Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Belgian Waffles and Beer, oh the joy!

Last weekend I traveled to Belgium for a weekend. We had an early departure Thursday morning to make it on the train and made it there by mid-afternoon to enjoy the beautiful, sunny day. I was able to take off my coat, like most of you Iowans are doing these days, and catch some rays. The first day, we were in Brussels and ended up wandering most of the day. We made it to the Grand Place, the main beautiful area of Brussels that's really well known, and got a bite to eat at a sandwich bar. We made it to the cathedral and wandered over to a park. The day could not have been more perfect. After wandering around, we stopped for waffles. I could live in Brussels solely for these things. Top off a crisp waffle with ice cream and chocolate and you're good to go. All you need is a little exercise and life is grand. Anyways, it started to drizzle for some time, so we found a pub to experience some Belgian beer. I don't really appreciate beer, but I've always heard good things about Belgian beer, so I tried a cranberry flavored one. It was quite wonderful to be honest. The rain didn't really die down, so we went back to the hotel to chill out for a while then grabbed some Italian, my personal favorite.

The next day we ventured out to NATO, which was so neat. We took a cab who probably overcharged us, but nonetheless we made it! The security was super intense, no cell phones, ipods, or cameras. I expected it to be some really awesome building that was really technologically advanced, but it's super old and nothing special, at all. We had a lecture that lasted about two hours just learning the basics, which was quite interesting especially learning about the war we are in. We had lunch there and then made our way to the European Union. I cannot believe I stayed awake there... they put us in a conference room to learn about the EU, which is not interesting to me whatsoever. The poor speakers probably felt awful at the lack of interest we all showed. After that was over, I needed a nap. Well, I usually always feel like I need a nap but today was legit. We figured out the underground which is always complicated in another language, French in this case. I got some pretty good pizza for dinner on the busy shopping road and then we went ventured out for some waffles. I never eat healthy on weekend trips, but trust me, I do well during the week I promise! We had a visitor knock on our door at 5:00 in the morning which scared me. There wasn't even a peephole to look through the door! So of course I didn't answer. Then a phone call came, but it only ended up being one of the fellow (very drunk) students who randomly wanted an iPod charger.

Our last day we went on a train to Bruge, Belgium, also known as one of the most picturesque places to visit and I completely agree. It was like Pella, for those of you who have visited but even more precious and beautiful. Flowers were growing everywhere, there were little canals with bridges across a lot of them, there were horses with carriages, cute little coffee shops and a market. I mean this place had it all. It didn't seem like there was much to do for people who like to be adventurous and wild, but I loved the homeyness feel so much I decided I'm going to retire there. They speak Dutch in this part of Belgium so I feel like I could adjust... maybe? We never did anything too exciting, but I loved taking pictures and it was a sunny day out too. We went out for hot chocolate, which you can see from the pictures that they gave you this huge mug of hot milk, then a little cup (made out of chocolate) filled with chocolate chips to put in the milk and stir it. I'm telling you, this was amazing! We had to leave Bruge sadly and go back to London, but low and behold our train's power cab thingy broke down, so our train was delayed by almost an hour and a half! Luckily we had a very entertaining chaperone so time passed quickly. And then, we were back by 11:00 pm and I was out like a lamp.

For pictures press this link

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

You met WHO?!

This past week, we had the wonderful opportunity to go to a movie premier in Leicester Square. It was a Wednesday, meaning I'd have to skip my afternoon classes, but I wasn't about to regret it. The movie that was premiering was Remember Me, featuring Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin. We arrived about five hours early and sat on the side of the road until the little gates were put up. The waiting seemed to fly by and when six o'clock hit, we were on our toes to meet Rob Patt. For those of you who don't know Robert Pattinson, he's essentially the main character in the Twilight books, aside from Bella. Anyways, he's dreamy in the books, and although he's not super handsome in real life, everyone associates him with his character, which for some reason, dudes just can't understand, ever. After our wait, numerous cars came up and after the fourth or fifth car, out came my future husband. I mean Rob. Girls were screaming, jumping, yelling, and doing everything possible to get him to come their way. He made his rounds and eventually got to us. I was nervous and I have no idea why! We asked for a picture and he said yes, but of course some girl cut us off. No fair! I touched his arm and that was about it. Overall, the experience was exhilarating and intense, but I'm glad I went. To meet a celebrity is quite rare when you happen to be from Iowa. Not even Iowa, but Pella, Iowa.

The rest of the week consisted of me having some sort of virus or bug in my stomach, keeping me in bed for long periods of time. Our school group went to Stonehenge and Bath on March 20, a Saturday trip, and it was of course, rainy and cloudy and windy. I was still feeling very nauseous, but I made it through. Stonehenge was, well, stones and a lot grass around it. We could only see it from a distance because apparently people used to chip part of it off when they visited to be like "hey look I got a piece of Stonehenge"! It was definitely worth seeing because it's got such weird and different stories behind it. Like how on earth did these stones get here? No one really knows. I'll have to ask the big G in heaven someday. We went to the bath house in Bath afterwards and that was really neat. Again, England is filled with history, which absolutely fascinates me, I just wish I could retain it. My London History class should help me with that one!

On Sunday, I decided to venture out to Hillsong church, which I had been wanting to forever, but was too scared to go alone. Well, I did it, just like a big girl, and it was just fine. I met a girl, Tiffany, who invited me to a pub/lunch afterwards. I met this awesome guy Mark who was so friendly and made me feel so welcome with all of them. They told me they would get in touch Sunday to save me a seat, so who knows, maybe they really liked me? :)

This week has been pretty typical... grocery shopping, laundry, reading for classes, actually going to classes, and reading Harry Potter. I've just started the fifth book after Jackie and I ventured to Notting Hill's library, which was approximately the size of my dorm room. At least they had the book! My friend Leah invited me to go to Billy Elliot the musical, so we're going to show up and see if they have any cheap tickets left for the show tonight. I have spent a good portion of today packing for my trip tomorrow... Brussels! I am very excited to venture out to Belgium. They have lots of yummy food there I've heard, so I'm bringing my stretchy jeans.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Spring Break

As I finished my last midterm at 3:51 pm on Thursday afternoon, I cheerfully made my way back to the dorm to finalize Julie's plans for spring break. I couldn't have even imagined how quickly the week was going to go, but all in all we had a great time and saw some really great things!

To sum up the trip, my mom arrived on Friday morning around noon and I took her to see Kensington Gardens, and the basic area near my dorm. Unfortunately, Julie was very sleepy since the time difference is about six hours, so we came back for a nap, which I never, ever turn down. We went to Covent Gardens for a nice dinner at a cute Italian restaurant. Due to my mother's blind eyes, I had to read the menu to her. No worries though, I will be old someday too (Only kidding mother dear)!

The second morning we made our way out to Parliament to see the major "touristy" things, like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the parks. We attempted to see the changing of the guards, but we either missed it (although the sign said 11:30 and indeed it was 11:30) or I didn't fully see the sign that could have said "not on Saturdays." Who knows? We hit the major shopping streets, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Regent Street and made our way to Abercrombie and Fitch because I heard it was basically a castle inside. Well we could find it by the smell from probably 50 feet away. It really was amazing and some of the most beautiful people in London work there. I'll probably go back sometime just to look. That night we went to Les Miserables after having a great meal at the Rainforest Cafe, which was too dark for mom again. Darn cataract doesn't help either. Les Miserables was one of the most beautiful, well done musical I have ever seen, and the music was phenomenal. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Sunday was great, when we finally found where we were going. We went to the pier right off the Thames river and went on a Jazz Cruise Lunch. Live jazz music put us in a really peaceful mood and the views were spectacular. I tried salmon for the first time and enjoyed it and finished the cruise with a spot of tea, which I am finally beginning to like. For some reason, the cruise really made us sleepy so again, another nap was soon to come. We concluded the night with more Italian at Da Mario. For some reason, waiters tend to give us places that are really crammed or have gassy people close by. The dessert treated us quite nicely and then we rested up for Paris.

We left for Paris Monday morning and got there around noon. As we waited for a taxi, two taxi drivers got into a huge fight, and unfortunately I couldn't make out what they were saying, but it looked juicy. We got to our hotel and although it was advertised that it was "close to the major sites", they clearly lied. We were in a very sketchy area outside the city, but luckily were close to the underground. We made our way to the Eiffel Tower and mom had her first Parisian meal. We had a coke, medium size, that cost us each 8 euro. Which is basically a $13 coke. Yikes. I chose an omelette, which they served with fries, delicious! We ventured to the Notre Dame afterwards which halfway through, a service began. Interesting singing, along with incense filled the room. We walked right near the river when the sun was setting and did a little shopping on Rivoli Street, which ended our first night in Paris, of course not with a nutella crepe.

We began our journey to Versailles after a healthy McDonalds breakfast. My orange juice was warm, and I got pancakes, served with jam instead of syrup. Turns out, getting to Versailles was rather complicated. After two hours of waiting for trains, getting on wrong trains, and getting very frustrated, we gave up and went to the Louvre. This was easy to find, but unfortunately the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Shoot. We made our way down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and decided to make our way to the top of it. 282 stairs later, we made it up to the top. The view was gorgeous and it was absolutely beautiful out. I think I got some form of suntan. We came back because Julie had a huge blister on her foot, and we napped it out for a bit before grabbing dinner close by. Although we were in a sketchy neighborhood, we risked our very lives and got pizza. We made it out alive without any English spoken the whole time, well except my mom and I's conversation.

Finally we were heading back to London and the taxi driver we had the hotel call for us was a very old Asian man who drove a black, huge van and had no meter. He was very creepy and charged us ten more euro than the last taxi driver, although his driving was much safer. Our train back to London stopped abruptly because the train apparently hit something. The driver never did tell us what it was, but we made it back 45 minutes later. We got a cheeseburger and a milkshake from Byron, a great restaurant close by, and did some shopping on High Street.

Cardiff, Wales was our next journey on Thursday, which we took a two hour train to. We decided right off the bat to walk to Cardiff Bay, which was my favorite place I've visited yet. There was a Pier House, an old Norwegian Church, a newer shopping area with lots of food selection, and the Assembly of Wales. We chose Italian again, which we ate a lot of non-Italian too, but these always stick out the most to me, because I just love pasta. We saw Cardiff Castle and the major shopping center afterwards and ended up in a bookstore to kill time before our train left for London.

The last day we slept in and went to the Old Dutch for pancakes and poffertjes. Let me tell you Pella people, this place does poffertjes the best. I hate to say that, but Tulip Time needs this place! We had pancakes that were probably 15-20 inches wide, but were super thin. Mine was topped with pears, powdered sugar and ice cream. My mom got ham, mushrooms, and scrambled eggs, the healthier choice. We went to Tower Hill which was humongous! There was so much history and the crown jewels were in a vaulted area. These jewels, cups, clothing, and other possessions kings and queens had were simply unbelievable. Quite unnecessary to spend all that money, but it was quite the site.

Finally, we were back and stayed in for a night to fully soak in the break. We ordered a rocky road sundae for room service, which was a great way to end a wonderful week with my mom!

For pictures press this link: pictures