In Bruges

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day two of our great Belgian adventure began bright and early before any of our five hostelmates woke up.  After drinking some of the worst instant coffee I've ever tasted we headed off in search of the train station.  My wonderful friend Inna (who threatened to stop speaking to me if I don't mention her by name in my blog) said that if we were going to Brussels we had to visit Bruges.  We only had Saturday and Sunday in Belgium so we didn't think we would have enough time to do both but we decided to make it happen.  After finding the train station we bought our tickets and settled down with some better tasting coffee and wonderfully sweet touristy waffles.

The train to Bruges only took an hour and gave us a chance to see some of the beautiful Belgian countryside.  It was during this trip that I decided what I may want to do next year... but that will be a post of its own coming soon! 

Bruges is a very well preserved medieval village and since 2000 it's been a UNESCO World Heritage Site (aka one of those places that everyone should be required to go to in their lives).  It reminded me a lot of Venice.  The combination of the canals and the slow, unhurried pace at which everyone traveled gave you that same relaxing feeling.  Like in Venice there weren't many things to actually do in Bruges but the entire town itself was a site.  Our day again consisted mostly of wandering the streets from chocolate shop to chocolate shop while occasionally stopping to eat other foods.  I never managed to find a map to take home with me so I cannot remember the names of most of the places we visited but I did make a point of visiting the square that a majority of In Bruges was filmed.

Although Brussels and Bruges are only an hour apart, it was hard to tell that they were part of the same country.  The weather was entirely different and there seemed to be much less French being used in Bruges than there was in Brussels.  It also had just a generally more relaxed atmosphere. 

After spending most of the day in Bruges we had to head back to the train station to get to Brussels to catch our flight.  We arrived back in Dublin around 10 and I was home before 11.   Overall it was a great trip.  I really enjoyed Brussels and loved Bruges.   I can see why it wouldn't be for everyone but I would definitely recommend Belgium for a nice weekend trip.  It was the perfect amount of time to see and do and eat everything on a tight schedule.

Waffles, Chocolates, Mussels, and Fries

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I have so many things to blog about but I've been too busy to find the time to actually write them down.  On the down side this means I have a lot of catching up to do, but on the plus side this means I do, in fact, have a bit of a life!  I'll start by backtracking to last weekend.

Myself and two friends decided a while back that we wanted to take a weekend trip and, considering time and comparing flights, we chose Brussels.  I had heard mixed reactions towards Brussels, some feeling that there wasn't much to do there and others absolutely loving it.  I have yet to travel to a country that I didn't like so I thought this could be a good way to test that.

I had to wake up on Saturday around 3 a.m. (about the time I'm normally going to bed) and walk to Dawson Street where the Aircoach stops.  It was strange to be starting my day as the people all around me where just finishing their night.  After an uneventful trip to the airport and a bit of waiting we were off to Brussels.  The flight was barely long enough for me to take a nap (though I did manage to get a few minutes in).   From the Brussels Airport we took a quick train ride into the city and then began walking.

It was too early to check into the hostel so our first mission was food.  We found an adorable little place that was just far enough out of the city center that it was more of a local cafe.  We sat around a massive table with several other groups of people.  In the center of the table were about a dozen jars of all different types of spreads.  There was chocolate, white chocolate, honey, jams, and many other mystery toppings to put on my bread.  I saw as a personal challenge to try them all. 

From there we weaved our way through the streets to the Grand Place.  Grand Place is essentially a giant square in the middle of Brussels, surrounded by gorgeous buildings, restaurants, and chocolate shops.  We were also very lucky that our hostel was just off one of the small side streets from the square.

Me in Grand Place
We continued our wanderings and saw the Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and the Kapellekerk La Chapelle (whatever that may translate to!).   We also went on a hunt for Mannenken Pis, which literally translates to Little Peeing Man.  It is a statue of a little boy peeing and it is apparently the symbol of Brussels.  Little statues of him can be found in every souvenir shop and many of the chocolate shops have even made molds of him. 
Manneken Pis
We of course stopped in almost every chocolate shop during our walk and also felt obligated to stop and try a traditional Belgian waffle.  The way the locals eat it is apparently dry with just some confectionery sugar on top.  It was delicious but we would find out later in our trip that the waffles targeted at tourists are generally cooked with sugar inside and are much sweeter. 
Traditional Belgian Waffle

The city is overflowing with chocolate

Although it was only 3 p.m. we had been up and walking for a quite a while so we checked into our hostel and took power naps.

Sunset over the city
Though not fully refresh we headed back out in search of the "Palais de Justice".  We lucked out and reached it just as the sun was going down.  The Palace is set high up on a hill near the outskirts of the city so we had a beautiful view of the sun setting over all of Brussels.  From there we headed back down the hill in search of dinner.  Not only is Brussels known for its chocolate and waffles, but it also takes pride in it's seafood, specifically mussels.  They also invented french fries.  I still don't understand how anyone could hate this country.

After dinner we headed to a bar called Delirium.  They had over 2000 different types of beer and, although I would love to try all of them, we each just settled for a pint.  While I fully enjoy going out in Dublin at night it was so nice to look around me and see that I was not the only one wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  It was a nice change of pace from what I've gotten used to here and reminded me a bit more of home. 

We decided that since we were able to see most of Brussels in a day that we would take the train to Bruges in the morning so after our pints we headed back to the hostel where I fell asleep almost instantly.

St. Stephen's Green and Spring!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Today was an absolutely beautiful day in Dublin!  I think the past couple of days have also been nice, but I've been trapped in the syndicate rooms at Smurfit and have only been emerging after dark.  No class today though! 

It was almost 60 degrees and the sun was shining.  There was a light breeze but it was warm and carried the smell of fresh cut grass and flowers.  I went for a run but it was so nice out that I had to stop and sit in St. Stephen's Green to enjoy the sun and warmth.  I thought I might look a little weird without a book or a newspaper but then I looked around and noticed that I was surrounded by people doing the exact same thing, just sitting there soaking in the sun.  If it's not here already, Spring is right around the corner!

(Mom, I made sure to bring my phone just so I could snap some pictures for you!)

Wolfe Tone

Arthur Guinness

Pond, Seagulls, St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre

Blue Skies

The Three Fates

Happy Pancake Tuesday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

With everything the United States has absorbed from cultures around the world I cannot figure out how we missed out on Pancake Tuesday?  I suppose I can't really complain since we use today to celebrate "Fat Tuesday" but it would be nice to narrow down the options of all the fatty food and just focus on one for the day.  In doing some research I've learned that Pancake Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday) originated from the need to eat all of the food that would be given up during the fasting time of Lent (sugar, milk, eggs, flour, etc).  When you mix these together you get a pancake so naturally it developed into a feast of pancakes.  Apparently some places around the world even have the day off of work and school and hold events such as "pancake races".
Apparently things that should be given up for Lent

Pre-Flipped Pancake
Since I am trying to embrace the local culture (and I love pancakes) I decided to recognize this wonderful day of celebration.   I got up nice and early this morning to make the pancakes for myself and my roommate and I even searched the internet to find a proper Irish/UK pancake recipe.   The Irish version of a pancake is different from what most Americans would consider a pancake.  It doesn't have any type of rising agent so it is much more flat and not at all fluffy.  It seems a bit closer to a cr√™pe than an American pancake.  It's customary to eat the pancake with lemon juice and sugar.   I also added some bananas to give it some substance.  Even if it was not what I would traditionally call a pancake I would definitely still call it delicious!

It was also pointed out to me that, while it is acceptable to eat pancakes for breakfast, they are more traditionally eaten in the evening on Pancake Tuesday.  Obviously I took this as a sign that I should make a second batch after getting home from class.

Since I worked so hard to master the art of pancake flipping this morning I think it only fair that I work to bring Pancake Tuesday back to the U.S. with me when I return later this year.  It's really not fair to all the poor unaware Americans that are missing out on this event year after year.

But don't worry American Pancake... I will always love you.

Back on the Bike

Monday, February 20, 2012

Since I went through all the trouble of getting my bike back downstairs and to the shop on Saturday, there was really no excuse not to cycle to class today.  My main excuse for the past few months has been the cold and rainy weather but, let's face it,  that's only weather I'll ever get here so I need to stop hiding behind it.  

I haven't cycled since I moved into town because there are very few places I actually need to cycle to and I was a little hesitant to make the trek down to Blackrock without being confident in the route there.  Of course I probably didn't need four months to reach this point but I like I said... it was cold and rainy out.

Bergie the Bergland Super
So today, armed with my snazzy vest and blinky lights, I hit the town.  After the first few minutes I thought "this feels great!"  It's been so long since I've really exercised that my body actually appreciated a little extra work. That happy feeling lasted for about 20 minutes until my body realized what I was really doing to it.  Then it was just angry.  I'd like to blame my exhaustion on big hills or dodging traffic but really it's just me being out of shape.  Fortunately it is pretty much a straight road from the City Centre down to Blackrock and there are designated bike lanes a majority of the way down.  I surprisingly felt more safe on the trip from my current apartment to Smurfit compared to my old apartment to the same place, even though it's about four times the distance and goes through the City Centre.  Unfortunately, I'm just not used to cycling after my little hiatus.

It's only about 10 miles round trip but I will definitely have to ease my way into making it a daily occurrence. It did take me about the same amount of time as I would have spent walking/waiting/bussing down to Blackrock and I get a decent amount of exercising in so hopefully I'll keep up with it. 
From Home to School
This is a pretty busy week with a paper and a presentation both due tomorrow but after that it shouldn't be too bad.  I also have a trip to Brussels this weekend!  I'm still not sure what we're actually going to do there but I can bet there will be a lot chocolate and beer involved.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last night my roommate had plans to go to a rugby match with some people from her class and when someone backed out at the last minute she offered me the ticket (since I'm pretty much an honorary member of their class).  It was being held at the RDS arena (you'll all remember the RDS, of course). It was just on my regular bus route about 10 minutes away from my apartment so it was very convenient for me to get in and out of there.  The stadium was big enough to have a great atmosphere but small enough that there really weren't any bad seats.

It was Leinster (one of the four Irish Provinces) against the Scarlets which is a team from Wales.  We (and by "we" I mean Leinster) ended up winning in the last few second of the game after being tied for most of the game. I've been slowly trying to teach myself rugby for a while now and, while there are some occasional glances at "A Dummies Guide to Rugby," I think I'm getting the hang of it.  Although I tried not to I couldn't help but compare it to American football.  There are plenty of differences between the two sports but having an understanding of some of the similarities helped me to get a better grasp on the game.  I won't pretend to know enough to go into details about the match but I will provide some pictures!

The Scrum


 The Six Nations Championship is currently going on right now which is between Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and France.  I've watched a couple of the matches so far and hopefully I'll get the chance to watch and learn a bit more through that.  I also hope that I'll get the chance to go to another match at some point during my time here.


Today was an amazingly productive day and the best part about it was that I had no original intentions of being productive.  Sneaky productivity is the best kind.  I managed to clean my room, decorate my room (after living here for 5 months), de-ice the freezer, clean some mysterious goop out of the fridge, do a load of laundry, do the grocery shopping that I've put off for three weeks, book a hostel for my upcoming trip to Brussels, and get my bike off my porch and down the shop to put air in the tires.  I also bought myself a wonderful reflector vest and, although I may look like a construction worker, it's pink and will hopefully prevent me from getting hit by cars!  I also cooked myself a meal which didn't consist entirely of carbs.  Go me!  You may have noticed the lack of mention of school work... I'm hoping that type of productivity comes tomorrow.
Clean room, scarf wall, reflector vest!

One for the Rents

Friday, February 10, 2012

I had a horrific revelation today.  I know it's something most people experience at some point in their lives but I really think I'm too young for this -  I'm becoming my parents.

After yelling at myself for not rinsing my oatmeal bowl out right away (That stuff cakes right on!) and then walking into my living room to see TWO lights left on (ehm, Kathryn) and then getting to the sink to see a tuna can not washed out (really not pointing any fingers) it hit me.  Like the moment in a movie before someone is about to die all these images start flashing before their eyes.

"Money doesn't grow on trees!"

"What, do we live in a barn?"

"Your room isn't going to clean itself!"

"Where's my kitchen towel?!"

I've actually bragged to my friends that I've so far made it through a winter with out having to turn my heat on.  Dad, you should be proud.

I've lived on my own long enough to know that I've been doing these things for a while, but it has only been recently that I realized how much I sound like my parents.  Maybe it's because my roommate has started calling me Mom when these things come out of me... who knows.  Either way it is pretty terrifying.

Superbowl Sadness

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's a gloomy day in Dublin... and not just because every day is a gloomy day in Dublin but because last night was the Superbowl and my home team (the New England Patriots) did not win.

My friends and I went to a place in town where we had a table reserved just feet from a nice large projection screen.  It was a huge step up from how I've watched all the other games this season on my tiny laptop with terrible sound quality and constant fear of losing the feed.  The game didn't start until 11:30 but the place filled to capacity and we were quickly surrounded by all sorts of people.  There were those wearing their Pats / Giants gear, those who obviously were not fans of either team but wanted to show that they supported American football so they wore whatever jersey they may have, and a surprisingly large number of girls who saw a football game as an appropriate time to dress up in their miniskirts and heels.  I guess I can't fault them for trying to take advantage of the 9:1 male to female ratio, but I think they underestimated the power of a sporting event to make a man oblivious to the world around him.

Whatever the people around me were wearing, it was clear that they were all excited to watch some football.  Watching the game in such a mixed crowd did make me miss home a bit.  I would say a majority of people around me were rooting for the Patriots but there were only a few people I knew personally that I could commiserate with for every missed catch and poor play.  There's a lot to be said for suffering in solidarity. 

I was also pretty upset to learn that we would not see any of the multi-million dollar commercials from home.  I've often heard people complain about American football because they take too many breaks.  It now makes sense to me because, while we're at home watching some amazing commercials, the people here watch the same three over and over again.  I don't necessarily enjoy commercials but if I had to watch every game the way they do here I would have a hard time sticking with the sport, too.

I still tear up a little thinking about it but I do have to give the Pats credit for playing in 5 out of the last 11 Superbowls.  Even if they are not all wins it does show that they have provided me with many seasons of entertainment over the years. I'd love to say they played a great game but even that would be a stretch so I'll just start counting down the days till the start of next season.

And just to rub salt in my wounds I came home from class today to find a package with...

Why, Wes? Why?
... my Wes Welker jersey.   I left it at home after Christmas so to not jinx them by assuming they would be playing in the Superbowl.  My mother, appalled that I wouldn't have it for the game, attempted to mail it to me but of course it arrived a day late and after a game lost.

Well I'm running on fumes after a late night and an early morning so I'm going to ignore work for the evening and hopefully get to bed early!