Mussels and Waffels and Beer, OH MY!!

Trip Start Aug 17, 2009
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Trip End Jul 20, 2010


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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hello Again all!

Well, I've certainly had an exciting few days, so this blog post will be rather long, but it’s also full of pictures.

On Thursday we left bright and early for Brussels, Belgium.  Our train left at 7:20, so we had to be at the station at 7 am, which meant I had to be up by 5:30.  Of course I’m sure we all know my feelings on that!   Wednesday night, unfortunately, the undergrad in the room next to me decided it would be great fun to have a rave (or something) and so all night the "boom boom" of his music rattled my walls.  I think I finally drifted off to sleep about 2:30.  Not good!  I tried banging on his walls, no effect, and since I have a loft bed with a Mt. Everest-esq climb up and down, I really didn’t want to try to climb down to knock on his door.  I found out Thursday this would have been pointless anyway, one of the girls in my cohort who lives on the other side of him tried and he never answered his door.  So neither one of us got very much sleep, I did manage to cat nap a little bit during the 2 hour train to Brussels.

We arrived in Brussels pretty tired and then had to schlep our bags (in business attire, I might add) through 2 changes in metro lines and then about mile to our hostel, where, unfortunately, it was too early to check in, so we dumped things in the luggage room and left.  Already running late for our appointment at the European Parliament, our promised 15 minutes to grab coffee and food needless to say never happened.  A brisk trip on the metro and jog through Brussels finally brought us hungry, tired, hot, and cranky to the EU Parliament.  (FYI, you will notice throughout my trip in Brussels continued mentions to “lack of food,” our coordinators apparently thought we were automatons capable of constantly going without fuel).  We had a little presentation by one of the communications officers and learned that there are currently 27 members of the EU, as well as several countries who benefit from EU trade agreements and economic policies, but who aren’t actually members (i.e. Iceland, Switzerland, Norway).  Turkey is currently trying to become part of the EU, and has taken some drastic steps to achieve this goal, such as tentative acknowledgement in the last month of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire just before WWI.  Much of the Western world sees the actions of the Ottoman’s as Genocide, but Turkey has failed to call it such.  Another country trying for full EU membership is Iceland, which just submitted its bid in June.  Several former Soviet States are seeking membership and Georgia will probably be admitted in the next 10 years.  Additional potential future members include Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia.  This is all pretty interesting, and I’m sure the EU Parliament would have been gloriously fascinating under other circumstances, but I, and most of my cohort, didn’t really care by this point, what with our crashing blood sugars.  We did get to see the hall where all 785 members of the EU Parliament meet, so that was sort of cool.  Incidentally, this week the EU Parliament is in Strasbourg, where they are required, by law, to move once a month.  I’m sure the idea of the EU could be a great thing, except for a few little observations that we all had:

1)      This whole “pack up all 785 members, with their staff, and move to Strasbourg for one week a month while Parliament is in session,” thing is interesting and seems like an enormous waste of money, but its part of the original treaty and is apparently some concession to the French.

2)      Most interesting though is this.  There are 27 members of the EU (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK).  There are 23 official and working languages!  Yes, 23.  (Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Gaelic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish).  This of course means that a VERY LARGE part of the EU budget goes towards translators.  This also means that all laws and regulations passed by the parliament must be printed in ALL working languages.  Yep, all!  Hello, enormous waste of money my name is fiscal responsibility!!!  To give you some perspective, there are 192 members of the UN with only 7 official and working languages.  If Turkey becomes a member of the EU it will of course add another language to this mess.  Of course, not even a super-human translator could manage to translate all languages, so often the translators have to listen to each other before they can translate.  For example, if a Slovenian MP is speaking in Slovenian, perhaps the Swedish translator doesn’t speak Slovenian, but he does speak German, and the German translator understands Slovenian.  So the Swedish translator will listen to the German translator translate into German and then he will translate the German into Swedish so that his MP’s can understand what the Slovenian MP is saying.  Yeah, it’s complicated, welcome to Europe folks!

Anyway, after our tour of the EU Parliament we were finally released for lunch.  Sahara, Nicole and I made a mad dash for food and found this cute pizza place where we had delicious pizza and where I got very excited because they had Iced Tea.  Unfortunately, when I opened the can of Lipton tea it was carbonated.  What kind of crazy person wants to drink carbonated Iced Tea?!?!  However, I’m a poor college student, and so I drank the carbonated iced tea and I’ve learned my lesson.  The pizza was good though, although by that point we were so hungry that anything would have been welcome.  After lunch we met up with Juliette and went to a museum.  I don’t think I’ve introduced Juliette before.  She is my law Professor’s wife and is our advisor for our professional seminars.  She is about 12-13 years younger than him, in fact he was her professor, and they have love story that is fit for the movies, full of missed connections, then serendipitous moments, war zones, and real true love.  They both knew by the second date that they wanted to marry, he told her he would marry her in the year, she wanted to wait as long as possible.  They met on June 11th, on June 10th of the following year they were married.  How sweet is that!  (We managed to pry the story out of Juliette only after she had had 2 drinks).  Anyway…Museum.  Most of the people decided to return to the hostel, but several of us followed Juliette to the Art Museum.  We only saw a little modern art (thankfullyJ), spending the most time in the section dedicated to the Belgian school of art, which flourished in the 16th-18th century, and who were some of the first painters to use oil paints.  Juliette is an Art and Law consultant, so she was a wonderful source as we toured the museum and I will also be picking her brain when I have to write my capstone.

      Like most of Europe, Brussels is covered in cobblestones, which are hell on the feet and succeeded in ruining the heels on my black boots, so my feet were very sore.  So after the Museum we returned to the hostel and quickly changed clothes and shoes before running out the door to get a drink and do some more site-seeing before dinner.  We headed over to the 'Grand Place Grote Markt,’ which is a large square surrounded by very ornate buildings.  Then to a bar where I had Raspberry beer, very yummy.  Dinner was traditional, and very Belgian, Mussels and Pomm Frites (French fries).  Most of us had planned to return to our hostel and fall into bed afterward, but by the time we were done with dinner we were all on our 12th winds and wired, so it was off to a bar to party with the locals.  Alex (our TA, who arranges the trips) took us to Delirium bar, which is the Guinness World Record holder for most beers served (http://www.deliriumcafe.be/).  They have a book an inch thick with the beers they serve.  I don’t know what I had, a cider of some sort, but it was honestly the BEST drink I’ve EVER had.  Thursday is also Jam Session at Delirium, so we got to listen to Phil Collins and Queen with a French accent!?!?

      Friday morning it was up early again and off to NATO.  Not surprisingly, NATO does not allow cameras or phones with cameras on premises, we had to surrender all of these at the security checkpoint, so sorry, no pictures inside.  And we were all a little nervous of taking pictures right outside next to the razor wire, so my one picture is from across the streetJ.  We spent 3 hours at NATO, which we had all been dreading, but it was actually very interesting.  We heard from 3 different speakers.  One who gave us the background of NATO and the current missions, one who discussed NATO and the EU, and then a U.S. Foreign Service member who discussed NATO and the USA.  We also had a special session with one of the NATO interns, who gave us the details about the Presidential Management Fellowships, which I now need to get details on and apply for!  After NATO it was off to lunch (oh, btw, did I forget to mention that breakfast at the hostel was toast, so by 1 pm we were all about to pass out again!) and then a sprint to the European Union Council (not be confused with the European Council *rolls eyes*).  We got to see the Council chambers where the ministers of the 27 member states meet and had a presentation on how the legislation is proposed, debated, agreed upon, etc.  After the EU Council we were finally free, so we returned to the hostel, picked up our luggage and then those of us staying in Brussels for Friday night set off for our new hostels, or in my case, hotel!  Rebecca and I split a hotel room for the night, where we had incredibly comfy beds, a shower with water pressure that not only took all the dirt and sweat off my body but also about 3 layers of skin cells, and a breakfast that included juice, croissants, and ‘gasp’ protein and hot food!  Friday afternoon and evening Rebecca and I walked all over old-town Brussels and did some touristy things.  We had coffee and Belgian Waffles, saw the “symbol” of Brussels, the little peeing boy Manneken Pis, bought souvenirs, and took a ton of pictures.  Then I met up with the others for a glass of wine and a little dancing before crashing into bed.

      On Saturday I got to sleep in and get ready at a sedate pace, before meeting Nicole, Sahara, Luz and Kit for more touristy activities.  We shopped for more souvenirs and then headed out for a brewery tour.  Thanks to the map that I stole from Alex I found a brewery called Cantillon where we could see how they make beer the same way as it was done 150 years ago, and then have a tasting, all for only 5euro.  Cantillon is the last remaining active brewery in Brussels and they make Gueuze-Lambic beer, which is done from spontaneous fermentation (rather than adding yeast like most brewers).  Because of this spontaneous fermentation they can only brew in the fall and winter, so the brewery wasn’t producing anything when we were there.  But we did get to tour the process and learn about Lambic beer, which is to be drunk like a wine.  Lambic, unlike other beers, must be aged for around 3 years, and then if additional flavors are added (Cantillon makes an incredible Cherry beer) that takes an additional 6 months.  The beer is very smooth, has no carbonation, but is sour.  But it was very good.  If you are interested in learning more their website is http://www.cantillon.be/br/3_14.  You can also link through that to their US distributer where you can then track down what liquor stores sell it.  FYI, Tipsy’s Liquor World sells this, so go try it!!! 

After our tour and sampling of 2 of the many beers that Cantillon produces we crawled back to the metro (by this time we were exhausted and sore) and returned to the main square where we sought out a good place to buy Belgian chocolate, and in the process stumbled upon some sort of festival.  After stocking up on chocolate we headed for our hostels to pick up our luggage.  On my return to my hotel, however I found a parade, so please enjoy the video!

Once we had our luggage, and were loaded down like pack mulls with all our purchases we stumbled to the train station for a late train ride home, finally arriving back in Leiden and our rooms about 9 pm, tired, with sore feet, and rather lighter in the purse.  But oh well!  It was fun.  I did have to sleep about 12 hours to recover though.  Most of today was spent trying to first wake up and then to work on my midterm paper for Intro to International Relations, with a lovely interruption when the fire alarm went off.  One of the ladies at the end of my hall tried to light her room on fire cooking.  So the building currently smells like burned oil.  Tomorrow I’ll have to get up early to do some much needed grocery shopping and then back to working on my midterm paper.  That’s it for now

Love, Heather
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