Saturday, November 24, 2007


It's been a week since we have returned from the crazy city of Amsterdam. I am now resting and catching up on work ( phew! lots of reading/papering to do!) But I definately had a great time there. Everybody knows the city for it's liberality, but there's honestly more to it than just that and it is not a dirty city by any means, even though the red light district is obviously raunchy. We went to the VanGogh Museum on Friday night, The Anne Frank House on Saturday, and the Rijks Museum on Sunday. We also took a boat tour and saw the Sinterklaas parade, which I am currently writing an article on for Cafeabroad.

My two favorite parts of the trip were the Anne Frank House and the beautiful canals. It was so wierd to actually jump up the ledge behind the bookcase that Anne Frank used every day. It was also quite eerie to be in her room and look outside to the only view she had during her two years of isolation. I got chills up my spine. The canals were gorgeous. If you venture from the heart of the city, you'll find a lot more. There were also christmas lights everywhere and it looked like a town out of the 1950's. It was so cool!

One thing I am really glad that I did on this trip was relax. I spent a lot of time in cafes or bars just sipping an Amstel or Heineken, which was nice. Sometimes you literally walk for 7-8 hours straight during trips and it can be extremely tiring, tothe point where you're cranky and just want to sleep. I knew my limits this time though, and wasn't afraid to just stop when I had to. My parents and I did this a lot in London and Brugge and I found it be a great way to re-energize oneself. Oh the powers of a pub!

I almost forgot to mention the markets! Saturday was market day in Amsterdam, as it is in most cities. We went to this huuuuge antique market and I about died and went to heaven when I found this amazing 80's store. Inside were metallic sweaters, hot pink dresses, and crazy multi-colored spandex. I wanted to buy this one dress that was hot pink and black and flared out at the bottom, but it was 25 euro and I just couldn't justify it, seeing as the exchange rate is at an all-time low and money is going even faster, due to gift-buying for the holiday season.

Well, now I must get back to reading Dracula, because I have to finish it by Thursday. I don't think this is honestly going to happen, but I guess I can make an honest attempt, right? The work is a burden and is not too fun, but we are all pumped about Christmas around here. I have put up a stocking outside of my door and am counting down the days until I can return home! We have picked secret santas too which is exciting. We're going to give gifts every week and then we're going to have a Christmas party on December 13th. I originally booked a flight to London for that weekend, but I am going to ancel it because I want to be able to share that weekend with people here before I go home, and I also need to finish up all the stuff that is due before I go home. Also, I know that Im going to be experiencing major jet lag after my trip home. It's comforting to know that I will be returning home soon, because to be honest, I was really homesick on Thanksgivbing. I have not legimately felt homesick this whole semester ( ok, maybe a few times here and there), but on Thanksgiving I was down. It was just hard hearing about all the activities that my family and friends were doing without me. However, we had a GREAT feast here and it was so much fun. Everybody went out after and we also played football, which was fun. When you can't have your family at home, you can definately rely on people in Leuven, and they have definately proved to be a source of great comfort for me.

I can't believe I've been living in Europe for 3 months now! wow!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Folks Visit

This past week, my parents came to visit, which was a lot of fun. They arrived on Wednesday, the 7th, in Leuven. I walked them around and got lunch with them at a restaurant, and then we got dinners and beers at a restaurant on the Munstraat. After downing one too many Belgian beers in far too short of a period, my mom stumbled into the street and was laughing too hard to take a picture with me. It was hilarious. I don't think that anybody is prepared to drink beers that are anywhere from 7-12 percent alcohol. They expect our beers to be like any other beers- 4 or 5 percent. I think my dad was a little bit tipsy also. Regardless, I think they both enjoyed the beer and the mussels we had for dinner ( a Belgian specialty).

On Thursday, my parents hung out while I went to class. During the evening, we went out for drinks and then ate dinner at an Italian place with all of the Leuven kids. Everybody was really grateful for the dinner, considering that we live off of spaghetti, bread, and cheese most of the time.

On Friday, we went to Brugge. Because Loyola took us on a trip here in September, I knew the town a little bit and was able to navigate us to some pretty places. However, it was pouring down rain and we tried to stop into as many chocolate stores as possible to get warm ( and obviously eat chocolate). My mom was amazed at how much chocolate there was and also how cute the town was. I think she bought a little too much chocolate though. She got all of her christmas shopping done in one day, much to the dismay of my dad, who constantly nagged us to go to the pubs. At the end of the day, I took them to this awesome pub that our director showed us last time we went. It had a lot of trappist beers and other unique Belgian beers. My dad definately liked this part of the trip. We made friends with some British people that night, who warned us that British beers are nothing compared to Belgian beers ( hence, why they were there)

On Saturday, we left for London. Looking back, I can't believe that my parents actually did all of this. It certainly seems crazy. I give them a lot of credit for being almost 50 and trekking around Europe. London was everything that people claim it to be. It was really touristy, but soooo cool. I loved all of the history to it and all of the original pubs. I also really liked the accents! When we first arrived, we went to the Portobello Market, which is an antique market held on Saturdays in Notting Hill. I loooooved it! I got some presents for people there and then I had a few drinks with my parents. After this, we walked to kensington Palace and gardens. We saw the statue of Peter Pan , which made me really happy. I love the story of Peter Pan and the movies about it, such as" Hook" and "Finding Neverland". The sun was setting when we walked through the gardens, so it was really beautiful. That night, we got dinner close by and then crashed early.

On Sunday, we saw a lot. We took the tube to the Globe Theatre, took a tour of that, took a tube to St. Pauls, and saw a Remembrance Day Procession. There were a lot of older men walking out with old fashioned tuxedos on. I was really moved by all of this and it was incredible that we had the opporunity to see Harry Patch- the 109 year old War War 1 Veteran that was honored that day. After going to half of an Anglican Mass, we walked to the Charles Dickens Inn for some fish and chips. I could eat fish and chips everyday. Then we walked to the tube and went to Baker Street to the fictitious house of Sherlock Holmes. Although it wasn't much of anything, it was cool to get a picture by the door of 221b Baker Street, being the literary nerd that I am. That night, we went to this really cool pub that was tucked away and hard to find. I think it was called "The Grenadier". There were a bunch of soliders inside, due to Remembrance Day, and in addition, it was the pub that the soliders went to that fought against Napoleon. It seemed a little bit haunted, but also really neat. This area was the residence of some famous authors, such as T.S. Elliot and Mary Shelley, which was pretty cool ( once again, a literary reference).

On Monday, we went to Westminster Abbey and the Parliament. Then we went to a pub and I got fish and chips again. After this, we went to Buckingham Palace and then Picadilly Circus. We were going to go to The British Library Galleries, where they had original manuscripts by Jane Austen and Shakespeare on display, but my mom was going too slow and got shut into the tube, so my dad and I had to meet my mom at the next stop. I was so tired and fed up and we all decided that we had to eliminate one part of the day. So, we decided not to do that, which, looking back, was probably the wrong decision. That night, we headed to Harrod's and shopped there for awhile. Most of it was ridiculously expensive, but it was cool to see the store. It was honestly the most outrageous place I have ever been. I was blown away. The food halls were incredible. They had every kind of food you could imagine and everything else as well. I felt like I was in Willy Wonka's factory or something. We had sushi there that night. It was sad to leave my parents at the end, but it was a great. I had an awesome time and Id love to go back to London.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Murphy's Law

I just finished two great weekends of travel! Our visit to Aachen and Monchau Germany was amazing. Aachen, although not so scenic, had great German food. We tried some bratwurst, pretzels, and these doughnut esque things...all were delicious. We had a guided tour of a cathedral in Aachen where the bones of Charlemagne were kept! I actually saw the femur of Charlemagne. That is a pretty cool claim in my book. We also saw a giant cathedral in Aachen that was dark and scary. It had a beautiful gold mosaic roof though, sort of similar to St. Mark's in Venice. After touring Aachen for a few hours, we headed to a small town called Monschau ( may or may not be spelling this correctly). This town seemed like it was out of a story book. There were beautiful streams and Swiss-like cottages everywhere, all surrounded by wooded hills. Because it was right before Halloween, everybody was dressed up and they were selling this hot wine drink that everybody loved. It was neat, because nobody really gets into Halloweeen in Belgium. There was a 5 story Christmas store in this town as well, which made me excited for the holidays. It was nice to just be able to relax in this town, because many of the times when we are traveling it is rushed and hectic. I strongly believe that traveling to any city when you're only allotted a few hours or days is going to be this way. That's why it's nice to travel outside of cities and see lesser known places.

After our short Germany trip, we rested up, celebrated Halloween here ( very fun, but I was sick), and then we took off for Ireland. All together there were 7 girls in the group to Ireland. We flew into Dublin on Halloween night and were immediately excited when we saw bonfires and fireworks everywhere from the plane. We realized that Halloween is huge in Ireland...makes sense due to it's Gothic nature haha. We trekked to our Hostel, which I had apparently booked for the wrong night. It worked out though, and they gave us a room. We then headed out to meet my friend Cookie's friend from home who happened to by studying abroad in Dublin. We hung out at his place and then he walked us to a favorite bar of his right by the River Liffey. There were 3 stories in this bar and everybody was in costume; it was so much fun. We dressed as the rainbow; I was green. We got a lot of whistles from the Irish men, so apparently we looked pretty good. We all tried our first Irish Guiness, which was so delicious, but obviously really thick. I didn't make it through more than 1/4 of it. I tried some Bulmers cider too, thanks to the recommendations of my friend Kevin O'Conner, who studied abroad in Ireland last year. It was really sweet, which is quite different from Guiness, but also very good. We were disappointed to find out that the bars close at 2 in Dublin, because they stay open until 7-8 in Leuven haha. This was probably good though, because after a few pints, I was ready to just go to my hostel and sleep. On the way home, we ran into some crazies who were just being silly I guess. I, being the genius that I am, started to speak to them in an English accent. They started berating me and pointed to the nearby post- office with bullet holes in it from the Easter Uprising. I forgot about the minor detail that the Irish don't like the English as I was speaking to them, which I attribute to the pints I had at the pub. Oops. Oh well. W e made it home safely.The hostel ended up being decent, because we got some sleep and basically had the room to ourselves, which was great.

The next day we walked around Dublin and saw St. Pats, etc. It was probably the most beautiful thing in the city. Then we took a 4 hour bus ride to Cork, which was really scenic, and stayed with friends that night. Loyola has a program in Cork, so it was nice to see familiar faces. We got up on Friday and took a trip to Blarney to kiss the Blarney stone. That was our favorite part of the trip. It was so gorgeous there. The castle was so old and it was hard to believe that we were walking up the stairs of a 600 + year old place. I was the first to kiss the stone and I was nervous, because we had to bend over a wall. The 70 year old guy working there eventually said, "You either kiss the stone, or kiss me", so I kissed the stone haha.Supposedly this endows you with eloquence, although I am not so sure that I have received this blessing. After kissing the stone, we wandered around the grounds and then had lunch at an Irish restaurant. I had ham, cabbage, and potatoes. The potatoes tasted like gold, if gold could be tasted. Thank God that the Potato Famine was only temporary, because Irish potatoes are heaven on earth.

On Saturday, we planned to go to see the cliffs and then head back to Dublin for the night. However, when we arrived at the station at 7:30 am, they told us that there were no buses on weekends in the winter to the Cliffs of Moher. We woke up really early just so that we could go there and were really let down, because we wanted to see these (at least I did). We almost rented a car, but I was the only 21 year old and had left my wallet here in Leuven (just another part of the hilariousness of the trip). So we decided to go to Kinsale, a small town about 45 minutes from Cork. It was really really quaint there, as it was a fisherman town right on the coast. There were cottages everywhere painted in pastels and there were sailboats all over the harbor. We walked around and shopped a little bit, because they had handmade jewelry everywhere for reasonable prices. I bought a ring and a pair of earrings, both of which I love. The earrings were only 9 euro and are so cool. The whole day consisted of us walking with our bags, because we had nowhere to put them. Most of the trip was spent this way. We were always traveling and dragging luggage haha. We also lived off of peanut butter sandwichs and chips. We tried to travel as budget as possible. We definately looked like a bunch of ragged, broke students throughout the entire trip, which was funny.

Saturday night we headed back to Dublin and we went right to bed. However, there were problems with the hostel. It was like a refugee camp and they jipped us 2 beds. We eventually figured it all out, but it was just hard working this out on our own when we were dead tired. The hostel was dirty, skechy, and loud, but because we booked it so late, it was all that was available. We're currently trying to get somewhat of a refund because our reservation was not met. All I know is that I'm getting on and telling people not to stay there. I did not like that night. Sunday morning we got up early( yet again) and went to the Guinness Storehouse. It was really neat and at the end we got to drink a pint with a 360 view of Dublin. We sat down and looked at the misty mountains while we sipped on the beer at 10 am, haha. Awesome. I won't forget that part of the trip. After this, we made our way to the airport and ended up arriving in Leuven about 8 hours after we actually left for it. We chose to fly through Ryan Air, which is cheaper, but in the long run, not worth it. The airport that we flew out of was 2 hours away from leuven. We had to take 2 trains and a bus to get there, which was a pain in the neck. On the way home it took about 5 hours. I will never take that airline again...I have learned my lesson. Brussels airport is only 20 minutes trainride from here, so I am definately taking that route next time. Forget Charleroi Brussels South.

Soo all in all, Ireland was great. We saw a lot and had so many laughs. Every time we missed a bus, didn;t have a bed, had to get 3 hours of sleep, or were forced to eat chips for dinner, we ended up laughing about it in the end. I guess that I really learned a lot from this trip and next time I will definately be able to plan better. I want to go back to Ireland this year, so I may try to get a flight into Shannon or Galway and just stay there for a night. I feel like it would be worth it to do this. Some of my friends were talking about wanting to go camping when the weather gets nicer, so we may try to camp in the Black Forest part of Germany or maybe the coast of Ireland. I'd probably like to do travels with a smaller group in the future as well. It is extremely difficult to travel with more than 4 people in my opinion.Dividing up the money and making sure everybody was happy was just kind of hard to do. Also, of course there are tensions when it comes to what people want to do. Everybody always wants to do something different. They say that you get to know people the best when you travel with them, and this is definately true. A person's true character shows when it comes down to difficult moments during a trip. I know I kind of lost it the last night, but I definately calmed down and just went to sleep. I think our group did pretty well with this now that I look back on it. I'm just glad that we were safe and had so much fun. It was definately an adventure that provided me with alot of memories and also taught me a lot. My parents come on Wednesday morning, so I need to get stuff cleaned, do homework, and get rested up!! I can't wait to see them :-)