Tuesday, December 27, 2011



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.


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!

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

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!