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Friday, December 23, 2011

JOYEUX GREVE

 I was supposed to post sooner ... MY B .
        I'm going to blame it on the string of events that have happened in the last week or so.

     First thing's first . The strike. Europe is notorious for having strikes, its part of the culture. LUCKY ME was affected by the impromptu public transportation strike that happened on Tuesday. Normally the company workers give you a bit of warning before they go on strike. NOT THIS TIME . I was in Liege for the day with some friends when I got about a half a dozen calls and texts from my host mom telling me that the trains had gone on strike. SO I was stuck , in Liege, 2 hours away from home ( that seems like nothing to us but its far for Belgium). Not to mention it was exactly one week after the grenade attack in Liege as well. We were actually at the memorial service when I found out.
     I wasn't concerned about finding a place to stay in Liege because there are plenty of exchange students to grovel to that live there. I had a place for the night with a friend and woke up the next morning thinking it was like 8 or so ... it was 11 . WELL DONE. We get up get dressed and try to find the bus stop. As we're waiting two empty buses pass us and we instantly thought that the buses had gone on strike too. Luckily we just we're looking at the wrong schedule . The bus came , we took it in vain to the train station, only to find that there weren't anyyyyy trains going anywhere. Except out of Belgium. I felt bad when I told disoriented travelers that there train was in fact not going to be showing up any time soon. We were waiting inside the INCREDIBLY FREEZING train station when a man asked us if we wanted to split a taxi with him to Brussels for only 45 euros per person. WHATADEAL.. He was pretty convinced that there were going to be trains in Brussels , he must have not been Belgian. The strike was all over Belgium so we would have just been stranded in another city.
   So I called my host dad and explained that there weren't any trains going anywhere and the strike was going to last until ten pm the following day. I didn't really feel like spending anymore time in Liege too. He drove all the way to Liege to pick us up ! He's a great guy really , and its not like we had any other way of getting home. I felt bad that he had to do it though, I know it wasn't my fault but just to be nice I bought him a bottle of champagne and greeted him with JOYEUX GREVE when he showed up.
   Since we had PLENTY of time on the ride home , he explained to us why the government workers were all one strike. They raised the retirement age . I think it was to like 55 or something . I wasn't impressed with their reasoning for the strike when Americans retire much later in life, but I also think we work a lot more.
    Going in reverse chronological order... Sunday I went to PARIS.
          It was supposed to be a surprise trip from my host parents but they're like you're always busy with plans so we had to ask ahead. I WILL CLEAR MY PLAN BOOK FOR PARIS. We we're really lucky the weather was GORGEOUS , sunny, not cold at all. Plus the drive isn't far for me because I live on the border !
   The city was amazing , I didn't think I'd love it as much as I did just because its cliche . Nevertheless it was amazing. I don't know why but the size of everything impressed me . I knew that the Eiffel tower was bit but not THAT BIG . We started out tour with Sacre Coeur in the district of Montmartre . Easily my favorite because it has the atmosphere of a small town , quiet , artsy but its set up on a hill and you look out and the rest of Paris is spread out before you.
     After we went to the Eiffel tower and after waiting in an incredibly long line we took a lift all the way to the top ! We ate at a Brasserie that is popular with Parisians and tourists and it was delicious. After we ate we just drove around and saw the sights by night. The Louvre , Champs De Elysee, Moulin Rouge..ect. One day was not enough time to see everything fully and experience all Paris have to offer but I can promise that I will be going back .
       Christmas is ALMOST HERE, and its raining... and warm. It snowed last Friday but it was weak sauce... Apparently they don't get "serious snow" until next month , so like 10 centimeters . It will be weird to be away from home for the holidays , I'm not going to lie. On the other hand though I've had 17 years of American Christmas' I think i can spare one for Belgium.
   In closing I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year ( because it'll be your last ,the world is ending next year, dontchaknow?) . But Seriously... Good health , good times , and best wishes for the rest of this year and the next. And a big thank you to those serving in the military , big milestone ending the war in Iraq!
I don't think I need to tell you what this is.
Top of the Eiffel Tower with my host parents !
View of Paris from Sacre Coeur

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Liege

Normally I don't post this frequently but when something happens like this I should say something.
   Today , Ironically enough is the 4 month anniversary of me arriving here, and to celebrate. There's an attack in Liege. This morning in the christmas market in liege a 33 year old man , a known criminal in Liege , launched an attack.He threw four grenades and opened fire into the busy Christmas market. So far four have died and over seventy have been injured including an infant . He took the lives of a 15 yr old boy , 17 yr old boy , 63 year old man and a 75 yr old woman.
    This is where it gets scary for me , there are probably twenty plus exchange students living in and around Liege. I had a friend who was held up in a hair salon just behind the square where the attack happened. Even worse is that I was supposed to go to Liege tomorrow , to visit a friend.CAN YOU IMAGINE if the killer waited a day JUST ONE DAY , I could have easily been apart of it , i could have been the victim .
    Luckily I live pretty far away from Liege and the attacker actually killed himself during the attack. But either way my thoughts are with everyone in Liege , the families of the deceased , the injured , the exchange students there ,ect.  Reste forte la belgique <3


Monday, December 12, 2011

I dunno

Creative title for the post, I know
  But I really don't know what to talk about. This past week I... didn't do that much. Testing has started in school so I don't have to do much . It's not mandatory for me to take the tests but I'm taking a few to work on my french. The time I'm spending at home is nice though I do get to work on my conversational French , for some reason I feel like it's gotten better. This past weekend I went to celebrate a birthday party for an Australian and a goodbye party for an Argentinian  . It was pretty cool to hang out with a bunch of exchangers I usually never see. In my district there aren't many people from the southern hemisphere so I don't know many oldies (the kids from austrialia, south africa, new zealand ect,) but I got to hang out with some of them this weekend and all of them were awesome. It's too bad that they're all leaving within the next few weeks :( . But on the up side that means new people are coming too ! The new kids from the southern hemisphere will be here soon and i'll be able to BOSS THEM AROUND BECAUSE I'LL BE THE OLDIE ( the ones who have been here longer). Brussels is a cool city , everyone knows that but now that it's the holiday season it's gotten sketchy. When my friends and i were waiting in the train station two of them got their bags stolen and when we were in mcdonalds one girl got her iphone stolen. Part of it is us not being careful enough and the other part is us being north americans and not having to deal with petty theft on a day to day basis. It's almost a rite of passage as an exchange student to get something lost or stolen. But the Police really don't seem to care . We went to them to report the stolen things and they're like if we see the guy we'll tell you ... not "we'll look out for them" , and to top it off the computer system was down so they couldn't report the case electronically. I'm sure they're used to foreigners losing stuff all the time and they know that once its gone its gone but they could at least pretend to care.
    Sunday I went to a christmas market in Tournai, I've been there a few times before and its a really pretty city , and even prettier with the christmas stuff out. It's interesting though because Tournai is in wallonia but its close to Flanders and it was occupied by the Spanish way back in the day so it has all these different influences . My host parents asked me what the christmas market in my town was like and i'm like..... hahahaha we dont have one. they didn't believe me .
  Kindof like when i had to explain to them how we dont have train , taxi or bus systems all over the place like they do here. They asked me how i was to get to the town next to mine if i needed to and i said i would drive and if i didn't have a ride i was pretty much SOL. :D I even drew them a map with the train line for commuting in  new york , it's pretty much new york city to montreal and albany to buffalo . THATS IT . I feel like a train system that was in almost every town would be a fantastic idea , people wouldn't have to use cars as much and it would be easier for those that can't drive. But us americans are pretty committed to our 4 mpg suvs and what not ....
     I forgot to mention that we got a REAL Christmas tree the other day, it isn't huge but neither is our house so it's fine. I love it ! We have two now actually and today we were talking about the photo of the Christmas tree my parents just got back home . It's 9.5 feet tall .. ahahahah. and probably cost less then 15 dollars. and then i casually asked how much the tree they got was . 30 euro. thats like 42 us dollars?!?! and they didn't have to buy one they got one because i had mentioned that we always have real ones back home. I'm pretty lucky.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FETES

   This one is a bit late.... LIKE THE BELGIAN GOVERNMENT. But TODAY after 540 some odd days Belgium got it's government back . And i was here for it . booyah
                     Bonne Saint Nicolas everyone!!! Okay non-europeans: Europe, if they want to admit it or not seem to have a deeper connection with religion than the United States , but I think that's because they have more history than us. Saint Nicolas is the Saint for children and suspiciously looks like Santa. And Today is Saint Nicolas day , for kids and students. Some schools have the older kids dress up in lab coats throwing eggs and flour at the lowerclassmen unless they give them money. My school had Saint Nicolas come into the class room with his creepy ( BLATANTLY RACIST) helper , Black Pete. I say blatantly because the person who is to dress up as him is in black face and has red lips... i just end it there and if you're lucky i'll add photos! But when Saint Nicolas comes you have to sing to him and he'll give you Speculoos (this part is unique to belgium). When i got home from school there was a bunch of candy on the table for me because its my holiday I AM STILL A CHILD.
      On Saturday , Audrey Quinn and I went to Brussels AGAIN for the Marche Noel , the Christmas market! It was awesome so much food and hot wine. There was also an ice skating rink , polar bears and a giant Ferris wheel . I'll post the video of us on it. The views were pretty awesome. We also found a giant Asian grocery store which was really cool so i went in and bought a bunch of random food because it was cheap and i like trying new things .
     Sunday was the start of the three day festival of Sainte Cecile , The saint of music ( like the simon and garfunkle song) . The Festival takes place in the city of Binche , Where I'm apart of one of the three Fanfares that play there. SO I HAD TO PARTICIPATE. Sunday we got up very early and the three groups play in the streets from bar to bar . so you just drink and march and play and have a great time. After that there was a big meal for the fanfare i belong to with my host parents, and i was given an award. I am now an honorary member of the  musicians association  of Hainaut ( My Provence) ! I didn't really expect it but I was very flattered! The festival is Sunday , Monday, Tuesday but I really don't have the energy to do all three days. I may have been the youngest one there. but they go hard!!!!
 So you may think , SARAH , You've been in Belgium for a while now , you much be really good at french. and the answer is NO . NO I'M NOT. And I'll tell you why. Because I'm getting the two extremes in school , when I speak with friends they use a lot of slang and local dialects and then when I'm in class I'm getting advanced french , Symbolism , Sciences all in French... I need that middle ground , NORMAL french . So I'm going to.....sign up for courses. I'm really trying to do a lot to keep myself preoccupied here because i know i complain about not hanging out with Belgians outside of school but its somewhat unfair of me to expect them to have a lot of free time. All the 6iemes (seniors) are now cramming for exams and getting ready for college while I get to sit around and maybe do a few tests if it catches my fancy . I'll give it more time. Nevertheless I go to the gym , play in the ensemble with my parents and I wanted to join a volleyball team at the indoor sports place down the street but apparently i don't have enough experience..... SCREW YOU. If anyone knew that i went to Salem for high school they would know i have plenty of experience . We go CRAZY for volleyball. Maybe I'll give Zumba or *shudders* basketball a try.
      Recently a lot of people have been asking me I'm going to be going home for the holidays and even though that would be ideal, I can't . It's not allowed . Then they ask if I'm homesick and and I say not really. It's more of an indifference as of now .ALTHOUGH i'll probably be feeling super crappy on christmas anyway. I'm here , I'm gonna do this. Overall I've realized that Americans are way more independent than Europeans. My main reason, here everyone goes to universities that aren't terribly far from home. they think two and a half hours is a lot. And then they come home every weekend. Americans do the exact opposite , we go to schools across the country , across the continent even , and we stay there, until the holidays. I was trying to explain to people that the school I'm going to be attending when i go back is about 6 hours west. People looked pained . " You're going home every weekend though, right?" they would ask . No .... No i'm not .... To them going home is normal , to us  it's a sign of defeat. NOBODY wants to be that kid that leaves for school august 25th and comes home for labor day weekend, the one that's wandering the halls of the school looking for teachers to visit...