Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Natalie and Jane's Visit

This past weekend, my cousin Natalie and her friend Jane came through Belgium on their 2 week tour of Europe. I was so excited to get out of the house and have someone my own age to spend some time with, and I definitely enjoyed their visit.

After arriving late Friday night, our first trip was to Brugge on Saturday. The day was chilly and rainy, but we were still able to enjoy our delicious waffles with nutella and strawberries:

After lunch we decided to burn off those extra calories by climbing the 366 stairs in the Belfry:

It was a tough climb with very narrow stairs and a lot of people trying to come up and down at the same time, but the view from the top was great!

All summer I've been going to Gent on Sunday evenings for church, so we decided to go around lunch time for some sightseeing before going to church. It started a little rainy, but by the time we finished lunch it was beautiful outside - perfect for walking around town all day. We were able to see a lot of beautiful churches, a couple of castles, canals and of course, climbed the Belfry.

Monday and Tuesday afternoons were spent in Brussels where we met up with Natalie's boyfriend Andy and his friend Aaron. Monday began with a nice breakfast of waffles, nutella and strawberries and hot chocolate. It was very delicious, and the sugar gave us the energy needed to walk around town until lunchtime. The museums were all closed, so we just spent the morning looking around town at all the old churches and government buildings.

For lunch we went to a local grocery store and bought sandwiches and took it to the Grand Platz where we spent the rest of the day. Following lunch we looked at a nearby church before shopping for some Belgian chocolates. From there we found a local cafe where we ate our chocolates and coffee,

and then made our way to a brewery just off the Grand Platz. When Andy and Aaron had had enough beer, we found a restaurant serving mussels and frits (an authentic Belgian meal) for our dinner. Basically all the calories burned walking around for the previous 2 days were consumed with our day of eating and drinking, but it was a fun and relaxing day.

Tuesday we made our way back to Brussels to visit the Museum of Musical Instruments. Andy and Aaron are band directors, and I think they were in heaven for those two hours that we were in the museum!

We were able to go into a couple of the churches we had found while walking around on Monday and walk through a beautiful park before it was time for the four of them to head off to Amsterdam.

Their visit was the most activity I've had in the past two months and it wore me out, but I definitely enjoyed having them here!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm so excited to start traveling!

I amsterdam

This past Sunday I decided to take a day-trip to Amsterdam. When I was in Europe in 2006 I spent a day and a half in Amsterdam, but since then the SANDEMANs new Europe touring company added Amsterdam as a site for their free walking tours. I figured between that and going to a couple of museums, the $50 train ticket would be worth it just to get out of the house for the day.

The day started very early - the train from Dendermonde left at 6:30am! I had to take the train from here to Mechelen, wait an hour, and take another train to Amsterdam. By the time I got there it was just after 10, and the tour didn't start until 11, so I went to the tourism office, bought myself a map, and planned out my route for the day. (But that only wasted about 15 minutes, so then I just stood around and people watched until 11.)

This is a picture of Station Amsterdam Centraal.

At eleven o'clock, the tour guides showed up outside the tourism office and led us to the Nationaal Monument in Dam Square, where we were divided into smaller groups. From there we were taken on an almost 4-hour tour of the city center and all it's historical sites and points of interest. The weather was perfect - cool enough that I wore a sweatshirt comfortably, but very sunny.

This is the Nationaal Monument where we started the tour.

Some other highlights included the Royal Palace,

The Red Light District, It wasn't really all that bad - probably because it was a Sunday afternoon. But our tour guide said there are half as many windows now as there were two years ago because Amsterdam is trying to "clean up their image".

The Hidden Church,


and many, many canals!

The thing I love about these tours (I did their Berlin tour in 2006), is that it's completely free, running on donations, and the tour guides are SO enthusiastic about their jobs. Our guide waited until the end of our tour to tell us we were his first group to give a tour to, but I never would've guessed. He was very knowledgeable about the area (even though he'd only lived there for two years) and told us all sorts of stories and interesting facts that you wouldn't learn about walking around the town on your own.

Once the tour was over, my plan was to go to the Van Gogh Museum. I decided I didn't want to pay for public transportation, and I had plenty enough time (and calories to burn) to walk the whole way there. But, as luck would have it, I took a wrong turn, heading in the opposite direction of the museum by about 15 minutes, and then it began to pour! I had to duck into a bookstore until the rain let up enough that I felt like I wouldn't drown trying to reach my destination. However, about 10 minutes outside the store, it again began to pour. This actually worked to my advantage, however, because I stumbled upon a photography exhibit I had read about and wanted to visit anyway, but had planned on saving until the end of the day if time allowed. I was excited to learn that this particular exhibit was also free!

Once I finally found the Van Gogh Museum, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. I didn't pay the extra 4 euro for the audio tour, which probably would've made the museum more interesting, but I enjoyed myself all the same.

By the time I finished up at the museum, I had just enough time to buy a few postcards, take a picture of the "I amsterdam" statue:
take a picture in Vondel Park:
and buy some frits and mayo for dinner (healthy, I know...):
before catching the seven o'clock train back to Dendermonde. It was a busy day, but I had a lot of fun!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not much to say

I realize my initial goal for this blog was to update regularly so everyone could see how my summer is going. However, I have failed this goal due to the fact that there is pretty much nothing to tell anyone about. I know I'm in Europe for a whole summer and should be having the time of my life, but honestly right now it's pretty boring.

We've been to the beach again since my last post, but were only able to spend one day outside due to rain.

I've gone to the Church of Christ in Gent twice, and really like it there. It's a small group of people who meet in the home of the minister, Luk Brazle. Everyone is very friendly and the whole service is translated for me and a few others who are English speakers. Going to church gives me something to look forward to; a chance to get out of the house and do my own thing. The process of going to the train station, taking the train to Gent, getting on the bus, going to church and then doing it all in reverse takes about 4 1/2-5 hours. It's nice to have conversations with young adults (not that I don't love hanging out with two little boys all the time...) and to experience church away from home.

Right now I have plans to go to Amsterdam for a day this weekend. I'm very excited to do a bit of traveling, even though it's not far and not long! Next month there will be a group from Ohio and a group from Oklahoma visiting the Antwerp Church of Christ, and I have been invited to their 4th of July cookout. We're supposed to go to the beach that weekend as well, so hopefully I'll be able to make it to both. Then in mid-July, my cousin Natalie and her friend will be visiting for a week and I'm hoping to be able to actually sight see in Gent and make a trip to Brugge.

My big trip is planned for July 17th. The whole family is flying to Dublin to visit one of Jan's friends, so we'll spend the weekend there. On Monday, July 20th, I've signed up for a 6-day tour of Ireland - a new city every day. I'm a bit nervous traveling with a big group of people that I've never met, but I feel safer traveling that way rather than on my own for 2 weeks. I'll have someone making sure I'm alive and well every morning when we leave the hostel and every night when we get to our new hostel. On Sunday, July 26 I will fly to Edinburgh, Scotland where I'll spend 2 full days and wrap up with a day-trip to St. Andrew's.

I'm so thankful for all the travel opportunities I've been blessed with. Now that I've started, though, I'm not sure I can stop!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

At the Beach

Last week was a holiday for those in Belgium, so we made plans to go to the apartment at the beach just over an hour from here. Due to an issue with work, Jan was sent to Rome, so our trip was delayed a couple of days, but we did make it to the beach!

The apartment was very cute, decorated with lots of pictures of the town as it had looked back in the early 1900s and other "beachy" decorations. I had the privilege of sharing a room with the boys, but thankfully had my own bed. The above picture is a view from the window at the end of my bed. The following picture is the boys in their room.

The first evening was a bit chilly, but the boys and I went down to the water to look around.

Afterward we went walking on the boardwalk and got some yummy Australian ice cream.

The following day was a bit warmer for the first two hours we were down at the beach, but then it got cold again and eventually rained us back into the apartment. Sunday, our last day at the beach, was pretty chilly again, but the boys insisted on playing in the water and in the sand. Because it was cold, it didn't even occur to me to put on sunscreen, and I payed for it with a pretty bad, and awkwardly shaped, sunburn on my legs that is now finally starting to fade.

The weekend was short but nice, and we are all excited to go back when it gets warmer!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Made It!

So, I finally made it! It was a long, frustrating trip and I thought I might not make it all the way here, but I am now in Grembergen, Belgium. It's been a week, and I'm slowly feeling more comfortable here, but it'll take some more getting used to.

When I got here last week, Jan (my mom's cousin, and the wife/mother of the family I'm living with) was on her way back from London. Yvo (pronounced Eevo; the husband/father) picked me up from the Brussels train station, and brought me back here, pointing out sights of interest the whole way back. Jan's mother (my mom's aunt) Wilma was here with the boys, so she made the transition a little smoother for me.

Thankfully I was able to sleep in the first couple of days to get over my jet lag. On Friday of last week, Wilma took me into Brussels for the afternoon where we did some shopping, ate a nice lunch, and took pictures in the Grand Platz. It was all very cool, and I enjoyed her company a lot!

Sunday I was able to attend a Church of Christ in Antwerp (about a 30 minute drive from here), and the whole family joined me. Because of a youth weekend they were having, as well as Good News! from Harding, there were quite a few visitors who only spoke English. The service was done in both English and Dutch so that everyone could benefit from the lesson, however, it lasted 3 hours and we were all starving by the end! Next week I'm hoping to attend a small church in Ghent, located in the minister's house. The minister of the church in Ghent is actually the nephew of the minister at the church in Antwerp and the brother of Karina Brazle. Funny how even in another country the Church of Christ connects people!

Monday started my nannying job. I'm the au pair for two young boys, Nicholas and Christophe, 6 and 8 respectively. Until the end of June they are in school, so my job has been fairly simple thus far. I get them up and ready for school around 7:30, and walk them to the corner at 8:05. Around 4:30 I have to ride my bike over to their "Oma" (grandma) and "Opa" (grandpa)'s house where they go to do homework after school. Yvo usually cooks dinner (a great cook, I might add!) and I get them ready for bed around 7:45. The majority of my day is spent sleeping, working out, watching tv, reading and relaxing. Not bad for free room and board, as well as a nice paycheck every week!

This week there is a holiday on Friday, so the boys are out of school today through the rest of the week. Hopefully this is not a sign of the way July and August will work when they're out of school! Nicholas was quite a load of work this morning. Hopefully things will get better though.

Because of the holiday, we will be going to their apartment at the beach later this week. It's been chilly everyday, so I'm not sure how much swimming we'll be doing, but the boys like to play in the sand, and there are shops nearby. Hopefully it'll be an enjoyable weekend before they go back to school.

Here are some pictures of the house I was able to take:

This is the front of the house. My room is the window at the top.

This is the back of the house. The round part is the dinning room and is all glass so we can look at the beautiful backyard!

This is a picture of my room. Behind me is also a little sink and cabinet so that I can get ready in the mornings in my room instead of sharing the bathroom.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Over already??

I took my last RC final today. Because I have another year of school (at Specs Howard) it hasn't really set in that I'M DONE! For the past 4 years I've worked toward the degree that I just completed today, and it's weird to know that I will never again sit in a class taught by the many professors who helped me reach this point.

To Lora Hutson: Thank you for all your time and support. Your excitement in the classroom as been a great encouragement to me. Your reassuring words have motivated me to excel in the classroom.

To Terrill Hall: The past 4 years of mentoring have got me through a lot of tough times and have been quite entertaining. Thank you for your words of wisdom (though not always what I wanted to hear) and opening your office and home to us.

To each of my roommates (Shantelle, Angela, Katie, Liz, Cami, Jamie and Lindsay): I have enjoyed living with each of you and will cherish the late night conversations, the crazy dance parties and photo shots and nights out on the town.

To my classmates who are graduating tomorrow, I wish each of you well as you start a new beginning. Good luck in the "real world"! Let me know how it is, and don't forget to keep in touch! (With Facebook, there's no good excuse for losing contact ;) )