Brussels (pt. II)

Helllooooooo internet world. I hope you’re having a lovely week and a great Wednesday so far. I’m a bit bummed today — it’s snowing here in the DC area, meaning that the public schools are delayed, meaning that it was for some reason a lot harder to find a substitute teaching job this morning, so I’ve been stranded at home — there’s $100 down the drain. I’ve been stressing a lot about money lately, which has made me stress a lot about being an adult one day — like a real, financially-independent adult. Lord help us all when that day actually comes.

But my bad luck is your good luck — you get a blog post today! With a lot of photos, which I know you illiterate swine crave! 🙂

On my penultimate weekend in Europe I traveled to Belgium — again. Remember this blog post? When I said that I’d be seeing Belgium again? Well, I wasn’t kidding.

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For some reason I really connected with Belgium while I was there and absolutely fell in love with it. I couldn’t wait to go back and knew that I had to seize my chance while I was still in Europe — who knew when I could visit again after returning to the US?

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So I made plans to meet my friend Lauren in Brussels for a long weekend.

I left on Wednesday night after classes and flew there by myself (using RyanAir, which was a nightmare, ugh). I was really nervous about traveling there by myself because I was arriving in the middle of the night (~1:30am) and I’m a young girl with no French or Dutch skills whatsoever (besides the broken French I’ve learned with Duolingo). However, besides the fact that it was about 2 degrees out, the arrival to the hostel went smoothly.

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I woke up the next morning ecstatic — I was in Brussels again! I absolutely couldn’t wait to start my day and visit all the places I hadn’t been able to last time (we were only in Brussels for a day).

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I started by walking into the center, and was immediately surprised by how well I remembered the city — I hardly needed my map! I strolled through the center, went through a couple of book shops, and headed to the Museum of Musical Instruments.

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Unfortunately most of the signs for the instruments and history were in French/Dutch, but I had a lot of fun listening to all the music on the audio guide and checking out their amazing exhibit on the Saxophone.

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I then made my way to Grand Sablon (all from memory, thank you very much!), did a bit of window shopping, then hit up Moeder Lambic, the really cool beer bar that I went to last time. Update on Moeder Lambic: the bartenders as still just as cute, friendly, and helpful. I had a couple beers whilst writing and staying warm, and then headed out to catch my second look of Manneken Pis, which did not get any less ridiculous the second time. Oh, I also had some frites. But, I mean, that’s a given — I thought you’d just assume that.

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I did a bit of souvenir shopping and spent way too much money (but what else is new, let’s be real) and then walked over to Grand Place, where there was a light show going on for Christmas! Now, if there are two things I love in this world, they’re colored lights and Christmas. I stood amongst the equally-excited tourists and watched for quite a while and then walked back to the hostel to read and wait for Lauren to arrive. We got dinner and then went to bed pretty early as she was tired from traveling.

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We started the next day with a walking tour of the city — which was super helpful and really fun. We learned a lot about the history, culture, and layout of the city, all of which helped us get around a lot better (although, I was already a pro). We then headed to the Manneken Pis area to get some waffles.

Now, let me tell you something about Lauren. She loves waffles.

We had a plan to try as many waffles as we could in a row to be compare the different shops and decide which one had the best (look, when waffles are one euro, YOU CANNOT SAY NO).

Unfortunately, we got full after 2. So. That was a bust.

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the weirdest looking tree I’ve ever seen. what’s with the weird trees, Brussels?

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We then walked around the Christmas markets a bit and the rest of the city (unfortunately, this is where the photos start dwindling — I get distracted around friends!). Then we headed over to our Air BnB, where 3 of Lauren’s friends from Prague were to meet us. When they did arrive we all cleaned up and went out to get some frites, walk around the markets some more, and get beer. Went went to an Irish bar called Celtica (where we saw a woman pass out from drunkenness as 6pm) and then went to Delerium, the world-record holding bar with over 3000 beers on tap. To be honest, it didn’t really live up to the hype … everything was expensive and there were FAR too many people there. 0/10 would not do again.

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The next day we went to Bruges, a little village about an hour outside of Brussels. Bruges was absolutely beautiful — it reminded me of Hogsmeade from Harry Potter — but ridiculously crowded. EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER decided to take a trip to Bruges that day — which, looking back, made a lot of sense seeing as it was a Saturday and 3 weeks form Christmas. Regardless, we had a fun time watching people fall on the ice skating rink, buying useless stuff at the Christmas markets, eating good food, and riding the Ferris wheel. That night we bought some groceries and made pasta for dinner. And the next day we headed to the airport.

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Boom. Done. 5 days gone.

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ha! this kid fell down! ha ! ha ha !

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I honestly don’t know what it is about that country (Brussels specifically), but for some reason it’s really got a hold on me.

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here’s a creepy picture of a child and her dad. does anyone else ever think about all the random pictures of YOU that may be floating around out there in the world?

Rating (out of 10): 10, of course!

Would I go again? Yes. Duh. All the duh.

Best part: The vibe. I don’t know man, I love it.

Worst part: The cold. Especially after having come from Sevilla. And don’t expect people to be super nice to you. Especially after having come from Sevilla.

Overall impressions: One of my favorite cities ever. Very easy to navigate. A lot to do. Cool, alternative people. Good beer. Pretty buildings. I’ve lost my ability to construct sentences because I love this place so much. I think I like Brussels so much because you can really get a sense of the people and see how people live and work there — unlike other cities like Granada or Lisbon, where the city is much more of a travel destination rather than a … well … a home.

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Barcelona.

Holaaaaaa a todos!

I hope your weekend has been lovely and your Monday isn’t too depressing. Luckily I’m not back at school yet, so I can laugh at all of you “adults” who have to work for a living! Ha! Ha ha! Ha!

Thought I’d tell you another traveling story today, this time about my trip to Barcelona.

This trip was a little different as, like Morocco, it was planned out completely by my study abroad program. So, I didn’t have to plan anything. Flight? Check. Hostel? Check. Food? Check. Museums? Check. The easiest!

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sleepy at the airport.

After our hour and half flight and checking into the hostel, we walked through the center of the city a bit, checked out some markets, learned a whole lot about the history of Catalonia, and then got some lunch.

*warning* this post will not have a lot of pictures because the day before we left to go, my phone was stolen. and I was not about to bring my camera to Barcelona and have that stolen too! all the pictures that you’ll see are from friends!

That afternoon our guide took us through the gothic and medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, and we finished off by visiting Parc de la ciutadella at sunset. The park was absolutely stunning — it was like an oasis in the city! Also there was a giant mammoth replica sitting under some trees … so that was strange.

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Parc de la ciutadella

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Parc de la ciutadella

That night we also walked through the more modern parts of the city and checked out el Arco de triunfo, which I sadly don’t have a picture of.

The next day we went to La Pedrera, which is a modern art building designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It was very odd because it was like an apartment building turned into a museum. And to be honest, I still don’t really understand why it was built, other than that it looks really cool.

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the roof of La Pedrera

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view of Barcelona from top of La Pedrera

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Next we metro’d over to the other side of the city to check out La Sagrada Familia, a (HUGE) church designed by  Gaudí (the same guy that designed La Pedrera — his influences are all over Barcelona). The construction of the church started in 1882 and it’s STILL not completed because of lack of funds. The expected end date is 2026, although things are looking pretty shifty. However, even though it’s still not completed, it’s already a UNESCO world heritage site, which I thought was pretty impressive for a half-done church.

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La Sagrada Familia was, to me, just another example of how strange Barcelona is. The city is such a mixture of modern and medieval architecture — and that’s exactly how La Sagrada Familia is. If you walk around the church, you’ll see a different architectural style on each side. It really is quite strange.

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me and roomie!

And the inside is … well, breath-taking, to say the least. Sky-high domed ceilings, columns that look like trees in a forest, rainbow stained glass windows. I was expecting another old cathedral-ish church, but the inside is so modern and …. trippy. I don’t know, guys. You should know by now I’m not good at descriptions!

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So, after feeling like we were on acid for a couple of hours at the church, we took a too-long bus ride on a too-crowded bus to get to Parque Güell,  which I was most excited about.

The public park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and was designed by none-other than, WHO WOULD’VE GUESSED, Gaudí. The architectural elements of the park are very reminiscent of La Pedrera and la Sagrada Familia (ie. the bright colors and the mosaic-like decorations).

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The park is absolutely beautiful — I imagine it would take a very long time to hike the whole thing, but we walked around it for about half an hour and made it to the top of a lookout, which would’ve been a lot more peaceful had there not been a crazed man in a cheetah outfit strumming his guitar and screaming curse words at the top of his lungs.

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in the park — looking over Barcelona

Let me be clear and say that most of what I knew about Barcelona beforehand was from The Cheetah Girls 2, a crowned jewel from my childhood. And in the movie, the Cheetah Girls sing the iconic (to me) song Strut, where they (you guessed it) strut around Barcelona with all the sass in the world.

And in said song, they strut around  Parque Güell — so it was only right that we took some pictures to re-create the music video.

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Raven and Angel from the movie.

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Pat and I, re-creating the movie PERFECTLY

p.s. ^^ the above picture took about 10 minutes to capture, as there was a HUGE line for pictures in this particular area. My thoughts? 1000% worth it.

And I’m afraid this is where the pictures stop, folks. After the park we went back to the hostel and we had free time for the night. My friend Steph and I were CLEARLY the only fun ones in the group (uh, just kidding guys!) so we ended up going to a discoteca on the river that night while everyone else stayed in.

The next morning we also had free time to wander around the city before we left for Sevilla again. Some friends and I went down to the water and stared at seagulls for about an hour, and OH! I just remembered! I do have pictures!

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having trouble getting on the lion

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We found some lions near the water, so naturally we had to climb them.

The rest of the morning was quite boring, to be honest. We wandered around some  shops, got some lunch, and then slowly made our way back to our bus for the airport. Hour and a half later, we’re in Sevilla, and the weekend is over already.

Rating (out of 10 stars): 7

Would I go again? Sure! I feel like I didn’t get to experience everything that I could’ve had I not been so constrained by the program.

Best part: Parque Güell

Worst part: A lot of restaurants have menus/signs only in Catalan — just because you know Spanish, does NOT mean you know Catalan (although many words are similar)

Overall impressions: A really beautiful and different city. More metropolitan than I was used to with the cities of Andalusia. The architecture is really beautiful and the city is easy to navigate. I would absolutely love to go again one day and figure out more of the city for myself.

Lisbon.

Helllooooo all you lovely blog readers! I hope your afternoon is going well!

I’m back for part two of my Madrid/Lisbon trip and to give you illiterate plebeians the photos that you crave!

So we left Madrid on Saturday afternoon and arrived in Lisbon in about an hour by plane, which was really nice (easyjet was a surprisingly nice airline for the price). There’s a metro line runs directly from the airport into the city, which was absolutely wonderful and easy to use. However, the ease of navigation in the city ended there. Dear God, Lisbon is a strange city. The streets run diagonal and in circles and the street signs are not posted clearly at all. What’s more, there are hills EVERYWHERE. Coming from Sevilla, which is practically the flattest city in Europe, I was not prepared for this. By the time we made it to our hostel (which took far too long), I was sweating. SWEATING. Carly was not happy.

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But things got better once we were inside. The guy running the hostel helpful, fun, and cute, and our room, albeit it had 10 beds, was really nice. Emily and I were starving, so after putting our stuff up, wiping the sweat off our bodies, and putting on deoderant, we went to a local fish restaurant that was highly recommended to us (that was oddly named Casa da India).

restaurante-lisboa-casa-da-indiaYEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH BUDDY. Maybe it was just because I was starving, but that was honestly one of the best meals that I had while being abroad. We also had a fun experience with our waiter, who didn’t speak any English or Spanish. There was a lot of pointing and smiling and terrible Portuguese accents.

Emily wasn’t in the mood to go out, but I reminded her that we were only going to be in Lisbon for one night, so we hit this set of streets in the city with a lot of bars and music and young people. The night was …. eventful….to say the least. Amongst the fun characters were met was an Italian man that was far too old, two Dutch guys that had some pretty skewed views of the U.S., and a couple American girls that bought us drinks. But I’ll spare you the *boring*  details of the night and fast forward to the next day.

We went to Belém the next day, a historicallly religious area of Lisbon (the name Belém is actually derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem). There we browsed around some markets,

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walked along the river (or the reever, as the cute hostel guy called it with his Portuguese accent),

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and toured the chapel in Jerónimos Monastery.

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My Grandma was just visiting my family this week for Christmas, and while I was showing her pictures of my time abroad, she pointed to the picture of Jerónimos Monastery and said that she remembered going there when she was in Lisbon over 30 years ago! I thought that was pretty cool. Synchronicity, man!

We also tried the world-famous Belém pastry, the “pastel de nata”. Unfortunately we ate it so fast that we forgot to take photos — it was that good, people! Imagine plasma french toast wrapped up in a crispy crust and sprinkled with cinnamon. Here’s a random photo I found on google, but please understand that this does not do it justice:

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We went to the most famous pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém, where the line was hella long, but the pastries are sold pretty much all over the city, and I’m sure they’re just as good at the other places.

After a nice lunch (which Emily kindly paid for, seeing as my wallet was *still* stolen), we made our way back into the center of the city and walked around for a bit, and then made our way to this lookout point that we had heard good things about.

It took us forever to find it. We had to stop and ask several people along the way, and the language barrier didn’t help. We ended up walking through the culturally Indian neighborhood of the city and stopped seeing women on the street, so it was a little disconcerting to be surrounded ONLY by men.

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on the way to the top

But, after climbing some of the biggest hills since Granada, we made it to the top of the lookout!

I honestly have no words.

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That terrible quality pictures does not even compare to the view. Seriously. Emily and I sat down and just stared over the city for a good half hour (maybe longer … we lost track).We didn’t talk. We were in a trance, mesmerized by the lights and the shapes of the curvy city. When we left to walk back down into the center, we were still completely silent. I’ve meditated before, but never to that extent. I literally felt like I was on drugs, people. It was just …. peaceful? But more than that. I don’t know. I feel like I’m Siddhartha, trying to describe his epiphany. Just know that it was awesome. It was incredible. And I’d definitely go back to Lisbon just to experience that again.

We spent the rest of the night just wandering around the center of the city. We watched some street performers (with amazing voices!) for a while, and walked down to the water for a bit. Then we made our way to the bus station to catch our 6 hour bus back to Sevilla, which was NOT fun. Ummm, guys, I thought it was an unspoken rule that when there’s someone behind you, you don’t recline your seat on public transportation. WHAT GIVES? Everyone had their seat reclined. And I’m 5’10”, people. I’ve got some long legs. The bus was tiny and smelled strange. I didn’t sleep at all. Just stared miserably up on the ceiling and prayed for it to be over. An unfortunate end to a wonderful trip.

**sorry for the lack of pictures in this post, guys. Lisbon was absolutely beautiful and I honestly just forgot to take photos when I saw pretty things!!**

Lisbon rating (out of 10 stars): 9

Would I go again? Absolutely! I’d pay for it!

Best part: The look of the city — everything is stone, the buildings are  old and rustic-looking. It has a cool vibe!

Worst part: The hills, although I will admit that the city wouldn’t be the same without them.

Overall impressions: My second favorite city while traveling (after Brussels). I really don’t think I spent enough time there and am looking forward to going back some day! It’s a city, but has more of a “town” vibe. There aren’t tons of cars everywhere, and everything seems sort of … quaint. And there are so many different sections of the city, like Belém, the waterfront, the area where the lookout was. Walking through Lisbon for 30 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve just walked through 3 or 4 different cities.  The look of the town also reminded me of San Francisco, with the hills and the trams.