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10 November 2008 @ 11:33 am
Back from Paris, weekend number one. Things I've learned:
Small groups are the best to travel with. 4 max, any more than that and you'll have your head spin into another dimension.
People who invite themselves along do so because they are not welcome anywhere else. There is a reason for that.
Hitting Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower in one evening is crazy. And possible.
The Louvre is free after 6pm on Fridays for students (it's open until 10pm).
There is a Starbucks in the Louvre Carousel/mall. And a Sephora, much less crowded than its Champs Elysees counterpart.
The metro is amazing. And 11,40e for a pack of 10 tickets.
Almost all food everywhere is good. And not to badly priced.
L'Pompidou is amazing.
Have a crepe. It's cheap and great.
The Absolute Paris, hostel, has a very very friendly staff.
Most Parisians are extremely friendly on a whole!
The Eiffel tower is so much more beautiful in person than it is in pictures. The same goes for Notre Dame.
Reserve for trains ahead of time. Many kids got stuck in Paris trying to head back, but we reserved and were fine. Just do it. A week ahead if possible.
People will start to get bitchy at this point of the semester. Push through it, enjoy your cities, split up and meet back up if you want to do separate things. You'll be tempted to compromise but you will regret it if you do.

Paris will charm you regardless of the weather, your hostel, the food, the prices. You will fall in love, as I did. A dark little rain cloud was over our heads all weekend, we were all very pissy; and yet I can't wait for Friday to board a train again and head back to Garde Nord and start my way through the city a second time.

My photos are up on Flickr, and I've got some work to do this week -- trying to get ahead is difficult, but I'm trying! Until later...
05 November 2008 @ 04:12 am
Election day, when I was a kid, was met with alot of happiness. A day off school right near my birthday (sometimes on it) -- and then the Syosset School District got rid of the election day off. After that, I have to say, from the ages of 10-14 I was apathetic to most political issues. And then the 2004 election happened, and I realized that there was a chance both parties were pushing shitty candidates. I really hated John Kerry. And when he lost, I wasn't surprised.

But for the first time, at 18, I learned about this guy and his name today is Mr. President.
Like alot of young people I was won over by his charisma and his rhetoric, but for the first time I feel like a major party candidate is someone I can get behind.

Still, last night I was biting my fingernails watching CNN 'til 2am. Landslides happen all the time and when you're telling people to vote in Sunday morning services... people head to the polls in fear of damnation. I digress...

Experiencing the election from abroad has certainly been an interesting experience. Both of my states (New York and Massachusetts) went blue. I suspected that would happen, but I feel I've let down my country.

I didn't vote.

My ballot never came. Somewhere in the Netherlands postal system mine (of all the New Yorkers) got lost. I was nervous because I believed in a candidate and didn't vote and I had no idea how many people like me were out there. Never mind the fact that absentee ballots are grossly undercounted and often ignored, I felt I had to at least try.

I'm not ashamed I didn't vote though, I would have if I could have, and I'm proud of everyone of my friends who decided to register in Massachusetts and vote.

The captivation of Europe, and the world, with this election has certainly opened my eyes. People who don't even speak English will be able to say "Obama?" to you once they know you're American. Europeans have had massive support for Obama, and I suspect going to Paris next weekend will show it. In fact, Obama has had worldwide support. I knew American politics were influential but I had no idea to the degree this is. Strangers have opinions they want to discuss with real life Americans. Where discussions of action movies amongst strangers once were now lies politics.

The most important thing about this election day, I suppose, is that I'm genuinely excited to go back to America. To start seeing the changes in House, Senate, and Presidency. I don't expect magic, but I do expect something. I hold people to their promises, and this is no different. I don't want to rush this experience, and I won't, but this is a sigh of relief.
22 October 2008 @ 04:09 am
10 days is way too long to be traveling. I don't think I really slept very much. None of this was helped by a falling out I had with my best friend the night before leaving, but now back on campus, and looking at my photos, I can't believe 10 days have gone by, so forgive me for the bulleted points -- I'll elaborate where asked.

  • Croatia is definitely worth visiting. Greece can be difficult to get to, and Croatia, yes, can be a bitch to get out of, but I enjoyed Split and Dubrovnik much more than I thought I would.
  • The Kuna, Croatian currency, was 5:1 to the dollar, an awesome rate. I ate well, and drank well, for 5 days, on about 100 euros.
  • Most pizza in Italy is awesome. Everywhere.
  • When in Roman, go to the Galleria Borghese. Stare at the fresco in the main room. It is not as large as the Sistene Chapel but is way more impressive if you ask me. Also in the gallery: Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian
  • Venice is really crowded during the day, even in October. St. Mark's is much more pleasant after dark, with gelato, listening to classical groups have a virtual "battle of the bands" with one another.
  • You will get lost in Venice. If you are not comfortable with constantly looking at a map/constantly not knowing where you are this is not the city for you.
  • If you do Rome and Venice go to St. Peter's Bascilica and skip St. Mark's.
  • Gondola rides are 100-120 euros. The Vaparetto (water bus) runs on the honor system. Tickets for that, however, are about 16 euros and you get to see just as much of Venice as a Gondola would show you.
  • Seeing your parents eliminates homesickness. I would have liked to see them the second break so it was home stretch from now on but I'm feeling much better now, and it was great to see them (even if we all weren't in LOVE LOVE with Rome or Venice, they however loved Florence as did everyone at the castle who went).
  • RyanAir is rarely competent or on time. It's cheap, because they have constant advertising and raffles and drinks to try and sell you. Plug in your ipod and go to sleep.
  • A taxi from Dusseldorf (Weeze) airport to the castle is about 35 euros, and takes about 15-20 minutes.
  • Pick-pocketing is alive and well in Rome. As is road rage.

    That's all I can muster right now. I have work to do, schoolwork to do, and midterms next week. On the bright side I'm taking the next two weekends off to recuperate -- so I'll be going to local Dutch cities (town of Arcen, Eindhoven, Rotterdam) on day trips! Til then!
    02 October 2008 @ 02:22 pm
    Greetings from VB8 (my room)!
    I've been really sick for the past 24 hours, it's a little bit of an issue. Symptoms include occasional dizziness, sinus pressure, ear ache, stuffy nose, and a sore throat. Treatment includes a 10pm bedtime, Sudafed, tons of rest, and tons of tea.

    Bruges was amazingly beautiful (I know I keep saying that but it's genuinely true!). Belgian people are very friendly and sweet, we had no problems getting around (granted Bruges is the size of the Back Bay). I nearly filled my memory card with pictures. We went into a few art museums, but mostly just walked the city and saw the sights -- took in a few lazy European meals. It was lovely.

    I'm off on a 7 hour train trip tomorrow to Switzerland (Zürich!). Brutal huh? Plans include a trip to Lake Zürich, fondue, and homework on the train. And of course, a trip to the Swiss Design Museum to appease lil ol' me.

    I wish I wasn't so sick. I don't know if I'll wake up better or worse tomorrow, but I'm hoping against hope that it's better! I don't want to miss out on anything because I don't feel up to it. I'll only be in Switzerland once! It's mainly the ear ache I can't stand, very painful. I'll give an update when I get back. Until then,

    Oh well, I live in a castle.
    Thought I'd take a chance to update. It's 7am here, 1am to the East coasters back home, and it's so quiet here in the castle. Alot of kids have already gone off (popular destinations this weekend: Germany, Prague, and where we're going -- Belgium) and campus is calm.

    Amsterdam was beautiful, lazy, unexpectedly Parisian and all together amazing. The Dutch culture is really something I'm starting to get to admire, it's so different from America, even though at first glance it doesn't seem so. I put the pictures up on my Flickr page straight away, so you can see them now. I had a blast, didn't sleep much (our budget hotel was so nice though! Hotel Trianon. The bathroom was slightly grotty but we had clean linens and fresh shampoos and soaps and stuff like that), very friendly front desk staff!

    We saw all the museums -- Van Gogh, Rijks! (for personal reasons I did not go into Anne Frank's house) -- walked the Red Light District, met some locals, rode the tram, had a living statue freak out at us, and all in all had an absolutely perfect first excursion. Since then I've been really looking forward to other trips and booking other things, got my flights down already, we're reserving train seats when we get to Brussels.

    Yes! Brussels! So in an hour we're headed to Belgium! Bruges via Brussels technically -- YES BRUGES. Like In Bruges, where Colin Farrell's an assassin. I very much wanted to see Belgium but I'm not sure there'll be things to do in Bruges, for 3 days, well 2 and a half. We hit Amsterdam for 24 hours and there was so much to see/do that I obviously missed alot... I don't know, I should probably appreciate the lazy paced weekend since I (like everyone else) am getting sick. I'm fighting it with vitamins and oranges and sleep and everything I can think of! Wish me health and luck!

    Hopefully I'll get to post more about actual Bruges, Amsterdam is kind of a blur and this whole week has been so hectic -- America night was insane apparently (I went this time, so much fun, but left before 1am), classes are picking up, etc.

    I've come to realize just how fast this semester will be. 2 weeks done? No way! 2/15 -- when did that happen?! The weeks whiz by and the travel seems to go by faster. If you're coming to the program, you'll see just how fast it is! I will say it helps with homesickness though.

    Okay off to finish packing up my things, put on shoes, get coffee, straighten up, clean and meet my group out front of the school. I'll be back Sunday, hopefully feeling better and with some stories to tell!

    P.S. The title of this post is a quote from In Bruges
    19 September 2008 @ 07:16 pm
    I'll be in Amsterdam in 10 hours, just thought I'd give that update. Classes this week were okay, but I've got my work done, and my bag (half) packed -- what does one bring after all for an overnight trip to Amsterdam?

    I'm most worried about keeping my possessions safe, I guess. My passport and my cash, and my ipod, I suppose, though I may ditch that last minute here in the room -- not worth bringing if it's just risking being nicked, you know?

    Anyway we plan on going to the Van Gogh museum, to Anne Frank's house, to find a sweet little swank bar, walk the canals, and have a few good meals. My budget: 150E (that includes travel/accomodations...aka our hostel for one night). Can I do it? WE'LL SEE.

    I'm charging my camera, my phone is charged, and well, I'm just not looking forward to the 6:30am wakeup. Other than that, it's Amsterdam here I come!
    17 September 2008 @ 04:42 pm
    Classes have started and they’re pretty interesting I suppose. (I’m taking History of Renaissance Art, Intercultural Communications, Media Criticism and Theory, and my Honors Seminar) I knew it would be difficult to juggle the travel and schoolwork but it feels pretty impossible now that we’re syllabus in-hand. We’re trying to plan out the traveling ASAP so that we can just be concerned with schoolwork during the week but when papers and projects start to get hairy, and it’s more than just reading, it’s going to be a challenge (especially since most of us aren’t bringing our computers on the weekends as a safety precaution).

    Other than that it’s been life as usual here on the Well campus. Weeknights are a little lonely but there’s plenty of time for homework which is great, and has been what I’ve been doing. Plus catching up with my TV shows on-demand online.

    This weekend we’re going to Amsterdam this weekend, and perhaps Venlo on Thursday — it’ll be interesting to figure out the buses and trains while seeing a little bit more of Dutch life. I never thought I would be as appreciative or curious about the Netherlands as I am now that I’m here. I’ve spent the last week here without going out and I’ll spend another week — the first trip I’ll be leaving this country for is Belgium (Brussels! Bruges!) and I’m trying to look at the trips as mini-vacations so I can stay sane.

    I am, however, taking naps daily. They’re kind of fabulous.

    I think that’s all I really have to share for now.
    14 September 2008 @ 04:15 am
    So settling in is easier than I thought it would be I suppose. It’s day two and things are much smoother. I just spoke to my parents and I promise pictures are coming, probably in a little bit, so check my Flickr account soon.

    a) Befriend the kid with the wifi passwords. After two days of shitty net I’m getting A++++ service on a weird network. IN MY BEDROOM.

    b) Kill spiders and flies, often and early.

    c) Show up to the pub, but a few minutes later than others. “Fashionable”. Also, to those coming in the spring — get a Mixed Beer at John’s bar (right out of the castle gate and straight to the end of the street). He’s super nice, it’s 3 euro, and delicious. A word of advice though? Remember that beer here has a higher AC.

    d) I think it’s ridiculous how we’re scheduled in orientation activities all weekend. I have only gotten to the town of Well once, not to Venlo yet, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen til Thursday night.

    e) If you plan on going to Amsterdam for the first weekend, book early. Early. We barely got a 6-person private room (practically all that was left) and it looks like it’ll be an interesting train in.

    f) Weiner Melange in the NesCafe is pretty much the. best. thing. in the world. I have no idea what it is, but I think it’s coffee, chocolate, and sugar? 30 euro cents!

    Enough letters. I’m going to watch some Office or a movie or something and maybe pass out with enough energy to wake up a little early and catch a shower in the morning pre-breakfast.

    P.S. To everyone who IMmed me and got a snippy Kate — I’m so very sorry! I was booking a hostel, very super stressed, and just in an all together bad mood.
    14 September 2008 @ 04:14 am
    Oookay. Hello, world. Things have gotten a little shakier since I last saw you.
    After 5 hours of orientation, a 6-7 hour flight, another 2 hour drive, and 8 hours of activities here in Kasteel Well I’m finally in my room for the night about to shut the lights off (local time: 930pm).

    The trip has been amazing - frustrating, exhilirating, unbelievable at points. I will say that every person I’ve met in the program so far (students and professors) is incredibly friendly and sweet. It has made the lack of sleep, the second through fifteenth wind and taking all of this in possible.

    The plane? I was unlucky enough to not sleep through. I’ve stayed up since then to prevent jet lag from taking over. I’ve been fighting sleep for over 24 hours now. The bus ride was actually pretty pleasant, seeing the Dutch countryside from the Amsterdam airport into Well. The castle is pretty unbelievable. My room is growing on me (I hated it at first) but now I’m seeing it for what it is, and it doesn’t feel so bad. I just desperately need to bathe… which is alright because the showers are 6 feet from my bedroom door — woo! However, pulling my suitcases (weighting in at 51.5 and 45lbs respectively) up 3 flights of wooden, curving, uneven stairs by myself wasn’t exactly fun.

    A whole bunch of kids are out to Venlo, a local town, to go to an infamous Dutch coffeehouse tonight — too exhausted, a few of us girls stuck around in town and that’s where I am now, about to pass out.

    (I apologize if this is disjointed — and I am aware it is terribly so, I’m just incredibly tired and pushing out every last detail I can muster for the curious few).

    Tomorrow I plan on heading into Well and getting to know it as well as I tried to orient myself with the castle itself this afternoon. I am, however, apparently living in a room that is a wifi deadzone. Also, my international-ready phone didn’t work properly yesterday. A big frustration as I started to get homesick immediately today. I think being alone will be harder than it was last year but I hope to get to know the singles on my floor alot better and maybe that will help.

    The food, and this part is for my dad who I know would ask about it, is homecooked and generally really good. The selection, I’m sad to report, is extremely limited, but generally the choices you have (meat or vegetarian, as far as I can tell) are both very good from what I’ve had/observed.

    So, tomorrow, Well! Brunch! Some sort of Irish choir? Who knows about that last bit. I suppose I’ll find out later. Until then, I’m jetlagged, tired, excited but wifi-less.

    P.S. Oh well, I live in a castle.
    24 August 2008 @ 03:35 am
    katesandiego is a video, picture, rant, trials and tribulations blog regarding a September, October, November, December journey to Europe.

    I'm Kate, chimneysmoke, a native New Yorker and Emerson College attendant who is embarking on a semester abroad on September 12th, 2008.

    Feel free to join this community or watch it, and keep track of my journey!