Holla Holland

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“The bench” from The Fault in Our Stars. It was okay.

 My parents would never believe this, but somehow I’ve claimed the role of navigator among my group of six travel buddies. Call me Sacagawea.

When I turned 16, my parents made me take a map test of Dallas before they would let me get my driver’s license. I’m not sure if it’s that, instinct, or blind-confidence, but I have actually done a decent job of getting our group where we need to be, whether it be in Brussels, or this past weekend, Amsterdam.

On Friday afternoon, we got out of class, packed up our backpacks, and jumped on a three-hour Megabus to The Netherlands.

Despite excellent signage, Amsterdam was more difficult to navigate than Brussels, simply because everything is in Dutch. But we never really got lost. And more importantly, we found a cheese shop (pretty sure this was my instincts kicking in, because as you know, I love cheese).

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In our first lap around the Amsterdam Cheese Company, I ate at least 15 little cubes of Dutch deliciousness. I’m ashamed to say that that first time was a munch-and-dash, as I didn’t actually buy anything.

But I redeemed myself by stopping back in later and coming out with a three-pound wheel of gouda. I have no idea how I’m going to eat an entire wheel of gouda before it goes bad, but I guess I’ll just have to lean on my roomie Sam (lucky you, Sam).

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In addition to some rad cheese, Amsterdam gave me my first hostel experience. And it was definitely interesting. A booking snafu meant spending the first night in a room with two girls from my group and three boys that we didn’t know at all. 22 a night also meant that the place wasn’t very clean, but I’m not really sure what I expected.

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Amsterdam has a few eateries with hot vending machines. This is a super cool, convenient way to buy food if you’re like me—cheap and afraid of talking to people.

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Unfortunately, like I mentioned before, everything here is in Dutch, so I ended up spending 1.60 on this:

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Is it a sausage? No. Is it a corndog? No. Is it a fried twinky? Nope.

It’s fried gravy. A big ole cylinder of fried gravy. Do I regret it? No. But 2/10 would not buy again.

Along with a lot of cheese, a confused stomach, and lots of dirty laundry, I brought home a dozen bruises from climbing up on this sign:

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Still no regrets.

It’s hard to believe that I only have 14 weeks left of this crazy adventure, and that I’ve already done so much in the three weeks I’ve been here.

This coming weekend I’ll be jumping on a plane to the UK. London, you ready for me?

 

Sunday’s oranges and perspective

This week, I got thwacked over the head by a nasty cold, and, admittedly, a significant bout of homesickness. The combination of being stuck in bed with a fever and knowing that all of my friends are headed back to Mizzou lead to some serious FOMO.*

On Sunday, I got off my lazy, sick behind and went down to a local market at the Gare du Midi train station here in Brussels. The place was bustling with people looking for clothing, hygiene products, and produce. The vendors competed with each other to see who could yell their low price the loudest. It was almost theatrical.

Walking through the maze of people, I quickly noticed that a lot of them looked like me: homesick.

There are currently around 30,000 refugees in Brussels, which has posed a problem for the city’s infrastructure. The city is trying to provide integration programs for the refugees, but the numbers are overwhelming. And to what extent could an integration program deal with the homesickness?

I’m lucky that much happier circumstances brought me to this city. But I think that the refugees are in good hands in Brussels. On top of the effort that the local government is putting forth, this is a city of immigrants. Over half of the population of Brussels was born outside of Brussels. It’s a common thread that’s tied me to most of the people I’ve met here, we’re all a little out of place, and all a little homesick.

I left the market with two important things: a bag of oranges for my cold, and a whole lot of perspective for my homesick soul.

The most important meal of the day

Today I started my internship at SWIFT, about three hours late.

The SWIFT headquarters is called a “campus” and is located outside of Brussels. So my Mizzou classmate, Amy, and I set out this morning at 7:20 to figure out the public transportation.

We were both incredibly nervous beforehand, but managed to buy tickets and get on the correct bus without a hitch. However, when we reached our stop at the Delta bus station, we couldn’t find “Step Two” of our commute, which was a private shuttle to the headquarters.

After running around and searching for the station and realizing at 8:30 that we were not going to catch the 8:20 shuttle, we called our supervisor for a plan. We spent the next hour deciding whether to figure out the train system, hail a cab, or just go home and try again tomorrow. I’m proud to say that we chose option B.

Unfortunately, when you don’t know a city very well, it’s pretty difficult to direct a cab to your location. We spent about 30 minutes playing phone tag with the frustrated cab driver before surrendering to a local woman who explained the location for us in French (did I mention how nice the people are here?)

The entire cab ride to the headquarters, Amy and I mulled over the entire yucky morning, only to decide that this was really one of those things where we did everything we could (we researched, asked for help, and were patient) with one exception: neither of us had breakfast.

Moral of the story? Eat a balanced breakfast, kids. It’s supremely embarrassing to be late on your first day.

Bonjour, Belgium

 

I have officially survived my first five days in Brussels!

This place really agrees with me. Not only is it beautiful and full of insanely friendly people, the food. is. phenomenal.

On the first night, I tried Lapin a la Kriek, or rabbit in cherry beer at Volle Gas. It was surprisingly delicious, but so heavy that I likely won’t be seeking it out often.

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photo taken by Samantha Kummerer

For the first couple days it felt like I was on vacation. The reality that I’ll be here for four months really sunk in when I sprung for a whole jar of Dijon mustard at what I’m sure will be my regular grocery store, Delhaize.

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t try my first Belgian waffle until my third day, which might mean I’m going to get deported. Those things 100 percent live up to the hype. They have a sticky, crunchy, caramelized exterior with a soft doughy interior. The chocolate sauce certainly didn’t hurt.

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The biggest shock of the trip so far is that yours truly is actually enjoying the beer. We’ve made the trek from our apartment in the uptown neighborhood of Ixelles to Delirium Cafe in downtown a couple of times to check out the bar’s 4,000 beers. I’ve only managed to try four of them thus far, but maybe I will have made a dent by the end of the semester.

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On our third night, the girls and I stumbled upon what the locals consider the best frites in Belgium. While we were waiting in line, a woman came up to our group of seven and handed each of us a frite with Brazil sauce, which seems to be a kind of curry mayo that was outrageously good.

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I’ve been working on my French a little, but I keep accidentally saying “si” instead of “we” which gives me away when interacting with cashiers. That’s what 15 years of Spanish classes will do to ya.

I’m proud to say that all of the locals I’ve talked to have said that they didn’t know my friends and I are American until they hear us talk, so I guess we’re settling in all right.

Tomorrow is day six of 115 in this delicious city, I can’t wait to see what’ll be on my fork next!