Paris and Brussels Weekend

One thing you learn after a semester in Europe is that Europeans really enjoy their holidays. Even though a good many European citizens are Atheist or Agnostic, every time a Christian holiday rolls around, EVERYTHING is closed. That includes school! So the weekend before last (Thursday to be exact) was Ascension Day, and we had a 4 day weekend off school. I took this extra time to fit in a trip to Paris, France as well a short stop in Brussels, Belgium for a concert from one of my new favorite artists, Electric Guest!

Paris would have been nothing without the assistance of my lovely Paris tour guide and host, (other) Katelyn! (This is one of the reasons I go by Kate. In times when 2 Katelyns are in Paris together!) Katelyn has been living in Paris since the fall so she knew everything very well as well as speaks lots of French, which was helpful for a first-timer like me!

Day 1: I arrived in the evening and the first thing I hit up was the French McDonald’s, because I had to see whether that famous conversation about what you call a 1/4 pound cheeseburger in France (from Pulp Fiction) was true. And why yes, it is. Though I have to be specific in that the menu say “Royal Cheese” as opposed to “Royal with cheese.” But maybe McDonald’s France has changed the name during the last 18 years, since the film came out…

Afterwards Katelyn took me to meet up with some of her friends at the Arc de Triomph at night, and afterwards we went to look another famous landmark, the pyramid entrance to the Louvre. Both sights made for amazing, adequately-touristy pictures.

Blurry in the good kind of way.

Day 2: Time to hit the sights! As a first timer with only 2 full days to explore Paris, I had a lot to see in a little time. I saw the Louvre (outside) again, because the line for admission was going to take too long to fit in my schedule. We went to Notre Dame, and stumbled upon a bread festival, where we got to watch the expert breadmakers at work! I also got to try some of the bread with nutella on top- YUM. We ate our lunch on the Seine River and then headed to a shopping district near Katelyn’s school so I could marvel at all the designer stores- Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, the works. We met up with some (I use the term some lightly- I think I met at least 10 people in that hour) of Katelyn’s friends at a cafe for an espresso, and then it was time to see the Eiffel Tower! I just love the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, with all the people (most likely tourists, also) relaxing and enjoying the afternoon.

After a few much-deserved mojitos and tacos (I would go to Paris just to eat Mexican food…) we went back to the apartment to prepare for the night. We met up with more friends at a nice spot on the River Seine and let’s just say, there are some interesting local characters that crawl around there at night. We were even serenaded by a young French guy who played the clarinet. …I promise it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

Adorable children learning how to make bread.

Topsy-turvy sororitayyyy picture. It had to be done.

Found a French poodle. In France. Owned by Americans. How typical…

Time for the Metro! It’s actually one of the most budget-friendly metros, in my opinion.

They had the best mojitos here.

Day 3: We explored a more hipster part of town. Rode a trolley up to the top of an extremely steep hill so we could get a good view of Paris. Then we walked back down, hit up a thrift shop (white blouse + Parisian scarf for 7 euros, scoreeee), a few gift shops, and then took the metro to see Moulin Rouge, the Opera, and finally, grab some lunch. That night, Katelyn had a few friends over to her apartment and we got to hang out on her balcony and watch the sunset. Love.

I love you, in every language.

The trip to Paris was amazing! I am so glad I got to visit Katelyn, meet so many new people, and see so many sights in a mere weekend. It was quite a feat.

But after departing Paris, I had a bus ride to Brussels to conquer! It took a few hours and quite a lot of Whale Trail games, but I survived the brief bus ride and arrived in my “motherland” – Belgium! For those of you that don’t know, my last name is from the Flemish side of Belgium, and my grandfather is Belgian…hence, “motherland.”

Anyway, Brussels is in the French part of Belgium, so I don’t know if it really counts. I wish Belgium would pick a language. Every sign has at least 2-3 (French, Dutch/Flemish, English) and all of the citizens just can’t seem to decide which one they’d like to speak. Other than their obvious inclination towards French, of course.

I think Brussels was a pretty city, when you were in the right parts of the city of course. The center is very nice, with plenty of expensive, touristy (and thankfully delicious) food venues. May I recommend the Belgian fries and the waffles? 🙂

Had to get one of these pictures, of course…

After some city exploring, it was time for the Electric Guest concert at the Botanique, in the Bruxelles Nord area. First off, Electric Guest was AMAZING!

If you don’t listen to them yet, you should (here’s a link!), because they are an infectious musical group. Their stage presence was epic and the lead singer was so energetic. I got to meet him afterwards and he signed my ticket! Perfect end to the night.

Electric Guest- I think I was too shaky and excited for a proper photo.

Overall, my journey through French speaking lands was fun, filled with lots of sights, and quite a lot of interesting people.

I will be returning to Paris and other parts of Belgium in the near future 🙂

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Summer Bike Ride in Eindhoven

I wanted to document what it’s like to cycle around Eindhoven so this video is the result 🙂

(check out the guy who crashes his bike at the very beginning. Recording that was a complete accident, btw).

To Scandinavia, we go!

Last week, I finally made my way to Sweden to visit my love, Allie (her study abroad blog is here) via bus from Eindhoven to Copenhagen. Travel time took about 12 hours…yup. Let’s just say I can survive anything after taking a night bus across 3 countries.

Upon arrival in Copenhagen, Allie “Copenhagen Expert” Woodward took me around to show me the best a few hours in the city could offer. We shopped, walked through Christiania (really cool hippie community) and got Nutella-filled crepes (which I proceeded to spill all over myself, so I ended up wearing the nutella…I REGRET NOTHING).

Other highlights include a glass of wine while were serenaded by live music on the canal, as well as some in-ground trampolines near the water, which made for good pictures.

 

After a day in Copenhagen, we took a train back to Allie’s humble abode in Lund, Sweden where she is on exchange at university there. We nommed on some dinner and got ready to go out to the Nations! They don’t really have bars in Lund, just Nations which double as bar/clubs in residential buildings. It’s a big student scene with lots of typical techno and well-dressed Swedes, drinking pricey beers and ciders. One big difference was that everyone dances when they go out there! The Dutch don’t seem to be into dancing as much as the Swedes (which is not a problem for me. I prefer a good chat on a night out, usually).

Our night at the Hallands Nation with Allie and her French friend, Jennifer, was enjoyable though!

The next day, Allie and I did a BIG brunch…American style (eggs, bacon, OJ, coffee, toast & cream cheese…the works). It was nice be able to indulge in American things and talk about stuff from home, after spending so much time without that luxury. I haven’t actually had that much contact with fellow Americans during my study abroad experience.

Allie showed me around Lund and we bought some Swedish snacks at the grocery store to prepare for our trip to the spa the next day! We went a spa in a small town, Ystad, which is ON THE BEACH. The spa was so relaxing and beautiful. The food was amazing as well (although we had a bit of trouble ordering at first…oh, language barriers).

Overall, the trip to Denmark and Sweden was one of my most fun and relaxing trips yet. Sometimes its nice to just enjoy the days slowly instead of sightseeing all day, like a typical tourist.

She’s starting early…

 

Sometime, in Holland…

A bout of insomnia led me to make a short video with a collection of travels through Holland. It is meant to be a first person view of a few different cities in the Netherlands that I have seen this semester! Enjoy.

(PS- the Amsterdam bit might give you a headache…fair warning.)

LONDON!

First things first.

Death Eaters Attack London (a reference video in case you have forgotten the scene)

I walked across the Millenium Bridge without being killed by Death Eaters! Boss.

So, as you can see, I recently went on a trip to London for 6 days. I had never been to England at all before, so it was a new experience! It was great to have people immediately speak English to you, and be able to overhear & understand conversations, because you never realize how fun that is until you’re living in another country and don’t speak the language. It’s much more entertaining when you can understand what’s happening around you 🙂

Overall impression of London is that it’s a huge, bustling city filled with a great mix of people. There were a lot of tourists and touristy things but it never felt excessive (like some parts of Amsterdam can feel way too touristy- London was not like this, for me).

Here are the highlights!

Day 1- arrive in London at 5pm, ride the tube (subway) for the first time, check into hotel and pass out from travel-induced exhaustion.

Day 2- Explore a bit. Have a look at Buckingham Palace and take plenty of photos. Take a bus to The Making of Harry Potter (also know as the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London) which is actually an hour outside of the city. This studio tour was, simply put, AMAZING. It also took all day.

Day 3- Go to the Tate Modern (an art museum with some great pieces, from folks like Picasso, Monet and Dali). Afterwards, more exploration which leads to us accidentally coming across Big Ben. Also had a great view of the London eye from here. Walk along the pier by the London Eye and come across an outdoor comedy/entertainment festival, where there are plenty of Londoners enjoying tasty beverages. Try Magners Irish cider and eat some dinner as well.

Day 4- Shopping in London! Finally hit up Topshop as I have always wanted to shop there. More museums, as we explore the V&A (Victoria & Albert) as well as the Natural History Museum (a little too geared towards kids). More shopping ensues, with a visit to Picadilly Circus, which is often described as the Times Square-like area of London. Find out that this is also where you go if you want to be consistently pestered to check out this club or that bar- seriously, watch out for these publicity guys because they are annoying and pop up EVERYWHERE…like pigeons.

Day 5- Have high tea/afternoon tea at a fancy shmancy hotel, which was possibly the most delicious and filling meal of my life. It had everything you’d ever want- English breakfast tea, tiny adorable sandwiches, delicious pastries/cakes. I felt like Marie Antoinette, except…English. Shop around a little more before heading back to the hotel to get dressed up. See Phantom of the Opera (my favorite musical, of all time) at Her Majesty’s Theater (the same theater Phantom opened in, 25 years ago). Tears were shed. Amazing.

Day 6- Last breakfast in London, so of course I opted for a traditional English breakfast- yum! Head straight to the Tower of London, which is so huge it takes several hours to go through. The Crown Jewels, however, takes about 10 minutes because you are forced to hop on one of those moving walkways; which while I understand is used to control the flow of traffic, it was kind of obnoxious because you can’t truly admire the detail of the jewels. Did a bit more Harry Potter sightseeing- found Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, as well as spotted the alleyway filmed for the Leaky Cauldron scenes. Got dinner and drinks and said goodbye to London 😦 headed to the airport at midnight because our bargain flight (oh, Ryanair) was at 6am.

So as you can tell, we packed a lot of things into those 6 days but it was still a relaxing trip! My favorite part of trips is the spontaneous moments, so it’s great that London has a nice transport system. You can easily hop on the tube (though it’s not cheap, I warn you…day tickets are essential) to explore a new part of the city!

Now that you’ve read all through that…it’s PICTURE TIME.


Yule Ball Ice Sculpture, from HP4.

Golden Egg from HP4

Potions Props from Harry Potter

Tom Riddle's Gravestone...looks much happier in this context, doesn't it?

Had to get one of these pictures...cheesy but necessary!

Finally found Fish & Chips!

The Tower of London

I found Platform 9 and 3/4!

 

Anyway, as you can see my trip to London was exciting (although I might mention, quite expensive). I’d love to go to England again if I ever have the chance!

 

10 Rules To Biking Like a Proper Dutch Cyclist

  1. Always park your bike next to a nicer bike. Not only does it deter thieves from touching your bike, but it also ensures that the person next to you won’t bang up and damage the already “vintage” at best quality of your bicycle. 

    Exhibit A: The bike on the left is from the Rijwielcentrale Bike Shop aka it definitely cost several hundred euros. My bike, on the right, is well used and cost about 30 euros. You do the math.

  2. Learn how to bike with a person on the back of your bike (and learn how to ride on the back, also). Not everyone owns a bike. You will often encounter situations where you may have brought your bike but your friend did not. This means that you’re going to probably double up to get where you’re going. I have tried riding on the back. I lasted about 5 minutes before I was just too freaked out. Of course, the Dutch are used to it because they start riding this way when they’re very young. Allie, when she visited me, was a natural at riding on the back. It depends on how comfortable you are with sitting on flat metal bars and not being able to see where you are going.
  3. Multitasking is your friend. Yep, you can pretty much do whatever you want while you are biking as far as I know. You can text. You can listen to your iPod. You can smoke. You can paint your fingernails. Whatever you want as long as it doesn’t “cause danger.” Take that as you will. I have seen people do 2 or 3 of these things at once. Crazy.
  4. Your bike is like a pack mule, so use it. Balance is especially important with this one. I have learned how to bike home after a shopping spree- I put multiple bags on my handlebars, wrap them through my fingers and I’m off! It can get a little tricky depending on how heavy the bags are and how many you have, of course, but it’s much easier than walking home with all your purchases in hand.
  5. Trick out your bike and personalize it! Since most people’s bikes are used, and most of the bodies are brown/black/navy/grey, a lot of the bikes end up looking the same. Personalization makes your bike easier to pick out of a crowd and also gives it a bit more meaning to you. The personalizations range from really girly (stores sell fake flowers for you to wind around the handlebars) to really practical (extra lights, bells, seat covers, etc). You can also buy packs to go on the back of your bike, in tons of different colors or prints. It’s up to you!
  6. Become an expert in weaving- safely. I have to admit it’s hard to get used to this rule. I am pretty good with weaving when I walk (I’m a natural at walking around in NYC- you’ll only understand this skill if you visit the city). However, weaving when I’m on a bike feels much more vulnerable for some reason. If you wait for everyone and everything to cross your path before you continue on, you will pretty much wait forever. I’ve heard you can get a hefty fine if you cross through a crosswalk without a green bike sign, but most people do it anyway…within reason.
  7. Park with caution. Bike sheds are your friend. Bike theft is so common here, it’s a bit of a risk to leave your bike locked up on an outdoor bike rack for more than a few hours. I always lock my bike to something rooted in the ground, like a sign or a pole- but that’s also because I don’t have a kickstand. People can also get pretty creative with where they park their bikes. Sometimes it takes a bit of rearranging to get your bike to fit in a spot.
  8. You don’t have to be a vicious biker, but just know that others will be. This is especially true in bigger cities, like Amsterdam. Bicyclists will run you over. They do not care about your toes, legs, arms, bags- if you are in the way, and you don’t move, chances are you’re going to get hit. I don’t like to bike like this because I think this is why lots of people (at least back home in the US) find bicyclists rather annoying. Luckily, the locals understand this and most of the time, pedestrians will wait for cyclists to pass or they will just move out of the cyclists’ path.
  9. Bike tunnels can be really cool. Okay, this isn’t really a rule. Just something I’ve noticed. I need to take pictures of the massive graffiti bike tunnel on the east side of Eindhoven, so you can understand what I’m talking about! It’s stunning.
  10. Bike in groups- it’s more fun and more active than riding in the car. Biking to a certain location with your friends can be really fun. Conversations are filled with more activity, you can see and comment on more things as you pass them, you interact with others on their bikes. Not only that, you’re getting exercise. It’s a win on multiple fronts.

Real update post!

Okay so now I have been here for 3 full days and I guess I owe my blog an update 🙂

After our arrival and check-in to the hotel, I went and opened my Dutch bank account, walked around Eindhoven so I could check out my new room/house/flat/apartment (whatever you like to call it. You never realize how many words there are for it until you’re surrounded by other nationalities) from the outside, since I don’t get to pick up my keys until Monday. It looks like I have a bit of a walk (~30 minutes to the university) but that’s what bikes are for, right? Speaking of bikes, it might take awhile until I learn all of the cycle etiquette. There are separate bike paths next to roads and these bikers are probably more dangerous than cars, simply because it’s hard to remember to look both ways to cross both the bike path and the road. After exploration, my parents and I went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant (pretty good, although the chips and salsa not so much). We tried a local beer, Domelsch, and found out that we’re currently in a popular area for it. I thought I’d be seeing Heineken signs everywhere but it’s more common to see Dommelsch, Bavaria, or Amstel even.

The next day (Wednesday) I got up early and braved the freezing cold 20 minute walk to my new school, TU/e. It’s pretty much the Dutch version of Georgia Tech. It has the same guy-girl ratio and everything. For the day, I attended a few orientation-related things and made new friends- Nichola from New Zealand, Roman from France, and Annie from Hungary. I got to eat lunch with them in the TU/e auditorium; it has a cafe with a huge amount of seating. The campus buildings here really put Georgia Tech’s to shame. They remind me of our Biotech buildings, but much taller and with some European flair. The food in the cafe is AMAZING and lots of healthy options, another thing that has me swooning. Tech could seriously take notes on this University. There is a huge array of foods; delicious sandwiches on the best kinds of bread, lots of fresh fruit, freshly mixed fruit juices (I tried the lemon-lime twist, SO GOOD), salads with all kinds of toppings. It might sound similar to what GT offers but I promise you it’s a whole other world. And the food is so cheap! 2 euro for a big sandwich, nom nom.

The ID department is much bigger here than GT’s. There are about 650 students, and instead of one studio per year, there are about 5 or 6, all named by colors (orange, purple, green, blue space, etc). We get to pick a “theme” and then a project under that theme. Each theme meets in their mandated “space” aka studio room. I am doing a project called Object: Playfulness which is under the theme Playful Interactions and meets in the orange room. All I know about my theme so far, since we don’t actually meet until Monday, is that I will be analyzing small, portable handheld games that everyone can play and understand, such as checkers, jacks, etc. I believe I am supposed to come up with an object that can be associated with a similar game or a different version of those games, of course I will find out more details on Monday.

I joined Lucid, which is similar to IDSA but a bit more social, like a fraternity or sorority. Their office is awesome, filled with tons of design books, supplies, and snacks that you can buy at a discounted rate. On Thursdays, Lucid runs a bar in the basement of the building with all the ID studios (so great) where you can buy beers for .80 euro each! And if you’re a Lucid member and put money on your key fob that they supply you, the drinks are even cheaper. Nichola, Roman, Annie and I went to the first Thursday drinking night of the semester. The bar atmosphere is very cozy, with lots of comfy couches and chairs where you can get lost in the delicious beer and great conversations. I am learning so much about so many cultures. We mostly spent our time comparing our respective countries and laughing at all the differences.

Then we went to get some dinner, and went to a burger/shake joint (yep they still have those here). I tried the famous frites (fries) with mayonaise. It was so yummy! I don’t think I’ll be eating it regularly because it’s pretty fattening, but I liked it. One funny thing about here: they put shaved carrot pieces on their burgers, and all the toppings are below the meat as opposed to on top.  A little different, but they still taste good.

Finally we made our way to the street of bars, which was quite active because we found out that the Eindhoven football club had a game going on (at Philips Stadium in Eindhoven, it was way too cold to go to that though). I ordered a Hoegaarden and the bartender Nico, who we found out was Belgian, was so excited about us ordering Belgian beer that he gave us 2 free beers and 1 discounted. We felt nice and toasty to combat the cold, but it had been a long day, so a little while after the game (and the winning celebration, accompanied with lots of Dutch techno songs) we parted ways. Nichola and I are both staying in the same hotel right now so I tried to guide us (big mistake). We got a bit lost but it wasn’t anything to worry about. After I got home I fell asleep pretty quickly. Will jetlag ever go away?

I will update when more fun details emerge 🙂 For now I have a city to explore and a weekend to enjoy!

Arrival!

I am finally here! Actually I’ve been here two days but the jet lag and the lack of regular internet has temporarily delayed my posting. So first before I tell you stories, I want to include a little list I kept on my phone of the things I learned on my traveling day, when I flew into Brussels, Belgium and then took trains to my school’s location of Eindhoven, Netherlands (Monday/Tuesday):

– First rule of driving in Belgium/Netherlands: there are no rules (hence why I won’t be driving here, ever).
– Belgium is 60/40 in terms of speaking Flemish (Dutch with a different accent) and French.
– This area is the most densely populated area in Europe.
– Belgium had a railway strike the day before we arrived. Thank goodness we came the next day…

For now, that’s all I can contribute because I have a lecture to go to. Tot ziens!