Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ma prèmière semaine!

This has been both the fastest and slowest week of my entire life. Tyler qnd I drove with my mom where she dropped us off at Sky Harbor for our first flight to Philadelphia. We played egyptian ratscrew and war, got one last bottle full of nasty Phoenix tap water; and looked up French phrases in our book before boarding. The flight wasn't completely unbearable and although I wasn't happy about foregoing my window seat so that Tyler could cozy up to the wall with my Toy Story alien travel pillow, I at least got to watch Freddie Highmore play a set of American-accented twins in Spiderwick Chronicles.

At the Philadelphia airport, we wandered around until we ran into a Sbarro's for lunch (my supreme slice of pizza left something to be desired compared to my latter Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffle, sandwiches in Amsterdam, le classique sandzich thon dans le Bellecour à Lyon; and le canard at the Chinese restaurant called La Capitale in my new neighborhood) and then took pictures of the cool artwork on the way to the International terminal (again, it is nothing compared to the musée de beaux-arts à Bruxelles or the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam). Anyway, our flight left around 8 and even though ourplane was fairly s,all; it took about two hours for us to get our dinner and first drinks... all we really wanted was to try and sleep.

Unfortunately, Tyler and I were both extremely uncomfortable and cramped - of course, not too much else could really be expected: So by the time we landed in Brussels, I was
a) still on 3 am AZ time and b) I zas terrified to have to already be jumping into a francophone country.

Our luggage made it to us but dragging my suitcase around through the airport looking for the train station and then searching Brussels for our would have been terrible if Tyler wasn't there to help me up and dozn all of the stairs - or, better put, lack of escalators. Even in our sleepy stupor though, finding our way to our destination was fairly easy and we didn't have any major problems. We were supposed to get a private double bedroom with a shared bathroom but the hotel ended up giving us a triple private bedroom with our own shower, sink, and tv... but no toilet. Our shared toilet was down the hall.

At this point, our experiences in Brussels kind of blend together. From what I remember, we were both really hungry; so we decided to clean up and head out to look for the main tourist area, La Grand Place, so we could get something to eat. We got a little lost since we started walking in the complete opposite direction, but our empty stomachs helped us find our way. We literally ran into Mannekin Pis (the bronze statue of a young boy peeing into the fountain below him). Believe it or not, this statue is one of the main tourist attractions in Brussels. It makes for interesting souvenirs to say the least. We walked around and admired the idyllic cobblestone streets, small shops, and cafés until we eventually ran into the elaborate, massive guildhalls of the Grand Place. However, I was too hungry to take pictures and we headed back for some pitas at a small place. Ordering in French to a real French speaker was both very nerve-wracking for me and very silly of me.

Since European waiters seldom come back to the table once the customers get their food, it took me a good ten minutes to work up the courage to walk into the indoor section to ask for "l'addition,s'il vous plait." After that; we did a lot of wandering around and looking at the various shops until we were too tired and went to grab a few essentials from the store and took a long nap before checking out the nightlife a bit.

The next day we got up fairly early and decided to go to the fine art museum. We saw some amazing graffiti on the way but INCREDIBLE art inside le musée de beaux-arts. I took a ton of pictures and we took a break to get a nice lunch at a café down the street. Afterwards, we saw some modern art and then went to a very nice park across from the European Union. Then we left to do some more walking around and so,e shopping before going to the hotel to rest. That night we got some dinner at a café and Spain won the semi-finals in soccer, so people were all going crazy yelling even though they zere Belgians! A huge road was blocked off and completely filled with people decked out in red and yellow jerseys and flags. It was getting late so we headed home and unfortunately we ran into trouble.

This guy asked Tyler if he had any cigarettes and Tyler said no but the guy started acting goofy and giving hi, high fives and stuff before walking away. We both thought it was really bizarre... and then it hit us - where was Tyler's wallet? Of course with Tyler's luck, the man was a pickpocket and was nowhere in sight. We went back to the hotel where we explained the situation so that we could get a new room key and then Tyler did his best to make all the necessary phonecalls and earning T-mobile a fortune in international call charges. It was ridiculous and neither of us slept well - all we could think about was how on earth we would finish the trip if Tyler didn't have a debit or credit card. The next day, we got up early and went to the train station to get answers for certain questions about our Eurail passes and other train tickets before leaving for Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is first and foremost a tourist city. English is spoken everywhere you go and the tiny streets are lined wieth buildings that see, to lean into each other. Our hostel was nice and we met lots of American college kids like us. We made friends easily and Dave met us there too. Tyler was able to figure out his money situation before we went to walk around the canals, eat lunch, take picturesn and feed the ducks in the canal. After that; we hung out in our hostel and talked with other people about what to do in the city beofre going to a Chinese buffet and falling asleep from nine to twelve at our hostel before going out for a few more hours. Again, everyone spoke English and most of the music at the bars were Top 40 hits from the late nineties. Afterwards we did some walking around the red light district and despite the bikini-clad women in the blacklight window displays, the bridges were lit up beautifully and the lights reflecting off the canal water made a beautiful picture.

The next day we got up early and bought some delicious apple turnovers before taking the tramway to the Van Gogh museum and Vondel Park. The museum was amazing and although we weren't allowed to take pictures, I bought some postcards and took a few pictures outside.
Then we watched street performers from ouside a coffeeshop and then went to hang out with people from our hostel (not the seventy year old Spanish man that moved in the second day) before going to bed.

The next day, we went out to breakfast (apple pie with vanilla ice cream mmm) and then to the house where Anne Frank stayed with her family in hiding during WWII. Again, we couldn't take pictures but it was an incredibly moving experience. Of course the neighborhood has undergone many changes since then and the rooms of their secret annex are kept unfurnished aside from old documents in glass cases and televisions showing short interviews of the people who knew Anne and survived the war, including Miep Gies and Otto Frank, Anne's father.

A facsimile of the diary was there because of climate control issues but what I thought was interesting was that the actress who received an Academy award for her portayal of Mrs. VanPels in the film donated her Oscar to the museum. I was so glad that I was able to see the building and although the museum was much smaller then the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., hearing and reading the words of Qnne Frank's diary while in this place was just as ,oving and i,portant to me as the other museum. I've known her story since childhood and when I started my first journal, I named my journal and wrote a short letter to the reader just as she did.

Anyway, we visited the Rijksmuseum right next to the Van Gogh museum and saw wonderful masterpieces like "Night Watch" and other Rembrandts as well as other works of art important to the history of the Netherlands. Again, no pictures but it was wonderful.

I had some trouble getting a train ticket for Lyon because I didn't reserve my seat in time to avoid buying an actual ticket, but I ended up at Lyon Part-Dieu in one piece after Tyler said goodbye to me. He got to spend his birthday in Berlin! :)

Next I took a taxi in just a few minutes to the residence where I got my room key for room 336. In France, the floor numbers start at zero so my room is actually on the fourth floor. I didn't notice the elevator on my way into the building so I ended up dragging my 46.5 pound suitcase up four flights of non-air-conditioned stairwell in a seemingly abandoned residence. As soon as I got into my room, I jumped in the shower and emptied the contents of my suitcase before begrudgingly noticing and riding the elevator down to the ground floor for a 6 o'clock meeting. After the meeting, me and Katie, a girl I knew before the program started, went to the grocery store with me before we went out to dinner with a few people at an adorable, nice Chinese restaurant down the street. It was soooo good and I loved finally getting to really hang out with the other people in the program.

The next day, the director Dr. Canovas and assistants Barbara and Shannon showed us how to use the metro and lightrail to get to our university (CIEF) and it wasn't too complicqted. Then we took the written portion of our placement exam. We had to write a story based off an illustration of an angry dog barking at a family sitting on top of a bureau. Pretty odd.

Afterward, we went down the street and across the Rhone river to grab a quick lunch and since Katie's bag got lost by the airlines, I helped her find some clothes after we went back to the university to reserve our spots for the weekend trip to Avignon on July 19th and 20th. After that, we took our oral and reading exam in a computer lab and it was really really really difficult. Then we did a little bit of shopping for school supplies before going on a three hour bus tour through Lyon. It was awesome!

We saw beautiful roman ruins, two amazing cathedrals that hopefully I'll be able to attend mass at this Sunday, and other neat places in Vieux Lyon - I have tons of pictures.
We were exhausted by the end of it because although we were on a bus tour, a lot of walking was involved. Katie and I went back to the residence to finish off our baguettes and some Oreos and then I stayed up to start writing what you see before you (minus all of the spelling and punctuation mistakes because of this crazy keyboard!!!!).

So this morning we went to CIEF at nine to see what classes we got and I am in Theatre, Art Ville Patrimoine, and Création de Jeux. The first was a fun acting class and the second is all about learning the art, cities, and heritage of France. So far the classes seem really challenging and I won't know how création de jeux is until tomorrow. So far, I'm practically drowning in French, but I think I'm going to learn A LOT. I'm amazed by how much I actually understand and I'm happy that I got into the upper level courses. However, if it gets to be too much, I can move down a level. Sometimes I'll recognize words, but not remember what they mean exactly.

So now I'm just waiting for Katie to finish her class so we can run down to the grocery store to get some much needed food!
The computer here has a USB plug-in, so I'm going to put up at least a few pictures when I get some more free time - probably this weekend.

I miss and love you all and I'm always thinking of you!!!!!
Love love love,


  1. It was so good to be able to get more than a text message. I was hearing your voice as I was reading it. Lots has happened to you in a week. Wow! Can't wait to see pictures. Love you Kates, Mom

  2. ah I'm so jealous! I want to see all the pictures when you get back! That does super suck about Tyler's wallet though, just your luck! Everything else sounds so amazing, the cites, the people, the fooood! Good times!