Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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.

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