Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"So what can I do when I'm thinking of you?" - Shout Out Louds

The Answer? Wear my mom's earrings, eat belgian chocolate for Rachel, try pink beers for Paddy, order a dose of Jameson for Joe, attempt to purchase a giant bra of Belgian lace for Karina among other things

Location: En route to Dublin
Currently Listening: My Friend and the Ink by Shout Out Louds
Weather: Surprisingly sunny

I didn't make it to Lux, but I got the "Be" & "Ne" parts out of the way.

An Overview of Belgium & the Netherlands:
Emily, her friend Carley, and I caught a train Friday morning to Brussels where we met up with Chole. None of our cell phones worked and meeting up in the train station was nothing short of a disaster. It's funny how now matter how clear a person is about meeting place there's always some unavoidable confusion with the interpretation of places. Anyway, I followed the little-kid-lost-in-the-grocery-store-plan and stood in one place till Momma Chole found us.
While Em and Carley dropped off their things at their hostel, Chole and I walked around the Grote Markt (Market Square) which was full of SURPRISE, SURPRISE beer, chocolate, and waffles!! You know that bewitching smell of buttery popcorn they pipe out of movie theatres to lure people inside? Well, intensify that by infinity and switch it out with the cozy smell mapley waffles and dark chocolate. Basically Richard Simmon's worst nightmare. Of course, I hit up Neuhaus and Leonidas, which are the more affordable, most heard of chocolatiers, but couldn't walk two feet with out finding myself in smaller local chocolate shops where I selected the most interesting truffles. I didn't even step inside Godiva since it's way too easy to find it at home.

For dinner, we met up with with Carlos, my cousin Ram's new wife Monika's college buddy who I met at the wedding. The restaurant was traditionally Belgian and of course lacking in the vegetarian department. I ended up with fondue and a Lindemans Framboise beer. Surprisingly the beer went down pretty easily and I rather enjoyed it. The fondue on the other hand was some sort of fried mushy cheese. Not really pleasant. I will have to try fondue somewhere else in Europe, that's for sure. At dinner we talked about how easy it seemed to ride the metro or train in Brussels without anyone checking tickets, but Carlos warned us that the train station closest to him was often checked by controllers. Sure enough on the way home sleepy from beer, Chole and I forgot to mark our Belgium "Go Pass" with our arrival destination before getting on the train and were fined by the controllers! Luckily they only gave us fine worth the price of a ticket.

The next day Chole and I met up with her friends Patsiya and Pui to explore Antwerp. We tried to meet up with Emily and Carly at the train station, but couldn't find them anywhere. Apparently we were standing on either side of a wall and missed each other completely! After a long while we had no choice but to give up and left the train station. A short walk from the station and we found ourselves in China Town, where I found the most ginormous Jumbo Size Asian Rice Crackers. I felt like a little kid and haddd to get them. :) Plus they are considered a luxury in Paris and cost a arm and a leg (a theory later disproved by trip to LIDL discount store). I also picked up some instant Pad Kee Mao to make in Dublin... wouldn't recommend it..but apparently I'm not allergic to MSG 'cause the noodles didn't kill me (This is my version of living on the edge).

My intense Belgium research (I spent all of Thursday during class reading wikitravel) told me about a hidden street in Antwerp, which you won't find on any maps. Needless to say it's a walking street that can't be accessed by car and is found behind giant sometimes closed doors. I won't ruin the fun if you plan to visit so I'll just tell you the street is near Hoogstraat. The street was full of surprises: cute European stacked homes, a bizarre art gallery, greenery, and a small restaurant.

We spent most of the day walking around the nice clothing stores and small boutiques deeper into the town. The major fashion museum was closed, but we peeked inside the building through the windows and it was so beautifully designed. The boutiques surrounding the museum made for a delightful browse. I couldn't peel my eyes off some of cardigans and dresses I found, but of course none of trees on the street were sprouting euros. The Staadstfeetszal shopping centre was also a sight for sore eyes. In the center of the mall there's a swanky Laurent-Perrier Champagne Bar....literally the shape of a champagne glass. Who wouldn't want to sit on top of the bar and drown himself in champagne?

We picnicked in the main square by a beautiful flower market. It was nice to see the bright reds, purples, and yellows after a cold, colorless winter. Good old PB&H (Peanut butter & honey - new cheap love) wasn't enough to fill our bellies so we ventured off to find dessert. I spotted a GuyLian Cafe and dragged the girls inside. My chocolate milkshake was was essentially a glass of milk with tiny bits of chocolate on the top and bottom and gave me a terribly stomach ache (lactose intolerant)... but the chocolate was naturally sinful.

After some more shopping and a visit to Castle Steen, we ended our day taking goofy pictures on the boardwalk of Antwerp Port. Pretty sure all the locals were staring at us...4 crazy girls photographing themselves jumping up into blue sky. I will never get too old for some games.

In the morning, Chole and I met up with her friends Sara, Laura, Corinna and Lad for day in Maastricht, a town in the Netherlands for Carnaval. Again we tried to meet up with Emily and Carly at the train station but to no avail. We picked up some beer and rum cola at the nearest Albert Heijn and headed into town to meet up some more friends at an Irish pub.

We'd heard that Maastricht was second best after the carnaval in Venezia. Well needless to say, Carnaval was absolutely crazy. Not sure if it was water falling from the sky or beer. We spent the day in the streets making friends with everyone (One lady just gave me a glass of Heineken for no reason other than I raised my hand slightly when she asked her friends if anyone wanted one) in their crazy costumes. The locals spend all year putting together extravagant costumes. Sometimes it seemed as though a family spent all year collecting all things blue(or green or pink or silver or black) and sewed it together to make some sort shiny, fabulous outfit. Every group had floats (equipped with coolers for storing beer) and swarmed the streets for the parade that lasted all day collecting more and more people. The craziest costume was an entire group of toilet brushes..but the shock from that was nothing in comparison to the baby-in-a-glass-box float.

We felt ashamed for our serious lack of costumes and searched all through town to find the one store left open on a Sunday. Chole and I bought masks but mine couldn't really fit over my glasses so I wore it on the back of my head and used Carly's eyeliner(I ran into Carly and Emily out of sheer luck later that afternoon) to draw a peace sign on my cheek. I also made a make-shift hippie headband out of a yellow clip-on highlight from Corinna....haha. It was interesting-looking...

Whenever it got too cold or alcohol in-take required relieving we made ours way into the bars that were extravagantly decorated. Imagine Party City puking on a bar. The one thing that seemed to confuse me was the street full of not bottles or beer cans but glasses. Apparently the bartenders don't collect the glasses or make any attempt to stop people from walking right out of the bar with glasses in hand. So naturally I felt no need to return the adorable beer-mug shaped shot glasses after Sara and I had ourselves some Jameson.

On the train to Brugges I realized I left all my notes and my map at home. Luckily I ran into some guy from Cleveland who let me borrow his guidebook for the train ride there where I hurriedly jotted a list of things to see.

Map-less and groggy I made my rainy day exploration to the nearest tourist center where I had to buy a city map from a machine. After leaving the tourist center, I looked everywhere for this lake of swans, but gave up trying and headed into the town center.

The architecture of the town was delightful and overly cute. It's kind of like walking around Southlake Town Square but much bigger. Mostly the city's remodeled so it's kind of like historical fiction...but I don't mind it much. I imagine walking through Brugge is what it would be like to walk through a town of ceramic Christmas houses if came to life.

The cold sprinkle made me shiver so I was pleased to come across the Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí in one of the squares. Dali's work never fails to surprise, amaze, and delight me. He was so unbelievably clever. The gallery itself was its own work of art, such glorious colors and textures and arches.

But what's a day in Belgium without handmade chocolates? I decided to eat chocolate and keep walking as food seemed too expensive, plus rain and being alone was too depressing for un table pour une.

The Truffle Hop:
On Rick Steve's recommendation, I tried a slab of dark chocolate with crispy cacao beans of which I made scrumptious lunch.
I'd remembered reading something about a small museum underneath the chocolate shop, but the lady inside had no idea what I was talking about so I gave up bought some champagne truffles and walked away.

Louvain La Nueve
Walked around the fresh/flea can pick up a jumpsuit or 1kg of epinard for 5 Euros. At the mediterranean stand, I picked up red bell peppers instead of tomatoes (YET AGAIN). I thought they were feta stuffed cherry tomatoes. I hate my life sometimes.

Of course it didn't take me long to find a kitchen store where I found a few must-haves.
3) Yes the are birthday gift hints. Think of it like this. You buy the supplies, I cook you up a wonderful meal.

The rest of the mall was unimpressive, except for the grocery store...I kick myself every time I see the prices of food in other countries. Paris is so dang expensive. I feel like I'm living on a shoestring cooking every meal, not shopping, and staying with friends when I travel, but I'm failing miserably as my bank account is draining. I'm not sure what I can do except to try and stay in Paris as much as possible. I really wish I had a summer internship sorted out to make things more comfortable for my family and had made a bit more money working over the fall semester.

Great, I'm going to be late for school now. Wish me luck. I promise not to complain as much seeing as I'm in Paris, but I'm afraid it's absolutely Parisian to complain about everything. À tout à l'heure'

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