RyanAir. Flight FR8081

From: Brussels (Charleroi), Belgium (CRL). Wed 12 - Feb 2014. 15:10

To: Fez, Morocco (FEZ). Wed 12 - Feb 2014. 17:15

Ponder Du Jour

Who would have thought that I would be going to Moroccan High Atlas Mountains to experience my first snow of the season. 

Thanks to my iPhone, the 1SE app, and a little editing with iMovie… I present to you my 2013 One Second Everyday video. Please enjoy in HD!

2013 was a year of international friendships, sabotaging sobriety with Belgian beers, serving tennis aces, sweaty hands in salsa class, love locking on a Parisian bridge, backpacking for Turkish delights and Croatian coastline, family tandem bike riding in Amsterdam, a signature noodle recipe, board game siege attacks, blisters and chalk, and escaping to the comforts of Lisbon. 

KLM. Flight KL1724

From: Brussels, Belgium (BRU). Wed 25 - December 2013. 10:45

To: Lisbon, Portugal (LIS). Wed 25 - December 2013. 14:20

Belonging In Belgium #7 Anniversary Edition

Oh Belgium, from your fries with mayonnaise to your divine Trappist beers, from your incoherent government bureaucracies to your giant metallic balls of national pride, from your reliably delayed trains to your five minutes of annual sunshine… Has it really been over a year? 

University & Academics:

  • Thanks to the inter-university collaborative nature of my program, we can still never quite figure out for sure what information is where and who to contact to get the right information when we need it. Decentralised locations for important announcements still drives me up the wall.
  • The exams do not have a point grading system. I have no idea how much a question is worth nor do I realise where and how I answered the question incorrectly. All I know is that 9/20 is a fail and that 10/20 is a frustratingly subjective pass.
  • The near total digitised notes this semester is very welcomed. 
  • Can you not bolt your computer stations into the desks in the most unergonomic positions as possible please? 
  • Perhaps is the accent, the odd word choice, or the slower pace of English, but I’ve been consistently having difficulty remaining focused listening to lectures.
  • I’ve returned to taking notes with my iPad and stylus… for now.
  • So far only one class has impressed me here: Irrigation Agronomy. 
  • Theory overload: our labs or practical field trips from the first year are a silly formality.
  • The motivation for good grades back in my undergrad was to go on exchange and to gain acceptance for a Master’s program. And now, with a thesis topic yet to be finalised and flimsy plans for the foreseeable future, I’m struggling with my motivation levels.

Campus Life & Recreation:

  • Watching the ladies spin around and around in Beginner Level 2 Salsa class makes me just as dizzy. 
  • The change of seasons will soon make outdoor tennis quite precarious. I could pay 10 euros for an hour on an indoor court, or I could pay 6 euros for an intense two-hour upper body workout climbing rocks… 
  • Actually, the KU Leuven campus life is nearly nonexistent for me. I don’t live in a university dorm, we don’t share meals regularly at the cafeteria, and after class we split and head directly for home. Those chill afternoons of frisbee in between classes on grassy picnic-perfect campus fields are long gone.

Social Life:

  • Nearly everyone I met at the start of my studies last year has returned to their respective home countries, including some very close friends.
  • Obviously, remaining friendships continue to inch closer in a tighter circle.
  • Where is my pure genuine curiosity for meeting new faces?
  • My brain stops working when I met a Belgian because it eliminates so many default typical introduction questions I can ask about their country.
  • I do miss that feeling of stepping into a bar or club reassured that there will be someone I know there without fail.
  • Haven’t hosted a party at Club J in months.
  • My alcohol tolerance has dipped.
  • Board games shall rule over most of my free time. Mage Knight for those long winter nights trapped indoors and Dungeon Fighter for some dice-rolling drinking party hilarity.
  • Instead of partying with complete strangers I’m now more used to the idea of inviting over a friend for dinner. 
  • Less TV shows, more books. 

Travel:

  • Brussels: 4 times. 
  • Bruges: 3 times. 
  • Gent: 2 times.
  • Antwerp: 2 times.
  • Oostende: 1 time. 
  • Perhaps I should explore a bit more of Wallonia?

Culture:

  • Stella? Jupiler? No thanks, not when the night is young. I’ve developed an acquired taste for Belgian triples and Trappists. Karmeliet, Westmalle, and Orval are some of my favourites. 
  • I’m slowly meeting more Belgian friends which should be eye-opening with every meeting and conversation. 
  • Planning to check out more Belgian destinations related to the wars for some historical enlightenment. 

Random:

  • In terms of realising monetary value, I’m beginning to think automatically in euros. 
  • I can make a typical Belgian dish: mussel stew! Although the fries need to be bought from a frituur. 
A moment two years in the making! #lisbon #travel #wanderlust  (at Brussels Airlines Business Lounge)

A moment two years in the making! #lisbon #travel #wanderlust (at Brussels Airlines Business Lounge)

TAP Portugal, Flight TP 0619

From: Brussels, Belgium (BRU). Wed 03 - April 2013. 20:35

To: Lisbon, Portugal (LIS). Wed 03 - April 2013. 22:20

Reflections on my first trip to Spain and Gibraltar coming soon!

Reflections on my first trip to Spain and Gibraltar coming soon!

The Brussels Bustle

For over three months my one-day sightseeing trip to the capital was left on the back-burner. From Leuven, it really is just a stone’s throw away. I also wanted to visit when something special was happening in the city. With an old friend in town and the Christmas festivities in full force, Brussels beckoned. We were extremely lucky actually for the weather during the two days my friend visited was relatively clear. Prior to Christmas it rained continuously for ages and I personally did not see the sun for weeks. Anyway, we set out on Boxing Day morning after a heavy brunch of spaghetti and some strong coffee. 

Our walking tour started at Brussels Central train station and from there we first checked out the Cathedral, Royal Park, Royal Palace, the museum district, and the ‘Square’ meeting point. None of the museums seemed particularly alluring though; we skipped the musical instruments, 15th century underground ruins, and endless halls of paintings on offer. 

Basically, Brussels is all about its Grand Place, or Grote Markt, which is the central square and most memorable landmark of the city. Named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the square was also voted to be the most beautiful square in all of Europe in 2010. By day you’re able to observe the intricate detail of the facades and the gleamy gold trimmings that adorn the guild halls. By night the square is comes alive as a popular place for fancy dining. Every two years in August, a colourful patterned carpet of flowers (Begonias) blankets the square. Too bad we just missed it this year in 2012. 

This holiday season, the government folks decided to do away with a traditional pine for the square’s Christmas decorations. Instead, they installed an ultra minimalist contemporary representation of a tree constructed from some steel pipes, white fabric, and LED lights. Give a toddler a pile of Jenga blocks and tell him to build a tree - he’ll build a better looking tree than what city officials have created here. It is truly ugly, and highly controversial (much to the delight of Minecraft enthusiasts). 

Anyway, apart from waffle snacking and bar crawling for Trappist beer, we also encountered the famous Manneken Pis (the bronze pissing boy statue) and took the metro to check out the Atomium. Having been to many tall towers across the world, views from the top sphere were fairly ordinary. But to look upon this super-sized blown-up version of an iron molecule underneath it with your neck craned as far back as possible… that view was quite extraordinary. 

Mussels and fries, a national favorite, was on our dinner menu. I’ve been meaning to try this typical Belgian dish since day one but they seem to prefer serving it in upscale restaurants in Leuven. In Brussels prices are more competitive thanks to all the tourists. It was an absurd amount of mussels. I thought the restaurant would try to fill you up on fries but it was deliciously the other way around. 

Waffles, beer, chocolate, fries, a typical dish, and hitting up all the major attractions in Brussels with fantastic companionship made for a special day trip indeed.

image

Come back soon, Connor!

The Parisian Parable

I remember watching the movie Midnight in Paris earlier this year. The introductory scene unveiled snippets of the Parisian cityscape and people going about their daily lives with Si Tu Vois Ma Mère playing in the background. Until that moment, my conception of Paris always consisted of imaginary clichéd images of the Eiffel Tower. On a list of cities you must visit before you die, Paris will surely be near the top of that list along the likes of New York City and London. “One day I will eat a baguette in front of the tower and it will be a very very special trip indeed”, I dreamed. Never thought I’d nearly be homeless overnight there a couple months later. 

My first visit to ‘la Ville Lumière’ was planned out to be a 6:30 AM to 11:30 PM day trip. Despite overcast skies, we followed our Paris-in-one-day itinerary to near perfection and caught sight of the Arc de Triomphe, Trocadéro, Tour Eiffel, Place de la Concorde, Museé du Louvre, Pont Neuf, and Cathédrale de Notre Dame among other sights including the Latin Quarters and Hotel de Ville (City Hall). Nothing can quite prepare you for the moment when you first lay eyes on the tower. The emotion you experience is a mixture of disbelief, stupefaction, wonder, amazement, and that trembling joy you feel when scratch something off your bucket list.

In the afternoon, I reunited with an old friend from my exchange term back in Denmark two years ago. We shared lunch at the Louvre and caught up with our new lives and travel plans. Happy hour at the Latin Quarters was especially entertaining. We discovered a rock ‘n’ roll bar and a few mojitos later I was swing-rocking like no tomorrow with my friends on the dance floor. 

After a mad rush to our departing bus at 11:30 PM, I felt that I had a very very special trip indeed (despite forgetting the baguette promise to myself). But it didn’t end there. I bought my return ticket for the day after by mistake and was kicked off the bus. An extra day in Paris really isn’t the end of the world! I laughed off my homelessness predicament on the curb. C’est la vie. 

I considered sleeping on a bench in a park but temperatures dropped suddenly that night. After several hit-and-miss calls to hostels I decided to suck it up and stay at a cheap hotel instead (which wasn’t cheap at all by my student budget standards). 

And so I was in Paris for a second day all by myself. The skies were clear and luckily my camera still had full battery life. I visited a number of extra attractions including La Sainte Chapelle, Les Invalides, walked up and down Champs-Élysées… and indulged in crêpes and macarons. My last day in the Parisian sun was solitary bliss and beautiful.

Enchanté, Paris. À la prochaine. 

“‘What all Belgians have in common is a love for the “good life”, which they find in their excellent food and drink, comfortable housing… Belgians are not the type wanting to impress other people with their achievements, or to convince others of their righteousness. They tend to be rather reserved or introverted in their first contacts with other people, but are sincerely warm and friendly once you get to know them better. They are happy when they can enjoy a safe and comfortable life, together with their family and friends…”

— Francis Paul Heylighen, in Belgium: Society, Character and Culture, An Essay on the Belgian Identity.

British Airways, Flight BA 0092

From: Toronto, Canada (YYZ). Sat 15 - Sept 2012. 18:55

To: London, UK (LHR). Sun 16  - Sept 2012. 07:05

British Airways, Flight BA 0392

From: London, UK (LHR). Sun 16  - Sept 2012. 08:55

To: Brussels, Belgium (BRU). Sept 16  - Sept 2012. 11:55

GZ Day 72

On Day 72 I spent an afternoon meandering around the bustling narrow alleyways of Qing Ping Market (清平市场). Established in 1979 (just after China reopened its doors), Qing Ping is Guangzhou’s largest street market with over 2,000 stalls covering an area of over 11,000 square metres. 

Here’s Lonely Planet’s review: 

… what is bizarrely translated as ‘Peaceful Market’ has vast displays of medicinal herbs, dried mushrooms and other plants, live birds, and tubs of squirming turtles, fish and frogs. Much harder to stomach, though, are its cages of live animals, including kittens and puppies, and more exotic creatures such as bats, owls and monkeys - all put out for human consumption, and some in the most pitiful distress. It is one of the most notorious markets in China, and though it has cleaned up its act in the past several years it remains a disturbing place and is not recommended.

Although I’m not entirely sure when that review was written, health scares, including SARS in 2003, have largely wiped out the infamous on-the-spot slaughtering of livestock and exotic/domesticated animals. I walked the market for nearly three hours combing the streets and witnessed no such cruelty anymore. Thank goodness. These days, I think, only the dried herbal medicinal ingredients remain.

No gruesome surprises here. Stalls often sell dried roots, teas, mushrooms, etc. 

Pungent. A dried spices whole-seller. I’d say half of all the stalls look similar to this once you walk beyond the fancier displays of the outer main street. No animals being skinned alive here…   

 

What medicinal herb are you looking for? I know I have it somewhere… (I can read some for you: bitter wood, lantern dragon grass, silver flower leaf? Direct translations, sorry). 

Sorting through a backup stock of dried fungi and throwing out the broken ones.

Something more exotic for you: an entire stall selling dried seahorses. 

This way back to the Dong Drug Market!

Tricycle porters load their last sack of dried goods at closing time. 

I’m going to have to disagree with the Lonely Planet review. Go here to experience the real local Guangzhou way of life (if you are not faint-hearted, squeamish, a germaphobe, claustrophobic, and not afraid of getting totally lost). 

Third culture traveler. Caffeine fiend. Tennis nerd. Tech addict. Wannabe photographer. Environmentalist-in-training. #CAN #CHN #DEN #BEL