Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Week 5: Close to Home

Sorry haven't written! I had a lot of school work this week and had to catch up after an unproductive academic weekend. :)

This last week was full of day trips around Belgium and just hanging in Brussels.  I had so much fun not traveling more than 1 hour each way!  The week was pretty normal.  Thursday Jamie and I went to Ghent, 30 minutes outside of Brussels.  We just walked around (a lot) and had a delicious lunch! I had macaroni and cheese with ham baked in and Jamie had the meatball special.  It was so good and relaxing.  One of our favorite meals in Europe.  We went to the grocery store and I bought several drinks (including their closest relative to lemonade) and got a glass container full of a Nutella-like substance (which I now know is mousse texture) but the container has cool Belgian designs on it!

We visited a castle in Ghent. And by "visited" I mean I sat on a bench in the entrance to the castle under the shade while Jamie went in because she is still young enough to get in for free.  She took pictures, came back and showed me, and her final analysis of the castle was it was cool, but lots of stairs and I wouldn't have liked it. What a good friend!  We then went home. Exciting day, right? The great thing about these places is you really can have a great day just walking around and eating outside.

Friday we stayed in Brussels.  Jamie and I headed out while Marianne was at her internship to buy our tickets to the Opera that night.  We got to the box office and the guy told us getting seats for that night would be hard. Here's a little bit of the conversation:
Him: "OOH! Some seats opened up since yesterday. Good ones, too, right in the front." (A.K.A. 100euros)
Us: "Do you have anything cheaper... like 10eur?"
Him: "yes, but you can't see anything"
Us: "Perfect! Three Please!"
Him: "Honestly, it's opera. You don't need to see anything anyways. And this one's really not that good. Also there's a free introduction starting at 7:30 but you won't want to go to that because it's all in French or Dutch. Enjoy."
Us: "... Thanks"

Don't you love intriguing dialogues?  Anyways. Going to tell you about the Opera now since I know you want to know all about it.  We got there and climbed like 8 flights up to our seats at the tippppyyy tipppyy top row.  Surprise! There WERE English subtitles! Unfortunately you had to lean sideways the entire time to see them. Guess who did that? Me. And the guy wasn't lying. The plot was terrible. I was so confused and I read all of the captions. The music was great, but the story just didn't make any sense. It was 3 hours long, too. After that we all decided we had enough Opera for the rest of the year. Or longer. Hooray Culture! The opera was called "Il Trovatore" if you would like to learn about it from Wikipedia.  You should really read the description. The opera had witches being burned, a psycho count brother ex-boyfriend, 4 murders, babies dying, fake children, gypsies, a sacrificial love, poison, a convent, wine, scripts to a play, bare feet, veils, and confusion. The confusion was on my part, not the singers...

Okay, back to earlier Friday.  Jamie and I walked around for a little bit and found ourselves almost to the metro station. And then realized we were in a not-so-good part of town. We booked it out of there and headed to the military museum at the Parc du Cinquantenaire. It's free! Yay! We passed a bunch of mannequins (seriously think they got a huge deal on them), guys with mustaches (mannequins and pictures), airplanes, helicopters, swords, guns, shields, uniforms (SO many), hats, tanks, a few horses, and more mannequins. Definitely got our money's worth, i.e. not a lot of value when you can't read the signs because they are in French and all the uniforms and mannequins look the same.  But the great thing about museums is that a lot of them hold your purse/backpack for you while you walk around! YAY not having to carry things!

Do you know about the sales in Western Europe? No? Well they only have sales a few times a year, and stores can't technically call something "on sale" unless it's during these times.  The sales started Friday and will last for at least a week, maybe two or three.  Apparently they usually don't start this early. Anywho, Jamie and I shopped a little bit on our walk home from the metro, just checking out what is in all the stores.  I got to go into H&M and Zara for the first time. Exciting day.  Came home and got ready for the Opera.  We went to dinner at a "BBQ" place downtown.  It has the most awesome decor ever. It's called Amadeo's and there are tons of books on the wall (like book cases of them) and there are Chinese looking lanterns and lights all over. Then the music is classic 30s and 40s music. Just going inside was truly an experience.  Jamie got all you can eat ribs, I got a plate that had four meats on it including a mini steak, pork chop (gross and fatty), a kebob, and a half rack of ribs.  Marianne got smoked salmon by accident because the menu wasn't in English and she just quickly picked. Sad day (she doesn't particularly like smoked salmon).  We had told Jamie earlier in the evening that we didn't think she could get passed 1.5 racks of ribs.  She proved us wrong and ate two whole racks and could have started on another, but we had to get to the opera.  Our meals were served with baked potatoes with some sort of curry something condiment on them. I'm not one for any condiment, so that was weird. But I enjoyed my meal a lot!  Then we sat through 3 hours of confusion and chaos as explained above or on Wikipedia.

I thought about starting another post for Saturday, but think I can fit it in here.  Saturday was our UF trip to Bruges.  It was paid for in our program fee, so we didn't have any extra expenses for the day! My favorite :)  We got to Bruges, which was beautiful, and walked along the streets and canal for a little bit.  Then the professors took us to the main plaza with a huge belltower looking over it.  We had some extra money, so they told us to buy tickets and go to the top of the tower.  I think it was a trick to get us out of their hair for a little bit ;).  It was a 20 minute wait for tickets and then 366 spiral-staircase-stairs to the top.  We got about halfway and a sign shows you where you are and I literally sat down on the landing and said I would wait for the rest of the group. It was so difficult constantly winding up and then having to hold on for dear life as other people tried to come down.  Not to mention the stairs were pretty slippery.  The rest of the group made me go with them and we got to the top and enjoyed a beautiful breeze, gorgeous view, AND got to hear the bells chime, which was awesome!  We headed back down which was definitely more difficult and dangerous, but quicker.  My legs were shaking the rest of the day.  I don't recommend it for people with knee problems like myself. But oh well!

We ate at an Italian restaurant, wandered around the shopping district looking at the sales there, then met back up to go on a river boat cruise.  It wasn't the best cruise we've been on, but our professor bought us truffles right before we got on the boat, so I was super happy!!  We headed towards the train station after the cruise and stopped in a square to have a drink.  Our professor found someone he knew and had worked with when he lived in Brussels. Just randomly while we were sitting in Bruges! It was hilarious.

That's it for Saturday, as far as I can remember.  Sunday was a great day. Jamie and I woke up early and headed to the train station to go to Liege, a city in the French part of Belgium called Walloon (Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp are all in the Flemish part called Flanders). We arrived and followed the crowds to get to see.... le Tour de France!!!  It was awesome! We got to see the caravan (aka parade of sponsored floats) and the team buses full of cyclists.  Then we staked out a spot about 30 feet from the start line.  It was a great spot to be in.  All of the official professional people for the race were right next to us before it started, like the race director who gets to actually drive in front of the race.  It started without me even knowing it was going to and I got a quick clip of it on video.  Then we raced over to the other side of the loop to get our spots for a few minutes later.  This spot was even better. Everyone just lined the streets and you could have touched the cyclists (I wouldn't have wanted to because you would have gotten injured, but still). Within 20 seconds they were gone again. And the whole city kind of stopped its vibrancy.  We headed home and were back by 2:30.  I settled in, took a nap, uploaded pictures and watched the EuroCup finals.  Sadly, I was rooting for Italy and they lost 4-0 to Spain (in case you missed the chaos).  It would have been amazing to be in Italy after they had won, which is a big part of why I was rooting for them, haha.

The End!
Except not. Plans for the future: Tomorrow: last day of classes! Fourth of July celebration with fellow Americans in front of the EU buildings
Thursday-Saturday: ROME!
Sunday: Free National Museum? and exam work
Monday: Exam work
Tuesday: Turn in final exam for Islam class, completely finished with assignments, go to see Waterloo
Wednesday: Day trip to Durbuy, Belgium with Marianne
Thursday: Everything I haven't gotten to do in Belgium crammed into a short few hours while also enjoying all of the food one last time: fries, chocolate, waffles, beer; packing
Friday: Leave early in the morning and get back to Tampa about 2pm; sleep in my own bed
Years from now: come back to Europe!!!

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