The following is a post I wrote for some friends on another blog last April after a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. It is beautiful outside today, and only a combination of will power and desperation is keeping me inside to study. After 17 consecutive days of having friends and/or family in town visiting, I'm desperately behind on my work, and feel the onset of what I suspect might be panic. Either that or it's a heart attack. Either way, not good. I have stapled myself to my desk chair in a last-ditch attempt to keep myself from running outside to enjoy the beautiful spring weather before it turns boiling hot for summer, and every time I want to get up and run around, I say to myself "Listen missy, this is not your best effort. Sit down and study before I call Mom and tell her you're not doing your homework." So my body is at my desk, and my brain is even somewhat engaged in learning. But my mind? My mind is quite far away, on a wonderful European getaway...
April something-or-other, 2007.
J'suis arrive!! (I'm not at all sure what that means, or if i've spelled it correctly, but I think it means "i'm back!") Welcome home, Cheastypants. i just had the most fantastic vacation EVER, and i'd like to tell you all about it. Sadly, there's too much to tell, so i'll just hit some highlights. And pictures. But here's the cool thing i did -- i brought my digital voice recorder with me to Europe so I could tell you the stories sort of as-they-happen. It's pretty funny. I looked ridiculous talking into the damn thing, but every time I felt self-conscious I'd assume an alternate identity. "I am a spy." Or, "I am a very busy and important businesswoman dictating notes for my hot male secretary." Or, "I am a forensic anthropologist." (That last one was harder to imagine on the placid cobbled streets of western European cities, but all three were fun.) The neat thing about the recordings is that on top of my dulcet and mellifluous voice you can hear all the background noises like horses clopping by, bus doors opening and closing, accordions playing, music, and all that stuff.
First I went to a city called Groningen, in the Netherlands, to visit my friend Fifi. Strangely enough, five of my friends from Austin were all going to be in Europe on the same weekend, so we all flew to the same place and had a wild-ass party (there's a picture of me literally swinging from the rafters. I'd post it, but i'm wearing a little black dress and hot pink panties. Not for general consumption, if you know what i mean.
Getting there was fun. I suppose I could say that things went relatively smoothly, but only if by "relatively smoothly" I really meant to say "actually I ended up in the wrong city entirely." It was unbelievably weird. I accidentally ended up in a parallel universe -- the city i went to is called Gorinchem, which in Dutch is a homonym for Groningen, apparently, which explains why the woman at the ticket counter sold me the wrong ticket, and why none of the 5 people I asked along the way told me I was going to the wrong place. And then when I got there, (here's the really strange part) the city looked JUST like the sketchy map Fifi had sent (same roads and marketplaces) and it took me a LONG time to realize I was in the wrong city. Who knew that you pronouce "Gorinchem" and "Groningen" almost exactly the same in Dutch? At any rate, I eventually gave up wandering. My suitcase was heavy and I was fatigued, so eventually I stumbed into a bar (naturally) and here the story gets better, because I got free beer from a very nice bartender, even though it was still only 11 am. But really I'd been awake for like 36 hours at that point, so who cares, right? He was so nice, and figured out where I was going and how to get there for me. He even let me use his cell phone to call Fifi, who was wondering why I wasn't at the train station when I said I would be. Oh, you're in another part of the Netherlands, Cheasty? Somehow, she wasn't surprised. But then again, this is me, so neither was I. A few beers later I was feeling somewhat fortified, so I toddled drunkenly back to the train station and found my way to the REAL Groningen where we proceeded to have the aforementioned wild-ass party. Theme: Bratislavan Poetry Slam and Dance-o-Mania. Insane! I'd love to show you pictures, but perhaps the following shot from the morning after will express better than all the rest just how much fun the previous night was. (note: that is my REAL hair. and my face doesn't even look like that. It might be a mask.)
Oh, fine. I'm going to show you this other picture just cause I look really funny. Like an ad for Teen Spirit or something.
Anyway, the rest of the weekend was fantastic. Fifi, Cookie, Schwupna and I did much eating, and walking and feeding ducks in the loovely parks. Spring was just begining to spring, and everything looked so beautiful. Want to see something funny? This is what happens when a cute boy rides his bike past 3 single girls (I swear this really happened):
Sigh.... But all good things must come to an end, so I packed up my baggies and took off for the wonderful city of Bruges, Belgium. What joy, what bliss! It's a living breathing fairy tale. All these canals and bridges, and boats and cobblestone streets and gothic architecture, windmills and secret gardens, and outdoor cafes, and happy people on bicycles and pretty horses looking happy in the harness carrying happy people in carriages. it was quite possibly the most surreal-ly perfect-but-not-like-Disney-perfect place I've ever been.
Of course, I had work to do, so I studied REALLY REALLY hard:
I wish I could show you all these pictures, cause they're so beautiful. I'll post some others on Ojo de Aguila later and you can check them out there. But first, here's a pretty pictures of tulips in the town square:
and a canal:
and lest you think the whole thing was just too bizarro world, there was a little carnival in the town square, too, so here's a picture of the circus ride in front of the 11th century town belfry tower. So bizarre.
I must've walked a marathon checking out the whole town. It was awesome and romantic, and I want to go back someday. The conference, however, beckoned me on to Brussels, so off I went. Luckily, my friend Caroline came over from England to hang out for a long weekend. We promptly got in trouble, as we always do. Apparently the hostel we were staying at had a 1am curfew (who knew?) and we were out drinking, gabbing up a storm, met some Argentinians, etc. Long story short, we got locked out and so I started whistling up the windows trying to wake somebody up to let us in. Some girls heard us and tried to open the door for us, but it was locked from the inside (FIRE HAZARD!!! but we won't go into that now). We were getting a little desperate, so I upped the noise level, and eventually convinced some boys on the second floor to drop down their bedsheets so we could climb up the walls and in their window. We did, laughing our pants off the whole way.
The conference went really well (I presented in Spanish for the first time!) but really, who cares, so I'll tell you other more interesting things instead. Like all about the marvels of Brussels. Gorgeous gothic architecture and picturesque plazas:
But right next to gorgeous archictecture are really awesome murals (some very very funny) of Belgian comic book characters. Apparently Belgium is called the Capital of Comics, or some such honorific. At any rate, it's the home of TinTin. Here's a picture of a Devil roasting the remains of what appears to be a man, but he's mad cause an angel is watering flowers above him and the water is splattering on his fire. (strange, strange city)
But strange or not, this is an interesting city. It is a city that does things. Builds things. European parliaments, international business. The people are insanely helpful and friendly, and every conversation starts with a listing of languages to find the one they have in common. Yet it's so quirky, too. For example, they see apparently no contradiction in building a bowling alley right next to a remnant of the medieval city wall. (Note: the wall itself is HUGE. The bowling alley is just huger.)
The Belgians are famous (rightly so) for their beer and chocolate, but here's a little known secret. Unbelievable pastry shops. Stunningly, indescribably, beautifully, decadently delicious. Light flaky fluffy... God. I could droooool just remembering it.
I never wanted to leave. But as I believe I mentioned before, all good things must come to an end. I can't wait to go back one day, but for now, there are thngs to be done here. Like reading papers, grading papers, writing papers, eating papers... (er, scratch that last). Over and out, munchkins. Love yas.