Sunday, July 11, 2010

Welp, See ya Beligum! It's been real.

I am back in the ol' U S of A! There is a distinct possibility that this post will accidently get sappy. I make no promises but this is it, folks. My last couple days spent in Brussels were wonderfully relaxing, aside from the heat/no air conditioning. I finished my internship on Tuesday, knocked out my art history final on Wednesday, and then had Thursday and Friday to just be in Brussels. A taxi was picking me up at 7 in the morning to take me to the airport on Saturday so I had planned on getting up at 6. Instead I woke up at 4:30 because that's feasting time and instead of taking the energy to kill the army of mosquitos in my room, I decided to go out on our terrace and watch the sun rise. It was a really good way for me to say goodbye to my city.
When I decided to study abroad, I didn't know what I was looking for, I just knew I was looking for something. Maybe it was change. Maybe it was adventure. Maybe it was simply to test myself in a foreign situation. I still don't know what it was but I do know that I found it. I couldn't have asked for a better fit for me. There was certainly a transition period but I am glad to say that I did get to a point where I was comfortable and actually thriving! My internship was better than I could have imagined. My host family was so perfectly suited for me, it was scary. I met the most wonderful people through ISA and I absolutely fell in love with Brussels, despite the creepy men that raised their eyebrows and repeated "bon soir bon soir bon soir" to me. I can't even comprehend how much I've learned about life, about the way things work, and mostly about myself. So, thank you for reading and I'll catch you on the flip side.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Saga of the Hop Farm Festival and the Big Green Liar

I wonder what life would be like if everything went exactly the way you planned it. It must be terribly boring (and wonderful). I planned this trip to the Southeast of England to a T. I did all the research and booked (for Maddy and I) train tickets, a hotel, festival tickets, and tickets on this coach that was supposed to get us to the festival. I looked at maps, times, wrote out directions to get from the station to our hotel, etc. In theory this trip was going to be a piece of cake.
The day started out with the same theme as it ended (actually this was the theme of the entire weekend): "Maddy and Mary don't know where they're going/what they're doing, let's ask a stranger for directions." For the majority of Friday, I had my last art class so that's where the chaos began. Usually, when my art teacher tells us a place to meet, I can find it. Friday morning involved us wandering around Brussels for a half hour and finally going into a hotel and asking where the Palais Stoclet was (This is irrelevant to my weekend, I just want to paint you a picture of misdirection).

Skipping ahead, Maddy and I made it to the train station because I had scoped it out before. We checked in, went through border control, etc. All right! Things are going well! We didn't know what platform our train was leaving from so we asked a stranger. We got on and were unsure of which stop we were supposed to get off, so we asked a stranger. He thought we were idiots because we thought we missed it and clearly we were not even in England yet because we hadn't gone in the Chunnel Tunnel. Oops. Finally, we got to Ashford International Train Station (and by finally, I mean it took an hour and a half). Now, I had GoogleMapped the directions on how to get from the train station to our hotel but there are some things that technology just can't do. Like, give you accurate directions. After wandering around (my favorite pasttime) we went back into the station and asked the nice british man at the counter how to get to Station Road. "Because of course, once we get to number one on the GoogleMap directions, we can figure it out from there." Wrong. Ashford only has a population of 60,000! It's cute and tiny, we'll figure it out. Wrong again. We ended up going to complete wrong way, meandering into a Pizza Hut, eating there(I know, I hate myself), and then asking the very nice waiter where to go. He called us a cab. God Bless Pizza Hut and God Bless America.

Our hotel, Ryemore Guesthouse, was really cute. It was also someone's house. And we never saw the owners! It was like doing business Charlie's Angels style. They checked us in by intercom and told us our room number/where our key was. On the website, it said that checkout was before 10. So Sunday, I made a big deal of getting Maddy up (which is impossible by the way, I love you Maddy, but it is) and setting my alarm and apparently it wasn't actually that big of a deal. I thought at least the owners would knock on the door and tell us we had to leave but no. We had to buzz them again to see what we had to do to check out and they were like (in a very cheery british accent) "Oh no! You can just leave! You don't have to do anything!" Awesome. And weird.

Anyway the day of the concert, Saturday, was the most eventful day. The Big Green Coach was supposed to pick us up at 1:30pm at the Coach Stop opposite the Charter House so we got breakfast, took our time, asked strangers where to go. One of the two of us, I'm not naming names (but it wasn't me), walked around Ashford with her skirt tucked into her underwear for the majority of the morning. A little old lady was kind enough to inform her of it. We had a good laugh but of course this was when the day was full of possibilities, wonder, and excitement. We spent a bit of time looking for the Charter House which turned out to be the large ten story office building in the middle of town. And apparently, I had written down "coach shop" instead of coach sTop so that caused a nice bout of confusion. We were 98% confident that we had found the correct place by 12:45 so we waited, just in case it was early. The thing about the coach stop is that there are a LOT of non-descript coaches coming in and out. Maddy and I were looking for one with Big Green Coach on the side because we thought that was the name of the bus itself. But it turned out it was the name of the company. The coach itself said "Coach for hire" on the side and had a small piece of paper saying "Big Green Coach" taped on the inside of the windshield. DUH Mary, why would we make it obvious for you? We found out what the buses looked like on the ride home of course because we never got on the one that was supposed to pick us up. That's right, we waited almost two hours past 1:30 thinking it was making other stops and it was just late. I don't know if you can imagine me at this moment, but I was pretty much FREAKING OUT. Luckily, these sweet old ladies knew that the farm was by this tiny town an hour away called Paddock Wood. They told us how to get there, which involved two bus connections. Though the driver to Paddock Wood dropped us directly off at the festival instead of the bus stop, even though he didn't have to. By the way, our biterness toward the Big Green Coach not showing up (or so we thought) resulted in us (hilariously) calling the company Big Green Liar all day, hence the title of this saga.

We finally got there at 5. The arena opened at 11:30 so, we missed a lot of the artists, including Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn :( which makes me want to cry. But, we did get to see Seasick Steve, Mumford and Sons, Ray Davies, Devendra Banhart, this one band that I didn't know, and of course Mr. Bob Dylan himself. By the way, I am a fan- I'm saying that now, but Bob is getting up there in age. And he doesn't so much as sing anymore as he does growl-talk. He also doesn't move around. Or address the audience. So, you know... Mumford and Sons was my favorite I think. Devendra was really good too. Though it was cool to sing "Like a Rolling Stone" at the top of my lungs with the 40,000 people in audience as Bob wheezed along. I found a video of it so you can pretend you were there with me:

We successfully made it back to Ashford, the next day we walked around some more and hung out until our train came, and yeah, that was the weekend. I got to see a LOT of the English countryside taking the two buses all the way to the Paddock Wood and everyone was really nice. I don't know if it's the accent or if it's just their attitude but everyone was really cheery and friendly. If it hadn't been for the kindness of strangers, I would still be sitting in the Ashford train station, weeping. Go World!
Kudos to you if you read all of this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well THAT was bizarre.

It's gotten hot. I mean like 85-90 degrees so not nearly as hot as the ol' Manhappiness, but just hot enough for me to have a marvelous sunburn in the shape of the neck of my dress. I was outside for probably four or five hours for our "Staff Away Day" in which the staff of AGE went in the backyard and had meetings/activities outside. It was fun. We had a nice picnic lunch and went around and said something that no one knew about us. Which, for me, that was everything because they know virtually nothing about me. Also, during lunch, the director of AGE, Anne-Sophie brought fresh cherries and passed them around and then she was like "hey look what I can do!" Then she proceeded to tie the cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. Better yet, everyone began to attempt to do so. Here I am, sitting at the table while my coworkers all tried to tie cherry knots with their tongues... weird.
Oh, and the mosquitoes are back. Possibly because of the weather, possibly because the chemical plug in thing ran out, possibly because they've mutated and accumulated bug spray anti bodies and are now only out for my blood... i can't be sure. All are viable options. All I know is that I have eight bites right now and they keep a-comin. Excellent.
I am 200 words into my 3000 word internship paper due tuesday! Also excellent!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not bad at all

Guess who was at the European Parliament today?
Frederic Daerden the Belgian MEP (member of European Parliament) of course. Who'd you think?! JUST KIDDING I WAS!!
I mean, Frederic probably was too. But the point is that I was.
First off, the European Parliament complex is enormous! It's three huge glass buildings and there's two restaurants, a salon, and a sports complex! Plus meeting rooms and offices for each MEP (and there are like 750 of those). To reiterate, it's huge. And going in it is like going into an airport, they make you go through metal detectors etc. Marcela and I went with AGE's parliament correspondent Maude, to sit in on the crisis management meeting. Usually, for the big meetings, there are all kinds of translators in these glass boxes lining the room and if you can't understand the person speaking, you put on the headphones and then you can hear some english speaking ghost whispering what they're saying to you. But since this was a smaller meeting, there were no translators. It was supposed to be conducted in English and French (so whoever speaks can pick one of the two). However, since I am in Belgium... about 75% of the meeting was conducted in French. Crap. Though I've been here a month and a half and my comprehension has gotten a bit better, I am going to just come out and say it. I still don't understand it. If a person is speaking slowly and deliberately to me, possibly with hand gestures, I can pick it up fine. But, Miss Pervenche Beres, the chair of the Crisis committee, and her thirty words a second really do not cater to my inadequate ear. She'd ramble on for minutes and in my head I'd be like, "kay... I caught 'travailler' which means to work and 'peut etre' which means perhaps. Yep, I think I got the gist thanks." So, that was an interesting experience. After the meeting Maude, Marcela, and I went to one of the restaurants and ate and Maude explained about Belgian parties and politics. I find it pretty fascinating. Then after that, Marcela and I sat in on the huge Economic and Monetary Affairs meeting with all the MEPs and yes, all kinds of translators. So, I could accurately understand what they were saying but my knowledge of European economics is really just sub par. So it was just as tough to comprehend.

On a completely different note, I've had this stuck in my head all day :

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pass some of that HOLLANDaise sauce!

Get it?! Cause I just got back from Holland.
Well, first I'll talk about my Friday evening after my eight hour art history class. Maddy and I went to this... concert thing in one of the huge parks in Brussels. And by concert, of course I mean hundreds of people sitting in the grass, drinking beer, and listening to a DJ play all the songs Michael Jackson ever recorded. Did I realize that it was going to be a Michael Jackson tribute night? No, no I did not. Not that I do not appreciate him, but let me tell you, Europeans LOVE their MJ. LOVE him. There was a little candle and picture memorial. And there was this man holding a giant flag pole with three flags of Michael's face waving proudly in the Belgian breeze. Perfect.
Moving on....
This weekend was our last planned ISA excursion! Ah! Then next weekend is my English music festival adventure and then the weekend after that, I go home! Crazy! We went to the Hague and Delft in the Netherlands. Lots of museums, artwork, walking, eating, boat rides, the usual. Saturday night we all went out to the beach of the North Sea in the Hague and hung out at the clubs along the pier. Very cool. The club we ended up was this open area with lots of couches and tables under white cabana/umbrellas. And they had this DJ playing a nonstop stream of techno. There wasn't really a designated dance floor. There was just a little area up front by the speakers where this couple were dancing ALL NIGHT. I wonder if they were paid to dance all night because they had some moves, man. So, you may ask, did we get up and join the two people with their coordinated hip rolls? Why yes. Yes, we did. Mary, are you a horribly nerdy dancer? Yes, yes I am. I'm sure all the suave Europeans were looking at us like, those kids must be on SOMETHING because obviously this repetitive catchy techno music is not for DANCING. But you know what? I will never see any of them again. Hopefully. Or else they'll say, "there's that girl who snaps with the beat as she dances!"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No pictures please

Yesterday after work, I went to the Magritte Museum (devoted to Rene Magritte, the surrealist artist who painted the picture of the guy with the bowler hat and the apple in front of his face).
I take my camera out of my bag and as the security guard is taking my ticket, we have this conversation:
Mary: Are we allowed to take pictures inside?
Guard: Absolutely not. Six months in jail if you do.
I decided to put my camera away...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Good afternoon, My name is Mary and I like Adventure

So, this weekend I did not do any of things I intended to do. But that's okay! I didn't go with the group of girls to Paris because I needed to do laundry, write my art history paper, and start my internship paper... did not end up doing any of those things. Oops. But, I did have a really good time! So potato, potahto. Saturday, Travis and Chantel and I decided to check out the Waterloo reenactment. Apparently this weekend is the anniversary of the battle so they put on this HUGE reenactment with a thousand soldiers and horses and canons and costumes!! We ran around Brussels trying to figure out the bus or train to take us out of the city and to the battlefield. Finally, we were at the train ticket counter and the guy told us that if we wanted to go to the reenactment, we didn't want to go to Waterloo. We wanted to get off at Braine-L'Alleud. All right, Train Ticket Man, you know better than us! So, we followed his directions. We got off at a station in this tiny little town and were like, "okay... now what?" There were a bunch of buses going to Waterloo so we were like hey! that's most likely it. So we asked the driver if he was going to the reenactment. He said no. So, we didn't get on. Then he left and we found out that, yes, that was the bus we needed. Excellent. So, we waited for the next one which arrived fairly quickly. But, alas no! The bus driver was taking a 40 minute break. It was already 6:30 and the reenactment started at 7. We gave up, found food and made sure to arrive back at the station when the wall schedule said to be back. Ah but no, the wall schedule was very incorrect. We missed our train. We had 50 minutes until the next one. So, we went across the street to the bar and watched the Cameroon/Denmark game over a beer until our train came. In summary we intended on going to Waterloo. Didn't make it. Intended on going back on the next train. Didn't make it. BUT it was a fun adventure. So, Point: Mary.

Then today, Travis, Chantel, and I went with Sabine our director to the caves in Han-sur-Less. They were awesome! There was a river running through them so we walked through these giant caverns, over bridges with the river underneath. Then at one point, in the largest cavern, we sat down and there was a light show. After the caves we went to Dinant, the town where the creator of the saxophone was born. We went to this big fortress. Then we went back to Brussels and ate at this little crepes place. Yeah!
Oh and in case you were wondering... it was 54 degrees and cloudy/rainy today. I wore a coat and a scarf and I was still chilly. So similar to Kansas probably...