I decided to take a couple trips this semester, and it just so happened that Brussels was my first one. I know it's late, but what can you do when you have to plan to stay with people and stuff? :) I stayed with my friend Emily, who i know from high school, so it was much less expensive since I didn't need a hostel, AND i had a tour guide!
I got to Brussels on Friday night at 5, and she immediately took me around the city to see the sights. Sadly, in the rush of getting something to eat, I grabbed my purse and my small camera, completely forgetting that the memory card i had was in my BIG camera. So on Friday i took no pictures. But what I DID do was go to a few places with Em! My immediate reaction to Brussels was, when i got off the train: "I can't speak French." it was a concept not yet known to me-- the only countries i have ever been to before Belgium were the US, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria-- and France, technically, but that was only Strasbourg, which is half German anyway. The point is that i have never been to a country where I didn't know the native language, so i felt preeeeeetty stupid. And neither did Emily-- i mean, she knew a few sayings, like, enough to get around, but luckily everyone in Brussels (or nearly everyone) speaks German or English. So it was fine. ;)
Brussels is MUCH bigger than Freiburg, and quite the opposite. There is next to no car traffic in Freiburg because not many people have cars. Public transportation is huge, and I barely encounter cars in my regular walking routes. But the minute i got to Brussels, it was different. Kinda scary, actually-- traffic EVERYWHERE and people disregard pedestrian red lights (the Germans take their pedestrian lights VERY seriously)! The buildings are all white and brown and VERY tall (Freiburg is colorful and small-city-ish), and it is a bit dirtier in the streets than Freiburg, given that it is bigger. It has a beautiful feel, though. Even though it rained the entire weekend, the streets were shining with the reflection of the lights from the buildings off the stone and it was marvelous.
Em took me to get a Belgian waffle right away, and i chose Nutella, strawberries, and whipped cream. it was HUGE and AMAZING. omg. I have never had such an amazing waffle! ;) And then we went to a bar called Delirium, which i WISH i could have gotten a pic of for you guys, it is in the guiness book of world records for the bar with the most beers on tap-- about 2000! It was 3 floors and HUGE, and is always crowded! Since i'm not a fan of beer, but Belgium is KNOWN for their beer, I ended up getting a fru-fru one as dad would say-- i got a banana beer and Em got a berry one. They were both AMAZING. Then we walked back to her place and pretty much crashed.
The next day we went to Luxembourg. Luxembourg, between Belgium and Germany, has been an independent city-state-country since the late 1800s. It has a LONG and extensive history, beginning in 963 with Sigfried, continuing on with the Habsburgs (who pretty much ruled everything in Europe at one point because they were married off to almost every country) and and falling under the influence of the German Nazi Regime (i saw a sign in the city history museum that said "Luxemburg! You are GERMAN, you will speak GERMAN and you belong to US." sad day...). Today, Luxembourg is under the rule of the royal family (technically counts, not kings), which you can find on postcards... but also has a parliament and a congress for power checks. It inhabits 400,000 people by night and 500,000 by day, because people commute from nearby cities to make more money, since Luxembourg has a higher standard of living than its neighboring countries. Luxembourg was beautiful, and if it weren't raining and if it had been a different time of year i'm sure it would have been STUNNING. it was literally established on this weird plateau thing that provided natural safety for the castle, because it is this widows-peak type peninsula-plateau that they built on. pretty awesome. In the 1600s they commissioned Vauban, an enthusiastic militaristic planner from France, who ALSO built the wall around Freiburg by the way, to build a wall guarding the city from threats. Parts of this wall still stand today, which you can see on my facebook in my album. It is massive and it is awesome that we got to walk along it!
We had a guidebook that told us what to see, so we went around looking for things. We didn't realize the train ride would be 3 hours, so we were STARVING when we got there and pretty much had the biggest lunch EVER-- at an authentic luxembourgish restaurant! It was cute and really nice, and we ordered authentic dishes as long as wine from the region. It was yummy! After that we went to the history museum and walked along the wall and went home. ;) Then i got my pictures of Brussels at night that i missed the night before. We also got Frites (french fries... in Germany they are Pommes Frites (silent es on Pommes) and we call them Pommes (no silent es) for short) and took them back to her place and watched the rest of a movie we had started the night before but had been too tired to finish-- Alice in Wonderland (the new one). I actually found it rather interesting. It was very entertaining, and it is always fun watching Tim Burton movies. ;)
Sunday was another adventure in itself! Em had to do a few things that we didn't expect on the way to the train station, so we miscalculated how long it would take to get there and i missed my train at 12:25 by about a MINUTE. it sucked. So then i had to buy a reservation for the next train that would take me to Koln, which was departing in about 2 hours and 22 euro, even WITH my Eurail pass. So I ended up waiting another 2 hours. which wasn't terrible-- but then of course, 30 minutes after it was already late, we are all looking around trying to figure out why it is late, and finally it is updated, saying it is an hour and 48 minutes behind. At this point i am kind of worried, because I did have a change of trains to make, meaning i was looking at 6 hours of traveling (it was already almost 3) and if it were any more delayed i would miss the last train to Freiburg (which departed from Koln at 7) and have to stay overnight in Cologne. Which would SUCK. I figured out later that the train was late because of the big storm over the weekend that had caused some flooding of bridges to the north that trains needed to take... ugh. So the train ended up coming 2 hours late, like they said it would, and we were all relieved. But it was overbooked and people were pissed that some people had the made the exact same reservation somehow, and also some people were just stubborn and didnt' want to give their seat to the person who had reserved it because they were waiting so long for the train all day. But luckily i had a seat. When we are ALMOST in Koln, they announce that since there are too many trains in Koln and we are technically late, we have to jump trains in the station before Koln, about 50 minutes away. We get on this new, slower train and find that we are delayed once again by about 5 minutes because the high-speed train on the same route we were on before (but this one was on time) needs to pass us since it is going faster. So we wait, and when we reach Koln luckily the train to Freiburg is waitign for us since we were WAY late and the next one doesn't leave for an hour. So I RUN to that one, make it just in time, and it is pretty empty, so i get to spread out and get comfy. ;) Four hours later, I was in Freiburg.
Moral of story: Traveling is fun, and Eurail passes are AMAZINGLY CONVENIENT, but ONLY when trains are on time! AH! I tell myself it could have been worse-- and i DID make it home, so i am grateful. However, other than the traveling, being in city where I am a complete foreigner was interesting, since I was truly a tourist. It was very cool, but very taxing at the same time. I met some people on the train (you tend to bond with people when the same misfortune is happening to everyone, especially when you speak their language) who were really nice-- two girls from Koln who were students and were finally going home (very nice girls who were impressed with my German since i had been speaking English the whole time since they were), a young guy from Canada with almost NO accent on his way to Berlin just to travel around Europe for a month, and a middle-aged guy from New Zealand who was giving lectures in Koln and was finally traveling back to NZ after 2 weeks in Germany. We talked about cultural differences in many ways, and it was very interesting explaining not only American politics (generally) and the college system to them. It makes me sad that people love America but at the same time they see it as this land of people who don't really strive toward anything but making money, especially on the point of how many big corporations there are, how much pollution we have, and how most people go to college having NO idea what they want to do with their lives (in Europe, people are usually specialized in their field by their last year of high school, and have chosen to study one field more than others when they enter high school). But yeah. It was definitely an interesting culture-session.
Ohhhh, Europe. Don't get me wrong, i still love being an American-- i guess my eyes have just been opened to how ridiculous some of our culture really is. But some of it is legitimized by our geography, our systems of government and schooling, etc., so it's okay. But the foreign view of Americans just hits me the wrong way. I mean it is nice to come here and be a kind of exception to the American stereotype, but i am still American, and American i will stay-- even if i drive everywhere every day and own an iphone and eat as unhealthily as possible and buy crap that i don't need... haha. whatevs. I am proud to live in Chicago and live in such a greatly developed country, even if we DO butt into other people's business and kill the O-Zone layer. I still love America AND the English language.
Until next time,