Belgium (pt 2)

My last post on the Antwerp trip took you through Sunday evening and the end of museum adventures. Onward to Monday!

Monday was a nice, relaxing day. We spent the morning just hanging out in the apartment, then left around 11 to go to Darcy’s school. She didn’t have class, but she had to meet with a professor, so I went with her on the bus and just read a book while waiting for her. Afterwards, we went to the Quetzal Chocolate Bar for lunch.

Oh, how right you are.

Oh, how right you are.

There were tons of options, and it was very difficult to choose, but I ended up ordering a Brownie Supreme (a brownie with whipped cream, melted chocolate, and ice cream) and a mocha milkshake. Darcy ordered an equally-delicious-looking chocolate and fruit fondue.

This would look delicious if I liked fruit...

At least, this would look delicious if I liked fruit…

So, so decadent

So, so decadent

After walking around the city a little bit more, we took the bus back towards her apartment, stopping at the post office so that I could mail a postcard home. In between the post office and the apartment was a nice park with a pretty great playground — so, like mature adults, we stopped and played for awhile.

Swings are still my favorite part of playgrounds!

Swings are still my favorite part of playgrounds!

I am way too tall for this.

I am way too tall for this.

Me and Darcy

Me and Darcy

We also walked through the park itself for a little while. It’s a very pretty one, with a pond and ducks and lots of wide-open spaces. I imagine it would be a really great place to read or play Frisbee, especially once it’s a little bit warmer. Monday evening, we went out to get fries to go with dinner; apparently they’re just as important a Belgian food as waffles! And boy, were they delicious. Thicker and heartier than French fries in the US, and less salty, too.

Fortunately, this was shared between 4 people.

Fortunately, this was shared between 4 people.

After dinner, I said goodbye to Darcy and her family and made my way back into the central city. It was lovely to stay there, but since she had school on Tuesday, I’d booked one night at a Hosteling International hostel. It was a comfortable hostel, and nice enough, although there was no soap in the bathrooms (even the ones next to the cafeteria and not inside the rooms), which was a bit troubling. I sat in the lobby for a little while, emailing some friends, because that was the only place there was wi-fi. After a little bit of reading in my room, I went to bed.

The next morning, I partook of the free breakfast downstairs and then stripped my bed and checked out of the hostel a little after 9am. I made my way towards Central Station, stopping on the way at a little store to buy a pair of earrings. I like earrings as souvenirs because they’re something I enjoy, and they’re much more useful than magnets or keychains, plus they don’t take up much room or weight in my suitcase.

Aren't they neat?

Aren’t they neat?

My bus didn’t leave until 5:45pm, so I had a whole day to fill, and I’d already decided how: the zoo! Antwerp has a great zoo, located right next to Central Station. It was a little expensive to get in (19,80 euro including the guide), but it was worth it. I had a wonderful time, even if it was a little bit chilly. I took so many photos of the animals that I ran out of memory on my phone before I left and had to delete some duplicates to make room for the rest. Whoops!

There were plenty of ordinary zoo animals (elephants, giraffes, seals), but also a bunch that I’d never heard of (babirusa, anoa, takin). I put all of my photos in the Facebook album (the same one I linked to in the last post), even though they’re not really high-quality.

Can't resist adding one giraffe picture, though.

Can’t resist adding one giraffe picture, though.

When I left the zoo around 2pm, I went to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet for lunch. I’d picked up a youth-oriented map of Antwerp at the hostel, and one of the suggested restaurants was this one. I thought it would be a good idea to eat at a buffet because that was the only meal I’d have before I got back to Paris after 11pm. Unfortunately, it was pretty disappointing — not much variety, and the naan bread was not very good. I suppose the excellent Indian buffet in Auburn has me spoiled! Still, it was a solid lunch. Afterwards, I wandered around the city for the next hour or so, window shopping and just admiring the scenery.

Around 4pm, I went into Central Station to purchase my last Belgian waffle. I ended up spending the next hour there because they had stations where you could charge your electronics by riding a stationary bike. I charged my iPod for the long bus ride home, which turned out to be a very good idea; the battery had run down almost completely. A little after 5, I made my way to the Eurolines bus station, checked in, and then waited for the 5:45 bus to show up. It arrived on time (hooray!), and except for a half-hour stop in Brussels in which everyone had to exit the bus, it was a pleasant enough ride home. I listened to music, looked out the window, and slept a bit, and the bus even arrived about 15 minutes early in Paris. One ride on the metro, another on the train, and I was back in my dorm around midnight.

Thus ends my excellent, fantastic, super-awesome, lots-of-fun Antwerp trip! I look forward to taking other trips on my other break and after classes end.

A plus!


Belgium (pt 1)

One of the great things about my university is that we have two week-long breaks during the semester. Winter break started last Saturday, and I took the first half to go to Belgium! I’m going to split the information on my trip into two posts (Friday-Sunday and Monday-Tuesday) because there’s a lot to say. Additionally, I took about 500 pictures in four days, which means two things: 1) These will be picture-heavy posts, and 2) Since I can’t possibly fit them all, I’ll be linking to the Facebook photo album where you can peruse them at your leisure.

Friday (as per usual), I only had one class, an hour-long contemporary art class at 8:30 am. As soon as class was over, I took the train back to my dorm, packed a backpack, then hopped back on the train (and then the metro) to get to the Paris Eurolines bus station. I arrived about ten minutes after noon for a 1pm bus to Antwerp, Belgium. The check-in process was a bit confusing, as I had conflicting information. My printed ticket said “check in a half hour before departure at the latest,” but according to the board with arrival/departure times, the relevant check-in station didn’t even open until a half hour before departure. Weird. I asked at information, and apparently the board was correct, so I checked in right at 12:30 and walked out to my bus.

20140215-214450.jpg

Isn’t it a beauty?

Because I got there early, I got a nice window seat and settled down. My seatmate ended up being an older gentleman who I was afraid was going to be on his phone the whole trip. Fortunately, he only made a couple short calls in what sounded like Italian and then passed the rest of the ride quietly. I mostly took turns between reading (which made me a little queasy, and then it got too dark) and looking out the window. The scenery was pretty but kind of monotonous, honestly. Add to that the fact that my “5 and a half hour” bus ride became 6 and a half and, well, let’s just say I was tired when I finally arrived at 7:30pm.

Passing through Brussels

Passing through Brussels in the rain

So why Antwerp? When I first started thinking about where to go for my winter break, my friend Darcy invited me to spend part of it with her there. International travel and time with a friend? Perfect! She picked me up from the bus station, from which we went out to dinner at a cute little health food place with lots of vegetarian fare. From there, we went back to her apartment, where I met her mom and sister — and her cats!

IMG_0787

This one was a cuddle monster

IMG_0789

What cuties!

We spent the rest of the evening just hanging out, talking, watching television, and making plans for the next few days.

Saturday morning, we slept in a little bit, then got up and out for some adventuring and exploring! First, we went to the post office so that Darcy could pick up a package. She lives in a really pretty area:

IMG_0790

IMG_0795

Afterwards, we took the tram to Central Station, which is incredibly gorgeous.

IMG_0809

Here I had my first Belgian waffle, warm and covered in chocolate — delicious and decadent.

IMG_0807

After seeing the station, we walked around Antwerp for a couple of hours and looked at all sorts of landmarks. It’s a really beautiful city, and it’s less busy than Paris, which makes for a much more pleasant exploratory experience. Antwerp has a couple of large squares that act as transit hubs as well as locations for impressive architecture (like the cathedral), food, and shopping. The cathedral was easily the most beautiful thing I saw all day.

IMG_0840

While walking around, we ran into an unexpected outdoor market, which had lots of neat food. I bought some mini-eclairs (perhaps the only food I ate all trip that I didn’t take a photo of), which were delicious. We also spent some time in a used bookstore called Polare, which had a significant English-language section as well as, of course, plenty of books in Dutch. I ended up purchasing two Amélie Nothomb novels from the French-language area, and I nearly bought a copy of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in Russian just for kicks.

IMG_0826

 

My favorite part of Saturday, though, was probably the street performers we ran across. One was dressed as some form of the devil, and one looked to be dressed as a witch. We saw them separately, and at least an hour apart, but their costumes were similarly styled, and they both gave out lollipops to children. I don’t know if they’re independent or work with an organization, but it was really neat!

IMG_0823

 

IMG_0845

 

Sunday, we decided, was museum day! In Belgium, as in much of Europe, most shops and businesses are closed on Sundays. Fortunately, most museums are not. Like in the US, they tend to be closed on Mondays. We started with a list of four or five museums and ended up narrowing it down to two we wanted to visit: the Rubenshuis (Rubens House) and a music museum.

First stop was the Rubenshuis, a museum located in the old manor of Belgian painter Peter Paul Rubens and showcasing a combination of his work and the works he kept in his private collection. When we first entered, we were both given printed guides in Dutch, which I didn’t realize until we’d gotten a bit into the museum. We had to turn around and go back to the start to ask if they had English guides; fortunately, they did! Most of the information on the paintings and other pieces was in the guide, and only artist names and sometimes titles were posted next to pieces, so it was a much better experience with the guide. Here are a couple of the pieces I took photos of:

IMG_0900

IMG_0901

IMG_0912

IMG_0913

 

That last one is particularly cool because it showcases the painting process in Rubens’ workshop. He didn’t paint all of his pieces himself; most of the time, his assistants painted them and then he touched them up. This painting was never finished (due to a political disagreement of some sort, I believe), so the large guiding lines and shapes are still visible. One of the figures even has three arms because the composition hadn’t been finalized yet.

After the Rubenshuis, we went to a music museum whose name I don’t know. It was a very cool museum, and really interestingly structured. Upon purchasing tickets, we were each given an audio guide — not an abnormal feature, true. What was different was that the guide provided not only text, but also music. For example, when I came across a set of bagpipes and typed in the number, I was able to read a paragraph on the history of bagpipes, but also to listen to a short clip of bagpipe music. Not every item had music to play, but plenty did, which made it a much more immersive experience. Here are some of the neat instruments and images we saw:

IMG_0941

IMG_0952

IMG_0960

IMG_0964

IMG_0982

 

Between the museums, we ran across another street performer, this one dressed up as Charlie Chaplin. His costume was very impressive, and when I dropped some change in the bucket, he quacked at me, which was fantastic.

IMG_0922

 

That’s the end of Sunday adventures! I’ll write a separate post for Monday and Tuesday. In the meantime, here’s the Facebook photo album for my entire Antwerp trip.

A plus!


Laundry, Rugby, and (Almost) Getting Lost

It’s Monday.

I’ve now been in Paris for just over two weeks, and I’ve taken a full week of classes. I’m pretty pleased with all of them, which is lucky. I like most of my professors, and almost all of the content is interesting. My favorite class is probably going to be Francophone Literature. The focus is on literature from French-speaking countries other than France itself, and I’m really glad we’re talking about the way that when a culture has a language forced upon it (i.e. via colonialism), it creates an entirely different relationship with that language. It’s clearly going to be a very nuanced look at this literature, which is incredibly exciting. My contemporary art class is going to be difficult — both because of the content and because I have to give an oral presentation in April. Yikes! Everyone has to give one, and they’re spread out throughout the semester. I’m grateful that I was assigned to one of the very last days of class because it gives me plenty of time to prepare, as well as time for my speaking skills to improve.

Late last week, I came back to the dorm in the evening and decided that it was time to do laundry – which meant finding the laundry room. I walked around the ground floor a bit until I came across it, hidden down a hallway with a door of its own. There are only 2 washers and 2 dryers, which seems a bit silly for a dorm laundry room. Also, a load in the washer costs 3 euro (which is aggravatingly expensive) while the dryer is only 1 euro. The excellent thing about the laundry room, though, is that it has a sort of exchange table. Students (particularly those leaving the dorms) can leave items in good condition that they don’t want anymore, and anybody else can take them. I picked up a Swiffer, which is exciting because they’re a bit expensive (especially for something I can’t bring home) — and a super cute sweater that I didn’t think would fit but did.

Just when I thought my laundry room journey had reached its peak, another student who was doing his laundry started talking to me. He asked if I was new (is it that obvious?) and we chatted for a little bit. By the time I left, we’d exchanged emails and he’d invited me to go with him and some other friends to a pub on the weekend. Yay!

So this weekend, I went out for the first time since arriving here. Mohamed (from the laundry room), his friend Lucile, and I all left from the dorms on Saturday evening and met another friend of Mohamed’s (whose name I never caught) in central Paris. We went to a pub and hung out for a couple of hours, and it was lots of fun! When we first arrived, there was a rugby match between France and England on the TVs, and it felt a lot like the atmosphere in Auburn during football games. 🙂 One difference: When France won at the last minute, the pub actually broke into song (I think it was La Marseillaise).

Today was less fun by far, most notably because I spent 2 hours walking 4.5 miles (in the infamous boots) to/from 2 different locations where I should have been able to pick up the money wired to me by my parents. At one, the internet wasn’t working; at the other, they didn’t have enough cash on hand. How frustrating. I had directions written down in my phone, but some of them were terribly confusing and the roads aren’t always well-labelled here. On the bright side, it was really crisp and chilly outside, and I got some gorgeous photos of the area:

View from a pedestrian bridge

View from a pedestrian bridge

IMG_0762

 

I didn't even know if I was on the right road when I took this picture.

I didn’t even know if I was on the right road when I took this picture.

What a gorgeous city! I can’t wait to explore it some more.

A plus!


Classes: The Beginning

Classes in French are hard.

I could probably leave this post at that. It’s a pretty accurate summary of everything I’m going to say, but since I like to ramble and you all seem to like my ramblings, I’ll expand.

Yesterday was my first day of class. Now, as I might have mentioned, classes started last week, but classes meet once per week, so missing one week isn’t an enormous deal. I hadn’t yet registered for my classes, though, because there were some unexpected issues with credit transfers. I was told to go to the classes anyway and register when I could. So at 10:30, I went to my first class, which is on the history and evolution of the novel in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was pretty neat, although the professor spoke really quickly. I managed to take an audio recording of about half the lecture, though, which I’m going to start doing regularly. After an hour break, I went to my English translation class — and knew about 15 minutes in that I wasn’t going to stay in that class. I felt incredibly uncomfortable being fluent in English but struggling with French when all of my classmates (who were French students studying English) were on the opposite side. Good thing I hadn’t registered yet!

After class, I ran around between offices for about two hours, trying to register for classes in four different departments. Registration is, unfortunately, not done on the computer, which makes things a bit difficult when you’re not familiar with the process. It was all working fine until the last course — a contemporary art course that is apparently 2 hours per week, not 1, which threw things off. I decided to take it and drop a 1-hour linguistics course I’d been planning to take so that everything evened out. Unfortunately, I had already decided to take that linguistics course, and when I went to the office today to drop it, nobody was in. It’s not a big deal because I can drop it later, but it’s just another item on the to-do list.

Today went a little bit better. I had two courses – one on the 19th century novel, in which we’re studying Émile Zola’s Nana all semester, and one on the history of cinema. I’m particularly excited about the cinema course. The professor is funny and nice, and he’s just repetitive enough that I can catch almost everything. It also helps that I took a French cinema course at Auburn, so I have some background knowledge.

As a whole, my classes so far (of which I’ve taken 3 of the 6 I’ll be taking all semester) are good, but difficult. I’ll be audio recording all of the ones in lecture halls to relisten to later because I definitely don’t catch everything. Names and dates are frequently issues: I don’t know how to spell the names, and my sense of numbers is surprisingly poor (I have to slowly and consciously think through the words to get to a numeral). I’m not taking what would be considered a full courseload here, but I’m happy about that. I don’t think I could handle much more.

Tomorrow, I don’t have class until 1pm, so I’ll spend my morning doing errands and studying before I take the train into school. Hopefully I’ll settle into a good routine here soon. A plus!

P.S. To my friends in Auburn, stay safe in the (potential) ice and snow!


First Weekend

It’s been a pretty quiet weekend.

I do wish it had been a little less quiet, but only because I would have liked my adviser at school to email me back. Although Paris-Ouest (the university I’m studying at here) has other exchange programs, their exchange with Auburn is a new one. We had one student from here come to Auburn last semester, and I believe I’m the first student from Auburn to go the other direction. Because of this, though, there are still some kinks to work out. Most notably, there was a failure of communication regarding course values. What it boils down to is that the credit system here is significantly different from Auburn’s, but somehow this was never made clear to me (or to my program director back at Auburn). Because of this, I have to sign up for more courses than I had planned. It’s a bit complicated, but I imagine it will all get worked out next week.

I’m completely settled into my room now. Everything’s unpacked into drawers and closets, which is a nice feeling. My room is quite spacious, too, especially compared to my dorm at Auburn. Take a look:

IMG_0738

Lots of space!

IMG_0739

My little kitchen

I didn’t get any photos on my run this morning (understandably, as I was otherwise occupied), but Saint-Cloud is quite pretty. Lots of long, narrow streets and brick walls and iron gates. I look forward to exploring the area more. There are a number of churches nearby, too, so I might go to a service or Mass some Sunday. I did a bit of research yesterday, and apparently that’s not quite the critical French experience I thought it was. I had remembered reading that some 90% or more of French citizens were Roman Catholic, but a 2007 survey found about 50% identified as Catholic – of whom 10% went to church regularly. On the other hand, 94% of religious buildings in France are Roman Catholic, which is neat but not at all surprising.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes, and I’m very excited! Also, I’ve now been in France for a full week. It feels like a lot more and a lot less at the same time. A plus!


The Wallet Story

You know, I almost wish there were more of a story. I assume it all happened on the train. I had made a poor purse choice (single-snap-top rather than zipper-top) and had my wallet too close to the top of the purse after removing it to buy my train ticket. I had all of my other luggage with me (seeing as I was moving from the hostel to my residence for the semester) and so I didn’t keep a close enough eye on my purse. The train was crammed because it was apparently still rush hour. I didn’t notice until I was in my dorm room; I’d been relaxing here for a couple of hours and was ready to go out and take a document to the bank to finalize my account. And then suddenly it wasn’t there. I searched the room frantically — nothing. Emailed my parents. Made a list of everything in the wallet. Cancelled my debit card. Panicked a lot. Etc.

I was pretty lucky, honestly. My passport, as I mentioned yesterday, wasn’t stolen even though it was in the stupidest possible place in my purse: the outside pocket. (Seriously, kids, don’t do that. Ever.) I only lost about $50 and €50. The two cards in there were cancelled without being used. I’ll have to have my driver’s license remade when I get home, as well as my school IDs both at home and here. I had a couple of irrelevant cards in there, too — First Aid/CPR certification, blood donor card, etc. As my dad said, it was a pretty cheap lesson.

Since then, I’ve talked to my parents a bunch of times. My dad was awesome enough to wire me money to get me through. I went to the police this morning and made a report. They couldn’t technically make a theft report since there’s no proof it was stolen and not lost, but I did make a loss report, so if any of it shows up, they’ll send it to the US Embassy. I’m going to the Embassy tomorrow (probably) to give them a copy of the report so that they know how to contact me if any of the things show up and get sent to them.

I’m probably going to make a more extensive post at some point about how to not end up in my situation, but a couple pointers for friends studying or going abroad: 1) For heaven’s sakes, get a purse that zips completely closed at the top. 2) Keep your cash and your credit cards in different places. 3) Split up your cash between locations also. 4) Zipped inner pockets of purses are your friend. Use them. 5) Put nothing in your back pocket. 6) Have copies of your credit cards! The “report a lost/stolen card” phone number on your card does you no good if you don’t have the card. Note: I did this one! It was super helpful! 7) If it happens, find somebody to talk to. Call home. Find a friend. Go to the front desk of wherever you’re staying. It helps mitigate the panic. I should have done this long before I did.

Onto better things! For example, food. I went to the grocery store today, which was pretty great. I got myself a set of dishes (plate, bowl, cutlery) and some basic food.

IMG_0703

Most importantly, chocolate chip cookies. As seen here with my neat new plate (with crumbs from dinner, oops).

Plus my mom helped me figure out how my confusing non-labelled stove worked, which means eggs for breakfast! The person here before me left behind a skillet, which is pretty great, although I’m also going to buy a pot. Thrilling adventures, I know. 🙂 I’m a little too stressed from the move and the wallet loss and all to also go out and do fun things, but that should pick up soon. A plus!


Good Things

Today, my wallet was stolen.

Yes, I am fine. Yes, it sucks. I have about 2 euros in coins right now. But I am not going to write about it tonight. Why? I am angry and frustrated and sad and feeling very stupid about lots of helpful don’t-get-your-stuff-stolen advice I read and forgot rather than use. So instead, I’m going to list some of today’s good things.

  1. My passport was not stolen. It was not in a smart place, but it was not stolen.
  2. I have three granola bars.
  3. I have a safe room to stay in.
  4. The residence director and secretary are both incredibly nice.
  5. I got to scratch the head of the big gray kitty that sits in the director’s office.
  6. I have money waiting for me from my parents at a MoneyGram. (Couldn’t get it tonight because their internet was down. But wait. Back to good things.)
  7. All of my non-wallet-related possessions are safe.
  8. Saint-Cloud is really pretty at night.
  9. I saw the Eiffel Tower from (more than) halfway across the city on my walk to the MoneyGram tonight. It was lit up and gorgeous.

    I saw the Eiffel Tower from (more than) halfway across the city on my walk to the MoneyGram tonight. It was lit up and gorgeous.

  10. The blanket I snagged from the airplane is surprisingly snuggly and warm.
  11. I got to talk to both my parents today.

I look forward to getting settled so that I can actually start doing fun things and, well, living in Paris. But for now, it’s doing paperwork and mitigating panic. That’ll have to be enough for now. Stay safe and well, mes amis.