brussels yesterday. I am hopeful our return trip to Chicago will not be delayed. Once on the ground our troop of 21 began to move quickly into the city, checking into the Thon Hotel near the European Commission buildings. Tired, but excited we began a more than two hour walking tour of what has become essentially the capitol of Europe. Our guide Sasha loves this city and took great pains to tell us its story building by building. And then, while it was on our itinerary, we spent a couple of hours eating our first evening meal in Europe at the Spicy Grill Indian restaurant - really good, but a bit more international than expected. It was the first of many global surprises. Sunday night’s sleep was restless for the group. I’m in bed before sundown. Most spent part of the wee hours awake at one point or another as the time differences is seven hours.

Breakfast must be the most important meal of the day! The Thon buffet, especially at 6:30am, is overwhelming; hard breads and cheeses, pastries, boiled, fried, and scrambled eggs, cold cuts, bacon, and link sausages, fruits, vegetables… the list goes on. I wanted coffee, but only found the espresso machine.

By 9am Monday we had traveled an hour and 15 minutes to the Caterpillar plant in Gosselies. What a beautiful site it was as we peered from the tour bus windows to see the familiar yellow and black of Peoria’s pride. I had set next to a Cat engineer on the plane ride over and knew we’d see the beginnings of a line being retooled in this plant tour. Gossilies produces excavators and wheel loaders for Europe and export. It looked and smelled a lot like what I remember seeing as an FFA’er in high school on tour in East Peoria. Those plants have long since been leveled, Where told Caterpillar managed its way through the economic downturn not because of its global footprint in Europe, but rather the plant in Asia. Those plants and a strategic plan in place before the fall are the reason the Peoria headquartered company is now turning bigger profits. It is a global market place. There are 40 Caterpillar competitors operating in Belgium.

We ate lunch in the Cat cafeteria, boarded the bus and headed back to Brussels for an afternoon meeting with AmCham EU or the American Chamber of Commerce. We spent the first of many hours sitting in a very warm room watching an interesting – but not always fully engage because of a full belly and warm temperatures – power point. AmCham lobbies the European Union on behalf of American companies. We finish up at 4:30, are a twenty-minute walk from the hotel, and the group decides to mostly eat together for the evening. We head for the fish restaurants and dine on mussels, king crab legs, and crawfish. Our meal ends about 8:30pm. The sun sets around 10:30pm. We make our way back to the hotel slowly, stopping to indulge in Belgium’s pride. I like Duvel. It’s a good bier. 

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