Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oh Boy, I'm Seeing Green [Or, Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland]

Saint Patrick's Day was originally going to be a very chill, calm, quiet --

Oh, who am I trying to kid?  Saint Patrick's Day was going to be a party.  I just happened to be in Dublin, Ireland.

That's right!  I checked off a big one: spending Saint Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland.  And several things were made abundantly clear to me: I will NEVER be able to binge drink like some people I met, multiple pub crawls with Americans and Brazilians are an experience, I should not subside on candies and chips, and I definitely love staying in hostels.

Let's recap.  It starts with my body, still aching from Amsterdam, suddenly saying "Well, crap."  It continues like this: I speak with my professor, stating that I have a plane to catch and could I leave 30 minutes before the end of class.  He then proceeds to say, five minutes before I'm supposed to leave, " Since we have some students who are leaving at four, we'll take a moment of pause, so they can gather their things."

It goes like this: my friend and I leave our class, giddy at the prospect of going to Ireland. We rush to the metro, where we're supposed to meet with another friend.  Amanda, the first friend, starts circling the station, worried that we'll be late, that we'll miss Gabby, that we'll not make it to Ireland.

Gabby, it turns out, is on the other side of the barrier, slowly laughing at us.

We get to the South station, when Amanda spies Sbarro. Nothing can deter her, so we get pizza and head towards the bus.  Instead, we are waylaid by taxi drivers who call out "Habiba" and tell us 13 euros, 30 minutes, much better than the bus.  We take the taxi.

We get there two hours early, our gate not even open.  We end up having a beer as we wait for RyanAir.  Amanda blows off steam once we make it past the security check (something was wrong with her visa, apparently).

This is where I make an explicit statement: RyanAir, as an airline, terrifies me with bright yellow seats, cramped rows, and never-ending advertisements.  It's freezing cold, people don't stop talking (ever) and the lights are always on.  The landing is bumpy and terrifying long, but when people survive unscathed, the flight attendants play trumpet music.

We land on shaky legs. Amanda and Gabby stumble towards a friend's apartment. I stumble towards Isaac's Hostel.  It turns out to be on the North Side.  The bus driver gives me directions, then tells me to be careful.  I make it without incident, and then proceed to pass out.

The next day, I go to join my friends on a free tour of Dublin.  Of course, I forget about the time change coming over, meaning I'm a full hour early.  I indulge in breakfast at Queen of Tarts, a pastry cafe shop that's fairly well known.

The tour is phenomenal.  We laugh at our tour guide's jokes, I learn some dirty Gaelic, and we get a pretty good idea of the town.  Of course, this is in between rain and sunshine, jokes about Irish accents, and a desire to get somewhere warm.  The rest of the afternoon is spent calming down and having some coffee.

Colorful and fantastic!

Oscar Wilde was only one famous person I "saw": there was Mary Malone and Bram Stoker too!

Starbucks in Ireland: Earl Grey tea, marshmallow swizzle, chocolate chili and dark forest cakes.

I meet up with Re (you'll remember her from my last post about Amsterdam).  We end up going to Leo Burdock's: I get fish and chips, she gets chicken tenders and chips.  We sit on the street, drinking cider and getting strange looks from locals.  After that "last supper", I ended up subsisting mostly on crisps (potato chips) and candies in the hostel...

That night, we go on a pub crawl.  When I say "pub crawl", I mean a crawl.  It involves Germans, Australians (who call me "American"), Irish guys and Spanish girls.  It involves drinks at different bars, dancing through streets, and laughing hysterically at the cold air.

I met a few great guys on the pub crawl and kept stealing Sven's hat. 

The next day, Re's left back to the States, her Euo-trip over.  I go to the Guinness Storehouse, walking through run-down streets, watching markets where people sell odds and ends, even groceries.  When the economic crisis in 2008 hit Ireland, it hit HARD.  Banks went under and people are only now starting to see some minor changes in the economy.  The area around the Guinness Storehouse is way outside of the center of town, and really shows the economic difficulties.  Even though it's on the South side, which is supposed to be more affluent, a lot of people were definitely struggling.

But going back to the Guinness Storehouse... It's massive. Huge. Five stories filled with boozy history, beer sampling and experiences, like learning how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.

I got a perfect pint of Guinness.  In case you didn't know, Guinness has a two-step pour.

The wall of history: also known as every Guinness bottle ever.

That night, I go on another pub crawl.  Funny thing about Americans on pub crawls: they're always the loudest. And the ones playing beer pong.  The guides say a few things that are definitely hysterical and true: "When you're upright, you're our problem.  When you're at 45 [degrees], you're sort of our problem. When you're flat, you're NOT our problem."

The next day is Saint Patrick's Day.  Rows of people, one after another, in green and green and more green. Apparently, I don't look like a tourist (even though I was wearing green tights and somebody's green hat): a police officer thinks I'm late for work and ushers me through a gap in the parade! 

Everywhere, people piled onto monuments, on top of electrical boxes, and on balconies.

I laughed at the random Disney characters mixed in with Saint Patrick's Day balloons.

The parade was a tad disappointing because I expected it to be like Macy's Thanksgiving... Not even close. But it was fun and a great time, even though I saw four fights and people get arrested.  

My trip ended like this: stumbling into a taxi at 3:30 am, getting to the airport and having a full Irish breakfast, with three cups of coffee, before I wait at the gate.  I watch four guys stretch out, asleep in sleeping bags, before I close my eyes.  

I end up in Brussels, torn between being awake and annoyed, while I go to class.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

À Bientôt Bruxelles [My Weekend in Amsterdam]

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom.  And in freedom, most people find sin.” 
-- John Green

This blog post is from two weeks ago, but it's taken me awhile to upload.  Mostly because of one word. Midterms. A term that inspires fear, shock and horror.  But also much relief once it is over.  For me, it also meant that I got to go to Amsterdam!

I was going to Amsterdam for two reasons: one, I really wanted to see it; and two, my friend was visiting.  The lovely Re and I became friends last semester while we were in Morocco together.  Since it was her spring break, she decided to do a Euro-trip by herself.  Pretty amazing, considering that she'd never left the country (except for Mexico) until she went to Morocco!

Anyways, Amsterdam.  The bus ride there was a bit horrible, but funny: I was quite exhausted and nauseous from the night before.  However, I got to sit next to a few women from Morocco, and practice derija!  Once I arrived, I walked over to the hostel.  The place is called Heart of Amsterdam and is based on a box office/movie theater.  The reception desk is called the box office, and each room is designed after a film.  The room that I stayed in is called "The Wall."

What happened was I waited two hours for Re, getting anxious to the point that I thought "I need to call the police and ask if they've found an American girl with amnesia!"

Of course, guess who chose to walk up at that moment in time... Re.

She had to buy gloves because she forgot hers.  At least they were cute souvenirs!

Anyways, our nights and days were filled with a serious of strange events:

We met a group of girls and guys who proceeded to show us around the Red Light District in Amsterdam.  Speaking of the Red Light District, I would never be able to stay in Amsterdam, just because I feel like I would get desensitized to sex... If it's so in your face, all the time, wouldn't you get used to it?

Later, we went to a club, and several other places.  Re and I, while freezing to death since it JUST HAD to start snowing while we were in the club, decided that Dutch people are super friendly, very bizarre, and just a bundle of fun all around.  This was in between getting phone numbers from Italian guys, getting grabbed and kissed on our cheeks by some random guy, and getting photo-bombed by some guys from Amsterdam.

Two of the friendly Dutch men we met!

The next day, we also went to the Van Gogh experience, as well as the House of Bols.  The Van Gogh experience was fantastic, since they also used 3D technology to recreate some of the paintings, so it felt as if you saw the painting step by step, and even felt as if you were part of the painting.

In front of the My Dream exhibition sign, I couldn't stop grinning.

Now, disclaimer, it did take us awhile to walk to the House of Bols.  In fact, it took us about 30 plus minutes, since we got lost!  But it was worth it: the place was fun, colorful and awesome.  I even semi-flirted with the bartender!  The place was more than worth the 12 euro ticket: we tried three drinks, got to learn about the history and even got our own drink recipes!

The House of Bols is the house of the oldest alcoholic drink: genever.

Even if I didn't go on the Heineken Experience, I saw the boat!

In the end, there were no space cakes for me, no baby bump shrooms, and no making out with Dutch guys.  What I did end up loving was the people that I met, and the fact that Re came with me to experience Brussels!  But that's a whole other blog post...

This is also the most stereotypical photo of Amsterdam I took, minus the cannabis!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bruxelles M'a Dit: Joyeux Anniversaire, Bon Anniversaire [It's My Birthday!]

My birthday in Europe.  Oh wow, not what I was expecting.

I like celebrating my birthday with friends, I really do.  But at the same time, it's a bit bizarre for me this semester.  I'm studying abroad (one of the older study abroad students; I've only met one other senior and she's younger than me!) and without people that I usually hang out with.

But it was fantastic.  It was nice.  I got presents from people (especially sweet considering that I didn't expect any), had a delicious dinner (even though I made the dessert and there was a lot of suspicion over how the cupcakes would turn out), and got to dance in a national monument.

In the end, all I have to say is:

Merci à tout le monde! C’était un anniversaire bizarre, heureux et fantastique!

I got so lucky: new dress, sweet card, cookbook and some vino! 

Bruxelles, C'est Douze [Luxembourg in a Day]

Luxembourg.  A very small, very rich, very hockey obsessed country.  But seriously, when I walked out of the train station, almost everyone that I saw had hockey skates.

I went the 23rd of February, so I do apologize for the lateness of this post.  Midterms and such have been driving me up a wall!

Anyways, back to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Three hours on a train, filled with fun discussion and decision making.  It was Rach, me and three of our guy friends.  The guys got lucky when they bought their tickets: 87 euros for three (turns out there's a discount for groups of three or more traveling together, but you have to leave and return together). When we got to Luxembourg, the guys had to find their hotel (side note: it was... um... located across from a "gentleman's club").  Rach and I went with them, but we had already decided that we were only going to stay for the day.

After that, we had lunch.  Take hungry girls and guys, who have different food preferences.  Throw in wind and snow.  Add a twenty minute walk to the center of town.

We had a nice lunch at Paul, then tried to go visit the casemates (underground tunnels that link the city together).  Unfortunately, they're only open in the summer.  There was still snow and wind when we found the tourist's office and grabbed a map.

We wandered through the shopping district (there was much excitement over the Gucci store), visited the Church of Notre Dame (there was a service in Luxembourgish, which is actually a language), and visited a bar called The Tube (it looked exactly like a Tube station in England, and there was a rugby match on).

It was an amusing day, even if we were told: "Well, yeah, that's basically all of Luxembourg."

Part of an art gallery that we wandered past.

There was quite a lot of graffiti!

Everyone was a goofball!

In the shopping district, there was a green cow.  How now?

The local beer that I tried was good. Not great, but good.

The outside of the train station at night...

...and the inside.