Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Kids on the Block

A new semester has begun! And there is definately a new crew to accompany it. I love how first of all we were all so worried that we wouldn't have any friends, what with everyone leaving. I started Feb. thinking ok, I still have Inga and Emily. Turns out there's a lot more people that I'm friends with here than I remember!! Everywhere we turn, it's like, "oh you are in Leiden for the whole year??" It's just great. On top of that, we have a whole group of fresh exchange students, who we've been giving the ultimate introduction to city. On the pic on the left, you can see Inga, and then Morgan and Jenn - two amazing girls from Queen's! So happy that they are here. Morgan is actually in our building, which is so sweet, she's officially a part of the Smarag girls for sure.
The semester started off with a great pub crawl - if you scroll back on this blog all the way to September you can see a repeat of it! On the way home, at about 2:30am, Inga and I passed a random Dutch nightclub that we have never seen before, and decided to check it out. Turns out to the funnest place ever, with us being the only non-Dutch people in it - so we broke it down on the dance floor and didn't care who was watching. Quality night! Saturday night was In Casa International Party, a night of dancing, reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones. Sunday was our day of rest, preparing us for Monday - Odessa night. We brought the new kids along, pre-drinking at Emily's new apartment in town, an absolutely gorgeous love-pad, complete with red walls and everything. Odessa was insane - I've never seen so many people packed into such a small bar. With two for one pitchers and cute bartenders - I'm not sure that the night could get any better. Turns out I was wrong - the new people made the night the best it could be, with the British boys and the law students all coming together for some serious beer drinking. Tuesday night was another night of rest, taking us into Wednesday - Einstien and Sus Antegoon time. Checked out the live band at Sus, saw the usual crowd there and introduced the new people to one of the best live music bars in Holland. Headed over to Einstiens, the international spot, and were reintroduced to about a million new people - all the while chilling with the full-years.
Again another night of rest, to prepare ourselves for Friday, our friend Wafa's flatwarming fest. She just got a beautiful place in the middle of Leiden, equipped with a jacuzzi, and wanted to celebrate in style. An absolutely wild night, complete with dance parties and a broken radiator - which flooded the place and ended the night - or at least, for some - so we headed to another friend's apartment, Sam, and chilled there to about 5am. Finally, last night brought about our first apartment party, complete with appetizers. A really fun interesting mix showed up, with everyone from Inga's law students, to a group of Belgians, to the Queen's girls, to Sean and Luke, our British friends. Probably got to about 25 people or so, an impressive turnout considering the antics of the night before. Lots of compliments on the party, so we are going to have to plan our next one soon!!
Now I know everyone's thinking, ok Nicola, what about school? Well, I'm actually really excited about the new semester! I'm taking a Dutch culture course, which starts this week, complete with fieldtrips and lots of friends. On the English side of things, I am taking Contemporary Lit, Victorian Lit, and Shakespeare. LOTS of reading, but it all looks really good, so I'm not too worried about it. I'm plowing through the 990 page Bleak House by Dickens for next week right now, and I can't wait to do Beckett's Endgame in my Contemp. class. Last semester's marks have come in, and I got an 8, a 9, and a 9.5 in my English classes so I'm super stoked about that. In other news, we had snow here this week! It was really exciting to see it, even though it was pretty wet and didn't really last long. Apparently, and I heard this somewhere before coming here, snowballs are a HUGE part of Dutch culture. When it snows, everyone throws snowballs, at each other, their teachers, their parents, strangers - even the buses get pelted! And no one seems to mind! It's hilarious, we got into a great fight with some 12 year old boys while in town shopping - who were hiding under one of the bridges in order to attack innocent passerbys. Great time.

Coming up, I have a wine and cheese party, Odessa, Valentine's Day Ladies Night with my girls, a Belgian Beer and Chocolate Party, and who knows what else. Should be fun! And parents come in a month, which is sooo exciting! I'll try to keep you posted, and hope everyone else is doing well! Shoutout to Kelsey in Australia, you can check out her travel blog at: http://kelseybaynham.blogspot.com/
Take Care!

Florence and Pisa!

Sorry it took so long to write about this last leg of the trip, it's been such a busy week with all the new kids, and I've barely had a moment to breathe! Hopefully my memory is still in working order, but with the amount of sleep I've had recently, I can't guarantee anything! After splitting off with Maggie, Emily and I headed into the beautiful Tuscan city of Florence. We stayed in a great hostel, Ostello Archi Rossi - absolutely massive, and all the walls were open to graffiti, so years and years of traveller's messages surrounded us the entire time we were there. One could spend a long time reading them! After checking in, we walked through the city up towards Piazza Michaelangelo - a park on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city. Sitting there, in the orange sunset of Tuscany, with gelati in our hands (of course) - I don't think life gets much better. The people watching was great as well - there were everyone from creepy Italians trying to hit on the tourists, to people selling things, to clearly Americans, to "SA's" - new study abroads that one could tell were just getting used to the city. We had a great chuckle about some of them, and wondered what in the world would bring the frat/sorority type to such a city of art and culture (the popular destination for those kids would be Barcelona, or even Rome). After watching the sunset, we walked back through town and admired the bridges at dusk, the river being a glassy calm that reflected all the city lights. We even stumbled across an anti-war protest and parade, a small glimpse of local political activism in a highly tourist area. It was pretty exciting to see such a positive display of peace - Emily was especially enthralled. Dinner at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant, with some of the best bruschetta in Italy. I think that the key is the rubbing of raw garlic on the bread before putting the tomatoes on, it was sooo delish.



The next day was dedicated to museums. We first checked out David...THE DAVID...who is much more impressive in person than in a photo or even in the numerous replicas throughout the city. It's an absolutely massive statue, and it's no wonder that it is one of the most famous in the world. The detail is amazing, and Emily and I were torn between having massive crushes on this naked man and wanting to run away - he was so real we were worried he would step down of his pedestal and crush us to pieces. Afterwords, we hit up the Uffizi, a great gallery with a horrible layout. I was not impressed with the organization of the rooms, nor the way the art was hung and displayed. My favourite part of the city was actually outside, with the replica of "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (see right) - probably my favourite statue. The movement of it, the composition of three figures, and the agony on their faces gives me the chills. Simply stunning.

After the museum we wandered back (past another gorgeous sunset) to a little sandwich place that had looked appealing earlier in the day. If you are ever in Florence, PLEASE try and find "The Oil Shop," it's near the university district, filled with english-speaking SA's, and a really friendly English staff. They make sandwiches there that are out of this world - for 4.50 euro you get to pick one kind of meat (I had Tuscan Salami), a cheese (I picked goat), and 5 vegetables (sundried tomatoes, artichokes, onions, peppers, and lettuce), and a spread (pesto!). Unbelievable. The lineup outside the door of the little shop proved that we weren't alone in our adoration of the take-away heaven!

The next day we decided just to wander, which proved to be both tiring and fun! Walking aimlessly, we ended up at the city gates, and stumbled into a really suburban Italian district, where a football game was going on. Parking ourselves beside a bench of some really cute guys, we spent about half an hour giggling over the antics on the little field. From the little brother who clearly was not going to get a chance to play, but cheered the loudest anyways, to the slick looking greaser talking on his cell and playing at the same time, it was a pretty darn entertaining event. Another beautiful sunset ended our day, and we called it a night, looking forward to flying home in the morning.




Turns out we were not going to get our wish after all. Our flight, which was out of Pisa, had been cancelled, leaving us stranded in Pisa for an entire night. Luckily, I was pretty excited at the idea, because we were not going to have a chance to see the leaning tower - something that I think shouldn't be missed on any trip to Italy. We stayed in a great cheap hotel, right by the tower, and soaked up the sun on the grass underneath it, accompanied by books and pizza. Not such a bad way to spend a forced night, afterall. The tower is not as big as I though it would be, but pretty cool all the same! Apparently it was leaning even as it was being built, the poor architect got something seriously wrong from the very start. Little did he know what an icon it would become! The next day got us home safely, if not a bit tired and excited to get back to Holland. A great trip though, with amazing girls, in a country that I plan on returning to in the near future!

To see the pictures from Italy, in three albums, check out these links:

http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2077516&l=f0226&id=81004921

http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2077517&l=48827&id=81004921

http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2077518&l=77e3e&id=81004921

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Venice

Our next stop on the trip was the infamous city of Venezia...absolutely gorgeous and bloody cold. We froze our way around the city, navigating canals and bridges with our backpacks to find our hostel, which was in a great location in the middle of town. Venice is really something to see, with all the canals, boats and gondolas everywhere! I loved how the water in the canals was the brightest blue I have seen, even though I'm sure they were absolutely filthy. I didn't get crazy over them, however, because being in Holland has really taken the wow factor out of the canal scene. But still a very pretty city, and so old!

When we got there, we wandered all around the city, spending a bunch of time in St. Mark's Square, which was really cool but so freezing, with snow flurries in the air! I loved the pigeons, as usual. After that we just decided to poke around in all the tiny streets, which was great, because its such a contained city that it is almost impossible to get lost. When we got too cold, we hit up a coffee shop and devoured our books along with a latte. I loved that we all read so much on this trip, I think I read 5 books total, the best being Nick Hornby's "A Long Way Down." Really recommend it, it's absolutely hilarious! That night, we checked out a bar that we had passed that looked fun, and we turned out to be right - we nestled in a little table in a kind of alcove, and played some great rounds of Kings Cup accompanied by prosecco and red wine in these fabulous great big glasses. Very chill night.

The next day we decided to check out the Peggy Guggenheim museum, probably one of my favourite collections of art I have seen in Europe so far. Really fun, modern art, in a small building with a great statue garden. I really recommend it, and it was well layed out as well. It's funny, because when we were in Florence, the Uffizi has some great pieces of art but the building itself and the aesthetics of the way the works were hung really turned me off of the museum itself. But the Guggenheim was great, and we saw pieces by Picasso, Dali, and Pollock to name a few. A real refreshing change from the overflow of religious artwork around Europe. I mean, its really moving to see some of the most famous paintings in the world, but theres only so many times, and so many ways, that the adoration of the Magi or the annunciation can be portrayed. They all start to blur after a while. But this gallery was intimate and wonderfully abstract.
That night, we found a great restaurant called Impronto or something like that, and had my best dinner of the trip. Actually, to tell the truth, we discovered the place at lunch time and liked it so much that we had to come back for more. Venice is actually really expensive, things like a panini, which would be around 2-3 euro in other Italian cities, was about 5 in Venice. So this was a real find, a cheap restaraunt with a great ambiance...really modern, kind of reminiscent of Cactus Club or something like that. Extensive cocktail list as well; we sipped cosmos and nibbled on bread and oil while waiting for dinner. I had tagliatelle with a yummy garlic tomato sauce, with scampi and zucchini mixed in. Delish! That night, we went to a bar in the area, and met some interesting international kids, accompanied by a lot more wine and a lot more creepy Italian men hitting on us. Why do we attract the over-50 set? But still a fun time.
Our only mishap happened earlier in the day, at around 5 or 6 in the evening. Two men came into our hostel, and one was obviously out of his mind on drugs and booze and who knows what else. The vacant look in his eyes really scared us. His friend, or whoever the person was, left really quickly, leaving us to deal with this crazy new zealand drunk. The hostel worker was our age, and he seemed really intimidated by the swearing, swerving guy, so I ended up being the one trying to deal with the situation. The guy wouldn't call the police for some stupid reason, but finally agreed to get the manager, because all of us staying there were visably upset by this guy who wouldn't leave. I made sure he didn't bother the poor Japanese girl in our room, who looked positively frightened. At one point, I look over, and he's peeing in our kitchen sink! So gross. So finally the manager arrives, and the guy gets really raged, and smashes a picture frame, getting glass and blood all over the place. The manager kicks him out, but we look out the window and the guy is still there, falling into the pavement and bleeding pretty heavily. The manager was really vague and wouldn't deal with the situation, so I end up leaning out the window and asking someone on the street with a phone to call the police and medics. Finally they arrive, and deal with him, but the whole situation showed how little the country cares for foreigners - they are just seen as someone elses problem. We were a little shook up, but safe.

Venice was great though, but definately not my favourite part of the whole trip. Expensive, and very very very touristy, even in the off season. At this point, we parted ways with Maggie sadly, because she was so much fun! A friend of Emily's, she's studying in Paris so I can't wait to go visit her. Really made the trip the best it could be! On now to our final destinations, Florence and Pisa.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cinque Terre

Well if Rome was sprawling and filled with buildings and monuments, Cinque Terre was its antithesis, with its collection of tiny towns in a gorgeously wild setting. I'd be interested to visit the area in the summer, when it is apparently more touristy, because when we were there I almost always felt like one of the only tourists in the area, a kind of bonus in the form of a relaxing break from all the usual sightseeing. It can be really tiring after a while. Cinque Terre is composed of five towns, and we stayed in Riomaggiore, in a great hostel called La Dolce Vita. I really recommend it to anyone in the area, in fact I really recommend the village itself. Definately the hightlight of the entire trip for me!

After taking the wrong train into the area, we finally made it to our hostel. Not like we missed anything though, because it seemed like the entire town's activity of choice is walking, up and down the two-block strip that is the main street. I think someone told us that the population was 900, but it really felt more like about 10, all over the age of 70 or so. Great local scene. Haha...that being said, we had an awesome time. After wandering around and smelling the fabulous ocean scent, we climbed the hillside and got a great view of the harbour and everything. It's just such a stunning spot, nestled in the cliffs with the Med. ocean crashing all around.

We had an amazing dinner right beside the photo above, with a view of the ocean and the warmth of a heat lamp (right on the patio). My pasta had "olive caviar" as a sauce, like a tapinade, sooo delicious. But it was the white wine that really got us going. We started with a litre, which came to us in a big pottery jug, which must have been bottomless, because the three of us got a bit more than three glasses each - way more than a litre! When we asked for our second, the waiter kind of gave us a bit of a look, but brought it out. Apparently Italians, while loving their wine, love it in moderation - not exactly North American style. But it was too good for that. This is when the real fun started. After leaving the restaurant, we were promptly chased down by what looked like the only local Italian our age, Joeri - a gelled hair, puffy jacket, headbanded smooth talker, who was absolutly random and wonderful. He got on his phone, and a couple of his friends appeared out of the woodwork, "truckerhat"(our given name for him), and "Raphael." Joeri was really the only one that spoke English, so we had a great time in his apartment trying to communicate with the other two. The apartment itself was a riot, with wallpaper straight out of the sixties. Champagne appeared from somewhere, and things just got weirder and weirder. Magg and I look over and Joeri is standing behind Emily, just stroking her neck, like she is a cat or something. Seriously hilarious. It was a great night, and we knew we hadn't seen the last of these characters.



The next morning we set out to do "the walk" on Via Dell Amore, a path stretching between all five villages. If Cinque Terre was the highlight of my time in Italy, this day was definately the highlight of our time in Cinque Terre! We walked first from Riomaggiore to Manarola, about 20 minutes on a paved path along the cliff face. Really cool graffiti all the way along, even on the cactuses and other plants! The path was closed from Manarola to Corniglia, so we took the 3 minute train ride, and then hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza. The hike was really that, all through vineyards and forest and cliff - mud, rock, and wild cats all the way along. The views of the ocean were incredible, and the walk itself felt great, at about an hour and a half long. It was so fun to discover each village, all unique in their own way, and all absolutely deserted! At some points, it felt like we had entered a ghost town. I can't explain how gorgeous the scenery was though, if I was older and wanted a place to retire and just be in peace, this is defintely where I would retreat to. Finally, we ended up taking the train from Vernazza to Monterosso, the last and biggest village, due to our tired feet and the waning sunlight. A great day, with unbelievable scenery that I will never forget.





That night, we had a great time with the local boys again...this time there was about seven or eight of them and we huddled outside under an overhang in the rain, and tried to communicate pretty much unsuccessfully. It was great though, because if we spoke fast they would have no idea what we were saying...so I'm sure we talked about them as much as they did about us. Pretty amusing. The next day, our last in the area, we took the train to see Portofino, the supposed "haunt of the glamour set" (according to Lonely Planet). Well I'm guessing that people normally haunt it glamourously in the summer, because all the tiny town consisted of was a bunch of designer stores all shut for the winter. It was pretty weird to walk through Hermes, Gucci, and Prada in probably the smallest town in Italy, but still pretty cool. The hillside had tons of villas that looked really expensive, so something must have had something to do with the rich aspect of the area. The best was the busride there though, where we hung on for dear life along a road that only had room for one car, let along a big bus. Add the fact that it was along a cliff face, and you can see why we were terrified. A dinner of pesto, mozzerella, tomatoes, bread and wine, and we were ready to take off to our next destination, Venice.


Rome

Well, another adventure done and gone. My tour through Italy was a two-week long event, starting in Rome, then Cinque Terre, Venice, Florence, and Pisa. I decided to break the blog up by city, just so people who get bored fast can quit whenever they want...plus there will be more pictures! I've gotta say, I broke some records with my camera on this one...something like 540 photos taken. But that's really a testement to how beautiful Italy is, and how much I enjoyed myself!
So I arrived in Rome, after a nice ten hour day of travelling due to the fact I flew with Ryanair, a cheap airline that likes to fly into random airports that involve a lot of extra travel time in order to get into the city you actually want to go to. But the hostel was easy to find, and after dodging a couple "ciao bella...where you frommm?" 's I made it safely into the hostel. I found out that Emily and Maggie, the girls I was travelling with, wouldn't be arriving til the next day, due to a cancelled flight, and so I did as I usually do, buddied up with all the people in the hostel and headed out the bar with them. Great crowd, had a bunch of fun, and the next day I went to see the colosseum with an aussie girl that I had met. I couldn't believe the size of everything! Rome is built on such a huge scale, and the remains atop the Palatine Hill were just as impressive as the colosseum itself. I loved the way huge old ruins mingled with newer buildings and beautiful parks around the city, it really gave it a larger than life feel. I can't imagine what it looked like back in the day, when all these ruins were actually buildings! The emporers really knew how to impress, I'll tell you that. The weather was warm and sunny, and the whole day just felt slightly surreal, as if I was touring a movie set. It really made me remember how lucky I am to be able to enjoy these amazing sights.



Finally, Maggie and Emily arrived at the hostel and we hit the town...ie we "caio-ed" down on gelato in front of the Trevi Fountain. One of the best spots in Rome for people watching, along with being a gorgeous fountain, this was probably the monument that we saw the most of during the couple of days that we were in Rome. We had some drinks at the hostel bar...and a couple of glasses of vino later we called it a day. The next morning we decided that rather than see anything special, we would just wander around the city. I love that Rome is so full of monuments and beautiful plazas that no matter where we went, we always ended up somewhere. We saw the monument of Vittorio Emanuele, the Pantheon (accompanied by GREAT pizza), Piazza Navona, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, and the Colosseum again. Really great day, most of it was spent making fun of the gypsies trying to sell you stupid toys, and sunglasses, and dodging italian men. Highlight definately being when one actually tried to grab Maggie's head...seriously, if anyone tried to pick up a girl in Canada Italian-style, they would probably get a restraining order! That night we met up with Emily's friends Rachel and Miriam, had some great pasta and checked out the scene at Campo Dei Fiori, which was absolutely hilarious, apparently the place for American SA's (study abroads) to get together and get drunk. It was cringe-worthy for sure. Very un-italian.

Day Three involved a trip by me to the Vatican, without Maggie and Emily, who had seen it before on a previous trip. St. Peter's Basilica was definately the highlight, probably the most ornate and grand church I've seen in Europe, and trust me, I've seen a whole lot of churches by this point. The Vatican itself is a pretty big spectacle, worthy of the fame that it has surrounding it. Didn't see the Pope out in his Popemobile though, unfortunately, which would've put the day up into the record books. All in all though, Rome was a really beautiful city, and definately liveable, in my mind. I loved the mix of old and new, and the colours and architecture were absolutely stunning. On to Cinque Terre next, a complete 180 from Rome!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Christmas in England

Well, it's time to post again after another amazing holiday in Europe. This time, I travelled with my roommate, Inga, to Blackpool, England. We stayed with her boyfriend, Raymond, who is studying and working at a nightclub there. The trip was much needed, as Matt had just left the day before, ending our four month-long relationship, which was getting pretty serious right before the end. It was really hard to to see him go, but we will always have our memories of a great semester in a foreign country, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. He will always be a close friend of mine, and I really hope that we don't loose touch. Definately made my transition to living in a foreign country much easier! Of course, it was hard to see everyone else go home as well. We only have a couple friends staying for the year, so this semester is going to be much different - but exciting! With all the stress of school combined with saying goodbye to everyone that I love, this trip to England provided a great way to just relax and let everything go!
Arriving in Blackpool on the 24th, airports were empty and everyone was rushing to get home for Christmas Eve. Blackpool itself is pretty small, and very tacky! A vacation spot in the summer, the lights and rides of Pleasure beach seem lonely and abandoned in the winter. But the night clubs stay alive!! After settling into Raymond's apartment (I got my own room, with a double bed and a flat screen TV - can you say luxury!), we headed out to the club that he works at, Sanuk. A pretty big place, Sanuk really was super fun - and seeing as we knew the staff, we got VIP treatment all night (half price drinks, access to the VIP lounge, skipped the line, etc). So that was pretty nice. I realised how much of a city girl I really am, because I totally missed the dance-the-night away, wear your heels atmosphere that you just can't find in Leiden. Definately a fun night.
The next morning, Christmas, we said Merry Christmas and started to get ready. My date arrived, Albert, a really fun South African who also works at Sanuk. Rushing to get our hair done, we were out the door by around 1, and picked up by our host, the owner of Sanuk. Also the owner of approximately 60 nightclubs around the world, and the massive production company Ministry of Sound, Peter was a super humble and interesting guy, with a gorgeous family. We arrived in Churchtown, a tiny little British town in the country, and saw his beautiful home, renovated from its 300 year old state. Dinner wasn't ready, so of course we were taken to the pub, with Grandpa in tow. Had a pint of Strongbow, chatted with all the neighbours that were in the bar, and were treated just as though we lived there. Then came dinner. There were 10 of us, Peter and his wife, Inga and Raymond, Albert and I, Peter's wife's mum, dad and brother, and little William, Peter's adorable son. We were treated to an amazing Christmas dinner, complete with some British additions like Yorkshire pudding and little sausages wrapped in bacon. And triffle for dessert! Granny Menzies would have been proud. At about six, completely full, and a little tipsy, we took our leave - and moved on to Christmas dinner number two.


Raymond has a lot of Latvian friends in the area, so we were invited to go over to a couple's house for some more Christmas celebrations. The wife was Latvian, and the husband Italian, and so of course their two daughters were absolutely stunning. Completely different than Peter's house, this was a really informal gathering; we sipped on Jack Daniels and played with the little girls for most of the night. When Inga mentioned that she had never tried mussles, the husband, Toto, who owns a restaurant, headed in the kitched and proceeded to whip up a huge amount of Italian food - the highlight being mussles cooked in red wine, garlic, and tomatoes. Absolutely delicious - especially at 10 at night! I'm not sure how we found room in our stomach, but somehow we managed, and did pretty well. Calling it a night around 11, I would say that while not exactly a traditional Christmas, it was one of my best - and the first one without my family!

The next night, we checked out a club called Syndicate, which boasts of being the biggest in England with a capacity of 6,000. So much fun - a production company called Gatecrashers was playing, and their DJ's and special effects were amazing. A highlight was definately the rotating dancefloor, in the shape of a record! I had enough redbulls to keep me going all night long, but Inga wasn't as big of a fan of the music as the rest of us (think euro techno to the max), and so we called it a night pretty early. Still an absolutely awesome night though, just to see the crazy outfits and dancers in this massive nightclub.


The next day was, of course, time to shop. We headed into Manchester with Raymond's friend Alex driving, on the wrong side of course! A real roadtrip, with techno blasting the whole way, so much fun even if I feared for my life a little. Haha...we went to a new mall, which was honestly the biggest mall I have ever seen in my entire life. It had different themed areas, like China Town and New Orleans, as if it was Disneyland. Absolutely ridiculous. Loved it though, even if the shops were a mess and the girls were crazy. They take boxing week pretty seriously in England apparently. Got some nice dresses at Mango - love that store, and sunglasses from Aldo. While having a pint in the pub, Albert started trying to convince me to stay the night in Manchester and go to a party that his DJ friend had invited him to. I'm sitting there, thinking ok, what would Mum say to this? Go to Manchester (a 1 1/2 hour train ride from Blackpool), with a guy I just met a couple days ago, to and underground all-night party, with no cell phone or any way to communicate with Inga and Raymond? I was leaning a lot towards no, especially with Inga and Raymond getting pretty worried, but then I thought, hey, I'm 20, in Europe, and I'm only gonna have these opportunities once. Might as well go for it. Funny thing too, after telling Mum about it later, she said, "I'm so glad you did!" I guess my conscience was wrong!

Well I'm sooo glad as well. Turns out it was probably the funnest night of the whole trip! We met up with Albert's friend, a guy who he had worked with teaching English in Thailand - a really cool guy working as a DJ in Manchester. Turns out this party only happens once a year, and consisted of 18 DJ's in four rooms going all night long, in between two clubs. After the obligatory pint in a pub beforehand, we get ready to dance. And did we ever! Shook a leg all night long, literally, until the place closed at 6am. Amazing music, real drum and bass and DJ's that interacted with the crowd, rather than just putting on record after record. I absolutely loved it. At one point, the part of the wall literally came down in one room, there were bricks and plaster everywhere! It took us till about 7 just to get back to his friend's place, we had a bit of an adventure taking the longest route possible, and then missing our bus stop and having to hoof it back for another 20 minutes. Insane night. Albert was great company, and has had the most interesting life, living all around the world, so it was fun getting to know him too.

The next day was Inga's nameday, which is like a birthday, but there is a day each year that certain names get to celebrate. So we decided to go out to the Italian's restuarant for dinner, which was both delicious and fun. He really treated us well, and made everything from calamari to ravioli with amazing results. The waiter loved us, and even asked to take a picture "only with the brunette." Hilarious. The next day we went out again as well, to see "The Holiday," which was really cute and very chick-flicky - probably funnier because of the mulled wine we consumed before going to the theater. We also went to check out Albert playing rugby, and hung out in the rugby club for most of it, due to the freezing rain and mud on the feild. Still fun of course.


Finally it was new years eve. It was kind of hard to decide what to do, because Raymond had actually been fired from the club earlier in the week, for giving someone too many shots in one glass, but then rehired on the condition that he wouldn't get to work new years. So Sanuk was out of the question for all of us, but he planned to go to a Latvian party. I let them know that it would be kinda hard for me to do that, because no one would be speaking English the whole night, making it kinda hard for me. I was prepared to go to Sanuk alone - I knew some of the people working there - and have Inga meet me there later, but then she decided to come with me early, and we would go to the party after midnight. So we went to the club, and I had an awesome time in the R and B hall where Albert was working - and we got free entrance which was sweet as well. After trying to call Raymond for ever, we decided to just go to the house and call him from there, just in case we taxied to the Latvians and he wasn't even there. Turns out he was back at the apartment, and had passed out before new years! I'm not sure if Inga and Raymond would have called it a sucess, but I sure did, along with the rest of the trip.

So all in all? A great way to take my mind off of everthing else that was going on. If you want to see the whole photo album, the link is: http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2066273&l=2bd78&id=81004921 - enjoy! Now I have to study for three exams, and then I head to Italy for two weeks! Wish me luck! Merry Christmas everyone, and Happy New Years! I miss you...


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Berlinnnn!


So I just got back from a 5 night trip to Berlin, with Evan, Danielle, Joe and his sister, Jean. It was friggen unbelievable. I loved the city, loved the history, and loved having fun with some of my favourite friends. Berlin is absolutely massive, apparently it is something like 9 times the size of Paris...or maybe 3 - I forget. But that's still really big. So whatever. Our hostel was in East Berlin, the cool side - more for it's history, from what I saw of West Berlin it was all new buildings, high rises and super futuristic looking architecture. Complete generalizations of course. The hostel was called Baxpax - totally recommend it, for it was super clean, modern, and cheap! 13 euros a night baby.

The first night we got there was pretty low key, some cheap beers, then to bed. The next morning, Thursday, we joined in on a free tour, held by a tour company "NewBerlin." So worth it. The guides work for tips, so it was really great quality - about 4 hours long and covered tons of interesting points within the area. I think it was worth it for the guide too, cuz he made at least 50 euros from that one tour - and if he does two a day, hes making some nice cash. Things that we saw: Hitler's bunker, the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the square where the Nazi book burnings took place, Museum Island and more. All really interesting, and great stories to go along with everything. Luckily, that was the only day of sun - and it was actually warm out! There were points where I could've been in a t-shirt. Amazing. We had some Indian food for dinner, delicious but crazy filling.

At near food-coma status, we continued onto a pubcrawl, held by the same company. Pub crawl was interesting. Started with a free keg for an hour, getting everything started, and the first bar was small, but cute. We then moved on to a bigger one, with great art on the wall and 1 euro Jager shots - yum! There was also this thing that shot out flames once and while, pretty sweet. In between bars we were given shot after shot of orange juice and vodka, in the middle of the street. You know you're in Europe when...hahaha. The next bar was pretty sweet, and it gave us a chance to relax and check out the mad mullets, tight euro outfits and completely drunk Canadians on our crawl. Hot. The third one was a communist-themed bar, which was super cool, just for the memorabilia on the walls. Finally, we were taken by subway to this super lame club, which was kinda sucky because we had to come back by cab, for at this time the trains stopped running. Fun night though!

The next morning, everyone was feeling the effects of the night before. So it was a pretty lazy day, with a little falafel and sleep to get our energy back. We went to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, which was super yummy, and were treated by Joe's parents, what a nice surprise! I loooved getting ice in my drink, haha, they never use ice in Holland! I totally miss it. Saturday left us pretty eager to get out and enjoy things, and I would say we really made the most of it. We checked out the Holocaust memorial museum, the Stasi museum, and the Pergamon - one of my favourite museums in all of Europe. It was incredible. A museum built around the recreations it held, the highlights being the Great Alter of Pergamon, life size, inside, and the Gate of Istar, one of the original seven wonders of the world. I loved the sculptures as well, my favourites being Aphrodite and the Turtle, and one of an Amazon woman, with three little drops of blood on her side signifying her upcoming demise. Thank god for the audio guides, because I never would have noticed these on my own. We also got to check out a great market outside the museums, with lots of war memorabilia and that kind of stuff. Later on, we climbed to the top of the parliament building, which was cool but not worth the two hour wait to get up there.


Evan and Danielle left on Sunday, so Joe and Jean and I went on a tour to see the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was very depressing, but definately worth doing, for I feel that if given the opportunity to experience history in such an intimate manner, one should take it. It is really important to me to make the most of these opportunities, and seeing a concentration camp is just as relevant to my personal growth this year as seeing the Eiffel Tower. Europe has such a rich past, filled with both triumph and pain - and I feel like I am getting the chance to see everything that I've learned in my life right before my eyes, which is amazing. The camp itself was very eye-opening, and the places that affected me the most were the barracks, and what was left of the crematorium. I still haven't really come to terms with what I saw, for it feels pretty surreal, as the experience of the camp prisoners is so removed from my experience of the world. Still, I would definately recommend seeing it to anyone, and the tour was handled with grace and dignity.

After the tour, we decided to go see Borat. I know, can you believe it?? Haha, not exactly the best combination, especially because of the type of humour in Borat - I won't try to explain it, but if you know what I am talking about, then you will understand that Germany is not the best country to see it. Still, it was absolutely hilarious, and we got to be in the nicest theater I think I have ever been in. Assigned seating! So weird.


Finally, back to Holland in the morning - with a great quick flight, one of my best travelling experiences. It was a great trip on all accounts, and I honestly don't think I've ever laughed so much as I did in those 4 days. Wow - it's going to be so hard to leave these people!

If you want to see the pictures from the trip, here is a link of the best ones!

http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2059057&l=4fb98&id=81004921

I have also edited all my other blogs with links to albums, for those of you that don't have facebook and want to enjoy my travels with more visuals! More updates coming soon, it's almost American Thanksgiving! Holla!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Spain!



So I realise that I've been kind of slack on the updating lately, sorry about that, it's really a busy time for me (combined with the fact that I'm just slightly lazy). On the weekend of the 14th, I went to Maastricht, a Dutch town in lower Holland to visit some friends. I'm not going to do a whole entry on it, because it would basically read like many of my other ones - some drinking, some shopping, some sightseeing - and tons of fun - another "best weekend ever"! But I had a great time and I love seeing people that aren't in Leiden, we really miss them when we don't get to visit.

Back to Leiden for a couple days, and then off to Spain with Matt and Kristin, from the 19th to the 25th! What an amazing place. Since we were there for six days, I could probably write paragraphs on it, but instead I'll try to focus on the highlights.

After a long trip with many redirections and transfers, we ended up in Barcelona. The travelling was long, but the destination was worth it - Barcelona is a gorgeous city with a ton of stuff happening all hours of the day. Matt forgot the hostel information, so it took a little time trying to figure out where our place was (or what it was even called...haha) but we finally found it. Ramblas home was a great hostel, in a really posh district short walking distance from the main touristy area, Las Ramblas. It was basically someones apartment, renovated into a hostel, with a great big common room with couches, free internet, tea and coffee, and breakfast at a restaurant downstairs. I would totally recommend it to anyone going to Barcelona, although there appeared to be a ton of awesome places to stay all around that area.



The first night, we walked down the main strip and just enjoyed the scene. We watched an amazing girl create paintings in 5 minutes, using only spray paint, newspaper to spread the paint around with, and sponges. No brushes - and they turned out amazing. She drew a huge crowd, and we got sucked into buying six paintings between the three of us - more for the memory of the experience over anything else.


The next day, we wandered around the whole city - highlight of the day being the market - which was huge and exciting - tons of fresh fruit (we got juices), seafood so fresh that it was still moving (seriously. a shrip jumped at me) and crazy meats like pigs heads and snouts - eyeballs still there (gross!). The market was probably one of my favourite parts of the city. After that, we signed up for a Spanish Cooking Class at a place called the "Travel Bar" - a great meeting point for English-speaking travellers with yummy sangria and cheap food. So that night, for 15 euros, we joined a group of about 15 and were escorted to this cute little spanish restuarant to start the lesson. It ended up being such a fun thing to do, we started with a kind of tapas - bread rubbed with garlic, tomato, and olive oil, then everyone helped out making a giant paella. Some stirred, some cut veggies, some just took it all in- but basically it ended up being the yummiest dinner EVER. Add to the food the fact that everyone had to make a pitcher of sangria by the end of the night and we definately got our money's worth! YUM - we are basically the sangria masters now - actually had a giant pot of it in my room the other night. After the class we joined up with two aussies and did some wandering and bar hopping - pretty great night.


On Saturday, we checked out the Picasso museum, which was another awesome thing to see. It was organized chronologically, entirely Picasso - basically a really cool way to see the evolution of his style from beautifully realistic to revolutionarily abstract. It was crazy to see some of the stuff he did between the ages of 8 and 15 - made me wonder what I've been doing with my life!! We kept walking down to the beach - heavenly - and had a siesta in the sunshine. My only regret - not going swimming!

Saturday night, we hopped on a night train down to Cordoba, to visit Matt's friend Ali, who is studying there. It really wasn't as bad as it seems, I slept basically the whole way, and we saved two nights of hostel costs (we took a night train back as well). Cordoba was absolutely beautiful, and totally different than Barcelona. We were there for Sunday and Monday - training home Monday night. We checked out the main tourist attraction, the Mezquita, which is both a mosque and a Christian chapel. Huge - and really breathtaking. Other highlights - shopping, watching Barcelona vs. Real Madrid football game in a local bar, coffee and chocolate waffles in the morning, drinking tea in a middle eastern tea house, and just hanging out with Ali - who was sooo nice and fun. Shes coming to visit soon, so I'm definately looking forward to that. Cordoba reminded me of the Spanish version of Leiden, and it was cool to just relax in an authentic Spanish town, minus all the touristy stuff of Barcelona.

We chilled in Barcelona on Tues, and flew home on Wed, a perfect end to a great trip. We surprised ourselves by being really excited to return home to Smaragdlaan, and to Inga and Emily and everyone else. I missed my bed - travelling is exhausting in many ways, especially this kind of travelling (ie not staying in a nice hotel with my parents). So to sum up - tons of fun, I loved Spain, but also totally nice to be home. The people made it once again, I had a great time with Matt and Kristin - and its really trips like these that bring everyone even closer together. I'm really going to miss everyone when they leave at Christmas.

Link to Pictures: http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2051392&l=ecede&id=81004921



Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nuit Blanche (the blog to end all blogs...)


Spontaneously, as with all things I do in Holland, I decided to go to Paris for "Nuit Blanche" last weekend. Along with Evan and his girlfriend Danielle - the two on the left of the photo - their friend Mark - in the middle - Matt and I were happy to join what would be an unforgettable experience. So much happened that it is hard to put it all down, but I will do my best, and as the reader you must try to fill in the gaps with as much romance, excitement and happiness that I felt at every moment in this city.

The trip started in Utrecht, Holland, where Matt and I took the train to join up with Evan on Friday night. After some beer pong to get the weekend started, we got on the bus at 10:30pm, and picked up the other two a little later on down in Einhoven. According to our plan, we slept on the bus (some tried - I was successful) all the way to Paris (7 and a half hours of sleep or so). Arrived in Paris at 6am, took the metro to the Opera and entered Paris in the dark, to the lights of the city. We found a coffee shop, got croissants and coffee and Matt and I played another epic game of scrabble (travel scrabble was a birthday gift...). At 8am, with the sun finally rising, we walked through the opera district to the park in front of the Louvre - a gorgeous park with a really fun playground that Danielle and I enjoyed. After a nice reststop in the park, accompanyed by some rodeos (the cheap dutch version of redbull), we decided to do some sightseeing in the morning, then nap and rest up for the night ahead in the afternoon.

Walking over to the Notre Dame, we stopped in the district around there for paninis and crepes - yummy and cheap. Fed pidgeons outside the cathedral, which was super fun, then enjoyed the beauty of the stained glass windows and other sights inside. After that, we took the metro over to the Catacombs, a group of underground tunnels that we walked through - 1.7km. If I got the story right, apparently Paris had a problem with too many bodies crowding the sewers and such - lack of cemetary space - and so the remains of millions were placed in these underground tunnels, once quarries (I think). 1.3 million human remains - some as old as 1,000 years - are stacked in these tunnels, which we walked through. A never-ending, extraordinarily disturbing experience that left the boys intruiged, and Danielle and I shaking.

After the Catacombs, we returned to the park to get some nap time in, on benches and such. I found a nice reclining chair, sat in the sun, and read a book for class - which was quite successful. After everyone woke up, around 5ish, we went out for dinner - three courses for 10 euro. We all tried escargot! It was cheap, fun, and reasonably authentic. Apres, we went to the Louvre, which we had earlier discovered was open from 7 to 12, free of charge. I guess I haven't really explained Nuit Blanche yet. It's a once a year, cultural event from 7pm to 7am, with art exhibitions, museums and such going on all night. Literally, it means that Paris does not sleep. So our goal was to make it through the night - with lots of caffiene to help us out. So we got into the Louvre, which was crowded, but not overly - and the next three hours I will never forget. Matt and I lost everyone pretty quickly, but we did a huge exploration of our own - from the infamous Mona Lisa to the ancient Egyptian artifacts to the Greek statues - it was to die for. Add to that the fact that we had many rooms all to ourselves, in the dark - with the lights of the palace courtyards coming through the windows, and it was enough my make my heart stop. Amazing.




We met up with everyone at 10pm, and walked over to the obliesk - the great big square with the wonderfully phallic statue, along with fountains etc. For Nuit Blanche, everything was lit up in blue lights - which was stunning on its own. Time for more caffiene, so we settled down to a 6 euro coffee (discovered after the fact, unfortunately) and another round of scrabble. By this point our feet were pretty much dying, but the night was far from over. Rested, we walked up the Champs-Elysees towards the Arc De Triumph, a street which, at 12am, was still wall to wall people. Louis Vuitton was lit up in blue as well, pretty cool to see. We decided to walk down to the Eiffel Tower, and from there we got crepes and caught the Batobus, a 6 euro boat tour that was running all night as well. Got on the boat at 3am, and road it till about 4 - which was awesome, both for the relaxation of it and for the sights of a city filled with life - even at this hour.

At 4:45ish we checked out an exhibit in the Petit Palais - a gorgeous classical art gallery, in the style of the Louvre, in which the artist had exchanged the lights for those of a lower frequency, thereby creating at flickering, strobe light effect in all the rooms. Combined with some techno from my Ipod, it was extremely trippy. We killed some time there, mainly because not much else was going on at that time of night, plus it was extremely cold out and no one really wanted to leave. Another game of scrabble was attempted. It was halarious, because we were all reasonably delerious with tiredness and caffiene and we simply wanted to crash, but we had to kinda stay on our toes in order not to get kicked out by the 20 security guards wandering around (I swear to god, more guards than people...don't know why...). Finally, at 6, we felt it was time to go and we metroed to a train station for more coffee (what a surprise) and a croissant.

As agreed, one of our big goals was to see the Eiffel Tower at sunrise. Making it there right on time - we were greeted by wonderful pinks, purples and blues underneath one of the most famous monuments on the Earth. I couldn't help but think how extraordinarily lucky I am to be able to experience something like this - once in a lifetime for sure. Saying our goodbyes (M and D were on another bus), E and M and I booked it to the bus, making it with 1 minute (seriously.) to spare. Thank god Matt's a runner. 9am departure, and I slept again for almost the entire bus ride. We arrived back in Leiden completely exhausted and dirty, but happy - and had the best sleep of our lives.

Some final thoughts: Looking back, I am so happy to have such great friends that will do something like this with me, and we all got along so well. Everyone was so easy going, and so happy to just be in the moment, that it really made the trip the best it could be. I am also grateful that I don't have to do that every weekend, because no sleep and the same clothes from Friday to Sunday is not always the most enjoyable feeling. Compared to my visit to Paris when I was 14, this was much better, and I have a new appreciation for the city - perhaps because I am older and not as moved by the cultural differences as I once was. Finally, it was awesome to get to speak French! I think that Matt and I did pretty well for ourselves, and I really do miss being able to travel somewhere with another language that I understand (Dutch is still really hard for me). To conclude - great trip, and congratulations to everyone who made it to the end of this post!!!

Link to Pictures: http://queensu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047299&l=4e458&id=81004921