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.