Saturday, March 22, 2008

London: Day 4

Monday

I woke up after everyone had left Johns apartment for class. I packed and showered, then I was off. After spending 3 days in London I was completely comfortable on the Tube and in the city. I grabbed a guidebook and spent the morning touring alone. I saw Buckingham palace, some of the royal gardens, the changing of the guard, and spent and hour gawking at greatness in the National Gallery. Everything is so immaculate. The palace itself didn’t impress me from the outside, but the gardens and the guard ritual seems so very regal. Around one I met my friend Erin in front of the National Gallery for lunch and more sight seeing. I haven’t seen Erin since my first semester at SLU. She was a Katrina displacement from Loyola New Orleans. It was great catching up with her and swapping travel stories.

After lunch we walked to Westminster Abby and took the tour. At first I was weirded out by all the church/state mixture, and oh yeah all the tombs. I can still appreciate the beauty of the architecture and ritual, even if the Church of England seems strange. The building itself seems to stretch towards infinity. When you think you’re finished there are more tombs and memorials and estrange religious artifacts. After the Abby we went and gawked outside St. Paul’s cathedral and went back into the Tate-Modern for my final view of the city. I saw so much and had such a good time visiting. London truly feels like the center of western civilization. Everywhere you look there is some testimony to capitalism and greatness. It was hard to take them all in because my mind went wild with history and symbolism.

After I left Erin it was only a quick trip back to Brussels on the Eurostar. Modern transportation technology is amazing. I got back in time to meet up with some friends for a St. Patrick's day pint.


Buckingham palace

Calling of the Guard

style

One of many beautiful gardens around the palace


Changing of the Guard

butts :-)

Erin and in a London Phone Box
Millennium bridge with London Bridge in the Background

London: Day 3

Sunday

I woke up Sunday to gray, rain, and wind. I’m so glad I decided to take the train Monday evening, I didn’t feel guilty about sleeping in and meeting my friend Simon for a late Brunch. I like traveling alone for this reason. You don’t feel responsible to see it all right now (if that makes sense). I met Simon last summer in the Bahamas during Regatta week, he took me to a beautiful brunch at a vary local place on the river. The pub was filled with young smart looking up and comings. I had delicious sea bass as I caught up with Simon. It was the day he left for his own grand adventure. Now he’s off for at least 6 months touring the Americas (top to bottom). Stating in Brazil and making it to Canada at some point. We are both so lucky to be able to see the world. Life is not meant to be spent in a hometown bubble.

After Simon dropped me off I chilled out with John and his housemates. Later the weather finally got better and John and I got some coffee to wake and warm us before we went on a long walk down the Thymes at night. The city seems to go on forever as you walk along the river. Plus it is manicured and lit beautifully. Probably one of the most romantic spots on the planet (grrrr where is my lover?). At least John is always good company and I was blown away by the Eye, and the lights, and Big Ben, and the hugeness of it all. The following are my feeble attempts to capture London at night with my poor photography skills.

The big dome is St. Paul's Cathedral
The eye is so impressive
This one's for you mom, smile


Parliment

Big Ben
Westminster Abby

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London: Day 2

Saturday

I woke up and got ready before John and went around the corner for a coffee and a croissant. Can I just say, how much I miss everything being in English? So much. When I walk into a restaurant or pub in Brussels you always have the language barrier in the back of your mind. Normally it’s not a problem but there is always the possibility of being hassled. So I sat and sipped a coffee and watched families and friends come into the little shop for a civilized breakfast on the sunny Saturday morning (all speaking English). American accents are everywhere in London. In Brussels I feel like an American oddity, but in London my countrymen stick out, but are everywhere.

I went and met up with John and we took the tube to St. Paul and walked across the Millennium bridge. We came across an anonymous protest against scentology where all the demonstrators were wearing guy fox masks or had their faces covered. Aparently this is a common demonstration style, and they protest the cult of Scientology often. . After snapping some photos we went into the Tate-Modern for a few hours. This museum is so impressive and seems to go on for days. We only managed to see one floor before leaving to go get lunch. It’s nice that the museums are free in London, it allows you to go in and see just part of them and plan to come back later. The museums are only one example of the massive public works the city has developed for it’s people.

We went to an Irish pub for lunch and I had a Genesis and a Fish n’ Chips like any good tourist. There were delicious though, and I was at the perfect level of hungry to devour the massive plate of food. After lunch we walked down the Thymes until we reached Big Ben and Parliament. We stumbled across a massive demonstration that coincided with the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq. I picked the right day to come to London. John and I joined in and listen to some speeches and simply took in the political climate of the moment. I just took in the sight as an observer. The demonstration felt like on in the US, except the scale was much bigger and the police were not in riot gear. I couldn’t gage how many people were on the lawn in front of Parliament. We only caught the end rally of the demonstration. I think there was a march through the city and across the bridge to Parliament. Many of the signs related to Iran, and my mind kept wondering to thoughts about both America and Britain’s future role in the Middle East. The demographic of the protesters was across the board. From young hippies drinking beer, to proper aging Englishman, and Muslim groups in support of Hezbollah. Everyone was given a voice and seemed to be coming from every direction as they entered the area across from Parliament. The soup box speeches were of the same idealist nature as they are in the US. War in Iraq is wrong, told a dozen different ways. I’m glad I was able to experience the collective movement in any case. It was a high light of my trip in London.

After the rally ended we regrouped at John’s house before going to Camden for some live music. The venue was small in an intimate, not claustrophobic way. The first three bands were really different and didn’t really impress me. One of them had an awesome front man whose eyes nearly popped out of his head as he sang. The headliner was so good! I haven’t danced so hard in awhile. Really good vocals and a horn section, what else do you need? Plus after the live music ended John and I stayed and danced until at least 2. The club played old and classic American music. The kind I usually dance around the house to. It was a great atmosphere. There was even a gray heard man who looked like he was at least 70 dancing with all the girls on stage (amazing).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

London: Day 1

London, England

My weekend in London was unbelievable. I had so much fun going out, seeing the sights, and thinking about politics, people, civilization, western democracy, beauty, and the rest of my endless daydream thoughts in London. I think I’ll recap each day in a post with pictures.

Friday
I packed everthing the night before and headed to class from 8:30-1, then went home for a quick lunch and took the metro to the Eurostar. I was so impresses with the Eurostar organization and speed. The train through the tunnel only takes 2 hours and the ride is smooth and uninterrupted. By the time I read the Thursday and Friday Financial Times I was already in London. My friend John met me at the train station and helped me navigate the tube back to his place. We dropped my bags and left for an urban hike from Kensington to Picadilie square. As we walked through crowded and capitalized London I felt a little bit of culture shock. We took a few minutes to see the edge of Hyde park, the escape from the noise and confusion of the London streets. Things move so much slower in Brussels, and most American companies don’t find their way into the Belgian economy like in London. McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Hilton, Starbucks….. the list goes on and on. Plus franchises from other courtiers were everywhere to. It was hard for me to find a real indy to buy a cappuccino from in the morning. Even though I miss my occasional Starbucks I refused to go in one. After showing me the Time-Square like part of London we took the tube back to Kensington and got a pint and split a chicken at this Portuguese restaurant (delicious). We met up with some of John's friends and went to Brick Lane. I need to do a bit more research about brick lane, but as I approached it in the dark on Friday night I was met by hundreds of teenagers and twenty-something’s drinking in the streets. Listening to loud music and carrying on. We went into a bar called the Big-Chill. I spent most of my time people watching. So many drunken people having a good time dancing and talking. I was feeling oddly nostalgic for the Bahamas surrounded by so many Brits and ordered a Jamaican Rum Punch (I got made fun of for this several times). Then we went on another wonder, the streets are covered in broken glass and I saw a little fight. It was a side of London I wouldn’t have seen without a guide. Then we went to another place for some more dancing before we caught the night bus home. The bus ride impressed me as we sat in the front row on the top floor of the double decker red bus. We traveled down the Thyms and it was great to see everything lit up at night. All and all it was the perfect first night in London.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weekend Update

I’ve been here 8 weeks and have 11 weeks to go. I’ve done so much, but sometimes it feels like I’ve only been here for days. The second half of my trip is going to be filled with traveling outside of Brussels as well as continuing the lifestyle that I enjoy so much here. I keep reminding myself to absorb each bit of it.

Okay time for a weekend recap with pictures. Midterms last week killed everyone’s mental state, but luckily Elena, Lauren, and I were invited to a excellent dinner party at Tom, Ryan, and Matt’s home stay. It was perfect really. Good food, good friends, good wine. We started with sangria and conversation, moved on to a well-prepared chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. I was impressed the boys pulled offs such a tasty meal. Then we had perfect little pastries from the corner bakery and Irish coffee. Everything was so beautiful and our light dinner conversation was exactly what I needed after the long week.


After dinner Elsa, one of the boys host Moms took us dancing at a local restaurant/disco. It was a totally different atmosphere from where we usually go out. The 6 of us had so much fun dancing with the locals and just being free and silly. It was above and beyond for Elsa to take us out and I really appreciated it.


On Saturday I woke up and took some time for myself, relaxed, and then went for a hike on the edge of the city for a few hours. It was good to exercise and get out of the city. I also found some unique graffiti in the park I was in. I’ve been to this park twice by myself, but need to introduce some of my friends to it.

On Sunday Elena Skyped me and we took a impromptu day trip to Ghent. We toured a midevil castle that was really well preserved. But each caption on the wall made it feel like every room was used for some different kind of torture. I tried not to think about the reality of the beautiful structure. It sits naturally in modern day Ghent even if there is a city built up around it. Then we got some lunch to escape the rain. We went into some more impressive and indescribable midevil churches. You would think I would be come numb to such structures because I go in so many of them. I’m not. Each time a whirlwin of thoughts and feelings still hit me.

THe Castle
Observing our courtly domain
Me as the executioner Off with Matt's head!
Smile in the Rain on top of the Castle
Now it’s Tuesday and I’m making final plans for London this weekend. I am SO excited for this trip. It’s going to be great to hang out with John and see one of the most well known cities in the world. Plus I’m meeting up with 3 friends that I know from totally different parts of my life. I will be good to get to know them I different atmosphere.


Sorry for the boring update post, but I haven’t done one in a while so I thought I’d share. Keep smiling, you all are in my thoughts.

Amanda Mar

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cobblestone Contemplation

The will (power) of God.
The need for creation.
Time spent wondering.


Adventure planning

I've finalized my Spring Break plans and am so excited! I actually dreamt about Spain and Keziah last night. I'm ready to explore with friends and be on my own. Here's my trip itinerary

March 23-28 - Barcelona with Lauren, Ashley, Pryia, and James
March 28-31 - Cordoba with Keziah
April 1- 2 - Madrid exploring alone

I also found myself practicing Spanish in my dream, lets see if all those bogus Spanish classes I took in high school and college pay off enough to get me around.

In other news I am not motivated to do school work here, but I am surprisingly doing really well. I've realized that I have fully assimilated to living in Brussels. A friend from SLU came to see me last weekend and I had such a good time taking him out and showing off our city. I also feel completely comfortable on the street and metro. I've lost my blind mouse syndrome I had the first few weeks I was here.

The real world hit me a little yesterday and I spent a good part of the day on my laptop searching for summer jobs/ internships and thinking about what happens in December when I graduate. Grrrrrr, in time. Right now I'm enjoying the Belgian sun that keeps making unexpected visits.

I love you all,
Amanda Mar

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I miss......

I’m not home sick, but I’m starting to miss the small things…….

Fresh milk, sidewalks, huge coffees, my comfy bed, diners, cooking for myself, Mokabees, Becca and Claire, the dolphin pound, forest park, balcony conversations, incense, huge American portion sandwiches, OneWorld, SLU political science department, community, central heating, long showers, mom’s cooking, Sunday conversations with LB, the corky statues all over SLU’s campus, Pius Research Library, independent housing, Mom’s random and delicious dinners, dorky conversations about politicians with Brian, riding around Brownstown with Tyler like we own the place, dock-o-clock, Little Harbour characters, my Dad’s stories, going to class in sweat pants when I’m late and/or don’t care, bagels……


Things I wish America (St. Louis) had….
Efficient public transportation, fluidity, a Moroccan community, Belgian Beer, The Belgian Royal Art Museum, a sense of history, decriminalized marijuana, outdoor fish markets, Restaurant Matradies who tempt you to come in, espresso in every establishment, a real downtown, an actualized sense of freedom, Cathedrals that make you lay down on the cobblestone in aww, Jesus Paradise (excellent lounge), a train to an endless amount of adventures and sights, Lauren and Priya, Sunday Markets, sidewalk caf├ęs on every block, friendly strangers……