Journey in the Green, Chocolate, and Waffle Lands

It has been a week or so since my last post, but I certainly have a lot to cover… and all from this weekend! Most weeks in Barcelona include attending museums or various monuments with my classes, and the weekends are where most of the fun happens…especially this weekend where I reunited with 5 students from my college, visited 2 new countries (The Netherlands: Amsterdam & Rotterdam and Belgium). It was nice being out of Spain. I did most of the travelling by myself and all international travel all alone.

In total, I used 27 different methods of transportation including trains, taxis, airplanes, metros, hop on/ hop off buses, and cars. I can now confidently say I am able to travel alone and can master the European Railway. None of that would have been possible though without the help of my friend Evan, and my family in Belgium, who eagerly took me into their apartment last minute and gave me a nice home cooked meal. The weather there was 20 degrees lower than in Barcelona…around 9 degrees Celsius…so within the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit.  It was as though I was back at school in Boston! Apparently though, it was also raining in Barcelona while I was away so if I had to pick a place with bad weather, why not go to another country?

On Friday night I arrived in Amsterdam and my friend Evan greeted me at the airport. We went into town to a coffee shop for a brewsky and to catch up.  We also strolled around the canals and Red Light District. Afterwards we grabbed a quick dinner and headed to his place in Rotterdam (a train ride away) where I saw my 3 other friends from college, Joe, Jeff, and Alexandra.  It was a mini college reunion! I walked into their place and saw Evan, Jeff, and Joe’s Warhol-esc style faces on canvases plastered up on the wall of their 5-level apartment. From the second I walked in, I knew this was a man cave. Something I discovered throughout the weekend. These guys are living the posh life!

Saturday morning, Joe, Evan, and I headed to the street market right outside their house. This market was somewhat similar to the Boqueria we have here in Barcelona, except that it was outside and spread out, whereas the Boqueria is in a roofed area. The market featured fresh cheese (the best I have ever tried), fresh vegetables, and fish. We bought some frites (French fries with Dutch spread/mayonnaise), some fried dough, melons, and herring for our herring sandwich, a Dutch style sandwich. After the market, we brought out food back to the apartment and Joe made the sandwich, which was incredibly delicious. After lunch, Evan and I walked in the area around his apartment. We walked along the world famous canals went inside a Windmill/Bakery, and stopped by to try handcrafted raspberry beer. Following this, we went to the Euromast, which is comparable to say the Stratosphere of Vegas or Seattle Space Needle.  Here, Evan and I got a  360 degree view of all of Rotterdam. We could see the Harbor/ Port, which is the largest port in the world, as well as a view of the parks and buildings spanning the 319.4km of Rotterdam. It was absolutely beautiful, even if the weather was not perfect. Evan and I headed back to the apartment where we met up with Joe. We went to dim sum for a large dinner before we headed out to the Bar Tender bar to meet some of their friends. It was great meeting other locals. At the end of the night, I talked with the 24 year old owner of the bar and he told me how he studied hospitality management then 2 years later went on to creating this bar. I must say that at a young age, he is seemingly very successful. It’s always very inspiring to see someone  so close to my age doing so well. It reminds me that I DO go to an entrepreneurial school and that I DO have an entrepreneurial spirit. I obviously know that, but reminders are always welcome. Following this bar, we went to another bar where the Dutch culture was more prominent.  I danced to Dutch music with Dutch people. I’d say it was a good night! From the music, to the people, to the style, I knew I was not in Spain, or California, or Boston for that matter. And that is the beauty of travelling…getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

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Sunday morning I was supposed to leave to go back to Barcelona around 3pm, but I switched the time/day for my ticket to 9pm Monday so that I could visit some family in Belgium. I mean…I was only 1.5 hours away from another country so why not?! So with that I was off. I took a high speed train from Rotterdam to Antwerp, Belgium where I tried the famous Belgian waffles with Belgian chocolate. Yum! I quickly got onto my train from Antwerp to Brussels where Pascal, my mom’s cousin, and his daughter Lili, picked me up and took me to their apartment. They prepared a nice dinner and I even got to watch my favorite show with them- Breaking Bad.

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Monday morning, I explored Brussels on my own. I visited La Grand Place (the center of Brussels) and Mannekin PIs ( a small sculpture of a boy peeing into a fountain). The Mannekin Pis/ the peeing boy was said to be the mascot of Brussels. He is shown urinating because it was as though he was putting out the bombs placed by enemy attackers. Gotta love the little quirks.

After visiting the central area of Brussels, I wandered around and came across the local univeristy, the cathedral, and a mall of boutique chocolate shops. I of course bought some Belgian chocolate. After walking around, I hopped onto the Hop On/Hop Off bus. I paid 20 euros to get a whole tour of the city. The bus took me to the Atomium.
The Atomium was the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels (1958), commonly called Expo 58. It symbolised the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life for mankind. Each orb in the Atomium represents a Belgian scientist. My goal was to see La Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, and Atomium in the short amount of time I had, but I managed to see it all!

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After visiting Brussels, I was on my way back to Barcelona. I thoroughly enjoyed being out of the country and being exposed to these diverse cultures in such a short span of time.

Over the course of this 3-day trip, I realized the following:

I was surprised at how many people value the United States and how many have dreams of going there. I am so fortunate to not only live in and be a citizen of the United States , but also to have the tools necessary for traveling comfortably around the world.

I also realized that 3 days can be spent wisely.

Learning Spanish, and trying to switch to English and French is hard and confusing. This french woman in Brussels asked if I wanted a bag with my chocolates and I replied saying “Si” instead of “Oui”.

Money is a tangible asset, and having it does not compare to the amount of intangible return one gets from spending money on travel.

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This weekend I am going to Girona on Saturday to see the Dali Museum and Park Guell on Sunday to see Gaudi’s works. Stay tuned! Adios! Au’revoir! Vaarwel!

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