Thursday, December 17, 2015

Darling Deutschland

The Last Dash
For my final trip while studying abroad, I was invited to travel to my friend Lena’s home in Germany. Lena drove Leticia and I about 4 hours to a village called Morschen in the middle of the country.

Immediately things were different than I have been used to seeing while in Europe. For one thing, the highways did not have speed limits and Lena drove 130-140 kph (80-87 mph) just to barely keep up with the other drivers. She is a great driver though so it didn’t bother me! Another big thing that was different was something I am a little more used to in the US but not in Europe: space. Morschen was surrounded by forests and meadows and beautiful rolling hills. It seemed so quiet and quaint compared to the hustle and bustle of all of the big cities I have visited. Of course, the countryside is more my speed so this was the perfect last hurrah for me.

Morschen Countryside View

Kickin' it and Kicker
Friday night we arrived and met Lena’s parents. They were just wonderful hosts and made me feel right at home. We had a late dinner, played some kicker (foosball) with her dad and later had a relaxing night in the sauna in her basement. This was perfect preparation for the busy next two days.

Slaying Fears
My horse Nick, and Leticia's horse Pallas

Saturday morning we went to the stable that was a big part of Lena’s teenage years and rode horses. I have only been around horses about two times in my life and know that I really prefer dogs. This was a very intimidating experience for me because of all of the things I knew that could go wrong when being around horses. The people working at the stables spoke little to no English so but Lena and her friend were there to help us through. They handed us brushes and told us to start brushing the horses to clean them. Lena then walked over to her horse and left me alone with mine. Of course I am sitting there thinking “you can do this, just gently touch the horse with the brush..” while creeping closer to the beastly animal. Slowly I got the hang of it and started to become less nervous. Lena’s friend Silke taught me how to get the horse to lift their hooves and how to pick the dirt out of them. Except for the thought in my head that I was going to be kicked in the face, it was nice to figure out how to do that as well. Eventually, with a lot of help from Lena and Silke, we managed to saddle up the horses and begin our ride through the village and out onto a trail.

Silke, Me, Lena and Leticia finishing our ride

We were probably out on our ride for about an hour and my heart raced the entire time. We rode very slowly and still I was just as scared. Eventually we tried trotting and I think I might have screamed. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that while you ride a horse. After my second try trotting, I felt a little more comfortable with it and after that, I was much calmer with the slower riding than before. By the end I felt pretty good about horses but I still wouldn’t make horse riding a regular thing. It was so cool to be able to get over a fear like that while being in a place like Germany. The views on the ride were breathtaking and I am happy I chose to go despite my fear.

Castles and Christmas Markets
Following our ride, we went to Kassel to do some sight-seeing. Kassel is the largest city close to Morschen which is a little larger than Nijmegen. There, we got to see a palace and a castle which are now a park that people can take a nice walk through. Apparently the castle is a “fake” one that was built much later by a rich man who wanted his weekend home to look like an old castle. It was still much older than most buildings I have seen so to me, it still seemed like a castle! Next we went to the Fairytale Christmas Market in Kassel (Märchen Weihnachtsmarkt). This was the most impressive Christmas Market that I have seen so far so it was one of my favorite parts of our trip. The stalls were much nicer and there were a lot more options than the others I had been to. We had a few glasses of Glühwein (Mulled Wine) with Lena’s parents and then did some shopping. For dinner we had to try a bratwurst from Germany! We went to a stand that sold ½ meter bratwurst where they folded it in half and stuck it on a bun. I usually don’t like brats but these were delicious!

 Kassel, Germany
Kassel, Germany

Sunday we got to travel to another village with Lena’s dad where he showed us a “real” castle. This one was much older and had actually served as a castle. We walked up many steps to get up to where this castle sat on the hill overlooking the village. It had a deep mote surrounding the castle and seemed like a real fortress. The entire time, all I could think about was Game of Thrones!

The Real Castle
The Mote and the View

 In all of the villages we visited, many of the homes are half timber style which Lena said was typical for her region. I really love that style of home and enjoyed walking down the streets of the villages to see all of the different designs. In Morschen, while riding through the village on horseback, I noticed some people had big garage doors connected to their homes where they keep their tractors. They have their house and barn, all in one!
Morschen Half Timber Houses
Deutch, Deutch, Goose!
For lunch, Lena’s mom made us a traditional German Christmas meal with Goose, cabbage and some potato dumplings. I had never had any of those foods before so it was very authentic to see the German Christmas markets, try bratwurst in Germany and now have their typical Christmas meal. I actually really enjoyed it and even ate it with my knife in my right hand and fork in my left to have proper table manners for Lena’s family. I think with some practice I could get used to eating like that. Finally, we went to one more village to a smaller Christmas Market. We enjoyed a drink there and then came home to spend some time with Lena’s family before driving back to the Netherlands.

The Smaller Christmas Market

In Germany they decorate their homes with lots of beautiful Christmas decorations. They are a bit different than the types we like to decorate with in the States. Most of the décor is made of wood, with handmade figures and nativity scenes. Two traditional types of decorations are wooden smoker men which are similar to nutcrackers except you can light a scent inside and they smoke up the room with a nice aroma, and the pyramids with candles on the corners and a fan on top. The heat from the candlelight causes the fan on top to spin and they are really beautiful. I would have loved to buy one of these at the Christmas market but even the smallest ones were 30 euros or more and they would have been difficult to transport back home. Lena’s mom also hand makes elaborate stars with paper and hangs them throughout the home. Some even had lights in them and made for a whimsical looking decoration.

I was so grateful to be able to go home with Lena and meet her family. I loved learning all about German culture and it really was the perfect time of year to go to Germany with all of the Christmas traditions. They fed us well and made sure we really got to experience their part of the country. Lena and Leticia have been such great friends for me here and made my adventure abroad a complete success! This was a perfect way to finish off a great semester. Tschüss!
The view from the castle
Language Lessons
Lena taught us quite a few German words. I am working on my pronunciation but I am sure that will come with time!
Tschüss – Bye!
Weihnachtsmarkt - Christmas Market
Ich liebe dich – I love you
Ich spreche kein Deutch – I don’t speak German
Entschuldigung – excuse me
Schloss – Palace

Links und rechts (pronunciation on this one is impossible for me!) – left and right 
Danke - Thank you 
Bitte - You're welcome

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mind the Gap: Experiencing London

“The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Big Ben and the Iconic Red Buses

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit London! Lena’s brother (Ben) has lived in London for the past five years and when she planned to visit him, she invited me along. I am so grateful, too, because I feel my study abroad experience would not be the same without a trip to London!
Lena and I with our Winter Pimm's

Day 1
Friday evening we flew out of Eindhoven and then got a bus from the airport to Ben’s apartment. International travel would not be complete without its hiccups. At the Eindhoven airport, I waltzed up to passport check with my passport and my boarding pass, just like I did when I was on vacation at the beginning of my trip with my parents, not realizing that traveling while living abroad is different than traveling on a week vacation. The customs agent flipped through my passport about 5 times, looking very concerned. He then asked what I was doing in the country for so long, seeing that my passport stamps claimed I entered the Netherlands in August. I explained that I was studying abroad and he asked for my residence permit (which is basically a VISA). Of course I didn’t even realize I would need that and left it at home. I had to spend some time convincing him and he eventually let me through by looking at my student ID. Speaking with customs is always one of the scariest things, especially the next 3 times I had to on that trip, knowing I didn’t have the proper documents. I ended up getting home though!

The London Eye
Day 2
Saturday was a full day of sightseeing! We went all throughout the city via foot, the DLR (Driver-less Rail), the Tube (the Underground), the Overground, buses and Uber. We saw so many sights including the Olympic Park, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Shard. London is a beautiful city full of history. Of course I needed a photo near the infamous telephone booths but to our surprise, there were queue’s to get a photo with most of them. We ended up finding one hidden somewhere that luckily didn’t have many people around. 

 Westminster Abbey

Christmas Market 

For lunch we ate at a coffee shop called Notes and we walked through a Christmas Market. There we found a fancy truck that served warm cocktails and wines. We each drank a warm Pimm’s which is typically a summery drink in England but these were made especially for the winter. That evening we went to another Christmas Market near the Eye before heading to The George Inn for an English supper. I had the spinach and sweet potato pie and we all shared Christmas pudding for dessert. I had never had either of those dishes so it was perfect while in London. 

The Deco Bar at the Christmas Market
To cap off the evening, Ben treated us to cocktails at the Aqua bar on the 32nd floor of the Shard. This tower stands 1,016 feet and has 95 floors. Even on the 32nd floor, we were still higher than the arch! The view of London at night from that high was breathtaking. Part of you wants to walk right up to the glass and stare for hours, and part of you wants to take the elevator back down as fast as possible. We enjoyed our cocktails and the view for about an hour before heading home.

The Shard

Day 3
Sunday was our shopping day. We began at the Camden market which is the largest market I have ever seen. It had endless amounts of stalls with handcrafted trinkets, vintage clothes, real leather and gifts. We spent all morning shopping around the crowded alleys. We then had coffee at another cute coffee shop before heading to the Stratford mall. There, we were able to do some more luxurious shopping. We didn’t get too carried away, though, because it was completely packed with Christmas shoppers. Once we had finally had enough shopping for the day, we went to a nice Indian Restaurant for some Curry! I also had never been to an Indian Restaurant so all of this food was new to me. Of course we had Curry, but we also ordered Nan and Mango Lassi. I don’t really like spicy food so the Curry was not my favorite but the rest was delicious! That night we had an early night in to get ready for our alarm at 5:30 to catch the bus back to the airport today.

 Camden Panoramic View

Overall, it was a very successful trip. I got to see many sights and experience a lot of things I had never done before. Ralf Waldo Emerson was right, the city is so international and eclectic, one could meet people from all walks of life. We saw the colorful shabby sides of London as well as the sleek high class and everything in between. My favorite part of the trip was, by far, the company I shared it with. Lena is a friend that really means a lot to me and her brother was such a great host. With only 2 weeks left and one trip to Germany planned, my study abroad experience is coming to a close. I have to say, this is a really nice way to wrap it all up.

London Bridge

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Beyond Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time to express how thankful we are for the blessings in our lives. Today, I would like to discuss three people in particular that are extremely special to me this Thanksgiving.

My parents

It would be typical and cliché of me to say that I am thankful for my parents. I am thankful for them every day and that should not be news to anyone by now. I would like to talk about a few things that make me extra thankful for them this year that they may not know about.
The entire reason I am in the Netherlands currently is because of my parents. Aside from financially supporting me, they also supported me on many other levels. Having the ability to study halfway across the world requires good grades, a strong worth ethic, and a confidence in your abilities. All of these qualities that I have come straight from my parents constant support throughout the years. I would like to believe that my parents telling me to “go the extra mile” since the third grade still applies to the reasons I have gotten where I am today. They raised me to believe in myself and my abilities and work as hard as I possibly could for the things I wanted. By raising me the way they did, they enabled me to have the experiences I do. I will always be so grateful for everything that they have given me.

 Tintern Abbey - Wales

It used to upset me how often my dad traveled for work. I understood that his job required him to be gone and that other families have it much worse than ours. What I didn’t realize was how all of that time he had to spend sitting on planes away from his family translated directly into me using his points to get home from the Netherlands. I didn’t realize that the money that I need for school and travel comes from all of the long hours he put in when we all know he would rather be at home. I spent a lot of time being upset at things he couldn’t control instead of realizing it was probably just as hard for him as it was me. Dad, I realize now how much your hard work has given me my opportunities and I am sorry I wasn’t always grateful for it.
Guinness Tour - Ireland

I called my mom when I found out I was accepted into Radboud University. Guess what? She wasn’t excited. The first emotion I heard out of her voice was worry. It was there for a split second and then it was masked by her attempt to be supportive and excited for me. People always attach worry as being a negative emotion. It is always considered bad to be a worry wart or to have a mom that worries too much. Those things are simply not true. I am so thankful for my mom’s worries. Her concern for my safety abroad is completely rational and actually wanted. My mom keeps me grounded and that keeps me safe. I am able to carefully navigate through my travels thanks to her and the conscience she instilled in me.  I have always known that my mom’s protectiveness only means one thing; she loves me more than I could even imagine. That’s pretty cool. Sure, my mom isn’t directly paying for my study abroad experience but she pays with her time. When I want to skype with her for over an hour at least once a week she always sits through it. She keeps me excited about my experiences here and makes sure I am making the most of it.

Both of my parents put in a lot of effort into preparing me to leave. My mom helped me decide what clothes I will need and what I can live without. My dad helped me try to jam all of my 60 lbs of ‘necessities’ into my suitcase as well as allowing them to spill into most if his! They both planned two weeks of travel for us while I was too worried about the silly things. They spent hours looking over my applications and bank information to make sure I wouldn’t have any problems once I got there. Studying abroad comes with an extremely long preparation process. It was a huge team effort to prepare and they handled it very well. Mom and Dad, you are the best parents I could have ever asked for and I am finding out you make amazing friends too! Thank you for everything you have given me and taught me.

Ring of Kerry Tour - Ireland


I don’t talk much about my boyfriend because I never wanted to be “that couple” but I think it is time to give him some credit. We have been together for 3 and a half years and for 2 of them we have been apart for long periods of time. We usually see each other for a few days at a time over Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and Spring Break. We get around 3 weeks at Christmas and 3 months for summer as well. The rest of the time is usually spent around 1,000 miles away. Being the great girlfriend that I am, I decided to increase that to about 5,000 miles when I hopped the Atlantic Ocean. Even with all of those miles and an 8 hour time difference, Logan still knows more about what happens to me here than anyone else. We get to text from about 5 pm on (in the morning to early afternoon for him) every day. We also are able to find time to skype around twice a week. Although this isn’t exactly what we are used to, it isn’t all that different. He listens to my stories and he keeps me thinking positively. He is always supportive and is sure to make time for me. People frequently ask us how we do long distance and we don’t have an answer. We don’t know how we do it either. All I know is even with all of the miles, we still have so much fun talking to each other. We have learned how to make it work and it distance has just become a part of our lives at the moment. Logan, I am so thankful for you and everything you do for me.
Mendenhall Glacier - Alaska

Of course I am so thankful for many others in my life. I have met some amazing people here in the Netherlands, I have really solid friendships at MSU and I love my friends in Edwardsville! I am also thankful for the people in my life that I know through my parents or past jobs as well as my brother and extended family. The amount of people who have taken an interest in my travels and my blog is amazing to me and I am thankful for each and every one of you!

Happy Thanksgiving, God Bless!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Koffie: it's all fun and games until Starbucks gets hurt

Vanilla Puxx Coffee - Puxx

My very first picture in my head of studying abroad came from a photo I saw on Pinterest (included below). I was talking with my mom in the kitchen at 18 years old saying if I study abroad, I want to go somewhere like this. Sitting in a cute little coffee shop, hiding from the cold in something just like this scene. My mom saw that it was a photo of Amsterdam and said, “Oh, I think Shannon went to the Netherlands, you should go there!”

Amsterdam, Netherlands:
Pinterest Photo: Amsterdam, Netherlands

A vague idea about coffee halfway across the globe inspired something that grew into the experience I am currently living today. Of course, I didn’t decide to go to the Netherlands right away. I looked at other places including England, Ireland, Finland, Spain and even Australia before I decided to give Shannon a call and get serious about considering the Netherlands. Although I didn't end up in Amsterdam like this photo, I'd say I landed pretty darn close!

Coffee got me started and koffie will be how it ends. The Dutch know their koffie and it is important to them. With a plethora of trendy café’s that sell beautiful frothy drinks, I learned a lot from koffie from the Netherlands.

Fresca - My favorite place for a Koffie!

You can find most of the Dutch on campus with a little cup of koffie all throughout the day. They drink small portions and often. Usually with just a little milk and sugar, not all fancy like Starbucks, because they appreciate the simple unsweetened things in life. This, I have really gotten used to and may have nixed my expensive Starbucks habit (sorry Starbucks for your loss). I guess we will have to see what the next few months in the States holds! Yeah, I thought the cups were tiny, (their large is the same size as the tall at Starbucks, which I tended to avoid before because of its small measure) but I learned you can always have another! Each of our classes at Radboud are anywhere from 2-3 hours long but they have a break every hour for koffie or a smoke (another vice the Dutch seem cling to a bit more than Americans). If our professors miss the time for the break and accidentally lecture a bit into it, they apologize a lot for taking up our break time because breaks are taken seriously by those koffie drinkers!

If you order a koffie in any café, it is popularly served in a glass just like water would be in America. This never made much sense to me because you can hardly pick up your glass to drink from it until it cools down. At that point it is too cool to enjoy. I will say though, it does look quite nice to see the layers of koffie, milk and foam in your drink as an artistic part of your purchase. My friend Lena, from Germany, says that must be a Dutch thing because her coffee is served in mugs in her country as well.

Speaking of Lena, her boyfriend is Dutch and I had the pleasure of learning from him all about the art of making coffee. He has a state of the art koffie machine at his apartment and a hand-held milk foamer. I had no idea that you could do that by hand (which is a purchase I promise to make right when I get back home) and he showed me how. He says that it is definitely not as good as the machines that do it at coffee shops but those are a huge investment and tricky to master.
My Dutch friend Willem from class informed me, you know the foam is good when your sugar rests on top and doesn’t sink through. (Sign of a good koffie)!

Latte Macchiato with good foam via the sugar test - Fresca

Quote from the Netherland’s Queen Maxima, “Dutch is one cookie with your koffie” reiterating the koffie/cookie relationship. Every single koffie I have ordered in a café has come with precisely one cookie. Let me tell you, there is nothing better. I now look forward to seeing the type of cookie I will get next!

A koffie is a good companion. It wakes you warmly in the morning, is a good conversation facilitator, and is there for you during the most stressful of times of studying.
I can promise that one of the final things I do in the Netherlands is enjoy a koffie. That’s a fact!

P.S., if you or anyone you know ever travel to Nijmegen and want to try some Dutch koffie, here is a list of my favorites!

Fresca Café, Puxx Coffee, The Fuzz, Sid en Liv & Café de Mug – I know there are many more and I am determined to find them!

The Fuzz Coffee

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Actual Study in Study Abroad: Radboud University

I just submitted my last exam and my first three courses are finished. I figured it was time to talk a little bit about my experience in courses here at Radboud University.

The Break-down
This University set up differently than the majority of universities in the United States. They have a fall and spring semester like we do but they look a little different. Usually, my fall semester begins in the middle of August and ends in the middle of December. Radboud’s semester begins in September and goes through until the end of January. Additionally, that semester is split into two blocks. The first block ends at the end of October and you have final exams for those courses. Then you begin a new set of courses that span from November until January with another set of exams at the end. Currently I have finished up exams for my first three courses and just began the next three this week. Since I will begin my semester back home in January, I will have to take the exams for those courses at Missouri State and have them sent back to Radboud. I will also be missing about two weeks of lectures in January but the professors say I will be able to keep up online just fine.

Easy-going professors
I was told at the beginning of the semester that professors in the Netherlands are different than those in the United States. They claim that it is completely normal to address them by their first name and in a causal manner. No Dr. Davis, you just call her Tine. For me though, their names were usually so complicated I don’t know if I could even begin to pronounce them. Although this was the case, it was still really hard for me to get comfortable titling an e-mail with just their first name. That is just the way they do it here. Also, all of the courses have multiple professors. Sometimes both will be present and sometimes they will switch off on teaching lectures. This was totally different than Missouri State. They all turned out to be pretty relaxed and easy to talk to. They were helpful and understanding and of course, when confused, I still use the “I’m an exchange student, how do things work here” to get me through!

My First Three Courses
Psychopharmacology and Psychopathology
This lecture style class was my favorite of the three and happened to be my only Psychology course in the first period. This course we learned about the different actions of drugs on neuronal malfunctions in the brain including those to treat depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and psychosis, addiction, chronic pain, dementia and ADHD. Unlike what I am used to at Missouri State where we have multiple tests in a semester as well as other assignments, this course was 100% based on the final exam for your grade. Although I was extremely interested in the topic, I prepared for weeks for the exam and it was definitely one of the most difficult exams I have ever taken. We were able to use our book and mine was filled with sticky notes with explanations from the lectures. Even with all of that, and all of my preparation, I can still say that test was a pain! I am thankful for that though because I have a newfound love for the brain and drug treatment for disorders. I can really say I still love my major, even when in another country.

Vulgar Culture
This course I took in order to fulfill a general education requirement at Missouri State. It is from the Faculty of Arts and was a course unlike any other I have ever taken. In this class we learned about how works from “low” culture can still be viewed as aesthetic or even considered art. I know nothing about appreciating art so this all was very new to me. We discussed things like kitsch (the cheap shiny trinkets people love like souvineers and coo coo clocks), photography, the abject (things that disgust us) and even pornography. The last one was so different for me to learn about that I still have trouble even blogging about it! In this class the first lecture of the week was taught by one of the two professors and then the second class of the week a group of students facilitated a discussion about the topic in the form of a group presentation. Of course, when my group had to do this, our topic was on pornography. Luck of the draw right? Welcome abroad Austin! The final exam was a multimedia assignment where we had to create a piece of art and then write about how it problematizes an aspect or two from the previous lectures. Overall I liked the set-up of this class because having to do the group projects helped me to really learn about the topics discussed and put my own ideas into what we were learning. We rarely have group projects at Missouri State in my courses and although they sometimes are a hassle, they can be a good way to collaborate ideas.

Culture, Development and Globalization
This course was a difficult one for me. It is a course from the Department of Anthropology and was all about different definitions of culture, theories of development and the problems of globalization within our world. Although these concepts were all completely new to me and I really struggled to understand even the simplest of concepts in this course, by the end, I can honestly say I have learned so much. We had a group research paper where we had to come up with an example of how culture and development effect globalization that we worked on throughout the entire course. Our group’s project was on how international companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s are able to be successful by incorporating different cultural practices into their menu options and stores. Our group put in so much effort into this paper and unfortunately it was only worth 30% of our grade. The other 70% came from our final exam which was a take home exam. It was 4 questions and was set up just like the paper we had to do. We had to defend our answers with citations from all of the different readings throughout the course as well as the lectures. After working on it for over 10 hours, I finished this exam and turned it in. Deep breath, and move on, right?

My Next Three Courses
New period, new classes! The first is called Introduction to Cognitive Psychology and I will be learning about all of the different brain processes like perception, face recognition and memory. Another course is called Fear, Anxiety and Related Disorders where we learn about the different disorders related to anxiety like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobias. Lastly, I am taking a course called Applied Research Methods for Clinical and Developmental Psychology where we will learn about research within these fields. I am pretty excited to take these courses since they are all Psychology courses.

A lot of reading means A LOT of reading
I have never read so much for classes in my life! Each class came with 2-3 papers or chapters to read per week. Although I didn’t have much studying or homework assignments, I was constantly sitting with my nose in a book. Before going abroad, reading was my worst enemy. On the ACT in high school, my lowest score was always on the reading portion. I struggled in college to read even some of the chapters in the book and it took me double the time it took an average person to finish readings. It turns out I just needed practice. I was never into reading books as a kid and I sure wasn’t into reading difficult books with ‘big’ words. After forcing my way through the first few weeks of reading here at Radboud, I have found that my reading skills have improved tenfold. As far as learning goes, studying abroad has been essential.

Research: My own project!

In addition to classes at Radboud, I also decided to bring some research. My project is to ask students about how mindful they think they are throughout their day with a series of questions they can answer online. Eventually, I will compare the answers between students in the Netherlands and students in Missouri. Another student at Missouri State studied abroad in Thailand and is doing the same research with students from there as well. I am very excited about how this project could turn out. Radboud University has given me multiple opportunities for my educational process. I will always be grateful for the ways in which I have been able to learn here.

Once again, thanks for reading! Sorry, no pretty pictures. What kinds of photos do I take for talking about classes? My concrete-walled lecture halls? (;

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Beauties Take Belgium

The Belgian Experience
This past weekend my friend Lena and I were invited to travel home to Belgium with our friend Léticia. We took Lena’s car and drove about 3 hours to the city of Brussels. Although I had spent a lot of time in the Brussels train station on my previous trip, I was very excited to see what the rest of the city had to offer!
A Canal in Ghent

Where is it from again?
Friday evening we arrived at Léticia’s house where we were greeted by her family. Léticia’s father spoke English but her mother really only spoke French so the conversations moved back and forth between French and English. We had drinks and chips as appetizers before we were graciously served her parent’s version of a Spanish rice dish and a speculoos tiramisu for desert. Speculoos is a type of spiced biscuit that I would compare to gingerbread found in this part of Europe. While Léticia began explaining how speculoos was from Belgium, Lena wasn’t so sure. Being from Germany, she stood firm in her belief that speculoos was from her home country. All I knew was I had tried it in the Netherlands and had no idea where it came from. We decided to google it where it confirmed all of our assumptions. Speculoos is a biscuit that came from Belgium, Germany AND the Netherlands! It is interesting to see how many cultures share similar aspects of life without even realizing it. Where ever it came from, you’ve gotta try it!

Image result for speculoos
Speculoos Biscuits

Speaking of food, I am sure all of you American’s reading this have heard of Belgian Waffles, Belgian Beer and Belgian Chocolate. We all hear about those and think it is some sort of thing we just HAVE to try when we go to Belgium. The truth is, we already have! Belgium is the proud “owner” of the waffle and there are actually two types. One is a light, square version from Brussels and the other is a dense, sugar-filled version from the Liege which is in the south of Belgium. If you take the batter from the first and combine it with the shape of the latter, you get: The American Hotel Waffle. I am sure you’ve all tried it! Next is the beer. Since I am not 21, I don’t know if we sell Belgian beer in the United States but I’m guessing we do. There are over 2,000 different types of beer from Belgium so I would assume we have at least one or two. Look up popular Belgian beers and see if you recognize a few! I tried a couple while I was there but I don’t know much about good beer so I’m hesitant to give out any recommendations. Lastly is the chocolate. Yes, it’s spectacular. Run to Godiva at any mall and try out a piece of Belgium.

The Great Belgian Waffle!

Waffles from the South of Belgium

 Waffles from Brussels

Gothic Ghent
Saturday we traveled about a half an hour outside of Brussels to the city of Ghent. This is a Flemish city (meaning they speak mostly Dutch). I had heard that the city of Bruges was the city to see. I also had heard that Ghent was just as lovely and quite similar but not as far away. (This sounds like Utrecht vs Amsterdam all over again!) I never made it to Bruges though so you’d have to see for yourself. You could always ask my parents too since they made it to both without me. I really enjoyed my day in Ghent with the girls. We walked around with a guide book from Léticia’s father and looked for the “must see” spots. We visited the outside of a castle and a cathedral as well as some fancy buildings that looked important. It’s not that the names or purposes of these buildings didn’t interest me, it is more that I just really enjoyed seeing the city even without remembering all of that information. My only complaint about the city was that most of the beautiful things to see were under construction. I didn’t take many photos because the streets were torn up and bulldozed, the cathedral was lined to the top with scaffolding and my favorite view had a rickety metal bridge placed right in the middle crossing the canal, obstructing the view of the buildings.
 Look carefully and you'll see that metal bridge I was talking about!

Inside the Cathedral was very different from any other Cathedral I have been to in Europe. It was extremely dark with enormous amounts of black and stone decorations. There was so much décor that I wasn’t sure what to even look at. It was tremendous to contemplate. I realized then how different people’s experiences of Christianity can be. It was humbling to enter into someone else’s sacred place and think about the idea that even with a place so different, we still are worshiping the same God. It was a pretty cool realization for me.

 A Castle in the City

Goin' Broke in Brussels
That evening, back in Brussels, Lena, Léticia, her boyfriend and I all went to a tiny little restaurant called ‘t Potverdoemmeke (don’t worry, I checked with Léticia for spelling!).  It was the coolest atmosphere of eclectic historical style and it served “typical Belgian food”. I ordered some yummy Belgian meat balls covered in a sweet sauce and served with Frites (Belgian French Fries) and homemade mayonnaise.
Sunday we spent the day touring the city. We did a little shopping (which ended up with me using up my one allowed European splurge on a leather bag!), tried some mussels, $1 waffles, chocolate and walked around the city. Léticia guided us through the beautiful government buildings which reminded me of Washington, D.C., as well as through parks and statues and we ended up at the City Center which is encased in extremely unique architecture. We went to see the Manneken Pis which was much smaller than we all had imagined and that concluded our tour. With a weekend well spent in Belgium, we headed home.
Fun Fact: In Brussels the majority of people speak French!

Brussels Centre

A Girl’s Weekend
By far my favorite part of traveling to any city is the social interactions that come with it. Every place I have gone so far, I have gone with friends. The time I get to spend with people while traveling is extremely important for building friendships. Seeing new places together brings up many topics of discussion that otherwise would have never been thought of. Each time I go somewhere with these girls, I learn so much about them as well as myself. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. It’s the reason I am here! Thank you Léticia for allowing me to enjoy your hometown. Thank you Lena for enjoying it with me. Of course, thank you all as well for reading!

 Léticia, Me and Lena in Ghent
Brussels Centre

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Holland's Happy Place: My Dutch Fairytale Adventure

Efteling Amusement Park
If you know me at all, you know I love roller coasters. Having been on some record breakers in the United States, there is absolutely no coaster I won’t try. This past weekend I had the chance to try out Holland’s most famous theme park. The park is called Efteling and it was quite the experience.

Efteling Park Entrance
The Opportunity
About a month ago, the international students got an invite to sign up for a trip to Efteling. They were taking about 180 students via charter bus to the theme park about an hour away for the day. The entire trip (including the entrance fee and the ride there and back) only cost 35 euros so I secured my spot the day I was able. I did a little research and knew the park had roller coasters but its advertisement was mostly centered around other aspects of the park. Because of this, I assumed the rides weren’t going to be impressive and I would just enjoy my day wandering around the little kid exhibits and trying out the Dutch foods.

I spend the entire day with a friend of mine Leticia. I got really lucky because she was just as excited as me to ride any and all rides as well as seeing all of the fairytales as well.
Leticia and I before riding Baron 1898
Typically Dutch
If I could say one thing about this park it would be that it is so Dutch! It’s main theme is a sort of Dutch fairytale land and they went all out. Everything from the food stands and restaurants to the buildings where you wait in line for the rides  (called a queue over here in Europe) was straight out of a historical fairytale. The buildings had thatched roofs and rounded architecture just like any kid’s dream.

One of the places in the park I found while doing research was their highly rated Pancake Restaurant. Because I love pancakes, I made sure I made time for that. The restaurant was adorable and the pancakes were so yummy. Mine had bananas inside with chocolate on top and we sat eating as we watched all of the moving cartoon foods throughout the entire room. It was a perfectly whimsical experience!

 Polles Keuken (Pancake Restaurant)

Sprookjesbos (Fairytale Forest)
The part of the park that Efteling is most famous for is the fairytale forest. Equipped with scenes from 28 fairytales, it was impressive. There were some I knew like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin but there were also others that I had never heard of like The Little Match Girl, Guinevere’s Bridal Gown, Mother Holle and Wee Walter Messenger. Each scene had anywhere from a few characters to an entire town of buildings, perfect for all ages to enjoy. My favorite was Cinderella’s house since her's has always been my favorite fairytale.

 Cinderella's Home, Spookjesbos

Gnome Village, Sprookjesbos
The Big Guns
Moving away from the Princesses and pleasant stories, I turn to the tales of knights and dragons, completely dark rides and Ghost Haunted Mines. The roller coasters did not disappoint with atleast 4-5 coasters that even I would consider a thrill. There was an old loopy one called the Python and an indoor one that was completely pitch black called Vogel Rok. My two favorites were Joris en de Draak (Joris and the Dragon) and the brand new Baron 1898 (the dive coaster). Joris en de Draak is a wooden twin racer coaster with one side using fire and the other using water to slay the dragon. I liked this one because it was fast and long but was really smooth compared to most wooden coasters I have been on in the past. Baron 1898 you are a mine worker, diving down into the mine to search for gold. The white women, which are ghosts, are keeping you from getting the gold which makes it all the more creepy. The ride starts off putting you at the top of the highest peak, making you sit there for a few seconds and then dropping you face-first straight down into a dark, steamy abyss. Although the ride was extremely short, I would say riding it once was worth the hour and a half wait.

Baron 1898
Wrapping up a day well spent
Overall my experience of Efteling was a very special one. It would be really cool to one day bring my kids back there, although I doubt I will ever get the chance. I had nothing but really positive experiences and I loved the differences I saw between Efteling and amusement parks in the United States. A memory (like so many more I have had so far here in Europe) that I will never forget!

What to look for next:

This upcoming weekend I will be traveling to the beautiful Belgium! I know I will have so much to share soon about my trip. Thanks for reading!