24.04.11

I’ve spent this last week in Italy and Greece and it was quite wonderful.

Venice was everything you expect it to be, except perhaps for the conspicuous lack of local Italians. The word on the street is that most people live outside the city because it’s so incredibly tourist-heavy. It was still lovely there though. Elana and I spent most of our time there just wandering the streets and along the canals because we didn’t want to waste our one full day locked in a museum or something. We did hop on a gondola at one point and did the typical grand tour of Venice by gondola. It was fun and as a bonus there was no bad opera-singing involved, although I hear you can pay extra for that. We mostly just ate and got sunburned as we relaxed at various cafes on the side of the canals. I had the most amazing plate of gnocchi and I really need to learn how to make it now because I almost feel like a little piece of my life was missing before I tasted real, authentic gnocchi and now I can never go back.

We had a bit of drama obtaining our ferry tickets because the address that it says the ticket office is at doesn’t actually, you know, exist. But after some phone calls and a lot of walking, we found the actual office and got on our ferry safe and sound. It was a LONG ride, over 30 hours. I mostly slept or read through it, but I have to say that the view was lovely. The Mediterranean is such a beautiful blue, almost a turquoise color, and passing by all the Greek islands was wonderful too.  We finally arrived in Patras late the next evening. We had dinner and then caught a taxi to find ourselves a very pleasant surprise at the hotel we had reserved. It looked like paradise, even in the dark AND we totally had a balcony! For girls who are used to kind of dirty, crowded hostels while we travel, this was amazing. We spent the remainder of the night gushing about it. By daylight, it looked even better and I imagine with a nice summer crowd, it’s absolutely lovely to stay at for a few days. Because tourist season hasn’t really arrived yet in Greece, almost everywhere we went was almost empty, but that’s kind of nice too.

We didn’t stay long in Patras sadly, although we both swore up and down we wanted to come back as soon as possible, but we had already made plans for Athens, so we got on the first bus to the city. Once we had found our hostel in Athens, we headed out to shop and then a few hours later we found ourselves at the nearly deserted entrance of the Acropolis. We actually thought it might have been closed for a few minutes because there were maybe like 10 people there. Of course, it was open and they actually let us in for free because we are officially EU students! It was so exciting, because admission was going to be 12 euro. It was really nice to be able to wander around the Acropolis with so few people there because you could really look at things without feeling like you standing in the way of someone taking a picture or something. Sadly, they’re doing construction on the Acropolis right now to restore it and the building rigs are in almost all the pictures. :( We spent a good chunk of time at the very nice and modern Acropolis museum that’s just across the street from the actual thing. It’s got some really cool stuff including a lot of the original friezes and statues that were on the Acropolis. Almost every single statue was missing its head and other limbs because a couple centuries ago the Christians thought it would be cool to turn the Acropolis into a church and felt that they had to hack all the Roman art to pieces to accomplish this.

Everything was closing down early in Athens in preparation for the big Easter weekend, so Elana and I caught an earlier bus to Volos than planned and instead spent the evening chilling out by the seaside in the much smaller fishing town. We had actually just settled down in our hotel room when we heard a band playing and looked out the window to see the Easter parade in the distance. Needless to say, we rushed back into our clothes and all but bolted out the door to catch up. We got down to the street just in time and actually got to walk alongside the short procession for awhile before we headed back to our hotel again. It was really cool. I took some pictures, but it was too dark for my camera to be of much use. There wasn’t a whole lot to see anyway except one arch of flowers that the priests were carrying, but it was still a very nice experience to have.

Overall the people in Greece were just wonderful. On several occasions, Elana and I were a little shocked by the hospitality we were receiving. Free cookies, free shots, free souvenirs, free Greek lessons, you name it. It made the experience so much better. I didn’t really know what to expect when we decided to spend the week in Greece, but I was definitely very pleasantly surprised. I have to say I was a fan of the food in Venice a little more than the food in Greece, but it was still really good anyway. I mean, where else can you get roasted lamb and potatoes for 8 euro anyway? Besides the people and the food, the place itself is just paradise. Forget Hawaii, go to Greece, seriously. You’re never more than an hour from the ocean and it was so beautiful the entire time we were there.

And now we’re back in Brussels, facing the reality that our long papers are due in a week(yikes!) and very few of us have one substantial work for them. It’s actually gone and gotten quite muggy in Brussels while we were down in Greece in the breezy sea air as well.


13.04.11

Yesterday was a really bizarre day. I got up early and took the metro over to campus and as I was walking across the green to get to the library, the sunny skies suddenly decided to open up and HAIL. Seriously, the sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, and it was hailing. Hard.

Now, I’ve been through hail storms before, but I’ve never had to run through them all the way across campus to even get to shelter. Not a fun experience. Big surprise – hail kind of hurts when it hits you. Luckily, the pieces weren’t huge, they were like Dip’n’Dots size, but they still hurt when they caught you. Then, even more bizarrely, within ten minutes, the hail stopped and the only sign it ever even happened was the wet pavement. Seriously, it was just weird.

I spent most of the day trying to research, but the VUB library is possibly the most unhelpful library I’ve ever been to. Instead I trolled Google Scholar until I came up with things. It’s so hard to focus when you’re reading books online though. I’d rather have the physical copy in my hands, but you do what you have to, I guess.

Deadlines are fast approaching and it’s starting to wear on everyone. Both the good and bad thing about it is that it’s spring break right now. So we have a lot of free time, but most everyone is either traveling or getting ready to travel, so I don’t know how much help it is going to be. I’m trying to get somewhere substantial on my long paper before I leave for Italy & Greece, but it’s hard to concentrate when all I want to do is go outside and enjoy spring in Brussels.

Spring makes Brussels a much prettier city, to be honest. All the tulips and daffodils around the city add so much color and festivity. I think warm weather just makes people nicer too. The constant rain and gray skies of winter are depressing.

Can you believe I only have a month and a half left over here? It’s crazy to think how quickly four months have gone. I’m both ready to come home and fighting the urge to extend my stay over here. Summer in St. Louis is shaping up to be a very attractive lure however because so many people I know and love will be there by complete coincidence. Any way it turns out, it will be better than Nashville ever was where I knew no-one at all during last summer.

Also, of course, I miss everyone from Hendrix and home dearly. Please call me on Skype more often. It makes my days so much better, especially now when all I do is research and eat.


04.04.11

Sorry for the long silence, but nothing too interesting is going on here.

I’ve been mostly concerned with planning(and paying for) my Spring Break trip which will be to Italy and Greece. We’re still ironing out details and kinks, so I don’t have much to share besides I’ll be down there for about a week and I’m hoping not to get sunburned.

My other worries are much more ordinary. I’m running out of time to write 3 papers, my hair needs to be cut and probably needs to be dyed, I have way too much stuff over here and need to figure out what I should ship home and what I should keep in my suitcase. It’s so strange that I only have 2 months left here. I thought I would want to stay forever, but as the deadline gets closer, I get more and more excited to go home to Hendrix soon.

I guess I’m also worried about travel plans in general. I had really wanted to go to London for the Royal Wedding, but it’s not looking too feasible if I’m going to Greece instead because all my money will be gone when I get back from that trip and I won’t have the extra cash to pay for not only the plane or train ticket but also a hostel and food. I think instead, I’m going to wait until the end of May after my paper defense and spend my last few days in France. I’m going to swing by Paris(finally) and then visit a friend who lives in the south. It’s so hard to make these decisions, though. I just want to be everywhere all at once, but I also have to consider due dates and internship hours and money constraints. Too much, really.

This semester is a little too weighted towards the end, I think. I’ve had virtually no assignments to do all semester and now I’m facing looming deadlines for 3 papers, plus I still have over 50 hours to complete at my internship and to be honest, they seem to have run out of things to give me a while ago. I mostly sit there and stare at the computer screen while waiting for someone to remember to give me something. That something usually turns out to be a distribution list or putting stamps on letters even though we’ve asked repeatedly for something, anything, more interesting. I just feel all my brain cells slipping away as I copy and paste endlessly in that office. Plus, one of the men who works there still calls me Julia. So annoying.

I think the main reason I’m a little homesick is that I just really dislike the academic experience I’m having over here. My classes at Vesalius feel condescending and very high school-ish at times. I miss Hendrix classes where the professors don’t treat us as if we aren’t capable of reading primary sources by ourselves. My internship is unfulfilling and unrelated to anything I really care about. The IES course is nice, but always rushed and it’s a lot of information just thrown at you all at once so it’s hard to digest fully.


15-22/3/11

Okay, so finally a post about my week in Dublin. Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been busy catching up with life here in Brussels and I kept putting this off. So be prepared for a long entry that you not required to read.

Day 1 – 15/3

I arrived in Dublin early in the morning after an exhausting night in Brussels Charleroi Airport. For future reference, never spend the night in the airport. It will be uncomfortable and gross. The first thing I learned about Dublin is that the locals do not approve of jaywalking as Brussels people do. In fact, within the hour, I got screamed at by some lady for crossing the street while a car was coming at me. Oops. But I didn’t die, so whatever, right?

I didn’t really know what to do with myself and or really, where I even was, so I wandered around until I found the tourism center and bought a map so I could find my hostel later. Then I just started walking. Luckily, Dublin is a deceptively small city so it’s hard to wander far. I ended up at a garden with some ruins in it, which turned out to be the garden of Christchurch. So, I went inside and it was lovely as all old churches are, but I have to say the floors were really cool. I took lots of pictures of the floor in Christchurch and only a few of the other things, haha. among normal church artifacts and gold-encrusted cups, they also, interestingly enough, have a mummified cat and mouse that someone once found in the organ there while cleaning it. Why did they keep it and put it in a glass-lit case? No one seems to really know.

Later in the day I went on a lovely walking tour of Dublin. The guide was a girl about my age and super-knowledgeable about the history and quirks of the city, so I enjoyed it a lot even though it was an amazing three hours long. After that, I checked into my hostel and joined in a pub crawl with a pretty fun group I’d met on the tour earlier in the day. It was fun because we had a native to take us around Temple Bar so we went to some nice pubs. It’s nice to go on an organized pub crawl like that because without a guide the sheer amount of pubs can be overwhelming and it’s a good way to break the ice in a new city.

Day 2 – 16/3

I started out the day with a short visit to the Natural History Museum – mostly because it was on the way to the National Gallery and admission was free. It’s actually a pretty cool place, it still maintains a very 1800s feel to the exhibits which mainly consist of taxidermy. Afterwards, I went to the National Gallery which was right down the street. I got in trouble for taking pictures, even though there definitely were no ‘NO PHOTOGRAPHY’ signs visible to me. But either way, it was a great place. I also had really amazing potato soup there.

After lunch and some rest, I went to St. Michan’s Church which is famous for its crypts full of mummified bodies. Cool, yeah? It took me a long time to find it because it’s hidden behind this really large, modern bank building, but it was worth it. You get to go down(well, really, crawl down) in the crypts under the church and they have several untouched crypts down there from wealthy families who have been buried there(the last burial was about 50 years ago, although many families still have ‘active’ crypts there technically). The graves in the crypt went undisturbed for centuries – and most still are – before a few of the coffins collapsed and some mummified bodies were found. They only have four of the mummies on display, but they believe that because of the peculiar conditions in the crypt, probably every body buried there has become mummified over the years. You can duck into the the crypt and touch one of the mummy’s hands. He’s supposedly a Crusader come home from the wars. Also, they estimate he was about 6’6″ in life, which was absolutely giant for his day and age, so when they buried him they had to break his legs off at the knees and fold them under so he would fit in the box. Anyway, it’s supposed to be good luck if you rub his hand, so I did.

Day 3 – 17/3

St. Patrick’s Day! The day started with the (incredibly bizarre) SPD parade. There were no real connections to St. Patrick’s Day except for the parade marshall dressed up at the man himself in green church robes. The rest was just odds and ends, some of it related to fairy tales(that I didn’t know, but the children were excited) and some of it was miserable marching bands forced to perform in the parade. It was kind of a weird let-down and definitely wasn’t what I was expecting of the parade.

The party starts immediately after the parade ends at around 1p.m., but instead of going to the pubs, I grabbed lunch and took a short nap(lame, I know), but I went out again at around 5 and met several different people throughout the night as I flitted from place to place. I enjoyed being alone in that aspect because I could just get up and go when I was bored of a place and I didn’t have to wait around for someone else. I never did see any green beer even though they promised there would be some, but it was definitely a proper street party that night. and a lot of fun.

Day 4 – 18/4

Started off the day at a museum called Dublinia that details the Viking roots of Dublin and how they developed it into a real city. It was neat and really interactive, I think kids would have a lot of fun there. It had a great section about archeology in Dublin and it’s not-so-great history with building developers who have bulldozed over important finds in the city for the sake of money.

Next, I went to the Chester Beatty Library which was so lovely and wonderful. They had this beautiful exhibition on Persian lore and the Shahnama. They have over two hundred copies of the Shahnama and they put together this exhibition so not only could you read the major stories in order, but also so you could compare different styles and illustrations in the books. It was so cool and I must have been there for hours because I was really fascinated by it. I even wanted to go back, but didn’t have the time unfortunately.

Last on the agenda for the day was the Old Jameson Distillery. As far as distilleries go, it was pretty neat. I thought the tour guide was pretty nice, if quirky. It was definitely a more personal experience than the Guinness Brewery and I felt less put upon to buy things there, which is always nice. I also discovered that not all whisky is bad and that I actually quite like the taste of Jameson, so hey, that’s a perk.

Day 5 – 19/4

Got up early to take the tram all the way across town(and by all the way, I mean like 25 minutes walk, but I was tired) to go to the Kilmainham Gaol – a very old jail in Dublin. I really liked it, though that’s probably obvious because I always like that sort of thing. There were some great stories about Irish revolutionaries who spent time there and all the changes that happened during the prison reform years. Cool bit of history there, although not the best tour ever.

Next I went to the Guinness Brewery which was actually really disappointing. Everyone always builds it up s being this great, awesome place, but I was pretty unimpressed. There’s no actual tour, just a “self-guided” exhibition that’s hard to read because of dim lighting and big crowds. I think it might have been better if there was some sort of cap on admission per hour, but there isn’t so it was just really crowded and noisy and un-fun. the building is cool and the food at their restaurant is really good, though.

Day 6 – 20/4

I was so exhausted this day that I slept in pretty late and got up in time to grab a ticket for the last tour of Dublin Castle for the day. I had three hours to kill before the tour so I went to the park behind the castle and just sat and read a book. The tour of the Castle was actually not worth it at all. Pretty dry and uninformative and you only get to see about three rooms before they usher you out. The only part of the tour that offered something interesting was the last leg where they take you underneath the castle to see part of one of the original towers that used to be an armory before it blew up in the 1550s. But you’re only there for about 5-10 minutes before they make you leave. So, all in all, Dublin Castle is a bit of a bust for being such a big part of Dublin’s history.

I didn’t do anything else notable this day and instead, stayed in and relaxed at the hostel.

Day 7 – 21/4

Didn’t quite know what to do with myself this day because I felt like I’d done almost everything Dublin had to offer. I ended up trying to go to a museum, but it was closed on Mondays, so I couldn’t go. Instead I got on the tram at whim and ended up somehow in Phoenix Park where I spent half the day just lying in the grass and doing nothing but enjoying the pretty weather. If I had had a book with me, I probably would have stayed longer, but as it was I was there for a couple of hours.

Later in the night I hung out at a couple of pubs, I felt like that was the proper way to say goodbye to Dublin. I had a short nap before around 4a.m. when I had to catch a bus to the airport so I could be on time for my flight back to Brussels at 6:30a.m.

And that’s my week in Dublin. Congratulations if you read that whole thing. I’m willing to elaborate on any of the events, I just wanted to be as brief as possible because I was covering the whole week here. Hope you all had lovely a St. Patrick’s Day as well. If you’re from Hendrix, expect a postcard from Dublin soon! I sent them out on my last day so you might not get them for a bit, but let me know when they come.


08.03.11

On Sunday, the Hendrix group went to Antwerp together. Our morning was dedicated to tour of the Jewish neighbourhood of the city, which was really interesting. We started in the diamond district because traditionally the diamond-cutting industry is dominated by Jewish men, although in the past few years this is less true because of an influx of Pakistani and Indian diamond-cutters to the area. Then, we were lucky enough to be able to visit a super-traditional synagogue. Apparently, they usually don’t let visitors in, but for some reason they let the group of loud American students past their gates. Once inside, an older man, not sure if he was a rabbi or just there for prayers, spoke to us about Jewish life in Antwerp. He also talk a little about Jewish identity and how he believed that it was not a race, but a way of life. It was really cool, but unfortunately he only spoke Dutch, so we only caught a translation of what was a really beautiful thought in all likeliness. He also talked about how various traditions have evolved over the years, such as how one law commands that married women cover their hair, but a new trend is for married women to shave their heads and wear wigs. Who knew? He ended with talking about how the Jewish presence in the diamond industry was rapidly falling because the younger generation was branching out to other industries instead of the traditional diamond-cutting. He said he was the last diamond-cutter in his family after three generations in Antwerp(he seemed kind of sad about this actually).

After the synagogue, we stopped by a kosher restaurant which has the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen all perfectly displayed. We were all salivating honestly. Anyway, the cook was so kind as to describe the process of making kosher food and what precautions have to be taken. Then, we headed to a kosher bakery next which was AMAZING. Jean-Marie got us all these cheesecake danishes and…they were just the most amazing thing. We also got to go back into the bakery area where the owner talked to us for a while. Every morning a rabbi comes by to make sure the bakery is meeting all the kosher guidelines and the rabbi has to crack all the eggs for them to make sure there’s no blood in the whites, so he ends up cracking about 10,000 eggs a week according to the owner. Woah. Anyway, I mostly want to go back to Antwerp to buy a whole dozen of those danishes all for myself because it was the best pastry I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t even care when I spilled the powdered sugar all over myself.

After our tour of the Jewish neighbourhood, we had a very leisurely lunch in the main square before wandering around downtown. We were supposed to go to a museum but ended up hanging out in the sunshine and having a few drinks instead. It was really nice group time. :)

My photostream hasn’t kicked to the new pictures yet, but I did update my Flickr if you want to look at the pictures I took this weekend!

Since Antwerp, I’ve done nothing much exciting. I finished my Comparative Politics paper comparing the power structures of the Supreme Courts of Japan and the United States. At work, I’m just making phone call after phone call to invite people to an event. I’m actually calling pretty important people like MEPs and councillors, but it’s still really boring.

I leave for Dublin in a week though! So excited! It’s the bright light at the end of the boring tunnel right now. :)


27.02.11

Last night was Museum Night Fever, a Brussels-wide event where all the major museums open their doors from 7pm-3am and host all sorts of crazy parties and performances. I had a GREAT time with Elana, Jackie and Ariana(and Annie for some of the night, but she peaced out early).

We started out at the Natural History Museum, which I went to two weekends ago, but was more than happy to re-visit because it’s a pretty awesome place. They had a dance troupe there that were just going crazy and climbing and dancing everywhere. It was really fun and interesting. Definitely my favorite museum here in the city so far. I love that almost every single exhibit has information in Dutch, French, English and German. It makes it so accessible to so many people, in ways that a lot of the museums here aren’t because you have to have working knowledge of Dutch or French to understand anything at the others. Not to say all the museums are like that, but the majority are in my experience so far.

After the Natural History Museum, we hopped on the metro and made our way back over to the Royal Palace area where there is a whole square full of about 7 museums within walking distance of each other. We spent some time playing around in the Brussels Info Place. It’s a little hard to describe BIP because it’s not really a museum, but not really just a visitors’ center either. It has some cool playthings, though, I guess, but if you have to pay to go on, I don’t think it’s worth it.

Next we went to see the Coudenbourg which is the underground remains of what used to be an old palace that the city built on top of. Really cool stuff. I’d like to go back and take the actual tour when there aren’t tons of people milling around because it was really neat to wander around in this huge labyrinth of an old stone building that been beautifully preserved. They definitely piqued my interest. Also, they had a whole bunch of people wandering around in costume in character. It was both hilarious and frightening at times. At one point, we were taking a group picture and this “peasant lady” comes up behind Ariana and stares at the camera like it’s magic and makes a kind of a little scene when the camera clicked. There were also nuns, knights and wandering minstrels walking around. I’m pretty sure at one point they had a whole minstrel band playing, but we missed them unfortunately.

After that, our final stop was at the Belvue Museum which I had also already been to. I kind of wandered around idly while the other girls looked around. It’s a huge museum that covers the entire history of Belgium and has special exhibits on all the kings. Really well put-together and great information, but it can be really overwhelming too because of the sheer amount of things they have put together in one place.

After that, we were all exhausted and decided to skip out on the after party. I mostly wanted to go home because I was starting to feel my cold again and I didn’t have my medicine with me. We’d also been walking around for about five hours at that point, so I think we were all really tired and ready to go our separate ways.

Other than that, this coming week is mid-terms already so I’m working through a lot of stuff. Unfortunately for my politics class, our textbook only arrived in the bookstore last week, so we only have a couple of days to read a LOT of material and absorb it which at this point, seems ridiculous and pointless. I’m thankful that my grades don’t count over here, otherwise I would be having panic attacks about this class. Instead I can just do what I can and shrug off the results. It’s a shame because the subject would be interesting if I had the time to properly digest it, but it’s going to be a rush job because of all the textbook issues we’ve been having.

And I’m sorry that I suck and haven’t responded to any comments you all have left me. I love you and I read them and I know I suck. The end. :)


25.02.11

I have been miserably sick this week and it’s caused some unseasonable irritability, so if I’ve lashed out at all, I’m sorry. It’s hard to be even-keeled when you’re coughing so hard your entire body aches. Dramatic, but true.

I missed work and class for two days and finally went back to work today, although I more than wished I had stayed home. At least the work was very easy and straightforward, so little brainpower was required. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty much spent in bed except fora very short excursion Wednesday. I realized I was running out of food and had no appropriate medicine for what was developing into a seriously nasty cough. Luckily, my limited French vocabulary allowed me to properly describe what my symptoms were to the pharmacienne and not just gesture wildly at my throat and runny nose. The only question that tripped me up was what color my snot was because I was trying to say yellow, but could only think ‘amarillo’ for some reason, so finally I just settled on ‘vert’ instead because I must have stood there for a full minute running through colors in my head while she waited for me to answer the simplest question ever, haha. Of course, ‘jaune’ comes to me as I leave the store. But isn’t that how it always goes with word recall?

It was such an achievement this morning when I woke up and I could breathe through my NOSE though. I mean, I’m still coughing really hard but at least I have some improvement because this cold has taken me out of commission since Sunday. When I went to work on Monday, they were all like “…you sound awful, are you sure you don’t want to go home?” with that really skeptical tone everyone always gets when they don’t want your germs on them.I stayed the whole day but paid for it later when I literally slept through Tuesday and most of Wednesday.

I have to say – it’s much harder being sick over here because you’re really kind of on your own. You’re responsible for making your own meals, so you can’t just drag yourself to the Caf and hope they have good soup that day. You have to drag yourself to the grocery store and stare at Dutch labels for soup boxes, hoping you don’t pick anything too crazy. And then you have to actually make it. All in all, I miss the Caf being there when I’m too tired or run-down to even think about making my own food. These past few days I’ve mostly just been nibbling on a big loaf of bread because it’s easier to do that than to go simmer something over the stovetop.