Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Post but not my last.

It has been really hard to me find time to post. I have often thought about the things I would like to blog about, but it has been hard for me to sit down and write about them. It is difficult to recount an experience while you are still in its midst. Needless to say there is more to come.

Friday, June 25, 2010

(Pre) World Cup FEVER!!

The game!
Fred (from BYU lives with me and my host family) and I at the game
Italians getting roudy
Mexican fans
Italian fans
The stadium

So as most everyone in the world should know by now. The 2010 World Cup is going on in South Africa. Since we are in "football" (In the US its soccer) crazy Europe. I couldn't turn down going to a World Cup warm-up Friendly match between defending World Cup champions: Italy and our neighor to the south: Mexico. It was a great day for futbol, the stadium was packed and the fans were intense! The game didn't turn out as expected: Mexico ended up winning 2-1.

Nevertheless, It was a great precursor/introduction to world-class football and helped prepare us for the many games and hours we spend now watching the Beautiful Game. Unfortunately, Belgium seems to be one of the least soccer-crazy countries and they aren't putting on any fanzones, big screens, or World Cup parties. Likely in part because their own team didn't make it. But it is still glorious being in Europe, watching the games in the afternoon/evening rather than in the early morning as everyone in the US must.

Return to the Motherland!

I'm entering the blogging game a little late due to technical difficulties... SO while I am completely American (not just the University mind you, and to clarify for all South and Central Americans I am more specifically North American a "United States of American") my family ancestry is Dutch and I come from a small town that clings to its own dutch heritage (Pella, Iowa). So a trip to the Netherlands/Holland was right up my alley (I even brought and wore my Dutch soccer/football Jersey).

Anyways, the Netherlands is notorious for bikers, windmills, orange, wooden shoes, tulips, dikes, and liberal thinking. We experienced all of the above while we were in Amsterdam (well we technically didn't see any dikes, but we did see lots of canals and land that probably wouldn't be accessible except for the dike system, so I think that counts). One thing to note is that bikers always have the right of way, even before pedestrians. So when you cross the street make sure you look both ways at least three times -once for cars, once for trams, once for bikers!

I Amsterdam (get it!?)
Also you have to love the Dutch fronts (gables) that in ye olden days helped people with directions and basically served as "addresses".

Me in Dutch Jersey with Stroepwafels (yum!) Dutch are also known for their pastries

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I need to stay awake, please and thanks!

This post isn't particularly useful. I just got up WAAY too early today and I have to keep busy so I don't fall asleep and end up late for work today. I don't have to catch the bus for another hour for work, so I will do a very short update on what's been going on so far! On Sunday I'll try to muster up the energy to create a more detailed post.

I love how during the summer it stays light until really late! Seriously, when I first came here it would be pitch black by around 10:20 (if not earlier, I don't know when I started to notice how late it stayed light out). Now there's still light at 11 (it's not bright and sunny, mind you, but there is still a bit of light left in the sky).

Okay. After the weekend of 4 cities in Brussels, I just chilled here because I couldn't make it to Amsterdam (long story that begins with an ATM in the States eating my card, as the Brussels kids know all too well). But that's okay. That following weekend I went to Madrid...but it was chilly and it rained, which apparently surprised all the Madrid-dwellers as well. But don't worry, last weekend I went to Rome, and it.was.amazing. I think I left a piece of myself there, and I can't imagine how you couldn't. It's just beautiful. I didn't get to the the famous fountain at night (sadness), but that's okay. It will leave me something to look forward to when I go back to Rome, because I will one day! It was amusing trying to stir up recollection of Italian while I was there, because A) I didn't study it for very long, B) I knew any native speaker to practice with outside of class (and speaking with other students isn't generally too helpful, especially if they're at a low level, and C) I took Spanish in high school and majored in French as an I totally skated by with an A without having to put much effort into the class. Especially when senioritis set it the semester after I started taking Italian classes.

Of course the hostel employees spoke English. But did I speak English with them? No. Want to know why? Because two of them spoke French! Huzzah! The mother of one of them is from Nice while the other is Italian, therefore he grew up speaking both. The other guy just studied in school like I did, but he was at a night level so it wasn't like speaking to a kindergartner. I was so delighted when I found this out, especially since my host family here doesn't allow me to speak French with them, even though I specifically mentioned that I wanted to use my French...I even said I don't mind if my family ONLY spoke French. Ugh. That's another can of worms I'm not going to open right now. In the end, though, it's not so bad. Despite not letting me use French (which I am able to sneak in with my host dad and host sister...when the host mom isn't there), my host family is SO nice. And if that weren't good enough, my room there is huge. And we have a pool. And a nice backyard. Of course, material things don't matter...but if you're not going to let me speak any French then it's helpful to have other perks!

So, what am I doing today? Well, I'm going to the Parliament today, but not for work. My boss said if there is anything going on there that we want to attend, let him know and we can just go, even if it's not work related. So I'm going to a public hearing with the Culture and Education Committee that's on the internet and using it as an educational took for cross-cultural understanding. I'm so excited, but it's actually something I'm interested in, which I don't get much of here. The people at my internship are great and our boss is so funny, but it deals with business and economics, which are fields that I have never wanted to go into. So yes, I'm excited for this hearing because this is what I had hoped I'd be doing when I came over here in the first place.

After the Parliament I head back to the office, I think there's a meeting with important officials from...Ukraine or Belarus (since those are the areas we deal with)? I don't quite remember. But I have to work on my investment presentation so I can present it to the Ambassador of Belarus next week (yeah, not gonna lie, that's gonna be kinda cool). After work I head home to change, and then I'm off to the airport....destination BARCELONA!

I'll try to post something intellectually stimulating about the hearing, too, when I return on Sunday, since all my posts seem to be about traveling here and there and things that aren't really related to the Brussels program. Haha.

P.S. You best believe I took a picture inside the Sistine Chapel, despite the guards walking around yelling "NO PHOTO" at everyone. Really, they don't do anything to you but tell you to turn off your camera, so just go ahead and take a picture. Their job would be so boring if it were for people like me to yell at. So in a way they should thank me. A big you're welcome, Vatican guards, from me and others like me for making your job slightly more eventful, albeit more frustrating.

P.S.S. I had raw beef last night with some spicy mustard and ate it with a little piece of bread and some salad. And you know what? It was good! Yay for new experiences!

Three Cities in Three Weekends

Okay, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted something on the blog...but I promise, I have a good excuse! Much like the rest of the group, I have been travelling across Europe, trying to make the best of our three-day weekends. My first stop was…Paris! Unfortunately, I became sick and wasn’t able to actually do extensive sightseeing, but it was great to visit my cousin and her son…and it wasn’t my first time in Paris, thankfully. Also, it didn’t hurt that she has an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower from her apartment. During my stay, I attended a gala at UNESCO celebrating African culture, walked along the Champ de Mars, visited the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, and tried to get over my fear of heights by finally getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower…but it just wasn’t going to happen. Oh well, maybe next time!

The next weekend, I bought a €45 ticket and went to Madrid for the first time…all by myself. I didn’t realize how crazy this was until I was in the Plaza del Sol, center of Madrid, in a country where I knew no one and no one knew me. But I had a truly amazing time trying to revive my long-dormant Español, visiting the Prado and Reina Sofia museums (for free!), and just enjoying the architecture, parks, and liveliness of the city. Madrid was so colourful, vibrant, and cosmopolitan, the positive energy was inescapable.

Lastly, I met my Italian friend Elisa (whom I met on the streets of Paris three years ago) in Istanbul…and it was a weekend that I will never forget! First of all, three days in Istanbul is not enough; I am not sure that even one week there is sufficient to marvel at all that this city of over 16 million people has to offer. Secondly, I was amazed at how hospitable people in Istanbul actually were. It reminded me so much of Ethiopia, in that respect. On Friday, Elisa and I went to visit the old hippodrome and did some shopping at the huge Grand Bazaar. In the evening, a cousin of mine (yes I have family everywhere!) took us out on the town to Bebek, a hip area of clubs and bars/lounges along the Bosphorous River. Saturday, we went to Topkapi Palace, the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Archaelogical museum, and we tried to squeeze in the Gallata Tower and walked up the steep hill only to find out that it was closed an hour early! However, that gave us a chance to walk along the Golden Horn Bridge that connects both European sides of Istanbul…at sunset, and it was truly gorgeous! On Sunday, we toured a few more mosques and got to do some more shopping at the spice market. The best part was the hour-long cruise on the Bosphorous that took us along both the European and Asian sides of the city. There were so many sights to see and the weather was just gorgeous. I took about 650 pictures the whole weekend; that must be a record, right?

Now I am back in Brussels, working on the issue of small arms/light weapons transfers from Europe to Africa. I am learning that the effects of the massive weapons industry are truly lamentable when it comes to prolonging conflicts in Africa. The internship has been pretty cool so far. I have been to both the Flemish and European Parliaments. The other day, I attended a seminar on NATO and security/defense where the keynote speaker was NATO Secretary General Rasmussen. That was cool, to be surrounded by many ambassadors and special envoys from Russia, Latvia, Spain, etc. Otherwise, our days have been filled with watching the World Cup and other random events around Brussels, like the music festival at Parc, or the near riot of Algerian fans after they tied with England. Not even Brazilian fans celebrated their victory over Cote d’Ivoire as wildly!

Lastly, here are some important life lessons that I have learned from my travels:

1. Never buy perfume on the street or in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, no matter if it’s at a quarter of the regular price and seems like a great deal – you will be getting a watered down, discoloured version of the original (yes I had a temporary lapse in judgement)

2. If you do not eat pork OR beef, expect to starve in Madrid. Apparently, they have never heard of chicken and jamon goes on everything! (I hope this is not also the case in Barcelona, where I am going tomorrow…)

3. There’s no need to fill your suitcase with summer clothes when travelling to Brussels in May and June, as it doesn’t seem to get over 68° here anyway.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

They see Napoli, and then die. I say don't see Roma, unless you're ready to fall in love

This is the letter I sent my family after spending the weekend in Rome. Don't miss the opportunity to go, even if you have already been.

Buon giorno tutti!

How is everyone? I am doing fantastic! Everything in Brussels is the same old same old. However, yesterday I returned from the Motherland. I finally planted my two feet on Italian soil, and it was better than I dreamed. It sounds silly, but I almost cried exiting the airplane because of how overwhelmed I was. I just couldn’t believe I was in Italy.

The events that passed that weekend reconfirmed that initial reaction over and over again. The hostel we stayed at was wonderful. The staff was extremely friendly and very helpful. I especially loved how they brought us fresh cappuccino and a croissant in the morning! :-D Regardless, you could see that they really put an effort into making sure that everyone has a good time while staying there. The best part is they wanted to talk to you. What brings you to Italy? Where did you learn to speak Italian? Why did you learn to speak Italian? I answered them all the same, and the response was the same: Oh, you’re Italian-American, I can see it in your face!

We went to numerous sites, but unfortunately we did not make it to all. You cannot do Roma in two days. Naturally, I appreciated the beauty of the scenery and the majesty of these ancient landmarks, but that is not what touched me the most. My friends and I ended going to a museum on immigration of Italians to other parts of the world. It is touching to see the artifacts that people sent back! It was emotional, especially when they started playing Santa Lucia in the background, Mom Spitale’s song. I couldn’t help crying. My friends asked if I was okay and I was, but some things are hard to explain, like the emotions I felt. Seeing that museum made me proud to be an Italian-American, not that I wasn’t before. But there I felt like I saw what Mom and Pop Spitale and Mom and Pop Crivellaro saw when the embarked on a journey for a new life in America. We know that for them in many ways the life was hard, but in some ways their dreams came true. The museum made that much clear.

The other moment that sticks out was our trip to the Vatican. When Connie went to Italy she told me about how she saw the Pope preach from the balcony. Having such a short amount of time in Italy I didn’t have the opportunity. But I knew I wanted a similar experience. Who knows when or if I will return there. So, I asked a priest if he would bless and he was gracious enough to accept. So, my site seeing in Rome ended with being blessed in Saint Peter’s square. It is something I will never forget.

In short, Rome is a beautiful city, with wonderful people. I call it my personal candy store. Mom always said before she died that she would love to see Italy one more time. Well, Concetta you walked the streets of Rome again June 18-June 20th, 2010.

Un bacione a tutti! Vi manco!


Oh la la! Le temps passe vite!

Ok, well I will admit it just took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to create a new blog post...I guess that means it's been a little too long since I've written. I cannot believe that next week is our last week in Brussels. There is just so much that has happened, and definitely not enough time to describe it. So, we'll start from the top and work our way back. To start, my internship has been amazing. I'm really one of the lucky ones who has an internship that is pretty much right up my alley. As I previously stated I work at the European Policy Centre, in the communications department. I was a little skeptical at first, since I don't study communications. I study International Peace and Conflict Resolution, but there have been more links to my studies and interests than I could have imagined. My job is to attend events and write up reports on them. One long report which gets sent out to our members, then a shorter version for the web. If you care to check them out visit: But, the events which I get to attend are truly phenomenal. I have the chance to mingle with people from the European Council, the Commission, Parliament and then people from awesome organizations like International Crisis Group and European Peacebuilding Liaison Office. My boss is wonderful and really tries to assign me the reports for the events which deal with my interests. So far, this has meant a Policy Breakfast with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, a Policy Briefing with the Turkish Minister of Finance, a meeting on the conflict in Georgia/Abkhazia with the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, and an event with the founder of the Global Peace Index, just to name a few. So, needless to say, I'm learning a lot just from attending these events and having the chance to listen to different viewpoints and opinions being expressed on certain issues. On one Policy Dialogue on Turkey, people actually walked out when the topic of Cyprus was brought up - so it's really shown me first hand some of the strong feelings people have on these topics. Not to mention, the people I work with are wonderful. I think that the EPC is larger than some of the other organizations where people are working in offices with one to two people, but the EPC has a lot of different branches and so it's always pretty lively and the people are very welcoming. Plus, it's fun because it's a very multi-cultural staff, so although the main language of communication is English, I hear conversations in Italian, Romanian, German, French and Turkish on a daily basis, which I really enjoy. So, in short, I have been truly thrilled with my internship. They've been flexible and very understanding with hours, and my workload. One positive thing is, I can't say that I'm bored!

But, Brussels isn't just about work and no play. So, let me just recap some of the highlights of the fun bits of the last few weeks. This past weekends one of my best friends came to visit. She is originally from Moldova, but is currently studying in Prague, which gave her the chance to come to Brussels for cheap. It was great to see her again and so much fun, since it was her first time in a French speaking country and we actually met in French class! She was very excited to see la Grande Place and the European Institutions, and she also loved seeing how friendly people are. She's a journalist for Radio Free Europe and so while I was working, went to the park to do some interviews and everyone was more than willing to chat with her. It was fun, because it was like seeing Brussels for the first time all over again through visiting it with her and seeing her excitement. Especially when we went to the chocolate shops! Mmmm! But, not only did I have the chance to show her Brussels, my host-mom happened to be going to her house in Normandy this past weekend and offered to take us along. It was absolutely amazing! I've been to different parts of France before, but Normandy took my breath away. The ocean and the cliffs were gorgeous. And we were lucky, because it was sunny the whole time! We walked to the top of the bridge of Normandy and looked over the Seine at sunset. After that we drove through the quaint streets of Honfleur, before arriving at Anne's home. It almost seemed like we had been removed from reality for a bit - probably not having access to internet and the depressing news headlines everyday helped that. But, just when we thought things couldn't get better, we'd go on to our next place or "activity" and we'd be breathless all over again. Some of the highlights of the weekend included just walking through the streets of different cities in Normandy, visiting harbors, seeing beaches, but also we were there for a race of "char a cerf-volants" or Kitebuggys in English. I never even knew such a sport existed! And seeing all these people on their little "buggies" being pulled over the sand by vibrant colored kites at sunset, with the ocean in the background, was truly an experience. Another favorite part of the weekend was when we took a picnic with my friend's favorite animals: cows! There is a cow pasture close to my host-mom's house and since my friend was excited everytime she saw the famous cows of Normandy, we decided to pay them a visit. It wasn't anything I'd ever imagine doing, but fun nonetheless, especially when they all came up around us to see what we were up to. I've never seen cows so close before, and it was quite an interesting experience. The only downside, was that the weather chilled us to the bones almost everyday, which is not what I was expecting. But, this was quickly cured when we got home with a cup of hot tea, or a nice warm fire. This weekend was truly an extraordinary experience, I tried to summarize it, but being brief is not my strong point, especially when it comes to talking about travelling!

Another weekend trip I took was to Spain, which was to visit another friend. It was great, because although I've been to Europe a number of times, I never made it to Spain. We met in Sevilla and stayed with her former host-mom. (Do you see a trend here? Host-families can truly open the doors up to wonderful experiences!) The sun was shining bright everyday, and we enjoyed walking through the streets and taking breaks for ice cream and coffee. Most people would probably not have found the trip that exciting, because we spent more time catching-up and eating ice cream and tapas than seeing sites. But, it was exactly what I imagined Spain to be: warm sun, warm company and great food!

The weekend before my Spain trip, I spent in Brussels. It had been a bustling couple weeks, and I just needed some time to relax. And it was great to see the less touristy parts of the city, like the park just a short walk from my host-home. Ashley and I spent Saturday enjoying the nice weather in the park next to the pond with a lovely picnic. We finished off with a round of frisbee.
Sunday, the group had planned to take a bike ride through the forest near Ashley's house, but the forecast of rain threw our plans out the window and we ended up meeting up to play cards and frisbee instead. Overall, it was just the relaxing type of weekend I'd been hoping for, and it was a chance to see Brussels in a different light.

The weekend before that, a few from the group and I took a trip to Amsterdam, which was very exciting, because it was one place that I hadn't been yet. We really had a great time walking around the city, (watching out for the bikers, of course, who seemed to have the right of way over everything - even cars at some places), seeing the flower market and the Van Gogh museum. The weather wasn't perfect everyday, but we lucked out for most of it. My favorite part, was definitely seeing all the innovative different types of bikes, though. We even saw some that had little carriers on the front to hold kids in, and one with an infant! I thought that was superb!

Well, if you've gotten this far, BRAVO! I said that a lot had happened in the last few weeks, so I tried to give a recap. All in all, it's been a wonderful time, and I'm excited to see what these last two weeks have in store for us all!

Ciao all!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Chronicles of AU in Brussels 2010 Part I

So, I looked at the calendar yesterday, counted the days left at my internship and realized, to my great surprise, that we have only 16 more days to go in the program! Shocking!! The past couple of weeks just have been packed with sightseeing and traveling, working and learning. It seems that only now did I get the chance to stop in my tracks and take a big breath...only to realize that the final stretch is upon us... so after having checked off a substantial portion of my "what I need to do when I get to Brussels" list, I seriously need to get started on my mental "what I need to do before I leave Brussels" list! Ay...dios!!! Mon dieu!! Oh Gott!!

I do not, however, want to deprive the audience (that's YOU) of a recap of my past few weeks here. Dear reader, please be prepared that this will be a LONG post (since this is my first post, which can be attributed both to my great love of procrastination and what you will find, if you keep on reading, a crazy couple of weeks. Blame my German-ness for the bullet points in chronological order.

May 15, 2010 After spending a total of 3 nights at my parents house in Ruelzheim, Germany and showing fellow AU Brussels Summer Intern Elisa W. around the old beautiful city of Speyer and the not so old ugly city of Karlsruhe (seat of the German supreme court), Elisa and I took an early train that took us via Koeln (Cologne) to Brussels.

May 16, 2010 Jerry gave us a tour of the Grand Place, including all the inside stories of the
of Bruxelloise history and a detailed lesson in decyphring 18th century architectural sings of flipping the bird to royal authorities, followed by a detailed study of the symbolism of medieval guilds. For example: A swan on a building signifies that it is a brewery, however, two swan swimming away from each other is code for "this is a brewery but you may purchase services of quite a different nature here as well". I will never look at a building the same way, I can promise you as much.

In the evening we met our host families - and, I must say - BINGO! I'm convinced my host mother, Anne, is the BEST! She's a nurse, has two kids, she's francophone. She understands English, but since I'm living with Katie LP, who's married to a Frenchman, the working language in the house is French... It's awesome, although I was literally exhausted after dinner on the first two days because I was trying so hard to understand everything Katie and Anne were talking about. It's going better now, but it's still frustrating because I definitely lack a good portion of vocabulary (and verb tenses) to be able to express myself properly. It reminds me of the tantrums I threw back when I was starting to learn English and my teacher just couldn't understand what I was trying to say...*sigh* Anne, however, is a SAINT... she's so very patient and gives so much to the people around her!

May 20 - 21, 2010 Interviews with the different organizations. To sum it up in very few words: An invaluable exercise in getting to know the city's public transportation system inside out - which thanks to google maps, is really not that difficult! If you're like me, and being interviewed is one of the most frightening things in the world (surpassed only by public speaking), then let me tell you that, in my opinion, these were much more relaxed and conversational than any of my past interviews in the U.S. I feel like there's a great advantage to the fact that the potential employers here know that you're here to learn, that it's essentially an academic exercise and that you're NOT going to be their slave (although you still might get to do some really boring tasks). I enjoyed 99% of my interviews and ended up wanting to interview for all of them. Nevertheless, I was, to be frank, quite disappointed, that there was no European institution or agency on my list. After all, I came to Brussels with the idea (maybe naive) to intern with "the EU". Ce n'est pas grave. The organization I'm interning for is a consultancy specializing in public tenders. Haha...ok, I will translate the jargon. My boss helps companies apply for jobs that the EU institutions need to get done, be it construction, services, etc.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, since we didn't actually start interning until June 26, 2010. In the meantime (June 21-24, 2010) we embarked on a journey with our fearless (and tireless) leader Jerry, touring 4 whole cities in 4 days! The endeavor was remarkable, even more so, since from the beginning, Jerry dedicated himself to get our legs and brains marching, as he guided us in zig-zags through Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge. The way he brought the history of guildsmen, rising against their greedy tax-raising overlords and Beguines, fleeing into monastic life during the crusades, made us forget our sore feet. I have only one recommendation for anyone planning on going on this trip - bring a device to record Jerry's tours! After four days and four cities, your brain will be fried and all the information starts to blend. So -audio recorder = no problem identifying what's on your snapshots afterward :-)

Oh much already written and we're not even close to hitting June. Maybe I should stop now and continue with an account of the internship, my trip to the International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, Switzerland, the past weekend in Madrid, my interviews with EUrocrats for my SRP, Jerry's lectures, the elections...and what else there might be to come in a couple of days.

Until then, bis dann, hasta luego, a bientot :D

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stealing the thunder...

Katrina seems to have said a lot of the things I could say! But I guess I will try to update with my own random experiences of Brussels....

This past weekend was the first 'calm' weekend since I arrived... My mother came to visit last weekend, which was great fun because, well, she is fun!, and because the jazz festival was happening in Brussels. There were so many bands playing all over the city, and there was so much energy with all the music and people. It wasn't obnoxiously crowded everywhere, but there were enough people, all in good spirits, to bring a new burst of life into the city. I think Europe in the summer time, almost no matter where you go, has that feeling throughout most of the summer because Europeans really appreciate their summer months. I guess that is what happens after terrible, dark winters!

So after a few days with my mom, she headed back to Sweden, and I returned to my normal (ha, I love how this is has become 'normal') life in Brussels. I finished a full week of internship, and another week of distance learning (boo!)... to greet the weekend with open arms and excitement for the new exploring potentials! Katrina covered Friday, so straight to Saturday... I checked out Sterling Books, a well stocked English bookstore fairly close to the Grand Place. I spent some time enjoying the books all around me and the potential for new reads. I ended up buying A Picture for Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde as I have never read it, and all the other choices I had in mind were awfully large and long, which is not exactly good for packing. All in all, good choice so far I must say.

But enough about books! I headed to the Flagey area after that... it's a bit of a hike for Belgium standards (took me about 30 mins to get there on the metro then the tram), but it's worth it. There is an awesome cafe, Cafe Belga, on the corner of this old radio hall building that overlooks this beautiful lake/park area (a picture would have been appropriate here.... if only I had my camera!). I sat on the grass by the lake and ate a baguette with brie (a delicious penny saving meal on this side of the Atlantic) while enjoying the beautiful weather. After that, I headed inside the cafe and enjoyed a coffee while doing homework. Later in the evening, after feeling satisfied by my productivity that afternoon, I met up with some of the other people in Brussels for the evening and had dinner.

Sunday was a lazy day that greeted Brussels with sun, and then rain, and then many clouds playing hide and seek with the sun and the rain. It was a nice afternoon of cards, coffee, Frisbee, and shared laughs with my fellow Brussels participants. A particularly spectacular moment featured a 20 year old tackling, a poorly (or maybe very calculatedly, it can be debated!) thrown Frisbee, and one unsuspecting forehead to absorb the impact of the flying plastic. A moment to be remembered, and surely will now not be forgotten. ;-)

Perhaps next time I will include pictures like the other, more organized, posters.

But until next time... Au revoir!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Being VIP, Parliament, Coffee, Protests, and Namur

This is only my 2nd post in 3 weeks. So much to say and not enough energy to say it. I'll talk about being VIP in a bit. First of all, my internship pretty much has me sitting at a desk all day, doing research on business investments (of which I know nothing about). It's cool that I get to intern with another AU student, Ashley, and the people at our office (there are between 2 and 3 other people, depending on whether or not Katya works from home) are really nice.

Now, Ashley and I went out to lunch one day at this tiny cafe she saw on her way to work from Montgomery. The owner and chef, Basil, is now our new BFF. He is so sweet! He kept offering us free food, telling us that he wants us to feel at home and welcome. We chatted for a while and said that we'd be back next week, which was this past Monday. He wasn't there at first because the main responsibility of the cafe is to cater food to people. So, we had stuff from the salad bar, hung out, and when Basil showed up he invited us (which means you don't pay, I found out) to coffee and Macaroons. Macaroons are absolutely delicious and quite pricey I found out! They're usually almost 1 euro per piece, and the pieces are very tiny. Another day we walked by on our way home from work and he invited us to coffee and chocolate cake. He said that if we wanted, we can rent out the restaurant at the end of our program and have a little farewell dinner with all of the students. We'd only have to chip in for the food, which is at a good price. Long story short, Basil is adorable and he makes Ashley and I feel so VIP.

Back to the internship. So our boss mentioned that if Ashley and I wanted to go to the Council, the Parliament, the Commission, any embassy's, etc. to let him know and he'd gets us in there. We went to an event at the Parliament on Thursday about the Danube Strategy and it was really interesting! Afterward, the assistant of an MEP treated us to coffee, gave us a little tour, and then after Ashley and I walked around the city a bit we came back to the Parliament to have lunch there. I tried mousse for the first time (vanilla, of course, because I don't care too much for chocolate), and it was like eating a cloud. Quite good! He put together a goody bag for us and we exchanged details so that we could meet up for drinks and proper night on the town. He's around our age, I think (late 20s maybe) and is really sweet.

Me, Niki, and Josh hung out Friday afternoon around the "Asian street" (I don't know what the name is, but it has a bunch of Asian grocery stores and is near the street with a lot of Asian restaurants and cafes). We headed to the Palais de Justice (where a judge and clerk were killed Thursday morning in court, in case you heard in the news) to see if the street fair had started yet and to have coffee and Old English. The bottom floors are a museum that you have to pay to get into, but if you tell them you're going to the restaurant they give you a ticket and you just ride up there to the terrace. On our way over we spotted Stephanie and Elisa, so they joined us. The view from the terrace was great! It would have been better on the other side of the building, but oh well.

After coffee we went to De Brouckère where people were having a protest regarding the incident with the Israeli military and the ship off the cost of Gaza. There were so many police around, in the metro, too. I think the protest was peaceful, but there were a few guys who tried to burnt the Israeli flag. It burned for a bit and then died out. Once they realized that it wasn't going to burn easily, they decided to stop on it and tear it apart instead.

I left for the Demey metro stop early that evening to meet up with Susan, Katie S, and the latter's host family. We took a short drive to Namur, where they're from, and had a lovely dinner with Isabels family (her mother, father, one of her sisters and her boyfriend). They then took us out to one of their favorite bars and treated us to drinks. The next day Geoff took us around the open market, which happens every Saturday and is HUGE. We went to the animal section, which had animals such as chickens, peacocks, goats, rabbits, ducks, gerbils, geese, etc. You could even pick up the baby ducks and chickens! Ahhh, they were soooo cute!

We had coffee and chatted about this and that. Somehow we got to the topic of proverbs and sayings. Apparently t
heir equivalent of "It's raining cats and dogs" is "It's raining like a pissing cow," which is so much more hilarious than our saying, so I think I'm going to use that from now on, haha. We also walked around the castle they had there (thankfully they knew sneaky ways to get into the castle through tunnels and such, so we didn't have to pay to get in). We went to Geoff's parent's house for lunch and we hung out by their pool for a few hours. The property and the view is to die for! Pictures don't do it justice.

So, after a lovely day in Namur (which is in Wallonia, the francophone part of should go if you have the chance because it's such a cute city) we hopped the train back to Brussels! What's really great is that the weather the past few days has been absolutely beautiful!

....And tomorrow there's supposed to be a storm! I love storms, so tomorrow will be a nice, chill day watching nature do it's thing!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Belgium vs. the US

So I've been bad and haven't posted anything yet even though we've been here for three weeks. So far things are going well. I like my internship at a media consulting company, I've already gotten to go to parliament to listen to debates on the Digital Agenda for the EU, and the people I work with are great. I didn't know any of the other AU students when I came here, but I already feel like I've made some great friends and we've traveled to some really cool places so far.

For my first post I'm going to write about some of the differences I've noticed between Belgium and the US.

1) Stores
Stores close a lot earlier here than they do back home. Most of the stores close by 7 pm and are closed on Sundays too. I was at the mall near the AU Center before class Tuesday and was surprised when everything started closing up just before 7. I guess I just assumed the stores would stay open as late as they do in the US! While this can be a little annoying, it must be nice for the people who work there. I know I would have loved to have gotten out of work that early when I worked in retail!

2) Money
At least in Belgium, many many places don't take credit or debit cards, or you need to have a Belgian card with an electronic chip in it. This was definitely hard to get used to for me as at home I never have cash on me. Now I have to go to the ATM (known here as a Bank Contact or Mister Cash) a lot more often. This is good and bad. It's good because it makes you more aware of how much money you're spending. However for me paying with cash makes me feel like I'm spending more because I mentally deduct it when I take out money then I feel like I'm paying again when I buy something!

3) Showers
Anyone who's been to Europe knows that bathrooms here are different from back home. At my homestay we don't have a bidet or anything but they are still common. Our shower is fairly normal, except for the fact that you have to hold the shower head instead of it being up on the wall. It's obviously not a big problem, but it was nice when we were in the hotels on our trip around Belgium and had regular showers!

4) Washing machines
Dr. Sheridan warned us that the washing machines here would be complicated. Luckily the one at my homestay isn't complicated, but it is different from at home. First of all its in the kitchen. This seems strange since in most apartment buildings in the US there would be a room for machines downstairs. Its also a lot smaller than ones in the US and the cycles are much different. The regular one takes two hours! We also don't have a dryer. I know some people here do, but there isn't really any space for one in the apartment.

5) Drinks
At restaurants in Belgium they won't give you tap water for free, you have to buy it. This is one thing I don't like because having to pay for bottled water at a restaurant seems like a waste of money. You can also buy beer in a restaurant for about the same amount of money, 1.50-2 euros.

6) Coffee
Belgium is like much of Europe in that they typically drink espresso or cappuccino in the morning. While I do like those types of coffee, most of the time, I just want a nice big cup of coffee that I can carry with me and drink for a while. I haven't seen any Starbucks yet (supposedly there are some around) so for now I'm drinking Senseo coffee, which is somewhere in between regular coffee and espresso.

7) Beer and Chocolate
These are two of the things Belgium is best known for and for good reason. In general they are both much better than in the US! Of course back home you can get good beer and chocolate, but they tend to be expensive. Here even the cheaper options for the two are really good. It makes it hard to resist (especially chocolate) when there is so much of it around and its so delicious, but I'm trying.

8) Street Food
My last difference is Belgian street food. In the US we have hot dogs and pretzels. Here they have waffles and french fries and they are both delicious! While they have the typical Belgian waffles (here called Brussels waffles), but the better option are the Liege waffles. These are more doughy, and sweeter, studded with little bits of crunchy pearled sugar. If you ever get the chance to try them do not pass it up! The french fries are pretty similar to the US, but they have a ton of different sauces for them, including curry ketchup and the ever popular mayonnaise. My favorite so far has been the Andaluse sauce, which is a kind of tomato mayonnaise.

That's all for now! This weekend I'm going to a town in the south called Namur where my host family is from. I'm excited to go and see the differences between Wallonia (southern Belgium) and Flanders (northern Belgium) where we went on our trip to Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.