You can go home again: Pt 2

I came home, but left a lot of my heart across the pond.

I know I KNOW y’all are tired of hearing that I miss Europe. But I do. A ton. And this blog is my party so I’ll cry if I want to.

What exactly am I crying about? Here’s an itemized list!

  1. BREAD: There was a certain period of time that I said I would fill my luggage with bread when I went home. That passed because I realized that I love my clothes too much but seriously the bread in Europe was insanely delicious. On several occasions I stopped by Delhaize on a Friday afternoon for groceries and would leave ripping my warm baguette from the bag as I walked. So darn good. Also, shout out to Hanna Knutson for always being the one to ask “Is there free bread?” at restaurants across the continent. You are the real MVP.
  2. Haribo Golden Bears- I’m a bit of a candy fiend. I’ve been getting into candy-related trouble since the third grade when I stole my sisters’ Halloween candy (it was a dark period in my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever escape my reputation as The Candy Thief). In my daily life, I try to avoid candy altogether because I’m an addict and there’s no such thing as “moderation” between me and refined sugars. But in Belgium, I faced my biggest tempter yet: authentic Haribo Golden Bears. These little treats are addictive in the US, but something about the Belgian version (perhaps the proximity to their birthplace, Bonn) was no match for my self-control. I went through at least a bag a week.
  3. The architecture: Walking from my apartment to Place Flagey, there was a certain point where an old church came into view. It’s not a particularly attractive landmark, but for some reason whenever I saw it I took a minute to think “Wow, I’m really here.” I got a similar feeling as I looked out the train window when traveling to and from small towns in Belgium, counting the dozens of little chapels that dot the countryside. I could sense the depth of history behind each casually-placed structure. For locals, I’m sure these buildings are just stacks of old bricks, but they continually made my heart swell. 13173587_10209048632475120_1555362490146672070_o.jpg
  4. Accents: I was abroad for so long that I guess I stopped noticing foreign accents and became more sensitive to hearing American accents. Now that I’ve had my feet firmly on US soil for a few weeks, every time I hear a European accent my heart hurts a little. For some reason words are just so much more interesting when they don’t sound like my own.
  5. European style: Europeans just know how to dress. Even when wearing sweatpants they still looked cooler than I think I ever will.
  6. Walking: I can say with a high degree of certainty that I would have gained 30 lbs this semester had it not been for all of the walking. I remember when my parents flew to BXL at the end of my program and I gave them a walking tour of the city, they almost couldn’t keep up. This is shocking because they’re both in excellent shape and I’m boasting a pair of grade-A chicken legs. Yet an entire semester of romping around different European cities on foot (mainly out of stinginess) made me into an excellent walker. Now I feel like a dingus as I get in my car every morning and drive one mile in three minutes to my internship.
  7. Public transportation: Don’t get me wrong, I missed my car, Satan (named affectionately), a lot. He’s the only one who ever gets to hear me sing. But gas costs money and parking is hard and sometimes I find myself wanting to hop on the 71 Delta bus.
  8. Euros: Seriously, America, why is our money so boring? I want colorful bills. And I want deceptive $1 and $2 coins that make me feel like I’m not spending as much as I am.
  9. The ability to run away for the weekend: I keep getting email marketing from RyanAir and Vueling telling me how easy it is to get to another city this weekend! Ha ha…maybe if I had a couple grand to spare. Which after five months at an unpaid internship, I most certainly do not.
  10. Confidence: I know it’s cliché, but studying abroad did have a profound, lasting impact on my character. I’ve always been pretty introverted, and I’ve always enjoyed existing inside my comfort zone. But from the moment I hit the tarmac in Brussels in January, I began to transform into someone who isn’t afraid to speak up, isn’t afraid to take a leadership position, isn’t afraid to walk up to a stranger for whatever reason, and most importantly, isn’t afraid to stand alone in the middle of a bustling city. I’ve found that having settled back into my comfort zone in the past couple weeks, I feel that confidence a lot less, but that’s just motivation to get back out there and see the world ASAP.

As with my Belgian one, this isn’t exhaustive. I miss so many things that it’d be insulting if I tried to put them on a single post.

I miss ya terribly, Europe. But I’ll be back!

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Pour one out…

This weekend I booked an impromptu trip up to Dublin because I thought it was about time I meet Niall Horan. Unfortunately we had a bit of miscommunication and he was in Asia this weekend but holy cow Dublin was awesome nonetheless.

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Unlike London or Paris, Dublin doesn’t have a laundry list of tourist attractions, which meant the trip was pretty low-key. I checked out the Temple Bar area, walked around the Trinity University campus, and of course went to the Guinness Storehouse.

Warning: What comes next isn’t light and fluffy like a Belgian waffle.

Prior to coming to Belgium, I wasn’t a beer drinker. Perhaps that’s because I hadn’t been introduced to the right beers since your average college student lives by Natty Light and Keystone, which are affectionately(¿) equated with horse urine.

The biggest beer lover I’ve ever known was my best friend Jake. Just last year he taught me how to shotgun PBR like a pro. He had his own beer-making kit but never really mastered it, in fact the first batch he made was so carbonated that there’s a dent in his ceiling from when he opened it. He’d invite me over for Black Velvets (cider and Guinness) and would roll his eyes when I downed all of the cider.

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Jake really loved beer:

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A few hours after this photo was taken on December 12, 2015, Jake committed suicide.

I’m sure at least half of the people who read this will think that’s an over-share, and that WordPress isn’t the place for that kind of candor. But I’m hardly sensitive to the suicide stigma anymore. This post is definitely an outlier compared to my other happy-go-lucky “Look at this cheese!”-esque ones, but I’m determined to document my entire study abroad experience, not just the pretty things.

Europe has been amazing thus far, but it does feel a lot like I’m carrying an elephant with me everywhere I go.

As I walked through the Guinness Storehouse, that elephant was extra heavy. I so desperately needed to text him to tell him that I was there, to brag that I snagged two tasting samples instead of one, and to say I am officially certified to pour my own Guinness.

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I texted a friend back in Columbia who’s held my hand through all of this and he gently reminded me for the millionth time that I’m so lucky to be in Europe.

I could have easily cancelled this study abroad adventure. I almost did. But I could hear Jake’s voice in my head telling me that I had to go. And every day I hear that same voice telling me: “Wipe your eyes and hit the cobblestones, Stinks.”

Irish people are some of the happiest I’ve ever met. From waiters to cabbies to airport gate agents, everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. And that’s not to say that if you live in Ireland you don’t have your dark passengers, because I’m sure they do. But learning to live and thrive in the company of those passengers is an art that apparently the Irish have mastered.

When I look at my life right now, I’m honestly in awe. I have an incredible network of friends across the globe who would drop anything to hold my hand. I have a family that loves and supports me unconditionally. And I’m sitting in my apartment in Brussels writing about a weekend in Dublin.

Two months ago the world lost an incredible person. And I’ll never be okay with that. But there’s still a whole lot of incredible places to see, people to meet, and beer to drink.

Cheers to you, Jakey;

 

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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?

 

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!