As you may have noticed, this blog has been inactive since February, as sad as I am to acknowledge that. And not for the lack of travel, I assure you. During my semester abroad, I have been actively writing for another platform, a Georgetown University-based research center that each semester selects a cohort of students to share their study abroad experiences through the lens of politics, religion, and culture. Working on those posts in conjunction with this blog (before I fell off the wagon here) made me reevaluate the overall format and the type of content that I really want to be producing here. I don’t mean to disparage the many wonderful travel blogs that focus on sharing photos and visitor tips from their travels, but I find myself yearning for a more analytical approach. All of that to say that 1) this blog is not dead and 2) you may be seeing some changes to the type of content I post here, but post I will!
My next stop this summer is a two-week trip to the motherland (aka Russia) with pit stops in Moscow, Saint Petersburg (VERY briefly), and Kazan. I will then fly back to my beloved France for a six-week internship at a newspaper in Saint Omer, a small community in the north of France. So buckle up friends!
Ever since I returned, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about “my trip to Brussels.” The problem is, I didn’t just go to Brussels. In fact, I made it a point not to go just to Brussels. So, to set the record straight and to do other parts of Belgium some justice, let’s talk about Ghent.
Ghent (or “Gent” in Dutch and “Gand” in French) is the largest city of Belgium’s East Flanders province. Spoiler alert: it’s not actually very large. But neither is Belgium. Ghent was one of the richest European commercial centers during the Middle Ages, specializing in wool production. Though lesser known than its touristier counterpart, Bruges, Ghent can boast just as many beautiful, quaint buildings found alongside the city’s canals.Continue reading →
At long last, find your mini-guide to mandatory Brussels eats below. Before we begin, I will confess to the grave sin of not having tried a lot of Belgian beer due in part to dietary restrictions and in part to my general dislike of beer. So, while I can’t speak to it personally, I’d say you should probably try the beer, too. Perhaps with your frites.
First and foremost, before you even drop off your bag, have a waffle…or ten. I guarantee you that you haven’t really tasted a true waffle until you’ve had one in Belgium. Before you run off on your waffle quest, allow me to impart some waffle wisdom. Did you know that there are, in fact, two types of waffle? Yeah, me neither. You have the Brussels waffle, a larger rectangular waffle with deep holes, made of lighter batter and the Liege waffle, a round-ish waffle, made of thicker batter mixed with pearl sugar to achieve a caramelized texture. The Brussels waffle is more plain and requires a topping for a complete waffle experience, whereas the Liege waffle can act as a standalone dessert, no toppings necessary. But where’s the fun in that? Every waffle shop in Brussels offers more toppings than the eye can see, so go forth and explore! I would recommend a classic strawberry-banana-whipped cream combination. And remember: ask for the Belgian hot chocolate, NOT Nutella. Trust me, my fellow Americans, the hot chocolate is superior. But if you really can’t betray your heritage, why not have two waffles and compare the taste? 😉 In terms of cost, I’ve found it to be similar across all waffle-serving establishments, starting at 2€ for a plain waffle and going up as high as 10€ for a truly sophisticated, multi-topping experience.
As I wrap up my 36-ish hours in Brussels, two words come to mind to sum up my experience: food and construction.
As food is perhaps the most crucial aspect of any journey, I will be making a separate mini-post with delicious highlights & recommendations tomorrow. And in regards to construction…well, it’s everywhere. To the point where I entered a museum this afternoon and found a man shamelessly drilling the floor as I and another unfortunate couple maxed out the volume on our audio guides. There is also an absurd amount of sidewalks and roads being redone in what appears to be a Brussels-wide frenzy to repair all surfaces touched by the human foot. It’s unclear whether such activity has anything to do with an upcoming EU summit…
Inconveniences aside, I had a full day of exploring Brussels today. In an effort to save some money by eating a supermarket yogurt for breakfast, I left the apartment bright and early to visit the Atomium, a structure originally constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair (Expo 58) held in Brussels. For a reduced student fare of 8€ I got access to the entire building, including both the permanent exhibits and a temporary “Atomium Meets Surrealism” exhibit featuring my all-time favorite artist René Magritte.
Oh happy days! I’ve finally ventured beyond the borders of my host country like a good study abroad student that I am, and I’m excited to update you daily on my Belgian adventures.
Though I have a tendency to announce ambitions projects and then not follow through on them all, I am hoping to also put together a guide for each city I visit with a breakdown of my itinerary, so that y’all can follow in my footsteps one day. [Please hold me to this].
So, you know how I said in my veryfirst post that I was looking forward to my second month in France when I’ve settled into a more predictable routine? As of yesterday, it’s officially been a month since I arrived in Bordeaux, and I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as a study abroad routine.
To be sure, I finally have a finalized class schedule after two and a half weeks of battling the bureaucracy, sleeping through 8 a.m. classes I wanted to take, and trying to accrue enough credits. However, the university system here always has a curveball to throw with frequent last-minute changes and unexplained course cancellations. So far, I’ve shown up to a lecture only to find out it was cancelled, had two classes relocated to different rooms at the last minute and another randomly rescheduled for earlier in the day. Consistency, evidently, is not key in France.
Following the advice of every study abroad student before me, I did find two cafés where I routinely do my work. However, even with something as sacred as a French food establishment, I’ve run into unexpected difficulties. For example, one café—a self-professed study spot for college students—uniquely serves brunch (no, you can’t just have a coffee, Madame) on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and does not allow computers to be used, yes, even if you order brunch. In fact, the concept of studying on the weekends is largely nonexistent here. Perhaps because it truly is necessary to take the day to recover from all the bars you visited the night before. Some cafés are also closed on Mondays (why? who knows!), which is the only day of the week where I don’t have classes and I am not recovering from a party. So, I pretty much live at the university (8 a.m.-7 p.m.) Tuesday through Thursday, then proceed to go out on Thursday because it is the single most popular party day here and struggle in my Friday 8 a.m., spend the weekend afternoons unsuccessfully trying to get work done in my bed, and finally give up and sleep through Monday.
In short, I love it here and I will be very offended in September when I am forced to attend classes between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. instead of receiving a two-hour lunch break, as is the natural order of the universe here. I honestly cannot believe that a month has already passed since I broke the lock on my bathroom door, and I like to think that I’ve since learned enough French to successfully extricate myself from a similar situation should it recur.
After a week of procrastinating (and talking about fashion instead), I have finally decided to write about my trip to Toulouse, Albi, and Cordes-sur-Ciel and share some amazing photos. OK, full disclosure, the WiFi at my host family’s decided to stop working so I have no access to procrastination-enabling materials at the moment.
I initially wanted to write a mini-guide to the three locations, but seeing as we made the trip in the dead of January and our visit to Cordes-sur-Ciel fell on a Sunday, virtually everything was closed. [As a side note, nothing is ever open on Sundays in this country except cafés where you can brunch strictly between 11am and 4pm and where you absolutely cannot use your laptop—trust me, I tried this Sunday and was reprimanded by a waitress.] So, instead, I will just share the marvelous views and some cool facts about each place.
Toulouse Toulouse AKA la Ville Rose (“Pink City”) is the capital of the Occitanie region of France—map below for the geographically challenged, myself included—and the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.
It earns its nickname from the color of the terracotta bricks used to construct the majority of the buildings. To be quite honest, the bricks aren’t really rose-colored at all, they’re more of a reddish-brown with a sliiiiight pink hue. The material differs notably from the white stone we typically imagine when we think of old French buildings. Such stone was used in Paris and Bordeaux, but it was too expensive to import all the way from the Pyrénées to use for the construction of Toulouse. Thanks to such geographical constraints, you can easily spot the former residencies of incredibly wealthy merchants because they are constructed at least in part using the overpriced white stone. If there’s one thing you need to understand about French history, it’s that the bourgeois class loved to show off. Continue reading →