Thursday, February 26, 2009


I just got back last night from a 5 day trip to Ireland. I would have blogged during the trip but I had very limited internet access. I didn't take my laptop with me. I basically lived out of a backpack for 5 days. I was pretty proud of myself for that because I am usually such an overpacker.
So we flew from Brussels to Dublin last Friday. We got in pretty late at night but we were all excited to be in Ireland! On the plane over we were in the company of a whole slew of Irish pre-teens. It was way cool to talk to them and interact with them because they are so different. They all had a very punky clothing style but you could tell that it really fit them. They also seemed very mature. They bought newspapers to read on the plane, had political opinions about America, and were giving us advice on where to eat out in Dublin. I thought it was crazy how mature they seemed. When we finally got off the plane and out into the city, we had a lot to figure out since we had never been there before. We were all pretty excited that almost everyone spoke English. I kept catching myself trying to slip in small French phrases for "thank you" and "excuse me" though. I thought it was funny because usually English is my default for everything.
We stayed the first night in Dublin and the next day traveled to Cork by train. We explored the city a bit and ended up taking a bus to Blarney to see the Castle. We took a bus to get there. It was way different to have traffic running on the left side of the road. It kind of throws you for a loop because for the first bit you always look the wrong way when crossing the street. By the time we left Ireland, I was used to riding the buses on the left though. Blarney Castle was pretty cool but it was just another tourist thing.
The next day we hopped a bus to Killarney, which was a cool little town that one of our friends who had been traveling before us found. It wasn't a big place or anything but it had a lot of cool shops. We went exploring there. They have some sort of national park on the edge of the town and it was absolutely beautiful country. It was all so green and peaceful. We spent several hours walking around there. There was a gorgeous lake and lovely walking paths.
The next day we made our way to Galway. At first, I didn't like Galway at all because compared to Killarney it was such a city and I loved seeing the country. We found a hostel right away and were warned that it was Ragweek in Galway. Apparently all of the college students were off of school for the week. We were told that it was originally started so that they could raise money for charity, this piece of information coming from one of the elderly men that worked at the hostel. However, it had turned into a week for all of the students to get wasted and then trashed on top of that. We witnessed it first hand. There were young people all over the streets, dressed in ridiculous outfits. We arrived in the city around 2 in the afternoon and most of them were already drunk or well on their way. It was an interesting sight but almost a little scary at the same time. The party got even more rambunctious as the night went on. It looked like chaos. I have never seen such a thing. My group went to a pub in the area and listened to the band. I was so excited when they played Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" for us Americans. That was probably my favorite thing about Galway... other than the flame thrower in the middle of the street.
The next morning we took a bus to the Cliffs of Moher. They were absolutely beautiful. Words can't even describe and pictures don't do them justice.We had almost two hours to walk around them and take pictures. It was a very sobering experience and not one to forget. From there we made our way back to Galway in order to catch another bus back to Dublin. Once we were back in Dublin, we basically just killed time until our flight the nest morning. We were there the night of Mardi Gras but there didn't seem to be much going on, especially compared to Galway.
We flew out of Dublin on Wednesday afternoon. We were all pretty sad to leave Ireland but so glad that we had the chance to visit there. Everyone talks about the horrible rainy weather in Ireland but we were lucky and didn't have to break out an umbrella once. When we got back to Brussels, however, it was cold and wet. I still don't understand how we came back south from Ireland and it got colder. Oh well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bruges, Valentine's Day, Babies

Several people in our group went to Bruges, another city in Belgium, two Saturdays ago. It was a pretty cute city. It seems like there aren't really a whole lot of people that actually live there but it's more like a tourist town. It wasn't a French or even English speaking town but we ended up getting around alright. There was a lot of random stuff to see. My favorite part was climbing to the top of this really tall tower of one of the churches. There was a pretty sweet view from the top. The picture shows me with the view. It was a pretty cold and wet day but overall the trip was really fun.
Honestly, Valentine's Day was rather uneventful here. When you think of Europe on Valentine's Day, you might think of little flying cupids and pink hearts floating through the air. Sadly, I saw none of these things. As always, America seems to have done a pretty god job of commercializing a holiday more than the place where it actually originated. At church yesterday I asked someone how their Valentine's Day was and if they got any valentines. They told me that it isn't the same over here as in the States. When you get a valentine from someone in Europe that means they REALLY like you. This might be why the ladies at Chocopolis were so confused when one of the guys in our group was buying chocolate for myself and another girl at the same time.
I just have to say that I absolutely love seeing the little babies and young kids around here. I've always lived in the South so I've never seen kids wrapped up so tight that they can't even move. Sometimes you can't even see them at all because normally strollers will have a plastic covering over them since it rains so much here. When you do see them though, they look like little marshmallow people with their jackets that swallow them whole and their little mittens that dangle from their hands. They are so adorable. I also love to hear them talk. It so amazing to me that these tiny people are better at French than I am and their cute little kid voices seem to sound a bit different in another language. When my friends and get close to babies around here, we usually smile and coo at them. We haven't noticed any natives doing that though. Then again, there isn't a whole of interaction between strangers on the public transportation systems. I guess that could be the same in the States though. However, being form the South, I just can't imagine going a whole day without smiling at people I pass on the street and saying hey.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Belgian Dinner

Last Wednesday the couple that owns our building had all of us girls down for dinner. We're pretty sure that it was mostly because they wanted to have us sign the housing contract but it was nice of them anyways.
So the first thing that we did was sit down in a little sitting room. We were positioned on a couch directly across from the Del Pierres and there were little snacks on a tray between us. They poured everyone a glass of champagne. I tried telling Monsieur Del Pierre that I don't drink but he wasn't paying attention so I got a glass too. So for this whole part of the evening I was switching glasses with my roommates so that it looked like I was drinking it, so as not to offend anyone. We found it a little weird to have adults offering us alcohol. The appetizers were pieces of sausage, an assortment of nuts, and a little cracker combination. The cracker thing consisted of a mustard cracker topped with banana slices and fish (anchovies?). I'm not going to lie, it was pretty gross. The fish had like little hairs on it or something. I ate one of them just to be polite. A couple of my other roomies ate two to be polite. I couldn't have done it. We signed the housing contracts as we ate the appetizers and talked.
Next we moved on to the table. First everyone was poured a glass of wine. There was maybe a second that I contemplated trying the wine, just for the cultural experience but then I decided that religious convictions were more important. This time I got across the message that I would just have water. So I opened the bottle on the table and poured myself some. It was carbonated and oh, so gross. It was better than nothing though. Then they brought us out a little plate with a bit of salad and a slice of kische. I've never had kische before. It wasn't terrible but it's not something that I would actually seek out to eat. I was glad that the salad was made with dark leaves rather than ice berg lettuce. The dressing was basically just oil though so it wasn't very appetizing. I finished everything on the plate though. The main dish was chicon au grata. When Madame Del Pierre first told us about it I thought she said 'chicken' and I got really excited. When she actually brought it out, it looked like enchiladas. Sadly, neither of these things were the case. The dish consisted of some mystery vegetable (we think they were leeks but I have no idea what one of those looks like?) wrapped in a slice of ham and covered in some kind of cheese sauce. I was determined to eat the whole thing so I did. I also had a side of boiled potatoes. For dessert we had a bit of yogurt with a side of cream/milk stuff, all topped with raspberry sauce. I don't even like yogurt in the states so I had to make myself eat that too.
Needless to say, this wasn't one of my favorite meals ever. I know that I sound really picky and I guess I kind of am. I'm one of those people that finds something I like at a restaurant and that's basically what I order every single time. So meals in Belgium have been a bit out of my comfort zone because I don't know what to order and whenever I do think that I know something, it never ends up being the same as back in the States. I guess that's all part of the experience though.

The Accomidations

About a week ago the heat in our room just stopped working. I'm pretty sure that it was warmer in the unheated hallway than in our apartment. It was about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days straight. This may not sound cold but it really is when you have to live and sleep in it. I am so grateful for central heating back home. Also, our shower didn't give hot water so my roommate and I had to shower in the girls' apartment above us. We finally got the heat back on after about 3 days. It took so long because it was a little difficult to communicate with the couple down stairs about what we needed and we weren't exactly sure what was wrong.
Around this same time our program director called a mandatory meeting for all of the students in our program to discuss how people live and use energy in Belgium. This is the first time they've brought so many American students from Clemson to Belgium for such a long time. Apparently a lot of our landlords had been talking to the housing directors about the amount of energy we've been using since we've been here. We were never told before that things were different in Belgium than from America. However, we quickly found out that things are a lot different.
I feel like Belgium in general is more 'green' than the United States. At the grocery store we go to, they don't have the generic plastic bags like they hand out every day at Wal-Mart. We have some more sturdy plastic bags that we take with us every time we go shopping and we reuse them. They also sort their trash here according to paper, plastic, glass, outside stuff, and just general garbage. You get fined if you don't sort your trash corrrectly.
So, being the typical Americans that we are, we were totally throwing off their system. We learned at this meeting that energy was more expensive in Belgium. I'm not sure why they said that was... maybe because of the way their power is set up. Anyways, gas is like around $6 a gallon or something like that in Belgium. They sell it by the liter here so when I saw the $1.25 prices at gas stations I didn't think it was bad until I found out they don't do it by the gallon. Apparently water is more expensive here too. So we've been asked to make sure to turn off all the lights when we aren't using them, to turn down the heat when we leave and at night, and not to waste water. I think that these are reasonable requests anyways. I only see problems with us not exactly knowing how to work the heaters and stuff over here. At least we have heat now though.