Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas

Christmas.

SO CHRISTMAS.
Christmas started on Friday. I woke up to start the long process of cookie making at around 9:30, but mid-way through my host sister came home and convinced me to go get our Aunt Nicole and do some chores out and about. When we returned, she helped me finish the cookies by cutting them and the hectic cookies-out of the oven and cookies-in to the oven crazy dance. After getting flour ever, we had several batches of festive cookies. Then my host mom, Laurie and I went out into Waterloo for a bit to do some shopping. When I got back, Jerome suggested I text one of his friends and I ended up hanging out with some Belgians for the night.

So that meant the cookie decorations would be done Christmas eve, Saturday. Laurie and I worked hard on frosting and decorating the fifty or so cookies. The whole family cleaned the house and lit an outrageous amount of candles. The table was set festively. I played some Bing Crosby, and Laurie really liked my mixed rock n’ roll Christmas CDs. Christmas eve was me, my host parents, my host brother Jerome, my host sister Laurie, and her boyfriend Raphael. It was a really awesome night. We spent the night joking around, eating really good, slightly fancy food, and discussing deep things about human nature. IN FRENCH =D

We had an altogether quiet Christmas eve dinner. My host family is religious, and don’t believe in a lot of the commercial aspects of Christmas like gift-giving and Christmas trees, but my host mom gave me a pair of silver earrings. I teared up a bit—I hadn’t expected any presents, but she wanted me to have a souvenir of my time in their house.

Dinner was fish pate, steak, cooked pears with cranberries and crouquettes. For dessert, we had a traditional log-shaped ice cream cake.

After dinner, we got all bundled up and walked down to the church for midnight mass, which started at 23:30 and went to 1:00. It was cute, a very small church with a little choir and an excellent organist. Some of the songs I knew in English and some I had never heard before. I took communion. Everyone shook hands.

I’m not religious, so a lot of this stuff was very confusing to me and I just sort of followed my host siblings actions.

After, everyone gathered in the church for hot wine and waffles. I talked a lot to some Belgian friends. Some of which mentioned how my French had improved, and one of which said how well adapted and assimilated I was to my current host family. This was nice, but made me kind of sad since I have to leave soon.

Sunday we woke up early to clean the house and decorate it a little. We ate a traditional sweet bread with raisons. Apparently when the kids were younger, my host mom used to leave one loaf of bread on each bed. It was very good! My host father made me hot chocolate and we all just kind of chilled out. It felt really special.
The whole family came over. I met a lot of people and talked a lot. They even forced me to get my viola out (streessss). I skyped with my family but got distracted because my host cousins were playing ultimate ninja and I wanted to join in. It was a long tiring day with an unhealthy amount of dessert, but I survived for the better. It was honestly a great Christmas, and I didn’t die or anything.

The day after Christmas I went to Sarah’s house. I toured Tournai for the first time, exchanged gifts with her and her family (yes, I got gifts for her family. Yes. They got gifts for me as well.) And had a generally relaxing day. Sarah and I laughed so much that her parents thought we were a bit on the drunk side of sober. Her host mom also taking oversized (like three or four times the size of my head) Christmas ornaments in the car home with us didn’t help our giddiness. We also drove through a sketchy part of town with sarah’s host mom and brother and had fun pretending like the people were in a zoo and using slang terms to describe everything.

We also played some American football in the Belgian equivalent of a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Until we got told to stop.

The train ride home was long, but some guys saw me reading my kindle and it started a whole conversation. They were super surprised to find out I was from American, their first guess being that I was Flemish. Anyway, it was fun. I always feel like train rides are a missed opportunity to meet interesting people and this opportunity was not missed for once!

Anyway, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and WILL have a happy new year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walking in a Winter Wonder Land

Some things I’ve been up to!

I’ve already mentioned that I’ve been to Ghent, but this time I went back with Jerome. We went out with a group of friends (in an epic mix of Flemish, French and English) and saw a concert in some tightly packed little café. The music was really cool and folksy, and I’m glad I got to go see it. The people were great company too—it was always fun to see how many times a conversation would switch languages depending on who was added to it. Here are some older pictures of my first time in Ghent that I never posted.




Also, I went to Louven last Wednesday with Sarah and accidentally ran into some exchange students. I think there are only two major cities I haven't seen in Brussels--Thulain and Anvers. I'm working on it.

IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT.

Friday night I was invited by a friend of Jerome, (and I suppose a friend of mine, now) Elisa to go to a metal concert with her. In true Belgian style, it was in a small, tightly packed café. The music was very very loud, and there were a lot of cover songs that I was surprised to recognize. I meet a girl who also lives in Braine l’Alleud whose father is from New Jersey, so we bonded a bit over that. She offered to invite me the next time she leaves the country—so I might have a ticket to Germany or the Netherlands coming my way!
An odd thing happened during the concert though. Through wildly dancing crowd and irresponsibly flying hair, I caught a glimpse out the window. SNOW! Big, fluffy, end-of-Q-tip style snow! The unhappy drizzle we had walked through to get to the concert had turned into my first glimpse of the white stuff in Belgium. We went out to get some fresh air. It was an interesting mix, the small Belgian town being lightly dusted with a fresh layer of snow, the lights of simple yet elegant decorations shimmering through the air in a truly festive and peaceful manner…and the extremely loud music and screaming, and multitude of men with very long hair and many tattoos. Classic Belgium, a cacophony of randomness.
That night, ITALIAN got thrown into the mix of languages that fly way way above my head. The lead singer was Italian, which was why Elisa wanted to go, because she also spoke Italian and knew him OR SOMETHING.
The next day, my host mom and I got up early and went to the Ardennes in Malmedy. For those of you who aren’t history or geography buffs, Malmedy is a very historical “city” (it’s not that big) close to the border of Germany. The Ardennes are pretty much the only mountain range in Belgium. We went to visit some of my host mother’s family.
I got up at around 8:30 to be ready by 9, and then ended up waiting until 9:45 to leave. I spent my time putting on more and more layers of clothes. I wasn’t sure what to expect—trips like these always end up in long walks, and even though the snow in my town had sort of done the roll-over-and-die technique of an early April snow in New Hampshire, there was no telling what we would find in the mountains. I spent the two hour car ride reading “Band of Brothers” to get the full historical effect of visiting Malmedy, and also in sporadic conversation with my host mother about how they probably wouldn’t let me sled down the Butte de Lion.
We arrive in Malmedy. First stop: shoe store.
Not very interesting. But didn’t last very long.
Second stop: bakery.
We picked up some bread for the house (my host mother’s favorite bread. Apparently only available in this region. From out car conversation it sounds like she really really wants to live up in the Ardennes. She has a lot of family there and finds it very beautiful.) and two pies for the family we were going to visit. Two seconds out of the bakery I take a pretty epically graceless fall, spilling both pies. It was very slippery. There was about eight inches of snow up in the mountains, but a lot of it had melted into that dangerous slushy stuff, just enough to coat and get in between the cobblestones. Dangerous walking weather. Luckily, the pies survived, even if my dignity didn’t.
Third stop: My host mother’s sister’s house. My host aunt, if you will. I have four host cousins there I hadn’t met yet, so we spent some time talking around the kitchen table. The oldest was a boy my age and seemed to take a sick pleasure in using inappropriate words to see me repeat them questioningly. I quickly learned that if he said something I didn’t understand, it was just a new, creative way to swear. It was very, very amusing.
Forth stop: My host mother’s brother and her sister in-law. They lived about four minutes away from her sister, in a absolutely gorgeous house nestled in the mountains. The family was very welcoming, and they also had an exchange student, Sarah from Mexico. I met some host cousins there, too, who were extremely nice. It’s kind of a bummer I’m only meeting them now, because I’m just about to change families and all.
We all ate lunch together, and then my host mother, her sister-in-law, Sarah and I went on a two hour hike through the Ardennes. Through snow and rushing mountain rivers. It was really a beautiful countryside, with so many mountains and snowy trees. We went deep into the pathes of the mountains, made a snow man, and got thoroughly tired out. Towards the end the shoes I had been lent started to become a little wet, and night falls very quickly in Belgium, so we hustled home around 7. Some houses had decorated trees outside, and the whole ambiance really brought a Christmas feel.
We returned to the house and warmed up by the fire, drinking tea and eating the slightly smushed pies.




When I got home, I was invited by Elisa over to Pierre’s house for “parlor games.” Just a bunch of people hanging out playing different card games and what not. Jerome was there. We played bizarre games—of which the rules were explained to me completely in French. I understood it all. I was complemented on my French numerous times, how they had known another girl and at this time in her stay she didn’t know as much and blah blah. It’s just heart warming, you know? The support doesn’t always come from a host family for French, because they’re used to you and they don’t really notice the change. My favorite is when Brayan says “You’re already good now, imagine three months from now! You’ll be better than bilingual!”
I was originally apprehensions about Christmas. My family is very catholic in that they don’t believe in the commercial aspects of Christmas as America does. That means no Christmas trees, no presents, no decorations besides a couple candles. And a Christmas branch. But the plan is that Christmas day 33 of my host mother’s family will be coming to the house. We’ll be having a huge lunch/dinner/snack, with sandwhichs and meat and desserts aplenty. The nice cousins I met yesterday will all be there. If it’s not exactly my favorite type of Christmas, it will still be a good one!

HOW I PUT MYSELF IN THE SPIRIT
1) I turn on the Bing Crosby and play it to myself in my room while reading Band of Brothers.
2) I read Band of Brothers. I don’t know why it reminds me of Christmas, but it does.
3) I WATCH band of Brothers.
4) I light my yankee candle. Mmmm. Thanks mom!
5) I wear Christmas socks.

And this is the Grande Place en Bruxelles, pour une petite goute de Noel en Bruxelles!


Also, I will be making family Christmas cookies and pumpkin pie for out Christmas celebrations! Plenty of sprinkles!

Here’s the site about Malmedy if you’re interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malmedy

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guilty Blog Update

OH HI
I need to be more responsible and try to keep up with this blog. Unfortunately this will be again without pictures—please don’t kill me. DO NOT. KILL. ME.

Where did I leave off? Oh right. Frisbee.

I forced Brayan to pass around a disc with me Tuesday, as well. The ground was wet and our shoes were soaked, but it was a good time! That night, I went to a rotary meeting instead of going to my music theory course. Rotary meetings in my host club are long dinners with multiple courses. They’re also in the friendly neighborhood castle. Which is a street away from me. In other words, I need to go more often. The only problem is that they don’t usually end until after 11 o’clock at night. But it was good, though, I was able to sit with Devyn and Mayuko and we talked and ate and laughed.

Friday was another rotary dinner—except this one was twenty times bigger. It was a dinner to raise money for rotary, so it was super fancy with about a hundred plus people. And the theme? Salmon and oysters. Devyn and I were able to force down one oyster each (as the guy next to me had at least ten). Renzo, my counselor, played DJ, which was surprisingly hilarious to watch. The dinner started out with “aperitifs” which is like appetizers, except servers wander around with platters of quiche and apricots wrapped in bacon. Then we sat down and had a buffet-style salmon and oyster dinner. Then desert and cheese. You’d think it be over, right? No. Then there was dancing. At least two hours of older Rotarians shakin’ their groove things. I didn’t get home until TWO AM.

Which was a dommage (pity) because I had to get up super early the next morning. 6:00 am, and I NEEDED A SHOWER BAD. Unfortunatly, the shower on my floor no longer has hot water. So I had to take a cold shower, which was quite a way to wake up. I took the train to Liege! Yay! I actually met two people I know en route, which was funny. Belgium gets smaller and smaller! I played scrabble on the train with another exchanger and then waited in the train station for an HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES. The bus schedule gets dicey, and I had to wait for my friends to pick me up. Plus, I couldn’t find the “enter” button on the atm so I had no money.

Once my friends showed up, we walked to the Christmas market in liege and tried some delicious food-stuffs, like stuffed waffles and spiced, hot wine. There was also an ice rink! YAY CHRISTMAS SPIRIT! They get really into this saint Nicolas thing, too, which as far as I can understand is crazy. It’s this big saint santa guy who wanders around looking like the pope if he wanted to be Santa, with a Moorish “helper” (slave?) dressed in blackface who kind of dances besides him. I witnessed a parade of these crazy helped in Ghent, but I only have started to understand now. Anyway, on the 6th of December children get candy in their shoes if they’ve been good, as far as I can gather.

I slept at a friend’s house in Liege, and we made grilled cheese sandwhiches and tomato soup (using “made” in the loosest sense of the word) because the next day was the EXOTIC DINNER.

This insanity organized by Rotex involved every country dividing themselves into groups of three or four and creating something…native? That’s surprisingly difficult for Americans, because all of our favorite dishes tend to actually come from other countries. There was an impressive amount of food, but not an impressive amount of room. We all squished together and tried to get everything organized for the parents to come through and try everything…leaving not a lot for the students, I might add. This seems to be a common rotary theme. I tried bread stuffed with meat from Canada, noodles from Japan, candy from Finland…all in all, a great experience.
Then Rotex brought in our “surprise” which was one of them dressed up like St. Nicholas and his black-faced helper. They violently threw candy. Sarah and I were pretty jazzed because we happened to have reindeer antlers with us at the time, and it made for a pretty good picture.
After the dinner, I went to see a movie with my host family. We saw The Adventures of TinTin. For those you who don’t know, Tintin is a Belgian comic (Belgium being really famous for their comics). It was kind of frustrating that the movie was made in English, for this reason. I watched it in French, of course, but it was obviously voiced over and all the writing was in English.
This Wednesday, I also went to a movie called Intouchables, a French, heart-warming film about a man completely paralyzed and the aid that comes to be his best friend. It even had a happy ending!
Friday night, I went into Brussels to try to get some stuff together for Christmas, and stumbled on to part of a huge Christmas “marche” with an overwhelming amount of Christmas stands selling winter food and festive things. Saturday we went back to Brussels and found the rest of it, because Friday we had only seen a little corner of it. Quinn, Sarah and I went up in a huge Ferris wheel and saw all of Brussels. Everything was decorated and Christmas-y and it was all just so NICE.
After I got home, Jerome and I made chocolate mousse (casualties: six wasted eggs, an electric beater. The later started smoking!) and then watched 21 in English with French subtitles.
Today we’re having a big family lunch, that involves people wandering in and out as they please, so that should be fun!
This week is the start of finals, so with all my free time I’ll be getting up to some fun and interesting adventures! Can’t wait to tell ya’ll ‘bout them!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghent

Donc.
Hi, it’s been a while.

Last weekend…no wait.
Back up.
Last Thursday night I was invited out with my Belgian friends. So I did some fast walking-home from my viola lesson to eat a meal of oven pasta (sooo, so good. I love pasta) and leave with my friend Anais to Waterloo. There we met up with several other friends and just…hung out. It was great. I was actual a part of the conversation, make jokes, being friendly. One of the girls in my class told me very seriously that she would cry when I left. We went to a sports bar, where they had American football playing on some of the tvs. MIAMI DOLPHINS! I laughed pretty hard at that. No one was paying attention to the American football, it was really just there to be…well…American.
I slept over Anais’s house. Her family is from Spain, so every conversation is an odd mix of Spanish and French, and some random dashes of English. But we ate a biiiig breakfast the next morning, of ham and eggs and bread. I love big breakfasts.
I was home for about forty five minutes before I had to leave to catch another train. (We had Friday off for Armistice day). I took the train from Braine l’Alleud to Marchienne au Point to Thulin. Because. It. Was. Sarah’s. BIRTHDAY! Her host mom had decided to throw a surprise party for her, so me and Chantal snuck on over to her house, where there was a lot of cake and joy. Next, Chantal, Sarah and I went to a party. Supposedly it was a school party, but they were selling hard liquor and beer. So Belgian schools are a little different. Plus anyone can show up to these parties, so I saw kids from 15 years old to adults pushing 40. We had a great time dancing, though.
The next morning, we got up and went to Brussels for the day. We met up with some southerners and toured the city a bit, doing some shopping and eating and whatnot. An overall great day.
THIS weekend, I met up with Sarah and we explored Ghent! I’ve sort of gotten into the habit of wandering until what I want to find finds ME. Which actually worked spectacularly well this weekend! We found the center, and were able to look at some really awesome Flemish architecture and little interesting shops. Beware, because in Europe restraints aren’t automatically open all the time. They’re open for lunch and dinner. NOT IN BETWEEN. Oh, sure, the bars stay open, but good luck getting food at two in the afternoon. We eventually found a really delicious place called Puur. I had pesto tortellini.
While waiting for the train home in Brussels, I walked around a bit. The Christmas tree is now up in Brussels.
I teared up with happiness. How sad is that? I was SO excited. They even have a huge nativity scene with a fake barn probably bigger than any barn in Jesus’s time.
Sarah spent the night and we watched Pocahontas. The next day we had lunch with my family. AND PLAYED FRISBEE. So much Frisbee. I was very content.
I have to convince Brayan to take me more often because I do love Frisbee so very much.

Sorry, it’s not a lot! But I love you all!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Londre (London)

THURSDAY MORNING:

For those of you following my blog, you’ve probably realized I have a FREAKIN’ PROBLEM waking up for rotary events. I seriously blame my alarm clock. Something went wrong and I woke up an hour late—luckily I was already packed, but I did forget some important items like contact solution and glasses. AND TISSUES. Super important for sick me.
Mayuko’s host father, and my third host father, picked me up at 5:25 am. We drove frantically through Brussels looking for the bus that was going to pick us up. It was eventually found. Quinn and I got seats right up in front of the bus, right behind a HUGE window. Some dear people donated tissues to me so I wasn’t super miserable—although I was make some god awful sounds with my face. I was still capable of making new friends (Rotary kids are great that way—we make friends. It’s what we do.)
We took the ferry over to jolly ol’ England—WHICH WAS SELLING CARROT CAKE. I bought some in delved into an almost New-England state of bliss. Not quite the same…being old England and all. Some girls gathered ‘round and painted nails, making a general excited nuisance of ourselves. It was great.
Our first stop was Canterbury England (LIKE THE CANTERBURY TALES). We toured a huge Cathedral where St. Thomas (the writer of the Canterbury Tales) was killed. It was really very beautiful. After, me and another American girl named Tasha took some time to explore the town, where we ran into a nice older English gentleman who told us about how much he hated London. It was a fun experience of very opinionated old people.
Next, we hit LONDON! The first time we hit Piccadilly Circus to scrounge up some dinner. I found a place selling bagels…they weren’t quite the same but close enough, with some ham and cheese, it deserves a mention. I slept in a room with two other American girls…I hope my noisy attempts at breathing that night weren’t too annoying.
DAY 2: We woke up around seven to get the day started. The hotel had an English breakfast, which was kind of like home if home wasn’t as good as home is. For example, instead of bacon, they had whole slices of ham. And their hashbrowns were huuuuge. But it was very nice to have things like eggs for breakfast. We went to Windsor castle, the official residence of the QUEEN. I was told there NO PHOTOS inside by some pushy people in uniforms. We watched the changing of the guard, which was cool what with the fluffy hats. I had lunch with some other exchangers in an over-priced café, with a delicious éclair.
Later, we went to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, which was actually really cool. There was a photographer there taking Andy Warhol inspired photographs, and another exchange student named Jennie and I got a portrait done. There was also a room of terror, where people ran around yelling things at you in the dark. And a whole room dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock!
Quinn, Jennie and I frolicked in Hyde Park for an hour while Rotex got their schedule together. Hyde park is really peaceful; if someone said they were going to university in England I would imagine them studying in Hyde park. There was a whole autumn atmosphere about the place.
We ate at the Hardrock Café, and got to see some really cool memorabilia in the “Vault”. Like a guitar from Kurt Cobain, and a guitar from RHCP. Super chouette. The guy giving the tour was incredibly English, but loved America enough to have tattoos of the American flag covering his arms. I suggested he visit Boston.
DAY THREE
We took a quick tour of the Towers Bridge. Then we traveled into London to see Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abby. We were given free time for lunch, where me and a couple other exchangers saw St. Martin’s of the Field—a church old enough that when it was named, it stood alone in a huge field. Now it’s surrounded by London. We also saw a protest/march of Occupy London—a branch off of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was really cool. Of course I talked to some nice protesters! I climbed the huge lion statue and got a really good view of the crowd—all and all, pretty awesome. I also had some of the best pizza with Chantal, an exchanger from Florida.
That night I saw the British Museum, and got up close and personal with the Rosetta Stone! After that, around 2pm, we had free time until 11pm. I had an awesome time exploring London with Quinn and Chantal; we found a cosy, American inspired diner to eat at, with MEXICAN FOOD! (I miss real spicy food so much!). We drank milkshakes and explored the Stables, an interesting spread of random, hipstery shops that all smell like smoke and candles. It was kind of surreal, like completely Alice in Wonderland random, with statues of huge horses, people smoking hookah and then whole alleyways taken up by people selling Chinese food. Anyway, that exploration was really really amusing.
We meet back at the bus at 11, and started our journey home. I was out SO quick. We all had to wake up to get off the bus for the ferry. The sitting room in the ferry looked like a bomb had gone off—every exchange student found SOMEWHERE to pass out. We were in Brussels by 10, and I took the train and then walked home. When I got to my house, my host parents were very surprised to see me. They had thought I meant 11 at night, not 11 in the morning! I slept, ate lunch with them, and then slept until dinner. And then ate dinner and slept some more. An impressive amount of sleep, if I do say so myself!
This week has been very relaxed so far, but since we have Friday off I’ve made some plans! Can’t wait to share my awesome upcoming weekend with you all…next week!
Little note, I’m already ¼ of the way through my exchange. Isn’t that absolutely insane? French has started to pick up very nicely. Brayan and I are constantly joking around—he’s become a lot like a real brother. This afternoon we watched Tarzan together (he fell asleep).
I’m also too lazy to add photos right now. Check back…much later. I’m going to be quite busy for a while. BUT YES! I love you all dearly!
Adieu, mes amis. Je vous aime!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin Bread and Bicycles

I’m squeezin’ in a blog post!

This week me host mom is away on a retreat for reflection. She also isn’t allowed to speak at all…so it’s been me, my host dad, and whoever else decides to be home. Monday, I realized that I needed to buy a bathing suit for Tuesday because we were starting swimming in gym. So, with a vague idea of were I was going, I took my bike after school and rode to waterloo in search of InterSport. The first two directions I took lead me to a major highway with no shoulder (shoulders aren’t really all that big here.) So I was already tired when I ran into Brayan on his way home, and he gave me more accurate directions. I finally got to Waterloo and then started searching for Intersport. It took an hour to find. This was mostly my fault and partly the fault of the woman I asked for directions in Carrefour. Anyway, I found it (in the most obvious place possible of course) after riding around in a huge parking lot for hours. By the time I got home I was sweaty and tired but I felt successful and fulfilled and whatnot; it’s the little things. I woke Brayan up, he was asleep on the couch, because we had to fend for ourselves for dinner that night. After cooking up a storm, we had some odd rice like substance mixed with tomato sauce and breaded spinach patties. Not bad, actually, very filling. Then I made banana bread because Brayan had just broken up with his girlfriend and I was feeling sisterly and whatnot =) It was actually a really nice family night for all that it was just the two of us; some serious brother-sister bonding went on.

Wednesday, after school (I got out at 12:10) I went a little market on the same street as my school to eat before taking the bus to Louvain la Neuve. As I bought it, a girl from my class recognized me and invited me to sit with her and her friend. It’s nice being recognized and not just ignored, but invited into something. So instead of eating my sandwhich awkwardly at the bus stop, I ate it with people who actually talked to me! And the store happens to sell reeces peanut butter cups, should I ever get the craving!

Anyway, I took the bus to Louvain la Neuve, a college city where my host sister lives. I was stressin’ mega on the bus because it was first time, and I wasn’t sure what my stop looked like. I almost convinced myself to get off at the LLN train station, but then I overheard a stressed girl (just like me!) ask her boyfriend if this was it, and he responded, “Nooo, the next stop.” In french. Glad my language skills have progressed to overhearing conversations! Laurie was there to great me when I got off at the right stop (GO ME). We explored the town a little. There’s a big festival called then 24 Hour Velo, which is a huge college party. There was plenty to do and plenty to see and plenty to taste. I saw Laurie’s dorm apartment and met her friend, Sarah, who had spent a year in Canada, so we had a lot of the same ideas (IN FRENCH!). It was a great night with a lot of dancing and a lot of new experiences. It’s great when I get to do stuff like that with Belgians—speak the language, learn a piece of the youth culture, and have a really awesome time!





Unfortunately, or fortunately, I went to bed very late (or very early). I took the bus to school the next morning, missing my first class (English. WHAT A PITY) It was the most tired day of my life, but SO WORTH IT. Thursday is also unfortunately my longest day of the week, so it was kind of a bad combo.

Friday was out last day of school before the holidays. The teacher for my first class was late so we all took a group photo with the camera set on timer. He walked in just as it started and RAN to get into the photo as well. It was pretty funny.

Friday after school I went directly to SARAH FROM NY’s house. She lives in the middle of no where (J) in a pretty town. Her parents are AWESOME, though, I feel like I might have been adopted into another family. We ate a bitter vegetable wrapped in ham cheese and egg which was really good; Collete has made it for me already, so it’s a VRAI PLATE BELGE. A real Belgian dish! With Sarah’s host grandparents. It was a super French meal, since her mom is from france. There was a Apparatifs, the before dinner snacks, a main course, cheese dish, and desert dish, and a different wine for everything! Sarah’s parents complimented me enormously on my French, saying I was really good at explaining things and expressing myself. It was funny, because when Sarah came over a couple weeks before, my host mom complimented her on her accent and grammar! I think host parents don’t see enough day-by-day progress to really realize how far we come along!

Saturday Sarah and I went to Brugge, which is a beautiful little Flemish city. We took lots of pretty pictures and ate a traditional Flemish meal at a little restraint across from a gorgeous old building and river. There were lots of tourists, but we found some less populated areas which is always fun.
We were completely wiped by the time we had to find our way back to the trainstation—and also completely lost (that’s what a day of wandering will do to you). So we did the European thing and found a bus stop and took it back to the trainstation—SO SMART! We had a little bit of a “lay over” in Brussels, because there was a lot of time between our train to Sarah’s town (not many trains go there) so we wandered around a bit to enjoy a huge Brazilian festival going on. It was about this time I started getting sick—kind of feverish with a killer sore throat. Lack of sleep catching up to me. We got to Sarah’s house had some delicious penne pasta with meat sauce and then went to bed. Sunday we spent watching The Sound of Music, Inglorious Bastards and Cabaret, and taking a walk through Sarah’s town, which was very pretty with the fall colors and farms. There was also a spooky abandoned cable factory with broken windows that was very Halloween appropriate.

Today is Halloween! I went with Sarah and her family to the airport to drop her off. Her family had to pick up something in Brussels before driving me home (on the way back to their house) so I hung out with them. They took the opportunity to show me a huge monument in commemoration of Belgium’s 50th anniversary as a country, and then to a huge ancient cathedral. Like I said, adopted =)
I got home to discover that the pumpkin I had carved was sporting various growths of mold. It’s actually terribly disgusting, but I’m going to go with it for Halloween. I guess it’s because it’s been super warm out recently—NOT NORMAL WEATHER.

I bought some candy for any brave children willing to get near enough to ring the doorbell.

(Written later)
So children don’t come one by one in Belgium. Oh no. They come in heard of thirty or forty and all ask at once. Scariest moment of my life.

I made pumpkin bread and some of Jerome’s friends came over and we had dinner and played black jack. After, we went to a jazz club which was pretty awesome. Jerome played some.

My sickness has progressed to my nose. Jerome keeps making fun of my mouth breathing issues. I’ll get better I promise! Plus I’ve progressed to hacking up a lung, so that must mean something. I’m going to post this now and add pictures later, because my camera is SO FAR AWAY and I want to eat breakfast. So far away being two flights of stairs up to my room.

With all the love in the world,

Audrey

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yesterday marked two months in Belgium. Which means in two weeks, I will be ¼ of my way through exchange.

Damn.

I’ve started to feel at home in my house. I know some ins and outs. I know how to tell when someone is home, how to set the table at dinner, when to wash my clothes, when I won’t annoy anyone by taking a shower, how to clean the bathroom, where the chocolate is, how to use the stove, how to FORCE bread out of the bread maker…chez-moi.

Every night after dinner, Brayan and I wash dishes together. I usually dry and put things away (I’m better at remembering where things go) and he washes. This time started out as sort of awkward attempts at conversation, but has recently grown to a time of jokes and laughter. Occasionally he teaches me some Flemish, and I teach him English, and then we make comments in French. Occasionally there are soap fights and inappropriate jokes. And occasionally I forget I’m speaking French, and the conversation goes just as it would in English. It’s not till after do I realize I just spent 45 minutes speaking non-stop in French—complex joking, long stories, they just came out. Not that this happens all the time. If I’m nervous, French stays firmly put in the recesses of my head like trying to get Elmers glue out of a glass—a little trickles out, but nothing substantial. There’s also a level of confidence that needs to be there before I can speak normally. Speaking around my host mother, father, and Brayan is no problem, now. Even my friends at school I can speak to with a certain level of easy comfort. Anyone new, and I kind of withdraw and get nervous. BABY STEPS.

Wednesday night, I got a Halloween package from my grandma filled with candy and other goodies. This inspired me. First, of course, I went to Brussels with Sarah for the afternoon, but after that I came home and carved a jack-o-latern with my family. It was a great bonding experience. Colette also mentioned she would want to do it with her grandchildren—it’s great to think I’ve left something behind like that here, a tradition that can pass from family to family. Colette turned off all the lights and chased us around with the lit product. We put it downstairs in front of a window, and will put it outside on Halloween.


Saturday I went to Liege was Laurie and my host cousin, Martin. Who is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
I’ll start from the beginning. I met Laurie at Bruxelles Nord (or Brussels Noord in Flemish. There are three major stations in Brussels—Zuid, Centraal and Noord in Flemish. It’s important to know the name of the place you want to go on a train or bus in Flemish if you’re going to be going through a Flemish region—sometimes the names can be VERY different. For example, Braine l’Alleud is Eigenbrackel in Flemish. If your train goes through a Flemish part of Belgium, everything will be announced in Flemish, even if you’re just passing through.) and our train was 20 minutes late. It was a clear day, but really cold, so we took shelter in the station for a bit. I slept on the train, because it had been a bit of an early morning. It took about an hour to get to Liege. The train station in Liege is a super-modern white building with a million skylights. Also, very very COLD.



. Laurie and I killed two hours in an exhibit within the train station about global climate change and man’s impact—it was really well done, for being in a trainstation.


Next, we met Martin. This isn’t the first time I’ve met him, but he’s quite a character to behold, what with a Mohawk, earing, suit jacket and tie, and oddly enough a really old manual bread cutter in his hand. We went to McDonalds so he could grab something to eat (Laurie and I had packed lunch) and while he went to order he left me and Laurie with his bread cutter. And then Laurie went to the bathroom. And I was left alone, in a Belgian McDonalds, standing next to an ancient and mean looking bread cutter. I’ve never gotten so many weird looks before—it was probably one of the most out of place things that could have been in a McDonalds – old French meets corporate America.

Martin is an architect who lives in Liege, so he knows all the really cool places. We went up at least five hundred steps through a neighborhood that made me think of Helm’s Deep, all situated at a steep angle. The houses were tiered, and some even had little gardens with steps that connected each garden. TOO PRETTY FOR REAL EXPLINATION. Laurie left and Martin and I wandered around the city for a while I ate a waffle filled with pineapple. It was a really great afternoon. Our train ended up getting canceled, so while we waited at the train station we drank tea and discussed politics. Unfortunately, not in French, as Martin is trilingual and I was having a day were saying “Oui, merci,” had become a stretch.





I ate pizza at the train station, and then went home to an empty house and watched a movie on the computer while drinking more tea. This may sound boring, but to be it sounds like home and fall and was a really nice ending to the day.

I don’t have any plans today. I start swimming in school on Tuesday, so I should probably go find a full-piece bathing suit. But that can wait. Maybe I’ll call someone and meet up somewhere, but it might just be a lazy Sunday for me =) I just finished a two and a half hour lunch with my host-grandparents and host parents--still getting use to this marathon food business!

Fall has really and truly started. The weather has become quiet brisk and the leaves are changing to a golden yellow color

My plans for next week are awesome, though. It’s the last week before November vacation. Wednesday, I’m going to Louvain-la-Neuve (there’s a huge festival called 24 hour Velo ) with Laurie and her friends—I’ll probably run into a lot of exchange students, too. I’m staying the night there, and was warned to bring clothes I could get dirty. Nice. I take the bus home early in the morning and go straight to school—sounds like fun, right? Friday I’m going to Sarah’s house to live for the weekend—we’re going to try to get to some cities, maybe Anvers (Antwerp, in Flemish) and Brugge. MAYBE BOTH. And then I come back on Monday to a maybe-Halloween party with my class at school. And then a chill out until Thursday, when I leave for LONDON! I hope I’ll be able to get in a blog post Monday or Tuesday, but if I miss a week, you’ll know why!
All my love,
Audrey





Sunday, October 16, 2011

Navajo

Hellloooo
I don’t want to ruin a good streak by being lazy.

Anyway, I don’t have any pictures to share this week (sorry!) but I can share some stories instead!

School is getting sort of better. I’ve kind of just excepted that I’m not going to do real work and no one really expects it of me (except the French and English teachers) so I spend most of the class doodling. I haven’t gotten up the courage to start reading a book, but we’ll see.

A funny moment was when the chemistry teacher offered to read the grade of the last test to anyone who wanted to know before she could hand the back the following week. I was, of course, at the very end of the list. I knew I had done poorly, because I had only answered two out of five questions, so when she came to my name I answered “Non, merci.” And everyone started laughing like I had made a really good joke.

Another good moment was when I saw a little jack-o-latern decoration in my religion class. I drew a picture of it and an arrow pointing to it and showed my friend. She thought I had drawn a mean picture of the poor kid sitting UNDER the jack-o-latern. It was a barrel of laughs. Also, when I mentioned Halloween, some kids in my class got RIGHT ON planning a Halloween party on the 31st (we don’t have school that week) so we’ll see how that goes!

On Friday I was invited to go ice skating with some school kids. They told me to meet them at the train station, which is like a ten minute walk from my house. So I waited and waited at the main entrance, but then I had the idea maybe they were waiting in the parking lot, on the other side of the tracks, because it would be easier to pick someone up there. So I walked over. Literally not two seconds after, a poor girl from my class came running up to me from the other side of the tracks. TRUST YOUR FIRST INSTICTS. Anyway, ice skating was fun—definitely a new experience. They had club music and strobe lights and flashing colors everywhere. Imagine my grace on skates (heh) and add a strobe light. THAT’S dangerous. Plus it had kind of turned into that movie they show on VH1 all the time where the street kids learn to roller blade and make an intense dancing gang—except on ice. Lots of really intense people cutting me off and making me almost die. BUT STILL A GOOD TIME! It also marks the first time I’ve done something with people from my school outside of school. It’s not so much that they’re not welcoming, it’s just that they have their own friends or are busy with school work and stuff.

Saturday I went with Sarah and Quinn into Brussels. FOR LITERALLY ALL DAY. It was so much fun. Days were I can hang out with friends that are going through the same things as I am really make the exchange so far. It makes me feel less lonely and less disconnected from actual life. Sarah slept over again last night. My room is kind of tent like because of the smallness and slanted ceiling, and once we had the two beds in there it was a real American sleep over—in Belgium. I dyed my hair, for those who wanted to know. With the hair dye my host mom picked out for me. I figured it was time—something in the food here has made my hair grow extremely fast.

Today I went to an open market in Braine l’Alleud. We bought olives (very popular here!) and other such goodies. I asked them how to says “Mums” in French, the flower, and they responded with “what, the cemetery flower? THE ONE YOU PUT IN CEMETARIES?” That was another good funny moment.

Then we went to a little get together at my host grandparents house where we all ate sweets. For dinner we had rabbit, which tasted good but I was seriously unnerved by the look if it. I wasn’t sure hot to react when an intact spine was put on my plate. But it was really good, with apricots and prunes cooked with it.

I know, not a lot to say, sorry =(

-I earned the name "Navajo" for various reasons--mostly because of my love of New Hampshire slightly granola styles and my inability to grow a beard.
-Sarah is 97 because she messes up a lot--like windows 97

-Every time I write this blog, it seems like only a couple days before I was writing the post before it. WEIRD.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I’m SO GOOD at the blogging thing!

It’s weird how fast a week flies by…every Sunday I usually blog for you guys, because Saturday is my busy day and Sunday is relax at home and eat dessert after every meal day. And here it is, another Sunday, not so far from the Sunday before it. I’m so poetic—I need to stop reading Tolkien. AND I WILL—after I finish the Return of the King. I’ve been in Belgium 48 days now. That’s almost seven weeks. Which is almost two months.

Which is 1/5 of my exchange. Time gooessss!

Wednesday I went grocery shopping with my host mother—which is actually a lot of fun. I like finding things interesting in grocery stores. This store was HUGE, like a super WalMart, with food and clothes and hair products and books. The only thing missing was an electronics section (but that’s because there’s one across the street). They had one whole HALF AISLE of Halloween stuff—that’s because Waterloo has a large American population. There were some witch costumes and decorations. Colette said that this was new for Belgium. I bought a fake jack-o-latern for the kitchen table—which will come up LATER in the post—and a book in French. One that I’ve read already in English, for the sake of sanity and plot. I meant to buy the first book in the series of the Hunger Games, but I bought the second. I think I’ll survive, but I’m not sure yet. My host mother bought dried fruit for me, which was really nice—I guess it’s better than snacking on chocolate and bread ;).


Thursday I had a viola lesson, which went really well. My instructor is out sick, so we had a substitute from Italy. For some reason, her Italian accent makes it way easier to understand her French. Go figure. She was really intense though, with a scar under her chin from playing so much. INTENSITY.


Friday night was a little taste of Halloween in Belgium. I home and baked a BEAUTIFUL carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and even a little topper of candy corn—October in a cake, basically. We ate it for desert. Then, Fabien and Colette went out and Jerome invited a bunch of friends over to chill out at the house. There was a lot of talking and eating (OF CAKE. Which went over very well. It was gone by the end of the night)

and then we played a game called loup-garou, or “werewolf” in English. It was a card game—sort of. More like a role-playing game. There or several different cards—the Loup-garou, the sorciere (witch), the Clairevoyent (A french word, but the same in English!) the petite fille (little girl) the chasseur (hunter), Cupide, and then just the normal village people. One person stays out of the game to be kind of like the all-knowing story teller (Jerome) who deals the cards and controls what happens. Cards are dealt randomly or not randomly, based on the dealer. Everyone closes their eyes and pretends to be “asleep” during the night. Based on the card you got, you have different roles to play—for example, the three werewolves must decide on someone to kill. The little girl can sort of peek as long as she isn’t caught by the werewolves. The cupid chooses two people to fall in love, and if one of them die they both die. Anyway, the rules go on like that. When we turned off the lights for it to be “night time” in the village, Jerome brought my lit jack-o-latern in for some added ambiance. It was an awesome night for Halloween. After we finished and everyone went home, Jerome and I had a croque-miseur at 2 am. How very Belgian.

I’m not sure if it was the croquet miseur, but when I went to bed and set my alarm clock for six the next morning, SOMETHING WENT WRONG. I woke up at six as planned, took a shower, was brushing my hair when I happened to glance at my phone. 7:26 am. Not a big deal—except for the fact that my train left at 7:45 and it was a good eight minute walk. I threw on some jeans and a sweater, packed my bag at random, and literally sprinted out the door. I ran to the train station and got there a couple minutes early—thank god I’m taking running in gym, I guess. I met up with Devyn and Mayuko at the station, but it was on the second train that the exchange student insanity began. Exchange students will take any excuse to make something into a party—including a train ride. I ended up sitting next to Sarah, with our—um—flamboyent friend sitting across out laps and another girl crammed into the leg room space. It was crowded but so fun. Laughter ensues!


I bought a sandwich at the train station with Sarah—we had both forgotten lunches. It was bree and honey, which is absolutely DELICIOUS, I’ll have you know. Anyway, we got separated from the group in the train station, but all we had to do to find them again was listen. And sure enough there was yelling and singing and we were able to follow the noise to the other rotary groups. Gotta love southern Americans!

We went through another memorable “rules” session—some quotes of which are “Don’t sleep with the bus drivers” and “We don’t want any pregnant Mexicans.” The last one being right out of the mouth of a rotary coordinator. I was forcefully convinced to change my trip from Italy to Spain by some new friends—both trips are going to be awesome, though, and I have a friend who has a friend in Italy who will let us stay with her for a while, so I won’t miss out completely on Italy =).
We took a boat out on the big river in Namur, which was pretty but WET. It rained all day—if rotary keeps planning things that involve water on cold days, I’m going to be sick all winter. (Speaking of sick, I got over my cold around Tuesday. It’s come back! Hoorraay!) After the boat ride (filled with giggles, jokes, and beautiful sights!) I hung out in Namur with a couple cool Rotary kids. We ate things that are bad for us. A lot of things. I’m going to get cavities.

I took the train back ALL BY MYSELF. I’m such a train EXPERT. I did lose my phone though, which is a real bummer since I just put a little money on it. Good thing phones here a cheap! The phone thing wasn’t such a big deal after the twenty minutes of thinking a lost my Kindle—THAT was a bad time. It was in my bag, of course, but I couldn’t do a full search on the train with a grumpy old man across from me. I HAD TO ACT COOL!

When I got back, my host brother and his friend were sitting around eating lasagna (a dangerous food for me. I still have a healing burn from last weekend). My host brother and I ended up going to his friend’s house for several hours and staying up playing a card game called Whist until 12 at night. So I went for a looong time without sleep on only four hours of sleep.
Today, I slept until
10:30, which I think is the latest I’ve slept here. The black out screen in my room that I can put over my window really helped. We cleaned for a bit and then had a lunch of Americaine (raw beef), salad, and oven fries, which was all surprisingly really satisfying and good all together. Then my host parents and I went to a farm with pumpkins and I found THE PERFECT (well, decent) pumpkin for a real jack-o-latern. The farm was really nice, even though it was raining. There were two pretty dogs running around, and too young boys playing, and people talking and trying pumpkins. I tried pumpkin liquor! Someone tell Aunt Terri! Although there were no pumpkins big enough on display (here, they’re used for soup, NOT CARVING, so people don’t buy huge ones, really) the nice man running the stand took me back into a field and we looked there. I picked a pumpkin fresh off the vine—a nice reminder of my old Chauncey farm days! Anyway, the colors of the pumpkins were really pretty against the gray sky, and the weather, despite being raining, finally feels like fall. I think my family has finally realized my fall obsession.



I had them try reeses pieces. They were NOT a hit. Peanut butter and chocolate is not a thing here.
Peanut butter in general is not a thing here. I often make toast with peanut butter and jam for breakfast, and get looks of horror and disgust. =)
A la prochaine fois, mes amis.






Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet Caroline





Look at me I’m BLOGGING.


School is school is school. On a better note, last Tuesday I didn’t have school! So the obvious thing to do was to go to Mons with Sarah from New York (border of VERMONT!) and Chelsea, who is also going to Boston University next ear! Small world! The picture is the saddest thing that ever did happen. Ever. RIP. The other is just pretty Mons!

! Mons is beautiful, but so is the independence of being able to navigate train stations BY YOURSELF and WITHOUT FAULT. I felt like Ms. Assimilation. We wandered around the beautiful city for a long time, looking in stores and at old buildings and cathedrals. Just generally being youthful and obnoxious—but I seriously haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. It was the doubled over, tears in the eyes, laughing so hard you can’t make a sound sort of laugh. It was wonderfully refreshing to make JOKES, to understand HUMOR and to say something that comes to your mind exactly as it enters. In French, it’s an art of conservation. I have to measure my ability to respond with a witty comment—if measured incorrectly, my funny idea has turned into an awkward confused moment of people trying to figure out “Is she joking? Damn

Americans.”


Saturday I got up early and took the train with Pierre to go KAYAKING. Kayaking with 100 plus rotary kids was totally awesome. Another day filled with laughter. We took a short train, a long train, a short train, and then a super short train. It was an interesting trip. Seeing all of those exchange students was…a sight. We’re a loud bunch! We got off the train and walked together to the river edge, where there was a complex process of putting away things that can’t get wet, getting a bucket for things that can’t get wet but you still want, getting paddles, and getting life jackets.

And then we stood in line. The way they lowered the kayaks into the water is worth mentioning—it was a kind of rolling ramp and they had you get into the kayak and just sort of pushed! (The most perfect water entrance—THIS IS SPARTA!!) Sarah and I shared a tandem kayak—we were probably the loudest kayak on the river. We sang Paul Simon songs, Christmas songs, and Neil Diamond when we got stuck (which was often, considering the river was about three inches deep in a lot of places). We made terrible jokes and started splash wars with other exchangers. We were cheered on as we got stuck multiple times by random people standing by the river, and also were helped out by several nice Belgians. The river was really beautiful, though. Kind of Lord of the Rings-esq, some places like the Shire and some like Gondor. We actually saw a huge castle built into a cliff! And lots of caves and....COWS! I saw Francis from New Hampshire—it’s such a relief to see someone from New Hampshire that I knew before exchange—like YES! New Hampshire still exists! Here’s PROOF! The water was COLD and I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so when we finished I ended up in Sarah’s spare pajamas eating waffles and French fries—classic Belgium. Sarah slept over, which I think goes towards making my Belgian house feel more like a home. We proved what experts we are at the train when our train platform was changed and we had to rush to a different one—what stress!

Today I went to my host sister’s “Hanging the pot of the fire” party, a sort of house warming party with lots of little sweets. We took a walk/hike, which was really beautiful. She lives up in a more hilly section of Belgium, with little streams and mini-mountains. Fall caught up with Belgium today, even though it was hot; the leaves look like their changing and that fresh smell is in the air! Unfortunately, that means that a combo of being in the water and dying things equals Audrey’s Fall Allergies. I STILL LOVE FALL. The real success today, however, was the two hour long drive home. It was just me and my host brother and we had actual conversations. It was great to crack a joke, or have a joke cracked, and just laugh about it. In FRENCH! Although we did have a little trouble when I mentioned how something looked like the Shire--I didn't know how to say Lord of the Rings in French. It wasn't until I said Frodo that we were on the same page.

Anyway, a sample French joke from our drive home, translated for your reading pleasure...
”You’re a terrible driver!”
”What, do I drive too fast?” (going 25 km/h—about 15mph)
”OH MY GOD TOO FAST SLOW DOWN! STOOOOPPPPP”
It was a good moment. Anyway, I have to crawl into bed and nurture my cold. Maybe it will get bad enough to stay home and read all day. I should actually save that for Tuesday—that’s when I have gym!

Much love from Belgium.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flying Solo (With a Copilot)



Exchange is the most amazing, interesting, adventurous thing I've ever done.
It's also the most terrifying, frustrating and depressing.
Exchange has turned me into a bipolar crackpot. Sometimes I find myself considering sneaky ways to go home--anything to just be NORMAL again.
But I'm in Belgium. It gets better.

Last Saturday I went to a Medieval Festival in Brussels...which was absolutely awesome. People dressed up and sold random things. There was a "battle" where people swung swords at each other in a insane manner. There were breweries and lots of long-haired men and fake elf ears. I ate a waffle covered in nutella. All in all, a good (if tiring) day.

This weekend I did something super awesome.
For the first time, I went to Brussels all by myself (With Leona, the Croatian.)
We meet, after some intense planning, at the train station. We regarded the time sheet with the utmost of seriousness (for two seconds) before hopping on the first train that said it was going to Brussels, which happened to be a direct train to Brussels Midi.
Mistake 1. Filling out my train card WRONG. I have a Key Card, which allows me to go inbetween Brussels and Braine l'Alleud 10 times. I have to write the date, where I'm from and where I'm going. I mixed these last two up. Unfortunately, I was paying for Leona, too. Even more unfortunately, the ticket-checker decided to correct the mistake. By taking my last two spots on the train card. Now, in order to return to Braine l'Alleud, I would have to buy another. NOT A BIG DEAL, I had time, right?
Mistake 2. There are three major stations in Brussels; Midi, Central and Nord. I've been to all of them, so I figured one was as good as the other. We got off at Midi, and our exuberance at being alone, savvy women in Brussels carried us out the train station and down several blocks of increasingly smelly streets of people not speaking French. We stopped at a bus stop to look at a map for a couple minutes (five seconds) before deciding on a direction and continuing. Eventually, exuberance wore out and we turned around and headed back for the train station feeling like stupid tourists.
First we looked for a map ourselves--there must be hundreds of people who needed directions to the Grand Place; why isn't there a map in sight?
Then we asked the lady selling chocolate. She told us to take the metro. We thanked her and walked down a flight of stairs and stared at the metro map for a bit before realizing we didn't understand or know how to pay for the metro. That wasn't going to work.
We almost asked the chocolate lady again, but then decided to ask the guy working in a circular booth with "Information" written on it. We waited a couple minutes in a long line before seeing the sign "NO maps, NO tourist information!"
It seemed a little angry to me, there must have been a more polite way to say it, but it was sure heeded by me and Leona. We scurried off in another direction.
We wandered around for a bit--considered getting on another train, perhaps. And then we saw it. A little separate blue room. Literally, the glass of the windows were blue turning the whole thing into a glowing blue jewel. "Tourist Info."
"Do you speak English?" (asking directions in french is easy, it's understanding the answer that's TOO MUCH!)
"Uh-huh."
"We want to get to the Grand Place."
"It's not far from here. You can walk there in 15 minutes. Just bare right then go straight."
Ironically enough, we had ALMOST done the right thing without help--except, at the very same intersection, we had gone left.
Anyway, to our complete surprise, we found it!


I had a celebratory waffle. With chocolate and strawberries. So did Leona. We wandered around for a bit before setting our sights on SHOPPING! Which including getting lost a couple times--turns out neither of us are that good at remembering directions.
We shopped happily.
We returned using the Central station ( the one we should have come on in the first place.) Buying my new "key pass" was difficult, but manageable. The train was on time. No hiccups. Truly assimilated women.

Today (sunday) I went to a "Choice" convention with my host family. I don't really know what it was about--but my best guess it somewhere between a catholic youth group and a teen abstinence program. Or something. I was pretty taken aback. But in the afternoon there was contradancing (STILL NOT SURE WHY) so I just went with it.

I miss my mom and my family.
I don't like school, really, it's sort of a waste of time. It is a waste of time. Given time to think alone is bad for me, because I sort of just get more and more homesick and a viscous cycle of thought. Making friends is hard, everyone already has established friends. I'm just the awkward, temporary implant. I live for the weekends and doing exciting things. Tuesday I'm visiting Mons with a friend--my first journey REALLY alone! Wish me luck!

Friday, September 16, 2011

FALLLLLLL






Last Friday, I picked up a lovely viola at the music academy. It cracks whenever I put my chin on it sternly. The Thursday after I had my first lesson. I’m being seriously underestimated, but that’s okay because it will make it easier to learn treble cleft if the music is simple. AND I NOW HAVE AN INSTRUMENT (pun) OF TORTURE TO FORCE FIDDLE MUSIC UPON MY FAMILY! Mwahahah!
some. A friend of my host sister brought me to Waterloo to see Les Miserables. At the foot of the Butte de Lion. HOW MORE BELGIAN CAN YOU GET?! There was a temporary stage set up, and they pro
jected things on the hill to add to the drama.
Last Friday I also did something pretty freaking awesome. (ps, there's a random picture of my host father playing the guitar, that goes with a later part of the post, but blogspot won't let me move it...)


And you’ll never guess who happened to show up.
An old friend of my, no one really special, just the PRINCESS CLAIRE OF BELGIUM.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

Saturday night I went to my host father’s concert. He’s pretty awesome musician, and the jazz was really cool to hear! The concert hall was huge and PACKED! We stayed at the concert hall until 12:00, and then had a second dinner, where everyone who was a part of the concert got together and eat pizza and wine after all the concert goers had left. The life of a musician!


Tuesday was my “host” brother’s birthday (“host” is in parenthesis because he isn’t actually part of the family I’m living with, but he lives in the house and is pretty much a brother.) and I made pancakes and an apple pie filling to put on top of them. It was a great, fall tasting meal. My host family liked the pancakes best with butter, a little salt, and the NH maple syrup, but I was super proud of the apple pie filling I made. I’m still looking for pumpkin puree…or a pumpkin in general. Apparently there are two different types; the European type is more used for vegetable dishes with the American type is the one in the pies and breads. Mmmm. Wednesday I went apple picking with my host mother and her parents, another WONDERFUL reminder of fall! We inquired about apple cider (careful, cider has alcoholic connotations in French) after I told my host mother that we often have hot apple cider at home during fall and winter.

Wednesday I fulfilled my dream of playing Frisbee in Belgium. Brayan and I walked down the street and picked up a friend of his, then we all walked down to the a big field. There were already some boys playing soccer so we asked some of them to join in. There were a couple girls sitting by the fence and smoking; most girls here aren’t super athletic, and I felt a little judged, but that’s OKAY!! BECAUSE I PLAYED FRISBEE. The rules were a little different; for example, instead of having an inzone you just threw the Frisbee at a pole.

My French wasn’t good enough to explain the difference, so I wen
t with it. The soccer players who didn’t want to play smoked instead. It’s really bizarre to see so many smokers, especially young smokers. After Frisbee they wanted to play soccer. I’ve found one thing that hasn’t changed in Europe: My absolute ineptitude at playing soccer. Excuse my language, but I suck. They tried to have me play the goalie for a while, but, as lacrosse taught me, I’m a very flinchy person and have a little of flying-soccer-ball anxiety. But over all good!

Things That Are Strange
-Lack of personal space. At school, trying to get anywhere is really difficult. If it’s a set of double doors, usually only one of the doors opens. So about two hundred students going either direction try to cram through at the same time. People are BRUTAL in the hallways, there’s not a lot of polite “excuse me”s but rather a lot of just walking through people. I think I have bruises.
-My inability to predict when someone is going to stop. You probably knew this, but to greet someone in Belgium is one kiss on the right cheek. BUT I NEVER KNOW WHEN THE PERSON IN FRONT OF MY WILL WANT TO PARTAKE IN SUCH A GREETING. There’s a LOT of stopping on stairs, in crowded hallways, leaning over people, to give someone the kiss on the cheek, or say hello, or ask a question.
-How many times do I kiss someone on the cheek? I mean, if I’ve seen them already that day, what is an appropriate amount of time in between greetings? If I haven’t seen them since lunch? Or just three hours? It seems irregular, but I want to find a pattern.
-Not many female athletes. That’s an odd one for me. We were doing running in gym and I could actually keep up. I actually did decently.
-Smoking. Yeah. A lot of that happens, even at school.
-The brand “Super Dry” is really popular, which isn’t something I’ve ever heard of before. Also, lots of things with state universities on them.



Friday, September 9, 2011

Six Years in High School

I survived! Despite the school being set up like the blocks owned by a temper-tantrum-prone child, I think I know where all my classes are. All ten of them. My classes are set up rather absurdly--Mondays are full days, from 8:30 to 4:20, Tuesdays are 8:30 to 1:00, with a one hour break at 10, Wednesday is from 9:20 to 1:00, Thursday is another full day and Friday is from 9:20 to 4:20. I have an hour for lunch, which I pack in the morning. The school is a 15 minute walk from the house, and I haven't figured out what outfit will keep my warm in the morning without making me overheat in the afternoon.
The girls in my class are really nice. I'm in the Belgian equivalent of Junior year, so everyone at the school is younger than me, which doesn't really matter because I'm too slow to keep up with most conversation anyway. I've been adopted into a group of friends in both Junior and Senior year, and they've all been extraordinarily helpful. I've developed a strategy of following the most familiar person to the next class (usually we have the same classes) and it's only not worked out for me a couple times. I've already lost my schedule, and considering the variation of classes it was pretty much a death sentence. I had to go in early and figure out who to ask for another copy--it took asking four people who all sent me to someone else before I found the right one. I repeated "Hi, I'm Audrey Wood, an exchange student, and I lost my paper with the courses and buildings on it..." so many awkward times it was ridiculous.
My courses are as follows:
Math - 4hrs
English - 4 hrs
German - 4 hrs (I know. Insane. It's German III, too, so I have no idea.)
Physics - 2 hrs
Bio - 2 hrs
Chem - 2 hrs
Gym - 2 hrs (The first month of gym is jogging. JOY.)
History - 4 hrs
Geography - 2 hrs (I have to re-learn all the countries in french.)
French - 4 hrs

The sciences are fine, especially bio (AP FTW). Physics is okay because I took it last year--today my friend explained to me how to solve an equation in French, and I understood. Perfection. AND THEN IN PHYSICS, the teacher looked at my work to put on the board (not all the teachers know I'm an exchange student; if they do they know not to call on me for anything serious) and I was right! It was a glory moment for the confused exchange student.
Math is difficult--the last math class I took was in Junior year, two years ago now, and was calc. I've forgotten a LOT of trig, but the math teacher is really very nice and likes to happily poke fun at me and call me "mignon" (cute) whenever I mispronounce a word.

Lunch is one hour long, and everyone (all 3,000!) has it at the same the same time. The ages range from 9 to 18--so the lunch room is CRAZY! It's a lot of uncomfortable pushing and shoving to get huge sandwiches or whatever the hot lunch is (today: boudin). Insanity! We also have a twenty minute snack time between classes at 11, since the lunch is at 1.

I also started music lessons this week. Tuesday I went for my first lesson of "sulfage" or music theory. I was really nervous but it turned out to be a fun classes of singing and clap and such. It would be terribly easy if not for the fact that the notes have different names in french, which a difficult thing to wrap my mind around. Today I'll hopefully get my viola and play some music.

Last Tuesday I went on a bike ride with my brother into Waterloo to buy a frisbee. Now I just have to wait for it to stop raining.

Awkward thing: My English teacher, a nice if slightly...well, English-teachery in a french way keeps bringing up 9-11. I don't really like to talk about it in Belgium, because it kind of makes me feel like an outsider...or maybe it's that I feel like the only INSIDER, looking at something that had a great impact on me and those around from the perspective on an outsider. And then they started talking about the war and how bad it was, which made me SUPREMELY uncomfortable--what do I say to that?? It's not like I support it, but I can just be super anti-American...bizarre. Anyway, I just wanted it to end. She also told a story about how she was teaching an english class on Sept 11, and a french boy said that he thought Americans were too cocky, and someone should just shoot them, and then she went home and saw what happened and thought it was "Amazing". Like, "What a coincidence! How silly!"
Anyway. Uncomfortable.

FOR FALL! ATTENTION
I am a huuuuuge fall lover, and I need to bring this love to my family! I must learn to make
-Pumpkin Pie
-Carrot Cake
-Cream cheese frosting
-Pumpkin bread
-Apple crisp

Tell me if you have any other recipes or ideas!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cantaloupe, Ham, Red Wine

Hellllllo! It’s been a while. I’ve been up to a lot of nice things lately.

Tuesday night I went to this interesting little bar where there was a sort of constant jam session going on. People would go up and start playing an instrument and then others would just join in. It was really cool, mostly jazzy American blues, but some where classic French songs that everyone seemed to know. Those are the dimly lit pictures on my snapfish account.
On Friday, Colette and Fabien took me to Brouillon, in the south of Belgium, where the great knight Godfrey was from. He did some crusades and such. Anyway, the town itself is about a thousand years old. We took a tour of the castle, which absolutely beautiful. It’s situated on a steep hill in a bend in the river, so the river is on either side of it with a little village situated on the slope. We ate Belgian fries and ice cream. When I got back I was able to go to the park and play Frisbee in the dark; I miss Frisbee so much! I’ve been promised that someone will take me to buy one soon, and I’ll teach them how to play ultimate.
Saturday we went to a huuuuge flea market in Brussels. It took up about eight streets of people selling and vending. It was really awesome to check out all the cool things for sale; there’s a surprising amount of Moroccan stuff around; I got to try a Durum, which a sort of Moroccan burrito. Also, apple slices covered in fried dough. It’s a very good idea if you ask me. We played fuse ball in a seedy Belgian bar, and then returned to Braine l’Alleud, where a big street festival was going on. We only got to enjoy a little of it before a huge storm rolled in. We took refuge in a bar, where an older gentleman taught my host brother, Pierre (a friend of my host brother) how to play an odd version of billiards. It was very complicated and we were so bad that the game lasted until two in the morning when we gave up.
Sunday, today, we revisited the festival in Braine l’Alleud, and then played the very Parisian game Petanque, involving throwing big heavy balls at a small wooden one.
I start school tomorrow. For the fifth time, I enter high school and must answer questions like “Where’s my next class?” “What should I wear?” “DO THESE PEOPLE LIKE ME???”
It’s at times like these I miss the familiarity of ConVal, of knowing who I am and where I’m supposed to go, who I should talk to about what. There’s awkward grace period of…awkwardness. I think I’ve passed that in my house, time to start anew.
Some random things-
Brayan, my fake host, brother moved in. Just in time, they have the biggest spiders ever here, and one had gotten into the bathroom.
I ate cantaloupe with a slice of ham on top, with red wine poured over it. Like it was normal.
The whole family is in the living room listening to Paul Simon right now. It's quite nice.
I may or may not have been conned into buying a fake silver tennis bracelet. Belgians are too friendly, and I was charmed. My host brother and his friends made fun of me for it for the rest of the day. I think it's real, but what do I know? It's a good memory, at least. If you want pictures, join snapfish! =)