Tuesday, July 13, 2010

J'aime la Belgique!

...is incredible in every way.

Oh my, what a wonderful weekend. Brussels- or Bruxelles, as the case may be- is absolutely fantastic. Of course, it helps that I was exploring such a glorious city with someone so incredibly awesome. Maddie and I had a blast going mapless in Belgium! That's right- we did not acquire a map for the weekend's festivities. We simply explored, and used the metro lines to get back home (with great success, I might add). The Metro was a little confusing at first, because it's about a billion times bigger than Prague- and probably not bombproof either, but that's a different story- but in the end, we always figured out where we were going. It was such an adventure, as our lives always tend to be!
One of the first things that we noticed about the city was how multicultural it was. It is quite possibly one of the most diverse cities I have ever been in, and it wasn't particularly segregated either. People from all over the world blended together, forming far more of a melting pot than America! After Prague, where diversity more or less consists of Asian tourists, it was almost overwhelming. Very cool, in a lot of different ways. To see people of all races, religions, and nationalities together in one city... it was awesome.
Maddie's French skills were put to good use as we navigated to our hotel- plane, bus, train, metro- we used them all, and it did get a little complicated at times! Then, we arrived at our hotel to find that it was a tiny little door wedged between two cafes. Unnerved, we entered, and were buzzed in through a second door. The woman at "reception" which was really just a tiny office with a bed, desk and fridge in it, spoke only French, and informed us to come back in an hour and a half. Whoever heard of a four thirty pm check in?! That's rather late. We didn't mind so much though, because we hadn't eaten lunch yet anyway. So we left our luggage in the office and set off. Because of the hour, some places were closed for an afternoon break, while others were open but not serving food. It was a little confusing at first, but after about ten minutes, we found this adorable little cafe where we enjoyed quiche lorraine and salad. It was fantastic! Belgian food has received an emphatic thumbs up from me! Not that anywhere has had subpar food... but still. It was great. After we wrapped up our meal, we checked in and headed to Bruxelle Les Bains, a riverside music festival that was a ton of fun! We indulged in churros with nutella, and got these really awesome souvenir cups with our drinks! After spending awhile enjoying that area, we headed up the street and, after quite a bit of walking (and trying to convince a very enthusiastic Belgian chattering at me in French that we did not, in fact, want to eat at his cafe) ended up at St. Michael's Cathedral. It was gorgeous, and was set in the middle of a beautiful park that Maddie and I hung out in for quite awhile. Just lolling about on the grass was quite pleasant. Eventually, we decided to head back into town for dinner. After much exploration of the metro system and coming to the realization that some of the trains were mislabeled and thus were lying to us about their destination, we arrived back where we wanted to be. At about nine, we found our way our way to this adorable little cafe in the heart of the city. It was a Danish tavern, and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. A milkshake, croque-monsieur, and delicious crepes rounded off a fabulous day. It wasn't until eleven thirty that we finished our leisurely meal. The pace was great- very laid-back and enjoyable. Not long after, we crashed. It had been a long day, and we were both exhausted!
The next morning, we decided that we wanted to start our day off right. Obviously, this involved eating waffles for breakfast. While we were waiting for the stand to open, we went by a candy store to purchase chocolate, cookies, and other such goodies. The Belgians love their sweets, so we got along grandly. Within a few minutes, the waffle stand was open, and we made a beeline for it Maddie selected orange ice cream and strawberries for her toppings, while I opted for strawberries and chocolate. It was positively heavenly. While indulging, we explored the Grand Place, which was chock full of stunning architecture, and ventured forth towards that legendary statue: the Manneken Pis, or the peeing boy. Honestly, Maddie and I were a bit perplexed with this phenomenon. It just seemed a bit... strange. A whole slew of people were posing for pictures in front of the fountain. We lingered in our puzzlement- and then realized that we weren't going to reach any real conclusions on the subject, so we carried on. Eventually, we meandered our way to the EU Parliament building. We also wandered through some second hand stores, explored the Parc de Bruxelles, found the American embassy, located the Belgian Parliament complex, found a sweet wooden sculpture that arched over the entire street, almost got hit by a bus, waltzed through a shopping mall and then.... then we headed to Mini-Europe. It was quite the trek on the Metro, but before long, we arrived, brimming with excitement. Yes, this was going to be incredible. All of Europe's highlight's- in miniature! It was great. We had a fantastic time exploring the sights on a smaller scale, and I was quite delighted to realize that I had been to many of these places! It was great. A rumbling in our stomach soon provided a friendly reminder that we wanted to eat, so we stopped at a Brazilian cafe just outside where we made a brilliant discovery: carbonated beach iced tea. Fantastic, in every way. I am addicted and want more. It will be one of several odd addictions that I'll bring back to the States, I suppose. But if you had some, you would understand. The omelet I had had was delicious as well (yum, champignons!). Afterwards, we decided to head back to the center of town and see where the afternoon took us. First, it took us to the outskirts of Brussels, because we inadvertently boarded the Metro in the wrong direction when we changed lines... oops. But it was really cool to see a different part of the city. Eventually, we ended up where we wanted to be. We purchased postcards, and procured the Holland jerseys that we wanted for World Cup final the next day- I know, I know, I should have bought one when I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago but alas, it slipped my mind. We discovered this little cafe, where we stopped for some cold drinks and a bit of a/c, and nearly got caught in the middle of a whipped cream war! It was quite amusing. After some further wandering, we found a grocery store, where we procured some more sparkling iced tea... and I bought a mango. I haven't had a mango in months! Not because they aren't sold in Prague, they are (although they are a little pricey), I just haven't had one. And they looked so delicious. So we meandered our way over towards this cathedral and park, and sat on the steps with our drinks... and my mango. We got some interesting looks, but the mango was glorious and the company was even better, so I don't particularly care. After some more exploring, we decided we wanted to eat dinner, and latched onto the idea of grabbing gyros in the Greek Aisle (an excellent little pun on Maddie's part if I do say so myself)- basically a street full of Greek and other Mediterranean food. First we decided to drop our bags off at the hotel, and I wanted to wash my hands anyway- mangoes get sticky! We headed back out and settled in at a little cafe, indulging in these delicious feta gyros that were fantastic. Towards the end of our meal it started to rain- oh no! We were actually quite glad that it had held off so long, except now we were left without umbrellas. After quickly paying, we soon located another cafe that we spotted earlier. Actually, it wasn't the cafe that we noticed so much as the desserts! So we holed up inside with warm, gooey chocolate cake and tea and waited out the storm. Once the cake was done, it was still pouring.... so we had tea too. It was lovely. After about two hours, the storm passed and we headed back to our hotel. We had a grand time watching people from our window, and eventually fell asleep. It was going to be an early morning!
The perfect way to pass a thunderstorm...

Brussels Park

The Grand Place
On the cobblestone street in front of Parliament
Waiting for the Metro- not quite lost, but not quite found either.
Yeah, we're big oil- and we're proud.

The next day, we headed to the train station early and made our way back to the airport. It's amazing how quickly you make friends when you're wearing a jersey! It made security a breeze- good thing the agents were all pulling for the Netherlands! While waiting in the airport, we ate quiches for brunch, and afterwards I indulged in another waffle. Delicious. Also free, because the vending machine wasn't operating properly- what a pleasant surprise! The flight was nice and easy, and before long, we found ourselves back at home in Prague- yay! Maddie and I made plans to meet up that night for dinner at Bohemia Bagel, an expats' haven that is one of the few places in the country that you can find a bagel. After dinner, we grabbed some ice cream and headed to the game. People were singing to us in Dutch, and enthusiastically voicing their support for Holland. The atmosphere of the World Cup in Europe is incredible... It's really a phenomenal experience. People were mistaking us as Dutch all night- which is a really huge compliment, because Dutch girls are gorgeous, in a very effortless way. One such conversation:
Brecht: //smiles at us, speaking in Dutch//
Maddie and I: "Uhh... do you speak English?"
Brecht: "What?! You are not Dutch?!?!" //looks quite shocked
Maddie: "No... we're not"// laughing
Brecht: "Ohh..."// He pauses, looking confused. // "But you are pulling for Holland, yes?"
Me: "Yes, of course we are!" //Nah, we're just wearing these jerseys because we thought they looked cool. I mean... they do look cool, but that's not relevant.
A few moments later, after thinking about our lack of Dutch citizenship apparently, he taps me on the shoulder.
Brecht: "So you are English, then?"
Me: "No, we're not... We're American. We live here, but we're from the States."// amused
Brecht: "You- what?! You're American?!"
He was more surprised that we were American that he was that we weren't Dutch, much to my amusement. Not a bad situation to be in. I don't mind the least bit when people don't realize that I am American! Not long after, we befriended a group of Dutch guys (conversation sparked after Maddie and I began to laugh hysterically at the way Czech people dressed like Texans- it was for this band's pre-match concert, and it was ridiculously entertaining), and that made for a very entertaining evening... until Holland lost. We were so sad, and so was everyone else. Well, except for the Spain fans. But quite frankly, the Dutch were very gracious losers (much more so than the Spanish would have been, given the fact that they were bandying around a replica championship trophy before the match even began!). After the game ended, it was quite late, so I headed back to my apartment.
Hup Holland Hup!

Monday morning, I watched The Pianist in my Political Film and Novel of Europe class, and it was a great movie about a Jewish pianist, Szpilman, who survives the Nazi occupation of Poland. Afterwards, I went grocery shopping, and did some of my reading for one of my other classes in a park- where I found the Dutch boys from the evening before! It was a very pleasant surprise, and we ended up hanging out for a bit that afternoon. It was their last night in Prague, and then they were off to Budapest. It was kind of cool to be able to advise them on the city's best sights! This week, I also watched Downfall, another war movie, in that class. It centers on the last ten days of Hitler's regime. A very moving film, I found that it had a very interesting perspective. I've been learning quite a lot in Czech class as well- lots of new verbs to memorize- oh dear! In my Gender class this week, we went to a local cafe for tea with a former student of my professors' who is now quite involved with a fundraising organization for women's rights groups in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as a magazine that seeks to promote various women's rights issues. She was a fascinating woman, and I really enjoyed meeting with her. Afterwards, we finished our class by exploring more of Vysehrad, the castle complex near school. We wandered through the cemetery and saw sculptures of all sorts of legendary figures. This morning I headed to the Museum of Communism with my Film and Novel class. It was a good museum, quite fascinating. But the best- and worst- part of it was this little room off to the side where they showed a film that was a composition of all sorts of footage from the Communist era. It was devastating to watch. To see people being treated so brutally, when they simply wanted to protest peacefully.... the screamings, the beatings. Being able to see that, and see it happening in places I recognize- the place I live! It was beyond moving.
Later on, I met up for lunch with Maddie. Lunch was actually pie and iced tea. And it was wonderful. We followed that with some vintage shopping, exploration of Prague, and milkshakes from Ben & Jerry's. Then I had a Czech test- ack! Conjugating verbs! But it's alright, I did well- I hope! Tomorrow we're going to the zoo for class, and I can't wait! It should be fantastic. I have just nine days left here in Prague- and that makes me so indescribably sad. I plan on making the most of every one of those days, of course, but I just don't want to go! I'm sitting in the window of my apartment across the street from the Karlin theater, and I'm so content. Sure it'll be nice to have air-conditioning and screens on my windows and other such things, and seeing friends and family will be wonderful.

But I know I'm going to miss this.


Post a Comment