Friday, December 13, 2013

Another Puente Adventure

Hello friends, family, random internet strangers, etc...

The past week has been a complete blur. I don't know where to begin.

Wow. Upon checking, the last thing I told you about was Thanksgiving. That seems like forever ago.

I guess it wasn't too terribly long ago. The week after Thanksgiving flew by so quickly, I barely remember what happened. There wasn't a burrito Tuesday (I had the night off from class, so I played with the girls all night). I packed on Wednesday night, and I left for a road trip for our long weekend (puente) Thursday after school.

First step: fly to Brussels.

 Obligatory airport photo

I met Diana at the airport about and hour and a half before departure. Our airline doesn't have assigned seats, so we just stood in a line to board. No boarding groups, no seats assignments... Welcome to RyanAir! There were a ton of Americans on our flight. A few that we even knew. America!

The flight was smooth. The landing was terrible. Probably the worst I've ever experienced, but hey, we survived! Belgium was fiercely cold that night. We met up with Diana's friend, Sergio, at the airport (read: neither of us had cell phone coverage, so we wandered around the freezing cold searching). We eventually hopped in the car and made our way to Antwerp. The hotel looked like a space room with three twin beds (one lofted above the other two). Being the shortest, I got the honor of sleeping on the lofted bed.

We unpacked, warmed up, texted family members, and went to explore.

Subway in Belgium! 

Antwerp doesn't have much going on at 11 o'clock on a Thursday night. Nada. We found food and discussed what we should do. After wandering the deserted streets, we found a cozy bar with live jazz music. We stopped in for a drink. It felt like I was in Belgium (although, sorry, I still don't like beer... but I tried it). We were too exhausted to do anything else, so we headed back to the hotel.

We spent Friday morning exploring Antwerp. It was nice. Lovely architecture. Diana even found a 50 Euro bill on the street (well, she and Sergio debated on who found it... they agreed we should all eat lunch with it, score!). We ate some Belgium fries for a mid morning snack before heading to Maastricht in The Netherlands.

Central Station in Antwerp

Fun fact: there's no border control on highways in the European Union. I don't even remember passing a sign that said we were in The Netherlands!

Maastricht was stunning. It had lovely Christmas markets, quaint streets, and great food. We ate at a place that makes its own flour. The vegetable soup was incredible. The bread that accompanied it was fantastic, too. We finished with their pie. If you can't get to the Southern USA, eat pie here. It was great! The lady at the register gave us a free bag of peppernut cookies to take. That restaurant has my heart.

We didn't plan on staying in Maastricht for long, so we went back to the car and headed to Cologne, Germany. Our hostel was crazy difficult to find (the entrance was nearly inside a grocery store!). It was one of the nicest places I've ever stayed at while traveling. Seriously impressive. The staff was great. The place was modern. Amazing.

That night, we went out to Christmas markets and the cathedral in Cologne. Hunger set in quickly. We searched high and low for German food (harder than you'd think). When we finally found a place, they only had menus in German.

Cologne Cathedral. It looms over you. Pretty amazing

Between the three of us, we could speak a total of 6 different languages. Six. None of us spoke German. No one had cell phone service nor WiFi to translate.

So, we asked the waiter for help. No luck. No English. The waiter went through a list of possible languages. He said Spanish, and Diana and I said, "Si!!! Español!!" He proceeded to speak to us in Italian. Yes, Italian. It was an interesting night. No one on staff spoke any of our six languages. Also, our waiter either hated us or loved us every other time he came to the table. He sang to us in Italian once, gave us death stares another time, was super helpful once, then glared at us with a deep dislike that penetrated our souls (maybe that's a tad bit dramatic), then shook our hands and thanked us deeply for eating there on the way out. Strangest waiter I've ever encountered. Please excuse that poorly constructed grammar. I might change it later. I probably won't.

The food was amazing. I tried jägerschniztel. It was a jäger sauce with mushrooms over schnitzel (think chicken fried steak, but with quality pork instead of questionable beef). Wow. I wish I could eat that every single day. It looked strange, but smelled and tasted like heaven.

Jägerschniztel. Delightful. 

We wrapped up our time in Cologne the next morning (after meeting our particularly cranky English roommate) by shopping a bit more, eating waffles (which are a dessert) and packing up. Oh! I also tried a dönor kebab for the first time. It was a lot better than I expected.

It was raining. We didn't have umbrellas. Improv at its finest

Subway in Germany. 

We made it to Brussels as the sun was going down.

The sketchiest hotel ever awaited us in Brussels. Our sheets weren't clean, the place was dusty, and I'm pretty sure the mafia had something going on there. Don't worry, we got a new room with clean sheets later after some hilarious misunderstandings while trying to speak French.

Brussels was probably the highlight for me. Grand Place had a huge twinkling Christmas tree in the middle of it. Every half hour, there was a light show on all the buildings in the square set to Christmas music. It was better than Disney to me. I nearly cried. It was stunning. We ducked into a chocolate shop to get some famous Belgian chocolate (and hot chocolate, oh my goodness: amazing). We got a little lost finding the market here. We eventually got directions from a passerby. Once we found it, we thought we were in the wrong place because it was tiny. We turned the corner and realized we had found it. It was probably my favorite market we visited. It had 250 shops, an ice rink, and a Ferris wheel. I got a few gifts there and tried some tasty food.

Grand Palace before the light show

This is me with a Christmas tree.

You were waiting for this self shot with Grand Place. Don't try to deny it.

However, as usual, hunger set in rapidly.

We got lost trying to find a well rated Italian place (we walked right past it!!!). When we found it, it was full with no chance of getting a table before closing. So we wandered around (adventure!?) for what seemed like years until we went into another Italian place. Tasty pasta. Strange place. Only one waiter for the entire place (at least 25 tables). No complaints over all, I suppose. I got some tasty vegetable sauce pasta.

My sister turned 20 on Dec 8. I FaceTimed her from our hotel room. Our usual sister telepathy has had a few glitches lately. I decided a call would be better than a telepathic message. Side note: Kait, please don't kill me for posting this screen shot.

We were too tired to really do much else. So, we headed back to our hotel. We decided to be responsible adults and pack our bags before going to sleep. It was a good thing we did because we all slept through the alarms and basically ran out the door to the airport the next morning. We made in plenty of time to say our goodbyes and get through security.

The flight back was normal. I discovered that I can use a train/metro combination to get to/from the airport quickly (three stops!!). I made it home and resisted the urge to fall into a 15 hour sleep. Looking back, I should have done it! I made up for it last night by sleeping for about 13 hours.

I'm on a train back home. I don't know why I felt like I need a picture. Here it is for your entertainment. 

Thus, my whirlwind adventure came to a close. Until next time, non-Spanish countries!

Random fun facts:
1. I'm the first Arkansan most of my friends have ever met. Also, no one ever knows where that is.
2. My secret Santa giftee is convinced that I'm a secret agent. I'm okay with that.
3. Burrito Tuesdays have now bloomed into a love story for Janelle and Burrito Guy (who is actually named "Camilo").
4. There a lot more to number 3. I might write about it once Janelle gets access to her WhatsApp. I don't want to leave y'all hanging.
5. Bless her heart. Not in the insult way, in the "I hate that you have to wait to find out if he messaged you" kind of way.
6. I have barely done anything today. I love it.
7. I hope to finish all my Christmas shopping tomorrow night.
8. I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic this time next week.
9. Spaniards take their nativities seriously. The one at the primary school has running water and fake fire. Intense.
10. I can say about 10 words in German.
11. I really enjoyed being addressed in French while in Belgium. "Bonjour madame" seemed so fancy.
12. The rest of French sounds silly.
13. I'm SO excited to visit home next week.

Well, friends, I've rambled on for long enough. I hope you are doing well and Christmas time brings you joy. It's been a crazy year.


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