Sunday, May 13, 2012

What I've learned


 I’ll do a quick update on my CRAZY life before I get into all the sappy stuff, but as my year is coming to a close, you all better be prepared for me to get sappy.

SPAIN
The 11 days I spent with the other exchangers in Spain were probably the best 11 days of my life. Put 70 kids from over 15 countries together and it’s bound to be a good time. 
  • We visited Salamanca and found the frog in the University façade. 
  • We explored Avila and learned about the origins of the Ku Klux Klan. 
  • We went to Segovia where I found the castle I will shortly be moving into. 
  • We were surprised by a visit to a little monastery town where it SNOWED. 
  • We explored Madrid and learned that Hard Rock Café is not worth the 2-hour walk it takes to get there. 
  • We went to Barcelona and skinny dipped in the Mediterranean and soaked up the true Catalan culture
We drank Sangria every day, with every meal. We learned really inappropriate Spanish phrases, and when we tried to use them on the locals, we learned that their football game was more important than the touristy gringas. We learned that it’s possible to go 12 hours without food, but it is not recommended when surrounded by 70 hungry, grumpy, aggressive, multilingual teenagers. We discovered that Easter parades shut down streets for hours at a time, demolishing any disco plans that you might have had. We learned that it’s possible to eat tapas and paella for every meal for 11 days straight and not get sick of it. We realized that even if we had to visit 3 cathedrals a day, we could find ways to entertain ourselves. And most importantly, I learned that I would NEVER forget the people that I shared the best week and a half of my life with. 











Quick trip back to Blauzac
On the way back from Spain, the bus was going to drop me off at a rest stop and my host dad was going to come pick me up and take me to their paradise. My host dad told me to call him when I passed Marseilles. 
However, we did not take into account that when I would pass Marseilles it would be dark, and I wouldn’t be able to see any signs. We also did not take into account when they said “It’s the only big city you’ll see on the way up” that my version of a big city is different from theirs. So, what I learned from this experience is that when you ask the bus driver what time we’ll get to the rest stop, pay special attention to what he says because “deux heures” and “douze heures” sound VERY similar
I also learned that I should verify which city is actually Marseilles, because when I called my host dad and said “Hey I’m passing Marseilles right now, I’ll be there at ‘douze heures’” I actually wasn’t passing Marseilles and wouldn’t get there until ‘deux heures’. I learned this night that host fathers can get very grumpy when they wait at a rest stop for two hours because of a little word lost in translation. Oops.
On this trip I also learned that drinking wine consistently throughout the day will give you some very solid, enjoyable naps in the South of France sunshine.


The Colosseum in Nimes, near Blauzac


ROPES COURSES
I think that one time, back in Cheyenne, in about fifth grade, I did a ropes course. I thought it was a cool experience, but was never really interested in doing it again. I learned that fifth grade me was an idiot, because those things are FUN. A couple of weeks ago, the President of Rotary International came to Belgium. THIS IS BIG. Things like this don’t happen often. So we did some strange little things with umbrellas to welcome him and sang songs and then all got to watch the Hunger Games together BEFORE it was released in theaters. I learned from this experience that watching movies with latinos is a very, very challenging thing, because they’re all too hyper to sit down for ten minutes-let alone a WHOLE MOVIE- and just watch something. That was a Thursday. 
That Saturday, we had a district conference and were all supposed to meet in Antwerp. I learned that every transportation system has its issues, and I learned that we are not good at figuring out the Antwerp metro. This information together means that me and five or six others missed the WHOLE assembly and got there just in time to go on a river cruise of the port of Anvers. In case you were wondering and wanted to learn something, it’s not a very pretty port
That night, I went to dinner in Brussels with all my family and spent the night at my oldest host sister’s apartment there. I learned that she knows really awesome bars in Brussels, and took us to one where you danced on tables. And I mean EVERYONE. Floor dancing is just ridiculously boring; table dancing is so much better. I also learned (by watching) that this is a very good drunk test, and if you fall over the pain of hitting the floor should sober you up fairly quickly. 
I learned that it’s possible to go to sleep at six AM and wake up at eight AM to take the train to a city an hour away to go to a ropes course all day. I discovered that if you dress us in jump suits, hook us up to harnesses, and put us in trees, we’ll have the time of our lives. This could easily be one of the best days of my exchange, and I can’t even pinpoint why. It was good weather (for once…) with good people and such a fun activity that I’ll never forget.  The day after, I learned that I lost every ounce of muscle I’d had, and it was a painful process trying to get it back. I thought that would be the end of my rope courses in Belgium. I learned I was wrong.

Since I’m in the “sports” section of school, we are obligated to learn different elements of sports that the people in the non-sports sections aren’t. This included “self-defense” or “let’s-show-all-the-really-tough-boys-all-the-ways-to-take-down-a-girl”, “Rugby” or “some-ball-sport-played-in-the-freezing-cold-rain-while-our-Frankenstein-coach-tries-to-get-us-to-tackle-each-other-HARDER”, and finally “Adventure Day” which was by far the best but requires a further explanation. It was originally supposed to be a ropes course and then kayaking down a nearby river, but last week the river flooded (THAT MUCH RAIN IN BELGIUM) and the kayakers had to be removed from their kayaks by helicopter, so they canceled that part of it. Instead we stayed at the ropes course, which involved things like: “the death ride” where you attached your harness to a wire and jumped off a cliff HOPING the two people at the bottom in charge of catching you are paying attention, the “tarzan jump” where you got to jump off a tree and fly full speed ahead into a really painful net, and “barrel roll” which involved getting on your back and pushing yourself through barrels while suspended over 30 feet in the air. 
There were also underground tunnels that luckily were filled with water since it had rained ALL DAY LONG while we were attempting to tarzan jump and barrel roll and ride death. You climb underneath this tunnel into pitch black and get to scrape up your knees and get your hands all muddy and in case this wasn’t fun, they put obstacles in!! Like wooden boards right where your forehead would meet it, and planks that you couldn’t get over or under without getting your entire body soaking wet. 
At the end of the day we got to do the “vertigo challenge”, which meant climbing up a ladder designed for Hagrid, putting your slippery shoes into pony sized horseshoes, and attempting to connect yourself to the bungee wire, which is insanely difficult because they built these sorts of things for tall people with long arms and legs, WHICH I DON'T HAVE. I learned that it doesn’t matter if it rains all day or if you can’t move the next day because every single muscle on your body is killing you (including your fingers), ropes courses are a good time.


Port of Anvers

President Day!

Table Dancing!

Ropes Course with Rotary




GAY PARADE
It just so happens that while all sorts of debating is going on in the States about Gay Rights, we were all celebrating the gays in the Gay Pride Festival in Brussels. The majority of the girls on exchange went, and even though it took me AGES to get there and back, it was an amazingly fun day. There was recently a train collision on my railway out of Dinant where a train carrying chemical substances was rear-ended by another train carrying chemical substances. I’m not entirely sure how this happens, but it’s created a big mess and half the town it happened next to had to be evacuated. No one was killed but since it’s a chemical mess it’s fairly difficult for them to clean it up. So until the line is fixed, we get to cram ourselves onto a bus for 50 minutes and drive to the big city near us, instead of going on a 25 minute train ride. ANYWAYS, the gay parade. Brussels was PACKED since this is one of the biggest gay pride festivals in Europe. Everyone was dressed really colorfully and all sorts of people were there. There were gay and lesbian couples, there were cross-dressers, and there were straight people of all ages. They were blasting music and painting faces and throwing confetti and there were all sorts of free giveaways. A parade happened as well but there were so many people it was impossible for me to see anything. We had to sit down for 3 minutes of silence to be respectful for the 8 countries where being homosexual is a crime punishable by death, but other than that everyone was in such a good mood. The sun was even shining, and that combined with all the colors and how excited everyone was made it an amazing atmosphere. In Wyoming, there are no gay pride festivals. There are very few gay people, and I’m so lucky I got to go to this parade and learn more than I ever possibly could have in Wyoming.







The train crash near my city

And now we get all sad and sappy. Before I went on exchange, everyone told me “appreciate your year, it goes by fast. You won’t even blink an eye and then it’s all over. All you’ll want is to relive every moment that you didn’t take full advantage of, learn every word that you didn’t understand, and become friends with the people that you never got a chance to meet. As soon as you’re comfortable with your exchange life, it’s whisked away…” And I guess that’s life, but it makes me so sad to think about coming home. To realize that I won’t be able to see my best friends every day at school. To comprehend that I can’t just take the train to our magical bar and have 5 or 6 hours of complete exchange. I don’t like those thoughts at all, but May has come and today I have exactly two months left of exchange.
Most of my friends back home are moving out of their dorms and finishing college, to head back to Cheyenne and be reunited with everyone. Most of my exchange friends are in full on panic mode, because we’ve realized how little time we have left and how much we still want to do. Trips to other countries we haven’t yet seen are being organized, plans to go to amusement parks and out-of-control summer music festivals are arranged, and we’re starting to plan our goodbye parties and talk about departure dates. It makes May a very hectic and chaotic month.  
Last night I went to a mothers day dinner with all my family. I was checking with my sisters to make sure they’d be able to make it to the airport to say goodbye to me, and I told them I leave at noon. The oldest one said, “Kenzie I wish you weren’t leaving in the morning, now our entire day will be ruined because we won’t be able to stop crying.” I almost broke out into tears right there in the restaurant. All the exchange students are having problems with this lately. Every time we get together we can’t help but talk about leaving and then we all get all sad and everyone starts crying. 
It’s the biggest emotional roller coaster ever, 
and no one knows how to handle it

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SO MUCH TO CATCH UP ON!!

I seem to start out EVERY blog like this, so I think it's a recurring theme, but sorry I took so long to update!! This last month has been whirlwind, I can't believe March is already gone! First things first...

Amsterdam with Murphy
My sister flew out to Belgium to spend her spring break with me, and it was so much fun. She was only here for 5 days, but we wanted to do as much as possible with her time, starting with Amsterdam!! We met up with her roommate from last semester who's doing an exchange in Scotland, and the three of us had so much fun.

The first day, we got there around two and went to the Heineken Experience. It's this HUGE museum talking all about how beer is made and the history of Heineken. We tasted some, and then I was taught how to bartend. It was so much fun, and my beer was practically perfect!!! After that we looked around Dam Square a little bit, ate an Italian restaurant, and went to bed pretty early because Murphy was exhausted after two days of solid traveling. At the restaurant, she ordered wine and was so happy when the waiter brought it to her without asking for an ID or questioning her age or anything. It's so normal for me now, but it was adorable to see her disbelief.

The next day, we saw the Van Gogh Museum which had amazing paintings, but we were so disappointed that "Starry Night" wasn't there. We also saw the Rijskmuseum with the most amazing china with delicate blue and white designs on it from when Amsterdam first became a city. It was absolutely beautiful. After that we went to the Anne Frank house which is INCREDIBLE. You go through the entire house that hid her and hear the background stories and then you actually get to go past the bookshelf that hid the door into their annex and see EVERYTHING. We saw Anne's room with the clippings she had cut out from magazines, we saw the kitchen that had marks on the wall of Anne and Margot growing taller, and we learned a lot about the history. I can't even imagine staying in one little room for 25 months. She was so young, and she was captured and died from typhus only 1 month before the liberation. She had already started transforming her diary into a novel, and when her dad (the only surviving member of the family) found it, he published it. It was such an indescribable feeling, being in the same house that she was in for those horrible two years.

After the Anne Frank house, we did a canal cruise around Amsterdam. We saw so much of the beautiful city and learned a lot about the history as well. I'm glad it was a nice day out! When we were done, we went to the Red Light District. Murphy wasn't too eager to go but it's such a huge part of Amsterdam's fame that I couldn't leave without experiencing it a little. The District is right in the center of town, and it's a ton of narrow streets that crisscross. We had seen it a little in the daytime, but the girls were a little bit chubbier or older and less attractive. When we went at night, the girls were all bombshells. Most of them looked around my age, with surprisingly classy underwear. None of them were naked, I think they're required to wear at least a bra and underwear, but there were so many of them. Streets and streets and they had windows on the first and second floor. No pictures were allowed (obviously) but it's something I'll probably never forget just because it was so different. When we passed, the girls looked bored and were talking to each other or playing on their cell phones and just kind of generally indifferent to the people around them. However, when a group of boys walked by, they changed their posture, started batting their eyelashes, got rid of the phone, and put all their attention on that boy. It was a dramatic difference.

When we had seen enough of that, we went to this delicious Argentinian place and ate. Then we went to a bar and the bartender kept giving us free shots and he gave us adorable little hats for St. Patricks day. We were completely exhausted after so much walking and sightseeing that day, and we left Monday morning at ten to head back to Belgium!

Belgium with Murphy
Once we were back in Belgium, we headed to Breendonk, the concentration camp just outside of Brussels. I had never been but I really wanted to go because world war two history is so interesting to me. When we finally found it (we got a little lost...) we got headsets to hear the information about the camp. It was not a happy place (obviously). The weather that day made it a little worse too, it was all grey and cloudy and cold and generally Belgian-like. We learned a lot about the perpetrators of the camp, and a little bit about the prisoners. 3500 people were kept in the camp, but only about 600 at a time. 164 were shot, 21 hanged, and 100 died of sickness, bad treatment, and exhaustion. It wasn't a very big camp, because it was more of a holding ground before they were sent to the bigger camps like Dachau, Bergen Belsen, and Auschwitz. We saw the place where they hanged and shot the prisoners outside, and we saw where they slept inside. It was freezing cold. Everything is built with concrete and had a wettish feel to it, plus it was just a generally depressing place, so as long as you were inside you couldn't get warm. We also learned a lot about the Mechelen Trials, which were held to prosecute the workers of the camp.

When we were done with that depressing experience, we went to Brussels. We saw the Grand Place and ate a delicious Belgian waffle and fries. We also had a beer at all the exchanger's favorite bar in Brussels.  We couldn't stay long because we had to meet my family for dinner, but it was a quick and efficient way to show my sister the main places I go in Brussels. Also, my friend found this hilarious thing about living in Brussels, basically if you've ever been to Belgium you'll understand most of it. It's completely accurate and hilarious.
http://cheeseweb.eu/2010/06/top-20-signs-expat-brussels-long/

The next day, we saw the Maredsous Abbey and had some beer and cheese from there, and then went to see the Citadel. I'd only been there once with Rotary and I hadn't gotten to see the whole thing, but the view is absolutely incredible. You can see all of Dinant, I could even pick out my families houses!

It was such a busy week with her, but it was awesome to see my sister again. It's crazy to think that I've been here for 7 months and can't imagine leaving. Definitely a good life I live :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

CARNAVAL!!!

The first thing I would like to say is that America doesn't celebrate Carnival. And we should. Because it might be my new favorite holiday ever. We get to celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) which represents the beginning of spring (which we all appreciate) and then it's about a week long party. My dream is to go to Brazil for carnival, because that one is infamous, but the one I experienced here was awesome as well!

Last Friday, my family and I left Dinant to go to Uzes in France. It's normally about a 8.5-9 hour drive (if you follow the speed limit) but my host dad got us there in about  7. So that was fun. My host family has a house in an adorable little village named Blauzac, which in the winter has about 900 inhabitants but in the summer it rises to about 3000. Belgians know how to vacation. Normally they leave the first week of July for summer break (generally France, sometimes Africa), and don't return until late August. They just moved into this house about 3 weeks ago, and I think I've fallen in love. It's the prettiest house in the whole world, and since my family owns an art gallery they've stocked it full of art. There are 7 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms, an office, an indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen, a pool, a fountain, a vineyard, and a guest house. The WiFi box is on one side of the house, and it's so huge that we have no signal on the other side. It's ridiculous, but wonderful. I've decided to stay until mid-July just so I can come here again in the summer and relax before returning to real life in the States. But I digress. Anyways, we went to the amazing house in the South of France for one night before heading to the Pyrenees for skiing.

From Blauzac to the Pyrenees is about a 3 hour drive (with my host dad driving, maybe 5 for normal people). We drove right next to the Mediterranean Sea for maybe 45 minutes and then headed up into the mountains. Paradise is where you can see snow and sea at the same time. We got to their condo in this resort called "Les Angles" at about noon and we hit the slopes by 1:30. Skiing here is a little different than skiing back home. The difficulty of the slopes at home goes from Green to Blue to Black to Double Black. Here, it's Green, Blue, Red, Black. The resort was fairly small compared to Steamboat but it was considerably bigger than Snowy Range. They only had 2 double blacks but they weren't open because of lack of snow. The snow wasn't bad but it hadn't snowed in a while so by the end of the week it was fairly icy. Also, in the states, a lot of people wear helmets. I would say more than 70%. Here, only about 10% wear them, and they are all little kids. There were no mogul runs here, but quite a few steep ones. There is one black called "the wall" and there is a chairlift right next to it. Every single time I used that chair lift we saw someone fall at the top of the run and slide all the way to the bottom. There was literally nothing they could have done, it was that steep and slippery. I went down it with my host sisters boyfriend and there were three people that had fallen within 25 feet of each other and two of them had to call ski patrol and ride down in a sled because they were injured. Getting injured isn't funny but watching people slide about 75 feet is fairly comical. We decided the ski resort should try and put a camera to film the slope, they would get hilarious videos.

Another big difference is that they use poma lifts A LOT here. More than chair lifts. And most people prefer them over chairlifts, which I think means that they are crazy. For example, with chairlifts, you get to sit down, rest your feet, you get a pretty view, you can relax and rearrange your gear, get on the phone, whatever you want to do. If it stops, you sit comfortably and wait for it to start again. People can ski under your lift without a problem. With Poma Lifts, you have about a 3 second window to grab a pole and shove it between your legs before it whips you forward so hard and fast you have a heart attack and get bruises on your thighs. You can risk taking your hands off the pole, but the second you hit a bump, you're screwed. You have to stand up the whole time, and can't even really lean on the pole because then you fall over. Rearranging gear becomes a ninja exercise because you have to hold the pole, your poles, and then if you need to take your gloves off, you hold those too and have about two fingers available to fix whatever you need too. You get the thrilling experience of seeing skiiers and boarders flying towards you and refusing to slow down because your Poma trail just happens to cross their cat track. If it stops (which it does, often), it's probably because some little kid couldn't figure out the system and got all tangled up in the trail. So you get to stand helplessly and wait for the kiddies to get their act together. Some really demented workers decided on one lift it would be hilarious to make a jump as soon as you took off with the Poma. So you grab the pole, shove it between your legs, take off and warp speed and then hit this giant bump that scares you to death and almost throws you off the pole. You're almost reorganized after that terrifying experience when you hit another jump and the same thing happens all over again. And the demented workers can't stop laughing. Anyways, as you can see, I'm not a big fan of Poma Lifts.

One more difference in skiing back home and skiing here is that in Europe, I can drink. I never understood my parents desire to go to the bar instead of the hot tub after a day of skiing, but now I get it. Hot wine feels as good as a hot tub. We can also drink beer and wine at lunch, and then go skiing. It's a very entertaining process, if not slightly dangerous. We ended up skiing for six days, and it was exhausting. Spain is about a 30 minute drive from where we were, and they are on vacation as well as France, so the place was completely packed. Now I'm back in Blauzac until Sunday, and it is SO WARM here!! I can hear the birds every morning when I wake up (something that doesn't happen in Belgium) and the sun is shining without clouds (again, NEVER happens in Belgium) and I'm very happy :) It's not warm enough to go swimming yet (I know, how sad), but it is warm enough to tan in lawn chairs by the pool!!! Which, incidentally, is where I am writing this. I'll put up pictures soon :)

I've been here 6 and a half months, and time is flying by. My boss from last summer and the summer before that is coming to Belgium in two weeks, so I'll get to see him and then I'm going to Amsterdam with my sister! I CANNOT WAIT. Six weeks from now is my trip to Spain for two weeks, and then it's basically summer time. What a good life I live :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The second half...

Hello!! 


I can't believe I'm already half way done with my exchange. Before I left, January seemed ages away and now it's HERE. This panics me, because I'm so happy with my life and my exchange here, I don't want to go home. The exchangers that arrived last January headed home two weeks ago, and seeing them leave really makes me appreciate everything that I have here and I'm ready to enjoy it before my time is over!

Here are a few of the things I've been up to...

After Christmas, my family took a trip to Disneyland with all my cousins and me. It was so fun, we stayed right in the park and we all had a great time. At Disneyland Paris, the castle is Sleeping Beauty's castle. My 9 year old cousin that went us LOVES Aurora, and had the best time watching all the Princesses. I had lots of fun riding the rides! We stayed for 3 days and did practically everything, we even went to a Buffalo Bill show that was "Cowboys vs. Indians" and there were 4 teams. Colorado, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming. I was on the Montana team, but I wish we could have been on Wyoming's team! Wyoming won, so it worked out in the end! Here are some photos!!







On January 6th, the oldies from New Zealand left. I went to Kayla's goodbye party and then her family, other exchange students, and I went to the airport to say goodbye. It was horrible. When I think back on the first part of my exchange, I think of everything Kayla and I did together. We were practically inseparable, and after having someone be there for you when you don't know the language, you don't know your family, and you have no friends, it's really hard to say goodbye to that someone. It was even worse watching her family say goodbye to her. Normally, with Rotary, you change families three times. Kayla stayed with her family the entire year, and they all got really close. When she hugged her family goodbye, and her dad and grandpa just started bawling, everyone watching started crying as well. When we say goodbye to our families before we go on exchange, we know that we will see them in a year. When exchange students say goodbye to the friends and family they made on exchange, it's an actual goodbye, because you don't know when you're going to see those people again.  I also had to say goodbye to my really good friend Danielle, from South Africa that day. I've decided that I hate goodbyes. As if saying goodbye to the Kiwi's and Danielle wasn't bad enough, on January 13th more than half of the Australians left. Although I wasn't as close to the Aussies as I was to Kayla, they still managed to become some of my best friends. And it wasn't only us saying goodbye to them, it was them saying goodbye to each other. Australia is a huge country, and some of the people that became very best friends won't easily be able to see each other. After we said goodbye to the majority of Aussies, we decided to spend the night in the airport because the other Aussies were leaving the next day at 6 AM. We went into Brussels for a while and then came back to the airport on the last train. It was not the best night of sleep, but I learned that the Starbucks in Brussels International (one of only THREE in all of Belgium) stays open all night. I really, really miss Chai tea latte's. We then said goodbye to the other Aussies and left the airport completely drained. I managed to get home at 9:30 the next morning, but took the prettiest picture of my town on the way home.

I also changed families on January 7th!! I still live in Dinant, only about a 15 minutes walk away from my last house. I have three host sisters and one host brother, although I haven't met the brother and one of the sisters yet. I have a sister who is 19 and goes to school in Namur but comes home every weekend. She's hilarious, and we get along really well. Another sister is 22 and lives in Liege, and my oldest sister is 25 and lives near Brussels. My host mom is an accountant at my host dad's law firm, and they have a house in the South of France (with a vineyard)! They also have a house on the beach of the North Sea near Calais (can't really go swimming in the North Sea but I hear it's super pretty!) and then a condo in the French Pyrenees where they are taking me skiing for a week for Carnaval. They also have a dog and a cat here! The dog is blind and deaf but really sweet, and the cat is 22 years old and likes to sleep right next to my head each night. My middle sister also has a 2 year old dog who could play fetch for hours but also likes to snuggle at night. I love the animals :) My family also said they would take me to their house in the South of France for the summer vacation if I stayed long enough, so I think I might be coming home around mid-July. We have to pick our return dates soon, and I absolutely don't even want to think about returning. But before I go home, I still have several concerts to go to, a Spain trip, a Prague trip, and I hope a couple more weekends traveling!!

I also went to Antwerp with a friend and Bruges with Rotary, and both those cities are the most picturesque places I've ever been. My newies also arrived in Belgium, they remind me so much of me when I first got here. It's hard to believe how quickly you change, even if it's only been six months.

The exchange life is very, very good for me right now. I'm so happy, I can't even imagine my life without exchange.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Madrid, Paris, St Nicolas, and CHRISTMAS!

I really am trying to write more frequently, but I've been so busy lately!! Here's what I've been up too...

P.S. photos are on facebook, it takes too long to upload them all here!
MADRID
December 2-5 I went to Madrid with Kayla and stayed at my host cousins house. She lives right in the center of Madrid, and it was amazing! To fly from Brussels Charleroi to Madrid and back was only about 70 euros, and since we had someplace to stay, it wasn't that expensive. I plan on becoming a professional couch surfer, that really is the way to live life.

The day we arrived, we were kind of a disaster. We don't speak Spanish and no one would speak English with us, even though we know they know the basics. We went sightseeing a little that day and saw the Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Castle, and a really impressive Cathedral. Then we went to Flamenco dancing, which is a lot more like tap dancing than I thought it would be. After that we found this American Diner that had a menu in English and served all sorts of American food, I was in Heaven!!! I had a club sandwich and Kayla had a real hot dog (they don't have hot dogs in Europe like we have hot dogs back home) and then we had Apple Pie, it was the best thing ever. After we paid they gave us a gumball. It was just like back home <3

The second day we were supposed to meet up with Kayla's friend from Argentina that lives in Valencia (about 5 hours away from Madrid), and in typical Latino fashion we didn't meet up til about 2 in the afternoon. They don't speak any French (obviously) and a little English, but we made it work and had so much fun with them. We went to Parc Retiro and saw the Crystal Palace and all sorts of cool parks, then we ate tapas for lunch (they normally eat lunch at 3-3:30 here and dinner at about 10) and then we went back to Puerto del Sol and shopped at this massive place called Cortes Ingles. After that we left Kayla's friends and went to find somewhere to eat, and then we went bar hopping. The first bar we went to we paid 8 euros for a daiquiri. We decided pretty quick that wasn't going to happen all night long, but luckily for us, we're girls. In Madrid if you're just with other girls, people that work at the bars will give you coupons to entice you to spend time at their bar and bring the boys with you. Someone told us we could get two drinks for 5 euros. Then after that, the bartender made us another drink. And then they gave us two more. It was ridiculous. Then we heard about this club that apparently was really good, so at about 2 AM we headed to the club. It was 7 stories, and each story had a different theme. There were dance floors, bars, smoking rooms, hookah rooms, and even half naked go-go dancers on the stage. IT WAS SO COOL. We ended up getting home at about 5 AM, but it was definitely a night to remember!

The next day we wanted to get an early-ish start to go to Toledo (really old city just outside of Madrid) but that plan completely failed. We got there at about 3 and looked around the city (more like hiked around the city, it's super hilly) and got tickets for the train at 8. At about 7 we had a panic attack because we didn't know where the train station was, and let me remind you WE DON'T SPEAK SPANISH, so we started full out sprinting to get there in time. We got there with about 5 minutes to spare, but our tickets wouldn't work and we got kicked out of the line. They didn't work because our original tickets were for the train at 10 but we didn't want to get home that late so we changed them. The ticket person finally got it figured out so we made the train but it was a very, very stressful time.

Our last day there we went shopping!! My host cousin showed us this street with a bunch of cool shops and we bought Christmas presents and purses and then ate a long lunch and ended up running in the airport to make our plane. Kayla and I end up running a lot. We need to learn better time management skills. Overall Madrid was an awesome trip where we met lots of cool people and learned enough Spanish to get around! I can't wait to go back for Easter Break :)

PARIS
The parents and brothers of the host cousin I stayed with in Madrid invited me to come stay with them in Paris two weeks after I got back from Madrid. I appreciate the fact that my host family lives in awesome cities and invites me to come visit.

The first day I got there we went to Galeries Lafayette to see this AMAZING Christmas tree, and then we walked over to Printemps and went to the top of the building for an incredible view of Paris. You could see La Defense, the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and Montmarte, it was indescribable. Then we went to look at the Christmas Markets at Montmartre and see Sacre Coeur. I love the area of Montmartre but everything at the Christmas Market was super expensive! Then we went on a walk through Paris and ate cake and drank tea at this super cute little restaurant that had the best cake EVER! After that we went shopping and I bought shoes for the Christmas Dance at school and a purse.


The next day we went to Brunch at this American restaurant where every single person that worked there was from the U.S. I ate pancakes with syrup and was sooo happy. They don't eat pancakes and syrup here, they eat crepes and sugar or waffles and chocolate. I most definitely love those too, but I was missing pancakes and syrup a little bit as well. After that we went to the catacombes. Angeline (my host cousins girlfriend) was TERRIFIED. Absolutely certain that we were going to die in the catacombs. It was the weirdest experience ever. I knew we would be seeing bodies, but I thought it'd just be skeletons laying around. I was SO wrong. There are thousands of skeletons. Everywhere. But made into pretty little designs. They only use the skulls and arm and leg bones for the designs and then they shove the rest behind so you can't see them. It is a weird, weird thing. There were also really depressing quotes everywhere like "wake up each morning thinking you'll die that night, and go to bed each night thinking you'll die the next morning." It was a cheery place.



When we left, we went to Notre Dame and rode Carousels and drank Starbucks and then we went to the Champs Elysees and saw all the Christmas lights and Christmas markets, and that was a much happier place.

My last day there I heard that my parent's best friends (who live in North Carolina and we only see once a year if that) would be in Paris. I sent them an email and we met up at Notre Dame and then went to see the Saint Chapelle together. It was really good to see people from home and speak two hours of uninterrupted English. We hardly ever meet up in the States but we managed to meet up in Paris!! Then I went to a Rotary Christmas Party with my host aunt and uncle and got a really cool Mexican Nativity Set and everyone signed a piece of paper wishing me a Merry Christmas or wrote some cute little note :) I can't wait to go back to Paris in March or April to meet up with my French teacher and other kids from my high school back home!! It was such a fun weekend with wonderful Parisienne tour guides :)

St Nicolas
Every year on the 6th of December, St Nicolas comes and gives all the kids candy. It's a wonderful holiday. I got candy from my host grandparents, my host family, and my host aunt and uncle, and I'm probably going to die from a chocolate overdose soon. At school, someone dresses up in the St Nic outfit and they go around to all the classrooms and throw candy at the kids, it's a lot of fun. I might try and make my real family adopt this holiday, its just like Halloween with all the candy!

Christmas!
My school had a formal Christmas Ball, and everyone got all dressed up to go. They serve dinner before the dance, and dinner starts at 8 and the dance ends at 2. The weirdest part of all of this was that the teachers were selling alcohol, and the kids were drinking it with the teachers. It completely blew my mind. It was awesome, but something like that would absolutely never happen back home. I was supposed to go home at about 2:30, but stayed to help clean up and got home at 7:45 instead. At school dances back home, teachers help clean up and we always come back the morning after to do it. There were absolutely no teachers in the school during clean up and it lasted from 2:30 til about 7 AM. I was so tired I fell asleep on a table. I got home and slept all day, it was wonderful.

Christmas Eve we had maybe 15 people over for Turkey and presents. My host dad gave me one of his paintings (he's an amazing painter), I got a scarf from my host sister (my collection is RAPIDLY growing) and gloves from my other host sister, and the big present from my host parents is that they're taking us all to Disney Land tomorrow for 3 days. I AM SO EXCITED. I also got a Pandora charm from my host aunt and uncle and bathroom stuff from Mami and Papi. It was a good Christmas Eve :)

For actual Christmas all of Mami and Papi's family came to eat dinner. They have 7 kids, and each of their kids have about 3 kids, and cousins were there and it was just out of control. This family is HUGE. All the cousins did a gift exchange, I got a scarf (did I mention my collection is growing rapidly?) and I gave away an America tshirt and bag. Then we played a game like scharades but with drawing, and ate wonderful sea food and fruit and had delicious Yule Logs for dessert and did a flash mob that we had made up earlier in the day. At the end of the night (about 2 AM) we played a trivia game about the families and the winner got to take 7 bottles of wine home. The questions were things like "True or False: Mackenzie's middle name is Anne" and "True or False: So and so's anniversary is May 10th" but the family concerned couldn't answer the question. It was really fun, but I obviously didn't win because I hardly know anything about this massive family. Overall it was a great Christmas and I can't wait to go to Disneyland tomorrow with my host cousins, parents, and sisters. It should be a really fun time!!!

I live a gooood life <3

Friday, November 18, 2011

Monastery, London, and Thanksgiving


I haven't updated in about a month. I'm going to try to update more often, but I'm really busy here! This past month, we had the retrait with school at the monastery, I went to London with Rotary, and then I made Thanksgiving for my host family. The language keeps getting better and better, and Belgium is getting colder and colder.

First, the Monastery.
I thought going to a monastery with my VERY Catholic school to live the life of a nun for three days would be a very...religious experience. Turns out, it wasn't that religious at all. The first morning, we left Dinant at 8 in the morning and didn't get to Stavelot until 12. It took three train rides, a bus ride, and a hike to get to the monastery, and it wasn't easy. Once we got there, we started playing ice breakers and doing team bonding things. We played regular musical chairs, and then we played musical chairs where chairs were taken away but people got to stay in, so by the end there were 22 people trying to get on one chair. Then we had to show objects that had a special significance to us, and explain a little about our lives. I showed the Wyoming flag and talked about my life in Wyoming and why I decided to do an exchange. Then at night we had to go to church for 15 mins, which was super easy and fast. Then we played ping pong with everyone, and I taught the Belgians "sting pong" but the teachers didn't appreciate that much. For those that don't know, sting pong is where you play like a regular game of ping pong but when you lose the point you have to turn around and put your shirt over your head and the person that won the game gets to try to nail you with the ball, it's super fun.

Group in front of the monastery


Musical Chairs Remixed version



The second day, we were paired up with people and had to talk about our dreams and ambitions. It was really cool because I actually got to talk with everyone, and after you practice the same conversation over twenty times, you become really good at it!! I got a lot of compliments on my French after about the 15th repetition. Although one girl decided she didn't want to talk about the future, she just wanted me to tell her in what ways my life was similar and different to the TV show, One Tree Hill. No, I did not have any married friends with a baby my senior year. Another girl wanted all the details about prom, OVER and OVER again. Someone else asked me if I ride to school in a yellow school bus. I told them I prefer the big coach buses they get for school trips and they thought I was crazy! In the afternoon, we put on skits about the admin, staff, teachers, and students at my school. For the one about the teachers, there were three kids sitting at a desk. One was coloring, and the other two were sleeping. The "teacher" started yelling at them, saying "You are not here on vacation, you can't just sleep and color through all the classes!" They were making fun of Diego, Manolo, and I, and it was absolutely hilarious. After that we went to the woods, and started playing games with carabiners. At first, we were attached to one other person via belt loops and had to run back and forth. Then we had to team up with another pair (all the exchange students were together, we were "team etranger") and climb down this ridiculously steep cliff. Kayla was in the front, so she should have led, but Manolo was just too excited and ended up pulling us all down the aforementioned cliff. My belt loop broke half way through our fall, so I landed on top of everyone else, but we all ended up with tons of dirt down our pants, underwear, and shoes. It was really fun. Then one of the partners was blindfolded and the other partner had to lead them. Dangerous for me, because I can't walk on an even surface without falling, and they decided to blindfold me through the forest with pits of death and tree stumps every few feet. I survived. When we got back to the monastery, we played a soccer game, but you had to hold someone else's hand while you played. The Latinos are INTENSE about soccer. It was terrifying. At dinner, Diego left his phone at the table so Kayla and I decided to steal it to play a prank on him. Diego is addicted to his phone. He was so upset when he realized he didn't have it, he was looking all over the monastery for it. Kayla and I thought we were hilarious, but then we walked into our room and someone had trashed it. Our mattresses were flipped upside down, our sleeping bags were all scattered, and then one of the other girls told us Diego and Manolo did it. So we began a prank war- Girls vs Boys. The girls had destroyed all the boys rooms, so the boys stole the girls toilet paper, and it was just a chaotic night but super fun. Then they tried to teach me how to play hearts, but I've tried to learn in English and that didn't go so well, so you can imagine how it went in French.  Had such a fun day.

Blindfolded walk through the woods 

Running while attached to someone else

Manolo taking charge


After falling down the cliff


hand-held soccer


Room after prank war
On the third day, we went to church at 8 in the morning for half an hour. Apparently the monks that live there give a service at 6, 8, 11, 4, and 8 at night. Anyone can go to any service they wanted too, but we didn't actually end up going to that many. Since we arrived, people had been writing nice things about everyone and putting them in a jar with their name on it. I call these warm fuzzies, but there are lots of names for it. On the last day, we got to read all our warm fuzzies but the teachers said we couldn't keep them. Screw that, I wanted them for my scrapbook, so I stole them :) Then we wrote a letter to ourselves that the teachers will send to us a year from now (we made them promise to send it international) about what we hope we'll be doing and what we think of ourselves at this point in time. Mine is written in French and English, so I really hope I can still understand the French I wrote on it by next year! If not, I'll just have to come back to Belgium... We left Stavelot at about 1, but didn't get back home til about 5. It was a really fun weekend, and didn't turn out to be anything like I thought it would be.

Now, LONDON.
Normally, when you exchange with Rotary to a European country, you go on one big trip with all the exchange students called the "eurotour". Belgium doesn't have a Eurotour, so instead they offer us different trips at different times. In October, you could go to Paris. November you go to  London. February is for Amsterdam, April is for Italy or Spain, and June is for Prague. I didn't go on the Paris trip because I've already seen most of the sights that they were going to see, and I'm going in December twice (what a hard life I live). I went to London, am going to Spain, and hopefully am going to Prague. I reallyyyyy wanted to go to Amsterdam, but that's the week my second host family is taking me skiing in the Pyrenees, and since Amsterdam is only a 5 hour train ride away, hopefully I'll be able to go another time. I'm on the waiting list for Prague, but no one has been accepted to that trip yet, so we'll see!! So, back to London. There were 75 kids on the trip, and we took one big bus from Brussels to Namur to Tournai, then crossed the English channel from Calais and landed in Dover. It took about 6 or 7 hours. The English channel is so pretty, and I actually got to see the white cliffs of Dover this time because it wasn't foggy! 


Then we went to Canterbury Cathedral, everyone was so confused about what language they should speak. You'd walk in somewhere and say "bonjour" and then have to say "sorry, hello!!" and everytime we left someplace we'd say "merci" instead of "thank you." It was a really weird feeling. After Canturbury, we went to Picadilly Circus (which is not in fact a circus, in case some of you are confused like I was) and had free time. We ate dinner at KFC (YAY American Food!) and went to M&M world, then got to watch street performers. I'd never met two of the people I was rooming with, but they were so much fun.

The next morning, we went to Windsor Castle. We walked around on the outside a bit and saw some of the rooms inside, but we couldn't take pictures. Then we went and saw the changing of the guards and took pictures with them!
Windsor Castle 
M&M WORLD!



Windsor Guards

Super cool London guy at Picadilly

Windsor 
After Windsor Castle, we went to look at Madame Tussauds. It was SO cool! It was really trippy though because you would see someone taking a picture so you'd walk around them, but the person taking the picture was actually made of wax. Then you would think someone was wax and touch them and they'd be real! They had all different floors with different people, like celebrities, world leaders, athletes, serial killers, and movie characters. 



Me with the wax people. Except Prince William wasn't wax, he was real :)
We went to eat at Hard Rock Cafe (every time you travel with Rotary you'll eat at Hard Rock Cafe) and had the best cheeseburger ever, Belgian cheeseburgers just aren't the same. Then we went to this musical comedy called "Blood Brothers". At first, everyone was laughing so hard they were crying. It was hilarious. But after intermission, it got really serious and depressing and then everyone started crying for real. I'd still recommend it, because the play was really well done, but the end is really sad. When we got back to the hotel, everyone went down to the bar and we just talked and drank til 2 AM. I LOVE having my Belgian ID so I can legally drink. The Latinos taught me some Spanish and Portugese, so now I know how to say really inappropriate things in 4 languages. That's fun.

Next day, we went to the Meridian Line and took pictures, then we went to Tower Bridge. We drove past Buckingham Palace but couldn't take any pictures, and then we stopped at Westminster and had a couple hours of free time. We ate fish and chips, shopped, and saw a protest by the labor party. Then we went to a Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone, but we didn't stay long. We went to King's Cross Station and took a picture at 9 3/4, then we went to Harrods to "shop"-super expensive, a scarf was over 700 pounds, but it was really cool to see the store.  Kayla has a friend that lives in London so we went to meet up with her and watch the fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day. (Google it-it's interesting) After that we went exploring by the London Bridge and discovered this super cute Italian restaurant, and then headed back to Picadilly Circus to head home. We left London at 11:30, got on the ferry at 3, and were back in Namur by 8. It was SUCH a long day, but the trip was a lot of fun and I met a lot of new exchange students. 
Hard Rock 
Roomies at the bar 

Roomies at tower bridge!


BIG BEN

Protest

HP


Our British Meals :)
Finally, Thanksgiving
I thought Thanksgiving was the first Thursday of November and not the fourth, so we ended up celebrating a little early this year. No one in Belgium knows why we do Thanksgiving, but they think the story is really cute, so I decided to try and cook a Thanksgiving for my extended family and some family friends. I've never even helped with Thanksgiving back home, so I was terrified to cook it all by myself. Luckily, my host dad is a chef and Kayla said she would help, so we got it done. 
I went grocery shopping with Jean Luc to buy all the ingredients, but some of them they didn't have so we had to improvise. I cooked two pumpkin pies and casserole's the night before, and we could only find a little turkey. Jean Luc used his restaurant connections to get us another one, luckily. Thursday after school Kayla and I went to look at the turkeys and Jean Luc whips it out with head and claws and all. It was disgusting. He chopped those off and then reached inside and pulled out the heart and liver and kidneys, and then he started playing games with the dead turkey head. Gross gross gross! Thank goodness he was there and didn't make us do it, the turkey never would have gotten cooked. Kayla and I made two turkeys, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean, spinach casserole, and pumpkin pie, and we did it all by ourselves. Jean Luc carved the turkey and showed us how to work things, but mostly we flew solo. I was so scared it wouldn't turn out right. There were about 20 people over, and before we ate I made them all stand up and say something they were thankful for. It was really fun seeing what they came up with. Everyone said the food was really good and thought Thanksgiving was a good holiday to celebrate. I think I agree :)
One of the many benefits of living with a chef- Cool cooking hats! 
All the food before it was served

I <3 Thanksgiving


Pumpkin pies!
Kayla with dead turkey head
That's about all! I also got to meet up with Connor (from my district in the states) and Pierrick who lives in Belgium but exchanged to my district last year. I go to Madrid in two weeks, and Paris a few weeks after that, and then CHRISTMAS! I can't wait :)