Vado a Padova… domani!

So my six weeks of travelling/milling about at home enjoying a bit of R+R flew by incredibly quickly – the most action-packed February I’ve ever had! The fabulous news now is that, tomorrow, I will be flying to Italy where I will be embarking on my next Erasmus semester in Padua (expect every blog post from now on to be pizza-related). Up until now, I hadn’t really thought about how excited I am because in the meantime I have had a great time travelling on a budget to – yet still managing to spend far too much money in – Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Norway and of course back home with the family. But now the penny has dropped – I am going to Italy tomorrow for the first time in my life, and will be staying a whole five months! La vita è bella I tell you…

Before I set off on this new adventure (please Easyjet give me a seat with adequate leg room), I should probably tie up a few loose ends. I haven’t quite managed to keep up with my blogging, so in order to provide a little summary of my winter travels, here are some of my favourite pics taken in various locations over the past month or so. I’ll say now that I am far from a professional – or even halfway decent – photographer, but I try to take quick snaps of things a little bit different that invoke particular random memories. (Brace yourselves for wonky/blurry photos…)

Brussels:

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

P1010195

Le Manneken Pis – Brasil 2014 style!

Paris:

P1010532 (640x480)

“Love is Dead” – not exactly something you’d expect to find spray painted onto the streets of Paris!

P1010524

Incredible cakes at a bakery near my friend’s flat. No idea what they were, just that after one delicious mouthful I knew that I had probably maxed out my recommended calorie intake for that day…

Celebrating Sarah’s (bottom right hand corner) 21st birthday in style – with a classic Eiffel Tower selfie!

Amsterdam:

P1010615

Remembering Nelson Mandela

P1010594

One of the many canals I got lost walking down (preparing for Venice)

P1010608

“Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening” – I read this in a restaurant whilst munching on a yummy (fattening) chicken schnitzel…

P1010618

Peekaboo

Norway:

P1010664

Lady in Stavanger. My ten year old cousin didn’t appreciate this because of the nudity

P1010661

Colourful streets of Stavanger

P1010660

Marilyn ❤

P1010700

Deserted picturesque seaside town (Norway doesn’t do February)

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty's house - not bad!

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty’s house – not bad!

P1010701    P1010720

WP_20140216_009[1]

A Norweigan man paid me the equivalent of £2 to take a picture of him sat here. I would’ve taken it for free…

WP_20140218_007[1]

A mosaic created by my Aunty and her former school (British International School of Stavanger), found in Stavanger Airport Arrivals – pretty cool claim to fame!

I have left out the photos of Paris Erotic Museum, where my friend Lauren and I found ourselves with six floors of all things phallic to look at – a weird experience, but definitely an unforgettable one. I guess watching 1950s porn together amongst other (mainly male) tourists just wasn’t our thing…

Anyway, back to the whole point of this post, I’m going to Italy tomorrow!!!! Did I mention that I am just a little bit excited? My first mission should probably to be to find somewhere to live, but with the Venice carnival currently in full swing, I feel that that particular task may be somewhat postponed. A few more nights in a hostel won’t hurt…

Advertisements

Brussels – Day Two

It may be difficult for anyone who knows me (and therefore knows how I prefer to sit in a bar/café/anywhere to avoid marching about in the cold) to believe, but on “Brussels- Day Two” I spent a good ten hours sightseeing. Shock.

The sightseeing process was, however, slightly delayed by my quest to find a camera charger (mission impossible). After having been coerced into splurging forty euros on what was apparently the only option – a set which comprised of every method possible to charge my camera, and took a puzzling thirty minutes to assemble – it, inevitably, did not work. In a normal world this would be annoying enough, but you could simply take it back to the shop, request a refund and erase such a trauma from your memory. However, this was not to be the case. I had to go to a special desk for returns and deliveries, was given a numbered ticket like when you’re waiting to buy new kids shoes in Clark’s, and waited in line for enough time to watch a nature documentary on whalesong, with dutch commentary (customer services had kindly thought about keeping us entertained during the painful waiting time). When my number was finally called, I was met by a glum-faced assistant who responded to my issues by presenting me with a piece of A4 paper claiming to be a gift voucher for forty euros. Obviously this was not the result an English tourist was after – what use would I have with a gift voucher for a discount hardware shop exclusively in Brussels? Maybe I could find a good-value toaster or a smoothie maker to take back home with me in my suitcase…

Giving up on this particular assistant, I searched the shop for a higher source of power and eventually found someone who spoke to someone who called someone who called someone else who called her back to say that the refund was legit. My forty euros and I were finally to be reunited. If this experience has taught me anything, it’s to never expect anyone in the world to want to help you out… ever. Okay perhaps that’s a slightly cynical view, just don’t expect decent Customer Service in Brussels! (It also gave me an opportunity to put all that French arguing/debating in practise, although this argument was less along the lines of “should girls be allowed to wear the Burqa?”, or “is there a need for feminism in modern France?”, and more among the lines of “give me back my forty euros, bitch.”

Despite this whole episode stealing a good hour of my life, I left the shop feeling triumphant and therefore ready to seize the day. Thus the tourist activities could commence.

First up, the Atomium. So I’m a lover of all things cultural and am not known for being strongly passionate about science or technology. However, atoms are cool, and the Atomium was very impressive. It’s Brussels’ answer to the Eiffel Tower: a non-religious landmark that celebrates and encourages innovation, technology and modern society. Originally being constructed as part of the 1958 Brussels World Fair, the Atomium is the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. There are panaoramic views of Brussels from the top sphere, and you travel from sphere to sphere in some super cool space-agey, flashy-lighty escalators (who knew escalators could be such fun).

P1010376        P1010392    P1010441

P1010440         P1010442      

Inside the Atomium, there was an exhibition on innovation and invention, which sought to define the difference between the two. The main idea is that anything can be invented regardless of its purpose or target market, but when it comes to innovation, there needs to be the specific needs of a target market in mind. The exhibition included Apple’s first version of a tablet in 1993 – “the Newton Message Pad”- which failed to innovate because it “was too early”; the technology was not up to date and there wasn’t yet a need in the market for a tablet.

P1010426  P1010427

After my inner geek had been revitalised, it was time to go in search of yet more frites belges, this time opting for Brussels’ renowned Maison Antoine. You had to buy your frites (with an option of one of about a billion sauces – I stuck with my trusty mayo) at this little hut place and then take them inside a nearby bar. It seemed a bit weird to be taking a bag of chips into a bar but hey, if that’s the way to do it then so be it. We got chatting to some Italians on the table next to us (I say “we” because I pretended to know what was going on, but really I was quite clueless) who informed us that in preparation for every night out, they line their stomach with greasy fried goodness from Maison Antoine. This is apparently much more effective in avoiding a hangover rather than doing the standard end of the night kebab procedure us Brits are accustomed to. Seeing as these guys had already started on their drinking sesh at midday and had plans on making it a late one, I think it was fairly optimistic of them to think they could avoid a hangover in any case. Nonetheless, I was grateful to learn a bit of Italian drinking culture/tactics.

P1010477

Oh also, here’s a “Cone of Legs” I found nearby…

P1010473           P1010474

Onto what Brussels is probably most famous for; the European Parliament. Just wandering about the parliamentary buildings was super cool and inspiring because you hear so many different languages and see people from all over Europe, not to mention the fact these are the people who make every day decisions that affect all of us as European citizens. I can’t really think of a less vulgar way to describe this experience other than a “linguist’s wet dream”. (cringing at that expression but really don’t know how else to put it!)

P1010460     P1010459      P1010465 P1010481                       P1010482

P1010484      P1010479

We went on a little interactive tour which told us a bit about the founding and the history of the EU, with many inspiring quotes along the way:

P1010508     P1010494

P1010497  P1010502 P1010505

The tour ended with a virtual parliament type thing where we sat in a bright white room (a bit like the one in Bruce Almighty) and pretended to be a parliament member whilst listening to various virtual figures put forward their case in order to try and get a law passed. Each member delivers their speech in their own language whilst a team of interpreters work their magic into the 23 official languages of the EU, meaning that each member only ever has to work and think in their mother tongue. How quickly and efficiently a community of so many nationalities can communicate was something I found fascinating; again, too much for an aspiring linguist to cope with.

After a successful touristy/educational day, we sought to recuperate by munching on another Belgian speciality: waffles. I think all of us went for some variation on nutella (does anyone realistically prefer their waffles with anything other than nutella…?)

P1010333

Overall thoughts on Brussels – loved it (even with the camera charger fiasco). Perfect combination of pretty and historical sites mixed with a more modern/urban feel. Part of the charm for me is that, despite being a capital city as well as the capital of the European Union, it really didn’t seem that touristy. You could truly sense that it is a vibrant city that people live and work in; i.e. it isn’t overridden by tourists! (Apart from me). Next time I come back here, however, I definitely need to explore more of “Bruxelles par nuit”!

P1010289   P1010469     P1010365    P1010301

(had to get a bit of Croatian loving in somewhere)

(had to get a bit of Croatian loving in somewhere)

Mussels in Brussels – Day One

After a week of nasty exams, the truth came crashing down; my Erasmus semester at the Université de Lorraine in Nancy was over. This was kind of bittersweet. It meant no more horrible grammar lessons with patronising, evil French lady who petrified me more than a handshake with my former school headteacher (all Kennet pupils will know what I mean), and no more of the daily forty minute walk to uni at 8 in the morning in the bitter cold (not good for my lazy/ “I hate mornings” personality). However, these are quite possibly the only things I won’t miss about my time here. This semester has without a doubt been my best so far since embarking on my degree course, I will obviously miss Tuesday nights at “The Love Boat”, and I have made some lifelong friends from not just England and France, but all over Europe.

Anyway, the best part is I’m only half way through my year abroad, and even better is that I have a six week gap until I repeat the gruelling uni enrolment process in Padova, Italy ( FYI definitely not complaining about the Italy part, just the crappy admin stuff). So I decided to take advantage of this and have temporarily become Bobbie the Traveller. First stop: Bruxelles.

Travelling on a budget, we decided to try out the bus company, Eurolines. This was efficient, cheap and – thanks to some consistently arguing Italians/Arabs – highly entertaining. Upon arrival we found the hostel and, from the front door, things didn’t look too promising….

P1010361

However, it was in a prime position (located just off the main square), and, at 20 euros a night, we could hardly complain.  After some struggles with duvets (this was extra difficult for my Wisconsin pal Zak who hadn’t had any experience with the duvet cover/duver combination before – apparently in America it’s an all-in-one sort of affair), we set off to explore the city. What I found surprising whilst wandering about the streets was that, despite being a capital city and obviously a popular tourist destination, they were practically empty. Perhaps this was due to the miserable weather… 

P1010166 P1010169

Nevertheless, being English and naturally having low expectations weather-wise, I was completely un-phased and my mood could not be dampened – especially after a nutritious,wholesome meal of frites and chicken strips.

P1010178

(The next attempt at eating Belgian chips, however, wasn’t so successful, as they were so well fried that I cut my gum on one, had to leave the rest of the packet, and spent the next half an hour dabbing at my mouth with a tissue…)

Moving on, something I didn’t really know about Brussels before going there, was how much cool street art there is. Here’s some particularly impressive stuff by a Belgian artist called ROA, whose work can be found throughout Europe, London and the U.S (found this out through a friend/google). He’s keen on combining and contrasting nature with urban life, so chooses places such as derelict carparks, constructions sites, factories, or just generally remote urban areas to create murals of animals like these incredibly cute piggies:

P1010185      P1010184

Here’s some other cool street art:

P1010163  P1010252     

 P1010207   P1010206

And then there’s this one based on Brussels’ famous mannekin of le garcon qui fait pipi (the pissing boy):

P1010209          P1010192

We then stumbled across a skate park with some brilliant views over the station, so played about and took photos there for a while (probably much to the disgust of people who actually wanted to use the park for its original purpose).

brussels   P1010224   P1010226

Next stop was a super cool lift up to I can’t remember where, but it provided us with some pretty magical views over the whole of Brussels just as the sun was setting.

P1010267  P1010269

In the evening we were in need of warming up so went for a “hopdog” (hotdog), served to us by a man who was slightly baffled as to why an English person, an American and two Italians were conversing in French…This also confused us as sentences merged between French, Italian, English and a tiny bit of Spanish (a boy from Peru staying in our hostel thought I was Portugese when he couldn’t make out what language I was speaking – think I’m having an identity crisis).

After a yummy dinner, we set off on a quest to find some Belgian beer. In the process we walked past many touristy restaurants and were offered all the moules we could ever desire. I didn’t even know Brussels were famous for mussels; it’s definitely not near the sea. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

P1010340

Having avoided being dragged into any fishy restaurants (I don’t even like mussels), we found our destination; Delirium – a bar which claims to have a list of over 2100 beers on offer. My choice seemed fairly obvious…

P1010350

But I stuck with something girly and peach flavoured. (Can’t remember the name, sorry)

P1010343

I was then permitted a brief boogie in an Irish bar by my fellow (more sensible) travellers, before calling it a night as we had an action packed day of being tourists yet to come…