Trip Start Jan 20, 2005
Trip End Aug 02, 2005

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

January 26 - January 29

Alight...I apologize to everyone for not updating this thing sooner, but I have had a million and one things to do and very little access to the internet. So let's see where I left off...I guess it was the interviews etc. So as I explained I had to go trekking all around Brussels going to interviews that I was not terribly interested in. All of the organizations were interesting, and I am sure under other circumstances I would have been very excited to work at them, however, I was really just upset about the whole thing and couldn't get into it. I kept comparing each of them to what I was supposed to be doing and being disappointed. Additionally, since the intern coordinator had to set them up last minute, there was a lot of confusion during them and I don't think that I really had an equal opportunity. I will spare you guys all the details of the interview experience, but overall I was just not in the right mindset for it at the time and various things went wrong throughout the day to make it worse. The next couple of days were a mess...but in the end I think that (in retrospect) I made the best of a bad situation. I think that in the long run, NATO (regardless of the capacity) was the best place for me. Anyways....on Saturday the 28th Jerry (program director) took us all to Brugge. It was only about an hours bus ride out of the city, so we got to spend almost the whole day exploring it. When we first got there, Jerry took us on a tour of everything. He is a good tour guide...although he walks incredibly fast (if you stop to take a picture you have to sprint the next 50 yards just to catch up to him). Brugge is incredible. Imagine the most quaint city that you can think of, and it is better. You step into the town and you are instantaneously transported back to the 13th century, winding through the little cobblestone lanes and over canals with swans gracefully gliding across the water. There is only one new structure in the entire city (at least from my count). It is almost too quaint to be real. (Aunty Mo and guys would really like it). I took a lot of pictures, but I did not get everything because my camera ran out of batteries after only about an hour and a half. So anyways we wandered around for a while after Jerry finished his tour. First things first, though we had to go inside and eat. The entire morning had been bitterly cold (even the Belgians have been complaining about how unusually cold it is) and I literally could not feel my hands and feet by the time Jerry was finished. Regardless, I should not complain about the weather too much, because it was the first day that we have had 100% sun...there was not a cloud in the sky the entire day (which is unusual for Belgium). Anyways, so we went to get some traditional Brussels mussels at a restaurant just off the main square. We had to pay an arm and a leg for the meal, but it was warm and filling and at that point I think I would have paid as much just to sit inside for an hour. ha ha ha. I had mussels in white wine sauce, fries (the Belgians really love their fries), and hot chocolate (yes, I realize that that sounds disgusting, but I ordered the hot chocolate primarily as a hand warmer until my food came). After lunch, we wandered aimlessly through the little streets for a while just enjoying the atmosphere. Then we climbed the 13th century Belfort to get a view of all of Brugge and beyond. To get to the top you have to climb up this tiny winding staircase that has people coming both up and down at the same time. There were no side rails, only a rope wound around the middle for people to hold on to. It was 367 steps to the top (272 feet), but completely worth it. After coming down, we went to the Church of Our Lady, which was begun in the year 1220 and today contains one of Michelangelo's statues of the mother and child. (Campbell and Ball family I lit a candle for you guys in front of the statue). After that we had to head back to the bus. That night we went out for a little while to a bar near the house, but we did not stay too long because I did not want to waste money. Money is a constant issue here! My host parents were poking fun at me not going out all the time like their previous host students....I just can't afford it. Everything is incredibly expensive....everything. It is so depressing when you go to take out 50 Euro and it winds up being closer to $70 out of your bank your money only goes as far as 50 dollars would in Washington... if that. Heather and I have been really good about not incurring extravagant expenses. We only go out once or twice a week... and then we stay away from touristy areas so that we don't have to pay as much. The cost of food is also very high for a meal (in the U.S. sense). We have been trying to eat one large meal per day or two smaller meals to keep costs down, but it is hard to find a good value. The only things that I have purchased were absolute necessities that I had either forgotten or did not pack, and food. I have gone out a couple of times, but we never spend more than 8 U.S. dollars per time (the beer is relatively cheap here) I am definitely not drinking my money away....the cost of living is just expensive. It would be so much better if we lived in dorms with kitchenettes where we could make food for ourselves because it would be so much cheaper. The worst part is that most of the people in the group that we are with have no concept of money. Heather and I feel bad if we spend more than 3 Euro on a meal for lunch....everyone else is dropping 8 to 12...which is a lot of money when you think about it. Then they will go out to dinner and take cabs home etc. which all adds up to a lot. I feel really anti-social some times because I am always turning people down for invitations to go out partying because I can't justify spending as much money as I know I would spend if I go. I guess that the only consolation is that I am very conscious of how expensive everything is now so I am not going to be shocked when my money runs out. I can easily see that some people have spent over $600 or $700 already just in the first two weeks. It is ridiculous! I think a lot of people have not internalized the fact that Euros do not equate to dollars (which is very easy to do) and are just spending away. I literally think that Heather and I are the only ones who are really careful about what we spend and where. Oh well....enough complaining about that. Enjoy the pictures!!!!!
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