Category Archives: Semester in Belgium

The semester I spent studying abroad in Belgium

Throwing The Dice: Living With A Host Family

It has been awhile but I finally wrote again!

Read my blog post on the Rutgers Center for Global Education blog!

Throwing The Dice: Living With A Host Family.

For those of you studying abroad and need help deciding if living with a host family is the right choice definitely take a look! There are also other great posts available with lots of study abroad tips!

Mega Played!

Today, me and my roommate Courtney had a nice trip planned to Amsterdam. It’s our last weekend here in Europe so we figured we would end with a bang! We woke up at 4:30am to catch the first tram before 5am to go downtown and catch the MegaBus. We made it out the apartment in 25 min. Halfway to the tram stop I ask Courtney if she has her passport…we run back to the apartment. As I wait outside for her in the distance I see a tram pass by. She comes back down and when I told her what I just saw we run back to the tram stop (that’s the most I’ve worked out this entire trip.) We get there and look at the times… indeed that was our tram and we just missed it. We were freaking out trying to find our best alternative to get downtown on time. The MegaBus was suppose to leave Brussels at 6:10am. We call the 2 taxi cab numbers that I have stored on my phone and none of them work. The likelihood of finding a taxi where we live is so slimFortunately, Courtney was able to stop one that was driving by. We end up getting downtown extra early and we lounge around the train station until it’s time to head to the bus stop. I kid you not we waited 1hr and 20min for this bus and it DID NOT arrive. It was ridiculously cold and we couldn’t take it anymore. After conversing with the Spaniards that were also waiting we decided to head back home. As soon as we get back home Courtney calls MegaBus to get our money refunded and turns out the bus was stuck in London and hadn’t even made it to Paris yet! Thank goodness we left and didn’t wait around any longer. All of this happened before 8am without the sun being out. What a start to our day… Can’t do much but laugh about it. Everything happens for a reason. 

Christmas Spirit in Liège

Welcome to the "Christmas Village"

Welcome to the “Christmas Village”

This past Saturday I went to Liège, Belgium with my host family. We went to go enjoy the Christmas Market. This was my first time going to a Christmas Market and it was the cutest thing! I had such a great time.

One of the many stands

One of the many stands

The market was filled with different stands that had all sorts of things. You could explore stands for hours. I even ended up buying a souvenir to take back home. The sweetest thing was when my host sister ended up getting me and my roommate a gift!! She’s so cute!

Sliding Down

Sliding Down

While there me and my roommate went sledding with our host sister. I was a tad scared… I’m not going to lie. I’ve never done something like it before. We had a small plastic shovel that we had to sit on and then slide down this small ramp. The first time going down I grabbed my roommate’s hand without meaning too. Then the second time I kept stopping myself mid-way through the sliding process that I ended up losing my shovel x_x I laughed so hard when I got to the bottom.

Friendly Skating

Friendly Skating

We also went ice skating. That made it my second time on the ice. I’m actually pretty good at it! It’s probably because I know how to rollerblade. That was horrible ice to skate on though! It was pretty dangerous because it was easy to fall. There were so many kids and a lot of teens were careless while skating trying to do all these fancy tricks .__. It really annoyed me! I met the cutest little girl and we skated together. She kept wanting me to hold her hand it was too adorable to handle!! ^_^ She had beautiful curly hair! She reminded me of myself at her age!

Tartiflette in the making

Tartiflette in the making

While there I learned that waffles come from Liège and all this time I thought they came from Brussels. I also tried Tartiflette! It’s absolutely delicious! It’s a mix of potatoes, cheese, onions, and wine! I will definitely try to make it back in the states!

It was a long but great day! So happy I got to visit the Christmas Market! 

Le Père Fouettard

Le Père Fouettard

Interesting Fact: Earlier in the day we bumped into St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was accompanied by this really creepy guy! I was so disturbed because this guy painted himself dark and he had the creepiest facial expression! After some research I figured out that in some French regions St. Nicholas is accompanied by a guy called Père Fouettard who gives coal or spanks to the naughty kids. If you were to tell me a guy like that was going to give me coal or spank me for being naughty I would definitely try my hardest to be on that nice list!!!! Poor kids!

Me Enamore… pero de Sevilla

“Me enamore de Sevilla, España.” I am convinced that out of all the cities I have visited, during my study abroad experience, Sevilla has been my favorite (Vienna was second.) I fell in love with absolutely everything, the food, the music, the atmosphere, the language and accent, the people, the architecture…the culture in general consumed you to the point where leaving made you sad.

Off to Sevilla, Spain

I went to Sevilla to meet up with some friends and enjoy my birthday weekend. It turned out to be a greater experience than I expected. I didn’t think I would fall in love with the city. I stayed in a single room in Hostal Florida. It was great! The room was clean, nicely organized, and had a TV. I was satisfied! I payed about 48 Euros for 2 nights. I only slept on the bed one night because Sunday my flight was at 7:45am and we stayed out till 4am partying and celebrating. It was my last time taking Ryanair to travel in Europe. Going back home was the worse experience. There was so much turbulence! I hate turbulence. I was running on no sleep just a 1.5 hour nap, and we took about 5 tequila shots to celebrate our experience that night! It was definitely worth it though.

One of my many Tapas

We ate tapas the entire time I was there. They were so delicious that every time they were placed in front of us we ate them quickly. Ordering a couple would equal to a full meal and all at a really good price! Everything I ate was less than 6 Euros! I loved chorizo it tasted delicious! I kinda wish I had more. I even orederd a tapa of Jamón ibérico “cured meat.” That was interesting. Tasted good though.

Live Flamenco

I was able to see live Flamenco! It was absolutely beautiful! The lyrics just took my breath away and the rhythm was just hypnotizing. There was so much soul in the music I could of listened to it all night! Truly an amazing experience!

la Torre del Oro

On our way to Calle Betis, a street a tad similar to Delirium here in Brussels but just more open and not so narrow, we stopped by the Guadalquivir river. It had an amazing view! Gorgeous just absolutely breathtaking! We also passed by la Torre del Oro. It seriously reminded me of Rapunzel. I always pictured her dropping her hair down from a tower similar to la Torre del Oro. The bars in Calle Betis were more spacious than the bars in Delirium and you were able to dance if you wanted.

Guadalquivir river

The cathedral was absolutely HUGE! It is so big you couldn’t take a picture of the entire thing unless you were taking pictures up from the sky. We had 1 Euro beers in front of la Iglesia de El Salvador. That was different. I never seen something like it! The place was packed! Full of people drinking in front of the church. Afterwards, we went inside the church with beer in our system… no big deal. The details inside the church were absolutely impressive. There were so many intricate details everywhere! It was a lot to take in.

Inside la Iglesia de El Salvador

We met so many interesting people! We had so many cheap drinks! 1.50 Euro shots! Absolutely unbelievable! My friend even got me a Birthday shot! I was so happy! Exactly what I needed to finally feel 21!

Best hot dog ever!

There was also this hot dog stand outside this club we went too. Seriously, best selling strategy ever. That was the best hot dog I have ever tasted in my life!!!! I don’t think I will ever taste something like it again!

Sevilla was absolutely amazing! I need to return!

Birthday Shot!

Time to be Grateful

Happy Birthday to me!

It was really hard being away from home on my 21st Birthday and Thanksgiving. I decided to look on the bright side and take it as an opportunity to just appreciate the many things I have. As I start the 21st first year of my life I have many blessings: my family,  friends, another year of life, and the opportunity to study in Europe. It’s important to be positive during the hard times.

Birthday Cake

It was remembering all the things I have to be grateful for that  really helped me have a good Birthday. I had to write a paper but I did it with a smile on my face. The sun shined bright on a city that’s usually gloomy, wet, and cold. My host sister baked me a delicious marble cake and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me in French! We toasted to my 21st year and I took my first ‘legal’ drink (according to USA law.) Afterwards my roommate and I went out with some friends to have a couple of drinks at Delirium. I had a light Busch beer. I couldn’t believe the alcohol percentage in that beer. o_O It did its job though. It was the perfect way to end a “beginning of the week birthday.”

Thanksgiving Dinner

There is no Thanksgiving in Europe because it’s an American holiday. So my roommate and I decided to bring Thanksgiving to Europe. We cooked a small dinner for our host family. We cooked things that would be traditional for our Thanksgiving meals. Thank goodness I had some saźon left over. It was all a success! Thanksgiving is about being grateful and sharing that with others and that’s exactly what I did.   

 

Caving “Spelunking”

Cave

I never got the chance to talk about my caving or “spelunking” experience in Budapest, HungaryBudapest is known for its hot springs and famous thermal baths. The hot water rushing up from deep underground formed a huge cave system.

Caving

It was truly an amazing experience and one of the coolest things I have done. We were given overalls, helmets, and lights. I felt so official with my red overalls and combat boots. We had a great tour guide that helped us crawl through narrow passages, climb up and down wallsand walk through tight spaces. We even found interesting crystals, fossils, and cool shaped rocks. The ground was moist and sometimes you found drops of water hanging from the rocks. It was extremely dark without the lights. We all had to sit in the darkness and it was incredible. We couldn’t see our hands in front of us. There was also pure silence you could hear your echo. Great for singing.

stuck

My biggest challenge was crawling through this really tight hole. I was doing great until I couldn’t get my waist through the hole. My combat boots just kept digging themselves more and more into the moist ground and my helmet kept blocking my eyesight. I had to be pulled out :/… I wish I had the proper spelunking boots. But even getting stuck was exhilarating! The experience was a great workout! I would definitely recommend everyone to put this on their bucket list!

Budapest Madness

Budapest was an adventure filled with things I never thought I would, experience from the moment we arrived to the moment we boarded the plane back to Brussels.

Retox Party Hostel: Upstairs

We arrived to Budapest with no Forints just Euros. We didn’t want to convert the money in the airport because we were going to get a bad exchange rate. (The next day we ended up converting money in Western Union and got a pretty good rate so in the end waiting was worth it.) Somehow we had to make it to, Retox Party Hostel one of the party hostels in Budapest, without any Forints. Funny part is we had to take a bus, train, and tram… talk about a journey. We saw the bus we had to take and just got on it. We stand right next to a couple that seriously needed to get themselves a room. Just before our stop an inspector decides to get on the bus and ask for our tickets. We looked so dumbfounded but he still tries to fine us. My friend hustles her way so we have to pay less than the fine. We get to the train entrance and find more inspectors! This time we had a ticket though. Luckily .__. the machine to stamp our tickets wasn’t working so an inspector had to write the time and date on each of our tickets. Pretty sure they hated us. What a great welcome to Budapest.

Retox Party Hostel: Downstairs Bar

We finally get to the location where our hostel should be located. We are starving so decide to get McDonalds before heading to the hostel. That had to be the stingiest McDonalds I have EVER ate at! We had to pay for condiments!! I never had such a dry McDonalds meal! The menu was also a bit different from a McDonalds menu in the U.S. I was very unpleased! The amount of ice tea they gave me was ridiculous! They didn’t fill the cup all the way to the top. Apparently they have a limit as to where to fill up the cups .___. We start walking to find our hostel and the area looks sketchy as hell I would of never thought Budapest was as beautiful as it is if I would of just stayed in the hostel area. We walk inside the hostel and we were all in shock. It looked like a huge party was going on. We asked for the check-in desk and someone says “there’s no check-in desk” then everyone starts screaming “check-in!” we where like WTF!? We go upstairs

Retox Party Hostel: Violin Players

to the bed area and start checking in with “Tits” (all of the workers at the hostel have nicknames.) She tells us there’s an all you can drink night going on downstairs at the bar. We were like, “what the hell might as well.” We go drop our stuff and I find out that for the first night I have to stay in a different room than my friends because the hostel is completely booked. I wasn’t happy about the idea. I go inside the room (10 beds in each room: bunk beds) and the sheets look all crazy, there’s a bra hanging from the top bunk (I had the bottom,) there was something pink on the sheets and bobby pins all over. I was like, “umm yea not happening.” Tits says she was going to fix it before the night was over, but she didn’t. I ended up having to sleep with my friend. We go downstairs to join the party and drink the night away. I lost count of how many beers I had. The beer tasted so light compared to the Belgian beer I been drinking these past few months. I met so many Australians it was unreal also a couple of British people (love the British accent.) I met a girl named Blue with green hair (it used to be blue.) I danced to 70s and 80s music (that was a first.) I ended going to bed at like 4am. Budapest Madness!

Dancing to Turbulence

The next day we went to the ruin pubs. They were pretty cool! Tried a carrot soaked in vodka. It tasted like a normal carrot but the idea of a carrot soaked in vodka was pretty funny. The entire time I was at the hostel I heard this drinking song called Turbulence by Lil’ John. I had no idea of this song’s existence and had no idea that this was the kind of music Lil’ John was making nowadays. There’s even a shot that goes along with the song that everyone just kept doing every single night. I seriously got sick of the song after the first 2 times they played it that weekend. It was worse than hearing a played out song on the radio. Never want to hear that song again!

Enjoy.

 

Gross drink

Another night I witness the wildest of things! This one guy had to drink the most disgusting drink ever! It was made with whatever was found in the kitchen! Ketchup, oil, mayo, milk etc. It was disgusting!!!!! Then this kid betted that he could drink a bottle of champagne without spilling any of it under a min with a mangina! If he spilled he had to try again with a new bottle (he only had two chances.) Of course he spilled but he was so close to finishing the first time! The second time he just kept throwing up! It was ridiculous! I swear people are crazy sometimes!

The hostel people were very nice. If you want to party and have a crazy weekend this is the hostel to go too in Budapest. The people have no idea what day or time it is you just party till you drop. Budapest Madness!

Oh Budapest: The Sites (Part 3)

Big Bus tours took us all over Budapest. At a quick glance we saw Parliament and the Grand Palace. We were also able to see some of Budapest famous bridges. Never did I pay attention to the history of bridges but the bridges in Budapest definitely caught my attention.

The Liberty Bridge was the first bridge to be reconstructed after WWII.

Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge caught my attention the most because of the legend behind it. According to legend, János Marschalkó, the sculptor of the stone lions at the end of the bridge, threw himself in the river during the bridge’s opening ceremony because a spectator mentioned that the lions had no tongues. However, the lions do have tongues you just can’t really see them unless you are at a certain angle. Marschalkó, also lived for many years.

Underworld opening scene building

The Elisabeth Bridge was named after “Sissi”, Elisabeth Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary wife of  Franz Joseph I of Austria.

During the bus tour I also learned some fun facts! Harry Houdini is from Budapest. I also passed the building where Vampire Selene, Kate Beckinsale from the movie Underworld, jumps off in the opening scenes. I absolutely love that movie! I was so excited I took a couple of pictures.

Dohány Street Synagogue

We also visited the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world. The synagogue can seat 3,000 people however, it is not used during the winter because the building is too big for heating. I found it interesting that the synagogue has some architectural Christian aspects because it was built by a Christian architect. This makes it a modern synagogue, which is why next to it a more traditional synagogue was built for more old-fashioned jews. I found this very interesting.

cemetery

In the backyard of the synagogue there is a cemetery where over 2,000 people that were killed in the Jewish ghetto during the winter of 1944-45 are buried. There was an horrific breathtaking picture that the tour guide showed us of all the bodies on the floor before being buried. A very sad image.

The Weeping Willow

In the back of the synegogue stands the Weeping Willow tree a holocaust memorial. On the leaves of the tree the names of Hungarian jews killed during the holocaust are inscribed.

It was very interesting learning some history about Hungarian jews.

Oh Budapest: The Sites (Part 2)

Hungarian Flag

When I arrived to Budapest I didn’t realize how much the city has to offer. With Big Bus tours I discovered that Budapest has so much history, beautiful statues, beautiful scenery, and so many things to discover.

The view from Gellért Hill

Budapest Statue of Liberty

The bus took us up Gellért Hill on the Buda side. The hill overlooks Budapest and the Danube River. It was named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill. It was an absolutely beautiful view up on the hill. You don’t see something so breathtaking everyday. On the top of the hill resides the Szabadság Szobor or the Budapest Statue of Liberty. It is there in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces during World War II. The statue is beautiful!

Shoes on the Danube Promenade

Before we embarked on our river tour we stopped by the Shoes on the Danube Promenade (on the Pest side,) a memorial that honors the Jews who were killed by the Arrow cross militiamen in Budapest during WWII. The Jews were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river, but before being shot they were asked to take off their shoes. The shoes in the memorial represent the shoes of victims left behind on the bank. It was a beautiful memorial. I really had to take a moment to take in how horrific it must of looked to have so many shoes on the promenade and dead bodies flowing on the river…a terrible image.

Buda Palace at night

We were about 1.5 hours early to the river tour. After the monument and deciding to take advantage of this extremely fancy bathroom in a hotel restaurant, we went to go wait inside the boat. We got their to find out we had to wait inside this restaurant boat until it was time to board the tour boat. At this point I had the most intense headache and I was beyond exhausted. We finally board the tour boat and decide to stay inside because it was getting chilly outside. The boat ride was so soothing that we each ended up taking a small nap. The river and buildings looked amazing at night! The lights on the buildings and bridges shined so bright. Throughout the boat ride the lady talking through the voiceover or recorded (whatever it was) had the most monotone driest voice ever! No wonder we took naps! I couldn’t even pay attention. Towards the end of the tour the boring lady stopped talking and some other lady started singing Bob Marley songs. That was pretty funny because we pictures dome Hungarian lady going in on these songs. The annoying drunk couples singing along WAS NOT funny and didn’t help the ridiculous headache I had.

To be Continued….

Oh Budapest: The Sites (Part 1)

Buda and Pest (Budapest)

I went to Budapest, Hungary for 4 days for a small vacation with some friends. It was quite the experience. Definitely a city I would recommend for people to visit. I had no idea where Budapest was prior to this trip. I even had to look up how to say Hungary in Spanish when my grandmother asked me where Budapest was, clearly not a city I’m talking about on a daily basis. However, I’m extremely happy I went because not only do I now know how to say Hungary in Spanish, “Hungria,” but I also learned a lot about Budapest’s history and was able to explore its beauty.

Heroes Square

Budapest is the capital and largest city in Hungary with 23 districts. There are 2 sides to Budapest, “Buda” and “Pest,” they are divided by the Danube River, which flows into the Black Sea. The currency used in Hungary is the Forint. 275 Forint is equal to 1 Euro and 210 Forint is equal to 1 US dollar. I absolutely hated the Forint! Too much math for me! I absolutely hate calculations!

To explore the city we used Big Bus tours. We were able to visit a lot of historical sites. The first site was Heroes Square in the Pest side of the city. In the center of the square is the Millennium Monument with statues of the 7 tribal leaders who founded Hungary as well as other important people in Hungarian history.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Our trip to Budapest wouldn’t have been complete without a day in one of Budapest’s famous baths. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. It’s also the first thermal bath of Pest. The water supply for the bath comes from a hot-spring water with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, and fluoride. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath was truly an experience. For starters the baths were filled with hairy men in speedos… that was pretty funny. We had to rent towels (we didn’t have any) and wait in a ridiculous long line because there was only 1 person working. After we changed into our bathing suits we had to walk outside to the freezing cold to get into the hot and relaxing waters. That was definitely worth the cold because it was so relaxing just being in the hot water surrounded by all the steam. It made you forget that you were outside in really cold temperature. We then decided to explore the insides of the spa. We found more baths and a sauna. I always wanted to try a sauna! However, because I had no flip flops I was pretty grossed out. The sauna was filled with old, fat, sweaty, hairy men rubbing their sweat into their bodies! I was definitely stepping on some of that sweat! But I still tried it for the experience!

Hungarian officer changing guards

The view from The Castle District to the Pest side

Nothing was more gorgeous in Budapest than Parliament and the Grand Palace “Buda Castle.” We saw them both on the bus tour, when we visited the Castle District, and during the river tour Big Bus tours also offered. Parliament is built in Neo-Gothic style and has 691 rooms. It is located on the bank of the Danube river and serves as the permanent seat of the National Assembly. In WWII, the Buda Palace and the Castle District were the last refuge of the Germany Army, which fell under heavy siege from the invading Soviet Army. When we were up on the Castle District (Buda side) we were able to watch Hungarian soldiers change guards. It was pretty funny because at some points it looked like they were posing for the tourists as we all took pictures. We also came across this crazy old man who kept asking people if they wanted their photo taken by him. He was pretty creepy. He did let us know that the changing of guards was going to happen in a few minutes so his craziness was of some use to us. The view from the Castle District was absolutely stunning. Left you speechless as you looked at the Pest side.

To be continued…