Saturday, July 5, 2008

We Walked Off to Look for America

Hi to all! I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July.

Fourth of July overseas is an odd thing. This is the first time I've spent our Independence Day away from the good old US of A and it was interesting. I definitely missed being able to be with my family and friends and watching the fireworks. The Fourth isn't quite the same without those things.

We spent the day relaxing... it was one of the first days when we didn't have classes or anything to go to and we could just sit around enjoying the day. My roommates and I went out to lunch and we ended up in a part of town close to our apartment where a lot of immigrants from African live. We ate in an African restaurant (I wish I could tell you what kind specifically, but I honestly have noe idea). It was definitely a new experience. I can't say that I have ever had any type of African food before. I ended up getting some chicken which was cooked in this lemon sauce with vegetables (carrots, peas, and onions) cooked with it. It was good and different. Not a meal that I would want everyday, but a good experience.

After lunch, we made our way over to Chaussee d'Ixelles, which is one of the main shopping streets in Brussels. Sales in European stores work differently than in America. Instead of having sales throughout the year, they have one big sale that lasts throughout the months of July and August. These are really good sales too, with most places giving at least 50% discounts. The only catch is that you have to go early (as in the first few days of July) to get any of the good stuff before it gets all picked over. We shopped for a bit and all the stores were pretty crazy. There were a bunch of people and long lines for dressing rooms, but the prices were worth it. I only got one shirt, but it was an interesting experience.

That night, we went out to celebrate the Fourth, at an English Pub (irony for you?), which was fun. We were going to go out to a club afterwards to dance, but we didn't make it that far. It was a good night despite that though, but not quite a traditional Fourth of July.

Well, that's about it for my Fourth of July. I hope your's was a bit more traditional.

Love to all,

PS - I am super excited because we found a Mexican restaurant (finally!), which is actually only a few blocks from our apartment and we are going there for dinner tonight! Hopefully it will be good. I'll keep you updated.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On, Brah!

Sunday, Caitlin and I woke up around 4 am, got our stuff together, and checked out of the hostel. We walked over to O'Connell Street to catch a bus out to the airport. The bus was running about 20 minutes late, but we didn't think it was a big deal since we had allotted a lot of time for getting there. When we got to the airport though, it was mass chaos around the Aer Lingus (our airline) check-in. We asked a couple of people and they told us to get in line and to listen for a plane to be called. We waited for about an hour until we got to the head of the line. When we got to the desk, the lady told us that check-in for our flight was closed. We were astounded. We had never heard them call our flight or anything. Along the way in the line, we had asked a few people if we were in the right place and they all told us we were. So we went over to the customer service desk and they said that there was nothing that they could do because they had called our flight. Our only option with them was to pay a huge amount of money to try and get on the next flight out. We decided we didn't want to pay that much, so we went from desk to desk inquiring about flights from all the other airlines. Finally, we found a Ryanair flight that was a bit cheaper (but definitely not cheap!), but the flight was full. They agreed to put us on standby and we were supposed to come back around 2:30 and check to see if they had seats available.

We spent the next nine hours sitting in the Dublin airport. Luckily they had a food court that you could access without going through security. We got a booth there and sat. We had a test the next day, and luckily, Caitlin brought her notes, so we studied a bit. It was pretty awful.

Finally, 2 came around and we decided to go down and ask about our flight. They said that they would keep us posted so we returned again at 2:30. At that point they had a few empty seats left from people who hadn't checked in yet so we lucked out and were able to get tickets. We had to rush to check-in and go through security, but we made it to our gate and onto the plane.

We finally made it back to Brussels around 6 or so. Every weekend we go away I get happier and happier to return to Brussels and our little apartment. It is just nice to be somewhere where you can relax and where things are familiar.

Although the whole day was very frustrating, I decided I didn't want it to ruin my wonderful trip to Ireland and I realized that these things happen when you travel and there's not much that you can do about it except go with the flow.

Love to all,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ireland, Once Visited, Is Never Forgotten

Saturday morning we woke up early and had breakfast at the hostel. They provided a breakfast of toast, jam, and coffee there with some various fruits as well. Not exactly a great breakfast, but definitely better than having to go pay for something. We left the hostel and made our way down to the main Tourism Office in Dublin. The previous day, we had called a few tour companies and inquired about availability for their trips. Most of them were full, but a couple agreed to put us on stand-by in case people didn't show up. So we went to the Tourism Office to meet up with the tours and find out if we could get on any of them. We talked with some of the bus guides and, after waiting for people to show up, we finally got onto an "Over the Top" tour, which ended up being one of the better ones. Their tours were out of vans that held about 16 people and our guide, Ed, was great. He was an elder Irish gentleman and he had the classic Irish accent. It was wonderful.

The tour started out by taking us through Dublin and out of town. We passed through a few suburb type cities and then made our way into the Wicklow mountains (which aren't really that high) outside of Dublin. Along the way, Ed would point out important things, fill us in on history, and tell us stories. As we drove into the country, we started to see beautiful green fields everywhere. The weather was not ideal (it was cloudy and misty most of the day and actually started raining at one point and it was also pretty cold and windy), but the views were incredible. The area seemed to be fairly sparsely populated. The roads we drove along were little winding country roads (which Ed drove pretty fast on) and it was interesting being in a vehicle on the left side of the road... it definitely takes some getting used to. Along the way, we would pull over and get out. A few times we stopped at some beautiful lakes and walked a bit. We drove through lands that they used to film movies like Braveheart.

We stopped for lunch in a little town called Glendalough (which in Celtic means field of two lakes). We ate at a classic Irish pub (or at least that's what the tour brochure said). I had some delicious salmon (but definitely there was no comparison to Dad's) and the meal came with lots of veggies, which was wonderful.

After lunch, we got back in the van and drove a little while. There are ancient monastic ruins outside of Glendalough that we went through. Currently, the area is a cemetery, but back in early times, there were buildings where monks lived and helped to convert the Celtic population into Catholics. During the period of the Reformation though, the majority of the monasteries in the UK and Ireland were destroyed under the orders of King Henry VIII. The area was really beautiful and it was interesting to learn about this part of Irish history. After going through these grounds, we walked down a path and saw the two lakes for which Glendalough is named. The path meandered through some wooded areas which were beautiful and finally led out to a field and the largest of the two lakes.

After this excursion, we all got back in the van and headed back towards Dublin through more countryside. We got back into Dublin around 5 or so and Caitlin and I walked over to Grafton Street, the main shopping district in Dublin, and did some souvenir shopping. Afterwards, we walked back towards the hostel and stopped in at an Italian restaurant for dinner, which was really good. We were pretty exhausted from getting up early and knew that we had to get up really early the next day so we decided to call it a night.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"When I Die Dublin Will Be Written In My Heart" - James Joyce

Hi everyone! Sorry it has take me so long to fill you all in on my Irish adventure, but I've been busy with actual school work as our six week period here in Brussels is winding down. I think I will do this entry like I did Paris and break it up by the days.

We started out very early Friday morning (we being Caitlin, my roommate, and I) even before the sun had risen. We had some minor setbacks in getting to the airport when we found out that public transportation wasn't running that early, we had to take a cab to the train station. From the train station, we took a bus to an airport that is about an hour away from Brussels. We flew on Ryanair, which is famous for its cheap flights and for crowding as many people onto a plane as humanly possible. The flight wasn't too bad. I think both of us dozed off a bit even though I was very uncomfortable in the center seat. We both woke up just in time to see us cross over the very tip of Ireland, which was an incredible sight.

We arrived in Dublin at around 7:30 local time (we gained an hour on our flight). At the airport, we stopped in at the tourism office and bought a Dublin Pass, which we paid a flat rate for to get into a bunch of attractions in Dublin instead of just paying for each individually. I highly recommend this if you ever go and are not going at a leisurely pace. I think we saved a bunch of money. But I digress... we used our Dublin Pass to get a free bus ride into the city. We ended up missing our stop, but we got off at the next one and made our way over to our hostel. We checked in and left our bags in the lockers at the hostel. From the hostel we walked over to O'Connell Street (one of the big streets in Dublin) and walked up towards Parnell Square. We stopped and had some breakfast and from there, we walked over to the Writers Museum. The Museum was fairly small, but there was a lot condensed into such a small space. There was an audio tour which came with your admission into the museum, which was great. The museum went through the whole history of Irish literature and covered all the literary greats, including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and, of course, James Joyce. There were also some other lesser known authors thrown in there, which was interesting as well. They had a bunch of things from the different authors and first edition books and things of that nature, which was pretty neat. I really enjoyed the museum.

After the Writers Museum, we made our way down towards the older part of the city (or attempted to at least). We ended up getting a little lost, but we ended up in some sort of legal district, which was pretty neat because there were a bunch of men walking around in their robes and wigs.... quite a sight! We asked directions from a really nice Irish businessman who pointed us in not only the right direction, but towards the best walk. We walked across a bridge over the River Liffey, which cuts through the city and past Christchurch (which I later learned is one of the oldest buildings in Dublin) and we ended up at our destination, Dublin Castle, with no further directional problems. We walked around Dublin Castle, but didn't go inside because you had to go on a tour and we decided we had too much to do to waste time on a tour.

At this point, we were hungry again so we found a little hole in the wall restaurant, which was great. I got some tomato, pepper soup and bread. The soup was extremely spicy, but delicious. It was nice to have such a hearty meal with such large portions again.

After lunch, we started out again and headed across town to the Irish Modern Art Museum. Again we got a little lost, but not too much and after a really long walk we eventually found it. I wasn't too impressed with the museum, but I suppose that's probably because I have been spoiled with seeing the works at the Pompidou and the Tate. They didn't really have any famous works and the museum was badly organized and things were difficult to find.

Once we got done with the Modern Art Museum, we headed over to Guinness. Everything I had read told me that this was pretty much a must see for tourists. So we went and it was a little disappointing. I thought it was going to be an actual brewery and would be similar to the vineyard tours I had been on in Oregon a few summers ago. This wasn't what Guinness was like. It was more like a museum, with a little tour you go through telling you all about how Guinness is made, the ingredients that they use, etc. It was interesting, but not quite what I had expected.

After Guinness, we walked over the St. Patrick's, a church in Dublin. It was very beautiful and we just wandered around the church for a while. Afterwards, we walked over to Trinity College, which is in the center of the city, but once you get inside the walls feels like a college campus. All the buildings are really old and beautiful and there are wonderful green lawns. We went to the College to see the Book of Kells, but unfortunately, the building was closed. I was pretty disappointed, but I guess it will just give me something to go back for.

After Trinity College, we walked around and found a pub to have dinner at. We were exhausted so we just headed back to the hostel. The hostel was an interesting experience. It was my first stay in a hostel and we were staying in one of the dorm like rooms. There were eight sets of bunk beds in the room and Caitlin thought that it was pretty nice for a hostel. It was pretty much what I had expected except neither of us realized that the room was co-ed. It was basically like being at summer camp again. The bathrooms were the standard communal bathroom just like any dorm or summer camp.

We went to bed pretty much immediately even though it was still light outside (it was about 10 or so) and I slept well despite people coming in and out of the room all night.

That's it for day one... more later. Also, I posted my pictures from the trip if you get some time and want to check them out.

Love to all,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paris, Je T'Aime

And now, for the exciting conclusion to "A Weekend in Paris."

Sunday we woke up and got ready to go back into the city. We were all a little worse for the wear from the busy two days we had combined with the lack of sleep which had accumulated over the past few days.

Once we arrived in the city, we started out at Pere Lachaise, which is an old cemetery in Paris, which is also huge. It is absolutely beautiful and it was neat just to walk through cemetery looking at the old tombs. There are a number of famous people buried here, including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf (one of the most famous French singers ever who they recently made a movie about - "La Vie en Rose"), Moliere, and Jim Morrison. This is also the site of the infamous Paris Commune, where hundreds of people were shot by the French government, who was trying to take back control over Paris, which had been run by the people of Paris for over two months. (It's an interesting story if you want to look it up for yourself.) Anyways, we walked around the cemetery and looked at some of the famous graves. We found out later that Chopin is also buried there and I was pretty disappointed that we had missed that, but overall it was great.

After Pere Lachaise, we made our way over to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. Montmartre is the highest point in Paris and was once the artist quarter and Sacre Coeur is a church at the top of Montmartre. We wandered around the area and ate lunch. Some of the group decided to go for a sit down lunch, but the food in the area was really over priced, so some of us just went and got some sandwiches and ate on the street, which was just as good or better I think.

Once we finished lunch, we had to head over to the train station and return back to Brussels. We were all so tired, every single one of us took a nap on the train and I felt much better after that. Once we got back to Brussels we discovered a festival going on right on our street, Chaussee d'Ixelles. I would have loved to check out the festival more in depth, but I was ready to be home. Paris was wonderful, but it was great to be back in familiar territory and to be able to sit down and relax.

And that concludes my weekend adventures in Paris. Tune in next week for the details of my weekend adventure to Dublin.

Love to all,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paris When It Sizzles

Here is my continuation of what happened while we were in Paris last weekend.

Saturday we woke up fairly early for how late we got in and got ready and left to catch the train back into Paris. The first thing we did when we got into Paris was go to the Louvre. We split up and those of us who had already gone to Louvre or didn't want to go walked over to the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris. The building itself is really cool because it is designed inside out, with all the pipes and escalators and such on the outside of the building (check out my pictures if you want to see it). The museum was wonderful and was definitely up there with the Tate Modern in Britain in my opinion. They had a great Kandinsky, which is one of my favorites of his. There were about three whole rooms full of Picassos (which you would have loved Dad), which were amazing (and I found a new painting of his that I fell in love with, but I can't remember the title at the moment). Others that I loved were the Matisses, the Duchamps, the Man Rays, and the Pollack that they had there. Overall it was a pretty great museum with a lot of famous stuff that I had learned about in my AP Art History class in high school.

After the museum, we all met up and grabbed some lunch to go. We took our lunches to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was absolutely beautiful. The garden is a large park area with a large fountain in the middle and a large building, which apparently used to be the house of Catherine de Medici (remember the Medicis from Florence, Mom and Dad?). Lunch was lovely. We sat on a nice grassy area and soaked up the Parisian sun. It was a little warmer than I would have liked, but the blue skies were worth the heat. After eating I walked down to the fountain/ pond thing. They have a place where kids can rent little sailboats to sail across the pond. It was really neat to just sit there and people watch and look at all the cute sail boats.

After lunch, we got back on the metro and rode over to the Latin Quarter area. Notre Dame is around this area so some of the group went in there. I had already been, so I decided to go to Saint Chapelle, which is a tiny little chapel that I had heard from my previous trip was really beautiful. It did not disappoint. The chapel is really tiny, but the stained glass was amazing. Basically all of the walls on the second floor of the chapel are made out of stained glass and the effect is completely breathtaking (literally... it took my breath away!). It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Once we met back up, we wandered through the Latin Quarter, which used to be (and still kind of is) an area where a lot of the students in Paris hang out. During this time, La Fete de la Musique, an annual music festival that Paris has where they have bands playing on street corners all over Paris, was starting to heat up. Audrey have some friends who are in a band that was playing on one such street corner so we made our way over there and spent the night watching them (there were two different bands with her friends in them).

Getting home after the bands had stopped proved to be fairly difficult. We had to go through some really crowded streets, trying to keep 12 people together. I've never really seen this many people before in such a crowd, so I don't really know what to compare it to, but it was mass chaos. We all just wanted to make sure we got to the train station all together before the last train left for the night. The metro was incredibly crowded so we had to jam ourselves in and luckily we only had to go one stop because it was incredibly claustrophobic. We did make the last train out (cutting a little close for my taste, but what can you do) and we made it back to Audrey's safe, sound, and utterly exhausted.

Coming tomorrow to a blog near you, the exciting conclusion to "A Weekend in Paris."

Love to all!

Monday, June 23, 2008

An American in Paris

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I had a great trip to Paris, full of lots of exciting adventures. In the interest of giving you all as many details as possible, I think I will divide my trip up by the days to make it a little easier to read (and to make it easier for me as well).

We started out early Friday morning and went to the train station. The train ride was somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half and we went through some beautiful country sides. We arrived at the train station and left our bags with Audrey's father, who was nice enough to meet us at the train station. (Audrey is from Paris and is a girl on our trip. Her parents were nice enough to let us stay in their apartment outside of Paris for the weekend and Audrey acted as our tour guide for the trip, which was wonderful.) From the train station we immediately got on the metro, transferring a couple of times (at one stop I actually recognized the metro stop from when I was in Paris four years ago, which I thought was crazy). Finally, we arrived and rode the escalator back up to ground level and immediately we saw the Arc du Triomphe, which was much bigger than I remembered. After taking numerous pictures there, we strolled down the Champs-Elysees, which is one of the main streets in Paris and is famous for its wide, tree-lined sidewalks and high end stores. We stopped and had lunch along the road. I had a chicken sandwich, which was delicious. For some reason, sandwiches in France are just better... it must be the bread. After lunch, we continued our stroll down to the Place de la Concorde, which is where heads rolled back during the French Revolution and now the Place has an obelisk which Napoleon brought back from Egypt.

From there, we walked to the Musee d'Orsay, which is a museum devoted to the works of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The museum is in a renovated train station, which is absolutely beautiful and huge. I had been to the Orsay the first time I went to Paris, but I decided to go again because we had been rushed through that time because the museum was closed. I was glad I went back. Even though I remembered most of the works there, I still enjoyed seeing them again and actually getting to spend some time looking at some of the intricacies of the works. My favorites were the Monets, Renoirs, and Degas. There was also a whole room devoted to van Gogh, which I absolutely loved (as you probably know from my previous post on the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam).

After the Musee d'Orsay, we reconvened and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. Even though I had been there before, I was again shocked at how large the Eiffel Tower really is. We split off into groups and those who wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower did. I decided to go even though I had already been and it was just as great this time. Last time I was there it was fairly cloudy and it actually started raining while we were up the Eiffel Tower and this time it was cloudy again. I guess I just bring bad weather with me. Anyways, we spent lots of time walking around all the different floors of the Tower (there are three floors), taking pictures, and enjoying the view of Paris sprawled out before us.

Once we had descended from the Eiffel Tower, we had dinner at a restaurant around the area. We eat out pretty sparingly when we are in Brussels so a meal out is a wonderful occurrence. I had a wonderful dish of chicken and French fries. I also tried an escargot, which was surprisingly delicious. I had some problems getting it out of the shell, but once I figured it out, it was great. They cook them in some delicious garlic sauce so they basically just taste like garlic.

After dinner, we walked back over to the Eiffel Tower and sat down on the Champs du Mars. There were a bunch of people there, but we found a spot and sat down in the grass. From there, we had a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower and we watched the sunset.

Then, we walked down to the Seine and got on one of the boat tours. The boat took us down the Seine past many of the Paris landmarks, which were all lit up for the night. It was beautiful. There were a lot of people walking along the banks of the Seine or just sitting and relaxing and enjoying the Paris night. It was wonderful and beautiful.

Once the boat ride was over, we had to catch the train out of Paris to Audrey's town and apartment. The train ride was about 45 minutes and we were all exhausted from a day full of adventure and walking all around Paris. Once we got there, we had to walk about another mile to Audrey's apartment. The apartment was a typical European apartment, very small. All of the girls slept in the living room on mattresses. We all passed out because we were so exhausted.

Well, that's all for day one of our Paris adventure. I will post more later about the rest of the trip. In the meantime, I've posted the pictures from Paris online if you want to take a look.

Love to all,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

American Girl

Hi everyone! I don't have much to report on about today or yesterday... pretty much typical school day here in Brussels. So I thought I would bring you a post detailing some of the differences I've noticed of late and some of the things that I'm missing about the States. (Sorry in advance because I'm sure most of them will be about food for now.)

First off, I have been craving Mexican food like nothing else. At this point, I would probably give my left foot for a taco. Although Brussels has just about every type of food you could ever want (from Turkish to Lebanese to Japanese, etc.) there aren't any Mexican restaurants.

An interesting food thing I've learned while over here is that European foods have a lot less preservatives than foods in the US. Consequently, food (especially fruits, veggies, and bread) goes bad much quicker. This is probably why most of the people in the grocery stores are not buying all that much food. It seems like most people only buy a couple days worth of food and go to the store much more often. I always feel ridiculous with my full basket walking down the aisles... me and my silly trying to shop for a full week! Going along with this topic, the European Union has banned any genetically modified foods. (Just an interesting fact I thought you might want to know.)

Most grocery stores over here now charge you for plastic bags, so most people just bring their own. This is one thing that I'm behind 100%, even though it's a nuisance sometimes to have to go back and get a bag to carry groceries in, the end result is worth it. (Sorry Uncle Bob... I had to put some of my liberal opinion in there.)

On a completely different topic, dryers are not very common in Europe. Almost everyone just air-dries everything, which is probably a smart thing to do since gas prices over here are so ridiculous (yes... even more than in the States! You should be grateful it's only $4 per gallon and not $7 or $8 like it is over here.) Having to wait a day or two for your clothes to dry can be rather irritating though (especially when you have as limited a wardrobe as I have!).

People here in Europe walk everywhere. If you go to the grocery store, you walk down to the one closest to you and pick up what you need and walk back. I think it is the reason why you don't see any obese Europeans. The diet here consists of a lot of breads, cheeses, and meats, yet most people are slim and trim. Along these same lines, apparently the term "diet" has a bad connotation here so everything is "light" instead of diet (ex: Coca light, not Diet Coke). A very different mindset and lifestyle.

Well, that's about it for now. I'll try and include other little idiosyncrasies that I notice along the way in future blogs.

Love to all,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

All My Loving

Hi Everyone! I hope you're all having a great weekend!

First off, Happy Father's Day Dad! I love you and wish I was there to help you celebrate or better yet, that you were over here with me!

Yesterday, we continued our tour of Brussels. We went to the Belgian Royal Museum of Art, which is only about a ten minute walk from our apartment. The museum is composed of a couple different sections, with a modern art museum, a collection of older stuff, and then they had a visiting exhibit from Britain. The modern art collection was wonderful. I especially loved the Chagalls and the Magrittes. There was also a Picasso, which was small but pretty neat. The exhibit from Britain had some neat Rubens and Brueghels and there was one van Gogh which was from one of his earlier periods. Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time looking at the regular collection of art that they had because the museum was closing. In rushing through I did get to see some giant Rubens paintings and David's Death of Marat which was really cool because we had talked about this in my art history class in high school. I would like to go back and spend more time in that wing, but I guess I'll have to see how much time I have here. Maybe I'll go one afternoon when I don't have to much reading to do.

After the museum, everyone was tired so they went back and took naps and I went exploring on my own. It was really nice to get some alone time since I haven't really had much of it since arriving here. I went over to Parc de Bruxelles, which is across from the palace and used to be part of the land where the kings of Belgium would hunt. The park is fairly big and there are a couple of big fountains in the park. There were a bunch of people just strolling through the park, some joggers, and people sitting on benches enjoying their Saturday afternoon. I walked across the park and came upon the Palais de Nation, which is where the Belgian parliament meets. After exploring the park for a while, I walked back to the apartment.

Today I am just spending the day relaxing and recovering from the weekend. I'll probably do some reading for class and maybe go out and enjoy the rare Brussels sunshine at some point.

I hope you all enjoy your Sunday!

Love to all,

Friday, June 13, 2008

These Boots Were Made For Walking

Happy Friday Everyone! Hope you all had a good week.

Today was sight-see Brussels, part one. We started off by grabbing some lunch at a cafe nearby our apartment. I had a wonderful panini with mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto, which was delicious. Then we got on the metro and rode out to the outskirts of Brussels to see the Atomium. For those of you who don't know, the Atomium is a large structure made to look like an atom that was built for the 1968 World's Fair that was held in Brussels. The structure was a lot bigger than I had expected. We spent some time taking pictures, but found out that it was closed and that we could not actually get in. This wasn't too big a deal, but I had heard that there is a nice view of the city from the top. I'll probably try to get back out there one of these days to actually go inside. After the Atomium, we rode the metro down to Grand Place, where there just happened to be some sort of concert going on celebrating cultural diversity in the EU. It's always fun to stumble across these things when you're not expecting them. The concert was mainly percussion, but it was fun and interesting and we stayed for a couple of songs. Then, we went out in search of the Mannekin Pis. Again, for those of you who don't know (don't feel bad... I had no clue before I decided to come here), the Mannekin Pis is a fountain of a little boy peeing, which has become a symbol of the city. There are several stories behind the statue (most of which aren't really true), but my favorite is that the little boy diffused a bomb that was meant for Brussels by peeing on it and thus saving the city. Apparently, the statue is very popular in the town because there are little Mannekin Pis trinkets everywhere. Also, the town dresses up the statue for different celebrations (he has over 500 outfits, each with a strategically placed hole). He even has an American soldier's outfit to celebrate D-Day. Anyways, we found the Mannekin Pis, which is actually very small, and took lots of pictures there as well.

Afterwards, we stopped at a restaurant and had some dinner and then wandered home. I guess we went the wrong way because we took a very roundabout way to get home. We basically went a giant circle, but we eventually got home and we got a lovely tour of Brussels along the way. While we were wandering, we saw a big parade of inline skaters being escorted by police, kind of like a parade. It was very interesting and made me realize that roller blading on cobblestones is probably not the best idea (we saw a number of people fall, but they had a bunch of paramedics and doctors on the scene). We continued wandering and eventually came across the same group of skaters again.

Tomorrow we plan to do some more sightseeing, which should be fun. There are a couple museums that I definitely want to go to at some point and this weekend would probably be the best time to do it. I will keep you all updated and I'll try and post pictures either tomorrow or Sunday.

Love to all,

PS - Some other items of interest: The Euro 2008 Football (Soccer) matches are heating up across Europe. Today we saw a number of cars driving by honking, with people hanging out of the windows holding flags (we later figured out they were Romanian flags). The matches are on at all the restaurants and cafes around town and everyone seems to be watching. We also spotted some Frenchmen and Dutchmen taunting each other in the Grand Place (which I didn't really understand because France had just suffered a big loss to the Dutch). It's neat to see how this sports phenomenon has swept the entire continent.

Also in the news a disappointing blow to the EU today with the Irish vote against the Lisbon Treaty. It's funny how after only a few weeks of EU classes that I can be so ardently supportive of the EU now and how disappointing seeing this set back to the further development of the EU is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

3 X 5

Bon soir tout le monde! (That's good evening everyone en francais in case you were wondering.)

Not much to report on since my last blog except that I had my first exam yesterday. Basically I spent Monday studying as much as possible and Tuesday decompressing from all the nervous anxiety that exams bring with them. But, it is over now and I actually did a lot better than I had thought.

After the exam, Dr. Kreppel took us to a really neat cafe in a part of town we had never been to before. Dr. Kreppel is flying out tomorrow morning and we will have a new professor for the rest of our stay here in Brussels so this little party was a farewell for her. The cafe was really neat because it was in the art nouveau style, which Brussels is famous for. Buildings here are not all done in this style, so you have to keep your eyes open and be on the look out to spot it. The cafe was on a whole street of art nouveau buildings which was really neat and beautiful.

Other than that, there isn't much to fill you all in on. I do have some good news however... I have finally gotten a chance to post my pictures from the trip thus far. Some of them have descriptions (if you have time to read them), which tell you what things are, what's going on, etc. I don't have all my Amsterdam pictures up yet though because the first day I was incredibly stupid and left my camera in the hotel room. Luckily, one of the girls on the trip was nice enough to take pictures for me so I'll get those up as soon as I steal them from her. The link to my pictures is: To see the photos, you have to click on the albums to the left on your screen. There should be ones for Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels. I'll try to put up new pictures as often as possible and I'll try and tell you when I do so you can go look at them.

I hope everyone is having a great week so far and I hope you all enjoy my pictures. (I'm trying to get myself to take more and get more with people in them so that is my assignment for the next couple weeks.)

Love to all!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane: Amsterdam

Hi everyone! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. I've had quite a weekend so far, and it's not even over yet!

Thursday night (our weekends start on Thursdays because we don't have school on Fridays) all the girls in the program decided to have a girls’ night out. We all went to the movies to see Sex and the City, which was a lot of fun. Movies over here are fairly similar to those in the States except you have to pay to use the bathrooms (not exactly a perk). The movie was shown in English with French and Flemish subtitles and they seem to have even more previews/ commercials over here than they do in the States, which I was surprised by.

Friday morning, we woke up early and made our way down to the train station. We boarded the train and rode the roughly 2 1/2 hours to Amsterdam. The train ride was nice and relaxing. I am really starting to believe that trains should be utilized more in the States. They are so efficient and you get to see all the countryside as you go without spending a ton of money on gas. Anyways, we arrived in Amsterdam a little after noon and we walked from the train station, which was a beautiful old building, to our hotel. It was quite a trek because we didn't really know where we were going and we took the longest way possible, but we got a nice walking tour of the city. We finally found our hotel, Hotel de Paris, and checked in. The hotel was really nice for what we paid and ended up being fairly convenient. We dropped off our bags and split up into smaller groups to go our separate ways. First on my agenda was the Van Gogh museum. We had some trouble finding the museum until we asked someone for directions and then we were there. We came upon the Rijksmuseum and decided to go to that first since it closed earlier (the Van Gogh museum is open until 10pm on Fridays for anyone who’s curious). Rijksmuseum (no I have no idea how to pronounce it either) has a bunch of paintings by Dutch masters, including Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Steen. The museum was really great with little stories about each of the paintings/ artists on display next to the work. My favorite was Rembrandt's Night watch, which I learned about in my art history class. It was so cool to see it in person and was much larger than I remembered. After that, we made our way to the Van Gogh museum, which was one of the best museums I have ever been to. The museum was laid out perfectly with paintings by artists who influenced Van Gogh on the first floor, actual paintings by Van Gogh divided into the different periods of his life on the second floor, and then paintings by people who were influenced by Van Gogh on the third floor. The museum has the world's largest collection of works by Van Gogh, including his most famous Sunflower painting, self portrait, and Wheatfield with Crows. It was interesting to see the progression of his work and his style throughout his works. The museum also interspersed the history of his life and different quotes and things from his friends, colleagues, and from his correspondence with his brother Theo, which was wonderful because you are able to not only see his works, but know the history behind the different periods as well. The works on the third floor by artists who were influenced by Van Gogh were impressive as well, with works by Monet, Manet, Picasso, Seurat, Gauguin, and many others. The whole experience was incredible. I loved it because Van Gogh is one of my all-time favorite artists. I spent a good two hours in the museum just enjoying all the works and being enthralled by the intricacies of the paintings and the brush strokes. After the museums, our group headed back to the hotel where we rested for about half an hour and then met up with the rest of the group for dinner. We walked down to a plaza which led to a big shopping street and ate at an Italian restaurant there, which had decent food. After dinner, we wandered around the town until we came upon the Red Light District. I was curious to see this area of town since everyone always talks about it, but one view was enough for me. I was surprised by how clothed most of the women were… most were more covered up than I had expected. The area was crowded with tourists, the majority of which were men. We walked up and down the street and it was kind of depressing to me to think of those women selling themselves. Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel because we were all exhausted from the day’s events. I fell asleep as soon as I climbed into bed.

The next morning, I woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. I was surprised that they had breakfast there because that’s not always a given in Europe, but the breakfast was good with a large assortment of items. Then, we all head over to the Anne Frank house. Along the way, we passed some beautiful houses and streets. We walked along a canal road and we got to see some of the cute little houseboats. We had to stand in line for the Anne Frank house, which is not unexpected since it is one of the biggest draws in Amsterdam. We didn’t have to wait long though before we went inside. They did a really nice job restoring the building and putting up display cases with different items and videos. Along the route, there are quotes from her diary written on the wall. The whole experience was very moving and made me thankful that I never had to live in such a way in such a time. After the tour, we found a nice cafĂ© and had a delicious lunch. After lunch, we split off into smaller groups again. I wanted to go to the modern art museum in Amsterdam because I had read it was one of the best in the world, up there with the Tate Modern in London and MoMA in NYC. When we got there though, we found out that the permanent collection was not there. Apparently they are in the process of moving and they are transferring the pieces across town. I was incredibly disappointed because the museum was one of the things that I really wanted to do while in Amsterdam. I guess I will just have to go back at some point to see it. So we left the museum and just wandered around town, going into different shops along the way. It was really nice because we wandered into a less touristy part of town, which was beautiful and a lot more like the Amsterdam I had pictured in my head. Then, we walked back to the train station and headed out back to Brussels.

We got back into Brussels late and the weather was cold, grey, and misty… not the most pleasant greeting. We were all exhausted from such a long two days so we all parted ways and rested for the rest of the night.

On the whole, I was left with a pretty good impression of Amsterdam. It is a beautiful city with canals cutting through it. There are bikes all over the city and you always have to look out when crossing the streets and walking around. The weather the whole time we were in Amsterdam was beautiful… clear, blue skies and perfect temperatures. However, there were a lot of tourists, mainly Anglophones, who I think are drawn to the town by the coffeehouses (where you can’t get coffee by the way, or so I hear) and free society which Amsterdam has to offer. Despite this though, the city was great with a lot of culture to offer visitors.

Today, I am recovering from the exhaustion that is traveling and studying/ reading for my upcoming exam on Tuesday (everyone wish me luck!). The sun is out in Brussels, which is a nice surprise considering that when we got off the train last night the weather was awful… cold, misty, and grey.

My apologies for the length of this post… I hope it didn’t bore you too much.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Hi everyone! Sorry I've been a little lax lately in posting on the blog, but not much exciting has happened in the past few days. I wanted to have enough to write about without boring you all to tears so I saved up (plus I've been pretty busy with actual school work!).

Saturday was the first day that we've been here that I was actually able to sleep in which was wonderful! I spent most of the day enjoying just lazing around our apartment and trying to catch up on school work. Caitlin (one of my roommates) and I went out for a walk in the afternoon and we just wandered around town. We stopped at a little cafe and had some coffee, which was very pleasant. We then wandered back home, which turned out to be a lot closer than I had previously thought. That night, we went out to celebrate Audrey's birthday (one of the girls on the trip with me), which was a lot of fun.

Sunday was more of the same... sleeping in, catching up on reading, and such. That night, some of us decided to be decadent and go out to dinner. We went down to the Grand Place and ate at one of the incredibly touristy restaurants down there. I doubt we will ever eat in that area again. From now on, if we go out, I think we will look for more local fare. We walked home from the Grand Place and passed some of the beautiful Brussels spots all lit up for nighttime. It was wonderful.

Monday, I went to class and did homework. Definitely not exciting. Before coming home though, we stopped at an electronics store where we bought a wireless router that we needed for the apartment and I bought a skype headset, so if anyone wants to call me I'm ready now!

Today was a bit more exciting. Instead of going to Dr. Kreppel's class, we took a class field trip to the European Commission, which is basically the bureaucratic sector of the executive branch of the European Union. I was expecting something like a tour similar to the one given at the UN (if anyone has ever done that), but instead the building was just a regular old office building. Instead of a tour, two British men who work for the Commission talked to us about enlargement of the EU and the EU's neighbor policy, which was all very interesting, but not quite what I was expecting. We still had to go to our other class so we made our way over to Vesalius after the guys were finished with their presentation. After class, I went home and did more homework (I know... a recurrent theme here. SO much homework!). Then, the guys on the trip invited all of us over to their apartment for dinner, which was very delicious, especially since I didn't have to cook.

In other news, I forgot to mention in my previous post that while in Bruges I was fortunate enough to have some real Belgian chocolates, which were deliciously sinful. They are very rich and thick and, I'm sure have no calories whatsoever. Also, in Bruges I got some real french fries. If you don't already know, french fries were not originally made in France, but in Belgium. The French just took the credit for the invention. They were, of course, delicious. However, Belgians seem to think you need sauce with your french fries. These sauces are usually mayonnaise based and a little overpowering for the french fries, which I thought needed nothing else.

Well, better close for now and get my nose back to the grindstone.

Love to all,

Friday, May 30, 2008

Day Trippin'

Hi everyone! Hope all is well with you all.

Today, we took a group day trip to Bruges, which was really cool. We took an hour long train ride from Brussels to Bruges. Bruges is a small town about an hours train ride away from Brussels to the north, which means that it is part of Flanders, where primarily Flemish and Dutch are spoken. Bruges is famous because it is a very old town, dating back to medieval times, and for the fact that it is one of the oldest towns which was not hit by any bombs during both World Wars. All the buildings are really neat architecturally and because they are so old. There are a series of canals running through the town, making Bruges kind of like a Northern European version of Venice.

When we got into the train station, we walked up to the city center. When we got there, we walked out onto the Grand Markt, which is basically like the center of town in most European towns, although it depends by where you are what they are called. It's usually the center of town. One of the sides was a city hall which was centuries old with a belfort (bell tower). Some of us decided to climb up the bell tower, which was about 330 stairs. From the top, we got a great view of the whole town of Bruges. Once we had climbed down the spiraling staircase, Dr. Kreppel gave us an hour to explore the city. I just meandered down the streets and looked into some shops along the way. Afterwards, we met up again and all went to lunch together. We ate at an Italian restaurant and since the whole excursion was covered in our fees, we didn't have to pay for anything out of pocket. The food was very good and I ate almost my entire pizza and then our table split some tiramisu (sp?) and ice cream. After lunch, we went on a boat ride through all the canals, which was really neat because it gave you a whole different perspective of the town. We passed a lot of really neat, old buildings.

After, the boat ride, we headed back home to Brussels. While we were at the train station, we went ahead and bought our train tickets for next weekend, when we plan to go to Amsterdam. We are planning to travel quite a bit while we are here, going to Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin, and possibly either London or Madrid, all of which should be really fun. So, if anyone has any tips on any of these places, let me know!

Tomorrow is our first actual day of having nothing required of us. I'm planning on going out and doing at least some sightseeing tomorrow, hopefully if I don't have too much homework to do. I'll update you and I'm planning on posting pictures at some point in the near future.

Got to go for now. Love to all!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Here Comes the Sun, Waffles, and Other Bits of Randomness

Today was pretty uneventful except for the fact that it was pretty much sunny the whole day. I've only been here five days and I already realize why some people are not huge fans on Brussels. The weather does leave something to be desired. It is cloudy quite regularly and it usually rains or at least mists/ sprinkles at least once a day. Today, however, it was sunny for the majority of the day. It clouded over a few times and only rained a little bit this morning. Overall, it wasn't too bad. The cloudy/ rainyness isn't that bad because the temperature here is perfect. It has been mainly in the upper 60s, lower 70s in the day and it gets down in the 50s at night.

Anyways, today some of us decided to try walking to school which was great. It's a long walk (about 50 minutes), but you go through one of the many parks in Brussels. It was beautiful and the houses along it were beautiful. Brussels is apparently one of the greenest cities in the world as far as the number of parks.

After class, we all went to get bus passes for the month of June so now we can use the transportation system as much as we want. On the walk home, we stopped by a waffle stand and I experienced my first real Belgian waffle. It was delicious! I think they coat the waffles with a sugary glaze of some sort, which is wonderful. I assume, because the only places you can get waffles are stands and little shops on the street, that waffles are more of a snack food for on the go here. Syrup is not used and, really, was not necessary. They also had the option of having the waffle dipped in chocolate sauce, which I guess I will have to try at some point as well.

On the whole, the food here is really good. I'm looking forward to trying mussels et frites (mussels and french fries), which is apparently another must get in Brussels. I also want to try the Belgian chocolate which is supposed to be some of the best in the world. I will keep you updated on that.

Love to all,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Great Divide

So I thought I would do an extra post on the culture and people here in Belgium. For those of you who may not know, Belgium is made up of two different populations. For the most part, the northern part of Belgium is dominated by the Flemish, who primarily speak Flemish, which is also known as Dutch. The southern portion of Belgium for the most part is populated by French speaking Walloons. (Each of these is named for regions in Belgium: Flanders and Wallonia.) Brussels is a dual language city. Basically, the history of Belgium explains this. Belgium has been taken over throughout history by pretty much anyone of consequence, but the French and Dutch languages stuck. Today, there is pretty much constant tension between the two groups. At one point, the two sectors wanted to split and form separate countries, but for now that debate has been quelled. The French speakers usually associated more with France, while the Flemish seem to take more after the Germans.

In Brussels, there are usually distinct areas which are either French or Flemish, but it is hard for me to tell where these are. All the signs around the city have to be posted in two languages and apparently advertisements in metros and buses and such have to be equally distributed with both languages represented. Sometimes, to get around this, advertisers just advertise in English. Most people here in Brussels seem to speak at least their own language and some English. The Flemish are known for their mastery of languages and so most of them are tri-lingual, but most will not answer you in French if you try to talk to them in French because this is considered rude and they don't really like it. Most of the French speakers it seems don't care to learn Flemish except for the little they need to survive, but most speak English.

Brussels seems to be a big melting pot with people from all over the world here and many different languages spoken. It is very impressive to run into the people who can speak three and four languages. At the market, I noticed that there also seem to be a lot of immigrants living here from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It is really interesting to be surrounded by such diversity.

On another note, Emily wanted to know about my conversation abilities here in Belgium. I am practicing my French, but I haven't really had any conversations with people yet. Mainly my practicing involves me either ordering food or greeting people or excusing myself when I bump into someone. But, I do feel like I am getting better and more confidant in my French. I haven't learned any Flemish yet, but Dr. Kreppel is going to teach us a few phrases to say when we take a day trip to Bruges on Friday. It should be interesting because Flemish seems like it is fairly difficult. However, it is a Germanic language and so some words do look and sound similar to some English words, which is helpful. I challenge myself by trying to read advertisements and signs while we are out and about to try and improve my knowledge or both languages.

Well, that's pretty much all I can think of to comment on these subjects. If you all have any more subjects you think I should address in my posts, let me know and I will.


International School?

Hi to everyone! Sorry for not posting yesterday. I was quite busy with school starting and everything. We had to wake up fairly early because Dr. Kreppel had to come over to show us how to get to the university. Basically, we had to take a bus and a tram and then walk a few blocks to get there and we would have never found it if she had just told us where to go. When we got there, we were all given an orientation and then taken on a tour of the university. We are taking classes through Vesalius College, which is part of a larger university, VUB (which stands for some Flemish words which mean Free University of Brussels). Kind of like the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is part of UF, Vesalius is the international, English speaking sector of VUB, which is a completely Flemish speaking university. Apparently there is also a French Free University of Brussels. This is one of the many wonderful and confusing aspects of the whole two languages thing, which I hope to address at some point in a blog. Anyways, we took a tour of VUB, which is probably one of the ugliest colleges I have ever seen. All the buildings were built during the seventies and all are made of just concrete. Consequently, they look like remnants of the Cold War which you would find in some Eastern European country. Basically, I have no idea what they were thinking when they constructed these. (I'll try to post pictures later so that you can see them in all their glory.) The campus itself is fairly nice. They have some nice green areas and a rugby pitch with a track around it. The campus is pretty small and compact and apparently most of the students there are graduate or doctoral students. Also, they don't really interact with the Vesalius students.

When we returned to Vesalius, we started class. First, I have Dr. Kreppel's class which is the European Union in the World. She introduced herself and told us about the course and then we went around and everyone introduced themselves because our group only makes up about half of the class. All the UF students were sitting together in the front and we all introduced ourselves first. Some of the people in the group were quite interesting in introducing themselves, with some of them explaining where they were from (ex: Pennsylvania) and then following that with, "it's in the northern part of the United States." Once we got through half of the other students, however, we realized that all the other students except for one were Americans as well. Dr. Kreppel had been telling us for days that this was an international school and that there were people from all over the world and we ended up with a class of Americans! It was funny, but pretty disappointing since we had all looked forward to meeting some different people. My next class, European Identity and Skepticism wasn't really any better. There are two Belgians, one Dane, and a girl from Turkey in the class and everyone else is American. Each of the classes lasts for two hours and my first class starts at 11. We have a one hour break for lunch from 1 to 2 and then the second class from 2 to 4.

After class, we had to set up our Vesalius computer accounts and stop by a copy shop to get the reading for Dr. Kreppel's next class because the book hadn't arrived yet. Then, we went to a store that is the Belgian version of Sam's or Costco. It was interesting. It was smaller than a Sam's and the "bulk" items usually came in much smaller packages than they do in America, but it was still interesting to see this because I had no idea that we had exported our love of buying things in bulk for cheap overseas.

That day, we didn't get home until about 6:30 and we were all pretty tired and cranky from the long day and not enough sleep. We all went to our separate apartments and some people took naps. I started on the readings we had for the next days classes. It looks like I will be spending a lot of my time here in Belgium either reading or in class. It makes you wish it was just "abroad" and the "study" part just wasn't there.

Later, some of us went out to a cafe down the street which was lots of fun and interesting because the owners were spoke Spanish, which a lot of people liked because most of them converse better in Spanish than in French.

Today, I got up and we all went to class. We all met up outside our apartments so that we could go together to the university. It took all 11 of us to make sure that we were going in the right direction, getting on the right bus/ tram, not getting hit by cars (the Belgians are probably the worst drivers I have ever seen!), etc. to get to school.

Classes were better today... much more interesting than the introductory stuff we studied yesterday. Also, we are meeting more of the other people in our classes, even if they are Americans, it is still good to meet other people and branch out a little from our little group.

After classes, a small group of us went home while others in the group went with some other students to the bar on campus. (Yes... you read right... a bar on campus. Apparently the drinking age here is 15 if you can believe that... just another interesting tid bit.) I went home and started on my readings for tomorrow's class. (I know... a lot of reading!) Then, some of us went up to the grocery store around the corner to get some things. This grocery store was much smaller than the other one we went to, but much closer and they had pretty much everything we wanted. The whole grocery store thing is very interesting. I had expected Belgium to be more like France in the fact that you go to different shops for different items that you need, but this is not the case at all. You go to a grocery store that sells everything. They do have specific bakeries here, but that is pretty much it as far as specific food stores.

Well, better close for now. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their summer (or almost summer for Fraz.).

Love to all,

Sunday, May 25, 2008

To Market We Go

Today was pretty eventful and exciting. I slept fairly well last night, only waking up once and then going back to sleep pretty quickly. I woke up early (around 8:15 or so) and had a European breakfast... a wonderful croissant! Then all but one of our group met up to go down to Gare du Midi for the open market that they have every Sunday. We rode a tram, which is basically a trolley but more modern looking, into Gare du Midi. There, we stopped into a cafe and most of us had some coffee and the people who hadn't eaten had some breakfast. I'm not a huge fan of coffee to begin with and this stuff was very strong, but it did the trick and woke me right up. Then, we went exploring through the market.

The market is basically like a giant flea market with people selling everything from knockoff purses to clothing to books. However, there are also lots of stands which sell food like fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and breads. The food at these stands, especially the fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper and fresher than most of the grocery stores here so this was wonderful. Many of them have samples of the foods that you can try. I sampled an orange and just had to buy some because it was one of the best oranges I've ever had. This seems quite odd because being from Florida, one would expect that the oranges here would not be quite as good, but the one I had was amazing. I bought three of them and conversed a little bit with the vendor in French, which was also quite exciting. (More on the whole language thing to come.) Hopefully these oranges will be as good as the one I tasted.

After the market, we rode the tram back a ways and got off at a big street sale that the neighborhood of Ixelles was having. Apparently they hold this sale every year and we just happened to be passing that way at the right time. Most of the stuff was second hand, but it is just neat to walk along the streets, watch people, and "window" shop at all the different stalls.

After walking up this street, we came back home where most people proceeded to take naps. I decided not to and decided instead to call my parents. We all got cheap cell phones yesterday which use SIM cards, which run on a prepaid minutes type plan. It is very expensive to call the US, but I thought it would be good to at least talk to my parents.

After that, Jessie came over to our apartment to hang out and we started to hear some music. It turns out that the Jazz Festival which we missed last night was continuing this afternoon. Three of us went down to the Place de Ferdinand du Cocq and listened to some pretty great bands. The music wasn't really jazz music, it was more just all different kinds of music. The weather was great and we just sat and listened to the different bands. It was wonderful.

Well, we have an early day tomorrow with classes starting so I've got to end this post for now. More later.

Love to all,

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day One

Greetings to all from Brussels! I hope this post finds everyone well.

Today was my first day in Brussels. I arrived at the airport after a difficult night on the plane. I think I slept for maybe four or five hours at the most, but I kept waking up because of the lights from the tv screens and because I kept getting cricks in my neck (even with my little pillow). While we were descending, I was able to look over (I had an aisle seat and not the bulkhead like I had hoped) and see the atomium, which was all lit up. The atomium was built for the one of the worlds fairs and is meant to look like a giant atom, hence the name. This was definitely exciting because I had read about this in my travel book on Brussels. Anyways, I disembarked and went through customs. I met Russell, one of the guys from my trip who was arriving around the same time at baggage claim and we took a cab to the apartments where we are staying in Brussels. On our way into town, we passed a lot of the EU buildings, which was pretty cool. Most of them were fairly nondescript, but it was just neat to see where all the EU business takes place.

We arrived at the apartments, which are very nice, but not quite as nice as the ones on the website (if I showed any of you). It turns out I am in one of the nicer apartments of the lot, but I have the smallest bedroom. My roommate won't be here for another week though because she is doing another study abroad program in Berlin so I have the room to myself for a while. Dr. Kreppel, our adviser, gave us fifteen minutes to wash our faces, brush our teeth, etc. Then, we left for what she called the "Bataan Death March." Basically this consisted of her trying to show us around our area of the city and trying to keep us from falling asleep to prevent jet lag. It was grueling and I was tired, but it was really neat just being in a new city. Brussels reminds me of Paris to some extent, but is not quite as uniform and proper looking.

We went down the Chaussee d'Ixelles, a shopping street near our apartments and then we rode the metro into the center of the city where we went to the Grand Place, which is the oldest square in Europe which is still intact after both world wars. The Place was all set up for the Jazz Festival which they hold in Brussels every year around this time. They have different stages set up all around the city where you can go and hear jazz music. We sat down and listened for a while, but then we continued our march. We went to another shopping district, where Dr. Kreppel left us to find our own way back to our apartments. We didn't have any trouble doing this. We just hopped on a bus and were there in no time.

Then we rested for a few hours. Later, Dr. Kreppel took some of us to one of the larger grocery stores in the area where we stocked up on everything from soap and laundry detergent to pasta to cook for meals. It was quite an interesting experience since everything here is a little different and all the packages were in two or three different languages (French, Flemish, and sometimes English). We returned with our groceries and we all took showers because we all felt disgusting from the plane ride and walk around the city. Afterwards, I fixed myself a small sandwich and we headed out. We went to a local cafe, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, by the time we were finished there, it had started raining and we were not able to go to the Jazz Festival events which were close to us in the Place de Ferdinand du Cocq so we just went home.

And now, I must close and catch up on some much needed sleep. Tomorrow promises to be interesting with a 9:30 meeting for a flea market out at Gare du Midi.

Love to all,

Friday, May 23, 2008

Learning to Fly

Bonjour from the city of brotherly love! I am currently stuck in the Philadelphia airport and expect to be here for another four hours. Ah... the joys of air travel!

Today started really early. I woke up around 4 and could not go back to sleep. I made it to the airport in Tallahassee with family in tow. They all came to see me off despite the early hour, which was really wonderful especially the fact that Fraz was willing to wake up so early. I made it to Charlotte without any delays or problems and spent about four hours wandering around the Charlotte airport. The airport in Charlotte is very nice, but there is definitely not enough there to entertain anyone for four hours. By this time, I was desperately in need of a nap and those awful airport chairs are not conducive for sleeping. Consequently, I slept for most of my flight from Charlotte to Philly and even slept through takeoff which always surprises me that I am able to do this considering I'm a fairly light sleeper. Anyways, now I am awaiting my flight from Philly to Brussels. I will probably wander around the airport here some more. There are a lot more shops here, but there's only so much time you can kill looking at knick-knacks.

I'm dreading the eight hour flight to Brussels and the having to sleep on the plane. Luckily, I have a bulkhead seat (I think) so at least I will be a little more comfortable. We'll see if it helps at all.

I guess I will close for now because I don't want to bore you all with my ruminations on the carpet here at the Philly airport (sound familiar Haley or Leah?). Hopefully later blogs will be more interesting to read.

Love to all,